Devereux, Walter (1539–76), 1st earl of Essex , colonist in Ireland, was born 16 September 1539 at Carmarthen castle, Wales, elder son and heir of Sir Richard Devereux and Dorothy, daughter of George Hastings, earl of Huntingdon. On the death of his grandfather, Walter, on 27 September 1558, he inherited the family estates and titles of Viscount Hereford and Lord Ferrers. He attended Elizabeth's court for a time, and c.1561 he returned home to Chartley, Staffordshire, to start a family. In 1568 he organised a body of cavalry to help prevent the rescue of Mary, queen of Scots, then held at Tutbury, near Chartley. During the northern rebellion (1569) he served as high marshal, helping to defeat the catholic earls of Northumberland (Thomas Percy) and Westmorland (Charles Neville). The same year he was appointed lord lieutenant of Staffordshire. On 23 April 1572 he became a KG, and on 4 May was created earl of Essex.
First plans for colonising Clandeboye In May 1573 he proposed to colonise the territory of Clandeboye in north-east Ireland with a force of 1,200 men. Essex received a grant of Clandeboye and the queen agreed to appoint him captain-general of her forces in Clandeboye for seven years. Once established in the area, he was to receive a twelve-year commercial monopoly of the region free of customs and would enjoy extensive manorial powers, and Clandeboye would be exempt from taxation for seven years. All costs would be divided evenly between Essex and the queen for two years, after which the colony would become financially self-supporting. He confidently predicted that Clandeboye would eventually yield the queen an annual rent of £5,000. To pay his share of the costs, Essex would attract wealthy English landowners to subscribe to this scheme by raising and maintaining soldiers required for the conquest of Clandeboye. In return they were to receive grants of land from Essex. Essex also borrowed £10,000 from the queen, pledging to repay the entire amount within three years. He guaranteed the loan with about one-third of his entire land holdings.
Even before he went to Ireland, his plans began to miscarry. By summer 1573 Sir Henry Sidney (qv), a former governor of Ireland, had concluded that colonial schemes were far too expensive and served to provoke the Irish into rebellion. Aided by his friend the queen's chief favourite Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, Sidney managed to reduce somewhat the wide discretionary powers that were to be vested in Essex, and tried to undermine him from court. Meanwhile, in Dublin the lord deputy of Ireland, Sir William Fitzwilliam (qv), regarded this scheme as an affront to his authority as viceroy. Further, the expected contributions from would-be adventurers did not fully materialise. Ultimately, Essex only mustered a force of about 400 adventurers instead of the anticipated 600.
Nonetheless, a formal agreement was concluded with the queen (8 July 1573) and Essex set sail from Liverpool with his army (19 July). A storm scattered his fleet, and although he landed safely near Carrickfergus, other ships were driven as far as Cork. Clandeboye was occupied mainly by the O'Neills of Clandeboye under their lord Sir Brian mac Phelim O'Neill (qv) and by recently arrived Scottish Highlanders under Sorley Boy MacDonnell (qv), who held the north coast. Mac Phelim had wrecked an earlier and similar colonisation scheme in the Ards peninsula, but submitted to Essex in September to gain time with which to gauge Essex's strength and to gather his harvest for the winter.
Essex hoped to play the local lords off each other, but it was the English who were undone by internal dissension. His commission as captain-general of Clandeboye did not give him as much power as a provincial president, and Fitzwilliam heightened the ambiguity surrounding his status by spreading reports that Essex was acting in a purely private capacity. William Piers (qv), who had been governor of Carrickfergus before being forced to make way for Essex, encouraged mac Phelim to rebel and helped the Irish lord recover 10,000 cattle that Essex had taken from him. Essex eventually arrested Piers, but not before his own credibility had been undermined. Confident that Essex did not have the full support of the royal government and further heartened by Essex's obvious difficulties in arranging the provisioning of his men from England, mac Phelim and Sorley Boy combined to attack the nascent colony. In this they were assisted by Turlough Luineach O'Neill (qv), lord of Tyrone. Unwilling to accept an English colony on his border, he sent troops to help mac Phelim and Sorley Boy and allowed them to send their cattle to the safety of his lordship.
