Shane O'Neill in England

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXV

In October, 1562, Shane was invited to England, and was received by Elizabeth with marked courtesy. His appearance at court is thus described by Camden, A.D. 1562: "From Ireland came Shane O'Neill, who had promised to come the year before, with a guard of axe-bearing galloglasses, their heads bare, their long curling hair flowing on their shoulders, their linen garments dyed with saffron, with long open sleeves, with short tunics, and furry cloaks, whom the English wondered at as much as they do now at the Chinese or American aborigines." Shane's visit to London was considered of such importance, that we find a memorandum in the State Paper Office, by "Secretary Sir W. Cecil, March, 1562," of the means to be used with Shane O'Neill, in which the first item is, that "he be procured to change his garments, and go like an Englishman."[1]

But this was precisely what O'Neill had no idea of doing. Sussex appears to have been O'Neill's declared and open enemy. There is more than one letter extant from the northern chief to the Deputy. In one of these he says: "I wonder very much for what purpose your Lordship strives to destroy me." In another, he declares that his delay in visiting the Queen had been caused by the "amount of obstruction which Sussex had thrown in his way, by sending a force of occupation into his territory without cause; for as long as there shall be one son of a Saxon in my territory against my will, from that time forth I will not send you either settlement or message, but will send my complaint through some other medium to the Queen." In writing to the Baron of Slane, he says that "nothing will please him [the Deputy] but to plant himself in my lands and my native territory, as I am told every day that he desires to be styled Earl of Ulster."

The Lord Chancellor Cusack appears, on the contrary, to have constantly befriended him. On 12th January, 1568, he writes of O'Neill's "dutifulness and most commendable dealing with the Scots;" and soon after three English members of the Dublin Government complain that Cusack [2] had entrapped them into signing a letter to the unruly chieftain. There is one dark blot upon the escutcheon of this remarkable man. He had married the daughter of O'Donnell, Lord of one of the Hebrides. After a time he and his father-in-law quarrelled, and Shane contrived to capture O'Donnell and his second wife. He kept this lady for several years as his mistress; and his own wife is said to have died of shame and horror at his conduct, and at his cruel treatment of her father. English writers have naturally tried to blacken his character as deeply as possible, and have represented him as a drunkard and a profligate; but there appears no foundation for the former accusation. The foundation for the latter is simply what we have mentioned, which, however evil in itself, would scarcely appear so very startling to a court over which Henry VIII. had so long presided.


[1] Englishman.—Moore, vol. iv. p. 37, has "like a gentleman," but the above is the correct reading. In 1584 Sir J. Perrot tried to get the Irish chieftains to attend Parliament clothed in the English fashion, and even offered them robes and cloaks of velvet and satin. The chieftains objected; the Lord Deputy insisted. At last one of them, with exquisite humour, suggested that if he were obliged to wear English robes, a Protestant minister should accompany him attired in Irish garments, so that the mirth and amazement of the people should be fairly divided between them.—Sir J. Perrot's Life, p. 198.

[2] Cusack.—One reason, perhaps, was that the Chancellor always treated O'Neill with the respect due from one gentleman to another. Flemyng mentions, in a letter to Cecil, November 29, 1563, that O'Neill told him, when about to take the oaths of his people to an agreement with the Queen, that "Cusack did not give them their oath so, but let me give them their oath."