Oviedo, Mateo (Matthew) de (c.1547–1610), Observant Franciscan priest, diplomat, and archbishop of Dublin (1600–1610), was born into a minor noble family of Asturian origin in Segovia.
Education and Irish interests During the 1560s and 1570s, he received his university education in the humanities, law and theology at Salamanca, where he was professed in the Observant Franciscan province of Santiago de Compostela. While at the Franciscan house of studies in Salamanca, he developed a life-long interest in and commitment to Irish political and ecclesiastical affairs through his contact with Irish student friars who were also resident there, such as Florence Conry (qv) (Flaithrí Ó Maol Chonaire), Luke Wadding (qv), Aodh Mac Cathmhaoil (qv), and Robert Chamberlain (qv). Later they would exercise a major influence on the Irish counter-reformation. Oviedo supported the Cistercian Maurice Fitzgibbon (qv), archbishop of Cashel, and Bishop Cornelius O'Mulrian (d. 1616), OFM, of Killaloe in their efforts to obtain political and military support from Philip II during the first Desmond war (1569–73).
While at Salamanca, Oviedo's talents and his knowledge of Irish affairs were noticed by Don Gerau de Spes, former Spanish ambassador to England, who had been involved in the Ridolfi plot (1571), and by Archbishop Juan de Ribera of Valencia (1568–1611), the juridical and theological adviser to Philip II. It is worth noting that in 1578 and again in 1585 Ribera and the papal nuncio to Spain, Archbishop Philip Sega, provided Philip II with the justification for political and military intervention in Ireland against Elizabeth I. In 1578–9, when James fitz Maurice Fitzgerald (qv) of Desmond (with the support of Pope Gregory XIII) appealed to Philip II for military intervention in Ireland, he was assisted in the drafting of his memorial and in his representations to the Spanish court, by Fray Mateo de Oviedo, with the backing of Archbishop Ribera, the nuncio Sega, Don Gerau de Spes, and Cardinal Gaspar de Quiroga, archbishop of Toledo. In 1578 Sega appointed Oviedo and the English catholic exile Dr Nicholas Sander (qv) papal legates to fitz Maurice's expedition to Ireland.
The Irish campaign, 1579–83 On 17 July 1579 Oviedo first set foot in Ireland, when he arrived at Dingle, Co. Kerry, with the papal expeditionary force led by fitz Maurice. While this force established its headquarters at Dún an Óir, overlooking Smerwick harbour, Oviedo and the naval pilot Don Juan Martín de Recalde (who would later serve as second-in-command to the duke of Medina Sidonia in the armada of 1588) surveyed the coastline of south-west Ireland. By late autumn Oviedo and Recalde had returned to Spain to report to Philip II and to obtain reinforcements, while Sanders and Bishop O'Mulrian tried to persuade the nobility and gentry of west Munster to support this enterprise against the Elizabethan regime. By summer 1580 fitz Maurice was dead and his cousin Gerald (qv), 15th earl of Desmond, had assumed the leadership of what has been termed the ‘first counter-reformation crusade’ in Ireland. Gregory XIII had conferred the crusader's indulgence on Desmond and his followers, and on 10 September Recalde and Oviedo returned to Smerwick harbour with Colonel Bastiano de San Giuseppi and 600 Italian and Spanish troops. Following their conference with Desmond, the earl appointed Oviedo as his personal representative to the Spanish and papal courts.
By November 1580 Oviedo had returned with Recalde to Spain and he had reported in great detail on the expedition to Philip II. However, he failed to obtain further supplies and reinforcements, owing to the king's preoccupation with the annexation of Portugal and with the consolidation of the duke of Parma's successful campaign in the Netherlands. Philip evidently believed that Desmond would hold out until circumstances permitted a full-scale Spanish intervention in Ireland. By 1583 the second Desmond war had come to an end, Desmond and Sanders were dead, and Oviedo was now occupied with helping the Geraldine exiles in Spain and Portugal. Notwithstanding the fall of Desmond by 1583 and the subsequent plantation of Munster, Oviedo continued to remain hopeful for a renewal of the king's interest in Ireland as part of a wider strategy to combat Elizabeth I.
Consultor on Irish affairs Between 1583 and 1593, Oviedo actively promoted the idea of Spanish political and military intervention in Ireland at the Spanish court. He continued as consultor on Irish affairs to the council of state. During this period, Oviedo and the exiled bishop of Ross, Bonaventure Naughten, OFM (d. 1597), resided at court and maintained an intelligence network among Irish émigrés throughout Habsburg Spain, Portugal, and Flanders. Both of them kept Philip II informed of various matters relating to Anglo-Irish political, economic, and military affairs and on the activities of Irish and English expatriates in Spanish territories.
