Grey, Arthur (1536–93), 14th Baron Grey of Wilton , soldier and lord deputy of Ireland, was born at Hammes castle in the English Pale in France, the elder son among the three children of William, 13th Baron Grey of Wilton (d. 1562), and Mary (d. 1571/2), daughter of Charles, earl of Worcester. He became a soldier and joined his father, a senior commander in the army, seeing active service in France at the battle of St Quentin (1557) and the siege and surrender of Guînes (1558); he afterwards wrote a memoir of these experiences for Holinshed's Chronicles. He continued to serve in the army until his father's death in 1562, when he took up residence at Whaddon in Buckinghamshire. However, his father's estates had been saddled with debts, a factor which would stunt his public career. He was briefly considered for the Irish viceroyalty during the first Munster rebellion (1569–73), but he was not anxious to take up the office, and was passed over. In June 1572, he was installed knight of the Garter. He became involved in a feud with his near neighbour John Fortescue, culminating in Grey and his followers, armed with clubs, setting upon Fortescue, in a London street in November 1573. He spent about six months in prison as a result. A radical protestant, he advocated repressive measures against recusants in a succession of English parliaments. Grey married, first, Dorothy, natural daughter of Richard Zouche, 9th Baron Zouche of Harringworth, with whom he had an only daughter, Elizabeth; secondly, between 1573 and 1575, Jane Sibylla (1552–1615), daughter of Sir Richard Morison of Cassiobury in Hertfordshire, and widow of Edward, Baron Russell, with whom he had three sons.
Following the Munster rising of 1579, Queen Elizabeth, despite having reservations that Grey's religious zeal might make matters worse, appointed him lord deputy in July 1580. He arrived in Dublin on 12 August and was eventually sworn lord deputy on 7 September. Unlike previous governors, who came with carefully thought-out plans for reform, Grey had no objective other than the suppression of rebellion, and openly confessed his ignorance of its origins. Indeed, he showed no inclination to remedy this, preferring to adhere to his preconceived Manichean worldview whereby catholics and protestants waged relentless war against each other. He was encouraged in this by an influential clique of largely English-born officials and soldiers who were committed to a hard-line stance partly out of conviction, partly out of self-interest. As a result, his term of office proved short, unsuccessful and highly consequential.
On arrival, he decided to strike immediately at James Eustace (qv), Viscount Baltinglass, who together with the disaffected chief, Fiach MacHugh O'Byrne (qv), was leading a second rebellion in the Pale. The rebels retreated into the thickly wooded valley of Glenmalure in the bowels of the Wicklow mountains as Grey advanced with about 2,000 men. Grossly underestimating both the quantity and quality of the rebels, he sent his foot soldiers into Glenmalure on 25 August 1580, overriding the objections of many of his officers in the process. His men, many of whom were inexperienced English recruits, were put to flight and cut down in large numbers. Grey charged forward with his cavalry and kept the rebels at bay long enough for some of his men to escape. His personal valour in no way compensated for his rash generalship or for the humiliation of this defeat.
His opportunity to redeem himself came in September 1580, when an Italian and Spanish expedition in support of the Munster rebels landed at Smerwick harbour in county Kerry on 12–13 September. Leaving Gerald Fitzgerald (qv), earl of Kildare, to prosecute the war against Baltinglass and O'Byrne, Grey set off with 800 men for the south-west, linking up with royal forces under the command of Thomas Butler (qv), earl of Ormond, en route. He besieged the fort held by the foreign troops at Smerwick on 7 November. On 10 November, the 500–600 defenders surrendered, whereupon all but 15 of them were massacred. The Irish rebels claimed that Grey had promised the defenders quarter and ‘Grey's word’ became a byword for treachery in Ireland. Grey negotiated the surrender with the commander of the foreign troops, Sebastian de San Giuseppe, who would appear to have agreed to dupe his men into capitulating upon false pretences in return for being guaranteed the lives of himself and his close companions. This enabled Grey to claim disingenuously that he had not broken his word. Nonetheless, this victory largely restored his credit with the queen.
On his return to Dublin in November, Grey became convinced of the existence of a widespread catholic conspiracy against the crown and believed that rebellion was being covertly orchestrated by a number of apparently loyal Old English lords based in the Pale. The ringleaders were identified as being the earl of Kildare and Christopher Nugent (qv), Baron Delvin, who were arrested and charged with high treason in December. The cases against them later collapsed owing to lack of evidence. Further reflecting his uncompromising stance, in spring 1581 Grey obtained permission from the queen to dismiss Ormond as commander in Munster, having disapproved of Ormond's efforts to conciliate the rebels there.
