Radcliffe, Thomas (1526/7–1583), 3rd earl of Sussex , lord deputy (1556–60) and lord lieutenant of Ireland (1560–65), was the eldest son of Henry, second earl of Sussex, and his first wife, Elizabeth (d. 1534), and was styled Lord Fitzwalter from 1542 until his accession to the earldom in 1557. While suggestions that he was educated at Cambridge and Gray's Inn are doubtful, his surviving correspondence and papers show evidence of a high degree of literacy, an easy proficiency in Latin, and a broad range of reference all shrouded in untrained penmanship. Fitzwalter earned his spurs in 1544 during Henry VIII's campaign in France, where, on 30 September, he was knighted. He was nearly killed in fighting at Pinkie Cleugh, near Musselburgh, on 10 September 1547. Though occasionally eclipsed, he survived amid the perturbations of the Henrician and Edwardian courts. He was a canopy-bearer at the funeral of Henry VIII, served on diplomatic missions to France in 1546 and 1549, and was elected MP for Norfolk in the last Edwardian parliament (March 1553).
Fitzwalter was a witness to Edward VI's will recognising the succession of Lady Jane Grey, but he abandoned Northumberland immediately upon the Princess Mary's assertion of her claim. In 1554 he proved his loyalty by his enthusiastic service in the suppression of Wyatt's rebellion and, his trustworthiness confirmed, resumed his diplomatic role, being sent on missions to Brussels and to Valladolid to help manage the delicate negotiations leading up to the marriage of Queen Mary and Prince Philip in August that year. He was rewarded for his services by the grant of several influential court posts, including the captaincy of the gentleman pensioners of the privy chamberlain and later by being raised to the Order of the Garter.
The success of these missions notwithstanding, there is no evidence to support the suggestion that his experience at the Habsburg courts influenced Fitzwalter in turning his attention to Ireland. It is more probable, but also uncertain, that he may have learned something of the country through his step-mother, Anne Calthorpe, the divorced wife of the second earl, who later married the Irish vice-treasurer, Andrew White. Fitzwalter's appointment to the Irish viceroyalty on 27 April 1556 was made in the wake of the virtual collapse of the government of Sir Anthony St Leger (qv), under the weight of a damning commission of inquiry into the political and financial operations of his administration. His initial plans for the government of Ireland were based directly on the findings of that inquiry. Where St Leger had been weak and accommodating in the face of the resistance and backsliding of the native lords, Fitzwalter determined to enforce the letter of the legal and diplomatic agreements that had been made with the crown in the 1540s. Where St Leger had been neglectful of coastline defences, Fitzwalter undertook to expel the steadily encroaching Scottish settlement in east Ulster. Where St Leger had been prodigal with royal treasure and revenue and had become all too susceptible to local interest, Fitzwalter would be rigorous in the control of expenditure, insist upon the honest discharge of their duties by all office-holders, and remain aloof from local interests, depending instead on a small cadre of executives which included his brother Henry, his brother-in-law Sir Henry Sidney (qv), Sir William Fitzwilliam (qv), and his own appointee as marshal of the army, Sir George Stanley.
Though Fitzwalter's intentions of reforming the government of Ireland were sincere, they were also, in their simple rejection of the ways of the subtle St Leger, strikingly naïve, and their inadequacies were to be cruelly exposed in the ensuing years. A campaign to expel the MacDonnells and their followers from their stronghold in the glens and the Route in Antrim, which he undertook in July 1556, and a further assault on their headquarters in Kintyre in September 1558, caused much loss of life but produced no permanent results, and by 1560 the lord deputy (now earl of Sussex since 1557) was willing to contemplate what had hitherto been unthinkable: the recognition of Sorley Boy MacDonnell (qv), chief of the MacDonnells of Antrim as a subject of the Irish crown.
Sussex's assault upon the O'Connors of Offaly and the O'Mores of Laois, whose defiance of royal authority St Leger was supposed to have tolerated, initially produced more positive results. The leadership of both dynasties was devastated by war and execution, its remnants forced into hiding or exile. But his attempt to establish a large English colony in the territories thus confiscated, by the generous land grants to English, Anglo-Irish, and native Irish applicants on the basis of a statute confirming the new settlement, was similarly ineffectual. The number of English grantees who took up residence was small, the Irish grantees failed to fulfil the requirements of settlement, and, as conditions in the territories reverted to the pre-plantation environment, real power in the region rapidly devolved to a small number of English martial figures, such as Francis Cosby (qv) and Henry Radcliffe, and to the great local magnates, the earl of Kildare (qv) in Offaly and the earl of Ormond (qv) in Laois.
