IRELAND DURING THE BRUCE INVASION

FROM HOLINSHED’S CHRONICLES OF IRELAND

Raphael Holinshed (died c. 1580) was more of an English publisher and book packager than an author. He is best remembered not for the Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland that bear his name, but for one of his readers. Shakespeare, it is commonly thought, mined and adapted the plots of many of his historical plays from Holinshed.

Most of his Irish chronicles were simply a translation of various monastery annals, although passages in the first edition offended members of Queen Elizabeth’s court and the book was withdrawn and reissued in a censored version. The pages dealing with Edward Bruce do not present a tidy, linear record of what happened. Their focus is often eccentric, as in the curious incident on the aftermath of the disastrous battle outside Athenry. (A knight named O’Kelly tries to lure away the squire of an enemy.) But as a panorama the book does present a memorable portrait of a land gripped by chaos. The Bruces are described much like the Vikings of the past, while rival lords in the west take advantage of the confusion to war against each other. And all the while the land is being gripped by a famine (a great “dearth” in the words of the chronicler) that had spread across Europe and made its way to the island. There is even a report of cannibalism in which some starving soldiers are said to be reduced to “eating leather and eight Scots.”

IN THE NINTH YEARE OF KING EDWARDS reigne [Edward II of England], Edward Bruce, brother to Robert Bruce king of Scots, entered the north part of Ireland with six thousand men. There were with him diverse capteins of high renowne among the Scotish nation of whome the chiefe were these: the earles of Murrie and Mentith, the lord John Steward, the lord John Campbell, the lord Thomas Randolfe, Fergus de Andressan, John Wood, and John Bisset. They landed near to Cragfergus in Ulster the five & twentieth of May, and joining with the Irish, conquered the earledome of Ulster, and gave the English there diverse great overthrowes, tooke the towne of Dundalke, spoiled & burnt it, with a great part of Urgile: they burnt churches & abbeies, with the people whom they found in the same, sparing neither man, woman nor child. Then was the lord Edmund Butler chosen lord justice, who made the earle of Ulster and the Giraldines friends, and reconciled himselfe with sir John Mandevill, thus seeking to preserve the residue of the realme which Edward Bruce meant wholie to conquer, having caused himselfe to be crowned king of Ireland. The lord justice assembled a great power out of Mounster, and Leinster, and other parts thereabouts, and the earle of Ulster with another armie came unto him near unto Dundalke, where they consulted togither how to deale in defending the countrie against the enimies: but hearing the Scots were withdrawne backe, the earle of Ulster folowed them, and fighting with them at Coiners, he lost the field.

There were manie slaine on both parts, and William de Burgh the earls brother, sir John Mandevill, and sir Alane Fitzalane were taken prisoners. Herewith the Irish of Connagh and Meth began foorthwith to rebell against the Englishmen, and burnt the castell of Athlon and Randon. And the Bruce comming forward burnt Kenlis in Meth, and Granard, also Finnagh, and Newcastell, and kept his Christmas at Loghsudie, From thense he went through the countrie unto Rathimegan and Kildare, and to the parties about Tristeldermot and Athie, then to Raban, Sketlier, & near to Ardskoll in Leinster: where the lord justice Butler, the lord John Fitzthomas, the lord Arnold Powre, and other lords and gentlemen of Leinster and Mounster came to incounter the Bruce: but through discord that rose among them, they left the field unto the enimies, sir William Pendergast knight, and Heimond le Grace a right valiant esquier were slaine there. And on the Scotish side sir Fergus Andressan and sir Walter Murreie, with diverse other that were buried in the church of the friers preachers at Athie.

After this the Bruce in his returne towards Meth burnt the castell of Leie, and so passed foorth till hee came to Kenlis in Meth. In which meane time Roger lord Mortimer, trusting to win himselfe fame if he might overthrow the enimies, called forth fifteene thousand men, and understanding that the Scots were come to Kenlis, made thitherwards, and there incoun-tering with them, was put to the woorse, his men (as was supposed) wil-fullie shrinking from him, as those that bare him hollow hearts. With the newes of this overthrow, upstart Irish of Mounster, with fire and sword wasted all from Arclow to Leix. With them coped the lord justice, and made of them a great slaughter, fourescore of their heads were sent to the castell of Dublin.

