The Duke of York

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXIII

In 1449 the Duke of York was sent to undertake the Viceregal dignity and cares. His appointment is attributed to the all-powerful influence of Queen Margaret. The immortal Shakspeare, whose consummate art makes us read history in drama, and drama in history,[7] has commemorated this event, though not with his usual ability. The object of sending him to Ireland was to deprive the Yorkists of his powerful support and influence, and place the affairs of France, which he had managed with considerable ability, in other hands. In fact, the appointment was intended as an honorable exile. The Irish, with that natural veneration for lawful authority which is so eminently characteristic of the Celtic race, were ever ready to welcome a prince of the blood, each time hoping against hope that something like ordinary justice should be meted out from the fountain-head. For once, at least, they were not disappointed; and "noble York" is represented, by an English writer of the sixteenth century, as consoling himself "for every kinde of smart," with the recollection of the faithful love and devotion of the Irish people.[8]

The royal Duke arrived in Ireland on the 6th of July, 1447. He was accompanied by his wife, famous for her beauty, which had obtained her the appellation of the "Rose of Raby," and famous also as the mother of two English kings, Edward IV. and Richard III. This lady was the daughter of Neville, Earl of Westmoreland, whose rather numerous family, consisting of twenty-two children, had all married amongst the highest families. The Duke was Earl of Ulster in right of Duke Lionel, from whom he was descended; but instead of marching at once to claim his possessions, he adopted such conciliatory measures as secured him the services and affections of a large body of Irish chieftains, with whose assistance he soon subdued any who still remained refractory. His popularity increased daily. Presents were sent to him by the most powerful and independent of the native chieftains. Nor was his "fair ladye" forgotten, for Brian O'Byrne, in addition to an offering of four hundred beeves to the Duke, sent "two hobbies"[9] for the special use of the "Rose of Raby." Indeed, it was reported in England that "the wildest Irishman in Ireland would before twelve months be sworn English." Such were the fruits of a conciliatory policy, or rather of a fair administration of justice.

The cities of Cork, Kinsale, and Youghal, now sent in petitions to the Viceroy, complaining bitterly of the way in which the English noblemen "fall at variance among themselves," so that the whole country was desolated. The settlers of Waterford and Wexford made similar complaints against an Irish chieftain, O'Driscoll, whom they describe as "an Irish enemy to the King and to all his liege people of Ireland." The Duke pacified all parties, and succeeded in attaching the majority of the nation more and more to his person and his interests. His English friends, who looked on his residence in Ireland as equivalent to banishment and imprisonment, were actively employed in promoting his return. The disgraceful loss of the English possessions in France, and probably still more the haughty and unconciliatory policy adopted by the Queen, had strengthened the Yorkist party, and emboldened them to action.

The Duke was requested to return to England, where the insurgents in Kent had already risen under the leadership of the famous Jack Cade, whose origin is involved in hopeless obscurity, and whose character has been so blackened by writers on the Lancastrian side that it is equally incomprehensible. He called himself John Mortimer, and asserted that he was cousin to the Viceroy. A proclamation, offering one thousand marks for his person, "quick or dead," described him as born in Ireland. In consequence of the nonpayment of the annuity which had been promised to the Duke during his Viceroyalty, he had been obliged to demand assistance from the Irish, who naturally resisted so unjust a tax. After useless appeals to the King and Parliament, he returned to England suddenly, in September, 1450, leaving Sir James Butler, the eldest son of the Earl of Ormonde, as his Deputy.

The history of the Wars of the Roses does not belong to our province; it must, therefore, suffice to say, that when his party was defeated in England for a time, he fled to Ireland, where he was enthusiastically received, and exercised the office of Viceroy at the very time that an act of attainder was passed against him and his family. He soon returned again to his own country; and there, after more than one brilliant victory, he was slain at the battle of Wakefield, on the 31st December, 1460. Three thousand of his followers are said to have perished with him, and among the number were several Irish chieftains from Meath and Ulster. The Geraldines sided with the House of York, and the Butlers with the Lancastrians: hence members of both families fell on this fatal field on opposite sides.

The Earl of Kildare was Lord Justice on the accession of Edward IV., who at once appointed his unfortunate brother, the Duke of Clarence, to that dignity. The Earls of Ormonde and Desmond were at war (A.D. 1462), and a pitched battle was fought between them at Pilltown, in the county Kilkenny, where the former was defeated with considerable loss. His kinsman, MacRichard Butler, was taken prisoner; and we may judge of the value of a book,[1] and the respect for literature in Ireland at that period, from the curious fact that a manuscript was offered and accepted for his ransom.


[7] History.—The scene is laid at the Abbey of Bury. A Poste enters and exclaims—

Poste.—"Great lords, from Ireland am I come amain,
To signify that rebels there are up,
And put the Englishmen unto the sword.
Send succours (lords), and stop the rage betime,
Before the wound do grow uncurable:
For being green, there is great hope of help."
King Henry VI. Part ii. Act 3.

[8] People.—"I twise bore rule in Normandy and Fraunce,
And last lieutenant in Ireland, where my hart
Found remedy for every kinde of smart;
For through the love my doings there did breede,
I had my helpe at all times in my neede."
Mirrour for Magistrates, vol, ii. p. 189.

Hall, in his Union of the Two Noble Houses (1548), wrote that York "got him such love and favour of the country [Ireland] and the inhabitants, that their sincere love and friendly affection could never be separated from him and his lineage."

[9] Hobbies.—Irish horses were famous from an early period of our history. They were considered presents worthy of kings. The name hobbies is a corruption of hobilarius, a horseman. It is probable the term is derived from the Spanish caballo, a horse. There were three different Irish appellations for different kinds of horses, groidh, each, and gearran. These words are still in use, but capall is the more common term.

[1] Book.—This ancient MS. is still in existence, in the Bodleian Library in Oxford (Laud, 610). It is a copy of such portions of the Psalter of Cashel as could then be deciphered, which was made for Butler, by Shane O'Clery, A.D. 1454. There is air interesting memorandum in it in Irish, made by MacButler himself: "A blessing on the soul of the Archbishop of Cashel, i.e., Richard O'Hedigan, for it was by him the owner of this book was educated. This is the Sunday before Christmas; and let all those who shall read this give a blessing on the souls of both."