Burke (de Burgh), Richard (1527/8?–1582), 2nd earl of Clanricard , was the eldest son of Ulick Burke (qv), ‘Uilleag na gCeann’, 1st earl of Clanricard, and his first wife, Grace, daughter of O'Carroll Maolruanaidh (qv). The death of his father (1544) led to a power vacuum in the lordship: not only was Richard too young to lead the Mac William Uachtar, but many believed that Grace had still been married to another man when she married his father, thereby rendering the latter union invalid and Richard illegitimate. Accordingly, Sir Ulick Burke, who had been the Mac William Uachtar before the English deposed him in favour of Richard's father in 1541, was once more elected head of the clan. The government sent a commission to investigate the issue of Richard's legitimacy. Included on this commission was James Butler (qv), 9th earl of Ormond and a relative of Richard by marriage. Ormond exerted his considerable influence on his relative's behalf, and on 9 October 1544 the royal government formally decreed that Richard was his father's heir and as such the 2nd earl of Clanricard, but that Sir Ulick could act as captain of Clanricard till the earl was 23. However, Richard's illegitimate half-brother, Richard Óg Burke, challenged this dispensation, and the lordship of Clanricard was beset by faction-fighting for the rest of the decade. Nonetheless, Richard remained the crown's candidate-in-waiting and was granted a royal pension.
Loyalist lord, 1550–64 About 1550, the new earl came of age, sparking an intensification of violence as he grappled with Sir Ulick for control of the lordship. The intervention of royal troops on his behalf in January 1551 proved decisive. He cemented his victory by having some of his enemies hanged, drawn, and quartered, this method of execution proving all the more effective for never having been previously seen in the lordship. Then he quickly proved his worth to the crown by seizing the strategically important Roscommon castle and handing it over to a royal garrison. For the next twenty years, he was perhaps the most reliably loyalist of the great magnates of Ireland, earning himself the appellation ‘Richard Sassanach’, reflecting the perception that he was an English puppet imposed on the lordship. Although he understood English, he was not fluent. He could also at least write in Latin.
During the early 1550s he was often at war with John Burke, who had succeeded Sir Ulick as head of the Burkes of Derrymaclaghna, but he appears to have been relatively secure in his lordship from c.1556. He extended his influence over the O'Kellys and the O'Maddens to his east and over the O'Shaughnessys to the south of his lordship. Further afield, he intervened repeatedly in the lordship of Thomond on behalf of Conor O'Brien (qv), earl of Thomond and the crown's candidate for control of the area, throughout the 1550s and 1560s. This prompted Domhnall O'Brien, Thomond's rival, to plunder the territory of Clanricard (1553), and brought Clanricard into conflict with the Fitzgerald earls of Desmond who supported Domhnall. In June 1559 Clanricard and the earl of Thomond were defeated in battle by Gerald Fitzgerald (qv), earl of Desmond, at Spancel Hill.
However, the greatest external menace was the Mac William Íochtair Burkes of Mayo, traditional enemies to the Burkes of Clanricard, who were becoming militarily powerful through the use of Scottish mercenaries. In 1553 and in 1558 Clanricard defeated combined Mayo Burke and Scottish armies intent on attacking his lordship. The second victory (8 September 1558) was particularly noteworthy as he surprised and annihilated a Scottish raiding party of some 1,100 men on the River Moy, fundamentally altering the balance of power in Connacht in the process. He campaigned with his men alongside royal troops in Thomond in 1558 and against Shane O'Neill (qv) in Ulster in 1561 and 1563. The only reason he did not campaign in Ulster in 1562 was because his own kinsmen rose against him in that year. However, assisted by government forces, he reestablished his authority by February 1563.
