St Leger, Sir Anthony (1496?–1559), lord deputy of Ireland, was born at Ulcombe in Kent, the eldest of the six sons (there were also at least three daughters) of the landowner Ralph St Leger of Ulcombe and his wife, Elizabeth or Isabel. She was the daughter of Sir Richard Haut or Hart of Selvingbourne, Kent, and his first wife, Eleanor.
Early career at court and in Kent Having been educated at his residence until the age of twelve, Anthony pursued further study in France and Italy. On his return to England he studied philosophy at Cambridge and law at Gray's Inn before being admitted to the court of Henry VIII, where he impressed both the king and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. As a servant of Thomas Wriothesley, garter king of arms, he attended the marriage of the king's sister, Mary, to Louis XII on 9 October 1514. Within a year he was in the service of one of Kent's most prominent noblemen, George Neville, 5th Baron Bergavenny. By 1525 he had married Anne or Agnes, daughter of Hugh Warham of Croydon, Surrey. The couple had five sons, including Sir Warham St Leger (qv), and two daughters.
St Leger was appointed JP for Kent about 1526 and by 1528 he was keeper of Langham Park, Kent. From the late 1520s he became more actively involved in court politics. He served Thomas Cromwell, the king's secretary, and participated in the suppression of the monasteries. St Leger was one of three commissioners deployed to survey Calais in August 1535 and he sat on the grand jury in Kent that delivered a verdict against Anne Boleyn in May 1536. The following October he and fifty of his men were summoned to defend Henry VIII during the Lincolnshire rebellion and the Pilgrimage of Grace.
First service in Ireland and diplomacy abroad St Leger's service in Ireland began with his appointment on 31 July 1537 to two commissions, one to investigate how Ireland might become orderly and civilised and the other to take submissions from specific rebels, reorganise the Dublin administration's finances and reduce the garrison. He first arrived in Dublin on 8 September and, by the end of December, he and the other commissioners had completed their inquests into the state of Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford, Meath, Dublin and Louth. St Leger was singled out for particular praise by Thomas Agard, clerk to the treasurer, for his discretion and impartiality as a commissioner. His reputation enhanced, St Leger returned to England, where Henry VIII made him a gentleman of the privy chamber in the summer of 1538. By 4 February 1539 he had been knighted.
The following October he was dispatched as special ambassador to Mary of Hungary, regent of the Low Countries, to arrange for the safe passage of Anne of Cleves through Habsburg territory, and he accompanied Henry VIII's future bride to England. By then he was also a very influential figure at local level, serving on several commissions, notably that charged with defence of the Kent coast in 1539. He was also sheriff of the county in 1539–40. More consequentially, he had also aligned himself with Thomas Howard (qv), 3rd duke of Norfolk. Assured of support at court and confident in his understanding of the mentalities of the various communities within Ireland, from June 1540 St Leger lobbied for the recall of Lord Deputy Leonard Grey (qv), in the hope of creating an opening for his own return to Ireland.
Lord deputy That opening came on 7 July 1540 when St Leger was appointed lord deputy with an annual salary of £666 13s. 4d. Within a month he arrived in Dublin for what was to be the first of six terms in that office, which can be divided into three phases: 1540–48, 1550–51 and 1553–56. In the first, St Leger concentrated on reasserting effective royal authority in the Pale and on securing the support and cooperation of the colonial elite through conciliation and rewards for compliance, before endeavouring to extend that authority into outlying areas of Leinster and Munster. He managed to convince Henry VIII that a gradual absorption of Ireland within the Tudor polity would result in more effective enforcement of royal authority and greater financial self-sufficiency. Supported by a coterie of the colonial elite, notably Sir Thomas Cusack (qv), Thomas Luttrell (qv) and Gerald Aylmer (qv), he set about implementing his radical policy, termed ‘surrender and regrant’ by historians, which aimed at extending the system of English government into Gaelic Ireland by conciliatory means.
St Leger sought to induce the Gaelic chiefs to hold their land of the king, and the king to forgo many of his ancient but unrealisable feudal claims in return for full recognition of his sovereignty. The Gaelic Irish were offered new terms of land tenure based on English leaseholds and copyholds and were to adopt the primogeniture inheritance system. Those who submitted were bound by indenture to recognise the king as liege lord, to attend parliament and to reject papal authority. In return, and upon completion of negotiations aimed at resolving localised disputes, the lords received a charter for their lands. It was hoped that this policy would facilitate the adoption of common law in Leinster and Munster and the foundation of a more English socio-economic structure.
A month after his arrival, St Leger led a hosting against the Geraldine League in south Leinster, reducing MacMurroughs, O'Mores and O'Connors to peace. Throughout the next year, he secured the submission of James fitz John Fitzgerald (qv), earl of Desmond (at Cahir in January 1541), Murchadh O'Brien (qv) of Thomond, and Ulick Burke (qv) of Clanricard, and negotiated terms with all major Gaelic lords, including (most significantly) Conn Bacach O'Neill (qv), earl of Tyrone, who submitted on 28 December 1541.
