Talbot, Richard (1630–91), earl and duke of Tyrconnell, army officer and lord deputy of Ireland, was the eighth son among eight sons and eight daughters of Sir William Talbot (qv), lawyer and politician, of Carton, Co. Kildare, and his wife Alison, daughter of John Netterville of Castletown, Co. Kildare. Richard's eldest brother, Sir Robert Talbot (qv), 2nd baronet, was a lawyer who played a prominent role during the catholic confederacy and again during the 1660s; another brother was Peter Talbot (qv), later catholic archbishop of Dublin (1669–80). Richard grew to manhood during the confederate wars of the 1640s. He served as a cornet of horse under General Thomas Preston (qv) and was taken prisoner in August 1647 following Preston's defeat by Col. Michael Jones (qv) at the battle of Dungan's Hill. Two years later he was serving with the royalist garrison at Drogheda when it fell to the army of Oliver Cromwell (qv), which was ordered to give no quarter. So badly wounded that he was taken for dead, having lain among the dead for three days, he managed to escape dressed as a woman through the good offices of Col. John Reynolds (qv), a parliamentary commander. His movements and whereabouts thereafter are unrecorded.
By March 1653 he had joined his brother Peter in Madrid, and served with the rank of captain in Ormond's regiment in the Spanish army. When Daniel O'Neill (qv), the royalist courtier and exile, heard in 1655 of Talbot's declared willingness to assassinate Cromwell, he took him to meet Charles II, the outcome of which was the sending of Talbot and three other conspirators to London in November. Arrested, released, and rearrested, he was interviewed personally by the lord protector, but refused to cooperate. He managed to escape before being lodged in the Tower of London; and after ten days at sea in a small craft, he reached Brussels in early January. The fact of his escape led Charles II's lord chancellor, Edward Hyde, among others, to doubt his loyalty, but he emerged from the episode with his reputation intact. The following year he served at the relief of Valenciennes. More significantly he was introduced to James (qv), duke of York, by Peter Talbot and very soon became a close and ultimately domineering friend of Charles II's brother, to the extent of managing York's mistresses. York appointed him gentleman of his bedchamber and, against the advice of the marquess of Ormond (qv), gave him command of his regiment, which consisted mostly of Munster-born officers and men. In 1657 Talbot served with York's regiment in Flanders against the French, whose foreign policy under Mazarin had led to a treaty with Cromwell's England. He saw further action at the siege of Mardyke. In 1659 he was part of a small military contingent whose purpose was to aid a royalist uprising in England, which – fortunately for Charles II's cause – came to nothing.
Land agent: the 1660s
Immediately following the peaceful restoration of the monarchy, Talbot travelled to England and was confirmed as York's gentleman of the bedchamber, which brought him £300 a year and occasionally involved assignments on behalf of the king and York, an early example being a journey to Lisbon in early 1662 to make arrangements for Charles II's forthcoming marriage to Catherine of Braganza. It was hardly surprising that the dispossessed Irish should see in Talbot a figure whose position and influence might well procure for them restoration to estates confiscated in the Cromwellian settlement. But his role in the 1660s was not that of spokesman or political agent for the catholic interest at the privy council, when the bill of settlement was being hammered out in 1661–2 or the bill of explanation in 1664–5 – that function fell to Sir Nicholas Plunkett (qv) – but as land agent for clients, most of whom were seeking restoration but some of whom saw in the ejection of Cromwellian grantees the prospect of acquiring substantial amounts of Irish land. The latter tended to be influential figures at court whose interest in acquiring Irish estates did much to deplete the stock of land available; they included not only Talbot's patron, the duke of York (for whom Talbot's brother Robert acted as legal counsel), but Henry Bennet, earl of Arlington, secretary of state at Whitehall from 1662; Arlington's gain in the midlands was to be the catholic Lord Clanmalier's loss.
