One consequence of the panic in London after the English defeat at Yellow Ford was that Queen Elizabeth dispatched Robert Devereux, earl of Essex, to Ireland as lord lieutenant. Essex (1567-1601), who is usually referred to rather smirkingly as the queen’s “favorite,” landed in Ireland with an army of sixteen thousand men in April 1599. Rather than confronting the rebels at their strongholds in the north, he marched his huge army around in circles in the south. Eventually ordered north by the queen, he met O’Neill alone in a stream on the border of Counties Louth and Monaghan and, rather than fighting, claimed—later—to have made a cease-fire agreement. Essex’s adventure was both a military and a personal disaster that ended with his recall to London, no longer a favorite. After a failed coup attempt in 1601, he was executed.

In the following exchange of letters, Essex describes his meeting with O’Neill to the queen, writing—like Julius Caesar in his Gallic War—in the third person. In her blistering reply, the queen upbraids him for wasting his military advantage, for keeping secret what O’Neill actually said, and for falling for the rebel chief’s now-familiar trick of stalling for time. It is also clear that in using phrases such as “you do but piece up a hollow peace,” the queen writes with a fine Shakespearean flair.

Sir John Harington (1561-1612), whose published papers contained these letters, was Elizabeth’s godson, a poet, translator, and inventor. A flush toilet he designed was installed in one of the queen’s palaces and was said to be the first such convenience in England. He accompanied Essex on his Irish adventure and is probably best known for an epigram that seems especially apt, considering his friendship with Essex: “Treason doth never prosper. What’s the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”


… The L. Lieutenant marched with his army towards Ferny, and lodged the 2 of September [1599] betwixt Roberts Towne and Newcastel. The 3rd he went from thense to Ardoff, where he might see Tirone with his forces on a hill, a mile and a half from owre quarter, but a river and a wood betwixt him and us. The L. Lieutenant first imbattelled his army, and then lodged it uppon the hill by the burnt castel of Ardoff, and because theare was no wood for fyre nor cabines but in the valley towards Tirone’s quarter, his Lo [Lord Lieutenant] commaunded a squadron of every compagny to goe fetch wood, and sent 500 foote and 2 compagnies of horsse for their garde. Tirone sent downe some horsse and foote to impeache them and offer skirmish, but after directed them not to passe the foorde, when he sawe owre men resolved to dispute it. Some skirmish theare was, from one side of the river to the other, but to little purpose; for as they offended us little, so we troubled owre selvs as little with them.

The next day the L. Lieutenant marched thorough the playne country to the mill of Louthe, and incamped beyond the river towards Ferny, and Tirone marched thorough the woodes, and lodged in the next wood to us, keeping his skowtes of horsse in sight of owre quarter. At this quarter the L. Lieutenant being driven to stay for a supply of victuall from Dredagh, consulted what was to be donn uppon Tirones armie, or how theire fastnesse might be entred. It was protested by all, that owre army being farr lesse in strength, was not to attempt trenches, and to fight uppon such infinit disadvauntage: but a strong garrison might be placed at Louthe, or some castel thereabouts, to offend the bordering rebells, and defend the whole coumpty of Lowthe; and that since we were theare, we should one day draw owte and offer battayle, with oure 2500 foote to theare 5000, and with oure 300 horsse to theire 700.

According to which resolution the L. Lieutenant first viewed Lowthe, and found it utterly unfitt, theare being no fewell to be gotten neere it, nor any strength to be made in short tyme; and the same day, being the 5th of September, he had a gentleman sent unto him from Tirone, one Henry Hagan, his constable of Dungannon and a man highly favored and trusted of him. This Hagan delivered his masters desire to parly with the L. Lieutenant, which his Lo refused; but told Hagan he would be the next morning on the hill, betwixt both theire camps, and if he would then call to speake with him, he would be found in the head of his troupes.

With this answer Hagan returned, and the next morning, being the 6th of September, the L. Lieutenant drew owte 2000 foote and 300 horsse, leaving a colonel with 500 foote and 20 horsse to garde owre quarter and baggage.

The L. Lieutenant first imbatteled his men uppon the first great hill he came to, in sight of Tirone; and then marched forward to an other hill, on which Tirones garde of horsse stoode, which they quitted, and theare owre army made good the place till it was neere 3 of the clocke in the afternoone. During which tyme Tirones foote never showed themselves out of the wood, and his horsemen were putt from all the hills which they came uppon betwixt us and the woode: by which occasion some skirmish was amongst the light horsse, in which a French gentleman of the Earl of Southamptons were all that were hurt of owre side.

