Thursday, 16 April 2015

Historical Notice of the City of Dublin (pt3)

Gerald, 9th Earl of Kildare
In giving historical sketches of Dublin it may not be irrelevant to notice that branch of the Geraldine family so much connected with the City as being always their neighbours, often their champions, and very frequently their viceroys. The earls of Kildare commanding by their castles of Maynooth, Leixlip, Kilkea, &c. the approaches to the valley of the Liffey, and having a fixed residence at Thomas's Court adjoining the town, always occupied an important position in the good opinion and affections of the citizens. And indeed the peculiar characteristics of the family, which were well defined as the well known lines of a Fitzgerald's mind, seemed best suited to rivet popular affection, and secure for them 'golden opinions.' In the government of their retainers, mild – to their enemies stern – easily displeased – sooner appeased – warm friends and bitter foes – liberal, brave, pious, merciful – the anecdote recorded of Gerald, the eighth Earl, might be told of any other of the race. In a rage with one of his followers, an English horseman seeing the chafed earl in his fearful mood, offered Master Boice, a gentleman of his household, an Irish Hobby (Poney) on condition that he would go up to his lord and pluck a hair out of his black heard. Boice, who knew his master, and felt how far he might venture on a Geraldine's nature, even while boiling in the heat of his choler, approached his lord and said, "here, my master, is one who has promised me a choice horse, if I snip one hair out of your honor's chin." "One hair," quoth the earl – "I agree thereto, but mark me Boice, thou malapert varlet, if thou pluckest more than one, I promise thee to bring my fist from thine ear." But it is (pursuant to our promise) with Gerald, the ninth earl, and his son Thomas, that at present we have to do, and we present them as subjects of historical entertainment to our readers, because not only connected in a very interesting manner with the City of Dublin, but also with a very stirring period of Ireland's history. The civil wars of England being brought to a close by the accession of the House of Tudor, and the politic Henry the Seventh having seen the great value of Ireland, a system of government was commenced in his reign, and adhered to during the long reign of Henry the Eighth, of keeping up an English interest in Ireland, and managing the great Irish lords, whether Milesian or Anglo Irish, by creating and fostering jealousies amongst them, and alternately elevating or depriving the rival interests. In this way was Gerald, earl of Kildare, at one time favored, at another suspected; now lord deputy, now accused of treason; one while pursuing, as Chief Governor of the land, the rebel Irish; storming the strong-holds of the king's enemies in Munster and in Ulster, sending as the most acceptable of presents the grim head of Shane O'Toole, from the glen of Imale, to John Rockford, mayor of Dublin, and returning from all his hostings, as the historian of his day has it, "loaden with hostages, prey and glory" – again summoned to London to answer for his usurpations, and his correspondence with the enemies of the State, and finding Cardinal Wolsey his bitter as well as his able enemy. Wolsey, in order to conduct the English interest, had sent over a confidential person to Ireland, Dr. John Allen, who had been very active in England in the suppression of the monasteries – this clever and subtle man, appointed at the same time lord chancellor and archbishop of Dublin, acted as a counterpoise to the Geraldines, and reported all their conduct to his employer; therefore on the earl of Kildare's appearance before the Council Board of England, Wolsey, with that swelling hauteur that marked the purpled Churchman, and which gave occasion to the following couplet, not more remarkable for its alliteration than its bitterness –

  "Begot by butchers, but by bishops bred,
  "How high his honour holds his haughty head" –

accused the earl before the king in a taunting style that wounded the fierce, nobleman more than the matter of the allegation: conniving at the rebellious practises of the "lewd earl of Desmond, his kinsman," of acting "more as king of Kildare than the earl, reigning more than ruling in the land." To this the Geraldine most characteristically replies, "What is Kildare to blame for Desmond more than my good brother Ossory (Butler,) who, notwithstanding his high promises, having also the king's power, is yet content to bring him in at leisure? – cannot the earl of Desmond shift, but I must be of his council – cannot lie hide himself except I wink – if he be close, am I his mate – if he be befriended, am I a traitor? This is a doughty kind of accusation which they urge against me, wherein they are gravelled and moved at my first denial. You would not see him, say they. Who made them so familiar with mine eyesight – or where was the earl within my view – or who stood by, when I let him slip – or where are the tokens of my wilful hoodwink? But you sent him word to beware of you – who was the messenger – where are the letters – convince my negatives – see how loose the idle gear hangeth together – Desmond is not taken – well – you are in fault – why – because you are – who proveth it – nobody – what conjectures – so it seemeth – to whom – to your enemies – who told it them – they will swear it – what other ground – none." After for some time continuing in this strain to justify himself from this accusation, and others of the same nature, he in defending himself against the taunt of being king of Kildare, addresses himself to Wolsey and says, "I marvel greatly my Lord, that one of your Grace's wisdom should appropriate so sacred a name to so wicked a thing – but howsoever it be, my Lord, I would you and I had changed kingdoms but for one month, and I would trust to gather up more crumbs in that space than twice the revenues of my poor earldom. But you are well and warm, and so hold you, and upbraid not me with such an odious term. I slumber in a hard cabin when you sleep in a soft bed of down – I serve under the king's cope of heaven, when you are served under a canopy – I drink water out of my steel skull cap, when you drink wine out of golden cups – my horse is trained to the field when your jennet is taught to amble. When you are graced and my-lorded, and crouched, and kneeled unto, then I find small grace with our Irish Borderers, except I cut them off by the knees."