As reward for his loyalty, Elizabeth I confirmed him in his earldom (June 1559), made him a member of the Irish privy council (July 1559), granted him the customs revenues of the city of Galway around the same time, granted him possession of former monastic lands in Connacht, and appointed him captain of Connacht for 1562–3. His position was buttressed by his alliance with Thomas Butler (qv), 10th earl of Ormond, who was a great favourite of the queen. During the first half of the 1560s Clanricard was at the peak of his career, riding high in royal favour; and, despite continuous internal and external threats, he had preserved his territories from the anarchy gripping the rest of Ireland. However, from this peak there began a first gradual and then spectacular decline in his fortunes that would tear his lordship apart and bring his family to the brink of destruction.
Political and family troubles, 1565–71 In 1565 Sir Henry Sidney (qv) became lord deputy of Ireland. Unlike his predecessors, Sidney felt that Ormond and his allies, including Clanricard, had become too powerful. At this time, there was heavy fighting between Clanricard and the Mayo Burkes over the territory of Moyne, which was held by the Mac William Íochtair, but had been purchased by Clanricard's father. Sidney brought both sides before him in 1566 and imposed a peace that does not appear to have favoured Clanricard. The same year, he forced Clanricard to release hostages he had taken from the O'Kellys and to compensate the O'Kellys for plundering their lands. He later chided Clanricard for impoverishing the economy of Galway city with his heavy-handed exactions. By this stage, it was apparent to Sidney that despite his loyalty to the crown, Clanricard continued to act in the manner of a traditional Gaelic warlord and was a barrier to the modernisation of Connacht. The citizens of Galway, who had supported him during the 1550s in the hope he would bring stability to the region, were criticising him for destroying their trade by the late 1560s.
Then his grip on his lordship began to slip, due to his complicated family life. His first wife was Margaret, daughter of Murrough O'Brien (qv), 1st earl of Thomond, with whom he had a son, Ulick (qv). However, he divorced her, claiming she used witchcraft against him, and married (24 November 1553) Margaret, daughter of Donough (Donnchadh) O'Brien, 2nd earl of Thomond, with whom he had a son, John Burke (qv). Despite his divorce, he petitioned the queen in 1559 that Ulick be recognised as his heir, but later changed his mind and favoured John's claim. His failure to groom a clear successor proved disastrous by the late 1560s as violence erupted between his sons and their respective supporters.
It was against this unpromising background that Sir Edward Fitton (qv) arrived in Connacht in December 1569 to take up his position as the first president of the province. Initially, Clanricard gave Fitton his full support in attempting to establish the crown's control over Connacht, but it was immediately apparent that this process would involve a sharp reduction in Clanricard's power over his vassals. Controversially, Fitton made John Burke, the head of the Derrymaclaghna Burkes, sheriff of Galway, granting him powers of martial law and exempting his lands from Clanricard's authority in the process.
Fitton was a conscientious but rather unimaginative official, and his tactlessness provoked the earl of Thomond into rebelling in January 1570. Clanricard had unsuccessfully tried to dissuade his close ally from this extreme course and remained outwardly loyal. However, Thomond's revolt sparked resistance to Fitton in the lordship of Clanricard, led by Clanricard's son John, and elsewhere in Connacht. Fitton was forced to flee for sanctuary in Galway city while Clanricard's men ran amok in Co. Galway, attacking the Derrymaclaghna Burkes and others who had asserted their independence under Fitton. Clanricard himself seemed powerless to control his men. The arrival of royal reinforcements in the summer enabled Fitton to take the field, and with Clanricard's support he won a significant victory in June over the Mayo Burkes at Shrule on the Galway–Mayo border. Fitton was grateful for Clanricard's assistance, but noted that few of the earl's followers had shown up to support him.
Although the presidency of Connacht had been conceived as a purely administrative body, by the close of 1570 the only way Fitton could maintain any authority in Connacht was by backing it up with royal troops. To Clanricard's dismay, Fitton quartered soldiers on his lands, which he used as a base to launch campaigns against rebellious lords in north Connacht. The burden of maintaining these troops caused a further deterioration in relations with Fitton in the latter part of 1570. Angered at the disorder in Clanricard's lordship, Fitton demanded his son John as a pledge. Clanricard haughtily refused. During court sessions held at Galway city in March 1571, Fitton executed a number of the earl's followers and indicted many others, including his son John. By then, Fitton believed that Clanricard had all along been the real root of all the opposition to him in Connacht and began gathering evidence against him.