After this skirmish, a horseman of Tirones called to owres, and delivered this message;—that Tirone would not fight, nor drawe forthe, but desired to speake with the L. Lieutenant, but not betwixt the 2 armies. Whereuppon the L. Lieutenant, towards 3 of the clocke in the afternoone, drew back agayne into his quarter, and after his returne thither, placed a garrison of 500 foote, and 50 horsse, at Niselerathie, half a mile from the mill of Lowthe, where theare is a square castel and a great bawne with a good dytche rounde abowte it, and many thatchd houses to lodge owre men in.

The commaundement of the garrison was given to Sir Christopher St. Laurence. The next morning, being the 7th of September, we dislodged and marched to Drumconrogh; but ere we had marched a mile, Hen. Hagan comes agayne to the L. Livetenant, and in the presens of the Earle of Southampton, Sir G. Bourgcher, Sir Waram St. Leger, and diverse other gentlemen, delivered this message:—that Tirone desired her Majesties mercy, and that the L. Livetenant would heare him; which if his Lo agreed to, he would gallop abowte and meete his Lo at the forde of Bellaclinche, which was on the right hand by the way which his Lo tooke to Drumconrogh. Uppon this message his Lo sent 2 gentlemen with H. Hagan to the foorde, to vew the place. They found Tirone theare, but the water so farr owte as they told him they thought it no fitt place to speake in.

Whereupon he grew very impatient, and sayed, “Then I shall despayre ever to speake with him; and at last, knowing the foorde, found a place, where he, standing up to the horsses belly, might be neere enough to be heard by the L. Lieutenant, though he kept the harde grownde; upon which notice the L. Lieutenant drew a troupe of horsse to the hill, above the foord, and seing Tirone theare alone, went doune alone: at whose comming Tirone saluted his Lo with a greate deale of reverence, and they talked neere half an houre, and after went ether of them up to their compagnies on the hills.

But within a while, Con O’Neale, Tyrone’s base sonn, comes downe and desired from his father, that the L. Livetenant would lett him bring downe some of the principall men that were with him, and that his Lo would appoynte a number to come downe on ether side. Whereuppon his Lo willed him to bring downe 6, which he did: namely, his brother Cormock, McGennys, McGwire, Ever McCowle, Henry Ovington, and one Owen, that came from Spayne, but is an Irishe man by birthe. The L. Livetenant seing them at the foorde, went down, accompagnied with the Earle of Southampton, Sir G. Bourgcher, Sir Waram St. Leger, Sir Hen. Davers, Sir Edw. Wingfeild, and Sir Will. Constable. At this second meeting, Tirone and all his compagny, stood up allmost to theire horsses bellies in water, the L. Livetenant with his, uppon harde grounde. And Tirone spake a good while, bare headed, and saluted with a greate deale of respect all those which came downe with the L. Livetenant. After almost half an howres conference, it was concluded that theare should be a meeting of certayne commissioners the next morning, at a foord by Garret Flemings castel, and so they parted: the L. Livetenant marching with his armie to Drumconrogh; Tirone returning to his campe.

The next morning the L. Livetenant sent Sir Waram St. Leger, Sir William Constable, Sir William Warren, and his secretarie, Henry Wotton, with instructions, to the place of meeting. Tirone came himself to the parlie, and sent into Garret Flemings castel 4 principal gentlemen, as pledges for the safetie of our commissioners. In this parlie was concluded a cessation of armes for 6 weeks, and so to continue from 6 weeks to 6 weeks, till May day, or to be broken uppon 14 Days warning ….

This being concluded on the 8th of September, on the 9th the Lord Livetenant dispersed his army, and went himself to take phisicke at Dredagh; and Tirone retired with all his forces to the hart of his countrie.


Right trustie and right welbeloved cousin and councellor, we greet you well ….

We never doubted but that Tyrone whensoever he sawe anie force approache, ether himselfe or anie of his principall partisans, wold instantly offer a parley, specially with our supreme Gouvernor of that kingdome, having often don it to those who had but subalterne authority, always seaking these cessations with like wordes, like protestations, and uppon such contingents, as we gather these will prove, by your advertisement of his purpose to goe consult with Odonnell.