The first of eight sessions of St Leger's parliament met at Dublin (13 June – 20/23 July 1541) with Gaelic lords in attendance for the first time. In order to provide for political unity of all groups in Ireland within a single community of subjects under the unilateral jurisdiction of the crown, St Leger convinced a reluctant Henry to accept the kingship of Ireland by parliamentary statute (the act for kingly title of 18 June 1541). Even at that early stage, Henry voiced dissatisfaction at concessions granted by St Leger to the Irish and the deputy's reform programme was suspended with the dissolution of parliament in November 1543. However, in the interim, St Leger availed himself of Henry's acceptance of the kingship to conclude agreements with individual Gaelic lords on the king's behalf. He envisaged involving the newly elevated elite in the work of the Irish council but the king ignored his advice. Indeed St Leger's support for the earl of Desmond in particular drew criticism from Walter Cowley (qv), master of the rolls, supporter of the earl of Ormond (qv) (d. 1546), who accused St Leger of endeavouring to revive the Geraldines and also of corruption; by May 1542 Cowley was silenced following his dismissal from office.
First and second terms St Leger's first term was characterised by a number of significant achievements. His policies steadily progressed in 1542; to Henry's satisfaction, the garrison was reduced to 500 men and government was less costly. He also persuaded Henry to establish councils to govern Munster and Connacht, each under a lord president, and to oversee admission of Irishmen to the inns of court. In mid July 1543, before a meeting of the council in Dublin, he presided at a settlement between O'Neill and Manus O'Donnell (qv). In south Leinster, agreement was reached with the Kavanaghs late in 1543.
Two phenomena in particular reflect the immediate success of St Leger's policies in generating a climate of goodwill in Ireland down to the mid 1540s. First, when England was committed to a two-fronted war in the Scottish borderlands and in France, not only were there none of the previous overtures from Irish malcontents to hostile continental rulers, the earls of Desmond and Tyrone were among the many lords who mustered 1,000 kerne in 1544 to fight under English commanders on both fronts. Second, St Leger diffused potential conflict over contested religious jurisdiction by ensuring that the preliminary agreements with the Irish chiefs in the early 1540s (which involved recognition of the royal supremacy) acknowledged local rights to church patronage and local preferences in the selection of bishops. In spite of the many problems associated with implementing surrender and regrant, St Leger's first term as lord deputy was an innovative and progressive departure in the context of Tudor government.
St Leger's deputyship ended with his return to England about 10 February 1544. Having been appointed knight of the garter on 25 April, he was installed on 18 May. He was reappointed lord deputy on 3 July with a salary increase of £200 and arrived in Ireland on 11 August. St Leger's second term was overshadowed by his dispute with the earl of Ormond concerning a force of 2,000 kerne that Henry had instructed the Irish council to levy in September 1545. Relations deteriorated to the point that both were summoned to court and appeared in April 1546. As St Leger left for London, a large assembly of both Gaelic and English lords at Dublin are said to have wept and lamented the departure of so good and just a governor. Following an investigation into his conduct, and buttressed by glowing testimonials from Irish dignitaries, St Leger was exonerated of charges made by Ormond and Sir John Alen (qv). During the lord deputy's enforced absence, Sir William Brabazon (qv) served as justiciar and St Leger's close ally, Sir Thomas Cusack, liaised with Desmond, Thomond, Tyrone and the Leinster chiefs to ensure peace.
Restoration and the third and fourth terms St Leger was restored to office for the third time on 7 November and had returned to Ireland by 16 December. After the accession of Edward VI in 1547 he continued as a gentleman of the privy chamber. Notwithstanding the fall of Norfolk, his patron, St Leger was reappointed lord deputy of Ireland on 7 April 1547 and immediately set about creating his own party in the Dublin administration by depriving his opponents (notably Sir John Alen, Walter Cowley and William Cantwell) of office and replacing them with his supporters, though these changes in personnel reduced the administration's effectiveness.
Meanwhile, in the midlands and south Leinster, the agreements forged by St Leger in the early 1540s were beginning to unravel. During his absence in 1546 St Leger's deputy, Brabazon, led an expedition against the O'Connor sept. On his return in December 1546, the privy council continued to support St Leger, dispatching munitions and men under the command of Sir Edward Bellingham (qv) in June 1547 to suppress the midlands revolt. However, St Leger's reform programme was in jeopardy when his initially low-key response to the uprising drew severe criticism from councillors. Galvanised into adopting a tougher approach, during the summer months St Leger and Brabazon campaigned against the O'Connors and the O'Mores.
The midlands remained disturbed and the privy council instructed St Leger to position himself and his retinue at the Leix-Offaly border in order to divide the Irish and assert his personal control. When the lord deputy questioned the wisdom of this directive, Somerset recalled Sir Edward Bellingham on 24 October to give his assessment of the situation to the privy council. On Bellingham's recommendation, an auditor was appointed in November 1547 to investigate the state of Irish finances and, a month later, Brabazon presented a report that was critical of St Leger's policies. Despite the successful conclusion of his military campaign in the midlands and Brian O'Connor Faly's (qv) submission in November, St Leger was replaced by Bellingham as lord deputy on 21 May 1548. He returned to England, accompanied by Brian O'Connor and O'More, who were subsequently imprisoned in the Tower of London.