In time of these troubles and wars in Ireland by the invasion thus of the Scots, certeine Irish lords, faith-full men and true subjects to the king of England, did not onelie promise to continue in the loyal obeisance towards him, being their sovereigne prince; but also for more assurance delivered hostages to be kept within the castell of Dublin. The names of which lords that were so contented to assure their allegiance were these, John Fitzthomas lord of Offalie, Richard de Clare, Morice Fitzthomas, Thomas Fitzjohn le Power baron of Donoille, Arnold le Power, Morice de Rochford, David de la Roch, and Miles de la Roch. These and diverse other resisted with all their might and maine the injurious attempts of the Scots, although the Scots had drawne to their side the most part of the wild Irish, and no small number also of the English Irish, as well lords, as others of meaner calling: so that the countrie was miserablie afflicted, what by the Scots on the one part, and the Irish rebels on the other, which rebels notwithstanding were overthrowne in diverse particular conflicts.

The Battle of Athenry in 1316 is commemorated in this town seal. The severed heads are thought to represent the vanquished chieftains of the Connacht.

But yet to the further scattering of the English forces in Ireland, there rose four princes of Connagh, but the Burghes and Birminghams discomfited them, and slew eleven thousand of them beside Athenrie. Amongst other were slaine in this battell Fedelmicus, Oconhur king of Connagh, Okellie, and diverse other great lords and capteins of Connagh and Meth. The lord Richard Birmingham had an esquier that belonged to him called John Husseie, who by the commandement of his maister went foorth to take view of the dead bodies and to bring him word whether Okellie his mortall foe were slaine among the residue. Husseie comming into the field with one man to turne up and survey the dead carcases, was streight espied by Okellie, that lay lurking in a brake bush thereby, who having had good proof of Husseie’s valor before that time, longed sore to train him from his capteine, and presuming now upon his good oportunitie, disclosed himselfe, not doubting, but either to win him with courteous persuasions, or by force to work his will of him, and so comming to him said: “Husseie, thou seest that I am at all points armed, & have my esquire here likewise furnished with armour & weapon readie at mine elbow; thou art naked [unarmed] with thy page, a yoongling, & not to be accounted of: so that if I loved thee not, and meant to spare thee for thine own sake, I might now doo with thee what I would, and slay thee for thy master’s sake. But come & serve me upon this request here made to thee, and I promise thee by St. Patrick’s staff to make thee a lord in Connagh, of more possessions than thy master hath in Ireland.” When these words might were said, his own man (a great stout lubber) began to reprove him of folie, for not consenting to so large an offer, which was assured with an oath.

Now had Husseie three enimies, and first therefore turning to his knave, he dispatched him. Next he raught unto Okellies esquier such a knock under the pit of the ear, that down he came to the ground and there he lay. Thirdly, he laid so about him, that before any help could be looked for, he had also slain Okellie, and perceiving the esquire to be but astonied he recovered him, and holpe him up again, and after he was somewhat come to himself, he forced him upon a trunchion, to bear his lords head into the high towne before him, who did so; and Husseie presented it to Birmingham, who after the circumstances declared, he dubbed Husseie knight, advancing him to many preferments. The successors of that familie afterwards were barons of Galtrim.

Sir Thomas Mandevill and others in this meane while made oftentimes enterprises against the Scots, and slew diverse of them in sundrie conflicts. But howsoever it chanced, we find recorded by Henrie Marlburrow, that either the said sir Thomas Mandevill (that thus valiantlie behaved himselfe against the Scots) or some other bearing the same name, and his brother also called John Mandevill were both slain shortlie after at Downe, upon their comming foorth of England, by the Scots that were readie there to assaile them.

Thus may we see, that those lords and knights, which had given pledges for their loyaltie to the king of England, sought by all ways and meanes how to beat back the enimies: which they might have done with more ease if the Irish had not assisted the Scots, and presuming of their aid, rebelled in sundrie parts of the countrie; who neverthelesse were oftentimes well chastised for their disloyal dealings, as partlie we have touched; although we omit diverse small overthrowes and other particular matters, since otherwise we should increase this booke further than our first purposed intent would permit.

