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Elizabeth I and Ireland, Episode 3 - 28/09/05


Circa 1540, Satire on the plundering habits of English soldiers raised for service in Ireland (Getty Images/Hulton|Archive)

English Plunderer, c. 1540
(Getty Images)
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It took until 1540 before an English monarch (Henry VIII) could declare himself King of Ireland. Until Henry broke with Rome, the English monarchy was lord of Ireland. When Rome was discarded, so was the fiction. The English ruled, or at least they tried to.

This was the 16th century Troubles - Fitzgeralds, the Catholic Desmonds, fighting Butlers, the Protestant Ormondes. The bloody conflict came to a head during Elizabeth's reign. Walter Ralegh, then a young soldier and his half brother, Humphrey Gilbert who were both to become famous colonial explorers, were feared conquerors. The path to Gilbert's tent was lined with poles, on top of which were the heads of vanquished opponents.

In 1580, Ralegh and another captain, Macworth, led a force into Smerwick. No mercy was shown. In an hour 600 were put to the sword. Catholic Europe judged the rape of Smerwick to be as much a tragedy as the 1572 St Bartholomew's Day massacre in Paris. This was the first recorded English colonial atrocity.

The final Tudor battle for Ireland was against Hugh O'Neill, second Earl of Tyrone. O'Neill joined with Hugh Roe O'Donnell in what became known as O'Neill's Revolt. At first O'Neill succeeded but then his force was defeated at Kinsale in 1601. O'Neill submitted to the English in 1603. He thought he had surrendered to Elizabeth, but she had died just days before. It was left to James I of England (James VI of Scotland) to notionally take the submission and to offer the pardon.

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Historical Figure

Hugh O'Neill, c.1590 (Getty Images/Hulton|Archive)

Hugh O'Neill
(Getty Images)
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Hugh O'Neill, c. 1540-1616

Baron of Dungannon and second Earl of Tyrone. Known in Ireland as the Great O'Neill. One time favourite of the English and lived in England. He returned to Ireland to fight a rival O'Neill.

After his pardon in 1603, O'Neill could not live under the authority of the British. He fled Ireland in 1607 and died in Rome nine years later.

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Did You Know...

James the First's plan to settle Ulster with Scots and English was to anglicize that part of Ireland.

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Have Your Say

Events of this episode took place in Europe & M. East region. We're interested to hear your comments on the influence of Empire on this region:

Comment on Europe & M. East

Pamela Anne Smith
As usual I was listening to 4 whilst driving my car. This particular episode was very interesting. Rather a pity that more people are not aware of the historical problems in Ireland. Makes me always wonder if the situation there will ever be solved.

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Contemporary Sources

Proclamation by Queen Elizabeth I
The Queen is trying to get the Irish to desert the Catholic Desmond.

"Whereas the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty hath been given to understand that the Earl of Desmond, his confederates and adherents, to the end that they might more easily draw her loving subjects of that Realm of Ireland to fall from the duty of obedience and to take part with them in the most wicked and undutiful actions and attempts, have maliciously and traitorously given forth that her Majesty would have a determination to make a new Conquest of that Realm, being already her own by undoubted title of inheritance...

"...She hath thought good by this present Proclamation to make known to her most loving subjects of that her Realm of Ireland whom she tendereth with equal respects of favour, that notwithstanding all former acts of disobedience and acts of rebellion committed against her royal majesty and Crown, she is pleased and contented to resort to her wonted clemency and gracious pardoning nature, and therefore most straightly commandeth all her subjects of what condition so ever they be with the Realm of Ireland who have in sort above been said to offend, with all expedition to withdraw themselves from the company aiding and assisting, openly or secretly, directly or indirectly, of such said persons and traitors...

"...They shall be regarded as open and heinous malicious traitors and as persons to whom her Majesty mindeth never to give pardon. And doth command all good subjects to follow and pursue them as obstinate and desperate rebels with fire, sword, and all other means possible to the utter ruin and subversion of them..."

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