Drury, Sir William (1527–79), soldier and administrator, was born on 2 October 1527 at Hawstead, Suffolk, the third son of Sir Robert Drury of Hedgerley, Buckinghamshire, and Elizabeth, daughter of Edmund Brudenell. He was educated at Gonville Hall, Cambridge, then became a soldier serving in France (1544) and helped suppress the Western Rebellion (1549). In 1554 he sat as MP for Chipping Wycombe. After retiring from public service in the reign of Queen Mary he was restored in 1559 by Queen Elizabeth, who employed him mainly on Scottish affairs. He was knighted in 1570 and served as marshal and governor of Berwick (1564–76).
On 20 June 1576 Drury was appointed lord president of Munster, and received an armed retinue of about 150 men and a commission of martial law. Despite the lack of a large army, he imposed his authority on the province by holding court sessions through much of Munster; by March 1578 he had executed 400 men. He was annoyed by the partial exemption of the liberty of Tipperary from his presidency due to the influence of Thomas Butler (qv), earl of Ormond, and in November 1576 he embarrassed Ormond by indicting his brother Sir Edmund Butler (qv) at court sessions in Clonmel.
Drury's key programme was to initiate a composition for the province. Under this scheme the dominant magnate in Munster, Gerald Fitzgerald (qv), earl of Desmond, was to agree to disband his military retinues, while his vassal lords were to pay a fixed rent to Desmond instead of the Gaelic-Irish customs he had previously extracted from them. Lesser overlords would pay a similar rent to the crown.
Desmond withheld his support and, in early 1577, orchestrated the opposition to Drury's attempts to quarter his troops on Munster and in March complained to the Irish privy council. Drury responded by arresting Desmond's brother Sir John Fitzgerald (qv) and by announcing his intention to hold court sessions at Tralee, within Desmond's palatinate of (north) Kerry. In mid-July, Desmond assembled over 1,000 followers to block Drury's path to Tralee. Drury was not intimidated and Desmond backed down, allowing him to proceed to Tralee.
In the meantime Drury was negotiating composition deals with lesser magnates in Munster with some success. By March 1578 agreements had been reached with every lord in Munster except Desmond (Ormond was specifically excluded from the Munster composition), entitling the crown to annual revenues of £1,170. Another significant advance was achieved during 1577 in Thomond, where Drury's officers overcame opposition from the O'Briens and were thus able to establish the crown's authority there firmly for the first time.
In December 1577, infuriated by a slighting letter from Drury, Desmond again assembled an army. However, the lord deputy, Sir Henry Sidney (qv), defused this stand-off by arranging a meeting between the two men in January 1578 at Kilkenny. At Sidney's behest, and against his better judgement, Drury admitted partial responsibility for the crisis while Desmond agreed in principle to a composition arrangement. Despite Drury's scepticism, Desmond did become more cooperative.
In September 1578, after Ormond had engineered Sidney's dismissal, Drury left Munster for Dublin to become lord justice of Ireland. Drury was determined to avoid Sidney's fate, and his relationship with Desmond, Ormond's arch-enemy, improved significantly. As lord justice, he returned to Desmond castles and former monastic lands that had been taken from him by the crown. In November, at a banquet in Limerick held by Desmond in Drury's honour, the earl agreed to abolish his private army for an annual rent of £2,000. Coincidentally or not, that same month Drury held court sessions in the heart of Ormond's lordship in Kilkenny, executing and fining a number of the earl's supporters.
Drury was regarded as a stop-gap governor, but he impressed the queen by touring extensively around Leinster and Munster, holding court sessions and receiving the submissions of formerly troublesome lords. He also initiated a crackdown on recusancy, having long been dismayed by the latitude allowed to catholicism in Ireland.
On becoming lord justice, Drury faced a financial crisis caused by the refusal of the inhabitants of the Pale to provision the royal army in accordance with the crown's traditional right to cess there. Soon after his appointment Drury made a significant concession by promising to pay in cash for any supplies. This facilitated a series of interim agreements until, on 19 May 1579, the Palesmen agreed to pay the crown £2,000 for the next year and the crown agreed to waive its right to tax them in kind. His only reverse came in summer 1579, when he travelled into south Ulster. There, Turlough Luineach O'Neill (qv) refused to meet with him and managed to win over the previously loyalist Hugh O'Neill (qv), baron of Dungannon.
The landing of the rebel James fitz Maurice Fitzgerald (qv) with a small force at Dingle, Co. Kerry, on 18 July 1579 rapidly shattered the shaky stability Drury had imposed on Ireland. Fitz Maurice was killed soon after landing, but the rebellion gained momentum regardless. Desmond promised loyalty to the crown, but he did not attack the rebels and most of his followers joined with them. Drury reached Limerick by the start of August, assembling a force of 1,200 men to oppose about 3,000 rebels.
In poor health, he put half his forces under the command of Sir Nicholas Malby (qv), who could campaign more vigorously. He marched south into Cork to stiffen the resistance of the loyalist lords there, and then in late August prepared to enter Kerry, Desmond's heartland. On hearing this, Desmond threatened to rebel. Short of resources and fearful of uprisings in the rest of Ireland, Drury resolved to negotiate and met Desmond at Kilmallock on 6 and 7 September. The earl's mood alternated erratically between defiance and cooperation and Drury briefly arrested him, but relented on 8 September after Desmond promised to surrender his son as hostage.
Drury then resumed his campaigning, but in mid-September his forces were surprised and routed by the rebels at Springfield, Co. Limerick. After this defeat his health collapsed, and he was carried by litter to Waterford, where he died 3 October 1579. After a long delay due to his wife's inability to pay for a suitably auspicious funeral service, he was buried in St Patrick's cathedral in Dublin in February/March 1580. Drury's death had fateful consequences for Desmond, who was subsequently pushed into open rebellion by the more hard-line stance taken by Malby, Drury's successor as commander in Munster. During his presidency of Munster, Drury was granted leases of former monastic properties and of the properties of the attainted knight of the Glin in Limerick. On 10 October 1560 he married Margaret, daughter of Thomas, Lord Wentworth, widow of John, Lord Williams of Thame, in St Alphages church, London; the couple had three daughters, Jane, Anne, and Elicia.
Shortly before his death, Drury had in August 1579 presided over the executions at Kilmallock in county Limerick of Patrick O'Healy (qv), catholic bishop of Mayo, and the Franciscan Conn O'Rourke (qv) for their probable participation in fitz Maurice's uprising. A number of accounts of their deaths were soon published by catholic authors all of which hailed the two men as martyrs and some of which claimed that Drury's rapidly ensuing and painful demise was divine punishment for ordering their execution.