St Leger, Sir Warham (1525?–1597), administrator and planter, was second son of Sir Anthony St Leger (qv) of Ulcombe, Kent, England, and his wife Agnes (d. 24 March 1559), daughter of Sir Hugh Warham of Croydon, Surrey. During his youth he appears to have served in Henry VIII's campaigns in France in the early 1540s. In September 1547 he took part in an English invasion of Scotland and was captured, possibly in an engagement at Haddington, East Lothian. He remained a prisoner in Edinburgh till his family ransomed him for 100 marks in January 1550. Soon after, his father's decision to disinherit his older brother, William, left him the heir to Sir Anthony's sizeable estates. About this time he married Ursula, daughter of George Neville, 5th Baron Abergavenny, and was appointed constable of Leeds Castle, Kent. In January 1554 he helped the crown forces crush the rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt in his native Kent. By summer 1555 he was serving as JP for Kent, a position he would hold regularly throughout his life. His father served as lord deputy of Ireland on three different occasions between 1540 and 1556, and he probably spent time in Ireland during his youth.
Following his father's death (March 1559) he succeeded to the family estates and, in the interests of fostering good relations with his older brother, passed to him the manors of Bilsington and Belgar in Kent. However, he also inherited a large fine that had been imposed on his father by the crown due to irregularities in his administration of crown properties and finances in Ireland. He regarded himself as one of the leading landowners in Kent, serving as sheriff of the county in 1560–61, but the need to service his father's debts forced him to borrow heavily. He sought to improve his finances by entering the royal service, but was to suffer repeated disappointments in this, partly because Queen Elizabeth I and many of her officials were put off by his arrogance and pride.
The presidency of Munster His fortunes changed in autumn 1565, when his near neighbour, the newly appointed lord deputy of Ireland Sir Henry Sidney (qv), invited him to Ireland. Sidney envisaged St Leger as playing a leading role in his government and in short order knighted him, swore him a member of the Irish privy council, and nominated him to the newly created office of lord president of Munster. The presidency was to be the vehicle by which the crown would extend its administration into the previously autonomous lordships of Munster. By far the most important of these lordships was that of the Fitzgeralds of Desmond, who were led by Gerald Fitzgerald (qv), 15th earl of Desmond. The reason behind Sidney's decision to pluck St Leger from relative obscurity lay in the successful political alliance St Leger's father had forged during the 1540s and 1550s with Desmond's father, the 14th earl. Given this background, St Leger seemed an ideal candidate for mediating between the earl and the crown.
In March 1566 he was appointed head of a royal commission established to keep the peace in Munster, and as such was given command of thirty horse and twenty foot. However, this was a small military retinue and his powers as chief commissioner were restricted; it was envisaged that he would rule with the consent and assistance of the local lords. In April he went to Munster, where he based himself in Cork city and was preoccupied with adjudicating on disputes between various magnates. The most bitter and important of these concerned the rivalry between Desmond and Thomas Butler (qv), 10th earl of Ormond. Both St Leger and Sidney were eager to appease Desmond, but their efforts to do so were undermined by Ormond's success in exploiting his close personal relationship with the queen in London. Indeed, in March Ormond had persuaded the queen to veto St Leger's proposed appointment as president of Munster by claiming (not unreasonably) that St Leger was biased against him. He was allowed to continue as chief commissioner (and therefore de facto governor) of Munster, but his authority had been sorely shaken. Furthermore, in May the queen barred St Leger from exercising any authority within Ormond's territories in Co. Tipperary and from arbitrating on the Ormond–Desmond legal disputes. In July he met Desmond at Lough Gur and found the earl deeply discontented with the queen's partiality towards Ormond and with St Leger's patent inability to do anything about it. As a result, he was unable to prevent further outbreaks of violence between supporters of the earls of Ormond and Desmond in Munster.
In autumn 1566 Sidney campaigned in Ulster and ordered St Leger and Desmond to guard the Pale with their forces in his absence. During this service they beat off an attack on Drogheda by the forces of Shane O'Neill (qv) and plundered O'Reilly's country. Sidney praised both of them for their efforts, but the queen remained unmoved and dismissed St Leger from his governorship of Munster in December. He appears to have spent most of 1567 in Ireland, albeit at a loose end as Sidney strove unsuccessfully to convince the queen to change her mind.