Throughout his career Talbot had a keen sense for being in the right place at the appropriate time. Apart from his mission to Lisbon in the early months of 1662, he was at Whitehall when the act of settlement was being prepared in 1661–2, but more importantly he was in Dublin when the court of claims established under the act was in session in 1663. It was the court of claims which found Clanmalier ‘nocent’. Talbot was by no means the only agent acting for the powerful who paid substantial fees for restoration or acquisition. It was alleged that he was paid £1,000 by Lord Slane to ensure a favourable decree. In September 1663, the court of claims having concluded in August, Talbot returned to Whitehall where it was already clear that a new bill of settlement (what became the act of explanation) would be necessary in the wake of the court of claims's decrees. According to Thomas Carte (qv) Talbot was said to have with him £18,000 in securities for ‘procuring distressed gentlemen their estates’ (Arnold, 72), or as Ormond put it, ‘to get the names in the act’. To Ormond's immense irritation he briefed Arlington about the need for a new bill, which Ormond regarded as usurping his function as viceroy and seemed to tally with confidential reports he received of Talbot's criticism of Ormond's government. Lord Carlingford (qv) reported to Ormond that ‘Colonel Talbot, with volleys of oaths, denies he ever having said anything that your grace could take ill’ (Carte MS 214, f. 574, quoted in Creighton), Talbot himself telling Ormond: ‘if I do not acquit myself as an honest man, then spit in my face’ (ibid., f. 569). At the beginning of December he told Ormond that nobility and gentry in Ireland had indeed asked him to be their agent, but that ‘finding my own incapacity for such an employment’ he had asked ‘to be excused from that title, though not from sending them all the good offices I may’ (ibid., ff. 590–91), which indeed was the role he played for several individuals over the coming year, as the bill of explanation was discussed and drafted.
The personal animus between Talbot and Ormond, who had come to London in July 1664, reached a crisis in December with an ill-tempered meeting, at which with the viceroy told Talbot that he ‘affected popularity’ in his very public advocacy of the catholic interest; the row continued in Somerset House before the king, whom Ormond effectively forced to chose between them. The upshot was the king's decision to send Talbot to the Tower of London, where he remained for a month. Talbot had clearly overreached himself and had impetuously disregarded the advice of Arlington, who also disliked much of what was in the bill of explanation but had warned Talbot that ‘in this affair of Ireland they must yield ground’ to Ormond (Creighton, 166).
Talbot's friendship with York was crucial to his role as courtier. Though it took him ten years to enjoy a period of focused influence on policy, his influence on the king's brother ensured that he was treated with more seriousness than the voluble youngest son of eight sons of a gentry family in Ireland might normally aspire to. Despite a reputation for duelling and strong opinions expressed with much swearing, he was trusted with being part of delicate missions, including the embassy to Lisbon in 1662 in advance of the king's marriage and in September 1672, with the earl of Peterborough, to negotiate a marriage alliance for the duke of York. Talbot had an affair with the countess of Shrewsbury and an illegitimate son by another liaison. He had high hopes in the mid 1660s of marrying Frances Jennings (Frances Talbot) (qv)), who came from a Somerset gentry family and was lady-in-waiting to the duke of York's first wife, Anne Hyde. Jennings, whose sister Sarah married John Churchill (qv), rejected him for George Hamilton (qv), whom she married in 1666. Three years later he married Katherine Boynton of Yorkshire, daughter of a royalist officer killed during the civil war. They each received, by royal warrant, payments of £4,000, in the case of Katherine ‘to promote her marriage with Colonel Richard Talbot’ (Petrie, 118). They had two daughters. Two years after Katherine's death in March 1679, he married Frances Jennings, by now a catholic and a widow, with whom he had a daughter.