Whilest the Scots were thus holden up in Ireland, that they could not in all things work their wiles, Robert le Bruce king of Scots came over himselfe, landed at Cragfergus to the aid of his brother, whose souldiors most wickedlie entered into churches, spoiling and defacing the same of all such toomes, monuments, plate, cones, & other ornaments which they found and might lay hands upon.

The castell of Cragfergus, after it had been strictly besieged a long time, was surrendred to the Scots, by them that had kept it, till they for want of other vittels were driven to eat leather and eight Scots (as some write) which they had taken prisoners ….

The fourteenth of September, Conhor Mac Kele, & five hundred Irishmen were slain by the lord Wiliam de Burgh, and lord Richard Birmingham in Connagh. Also on the Monday after the feast of All saints, John Loggan and sir Hugh Bisset slew a great number of Scots, among the which were one hundred with double armors, and two hundred with single armors: so that of their men of armes there died three hundred beside footemen.

The fifteenth of November chanced a great tempest of wind and rain; which threw down manie houses, with the steeple of the Trinitie church in Dublin, and did much other hurt both by land and water. On the fifth of December, sir Alane Steward that had been taken prisoner in Ulster by John Loggan, and sir John Sandale, was brought to the castell of Dublin. After Canlemas, the Lacies came to Dublin, & procured an inquest to be impanelled to inquire of their demeanor, for that they were accused to have procured the Scots to come into Ireland: but by that inquest they were discharged, and therewith took an oath to keep the kings peace, and to destroy the Scots to the uttermost of their power. In the beginning of Lent, the Scots came in secret unto Slane, with twentie thousand armed men: and with them came the armie of Ulster, destroieng all the countrie before them. Moreover, on Monday before the feat of S. Matthias the apostle, the earle of Ulster living in the abbeie of S. Marie, near to Dublin, Robert Notingham maior of that citie, with the communaltie of the same went thither, took the earle, and put him in prison within the castell of Dublin, slew seven of his men, and spoiled the abbeie.

The same week, Edward Bruce marched towards Dublin, but herewith, turning to the castell of Knoke, he entred the same, and took Hugh Tirrell the lord thereof, togither with his wife, and ransomed them for a sum of monie. The citizens of Dublin burnt all their suburbs for fear of a siege, and made the best purveyance they could to defend their citie, if the Bruce had come to have besieged them: but he turning another way, went unto the town of Naas, and was guided thither by the Lacies, contrary to their oath. From thense he passed unto Tristeldermot, and so to Baliganam, and to Callan, at length he came to Limerike, and there remained till after Easter. They of Ulster sent to the lord justice lamentable informations of such crueltie as the enimies practised in those parts, beseeching him to take some order for their relief in that their so miserable estate. The lord justice delivered to them the kings power with his standard, wherewith under pretense to expell the Scots, they got up in armor, and ranging through the countrie, did more vexe and molest the subjects than did the strangers. The Scots proceeded and spoiled Cashels, & wheresoever they lighted upon the Butlers lands, they burnt and spoiled them unmercifully.

In this meanwhile had the lord justice and Thomas Fitzjohn earle of Kildare, Richard de Clare, and Arnold le Powre baron of Donnoill levied an armie of thirty thousand men, readie to go against the enimies, and to give them battell, but no good was doone. For about the same time the lord Roger Mortimer was sent into Ireland as lord justice and landing at Yoghall, wrote his letters unto the lord Butler, & to the other capteins, willing them not to fight till he came with such power as he had brought over with him. Whereof the Bruce being warned, retired first towards Kildare. But yet after this he came within four miles of Trim, where he lay in a wood, and lost manie of his men through famine, and so at length about the beginning of May he returned into Ulster.