In April 1571 five royal soldiers were killed within two miles of Clanricard's house at Loughrea. He then ordered his followers to withhold supplies from the royal soldiers quartered on his lands and refused to meet with Fitton. The president was forced to withdraw his forces from Connacht. Alarmed by these developments, the lord justice, Sir William Fitzwilliam (qv), summoned Clanricard and Fitton to Dublin in May. That month the Irish privy council sat for six days hearing Fitton's allegations, but Fitzwilliam was sympathetic to Clanricard's claims that the president was biased against him. On 18 May Clanricard was fined 1,000 marks for his conduct and agreed to maintain 100 soldiers on his lands and to send his sons John and Ulick to Dublin as hostages. In the event he neither paid the fine nor handed over his sons, but did become more cooperative. That autumn he assisted John Burke when he was attacked by rebels and campaigned alongside Fitton in Mayo. Partly as a reward, but mainly due to a lack of men, Fitton handed Clanricard control of a number of castles in south Mayo. This development gave Clanricard possession of the Moyne district that he had long sought to pry from the Mayo Burkes. It may also have removed his last reason to cooperate with Fitton.
The accidental rebel, 1572–5 In March 1572 Fitton summoned the leading nobles of Connacht to court sessions in Galway. Clanricard arrived with his sons John and Ulick, who suddenly then left the city and gathered large bands of armed men, ignoring Fitton's entreaties to return. Exasperated by Clanricard's inability or unwillingness to control his sons (who were known as the ‘Mac an Iarlas’, ‘sons of the earl’), Fitton arrested the earl and brought him to Dublin. At this the Mac an Iarlas went into open rebellion and assembled a large army composed of their own supporters, the Mayo Burkes, and Scottish mercenaries. On 26 March the Irish privy council ruled that, under the customs of his land, Clanricard was responsible for his sons' behaviour, and imprisoned him in Dublin castle. Fitzwilliam released him on 25 April, intending to send him back to Connacht to restore peace there, but Fitton protested and the earl was stayed in Dublin. Meanwhile, the hapless Fitton was overwhelmed in Connacht by the rebels, who plundered most of south Galway, Roscommon, and Westmeath, sacking Mullingar, Meelick, and Athlone in the process.
Having been driven out of Connacht, Fitton returned to Dublin in July determined to have Clanricard convicted of treason, and the earl was imprisoned again. As Clanricard had probably calculated, he was saved by the growing rancour between Fitton and Fitzwilliam. In the event, the powerlessness of the government to stop the chaos in Connacht outweighed any legal considerations. On 6 August the privy council decided that it would not rule on Clanricard's alleged treasons, but would instead release him and return him to Connacht on pragmatic grounds to end the rebellion there. Fitton was to release any of Clanricard's followers he held and to hand back a number of castles he had seized. A few weeks later, Clanricard was granted power to pardon any rebel in Connacht. His triumph seemed complete that autumn when Fitton was recalled to England and the presidency of Connacht was abolished. The entire province had slipped out of the crown's grasp.
Clanricard was back in Connacht by mid-August and immediately proclaimed peace. This was ignored by his sons, who briefly marched into Munster to support a rebellion there before eventually disbanding their army during the winter. Within the lordship, low-level violence persisted as the Mac an Iarlas, almost certainly with their father's consent, attacked a number of vassal lords who had sought to break free from the earl's grip under Fitton's presidency. Clanricard personally led his men against John Burke of Derrymaclaghna, who had seized three of his castles.
