The Last Years of Archbishop Creagh of Armagh.

By W. H. Grattan Flood.

[From The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 4th Series, Vol. XXVI, No. 501, September 1909]

ALTHOUGH Cardinal Moran, in his Spicilegium Ossoriense, added considerably to our knowledge of the life of Archbishop Creagh, yet recent research has brought to light many additional facts in connexion with the glorious confessor's last years. One thing is certain: the generally received date for Primate Creagh's death is incorrect. All authorities, including Stuart's Armagh, so capably edited by Father Ambrose Coleman, O.P., agree in fixing the Primate's death as occurring on October 14, 1585. The Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney in his memoir of Creagh, prefixed to Rothe's Analecta, writes as follows: 'The last reference to the imprisoned Primate that I have met with in the State Papers is dated the 27th of May, 1585.' Father Coleman adds: 'On October 14th of the same year he was dead. It was generally believed at the time that he had been put to death by poison.' Bishop Rothe, in 1619, is responsible for the date usually given. His words are: 'Evaserat e turri anno Domini 1565, et plusculis annis interpositis reductus in eundem carcerem e vita migravit 14 Octobris, anno 1585.' As I shall prove later on, the Primate did not die in October, 1585, nor yet in October, 1586-even assuming an error in the year-and he was certainly alive on December eve, 1586.

But before bringing forward the new facts dealing with the last years of the saintly Primate, it will be well to trace very briefly the career of Archbishop Creagh, whose episcopate has been ably described by Rothe, Copinger, Mullan, O'Sullivan, Howling and Cardinal Moran.

Richard Creagh, the son of a wealthy merchant of Limerick, was born circa 1522,1 and for a time pursued a mercantile career, but, by a special dispensation of Providence was urged to adopt the ecclesiastical state, and, having studied at the University of Louvain, was ordained priest in 1555. His career at Louvain was particularly brilliant, and he graduated Bachelor of Theology in 1555, returning to Limerick in 1556. From Lynch's MS. History it appears that Dr. Creagh opened a classical school in the dissolved Dominican Friary in his native city, where he taught with conspicuous success for two years, from 1560 to 1562. It is well to note that James FitzJohn, 14th Earl of Desmond, had given up the Dominican Friary to the Friars Preachers in 1554, and it remained in their possession till 1560. This earl died at Askeaton, October 14, 1558, and was succeeded by his son Gerald, under whom, in 1562, the Priory became forfeited to the Crown. In August of the same year Dr. Creagh went to Rome.

On the death of Primate O'Tighe, in December, 1562, Father David Wolfe, S.J., Papal Nuncio, recommended his townsman, Dr. Creagh, for the see of Armagh. Accordingly, on Low Sunday, 1564, we find him consecrated Archbishop, and he received the pallium on May 12. Not many months later he set out for Ireland, and he landed in his native country in December of the same year. Meantime, on November 18, 1563, Seaghan O'Neill, Prince of Ulster, gave over the Cathedral of Armagh to the Dean, Turlogh O'Donnelly, who had been recommended by Queen Elizabeth as Archbishop.

Immediately after his consecration, and while still in Rome, Primate Creagh, knowing the vast amount of good to be gained from well-equipped colleges, petitioned the Holy See to grant a charter for the foundation of an Irish Catholic University, with constituent colleges, after the model of Paris and Louvain, and to place it under the control of the Jesuit Fathers. The Pope acceded to his request, and issued a Brief, dated May 31, 1564, for the erection of a University in Ireland. During his stay on the Continent, Archbishop Creagh formed a friendship with many Jesuits, and he fortunately succeeded in securing the services of Father William Good, S.J., to accompany him to Ireland, with a view of becoming Rector of the proposed Catholic University. Father Good was admirably fitted for the position, as he had been Head Master of Wells Grammar School, under Queen Mary, and held a prebend in Wells Cathedral, but had to fly, in 1562, under Elizabeth, becoming a Jesuit at Tournai ere the close of the same year. At Dover, early in October, 1564, Primate Creagh and Father Good separated, and, strange to say, never met again.2 The Archbishop proceeded to London, and thence to Chester. He then took shipping for Ireland, and landed there on December 19.

