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April 15, 1599 – Essex Sworn in as Governor of Ireland

The Earl of Essex on Horseback, by Wenceslaus Hollar (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Sigh. This would not end well. Essex had already angered Elizabeth by appointing Blount and Southampton against her specific orders. He would anger her after this by ignoring the battle orders, claiming that the facts on the ground were different than the ones related to the Council in London. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For context, Henry VIII asserted control of Ireland in 1541 when an uprising by the Earl of Kildare threatened his authority. Henry forced the Irish Parliament to name him King of Ireland, and he sent thousands of Protestant settlers who displaced many of the Catholic landholders…sowing the seeds for discontent and conflict. Over the years, England continued to try to assert its control over rebels, backed largely by Spain. In 1599, England decided it was time for a major show of force.

Essex, a prominent English nobleman and military leader, was an obvious choice to lead the charge because his father had previously served as Earl Marshall of Ireland. He was sent to Dublin with the largest military force England had ever used there – 16,000 troops and 1,300 horse – but then things went a little south (sorry, that was a pun). Instead of engaging the rebels in battle, Essex mounted pageants (did I mention he had quite a high opinion of himself?). Instead of engaging directly with O’Neill (the ringleader) as per his orders, Essex rode south to quell a rebellion designed to distract him. During that trip, rebel snipers and dysentery gradually killed off a large part of his troops, then killed off still more as he made his way back North after discovering that all the rebels had disbursed. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

The point is, everything looked very rosy back on this day. Essex expected to find glory in this campaign, and reveled in the adulation of being named Governor, while Elizabeth had high hopes that she had provided him with the resources he needed to do the job.  I’m just going to end things there…


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