Rich, Barnaby (Barnabe) (c.1542–1617), soldier and author, was probably a native of Essex, England. He became a soldier c.1563 and volunteered to serve with the huguenots in the French wars of religion, taking part in the siege of Le Havre in that same year. After fighting for some years in France, he then went to the Netherlands in the late 1560s and served there for four years on behalf of the Dutch protestants who sought to overthrow Spanish rule. His experiences in these wars left him with an abiding and powerful hatred of catholicism.
In summer 1573 he sailed to Ireland to serve under his kinsman Lord Robert Rich, who was taking part in the scheme of Walter Devereux (qv), 1st earl of Essex, to colonise Clandeboy in Antrim. This venture had collapsed by 1575 due to the military resistance of the local Irish. Although he was usually based in Ireland for the period 1573–92, Rich continued to make occasional visits to the Netherlands. As well as pursuing a career as a soldier, he also became a writer, publishing his first book in 1574. His early books dealt with military affairs and in 1578 he published Allarme to England in which he stated that the catholic Irish posed a serious threat to England's security, and that the English crown must ruthlessly and relentlessly seek to impose its authority on the island. In this tract he advocated the reduction of Ireland through the use of a large standing army and a network of garrisons; these prescriptions reflected both his own personal military experience and his wide reading of military manuals.
By the time of the outbreak of the second Desmond rebellion (1579), he was stationed at Limerick, and fought in that conflict during 1579–81. In 1581 he departed for London to plead for the release of Gerald Fitzgerald (qv), 11th earl of Kildare, who had been imprisoned on suspicion of treason. This mission was opposed by many royal officials in Ireland and is the first indication of the maverick tendencies that would become increasingly pronounced as his career progressed. While in London he appears to have temporarily renounced the military life, but soon changed his mind and by 1585 was in command of a company of infantry based at Coleraine. In the autumn of that year, however, while Rich was visiting Dublin, a force of 2,000 Gaelic Irish and Scots wiped out his unit. In 1587 he was awarded a pension of 2s. 6d. sterling a day (which by the 1600s had risen to £60 a year) for the rest of his life, and appears to have retired from active service. On 12 January 1588 he married Katheryn Easton in London. He had been previously married, but after he had been away for two years from his first wife on service in Ireland, she gave birth to a child, for which he divorced her for adultery. However, the terms of his divorce may not have entitle him to remarry: the commissary court of London briefly instigated proceedings against him for bigamy in 1605.
In 1589 he presented a political tract entitle ‘Reformation in Ireland’ to the lord deputy of Ireland, Sir William Fitzwilliam (qv), and to one of the queen's key advisers in London, Francis Walsingham. This work was a thinly concealed condemnation of Archbishop Adam Loftus (qv) of Dublin and of Bishop Thomas Jones (qv) of Meath for undermining the advance of the protestant faith in Ireland by their nepotism, corruption, negligence in spreading the Word of God, and indulgence of catholicism. Over the next three years, he regularly wrote to leading royal officials in London of his opinion on Irish affairs. These views were overwhelmingly negative and he bemoaned both the strength of and official tolerance afforded to catholicism and the general corruption of the queen's officials in Ireland.
His charges against Loftus and Jones aroused the interest of some royal officials, who encouraged him to investigate further. From summer 1591 he closely monitored Loftus's activities and gathered enough evidence to lay a series of detailed charges against the prelate in summer 1592. Loftus did not react passively to this campaign against him, and on 13 June 1592 Rich found himself engaged in a sword fight on the streets of Dublin with one of the archbishop's retainers. The following day, having been released from prison, Rich was attacked by three men while walking along the high street. Only the intervention of passers-by saved him from a severe beating or possible death. Having experienced two violent episodes in quick succession, he thought better of remaining in Ireland and had returned to England by 27 June.
Despite remaining in England for most of the next sixteen years, he continued to pose as an authority on Ireland, and as such to offer advice to the government. He returned briefly in 1599 to campaign under Robert Devereux (qv), 2nd earl of Essex, who had been dispatched to Ireland at the head of a large army to crush a dangerous rebellion. In early 1601 he assisted the authorities in quelling an attempted coup by his former commander, Essex, in London, for which he was commended for his loyalty. In 1606 the Dublin administration decided to withhold pension payments to those officers who were not living in Ireland, forcing Rich to reside in Dublin from c.1607–8 in order to retain his pension.