Meanwhile, in Dublin and London opinion began to harden against the earl as his apparent victory ebbed away into something more ambiguous. His request that his sons receive a royal pardon was denied, and an attempt to ruin Fitton – by accusing him of deliberately provoking the rebellion in Connacht – backfired. Indeed the former president staged a remarkable political recovery and returned to Dublin (spring 1573) as vice-treasurer of Ireland, a position of great authority which he used to undermine his opponent. On 8–9 May Clanricard and Fitton laid evidence against each other before the privy council. Clanricard was unwise to give Fitton the opportunity to display the impressive body of evidence he had accumulated against him. The council exonerated Fitton completely from Clanricard's accusations and suppressed Fitton's counter-charges, pointedly stating that the earl's conviction would spark an immediate revolt in Connacht. At the queen's command the two men embraced, but remained mortal enemies.
Meanwhile the events of 1570–72 had militarised the lordship of Clanricard, causing the previously existing factionalism to harden appreciably and making it difficult for the earl to reassert his badly shaken authority there. He stated in a letter to Dublin that in the year since his release from prison, he had executed a number of troublemakers, including a nephew and an illegitimate son. However, most appear to have gone unpunished as he needed them to maintain his authority, and possibly to fight the crown. Foremost among them were his sons John and Ulick, who renewed their feud during 1573–4. In early 1574 he briefly imprisoned his sons before releasing them, making a mockery of his repeated protestations to Dublin that he had no control over his unruly sons. Although he repeatedly declared his willingness to settle with the crown, negotiations foundered upon his unwillingness to compensate the people of Athenry for the sack of 1572. Meanwhile, he levied black rents on the long-suffering townsmen of Athenry, virtually besieged Galway, and became a more overt patron of the catholic clergy. In 1573 he met with the Munster rebel James fitz Maurice Fitzgerald (qv), and in 1574 with the earl of Desmond, then on the brink of rebelling against the crown. Anticipating an uprising in Munster, Clanricard began recruiting Scottish mercenaries. Most luridly of all, he was accused (February 1574) of arranging the murder of a Galway merchant called Brown in order to marry his wife Julian.
Desmond's decision to submit to the crown in September 1574 led to a marked change in attitude. That month, Clanricard, having secured royal pardons for his sons, agreed to pay for the reconstruction of Athenry. However, the recall of Fitzwilliam and the reappointment of Sidney as lord deputy in 1575 put Clanricard in jeopardy once more. In late 1575 he paid a surprise visit to Sidney at Maryborough in Queen's Co. (Laois) in what initially seemed a successful bid to mend fences with his old enemy.
Imprisonment, exile, and restoration, 1576–82 In March 1576 Sidney held court sessions at Galway town, where Clanricard brought his sons before the lord deputy. However, Sidney angrily rebuked and arrested them, sending them to Dublin. He then increased the fine agreed with Fitzwilliam for the sack of Athenry, demanded that Clanricard pay the sizeable arrears in rent due on the former monastic lands he held, seized the castles of Ballinasloe and Clare, and appears to have imposed a stringent cess on Clanricard's lands. However, having antagonised the Clanricards, Sidney then allowed the Mac an Iarlas the freedom to visit friends in the country, on condition they did not return to Connacht. Unsurprisingly, they did just that in June and immediately raised a rebellion. It is clear that Sidney, bitter over the manner in which Ormond and his allies had ruined his first term as lord deputy, decided to take revenge on the vulnerable Clanricard Burkes by provoking them into rebelling. Again, it is uncertain whether Clanricard approved of his sons’ actions. Regardless, Sidney arrested him for treason in July and imprisoned him in Dublin castle.