No sooner was the Primate landed than spies were on his track, and he was arrested a couple of days before Christmas, just after celebrating Mass near Drogheda. He was then sent in chains to London, where he was examined on February 22, 1565, by Cecil, Elizabeth's minister, and again on March 17 by the Recorder of London. Some weeks later, on April 29,3 1565, the Primate escaped-owing to miraculous intervention, as he himself believed-from the Tower, and fled to his Alma Mater, Louvain, where he was joyfully received. After a short sojourn there he went to Spain, and thence returned to Ireland in July, 1566. He preached before O'Neill and O'Donnell in Armagh Cathedral on the Feast of the Assumption, and impressed on the Ulster princes the desirability of making peace with the English. But, as the Lord Deputy wanted to make the cathedral an arsenal, Prince O'Neill burned it sooner than allow the temple of God to be so desecrated. On Christmas Day the Primate wrote to the Lord Deputy (Sir Henry Sydney), asking for permission to exercise his ministry, and mentions that Seaghan O'Neill had burned Armagh Cathedral 'for safeguard of his country.'

In the spring of the year 1567 the Primate visited his native city, and preached before the Lord Deputy in St. Mary's Cathedral on April 1. However, on the last day of April he was arrested in Connacht by Dermot reagh O'Shaughnessy, in Kinelea, whither he had journeyed to minister to the needs of the diocese of Kilmacduagh. The miserable man O'Shaughnessy was rewarded for his perfidy by an autograph letter from Elizabeth herself and by the grant of ill-gotten property in Gort.4

A packed Dublin jury-to their credit be it said- refused to find the Archbishop guilty, and, after being confined for over six months in Dublin Castle, the good Primate escaped through the connivance of the jailer. However, ere the close of October, 1567, the Primate was a third time arrested, being given up by Moelmuire (Meyler or Melchior) Hussey, a retainer of the Earl of Kildare. This man Hussey was actuated by a desire to obtain the proffered reward of £40, but his master, the Earl of Kildare, made a stipulation that the Primate's life should be spared, which promise was solemnly agreed to, 'on his honour,' by the Lord Deputy Sydney. Of course, Sydney's 'honour' was not of much account, but the Government could not easily afford to offend the powerful Gerald, 11th Earl of Kildare. Sydney sailed for England on October 21, and the Primate was lodged in the Tower of London on November 6, as we learn from the Spanish Calendar of State Papers. On December 22, Meyler Hussey wrote to the Privy Council to spare the life of Archbishop Creagh, and he refused to accept the £40 which had been offered by Sydney. The Primate was examined on the same day, and was re-examined on January 8, 1568. It is worthy of note that though the real crime with which the Archbishop was charged was 'his maintaining the Pope's authority,' yet the interrogatories were all framed with a view merely to his indictment for being associated with Seaghan O'Neill. Father David Wolfe, S.J., who had been imprisoned with the Primate in Dublin Castle in 1567, was allowed to languish in a foul cell for five years. In September of that year he wrote an interesting letter which was discovered by Brother Foley, S.J., and is published in Rev. Dr. Hogan's Hibernia Ignatiana, from which it appears that Bishop Leverons of Kildare visited the cells and 'found the stench so intolerable that he was obliged to go away without transacting any business.' Father Wolfe states that the Primate was 'kept in irons in an underground, dark, and horrible prison, where no one is allowed to speak to him or to see him except his keeper. He has many sores on his body, and, although not over forty years of age, has lost all his teeth.' Many efforts were made to effect Father Wolfe's release, and even the Sovereign Pontiff, St. Pius the Fifth, wrote to the Nuncio at Madrid, on March 13, 1568, to request the King of Spain to ask the Spanish Ambassador in London to obtain his liberation, as also that of the Primate. Yet it was only in September, 1573, that he escaped from his loathsome prison, and he sought refuge in Spain, returning, however, in May, 1574.

All previous writers, including Cardinal Moran and Father Coleman, seem to imagine that Archbishop Creagh was detained in the Tower of London from 1567 until his death, although the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney says that the Primate 'appears to have been transferred for a while to custody in Dublin, but he was soon again consigned a prisoner to the London Tower.' We now know from the Spanish Calendar of State Papers, under date of March 27, 1570, that Dr. Creagh some days previously had been 'released on bail,' and had returned to Ireland. Thus from March, 1570, to May, 1574-over four years-the saintly Primate laboured in his native country, although the particulars of his career during that time are not on record.