Colonial ventures in Munster Nonetheless, the lord deputy remained determined to find a role for his client in Munster, and arranged in October for him to receive a twenty-one-year lease of property belonging to the dissolved monastic houses of the Franciscans and Augustinians at Adare, of the abbey of Nenagh, and of the nunnery of St Catherine at Ballykally; all in Co. Limerick. By mid 1568 St Leger had struck a deal with Desmond, who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London, whereby the earl leased him the territory of Kerrycurrihy in Co. Cork. Much later both parties would for very different reasons claim it was a mortgage, but it appears to have been a lease; he was to pay a rent of £100 a year. His lease of Kerrycurrihy was soon augmented by his purchase of a lease of the adjoining property of the former abbey of Tracton. He invited Sir Richard Grenville to assist him in establishing an English colony on these lands and by spring 1569 some 100–200 English had been settled at Kerrycurrihy.
In late 1568 St Leger and Grenville joined a consortium of English landowners and merchants to propose settling another colony at Baltimore, west Co. Cork, for the purposes of exploiting the fisheries off the coast of Munster. However, by early 1569 their ambitions had broadened considerably in scope and radicalism, and the consortium now proposed conquering and colonising the entire south-west of Munster. This scheme would be largely privately funded, but would receive a degree of financial support from the crown. As the territory in question was controlled by Gaelic lords, it was envisaged that the Fitzgeralds of Desmond would take part in and benefit from the conquest of their traditional rivals. That summer the queen and her advisers cautiously approved this undertaking. Significantly, these English adventurers made no attempt to disguise their intentions, and as they made their preparations in London openly boasted that the queen had empowered them to conquer Munster. Later, Ormond would complain that St Leger had deliberately spread reports around Ireland that caused many Irish landowners to fear that the government was planning to confiscate their property. Clearly, Sidney and St Leger, having seen their attempts at pursuing a gradualist reform policy in Ireland stymied by the queen, had decided to gamble on a more reckless and desperate course of action. Well aware that a privately funded colonial enterprise was not financially viable, they hoped to drive the Gaelic Irish in Munster into open rebellion, which they believed would in turn push the queen into funding the subjugation of the province.
The first Desmond rebellion; foreign plots However, these provocateurs had overestimated the queen's willingness to tolerate high military expenditure in Ireland and had underestimated the breadth and depth of Irish opposition to their plans. In particular, their calculation that the Fitzgeralds of Desmond would assist them against the Gaelic Irish proved disastrously misguided. The arrest of Desmond in spring 1567 and then of his brother Sir John Fitzgerald (qv) later in the same year had created a power vacuum within the Desmond lordship that was eventually filled by their cousin James fitz Maurice Fitzgerald (qv) (‘fitz Maurice’). Fitz Maurice had been the previous occupier of Kerrycurrihy before being supplanted by St Leger, against whom he unsurprisingly bore a grudge. Benefiting from the widespread disquiet in Munster regarding the activities of the English adventurers, fitz Maurice quickly assembled a confederation of Munster lords determined to expel the English from their province. On 16 June 1569 fitz Maurice commenced his rebellion by attacking Kerrycurrihy. At this time, St Leger had gone to London to attend to a sum of £1,000 he owed the crown and to finalise the details of the colonisation of west Munster. In his absence, fitz Maurice destroyed the settlement at Kerycurrihy and sacked his castles at Tracton and Carrigaline, seizing many of his valuables in the process. He immediately requested a loan of £10,000 from the queen with which to gather an army of 1,500 men to put down the rebellion, but this petition was denied. By 1570 continued Irish resistance had convinced the queen to shelve all colonisation projects in Munster.
St Leger may have returned to Ireland for a period in 1569–70 and was appointed to a commission for governing Munster in autumn 1569. In November 1569 royal forces recovered Carrigaline castle, after which St Leger paid for its refortification and defence from a series of rebel assaults. From 1570 he attempted to rebuild the Kerrycurrihy colony, and by 1572 he was receiving some rental income from this source, but ongoing warfare in Munster throughout 1569–73 meant it remained a heavy loss-maker. He spent most of this time in England, leaving his wife Ursula to supervise his Irish enterprises.
Such was his desperation that in early summer 1570 he informed the Spanish ambassador in London that he was willing to assist King Philip II of Spain, should the king attempt an invasion of England. At this time the Elizabethan regime seemed to be seriously threatened by various pro-catholic conspiracies. Interestingly, the Spanish ambassador described St Leger as a good catholic gentleman. Although St Leger seems to have been a rather lukewarm protestant, he was certainly not a catholic. Like his father, he conformed readily enough with the state religion, be it catholic or protestant, and his flexible religious beliefs do not appear to have been a motivating factor for this dabbling in treason.