Growing influence 1667–73
Talbot's poor relations with Ormond on the land issue were further strained by Talbot's associating with the emerging Buckingham faction in English court politics, who were seeking to overthrow the earl of Clarendon, lord chancellor of England, and have Ormond replaced in Ireland. For a time Talbot found common cause with Roger Boyle (qv), earl of Orrery, who harboured ambitions to succeed Ormond as viceroy, in this assault on the old cavalier interest. As early as 1663 Talbot had been a guest of Orrery at Charleville, at a time when he had hopes of marrying into the Boyle family, as his brother Gilbert had done. After Clarendon's fall in August 1667, Talbot and Orrery found common cause in seeking to have Ormond dismissed, though the differences between the long-term objectives of the protestant Orrery and the catholic Talbot ensured that any political alliance was always going to be tactical and short-lived. When Ormond was eventually dismissed in February 1669 neither Talbot nor Orrery could take much comfort in the king's choice of Lord Robartes (qv) as the new viceroy, though for Talbot the end of Ormond's viceroyalty was the beginning of the first of two periods in his career when he enjoyed substantial political influence.
By the time Lord Berkeley (qv) succeeded Robartes as lord lieutenant in April 1670, it was clear that circumstances favoured a policy which at the very least favoured a benign toleration of catholicism. Talbot's brother Peter, who had been consecrated catholic archbishop of Dublin the previous year, had taken up residence in Dublin, and a general synod of catholic bishops was permitted to meet in June. This synod approved a declaration of allegiance which bore a striking resemblance to that rejected by Ormond in 1666, which had amounted to a repudiation of the remonstrance associated with Peter Walsh (qv) and supported by Ormond in 1661–2 (which Richard Talbot had avoided signing at the time). On Richard Talbot's advice Berkeley, who had approved the declaration in advance, formally welcomed this 1670 declaration.
The scene was now set to reopen the land question and the case of catholic claimants who had failed to win restoration at the court of claims, or had failed to regain lands awarded to them. In November fifty-two members of the catholic nobility and gentry appointed Talbot to seek a review of the settlement on their behalf. At the same time his brother Peter organised his fellow bishops to raise money in their dioceses to pay the expenses of the catholic lobbyists at Whitehall. Richard travelled to London in December, and on 18 January presented to the king and privy council a petition on behalf of the ‘most distressed subjects of your kingdom of Ireland who were outed of their estates by the late usurped government and are not yet restored’ (Carte MS 44, f. 641; quoted in Creighton). Styling himself ‘agent general of the Roman Catholics of Ireland’, Talbot asked that an ‘uninterested person’ be appointed to hear their case and make recommendations. The outcome was a committee of thirteen privy councillors, one of whom was Ormond, to consider the petition. This committee met four days later and was addressed by Talbot, who made it clear he was seeking the amendment of the acts of settlement. Although Ormond challenged Talbot's right to describe himself as agent, the majority were prepared to continue the proceedings and hear Mr Hycliffe, whom Talbot had retained as legal counsel. The upshot was the committee's decision to ask Sir Heneage Finch, the attorney general, to advise the king on the petition and accompanying papers. Talbot was pleased with this outcome, reporting to his brother Peter: ‘I thank God I have been so successful in it that I have gained . . . my point so far as that his majesty and all his ministers are very sensible of the barbarous and scandalous usage of those people in that kingdom’ (Carte MS 45, ff 393–4; quoted in Creighton). Finch's opinion, which he gave in early February, denied Talbot's right to call himself an agent for the catholics of Ireland and was unsympathetic to the general and specific claims in the petition. Despite this opinion the king appointed a committee to examine the settlement as a whole and in June had his cousin Prince Rupert put in charge of a commission of inspection, all of which kept Talbot's initiative alive over the following eighteen months. It created considerable alarm in protestant Ireland and was seen in England as one aspect of a highly unpopular pro-catholic policy epitomised by Charles II's declaration of indulgence (March 1672) suspending the laws against recusants and protestant nonconformists. If, as contemporaries claimed, Talbot feared that the declaration of indulgence ‘would turn to the ruin of them all’ (Creighton, 222), it was a shrewd foreboding of what happened twelve months later when Talbot's initiative collapsed in a major parliamentary assault on the king's religious policies in England and Ireland. The house of commons resolution of 26 March 1673 called for the acts of settlement and explanation in Ireland to be maintained and the recall of Prince Rupert's commission (which had been renewed in January); it demanded that ‘Colonel Richard Talbot, who had notoriously assumed to himself the title of agent-general of the Roman Catholics of Ireland, night be immediately dismissed out of all commands, either civil or military, and forbid all access to the court’ (Sergeant, i, 252). In a forlorn attempt to salvage his initiative, Talbot fruitlessly petitioned the king for permission to assure parliament that he had not sought to undermine the acts of settlement. Though he was able to remain in London until the autumn, in the changed political climate he could no longer depend on the support of the duke of York, by now an acknowledged catholic, and in September he travelled to France. For the next ten years he was effectively barred from court and public life.