Herein, we must confesse to you that we are doubtfull least the successe wilbe suteable with your owne opinion heretofore, when the same rebels heald like coorse with others that preceaded you. And therefore to come to some aunsweare for the present, it appeareth to us by your jor-nall, that you and the traitor spake togither halfe an howre alone, and without anie bodyes hearinge: wherein, though we that truste you with our kingdome are farre from mistrusting with a traitor; yet, both for comelines, example, and for your owne discharge, we mervaile you wolde cary it no better, especially when you have seemed in all thinges since your arrivall to be so precise to have good testimony for your actions; as, whensoever there was anie thinge to be don to which our commandement tyed you, it seamed sufficient warrant for you if your fellowe councellors allowed better of other wayes, though your owne reason caryed you to have pursued our directions against their opinions; to whose conduct if we had meant that Irlande (after all the calamities in which they have wrapped it) should still have been abandoned, (to whose coorses never any could take more exceptions then your selfe,) then was it very superfluous to have sent over such a personage as you are, who had decyphred so well the errors of their proceadings, being still at hand with us and of our secreatest councell, as it had been one good rule for you amongest others, in moste thinges to have varyed from their resolutions, especially when you had our opinion and your owne to boote.

Furthermore, we cannot but muse that you shoulde recite that circumstance of his beinge sometime uncouvered, as if that were much in a rebell, when our person is so represented, or that you can thinke that ever anie parlee (as you call it) was uppon lesse termes of inequallity then this, when you came to him and he kept the depth of the brooke between him and you; in which sorte he proceaded not with other of our ministers, for he came over to them. So as never coulde anie man observe greater forme of greatenes then he hath don, nor more to our dishonour, that a traitour must be so farre from submission, as he must have a cessation granted because he may have time to advise whether he shoulde goe further or no with us. And thus much for the forme.

For you have dealt so sparingly with us in the substance, by advertising us onely, at first, of the halfe howres conference alone, but not what passed on either side; by letting us also knowe you sent commissioners, without shewing what they had in charge; as we can not tell (but by divination) what to thinke may be the issue of this proceadinge. Onely this we are sure of, (for we see it in effect,) that you have prospered so ill for us by your warfare, as we can not but be very jealous least you shoulde be as well overtaken by the treatie:—For ether they did not ill that had the like meetinges before you, or you have don ill to keape them companie in their errors; for no actions can more resemble others, that have been before condemned, then these proceadinges of yours at this time with the rebels.

For you must consider that as we sent you into Irlande, an extraordinary person, with an army exceading anie that ever was payde there by anie prince for so longe time out of this realme, and that you ever supposed that we were forced to all this by the weake proceadinges even in this point of the treaties and pacifications. So, if this parlee shall not produce such a conclusion, as this intolerable charge may receave present and large abatement, then hath the managinge of our forces not onely proved dishonorable and wastefull, but that which followeth is like to prove perilous and contemptible. Consider then what is like to be the end, and what wilbe fitte to builde on.

To truste this traytor uppon oath, is to truste a divill uppon his religion. To truste him uppon pledges is a meare illusorye, for what pietye is there among them that can tye them to rule of honestie for it selfe, who are onely bound to their owne sensualityes, and respect onely private utilitye. And therefore, whatsoever order you shall take with him of laying aside of armes, banishinge of strangers, recognition of superiority to us, or renouncinge of rule over our rights, promising restitution of spoyles, or anie other such like conditions, which were tolerable before he was in his overgrowen pride, by his owne successe against our power, which of former times was terrible to him: yet unlesse he yeald to have garrisons planted in his own countrye to master him, to deliver Oneales sonnes, (whereof the detayning is most dishonorable,) and to come over to us personally here, we shall doubte you doe but peece up a hollowe peace, and so the end prove worse then the beginninge. And therefore, as we well approve your owne voluntary profession, (wherein you assure us that you will conclude nothinge till you have advertised us, and heard our pleasure,) so doe we absolutely commande you to continew and performe that resolution.

Allowinge well that you heare him what he proffers, draw him as high as you can, and advertise us what conditions you wolde advise us to affoorde him, and what he is like to receave: yet not to passe your worde for his pardon, nor make anie absolute contract for his conditions, till you doe particularly advertise us by writinge, and receave our pleasure hereafter for your further warrant and authority in that behalfe. For whatsoever we doe, ought to be well weyed in such a time, when the worlde will suspect that we are glad of anie thinge out of weaknes, or apt to pardon him out of mistrust of our power to take due revenge on him: considering that all which now is yealded to on our parte, succeadeth his victoryes and our disastres. In our lettres of the fourteenth of this month to you and that councell, we have written those thinges that are fitte for them to aunsweare and understande: and therefore we will expect what they can say to all the partes of that lettre, with which our pleasure is that they be fully acquainted, aswell for your discharge an other time, if you vary from their opinions, (when we direct otherwise,) as also because we wold be glad to receave their answeare aswell as yours.

Given under our signett, at Nonsuch, the xvijth day of September, 1599, in the xljth yeare of our raigne.

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