Political and financial woes As part of a projected Spanish assault on England, St Leger offered to foment further rebellions in Ireland and dispatched a memorandum to Philip II as to how this could be achieved. To advance this plot, in August 1570 he succeeded in securing custody of the earl of Desmond and Sir John Fitzgerald, who pledged their assistance to the scheme. However, by mid 1571 it was apparent that there would be no Spanish intervention in either England or Ireland. Meanwhile the cost of maintaining his two prisoners and their families had exhausted his already parlous finances; from June 1571 he begged the queen to relieve him of this burden. In August 1571 he tried unsuccessfully to convince the queen to send Desmond's more pliant brother Sir John back to Munster to pacify the province. On hearing of this, Desmond flew into a rage at what he viewed as an attempt to undermine his authority as head of the Fitzgerald family. Due to St Leger's inability to provide either politically or financially for his prisoner, and to his refusal to pay any rent to Desmond for Kerrycurrihy, his relationship with the earl had been becoming increasingly tense and it now collapsed completely. In August Desmond accused St Leger of withholding from him the bulk of the allowance granted to him by the crown for the earl's maintenance. For his part, St Leger feared that Desmond would escape from his custody: he had entered into bonds of £1,000 (later increased to £2,000) for Desmond's good behaviour, the forfeiture of which would have bankrupted him. He was greatly relieved to receive orders from the queen to release the two brothers in early 1573.
After a period of detention in Dublin, Desmond finally returned to Munster in late 1573 and immediately set about reasserting his authority against the English interests there. Leaving no doubts as to his attitude towards his former jailer, Desmond and his men plundered Kerrycurrihy in spring 1574 and levied onerous tributes on St Leger's tenants thereafter, thus undermining St Leger's attempts to resuscitate his colony. Significantly, when Sidney was reappointed lord deputy in 1575 he did not, as before, advance St Leger within his government, as he did not want to antagonise Desmond. Bereft of political patronage, St Leger's career and his colony languished for the remainder of the decade, most of which he spent in England. Indeed, Desmond may have recovered Kerrycurrihy in 1576, although St Leger never relinquished his claim to this territory. By August 1577 he had also been deprived by the crown of his lease of former monastic lands in Limerick. This may not have been a big loss, given that it is highly unlikely that he ever derived much revenue from these properties, due to the turmoil within the province.
During the 1560s he had been able to hold the line against his creditors and had only been compelled to sell a relatively small amount of his property, but the failure of his sizeable investment in Kerrycurrihy pushed him to the brink of financial ruin. As a result, in the early to mid 1570s he either sold or mortgaged at penal rates of interest large chunks of his patrimony. His increasingly desperate attempts to remedy this situation landed him in difficulties with the authorities. In November 1574 the English privy council ordered the detention of one of his ships, possibly because it was suspected that he was about to engage in piracy. More seriously, in July 1578 the queen angrily summoned him before her to explain a private meeting he had held with the French ambassador in London.
Political rehabilitation; rivalry with Ormond The outbreak of the second Desmond rebellion in summer 1579 gave him a chance to prove his worth to the government by offering to serve against the rebels. By August he was in Cork city, where he commanded a troop of thirty horse, although he saw very little fighting and concentrated on overseeing the civil administration of Cork and the surrounding area. Over time, he carved out a crucial role in managing the logistics of the war effort in Munster and earned praise for his service. From his redoubt in Cork, he directed a steady stream of reports to his superiors in London, in which he sought with some success to mould the perception of the queen and her advisers of events in Munster. Like most of the English officers in the royal army, he hoped that the suppression of the Munster uprising would be followed by the wholesale confiscation of land in the province by the crown for redistribution among loyal English servitors such as himself. As a result, he advised the queen to take a hard line towards the rebels, and depicted in the worst possible light the manoeuvrings of the many Munster landowners who tried to adopt a neutral stance.
The royal forces in Munster were commanded by his old adversary Ormond, but in the interests of rebuilding his career, St Leger swallowed his pride and facilitated Ormond's efforts during 1579–80. However, given that Ormond hoped to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict that would not result in the colonisation of the province, further conflict between the two men was inevitable. Encouraged by the uncompromising stance of the lord deputy, Arthur Grey (qv), from the start of 1581 St Leger orchestrated a campaign within the royal military establishment in Munster, which characterised Ormond as being too sympathetic towards his fellow Irish and as being unwilling to adopt the severe courses required to restore order to the province. This process culminated in Ormond's dismissal in summer 1581, and St Leger's appointment in his stead as commander of the royal forces in Munster.