Out of favour 1673–83
He spent some time in France but was mostly in Yorkshire with his wife's family, though he managed occasional visits to London. In 1677 he and his family settled on his estate at Luttrellstown, Co. Dublin, where in spring 1678 he was planning to lay out a garden. It was at Luttrellstown that his brother Peter Talbot was arrested in early October at the start of the Popish Plot crisis. Inevitably informants tried to implicate Richard in his brother's alleged conspiracies, but Ormond, once again lord lieutenant, resisted calls to incarcerate him in Dublin castle, instead holding him under house arrest in Dublin during November and December. In March 1679 he was allowed, on a surety of £20,000 to visit his wife, who died soon after. He then travelled to Yorkshire to stay with the Baynton family. In July he went into exile in France, giving a surety of £10,000 and promising not to return without the king's permission. Although the popish plot and exclusion crises effectively ended in June 1681, Talbot remained in exile till July 1683, returning shortly after the discovery of the protestant Rye House plot to assassinate Charles II.
Purging the army 1683–86
Within days of his return to court a royal warrant was issued permitting him to reside in Ireland, to ‘keep horses and arms for his safety and defence’ (CSPD, July–September 1683, 107–8; quoted in Creighton), and to have freedom to travel between Ireland and England. It was an almost precipitate return to favour, but hardly surprising with the duke of York now in the ascendant at court. When York was directed to see to the remodelling of the Irish army, whose officers were in future to be appointed by the secretary of state in London (hitherto a function of the viceroy), Talbot was to be his assistant. This initiative did not get far in the last year of Charles II's reign, but it was a foretaste of what happened in the months following York's accession to the crown in February 1685.
In March the new king gave Talbot command of a regiment, using the dispensing power to exempt him from the oath of supremacy, and in June created him earl of Tyrconnell. In late April Talbot was sent to Ireland to purge the entirely protestant Irish army of ‘disaffected officers’ or, as Talbot called them, ‘Cromwellians’. By the time he arrived at the end of May, the lords justices, Archbishop Michael Boyle (qv) and the earl of Granard (qv), had already received orders from London to disarm the ‘disaffected’ in Ulster (Scots and Englishmen), to enquire into the number of firearms in private hands, and to recall arms held by the militia. Similar if not identical measures were common to all three Stuart kingdoms in the wake of Argyle's rebellion in Scotland and the imminence of Monmouth's in England. In Ireland Talbot took to his security duties with determination, and continued with them long after rebellion in Scotland and the west of England had been subdued, extending their scope to the rest of the country. He had arrived with commissions for a number of catholic officers and by the following January, when he left Ireland, there were over 800 catholic soldiers in the army.
Talbot left for London on 9 January 1686, the day the new lord lieutenant, the 2nd earl of Clarendon (qv), was sworn in. Away from court for the previous eight months, he had been unable to prevent Clarendon's appointment, which he deplored. When the appointment became known in August he had written to James in terms which illustrate not only his frustration but the sort of emotional pressure he could bring to bear on the king: declaring that he wrote ‘from the abundance of the heart’, he lamented ‘a misfortune inseparable from those of our religion to be misrepresented by our governors . . . but since, Sir, it is our duty only to suffer and not to rejoice with your majesty, we will ever do that as we ought’ (Miller, 812). Once in Whitehall he set himself to undermine the viceroy's authority by persuading James to appoint catholics to the judiciary and privy council and, most disturbingly for Clarendon, to give himself command of the army, a responsibility traditionally included in a viceroy's remit. When Tyrconnell returned to Ireland on 5 June, now with greatly increased authority, he could press ahead with his purge of the once-protestant army, dramatically increasing the pace of change in its religious profile: by autumn 67 per cent of privates, 33 per cent of NCOs, and 40 per cent of officers were catholic, a process that continued over the following two years.