Oviedo took a particular interest in advising the Spanish crown on nominations to Irish episcopal sees. He was influential in the appointment of three successive archbishops of Tuam: Nicholas Skerret (1580–83), Miler O'Higgin (qv) (Maolmuire Ó hUiginn (1583–91), and James O'Hely (1591–5). One of Oviedo's most significant Irish protégés was Edmund Magauran (qv), bishop of Ardagh, who had fled to Spain in 1585. Through the influence of Oviedo and Naughten, Magauran was elevated to the primatial see of Armagh in 1587 and remained in Spain preparing the groundwork for a future Spanish–Irish alliance until his return to Ireland in 1592.
In 1593 Oviedo received his protégé Archbishop O'Hely of Tuam, who had come to Madrid as special envoy of the northern Irish catholic confederacy led by ‘Red’ Hugh O'Donnell (qv), lord of Tyrconnell, Hugh O'Neill (qv), earl of Tyrone, the O'Rourke of Breiffny, the MacSweeney-Duff, and Archbishop McGauran. Oviedo advised the Irish envoy and the Lisbon-based Geraldine exiles on the presentation of their memorial to Philip II, in which these confederates formally offered the translatio imperii (transfer of sovereign authority) of Ireland to the Spanish Habsburg monarchy. By now Oviedo was regularly attending meetings of the councils of state and of war, in which he provided up-dated information and intelligence on Irish affairs and logistics, forwarded to him by Naughten, by Edmund MacDonnell, who was dean of Armagh and Tyrone's agent in Madrid, and by Florence Conry who was in Salamanca.
In May 1596 Oviedo's long advocacy of a serious Spanish intervention in Ireland finally began to bear fruit, when Philip II accepted the offer of the Ulster-based catholic confederacy led by Tyrone and O'Donnell, and sent to Donegal, as his special envoys, four leading military and naval strategists who were part of Oviedo's pro-Irish interventionist party at the Spanish court – namely, Don Alonso de Cobos, Don Diego de Brochero, Don Pedro de Zubiaur, and Don Martín de Padilla. Following Tyrone's victory over the English at the battle of the Yellow Ford on 24 August 1598, Oviedo's ascendancy in the Spanish court was assured and his activities in committing the Spanish crown to his project of Ireland's incorporation into the Habsburg monarchy were successful; by April of the next year he had persuaded Philip III's chief minister, the duke of Lerma, of the justice of his arguments concerning the economic as well as the politico-military and strategic benefits of the plan.
Appointment to the see of Dublin In 1599 several Irish bishops and Hugh O'Neill, earl of Tyrone, petitioned the new king, Philip III, to nominate this hibernophile Spanish Franciscan to the primacy of Dublin. Against the advice of the Irish Jesuit provincial, Richard Field (qv), and of some Old English notables, who had recommended that the see of Dublin be given to a candidate of local origin (they had in mind Leonard FitzSimon, SJ, a professor of theology at Douai), Oviedo was appointed on 5 May 1600.
The Irish desire for Oviedo may well have been a wish to reassure Philip III of their good faith in the alliance and to secure more support by presenting a unified catholic front. Certainly a Gaelic occupant of the see would have been unacceptable to the Palesmen, who were distrustful of O'Neill and the Gaelic nobility. Furthermore, a Spanish primate would augment the influence of Spanish religious culture on the Irish church and consolidate the jurisdiction of Philip III in Irish ecclesiastical affairs. The Irish request for Oviedo's nomination by Philip III also indicates their preference for the Spanish ecclesiastical model over the Roman. That they petitioned the Spanish king to present their nomination to the pope is in itself a clear indication of their acceptance of him as their sovereign and of their adoption of the jurisdictional procedures of the church in Spanish territories.
A month before Oviedo's elevation to the see of Dublin, he was sent with Don Martín de la Cerdá by Philip III with a shipment of arms, ammunition, and money to Donegal. Before the envoys embarked for Ireland, the king had agreed to Oviedo's suggestion that he accept Tyrone's eldest son, Henry, as a pledge of his father's loyalty and that Henry be educated as a royal page at court and later at Salamanca. Also at Oviedo's suggestion, the king agreed to extend his sovereign protection to the Irish catholic confederacy without first receiving a formal oath of loyalty from them, lest it embarrass them in their efforts to secure papal support. These tactics demonstrate Oviedo's well-informed subtlety and sophistication in his political and diplomatic activities. Wary of the growth of Spanish influence in Ireland and the Irish church, Pope Clement VIII refused Tyrone's request that Oviedo be appointed legate in Ireland. Instead Oviedo was accredited as a papal envoy.