The Spanish Calendar bears out the Primate's own statement as to his confinement in the pestiferous underground cell of the Tower known as Alesboure 5 (also written Halesboure and Whalesboure), described by Cardinal Allen as 'the grisly dungeon called Whalesboure,'. supposed by Dom Bede Camm to be the now destroyed Cole-harbour Tower. We learn that the Spanish Ambassador, in reply to the letters sent him by the Papal Nuncio at Madrid, had urged Queen Elizabeth 'to be more merciful to the Archbishop of Armagh, taking off his chains;' but her only answer was that 'she had made inquiries,' and that Creagh 'was a traitor and a rebel.' These irons had deprived the Primate of the use of one of his legs, and the letter of the Spanish Ambassador (Guzman de Silva) to King Philip, dated July 17, 1568, is an interesting corroboration of previous accounts.

It is not unlikely that the Primate on returning to Ireland in March, 1570, joined in the project for the revival of the St. Patrick's University, founded by Clement V, and confirmed by Pope John XXII. This project was planned by Sir Henry Sydney, Viceroy of Ireland, and James Stanihurst, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, and it was intended to make Blessed Edmund Campion, S.J., then the tutor of Richard Stanihurst. in Dublin, the Rector. But the proclamation of the Bull of St. Pius V against Elizabeth, and the strong Protestant opposition to the idea of a University, put an end to the project. The Bill was introduced on March 12, 1570, but owing to Cecil's strong opposition-probably distrustful of Campion-it was rejected by the Colonial Parliament on December 12, even though Sydney offered a large annual grant from his own estate in aid of the endowment of the Irish University.6 As is well known, Blessed Edmund Campion left Drogheda on May 1, 1571; but it is remarkable that he set sail from that port disguised as 'Mr. Patrick,' a servant of 'Melchior ' Hussey, steward to the Earl of Kildare. This was the same man Hussey who had repented and foregone his reward for the arrest of Archbishop Creagh. Sydney himself sailed for England on March 25, and was replaced by Fitzwilliam. Owing to the very disturbed state of the province of Armagh, it is probable that the Primate spent the years 1572-1574 in the county of Limerick, in company with Father David Wolfe, S.J. An agreeable incident of this period is the reconciling to the ancient faith of William Casey, Protestant Bishop of Limerick, who had been schismatically consecrated under Edward VI. Rev. Dr. Hogan, S.J., dates this incident as occurring in 1572, before Father Wolfe went to Spain but it must be at least a year later, for we find letters from Casey as Protestant Bishop of Limerick on November 18, 1573. The correct date is in June, 1574, when Wolfe had returned to Ireland. It is also well to note that on April 13,1575, the Pope empowered Bishop O'Gallagher of Derry to act as his Vice-Primate.

Cardinal Moran quotes a letter from the State Papers written by Primate Creagh as of the year 1574; but this is an error, as his Eminence was deceived by the official copy of the letter which was wrongly placed in the Calendar under December, 1574. Internal evidence would suffice to show that the letter cannot date earlier than March, 1575, but official documents give more detailed information. From the Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, under date of May 17, 1574, it is certain that the Primate was arrested and brought a prisoner to Dublin Castle, where he was detained till the end of February in the following year. Yet, though a prisoner, he was able to transact a good deal of business; and his undeniable reputation of sanctity did incalculable good in bringing back many temporizing Catholics to the ancient faith. At length, on February 14, 1575, Lord Deputy Fitzwilliam wrote a strong letter to Walsingham, urging him to send an order to have 'one Creagh, a Romish thing,' brought back to the Tower, inasmuch as the Primate 'wonderfully unfitteth the people, and hinderth the Archbishop [Loftus] of Dublin's godly endeavours to promote religion, which hath enforced to be importunate unto me for the sending of him away.' Though the State Papers give no clue as to the result of Fitzwilliam's appeal, we are fortunately enabled to fix the date of the Archbishop's transfer to the Tower from an entry in the Hatfield Papers,7 as occurring on March 4, 1575.

Full details as to the Primate's life in the Tower from 1575 to 1585 will be found in Rothe's Analecta, by Cardinal Moran, including the glorious confessor's many examinations and petitions and professions of loyalty to the Crown.