Achieving power 1686–7
Clarendon found Tyrconnell's presence in Ireland oppressive, commenting to his brother, the earl of Rochester (qv), ‘whether my lord Tyrconnell will continue to be so terrible as he is at present nothing but time will determine’ (Simms, 24). During his three months in Ireland in summer 1686, as the catholicisation of the army continued, Tyrconnell turned his attention to the land settlement. His main concern was to thwart Clarendon's proposal for a commission of grace, which would confirm those in possession in return for money payments to a compensation fund for the old proprietors. Here he took advice from Richard Nagle (qv), a catholic lawyer with a large practice and considerable experience in property cases and made clear his view that the land question should be dealt with in an Irish parliament. When he returned to London at the end of August he took Nagle with him, a move which alarmed Irish protestants who saw it as indicating that he would seek the king's approval for calling an Irish parliament ‘in order to the breaking of the acts of settlement and explanation’ (Lord Longford, 31 August 1686, HMC, Ormond MSS, vii, 449–50).
In September 1686 Tyrconnell found a Whitehall highly suspicious of his plans for amending the settlement and calling a parliament, not to speak of his manifest ambition to replace Clarendon as lord lieutenant. When Sunderland argued that protestants in Ireland and England needed to be reassured by a royal declaration confirming the acts of settlement and explanation, the response of Tyrconnell and Nagle was an impassioned yet closely argued statement, known as the Coventry letter (ostensibly written by Nagle on his journey back to Ireland in November), of the need for a new Irish land act to restore many ‘innocent’ catholics whose cases had not been heard by the court of claims. Sunderland's proposal, which would have guaranteed protestant estates in the likely event of Tyrconnell's appointment as viceroy, foundered on Tyrconnell's total opposition to being hobbled by legal restrictions placed on his freedom of action. Yet James was under strong pressure not to appoint Tyrconnell from English catholics, who feared the impact on English protestant opnion of Tyrconnell's distinctly Irish priorities. He eventually decided to make him chief governor in mid November, but hedged the appointment with restrictions on Tyrconnell's status – he was to be styled lord deputy and not lord lieutenant – and on his choice of senior ministers: against Tyrconnell's wishes Thomas Sheridan (qv) was appointed secretary to the viceroy and first commissioner of the revenue, and an obscure English catholic lawyer, Sir Alexander Fitton (qv), became lord chancellor; Sheridan was in no doubt that he and Fitton were meant by the king to act as restraints on the new lord deputy. Tyrconnell, however, succeeded in having Nagle appointed as attorney general (and a year later engineered Sheridan's removal).
Lord deputy 1687–9
The news of his appointment was greeted with dismay by Irish protestants, whom the king had no wish to alienate or frighten. It was made clear to Tyrconnell from the start that he was not to dismiss protestants on grounds of their religion, nor was a statutory modification of the land question to be considered, though the king indicated that he was prepared to accept that a parliament in Ireland might eventually be summoned. On the very day that the lord deputy was sworn in, 12 February, Nagle as attorney general began questioning the city of Dublin's liberties and franchises. This was the beginning of a wider process of investigation that culminated in June with a royal warrant to the lord deputy, empowering him to issue new charters to the cities and boroughs, an indispensable prelude to the return of catholic MPs to a future parliament, as was the appointment of catholic sheriffs to the counties. By the summer of 1687 protestants remained in a majority only among the revenue commissioners. Everywhere else catholics dominated: judiciary, privy council, commissions of the peace, and the boroughs. Tyrconnell had succeeded in catholicising the civil administration as he had the army the previous year. While the structure of the established Church of Ireland remained undisturbed, epsicopal vacancies went unfilled and the revenues during the vacancies accrued to the crown. This was usual practice; what was unusual was the use to which the revenues were applied, including financial payments to the catholic bishops. John Brenan (qv), catholic arcbishop of Cashel, in November 1687 reported exultantly to Propaganda Fide on Tyrconnell, ‘a sincere and zealous catholic, very desirous to promote the glory of God and the splendour of the true religion, and to advance the catholic nobility and gentry to the public offices and wealth’ (6 November 1687, translated in P. Power (ed), A bishop of the penal times (1932), 88) and the revival of the church under his government.