Throughout the winter heavy fighting raged between native and colonist. The English had the best of a fierce encounter near Massereene in mid October, but were unable to strike a decisive blow due to the guerilla tactics adopted by their opponents. The Irish harried the colonists, making it unsafe for them to leave their forts except in large numbers. When the colonists did venture out in numbers, the rebels only stood to fight on advantageous ground.
The only possible headquarters for Essex's army was the town and castle of Carrickfergus. However, it quickly became apparent that Carrickfergus castle was unsuited to this role: it could not house enough of his soldiers, its storerooms were exposed to the elements, and it was located too far away from mac Phelim's fastness and from sources of wood. Due to these inadequacies, many soldiers fell ill and died during the winter, while the able-bodied adventurers returned to England, where their reports of Essex's travails discouraged attempts to recruit more colonists.
Attempts at recovery These developments signalled the ruin of Essex's initial plans. By the close of 1573 it was clear to all that he had disastrously underestimated the unity and subtlety of his opponents and the cost of defeating them, while overestimating the willingness of his colleagues to bear the hardships of the Gaelic marches. Nominally Essex's army was about 1,000–1,200 strong, but death and desertion must have reduced it to less than half these figures. His problems were compounded by the outbreak of the plague in Carrickfergus in spring 1574. Essex was fortunate to find a valuable and reliable ally in Hugh O'Neill (qv), baron of Dungannon, who regarded himself as the rightful lord of Tyrone and hoped to overthrow Turlough Luineach with English assistance. Dungannon provided Essex with about 250 men.
During the winter of 1573–4 Essex appealed desperately for the queen to bear a greater proportion of the expenses in Ulster. The queen and her advisers were torn between their desire to withdraw from an unsuccessful and costly venture and their reluctance to condemn Essex to dishonour and financial ruin. In December Essex was made president of Ulster as a mark of the queen's commitment to him, but failed in his efforts to be made lord deputy of Ireland. Finally (March 1574) Essex and the queen appear to have agreed that he would continue to pay for 100 soldiers and any adventurers who would stay, while the queen would pay for 700 soldiers. In practice, the queen's support for Essex was equivocal and half-hearted – sufficient to enable him to limp on, but not to achieve anything of note.
As a result he struggled to provide for his own troops, who became increasingly mutinous. Pay and supplies were scarce, but those that did arrive were administered inefficiently and corruptly. This process was facilitated by the chaos into which Essex's project had rapidly fallen, as a result of which proper accounts were not kept for the army. Indeed, the queen became increasingly exasperated at Essex's failure to produce a set of accounts for his military establishment. For his part, Essex frequently railed at the corruption that characterised the provisioning and pay of the royal army in Ireland, attributing it to Fitzwilliam's slackness. However, facing financial ruin and desperate to retain the loyalty of his men who served in terrible conditions, he appears to have tolerated, if not actively participated in, the embezzlement of public funds.
Turlough Luineach and the Desmond diversion, 1574 His main goal in 1574 was to mount a major expedition against Turlough Luineach, whom he had identified as the root of all his woes. From spring 1574 he based himself and many of his soldiers in Co. Louth, mainly because the Pale was the only possible source of the provisions, men, and transport he needed to undertake such a campaign. Of the Pale only Louth was under Essex's jurisdiction, forcing him repeatedly to go to Fitzwilliam in Dublin for help. For most of 1574 this help was not forthcoming, as Fitzwilliam was distracted by a political crisis in Munster. As a result Essex temporised with his enemies, signing a truce with Turlough Luineach in March and accepting the submission of mac Phelim on 6 May. Later that month he met with Turlough on the River Bann and they discussed a lasting settlement. Essex knew that both Turlough and mac Phelim were playing for time, but did not have the means to reduce them. In the meantime he sought to build a Gaelic coalition against Turlough that included the O'Donnells of Tyrconnell and a number of south Ulster clans including the Magennises, the MacMahons, and the Maguires, who all wished to be released from Turlough's overlordship. However, Essex had yet to demonstrate to these lords that he had the means to defend them from Turlough.
