O'Neil At Court

Justin McCarthy
Chapter IV | Start of Chapter

The evidence of history leaves little or no doubt that Elizabeth connived at a plot for the removal of O'Neil by assassination. This project did not come to anything, and the Queen tried another policy. She was a woman not merely of high intellect but also of artistic feeling, and it would seem as if the picturesque figure of Shane O'Neil had aroused some interest in her. She proposed to enter into terms with the new "Lord of Ulster," as he now declared himself, and invited him to visit her Court in England. O'Neil seems to have accepted with great goodwill this opportunity of seeing a life hitherto unknown to him, and he soon appeared at Court. We read that O'Neil and his retainers presented themselves in their saffron-coloured shirts and shaggy mantles, bearing battle-axes as their weapons, amid the stately gentlemen, the contemporaries of Essex and Raleigh, who thronged the Court of the great Queen. A meeting took place on January 6, 1562. Froude tells us the effect produced upon the Court by the appearance of O'Neil and his followers: "The council, the peers, the foreign ambassadors, bishops, aldermen, dignitaries of all kinds, were present in State, as if at the exhibition of some wild animal of the desert. O'Neil stalked in, his saffron mantle sweeping round and round him, his hair curling on his back and clipped short below the eyes, which gleamed from under it with a grey lustre, frowning, fierce, and cruel. Behind him followed his gallow-glasses, bareheaded and fair-haired, with shirts of mail which reached beneath their knees, a wolf's skin flung across their shoulders, and short, broad battle-axes in their hands."