Tyrconnell was summoned in August 1687 to meet the king at Chester to give an account of his stewardship. Accompanied by Nagle and Sheridan, he turned what might have been a critical investigation of his government into an endorsement of his administration of Ireland; more importantly he returned to Ireland with instructions to send to England draft legislation, in the form of two bills, designed to modify the restoration land settlement. The king had at last relented of his opposition to tampering with the settlement; the objective to which Tyrconnell had aspired since the 1660s was about to be realised. In March 1688 Tyrconnell sent two judges, Thomas Nugent (qv) and Stephen Rice (qv), to London with draft bills, offering alternative solutions to the land settlement. One of these allowed for the reopening of the settlement, with hearings for untried claims of innocency, leading to restoration of the innocent and compensation for the Cromwellian occupier; the other bill provided for all estates in the hands of Cromwelliams to be divided equally between old and current proprietors, with the benefit of improvements going to the Cromwellian proprietors. Tyrconnell favoured the latter bill as it would be more likely to satisfy protestants, would settle matters quickly without recourse to a new court of claims, and would at last bring the settlement issue to an end. He assured the king that both bills were intended ‘to preserve your majesty's intentions in giving as little disturbance as possible to the protestant interest and to restore the catholics to no more than what seems absolutely necessary to render them any way considerable or capable to serve your majesty here’ (Simms, 40). It is clear from a letter Tyrconnell wrote to Sunderland in May that the king had accepted Tyrconnell's advice and that a settlement bill and other draft legislation was being prepared for the planned Irish parliament, which would be elected on the basis of new charters to be granted to the boroughs by mid June. But by August the growing political crisis in England, following the birth in June of a male heir to the king, meant that all plans for an Irish parliament were put on hold.
Tyrconnell saw the crisis coming before James did, warning the incredulous king in August that a coup d'état was being planned in Holland. In late September he was ordered to send three regiments of the Irish army to England, which in the long run only served to alienate English popular opinion and James II's English army. Between the landing of Prince William of Orange (qv) in Devon in early November and the final departure from England of James II on 24 December, Tyrconnell faced a major crisis in Ireland. Almost half the Irish army was in England, many protestants were taking flight for England in fear of a repetition of the massacres of October 1641, while in Ulster and parts of Munster protestant resistance to James's monarchy took the form of protestant associations; at Derry the gates were shut against Lord Antrim's regiment. There were even rumours of a coup against Tyrconnell, involving the taking of Dublin castle.
In response to the growing crisis Tyrconnell issued a proclamation on 8 December promising protection to loyal subjects, denouncing reports of massacres, and warning of punishment for those who met ‘at unseasonable times with fire-arms in great numbers’ (Simms, 49). In the short run he managed to reassure Ulster protestants, both presbyterians and episcopalians, and reached agreement with the citizens of Derry that they would admit troops from the regiment of the protestant Lord Mountjoy (qv). For a time it even looked as though he might come to terms with William of Orange. John Keating (qv), chief justice of the common pleas, probably with Tyrconnell's tacit approval, wrote to Sir John Temple (qv), who was now in London, that Tyrconnell was saying both privately and publicly that he was prepared to disband the Irish army and resign as viceroy, and that catholics would accept a return to where they were at the end of Charles II's reign. William was inclined to take this overture seriously, sending Richard Hamilton (qv), whom James had promoted to major-general in November, to open negotiations with Tyrconnell. As soon as he arrived in Dublin on 8 January, Hamilton urged Tyrconnell not to seek terms and joined the Jacobite forces.