It must be added, however, that Archbishop Creagh was enabled to afford spiritual consolation to the English prelates confined in the Tower, and also to some of the English martyrs, including Archbishop Heath, of York, who died in the Tower on December 8, 1578. Seven years later the Lords of the Council ordered 'that the Primate should remain in prison,' as he was 'a dangerous man to be among the Irish, for the reverence that is by that nation borne unto him.'
It only remains to correct the generally received date for the death of the Primate, namely, October 14, 1585. The Tower Bills8 leave no room for doubt. For Christmas, 1585, we find among 'the demands of Owen Hopton, Knight,' Lieutenant of the Tower, 'the sum of £8 13s. 4d.' for 'the diet and charges of Richard Creagh, beginning the 29th of September and ending the 27th of December following, being thirteen weeks, at 13s. 4d. the week.' Also, 'one keeper, at 5s. the week-£3 5s.'; likewise, 'fuel and candle, at 4d. the week-£2 12s.' Precisely similar bills are on record for Lady Day, 1586, Midsummer, 1586, and Michaelmas, 1586, which go to prove that the Primate was living in the Tower on the 30th of September, 1586. Unfortunately, the Tower Bills for Christmas, 1586, are missing; but the Acts of the Privy Council go to prove that the Primate was alive for at least two months after Michaelmas. It may be noted that the Tower Bills do not contain the name of the Venerable Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, who was a prisoner in the Tower from 1585-1595; and who, doubtless, must have received spiritual consolation from Archbishop Creagh; but this is explained by the fact that Queen Elizabeth compelled men of means to pay for themselves.

From the Report of Sir Francis Walsingham9 of the resolutions of the Privy Council, held on November 30, 1586, we learn that it was ordered that 'Creagh be continued in the Tower.' This is the very last official reference to the Primate, and we can fairly assume that he died early in December of that year. Rothe, in his Analecta, tells us that the Archbishop's end was hastened by poison administered to him by a warder of the Tower named Culligy-a fact attested by 'a Catholic doctor named Arclow' This doctor was the famous physician, Dr. Edward Astlow, a Fellow of New College, Oxford, who had been ejected as a 'recusant,' and had been a prisoner in the Tower from 1574 to 1575.10 The Primate, learning of this, was perfectly resigned, and fortunately he was able to avail of the ministrations of Father William Creighton, S.J., who was his fellow-prisoner from September 16, 1584. Fortified by the rites of the Church, the holy martyr died a glorious death. The fact of his having been poisoned, in odium fidei, is not wholly derived from Rothe's Analecta, but is quoted by that distinguished prelate from Stanihurst's letter to Usher (Brevis Praemonitio: Douay, 1615), in which the learned Anglo-Irish writer distinctly says that Archbishop Creagh was poisoned in the Tower of London. Nor is it at all incredible that the minions of Elizabeth would poison the venerable Primate, who had languished continuously for thirteen years in the Tower. Elizabeth herself, after signing the death warrant of Mary Queen of Scots, on February 1, 1587, wrote to Sir Amyas Paulet, expressing her displeasure 'that he had not found out some way to shorten the life of his prisoner.' It is certain that Elizabeth was a party to the assassination of Seaghan O'Neill, and she undoubtedly gave her sanction to, and even conferred rewards on, the murderers of Irish chieftains, bishops, and priests. Father Creighton, S.J., who attended the Primate in his last hours, was in Paris towards the end of May, 1587, and started for Rome on June 1; and he doubtless conveyed the details of the Primate's death to the Holy See. I shall merely add that Redmond O'Gallagher, Bishop of Derry, was Vice-Primate from 1575 to July 1, 1587, when Edmund Magauran, Bishop of Ardagh (who was then in Rome), was translated to the primatial see, as successor of the martyr, Richard Creagh.

W. H. Grattan Flood


1 The date 1515, usually given, seems too early, as is evident from Father Wolfe's letter, quoted in the present article.
2 Father Good taught school at Limerick from 1565 to 1567, and then returned to Rome. He died at Naples, July 5, 1586.
3 This was Low Sunday, the anniversary of the Primate's consecration. The date, April 29, is verified from the State Papers.
4 See Monsignor Fahey's History of Kilmacduagh.
5 It is called Ceti Atrium by Rothe (p. 403).
6 See Mr. Justice Madden's Some Passages in the History of Classical Learning in Ireland. Dublin, 1908.
7 Historical Manuscripts Commission, Hatfield Papers, ii., p. 94.
8 Exchequer of Receipt, Miscellanea, Bundle 342, P.R.O., London.
9 This miserable man died in disgrace, a pauper, on April 6, 1590.
10 Acts of the Privy Council, 1575, pp. 390, 396.