Other interventions were equally frustrated. Thus Sussex's attempt in the summer of 1558 to quell the internecine strife among the O'Briens of Thomond, which had arisen over the unsatisfactory surrender and regrant agreements negotiated by St Leger in 1543 by insisting on the enforcement of the original terms, only deepened the disorders in the territory and committed the crown to the support of one of the contending dynasts, Conor O'Brien (qv), who was incapable of establishing his authority over his own people. Even more serious was Sussex's determination to enforce the terms of the original (and equally unsatisfactory) agreement which St Leger had hastily concluded with the O'Neills of Tir Eoghain in 1542. That agreement, which resulted in the creation of Conn Bacach O'Neill (qv) as first earl of Tyrone and the recognition of his son Matthew O'Neill (qv) (or Feardorcha) as heir to the earldom, had long been challenged among the O'Neills, as Matthew had failed to establish either his legitimacy or his power within the dynasty. By the mid-1550s real power among the O'Neills had been seized by Conn's youngest son Shane (Seaán) O'Neill (qv), who was contending vigorously for a revision of the treaty and recognition of his own claims to inherit the earldom. Rejecting Shane's overtures, the lord deputy launched a war against him in October 1557 in a heavy-handed campaign which, though it failed to subdue O'Neill, alienated many potential allies by the extent of his exactions and by the sack of Armagh cathedral (27 October). Two further campaigns in 1559 and 1561 produced similar results, the latter ending in a shameful retreat of Sussex's ambushed army. And in January 1562 Sussex was compelled to suffer the humiliation of attending at Shane's reception at court. With the help of Secretary of State William Cecil, he succeeded in reducing the negotiations to a stalemate. But a further campaign against Shane in the spring of 1563 collapsed before it really commenced, and a further intrigue to have Shane assassinated also failed and completed Sussex's mortification. Queen Elizabeth withdrew her confidence and authorised Sir Thomas Cusack (qv), St Leger's closest adviser, to offer generous terms in peace negotiations in September 1563.
By this juncture two other forces had converged to undermine Sussex's government entirely. The first emerged from the English Pale. As the size of the garrison rose from 300 to over 2,000, and incidental charges and informal exactions upon the countryside increased, Sussex's promises to bring honesty and fairness to the Irish administration seemed hollow and his insistence on reducing royal expenditure a positive provocation. His failure to control the extortions of his officers and troops, the rampant destruction of property in the Pale which accompanied his campaigns, and the bad harvests at the beginning of the 1560s all combined to alienate the loyal English of the Pale. Complaints had been raised against Sussex's conduct in office as early as 1558. But when the gentry of the Pale sent its agents to petition against the army's abuses in 1561 and in 1563, they received support (and protection from the risks of contumacy which they hazarded) from the queen's rising favourite, Lord Robert Dudley, whose hostility was the second new force operating against Sussex.
Profoundly committed to the continuation of the Tudor dynasty whatever the foreign and religious policies of its individual representatives, Sussex, in company with other aristocrats, was determined that Elizabeth I should be married, preferably to a scion of one of the great European dynasties. His position on a royal marriage brought him into conflict with Dudley who, for a variety of reasons, was adamantly opposed to any immediate settlement. Sussex's exposure in Ireland made him an especially vulnerable target among the aristocrats, and from 1561 Dudley began to cultivate Sussex's opponents in Ireland, including Gerald, eleventh earl of Kildare, who had been alienated by Sussex's friendship with his rival, Thomas, tenth earl of Ormond, the representatives of the English Pale, and Shane O'Neill.
While these means failed Dudley in his attempt to have Sussex discredited, he succeeded in July 1562 in having a client of his own, Sir Nicholas Arnold (qv), appointed to head a royal commission with a remit to inquire into all aspects of Sussex's financial and administrative management. Arnold's investigations severely disrupted Sussex's administration, encouraged his enemies, and demoralised his friends. Sussex himself fell seriously ill and appears to have abandoned all responsibilities before he secured licence to leave Ireland in May 1564.
Sussex was never to resume the Irish office. But he continued to exert an influence over Irish policy in both positive and negative ways: he was inflexible in his own conduct in office, but he was capable of serious reflection on Tudor policy in Ireland. In the early 1560s he produced a number of important memoranda which reviewed the problems of government and suggested detailed strategies and solutions, taking particular cultural and local factors into account, which were to exercise major influence on the policy formulations of his successors. His preoccupation with the wider issues of Tudor dynastic politics, however, caused him to misunderstand or misrepresent Irish issues. His fear of international intrigues led him to assume a deeply suspicious attitude towards the Geraldine houses of Kildare and Desmond and to associate too closely with the house of Ormond in a manner which deeply destabilised Irish politics. Similarly, his engagement with court politics induced him to conspire against the administration of his successor, Sir Henry Sidney, in the way his own had been damaged by Sidney's patron Dudley. His grasp of broader perspectives allowed him to take a politique attitude towards the question of religious reformation. Viceroy under the catholic Mary and protestant Elizabeth, he succeeded in having the doctrinal and ecclesiastical changes required by both regimes ratified by Irish parliaments with little demonstrable opposition, and in ensuring, in contrast to the English case, a high degree of continuity in those holding ecclesiastical office.
Twice married, first (c.1545) to Elizabeth (d. 1555), the daughter of Thomas Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, and secondly to Frances (d. 1559), the daughter of Sir William Sidney and sister of Sir Henry Sidney, Sussex died childless after a long illness on 9 June 1583.The earldom descended to his brother Henry, who had served in Ireland (1556–65).