Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Devereux, Walter, 1st Earl of Essex, was born in Carmarthenshire, about 1540. For ability displayed in suppressing the rebellion of the Dukes of Northumberland and Westmoreland, Devereux was created Earl of Essex by Queen Elizabeth in 1572. He became so great a favourite, that Leicester and others, jealous of his increasing influence, induced him to embark in a scheme for subduing part of Ulster, expelling the Scotch islesmen, and colonizing it with English.

In the spring of 1573 he made an offer of his services to the Queen, and soon afterwards the district of Clandeboy was granted to him. He was to cross with 200 horse and 400 foot, to be kept up at his sole cost. Fortifications were to be erected jointly by him and the Queen, who was to advance the money to him on a mortgage, while he was to have sundry privileges, such as customs duties. There was no excuse whatever for his seizure of the Clandeboy estates.

In August 1573 Essex embarked at Liverpool, and landed in Antrim, and, says Mr. Richey, "his dealings with the native chiefs seem almost a counterpart of those of the Spaniards with the Mexican caciques." To secure to himself the coveted estates he invited Brian O'Neill and his retainers to a repast. After three days of feasting, Camden states that he put to the sword two hundred of the Irish, and took Brian, Rory Oge his brother, and Brian's wife to Dublin, where they were cut in quarters. "Such," according to Mr. Richey, "was the end of their feast. This unexpected massacre, this wicked and treacherous murder of the lord of the race of Hugh Boy O'Neill, the head and senior of the race of Eoghan, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, and of all the Gaels, a few only excepted, was a sufficient cause of hatred and disgust [towards the English] to the Irish." He was assisted in his Irish wars both by O'Neill and O'Donnell, who were afterwards such bitter opponents of English rule.

He was involved in constant hostilities, and was guilty of the greatest atrocities towards the natives. He endorsed and approved the massacre by treachery and in cold blood of 400 of the Scots on Rathlin Island. Writing to the Queen, he says that "the soldiers hold back from no travail in her service; and this now done in the Raghlins, so do I find them full willing to follow it, until they shall have ended what your Majesty intendeth to have done." A writer in Notes and Queries, 3rd Series, who gives full particulars of the capture of the island, remarks: "How Essex fared on his arrival in Ireland; how he was persistently thwarted by a jealous Lord-Deputy; how he was gradually deserted by his followers of every degree; and how, in fine, he was crushed to death by an ever-increasing weight of disappointment, sorrow, and anguish, are matters too well known to need recapitulation in this place. The only real success he could boast of in his Irish campaign was the surprise and reduction of the island of Rathlin — a service in which he had no personal share. It was effected by the naval skill and military courage of Francis Drake and John Norreys... The plan and all its details originated with and were perfected by himself."

Eventually his English settlers deserted him, he lost the court favour, and was attacked by dysentery, which terminated his life after a month's illness, in Dublin, 22nd September 1576, aged about 36. He was buried at Carmarthen. There were suppositions of foul play regarding his death. Mr. Richey says: "He was a pure-minded chivalrous Christian gentleman after the fashion of his day. The killing on the Bann, and the massacre of Rathlin did not lie heavy on his soul." Mr. Froude adds: "Notwithstanding Rathlin, Essex was one of the noblest of living Englishmen, and that such a man could have ordered such a deed, being totally unconscious of the horror of it, is not the least instructive feature in the dreadful story." The Barony of Farney, in the County of Monaghan, was granted to him by Queen Elizabeth.

Sources

102. Devereux, Earls of Essex; Lives and Letters: Walter B. Devereux. 2 vols. London, 1853.

174. Ireland, History of, Lectures on the: Alexander G. Richey. 2 vols. Dublin, 1869-'70.

254. Notes and Queries. London, 1850-'78.
O'Callaghan, John C., see No. 186.

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