During the period July 1548 – July 1550, St Leger mainly devoted his energies to county matters. In October 1549 he apparently supported John Dudley, earl of Warwick, in a coup to depose the duke of Somerset as protector. He was engaged to escort French hostages for the treaty of Boulogne through Kent to London in April 1550.
Fifth lord deputyship On 4 August he was appointed lord deputy of Ireland for the fifth time and arrived in Dublin on 10 September. He was given a private retinue of twenty-four soldiers, an annual income of £1,000 and instructions to survey Leix and Offaly with a view to plantation with English settlers. While he continued to adopt a conciliatory approach in his dealings with the English and Gaelic elites, he pressed ahead with extensive fortification. This term was marred by the increasingly effective efforts of his opponents at court and in Ireland to discredit him and his policies. Late in 1550 an English settler, Andrew Brereton, and Sir Nicholas Bagenal (qv), marshal of the army, blatantly undermined St Leger's conciliatory policy by accusing the earl of Tyrone of being a traitor. In response the lord deputy advised Sir William Cecil, the secretary of state, on 19 January 1551 that such a combative approach was highly counter-productive. St Leger encountered further resistance from critics, notably Sir John Alen, who impeded the progress of the Leix-Offaly plantation; he and his chaplain were also accused of being papists. Mindful of Brereton's connivance to have him dismissed, on 23 March St Leger wrote to Cecil and the privy council justifying his actions, and two months later the Irish council wrote in support of him.
Meanwhile, the lord deputy was also anxious to conceal his financial irregularities and appointed Sir Andrew Wise (qv) and Sir William Brabazon on 20 January 1551 to do so. By the end of March he had Brereton removed from the Irish council but, when Brereton's ally at court, Sir William Herbert, a prominent supporter of Warwick, lobbied for Brereton's reinstatement, St Leger's isolation increased.
Charged with overseeing the introduction to Ireland of the new liturgy based on the Book of Common Prayer (1549), on 1 March 1551 St Leger briefed a convocation of the Irish clergy at Dublin regarding the changes envisaged. However, his attempts to accommodate conservative prelates including George Dowdall (qv), archbishop of Armagh, drew criticism from more strident protestant clerics, particularly George Browne (qv), archbishop of Dublin.
Increasing opposition, the threat of foreign intervention in Ireland and deteriorating social and economic conditions resulted in St Leger's fifth term as lord deputy being no less costly and no more effective than that of his predecessor, Bellingham. On 29 April 1551 he was replaced by Sir James Croft (qv), who was sworn in on 23 May. From 26 December 1551 St Leger was suspended from attending the privy chamber while his alleged catholicism was under investigation, but he was readmitted on 22 April 1552 when the allegations could not be proven. In mid June 1552 he was appointed a commissioner to survey Calais and the borderlands and also to inquire into heresy. During the succession crisis he supported Mary Tudor. On 7 August 1553 he became a privy councillor and the following day he attended Edward VI's funeral. He was one of three special ambassadors subsequently dispatched to justify Mary's accession to Henri II of France and was reappointed JP for Kent on 18 February 1554.
Sixth and final term St Leger was appointed lord deputy of Ireland for his sixth and last term on 1 September 1553 with instructions to restore catholicism, reduce the garrison to 500 men, establish a more formal presidential council for the governance of Munster, plant Leix–Offaly and eradicate coign and livery. However, his effectiveness was seriously undermined by increasing accusations of bribery and corruption. His efforts were further impeded by the murder of Donough O'Brien, 2nd earl of Thomond, the restoration of Gerald Fitzgerald (qv) as 11th earl of Kildare and the return of Thomas Butler (qv), 10th earl of Ormond, to Ireland. Though he curtailed expenditure, he was unable to reduce the army much below 1,000 owing to wars in Ulster and the midlands.
In late 1554 Sir William Fitzwilliam (qv) first accused St Leger and Sir Andrew Wise of fraudulent administration of the Irish finances and, by the end of the following year, Fitzwilliam was reporting to London on the lord deputy's military and diplomatic failures. Early in 1556 Fitzwilliam exposed St Leger's corruption and on 21 April he was replaced by Thomas Radcliffe (qv), Baron Fitzwalter. St Leger was summoned to answer a full inquiry into his conduct in office and was surcharged £5,000. Though knight of the shire for Kent in 1559, he was too ill to contribute significantly to the proceedings of the house of commons. He died 16 March 1559 at Ulcombe, where he was buried in the parish church. He was survived briefly by his wife and succeeded by his son Warham.
Sir Anthony St Leger offered a novel, alternative approach to the government of Tudor Ireland. Though some historians have questioned his programmatic commitment to reform, there is consensus that his conduct in office, inspired by a subtle political understanding, was carefully and deliberately fashioned to accommodate the particular features of the Irish political environment.