During the first half of 1581, Grey held the military initiative in both Leinster and Munster due to significant support from England in terms of men, munitions and money. He established a network of royal garrisons in Munster and in the O'Byrne fastness of Wicklow. Had he offered moderate terms, peace could speedily have been restored. However, Grey believed his mission was to eradicate the disloyal elements in Ireland once and for all. Although he offered rebel leaders a guarantee of life and liberty, he would not promise them the continued enjoyment of their lands. Once this became apparent, rebel resolve stiffened considerably.
Although only the clans in the Wicklow mountains were in full scale rebellion, much of Leinster remained in a state of unrest throughout 1581. Delvin's brother William Nugent (qv) went into hiding, successfully stirred up many of the Gaelic clans in north-west Leinster into attacking the Pale and instigated a conspiracy against the government within the Pale itself. By his actions, Grey had precipitated the plot he had hitherto merely imagined. Also, Turlough Luinenach O'Neill (qv), lord of Tyrone, kept a large army in being and often menaced the borders of the Pale, tying further troops down. In order to pay for his forces, Grey obtained the consent of the gentry and nobles of the Pale to use the cess, a procedure whereby the landowners of the Pale agreed to provision royal soldiers. However, this had long been an unpopular measure and opposition to it gradually accumulated during 1581–82.
In October 1581, the government uncovered Nugent's poorly supported plot to raise a rebellion within the Pale, which led to the arrest of a number of landowners. A total of twenty Pale-based landowners were executed during Grey's lord deputyship for involvement in the Baltinglass revolt and in the aborted Nugent plot. Many of these were convicted on very flimsy evidence and only after the intimidation of juries. Most controversial of all was the execution in April 1582 of Nicholas Nugent (qv), former chief justice of the common pleas and outspoken critic of the government, who had only tenuous links with the conspiracy, but who fell victim to a vendetta conducted by Sir Robert Dillon (qv), one of Grey's cronies. Massive protests against Grey's actions came from the Pale and resulted in Elizabeth quickly ordering the suspension of trials. Grey worsened his position by distributing the lands of the executed landowners among a select group of personal followers, much to the disappointment of his governmental colleagues. Influential figures such as Sir Henry Wallop (qv), vice-treasurer of Ireland, having previously been staunch supporters became bitter critics.
By the start of 1582, Grey had re-imposed the crown's authority in Leinster, but increasingly widespread opposition to his use of the cess there continued to distract him from the conflict in Munster. In total, he spent only four months in Munster during his two years in Ireland. Meanwhile, the persistence of vicious and costly guerilla war in the province shook the queen's confidence in Grey and his method of governance. Much to his dismay, the queen granted a blanket pardon to all but the leading rebels and then, desperate to cut costs, ordered a reduction in royal forces in Munster to 700 in February 1582, from 1,800 in October 1581. This led to an upsurge in rebel raids, attacks and ambushes, with two isolated royal garrisons in west Munster being wiped out. In March 1582, Ormond went to court where he accused Grey of abusing his power of martial law and of misappropriating royal finances. Although Grey did not benefit financially from his time in Ireland, he appears to have been lax in supervising his subordinates many of whom embezzled royal funds. Increasingly horrified at the ongoing cost of her wars in Ireland, this proved the final straw for the queen. By mid 1582, Grey's position had become untenable and the queen assented to his request to be recalled. He left Ireland for good on 31 August, and later survived an official inquiry into his conduct there.
Although often considered for high office and military command, he remained underemployed mainly due to his indebtedness. In 1586–7, he was to the fore in urging the execution of Mary, queen of Scots. He died 14 October 1593 at home at Whaddon and was buried there, a monument being erected to his memory.
The established community in Ireland regarded him as a brutal tyrant, but his policies were vigorously defended by many English protestant administrators. Foremost amongst these was Grey's secretary in Ireland, the poet Edmund Spenser (qv), who immortalised Grey in his poem the ‘Faerie Queen’ as the heroic champion of justice, Artegall. In his political tract A view of the State of Ireland, Spenser spoke approvingly of Grey's harsh policies, denied that he had been needlessly cruel and generally cast him as a singular figure who truly had grasped the real nature of England's difficulty in Ireland. Many historians see his policies as a violent departure from the normal ways of government, and his alienation of many of the crown's natural supporters made it difficult for his successors to return to the reformist policies of the past. In particular, his lord deputyship has been regarded as the period when the alienation felt by the palesmen towards the crown manifested itself in the decisive embrace of counter-reformation catholicism. It may be more appropriate to view it as the culmination of a process that had long been in gestation. His personal culpability can also be exaggerated. On arriving in Ireland, he found himself confronted with two rebellions sporting papal banners, and his policies reflected a broad consensus within the Dublin administration. The queen, despite her effort to disassociate herself from her servant's actions, was well aware that she was using the bluntest of instruments when she made him lord deputy.