During the remaining weeks of January any doubts Tyrconnell had about his continuing allegiance to James II's monarchy seemed to vanish. Hamilton's volte-face may have been a factor, as must the fact-finding visit of a French naval officer, the marquis of Pointis. Tyrconnell despatched Sir Stephen Rice, now chief baron of the exchequer, and the protestant Mountjoy to France, supposedly to seek James's permission for Tyrconnell to make terms with William of Orange. In fact the mission was in part a device to be rid of Mountjoy, whose loyalty Tyrconnell distrusted despite having negotiated with him a way out of the Derry imbroglio; on arrival the hapless Mountjoy was confined to the Bastille on the basis of secret instructions from Tyrconnell. Rice's main purpose was clearly to prepare for James's coming to Ireland. On his own authority Tyrconnell offered Louis XIV the ports of Galway and Waterford in return for military assistance. On 29 January he wrote to James in an admonitory tone, verging on the reproachful: ‘I begg of you to consider whither you can with honour continue where you are when you may possess a kingdom of your own plentifull of all things for human life’ (Sergeant, 653).
James II in Ireland 1689–90
Tyrconnell was not at Kinsale when James landed on 12 March 1689, but waited on him some days later at Cork. He then accompanied the king on his triumphal progress to Dublin, where James created him duke of Tyrconnell. But a new political and administrative dispensation inevitably followed the presence of the monarch in Dublin, a phenomenon not witnessed since the reign of Richard II (qv). Up to James's arrival Tyrconnell as viceroy represented the person of the king and was head of the civil administration and commander-in-chief. Now he was part of an inner cabinet which consisted of the earl of Melfort (qv), secretary of state, the comte d'Avaux (qv), Louis XIV's ambassador, and the king himself. The tensions in this group emerged early on in disagreements over the wisdom of the king's travelling north to Derry, which Melfort and James favoured against the advice of d'Avaux and Tyrconnell. This tension was replicated on other issues throughout the spring and summer, ending only with Melfort's resignation in August.
Tyrconnell's wish to keep the king in Dublin in April was based on the priority he gave to preparations for the parliament James summoned for 7 May. Parliament was needed not just to vote taxes for the war, but to pass a new act of settlement. For most of his political career a new land act had been his overriding objective, and his tenure as viceroy had been marked by assiduous attention to the terms on which the parliamentary constituencies returned members to parliament. Little is known about the actual process of election in 1689, though most later accounts accept the account given by an admittedly hostile witness, William King (qv): ‘the common way of election was thus: the earl of Tyrconnell, together with the writ for election, commonly sent a letter recommending the persons he designed should be chosen; the sheriff or mayor being his creature, on receipt of this, call'd so many of the freeholders of a county, or burgesses of a corporation together as he thought fit, and without any noise, made the return’ (State of the protestants (1691), 97–8). This may indeed be what happened in some constituencies but, allowing for Tyrconnell's distrust of the Os and the Macs – the old Gaelic Irish elite – it is noteworthy that nearly one-third of the MPs in the 1689 parliament had Gaelic Irish names, generally those who sat for constituencies in the midlands and Ulster.
Tyrconnell was unable to attend the parliament for which he had made such careful preparation in 1687–8. Three weeks before it met he wrote to Richard Hamilton of ‘how ill I have been’, and clearly this was the start of an illness that kept him from all public business, not just parliament, till August. His absence may possibly explain parliament's rejection of a bill for repealing the act of settlement, which closely resembled Tyrconnell's preferred draft of 1688, and its enactment instead of a more radical and uncompromising measure.