In June events in Munster led Fitzwilliam to order the reluctant Essex to withdraw most of his forces from Clandeboye to guard the Pale. Fitzwilliam then commissioned Essex to go to Munster to negotiate with the 15th earl of Desmond (qv), who appeared on the point of rebelling against the crown. He met with Desmond outside Waterford city on 30 June and persuaded him to come to Dublin under protection. Essex believed that Turlough was a far greater threat than Desmond, and disagreed with Fitzwilliam's hard-line stance towards the earl, especially as it diverted royal resources from his own campaigns in Ulster. Unsurprisingly, Essex became increasingly embittered over the government's lack of support and blamed his enemies at court – particularly Leicester, with whom he openly broke during the first half of 1574. Meanwhile, he continued to haemorrhage money, his expenditure on his sizeable personal and military retinue being sufficiently large to enrich the citizens of Drogheda.
Finally (September 1574), Desmond having submitted to the crown, Essex was free to take the offensive and was for once facilitated by Fitzwilliam. Assisted by Gaelic allies, whose knowledge of the terrain proved invaluable, he set out in early September. He captured a crannog from the Clandeboye O'Neills near Banbridge and handed it over to Dungannon before reaching the River Blackwater, marking the southern border of Turlough's territories (14 September). After Turlough refused to parley with him, he invaded Tyrone, marching through the lordship seizing cattle and burning crops till he reached Lifford in Tyrconnell. There he assured Aodh O'Donnell (qv) of the crown's support and arrested Con O'Donnell, an ally of Turlough. After being supplied by ships at Lough Foyle, he returned through Tyrone into Leinster. While an impressive demonstration of military superiority that both heartened and strengthened Essex's Gaelic allies, this expedition did little lasting damage to Turlough.
In November 1574 Essex marched into Clandeboye, where he met with mac Phelim near Belfast, ostensibly so they could attack the Scots. However, after three days of feasting, Essex had him arrested, and slaughtered 200 of his followers present, including women and children. Mac Phelim was then sent to Dublin, where he was executed. Essex issued a proclamation justifying his actions by saying that mac Phelim was plotting to betray him to the Scots and Turlough. Although mac Phelim was an unreliable ally, this claim seems very unlikely. This massacre broke the power of the O'Neills of Clandeboye, who were soon consumed by a civil war between two rivals for Brian mac Phelim's succession. Most of Clandeboye had become an uninhabited, lawless wasteland.
By the latter half of 1574 Essex had grasped that Clandeboye could only be secured by building and maintaining a network of royal garrisons. During 1574 he had planned to build a fort at Belfast to make up for the deficiencies at Carrickfergus, but no progress was made, due to a lack of resources. That autumn Essex submitted ambitious proposals to the queen, which entailed building and maintaining garrisons at Blackwater, Coleraine, and Lough Foyle to bridle Turlough and at Belfast, at Massereene, and on Rathlin Island to hold Clandeboye from the Irish and Scots. In the long term the Irish would pay for the garrisons at Lough Foyle, Coleraine, and Blackwater while those in Clandeboye would be maintained by 10 English adventurers and by the queen. This would cost the queen nearly £40,000 over the two years of its implementation. These plans show that Essex had absorbed some painful lessons during his time in Ireland, but his estimates were still too optimistic and yet too costly for the queen to countenance. Moreover, his chances of attracting private investment and settlers to Clandeboye were negligible.
The final expedition; massacre on Rathlin In March 1575 the queen finally agreed to support Essex's offer in a tortuously worded letter that made plain she harboured many misgivings, but stated that she was nonetheless reducing her total army in Ireland to 2,000 soldiers, 1,300 of which would serve in Ulster. This left only 700 men for Fitzwilliam to hold the rest of the country and she stated the scheme would only proceed if the lord deputy were prepared to accept this. Unsurprisingly, he was not and immediately ordered the discharging of 800 of Essex's men before departing abruptly for Wexford, leaving the earl to face aggrieved soldiers who had suddenly been deprived of their pay, accommodation, and provisions. Suspecting that Fitzwilliam was trying to discredit him, Essex appealed angrily to the queen. Faced with the collapse of the remnants of her authority in Ulster and with the prospect of mutinous soldiers running riot in the Pale, she ordered that these men be retained in the royal army. After further wrangling, the queen authorised Essex to mount one last campaign that would allow him to claim some success and then to quit Ulster.