The lord Edmund Butler made great slaughter of the Irish near to Tristledermot, and likewise at Balithan he had a good hand of Omorch, and slew manie of his men. The lord Mortimer pacified the displeasure and variance betwixt Richard earle of Ulster, and the nobles that had put the said earle under safe keeping within the castell of Dublin, accusing him of certain riots committed to the prejudice and loss of the kings subjects, whereby the Scots increased in strength and courage, whose spoiling of the countrie caused such horrible scarsitie in Ulster, that the soldiors which the year before abused the kings authoritie, to provide themselves of over-fine diet, surfetted with flesh and Aqua vitoe all the Lent long, prolled and pilled insatiable wheresoever they came without need, and without regard of the poor people, whose only provision they devoured. These people now living in slaverie under the Bruce, starved for hunger, having first experienced manie lamentable shifts, even to the eating of dead carcasses ….

A great dearth this yeere afflicted the Irish people: for a measure of wheat called a chronecke was sold at four and twentie shillings, & a chronecke of oats at sixteene shillings, and all other vittels likewise were sold according to the same [high] rate; for all the whole countrie was sore wasted by the Scots and them of Ulster, insomuch that no small number of people perished through famine.

About the feast of Pentecost the lord justice Mortimer took his journey towards Drogheda, and sent to the Lacies, commanding them to come unto him, but they refused so to do. Whereupon he sent sir Hugh Crofts unto them, to talk with them about some agreement of peace: but they slew the messenger, for whom great lamentation was made, for that he was reputed & known to be a right woorthie knight. The lord justice sore offended herewith, gathereth an armie & goeth against the Lacies, whom he chased out of Connagh, so that Hugh Lacie withdrew to Ulster, & there joined himself with Edward Bruce. Whereupon, on the Thursday next before the feast of saint Margaret, the said Hugh Lacie and also Walter Lacie were proclamed traitors. This year passed very troublesome unto the whole realm of Ireland, as well through slaughter betwixt the enimies one to another, as by dearth and other misfortunes. Hugh Canon the kings justice of his bench was slain by Andrew Birmingham betwixt the town of Naas and castell Marten. Also in the feast of the purification, the popes bulles were published, whereby Alexander Bignor was consecrated archbishop of Dublin. About the same time was great slaughter made of Irishmen, through a quarrell betwixt two great lords in Connagh: so that there died in fight to the number of four thousand men on both parties ….

Richard de Clare with four knights … and others (to the number of four score persons) were slain by Obren and Mac Arthie. It was said that the enimies in despite caused the lord Richards bodie to be cut in pieces, so to satisfie their malicious stomachs; but the same pieces were yet afterwards buried in the church of the friers minors at Limerike. Also before the lord Mortimers returne into England, John Lacie was carried to Trim, where he was arreigned and adjudged to be pressed to death, and so he died in prison.

Immediatlie upon his arrival, the lord John Birmingham being generall of the field, and having with him diverse capteins of worthie fame … led forth the kings power, to the number of one thousand three hundred foure and twentie able men against Edward Bruce, who being accompanied with the lord Philip Mowbraie, the lord Walter de Soules, the lord Alaine Steward, with his three brethren, sir Walter, and sir Hugh, sir Robert, and sir Aimerie Lacies, and others, was incamped not past two miles from Dundalke with three thousand men, there abiding the Englishmen, to fight with them if they came forward: which they did with all convenient speed, being as desirous to give battell as the Scots were to receive it.

The primat of Armagh personallie accompanieng the English power, & blessing their enterprise, gave them such comfortable exhortation, as he thought served the time before they began to incounter. And herewith [at Faughart] buckling togither, at length the Scots fullie and wholie were vanquished, and two thousand of them slain, togither with their capteine Edward Bruce. Maupas that pressed into the throng to incounter with Bruce hand to hand, was found in the search dead aloft upon the slaine bodie of Bruce. The victorie thus obteined upon saint Calixtus day, made an end of the Scotish kingdom in Ireland, & lord Birmingham sending the head of Bruce into England, or as Marlburrow hath, being the messenger himselfe, presented it to king Edward, who in recompense gave to him and his heires male the earledome of Louth, and the baronie of Ardich and Athenrie to him and his heirs generall for ever. Shortlie after sir Richard de Clare with four other knights of name, and manie other men of war were slaine in Thomond.

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