Towards the end of his life he wrote and published prolifically; many of these later works were political pieces on Ireland. The sheer volume of his output makes him one of the most important historical sources for early modern Ireland. Despite being unremittingly hostile towards Irish culture and society, his observations appear to have been reasonably accurate. He sought to capitalise on the increased interest in Irish affairs in England following the flight of the earls and the O'Doherty rebellion in 1608, and the resulting plans for a plantation of Ulster, by publishing A short survey of Ireland (1609) and A new description of Ireland (1610). Despite their titles these works were not general accounts of Ireland but anti-catholic polemics; he devoted most of the former work to proving that the pope was the Antichrist, while the latter condemned the wilfulness of the Irish people in refusing to embrace protestantism. A new description also explored the role of Old English recusants, and the writings of Richard Stanihurst (qv), in undermining the reformation.
These publications, particularly A new description, provoked uproar in Ireland, but he remained defiant and continued to publish works in a similar vein. His True and kinde excuse (1612) justified and expanded on the denunciations of A new description, declaring that God had denied his grace to the catholics of Ireland, who were therefore incapable of achieving salvation. The same year he published A catholic conference, an eye-witness account of the execution of the catholic bishop of Down and Connor, Conor O'Devany (qv), in which he condemned the catholic cult of martyrdom. While angering the catholic interests in Ireland, these works were also unwelcome to the protestant establishment, which was eager to play up the progress that had been made in establishing English rule and in reforming Irish society since the completion of the Tudor conquest in 1603.
In a series of unpublished tracts intended for circulation among leading statesmen in London, he was fiercely critical of this protestant establishment, which he characterised as being irredeemably corrupt. The most important of these were ‘Remembrances of Barnaby Rich’ (1612), in which he provided details of financial corruption perpetrated by leading officials in Dublin, and ‘The anatomy of Ireland’ (1615), which was intended as a direct rebuttal to what he regarded as the disingenuously optimistic description of Ireland outlined by Sir John Davies (qv) in A discovery of the true causes (1612). In ‘The anatomy’ he denied Davies's contention that the Irish had embraced English law, culture, and customs, and stressed that they continued to nurse a bitter hatred towards the English race. While Davies lauded the progress made in establishing civil and judicial institutions throughout the island, Rich argued that this mattered little, given that the catholic clergy had strengthened their grip over the people. He also drew attention to the manner in which protestant landowners were covertly improving the tenures by which they held their property from the crown, thereby depriving the king of revenues.
‘The anatomy’ resurrects an argument he had made as early as 1589 in his ‘Reformation in Ireland’: namely, that the crown had erred disastrously in Ireland by giving political objectives priority over religious ones. This secular outlook had led inevitably to a corrupt royal administration ruling over a stubbornly catholic populace that despised but did not really fear it. He believed that it was his duty as a devout protestant to speak the truth and to condemn the evils he saw all about him in Ireland. As a result of this he was denied official favour and lived most of his life in straitened financial circumstances, despite his many years of service to the crown. However, he revelled in his self-depiction as a voice crying out in the wilderness, and his exaggerated doom-mongering undoubtedly helped him to attract readers for his publications. In any case his efforts did not go wholly unrewarded: in July 1616 the government granted him a gift of £100 for being the oldest captain in Ireland.
His last published work, The Irish hubbub (1617), describes the English colonists in Ireland as representing the dregs of England and condemns the obsession with fashion and the prevalence of tobacco smoking in Dublin. In this work he states that his criticisms of Dublin society could just as easily be made of the London scene. By doing so, he confirms the view that much of his earlier criticisms of Irish customs and habits were at least in part a coded means of critiquing English politics and society. A consistent thread running through all his writings is the ingratitude of civilians towards the soldiers that protect them. Bearing in mind the gender of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603) and the sexuality of King James I (1603–25), his constant censuring of female profligacy and of effeminacy in men can be taken as references to the failure of the crown to support its military properly and ruthlessly to impose its will on the Irish. Indeed, the crudeness of his anti-catholic rhetoric may well have been tactical, designed to reassure his readers that his denunciations of the royal administration in no way reflected any pro-Irish or pro-catholic sympathies on his part; this was a common slander used by the protestant establishment against its critics.
He appears to have died in Dublin on 17 November 1617. In total, he published twenty-six books, of which twenty-two survive. As well as works on Ireland and on military tactics, he also wrote literary works and social satires.