Perhaps the Clanricard Burkes believed they could repeat their success of 1572. However, the government was ready for them this time, and not distracted by a revolt elsewhere. Moreover, they had become overly dependent on Scottish mercenaries, whose exactions were resented by the inhabitants of their lordship. Sidney installed Sir Nicholas Malby (qv), a capable and ruthless soldier, as governor of Connacht. By Easter 1577, Malby had established control over Clanricard's territory, having used indiscriminate scorched earth tactics against the Mac an Iarlas and their followers, driving them into the hills and woods. Malby then entered into an agreement with Clanricard's vassal lords that they would pay Malby a cess to maintain his forces. He also seized the former monastic lands that had been held by Clanricard, as well as five of the earl's fifteen manors. Officially, Clanricard's lands were exempted from Malby's cess, but in practice the governor's followers simply stole from the earl's tenants and loyalists. By the close of 1577 Malby had effectively supplanted Clanricard as regional overlord of south Connacht.
Meanwhile, Clanricard languished in confinement while Sidney accumulated enough evidence for a convincing accusation that he had recruited Scottish mercenaries to oppose royal forces. However, Sidney was undone by his transparent partisanship. Always reluctant to execute aristocrats, the queen stalled before deciding to have the trial in London. On 13 September 1578, Clanricard was incarcerated in the Tower of London. Sidney's failure to secure the earl's execution caused those in south Connacht to either hope or fear that the earl would be restored as before, greatly hampering Malby's efforts to finish off the Mac an Iarlas, who, when not fighting each other, continued sporadically to oppose the royal occupation of their lands. The case against Clanricard began in spring 1579, but he was allowed to prepare his own defence, in which he stressed his long years of service to the queen.
As in his previous treason trial, politics intervened. By summer 1579 the Irish government was daily expecting the landing in Munster of a catholic army. The queen's ministers considered restoring Clanricard as a means of preventing such an army from finding ready allies in south Connacht. On 12 June the queen reluctantly agreed to release him from the Tower on condition that he remain within the confines of London. Soon after, the Mac an Iarlas were permitted to submit to Malby. Clanricard's prospects were boosted again that autumn, when Malby attracted severe criticism at the royal court for his harshness while campaigning in Munster. Clanricard's old ally Ormond led a concerted attack on Malby's methods of rule. This development gave Clanricard's earlier (and disregarded) complaints against Malby a new credibility. In a bid to placate his critics, Malby abruptly began lobbying for Clanricard's return to Connacht. During 1579–80 he also handed the Mac an Iarlas control of most of their father's estates.
As before, Clanricard's sons were his Achilles heel: the prospect of their father's restoration led to a renewed outbreak of feuding between John and Ulick in early 1580. His youngest son, William, now come of age, also began causing trouble. In another conciliatory gesture, Clanricard yielded to government pressure in summer 1580 and agreed to recognise Ulick and not the more rebellious John as his heir. In autumn 1580, encouraged by reports of Malby's disfavour at court and by news of the landing of papal troops in Munster, the Mac an Iarlas rebelled once again. Clanricard's stock plummeted and he was banished from court for a time. Malby put down this revolt with his accustomed severity and (after killing many of their followers) forced the Mac an Iarlas to agree to a truce in summer 1581. In May Malby treacherously had William Burke arrested in Galway town and hanged for treason.
In late 1581 Malby went to London, where he faced and eventually survived a thorough inquiry into his rule of Connacht. Perhaps shaken by this experience, he decided to make his peace with Clanricard, thereby hoping to discredit allegations that he was biased against Irish lords. Moreover, an acquiescent and humbled Clanricard could finally restore stability to the region. In summer 1582 Malby and his supporters persuaded the queen to allow Clanricard to return to Ireland, and he landed at Dublin in June. However, she insisted that Clanricard remain in Malby's custody, a command that Malby seems to have simply ignored. By July he was free and in Connacht, where he met his sons, but could not persuade them to submit to the government. On his return he was sick with yellow jaundice. He died 24 July 1582 and was buried at Loughrea. Characteristic of the ambiguity surrounding his true political loyalties, on his deathbed he was variously described as enjoining his sons either to become loyal subjects to or continue in opposition to the crown.
After his second's wife's death he married (1568) Cecilia (Gille), widow of Edmund Butler, 1st baron of Dunboyne, but divorced her within a few years. He is said to have had six wives in total, although some of these were probably concubines.