His final expedition began in June and was well supplied with provisions and equipment, as the government hoped to deceive the Irish into believing that Essex intended a thorough conquest. However, Turlough seems to have been informed of the government's real intentions and was not intimidated. Essex reached the Blackwater and began building a bridge and fort there. Turlough blocked him on the other side with a sizeable army but made no attempt to attack. After a successful raid by Essex's men into Tyrone, both sides concluded a formal peace on 27/8 June. Turlough accepted the presence of the fort and promised to serve against the Scots in return for a grant of all his lands for life and recognition of his overlordship of Maguire. This was later considered to be a favourable agreement for Turlough and was only reluctantly accepted by the queen.
Essex then marched into Clandeboye and skirmished inconclusively with Sorley Boy's forces near the Bann. Much to his annoyance, the Scots escaped over the Bann into Tyrone, with Turlough failing to honour his promise to prosecute them. Short of supplies, Essex marched out of Ulster with the bulk of his army leaving a garrison of about 400 men at Carrickfergus. As yet, he had inflicted little harm on the Scots, but was determined to remedy this, his departure from Ulster being a ruse designed to wrong-foot Sorley Boy. On Essex's orders the Carrickfergus garrison sailed to Rathlin Island, which was an important base for the Scots. The castle there surrendered after a four-day siege (26 July) and all 200 of its defenders were executed. The royal soldiers then fanned out across the island, killing some 300–400 unarmed people who had taken refuge in caves. These consisted largely of many of the children and wives of Sorley Boy and his followers. None was spared.
This vindictive and ultimately pointless atrocity was a fitting conclusion to Essex's ill-conceived venture. The garrisons he installed at Rathlin Island and on the Blackwater were soon disbanded, while in September a vengeful Sorley Boy inflicted a serious defeat on the Carrickfergus garrison before burning most of the town. It was the Scots rather than English settlers who largely filled the void left by the demise of Brian MacPhelim. The queen had spent about £80,000 and Essex about £35,000, and neither had much to show for it. Sorley Boy and Turlough remained more or less as strong as they had been before Essex arrived.
The final year From summer 1575 Essex focused on restoring his financial and political fortunes. He asked that his debts to the queen be forgiven, that he be made marshal of Ireland for life, and that he receive a grant of the barony of Farney in Monaghan, along with command of 300 soldiers for life in order to defend this territory. In November he returned to England in order to finalise a settlement with both the queen and his creditors. However, negotiations with the crown dragged on as Essex held out for better terms, much to the irritation of the queen and her ministers. In spring 1576 he was offered the governorship of Connacht, but refused. In the meantime he oversaw the sale of over half of his estates to pay off his creditors.
Finally (9 May 1576) he was granted the earl marshalship of Ireland, the barony of Farney, and command of the 300 soldiers. Clearly he envisaged establishing a small colony in Farney, but would seek to conciliate the local Irish who were apparently few in number anyway. He landed in Dublin (23 July) and later briefly visited Farney. After dining at his own house in Dublin (30 August), he fell sick with dysentery and his condition deteriorated rapidly. He died 22 September 1576 in Dublin and was buried on 26 November at Carmarthen in Wales.
During his illness he suspected that he had been poisoned, and questioned his household staff on the manner in which they had prepared his food and water on 30 August. After his death rumours abounded that he had been poisoned, although the doctors who had attended him thought it unlikely. In later years Leicester was popularly blamed, mainly because he was Essex's rival and because he subsequently married Essex's widow. It is strange that Essex's constitution was robust enough to withstand the plague-ridden military camps of Ulster only to succumb to the relative comforts of Dublin.
Before coming to Ireland his estate yielded an annual income of £5,000, but by the time of his death sales and forfeitures had reduced this figure to £1,850. He also owed about £6,000 to the queen and another £6,000 to his private creditors. Although the queen had agreed to write off the unpaid part of her loan to him, irregularities in his accounts led the government to impose a charge of £6,000 on him.
Essex married (c. 1561) Lettice, daughter of Sir Francis Knollys, KG, with whom he had four children who survived him: Robert Devereux (qv), who succeeded him as 2nd earl of Essex, Walter, Penelope, and Dorothy. On 21 September 1578 Lettice married Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, and in July 1589 she married thirdly Sir Christopher Blount.