Having persuaded the Ulster-based catholic confederacy to continue to hold out against the increased pressures posed by the revived English forces in Ireland, under the new lord deputy, Lord Mountjoy (qv), and the president of Munster, Sir George Carew (qv), Cerdá returned to Spain with Henry O'Neill, while Oviedo remained in Ulster observing the situation and the strengths of the Ulster catholic forces. By late June 1600, Oviedo was back again in Spain and on 16 July that year he was consecrated archbishop of Dublin by his old mentor, Archbishop Juan de Ribera. He received the archiepiscopal pallium on 21 May 1601.
The Spanish invasion of Ireland and its aftermath By January 1601, following the Franco–Savoyard peace of Lyons, Spanish forces were no longer needed in Savoy-Piedmont and Oviedo saw this as an opportunity to press for an immediate Spanish invasion of Ireland. With Cerdá and Tyrone's chaplain, the Salamancan graduate Robert Chamberlain (qv) OFM, Oviedo formally presented his case to the council of state. Oviedo's hopes of serious Spanish intervention in Ireland materialised with the landing of Spanish forces under the command of Don Juan del Águila (qv) at Kinsale on 2 October 1601 (N.S.). There Oviedo took charge of the field hospital. He soon became disillusioned with Águila's irresolution and indecision, and his consequent failure to secure the harbour and sea route of Kinsale. These military setbacks were compounded by the antipathy of the Munster catholic nobility and gentry, especially the Old English, towards the Spanish–Irish alliance. Ultimately, Oviedo's hopes were shattered by the defeat of the Spanish and Irish forces at Kinsale in January 1602.
On his return to Spain, Oviedo brought charges for treasonable and dishonourable conduct against Águila in the commission that was set up to investigate the reasons for the failure of the expedition. Echoing O'Donnell's arguments and those of Florence Conry, Oviedo insisted that Spain should disregard Águila's treaty with Mountjoy and prepare another invasion force to land in Galway. This was accepted by the council of state, but events such as the fall of Dunboy, the arrival in Spain of large numbers of refugees from south-west Munster in July 1602, and the premature death of Hugh O'Donnell in Simancas on 9 September (N.S.) 1602, soon overtook Spanish plans. By now Oviedo was engaged in helping these refugees to obtain pensions and in many cases positions at the Spanish court and in the military and naval services.
Last years After the death of Elizabeth I in 1603 and the accession of the Stuart monarchy under James VI and I, Anglo–Spanish hostilities came to an end with the treaty of London in August 1604. Spanish interest in a military intervention in Ireland diminished and Oviedo retired from the court to the Observant Franciscan friary in Valladolid (where O'Donnell was buried, whose obsequies Oviedo and Conry had conducted).
In his autumnal years, Oviedo retained his interest in Irish affairs and he continued to receive Irish émigrés, who brought him news of events in Ireland, conditions in his archdiocese, and the activities of the Irish in the Spanish services, especially the recently established regiment of O'Neill in the army of Flanders. With the flight of the earls in September 1607 and the arrival of Tyrone in Spanish Flanders, Oviedo hoped that royal interest in Ireland would revive and that an invasion would be mounted. His hopes were soon dashed when the Spanish government acceded to the official English demand that O'Neill be denied permission to attend the court of Philip III. However, Oviedo continued to advise Philip III on nominations to Irish bishoprics, most notably that of Florence Conry to Tuam in 1609. Oviedo never visited his diocese of Dublin, but he made arrangements to have the exercise of his pastoral duties carried out by vicars apostolic, most notably Tyrone's kinsman Eugene Matthews (qv), bishop of Clogher, who had been educated with Henry O'Neill at Salamanca. Matthews succeeded Oviedo in the see of Dublin in 1611.
Among the first generation of Irish counter-reformation bishops to have been educated in Salamanca and professed in the Observant Franciscan province of Santiago de Compostela, Mateo de Oviedo of Dublin, Florence Conry of Tuam, and Hugh MacCaghwell of Armagh were closely identified with the political, cultural, religious, and military objectives of Tyrone and O'Donnell in the nine years war. Nevertheless Oviedo's role in Spanish–Irish relations began in earnest at the start of the second Desmond war, when he became formally involved in the first major attempt to link Ireland into the Spanish Habsburg monarchy's orbit of influence. Mateo de Oviedo died on 10 January 1610 (