No sooner had he received his commission for this position than he departed for London to confer with the queen and to lobby for the position of governor of Munster. He does not seem to have relished the arduous and dangerous military campaigning required by his new role: despite having demonstrated valour in battle during his youth, he displayed no appetite for fighting later in life. Also, he may have been reluctant to assume full responsibility for the suppression of the rebellion, which he realised would prove a long and costly undertaking. Irritated by his decision to abscond to England, the queen made John Zouche her general in Munster instead. However, St Leger does appear to have largely consolidated his political position during this sojourn at the royal court. Appalled by the cost of the war in Munster, around the start of 1582 the queen turned on her chief adviser on Irish affairs, Francis Walsingham, and on many leading royal officials in Ireland for their advocacy of tough measures in Ireland, but St Leger escaped these royal censures. He had not been close to Walsingham, and his main patron at court was Lord Burghley, lord treasurer of England, who now came to exert more influence over the crown's Irish policy. Following his return to Cork in January 1582, St Leger was mildly critical of Zouche's prosecution of the war in his dispatches to London, and complained of the widespread embezzlement of royal revenues by the army captains. This was designed to distance himself from the chaos into which the English war effort had fallen after Ormond's dismissal, and to advance his ongoing campaign to be appointed civil governor of Munster.
However, in early 1583 the queen turned once more to Ormond, whom she reappointed general of the Munster army, and who set about pacifying the province by offering leading rebels generous terms of surrender. Desperate to prevent Ormond from getting the full credit for suppressing the rebellion, St Leger made strenuous but unavailing efforts in 1582–3 to negotiate the surrender of the rebel leader, his sometime associate the earl of Desmond. He was also fiercely critical of the manner in which Ormond granted royal protections to leading rebel captains. Bolstered by the success of his methods, Ormond responded by claiming that St Leger spent his days frequenting the taverns of Cork, exerting himself only to disseminate false reports criticising the royal commanders in the field. Ormond's success in definitively quelling the rebellion in autumn 1583 seemed to leave St Leger in a vulnerable position, and he withdrew to England in November.
The Munster plantation However, the manner in which many royal officials regarded Ormond with suspicion, due to his Irish birth and vast power, enabled St Leger to withstand the earl's hostility and to play a leading role in the ensuing Munster plantation. By 1582 he had resurrected his claim to Kerrycurrihy, which he still claimed to have leased from Desmond. Following the end of the second Desmond rebellion in 1583, the earl's property was declared confiscate by the crown, which would have rendered St Leger's lease of Kerrycurrihy void. As a result, he declared that Desmond had in fact mortgaged Kerrycurrihy to him. The authorities accepted this and he and Grenville resumed their attempt to settle an English colony there. However, in April 1587 this land was held to be plantation land and was granted to John Cooper, a royal courtier. St Leger countered this by procuring a grant of Kerrycurrihy in July 1587. This grant maintained the fiction that he had mortgaged Kerrycurrihy from Desmond, and had agreed to surrender it voluntarily to the crown in return for a grant of it as plantation land. Cooper disputed this, and said that Desmond had been in possession of the property at the time of his rebellion in 1579. In 1588 it was decided to partition the seigniory between St Leger and Cooper (Grenville was compensated with land elsewhere in Munster), who were to receive 6,000 acres each. In practice, St Leger seems to have refused to permit Cooper to occupy his share.
Having established his title to the plantation land, he sought to maximise the benefit of this grant by claiming that virtually the entire barony of Kerrycurrihy, including the holdings of landowners who had been compelled by force to pay a tribute to Desmond, had been Desmond's private property and was therefore now his property. In 1584 he had won official support for this proposition by pointing out that the crown could seize significantly more land in Munster if it treated any form of tribute given to Desmond as representing a rent paid by one of the earl's tenants. Thus, in 1588 the crown formally ruled that these so-called chargeable lands were to be included in the plantation, which meant that St Leger was set fair to secure an estate of up to 15,000 acres. First he had to beat off Cooper's challenge, and in 1592 the queen summoned him to England to resolve this dispute.
However, he faced far more intractable opponents in the form of the freeholders of Kerrycurrihy, who – along with native landowners elsewhere in the province – embarked on a campaign of legal and physical resistance to the projected seizure of their property. This opposition forced the government to give way in 1592 and recognise the property rights of the owners of chargeable lands. Thus, although St Leger secured total possession of the plantation seigniory of Carrigaline by royal letters patent in 1595, the exclusion of chargeable lands from the plantation meant that he received a mere 6,000 acres by virtue of this. Soon after he sold about 2,000 of these acres in another indication of his chronic financial difficulties.
He had remained in England during 1584–7 but came to Ireland in 1588 to manage his estates in Cork and mainly resided there till his death. Hosting 145 English settlers in 1589, Kerrycurrihy was one of the larger English settlements established in Munster in the wake of the plantation. As before, he continued to report to London on Munster affairs and, as before, he counselled harsh measures, urging the arrest and execution of a number of landowners who had formerly been rebels. In summer 1589 he took over the administration of Munster during the temporary absence of the royal governor, and served on a number of royal commissions for the administration of Munster.
He died at Cork in 1597. Following the death of his first wife (1575), he had by 1577 married Emmeline Goldwell. In his will he left his English estates to Anthony, his son from his first marriage, and his Irish estates to Walter, his son from his second.