Murrough O'Brien, First Earl of Thomond, and Baron Inchiquin

DIED A. D. 1551.

From The Irish Nation: Its History and Its Biography

By James and Freeman Wills

AMONG the great Irish chiefs who joined in surrendering their claim to native dignities and to ancient hereditary tenures and privileges, which it became at this period both unsafe and inexpedient to retain, none can be named more illustrious, either by descent or by the associations of a name, than Murrough O'Brien. There was none also among these chiefs to whom the change was more decidedly an advantage. The O'Briens of Thomond had, more than any of the other southern chiefs, suffered a decline of consequence and power, under the shadow of the great house of Desmond--with which they were at continual variance, and of which it had for many generations been the family policy to weaken them by division or oppression. It is mentioned by Lodge in his Collectanea, that it was the custom of the Desmond lords to take part with the injured branches of the O'Briens, with a view to weaken the tribe; and, in the middle of the sixteenth century, the house of Desmond was the first in Ireland for the extent of its territories, and the influence derived from numerous and powerful alliances.

Murrough O'Brien had obtained possession of the principality of Thomond by a usurpation, justified by the pretence of the ancient custom of tanistry, by which it was understood that the succession was determined by a popular election of the most worthy. By this ancient custom, so favourable to the strong, Murrough set aside his nephew, whose loss, however, he compensated, by resigning to him the barony of Ibrackan. The possession thus obtained by a title, which had long been liable to be defeated by means similar to those by which it was acquired, he prudently secured by a precaution, at this time rendered effective by the policy of the English administration, and countenanced by the example of his most eminent native countrymen.

He submitted to the lord deputy, who advised him to proceed to England. In pursuance of this advice, O'Brien repaired to England, and made the most full renunciation of his principality, and all its appurtenant possessions, privileges, and dignities, into the hands of the king. He further agreed and bound himself to renounce the title of O'Brien--to use whatever name the king should please to confer--to adopt the English dress, language, and customs. He also engaged to cultivate his lands--build houses, and let them to proper tenants who might improve the land--to renounce all cess or other exaction, and keep no armed force without the express permission of the deputy. He further covenanted to be obedient to the king's laws, to answer to his writs, and aid his governors according to the requisition. He was to hold his lands by a single knight's fee. There is among the State Papers, published in 1834, one which purports to contain an abridgment of the "requests" of O'Brien and some of the other chiefs associated with him in this transaction. The following is the part relative to O'Brien:--

"First, he demandeth to him and to his heirs male, all such lands, rents, reversions, and services, as I had at any time before this day, or any other [person] to my use, which is named part of Thomond, with all rule and authority to govern all the king's subjects, and to order them in defence of the said country, according to the king's laws, and with all royalty thereto belonging; reserving to the king's majesty the gift of all bishopricks, and all other things to the crown or regality appertaining.

"Where the council of Ireland hath given him certain abbeys lately suppressed, he requireth the confirmation of that gift by the king's majesty, to him and to his heirs male.

"Item. That the laws of England may be executed in Thomond, and the haughty laws and customs of that country may be clearly put away for ever.

"Item. That bastards from henceforth may inherit no lands, and that those which at this present do inherit may enjoy the same during their lives, and after their death to return to the right heirs lawfully begotten.

"Item. That there may be sent into Ireland, some well learned Irishmen, brought up in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, not being infected with the poison of the bishop of Rome, and to be first approved by the king's majesty, and then to be sent to preach the word of God in Ireland.

"Item. Some place of small value near Dublin, where he may prepare for his horses and folkis, if he shall be commanded to resort to parliament or council at Dublin."[1]

Such were generally the demands made by O'Brien, of which we have already mentioned the result. He was created earl of Thomond, with remainder to his nephew Donogh O'Brien, whom he had dispossessed by the law of tanistry, but who must, in the eye of English law, have been looked on as one defrauded of his right. As, however, this arrangement could not be quite satisfactory to Murrough, he was at the same time created baron Inchiquin, with remainder to the heirs of his body.

We have already given an extract descriptive of the ceremony of the creation of those Irish earls: a more detailed description which we have since met will not be thought superfluous by the reader who is curious upon the subject of ancient manners:--

"First, The queen's closet at Greenwich was richly hanged with cloth of Arras, and well strawed with rushes. And after the king's majesty was come into his closet to hear high mass, these earls and the baron aforesaid, [Murrough O'Brien, Donogh O'Brien, and William de Burgh] went to the queen's closet, and thereafter saeing of high mass put on their robes of estate, and ymediately after, the king's majesty being under the cloth of estate, with all his noble council, with other noble persons of his realm, as well spiritual as temporal, to a great number, and the ambassadours of Scotland, the earl of Glencairn, Sir George Douglas, Sir William Hamilton, Sir James Leyremonthe, and the secretary for Scotland, came in the earl of Tomonde, led between the earle of Derby and the earle of Ormonde, the viscount Lisle, bearing before him his sword, the hilt upwards, Gartier before him bearing his letters patent, and so proceeded to the king's majestie. And Gartier delivered the said letters patentis to the lord chamberlain, and the lord chamberlain delivered them to the great chamberlain, and the lord great chamberlain delivered them to the king's majesty, who took them to Mr Wriothesly, secretary, to reade them openly. And when he came to "Cincturam gladii" the viscount Lisle presented to the king the sword, and the king girded the said sword about the said earl bawdrickwise, the foresaid earl kneeling, and the lords standing that lead him. [This ceremony was repeated for the next earl, Clanrikard.] That done, came into the king's presence the baron [Donogh O'Brien, the nephew] in his kirtle, led between two barons, the lord Cobham, and the lord Clinton; the lord Montjoye bearing before him his robe, Gartier bearing before him his letters patents in the manner aforesaid, &c., &c. [the king handing these to Mr Paget to read out], and when he came to "Investimus," he put on his robe. And so the patent read out, the king's majesty put about every one of their necks a chain of gold with a crosse hanging at it, and took then their letters patent, and they gave thanks unto him. And then the king's majestie made five of the men that came with them knights. And so the earl's and the baron in order, took their leave of the king's highness, and were conveyed, bearing their letters patent in their hands to the council chamber, underneath the king's majesty's chamber, appointed for their dining place, in order as hereafter followeth: the trumpets blowing before them, the officers of armes, the earl of Thomond led between the earl of Derby and the viscount Lisle, &c., &c., to the dining place. After the second course, Gartier proclaimed their styles in manner following:--

"Du Treshault [tres haut] et puissant Seigneur Moroghe O'Brien, Conte de Tomond, Seigneur de Insewyne, du royaume de Irelande, &c., &c. The king's majestie gave them their robes of estate, and all things belonging thereunto, and paid all manner of duties belonging to the same."[2]

This earl was in the same year sworn of the privy council. He married a daughter of Thomas Fitz-Grerald, the knight of the valley. He died 1551, and was succeeded in the barony of Inchiquin by his eldest son, according to the limitations of his patent, while the earldom went, by the same provisions, to his nephew's family.


[1] State Papers, cccxciii. vol. iii.

[2] State Papers. Note to paper cccxcvi.