It may well be supposed how the English arch-prelate winced under this indignant reply of the Hibernian; accordingly lie adjourned the cause under pretence of waiting for further evidence, and had the earl remanded to the tower, from whence he was restored through interest made for him by the English nobility, but was again recommitted, and if Speed tells truth, a circumstance occurred, during his second detention in the tower, which, as giving another tint to the picture of a Geraldine, is worth the reader's perusal. The cardinal having got at length sure evidence, as he said, that Kildare had plotted with O'Neil and O'Connor, sent a mandate for his immediate execution. At the instant of the arrival of the fatal messenger, Fitzgerald was playing at push-groat with the lieutenant of the tower, who on reading the paper changed countenance, and shewed signs of great grief, whereupon Kildare swore by St. Bridget that there was some "mad game in that villian scroll. But come Master lieutenant, fall what will, this throw is for a huddle," and accordingly throwing he gained his groats. The game over, with great composure he listened to the contents of the letter, and had little difficulty in persuading his keeper to go to the king, and know from him personally whether he was to die; accordingly the officer went and had an interview with Henry, who, surprised at the mandate, which was surreptitiously obtained from him, and offended at the malice of the cardinal, and in order to control (as he said) the priest's sauciness, gave the lieutenant his signet for a countermand of execution, at which the cardinal stormed; but soon after his day of disgrace came, and Kildare restored to royal favour, returned to Ireland to assume the sword as lord deputy, and to stand at the head of the party opposed to the English interest there. The changeful story of this nobleman is not yet told – clever, dauntless, and victorious, he shone brighter when breaking forth from the cloud of adversity than when basking in unobstructed beams of good fortune. Hating the Butlers, more perhaps for enjoying the favor of Wolsey, than even from hereditary motives, he was not content with carrying his arms against the obstinate enemies of his king, the O'Neils and O'Connors; but with the royal forces he invaded Kilkenny, and destroyed all belonging to the Earl of Ossory and his party. Moreover, instead of devoting himself to restoring peace and prosperity to the distracted island, he made himself a mere partizan in the quarrels of the Milesian chieftains; and in. order to support his son-in-law, the Tanist of Ely, O'Carrol, against the son of the deceased chieftain of that district, who, being of age, and a competent man, had asserted his right, to succeed his father, he besieged the castle of Birr, held by the young O'Carrol, where he received a shot from a falcon in the head, that caused him to raise the siege, and so deranged his intellect, that hot and fiery as he was before, he now became more unruly, and committed errors and extravagancies that nearly brought about the destruction of his noble family.

On the occasion of his wound; there is an anecdote recorded of him that does not redound much to the credit of his good nature. When recovering a little from the stun of the bullet, he sighed deeply, which when one of his followers observed, he, in order to raise his lord's spirits, said – "Good, my lord, be not discouraged; for I myself have been shot three times, and yet have recovered – to which the angry lord replied – "Would to God thou hadst, received also the fourth shot in my stead!"

The extravagant use which Kildare made subsequently of his power as deputy, raised a host of enemies against him which he could not resist. The Earl of Ossory, Sir William Sheffington, and Allen, Archbishop of Dublin, formed a cabal to put an end to his administration; and John Allen, Master of the Rolls, a creature of the Archbishop, was sent over the water to complain to the king of how matters were managed in Ireland. To the ear of an English monarch, the report which this official gave of the decay of Ireland, must have been in no small degree vexatious. He acquainted his majesty, that "neither English order, tongue, or habit, nor the king's laws, were used above twenty miles in compass; that the decay was occasioned by the takers of coyne and livery,1 without order after mens' own sensual appetites, and taking cuddies garty, and caan for felonies, and murder, alterages, saults, slaunciaghs, &c. &c. and that they want English inhabitants, who formerly had arms and servants to defend the country; but of late the English proprietors hath taken Irish tenants, that can live without bread or good victuals, and some for lucre, [it seems that the Irish landlord has been always pretty nearly of the same character,] to have more rent, and some for impositions and vassalages, which the English cannot bear – have expelled the English, and made the country all Irish, without order, society, or hospitality. Formerly, English gentlemen kept a retinue of English yeomen, according to the custom of England, to the great security of the country; but now they keep horsemen, or kernes, who live by oppressing the people. The great jurisdiction of the nobility is another cause of destroying the king's subjects, and revenue, and the black rents which the Irish exact, enriches them, and impoverishes the English."

Thomas, 10th Earl of Kildare
It is not to be wondered at, that upon such a report being made, the Lord Deputy should be summoned to London, to account for his administration. This mandate he most unwillingly, and after much evasion, obeyed; and being permitted to name his successor, on an undertaking of being accountable for his conduct, he had the hardihood to nominate his eldest son Thomas, a young man of one-and-twenty, who possessed all the qualities peculiar to his house, together with an excessive rashness and sensitiveness of character that made him altogether unsuitable to govern Ireland. Perhaps, says the historian, this promising young Geraldine would have exceeded his ancestors, if by laying the too great burthen on his weak shoulders, they had not broken his back in the beginning. In our next sketch we shall give an account of the government, rebellion, and destruction of this tenth Earl of Kildare, who, as we have before reported, went by the name of Silken Thomas.

[1] Hereafter we shall give a particular explanation of these terms, which so frequently occur in Irish history. For the present let it be understood to mean all the licence of the free quartering of military men upon a wretched peasantry.

Source: The Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Jul. 21, 1832)

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