By the time Tyrconnell was restored to his health at the end of August, the military situation had deteriorated, with the relief of Derry in late July and the arrival in Co. Down of a substantial Williamite army under Marshal Schomberg (qv) on 13 August. More congenial was the news of Melfort's resignation as secretary of state, which allowed Tyrconnell to have the loyal and clever Nagle to take his place. With the Williamite army having moved as far south as Dundalk, Tyrconnell's immediate concern was to reinforce the Drogheda garrison with 20,000 men to prevent Schomberg's further advance before winter intervened. From October to June 1690 he maintained a correspondence with Mary of Modena, James's consort, urging the need for French financial support and military supplies, and his view that James should intervene militarily in England, from where reports suggested that ‘most of the nobility and gentry of England will come unto him as soon as he appears with an army’. Tyrconnell's view, based on dubious intelligence, was the cause of disagreement over strategic objectives with both d'Avaux and the new French commander, the comte de Lauzun (qv), who arrived in March, both of whom argued the French case for confining the war to Ireland. William III's arrival at Carrickfergus on 14 June made the latter inevitable, but it did not prevent Tyrconnell arguing a very different strategic analysis just a week before the battle of the Boyne: ‘. . . for I think Dublin's loss to us is not of that consequence as he [James II] apprehends it, and whoever is master of this kingdome will be soe of Dublin without any trouble. To conclude, if you venture the battle and lose it, you are ever lost to all intents. England, France, and all the world will desert and dispise you, and you will be blamed for your conduct, bee it never so good; whereas if you can preserve the small army from being beaten, you have an hundred chances for you, and whoever has time has life, sayes your country proverb. After all this, if I see any reasonable probability of beating the prince of Orange I am not for declining the battle, but if I doe not, I confess I am not for venturing the loss of all to preserve a place which you must lose as soon as the battle is lost, and which, I think, is not of that consequence to us as is said’ (Tyrconnell to Queen Mary, 24 June 1690, Anal. Hib., iv, 133). At the battle of the Boyne on 1 July the greater part of the Jacobite army was diverted upstream as a result of a Williamite ruse, leaving Tyrconnell in command of 8,000 men at Oldbridge, where the battle was fought and lost, despite fierce resistance, especially from Tyrconnell's cavalry. Immediately after the battle both Lauzun and Tyrconnell advised James to leave for France.
Despite his earlier view that the fall of Dublin would not be crucial to James's cause, and despite (or perhaps because of) the Jacobite army being still formidable, Tyrconnell argued for negotiations with William, believing that Limerick could not be held. In this he was strongly opposed by both Patrick Sarsfield (qv) and Henry Luttrell (qv), who became leaders of the war party. So far as Limerick was concerned, Tyrconnell was in the short term proved wrong, when William was forced to raise the siege at the end of August. In September Tyrconnell appointed the duke of Berwick (qv), James's illegitimate son, as lord deputy and sailed from Galway for France; accompanied by Lauzun, he was later joined by Nagle. His primary purpose was to seek French aid for a renewal of war in the spring, but he was aware too that he had to defend himself against the insinuations of Sarsfield and the war party. James received Tyrconnell with great warmth, conferring on him the order of the garter, and Louis XIV granted him audience on a number of occasions. Sarsfield, in confidential correspondence with Lord Mountcashel (qv), now an émigré officer in French service, wrote scathingly of the lack of confidence in Tyrconnell among the Jacobite troops: ‘he is mortally hated by the whole army’ (Wauchope, Sarsfield, 194). Tyrconnell and Nagle set out for Ireland in December, but had to delay their journey at Vannes in Brittany, when Tyrconnell fell ill. Here he learned that a deputation authorised by Berwick (and which included Henry Luttrell and Nicholas Purcell (qv)) had arrived in France to lobby for his removal. From his sick bed in Brittany Tyrconnell managed to neutralise the impact of the campaign against him at James II's court, and he returned to Ireland in January 1691, formally lord lieutenant, but with his authority tarnished and his health uncertain. He hoped to placate Sarsfield, whom he met late in February, presenting him with his patent as earl of Lucan and his orders to prepare the army for the renewal of warfare in the summer. Sarsfield was not to be won over and continued to intrigue against him, even telling his French surgeon, ‘there are two factions here, Lord Tyrconnell's and mine; he can do whatever he wants, I do not care. I will always be stronger than him’ (ibid., 195). Tyrconnell sent Lucan to Athlone to guard the Shannon, while he based himself at Limerick. In June, when he joined the Jacobite camp at Athlone, his views were ignored and he was treated with unconcealed contempt. Withdrawing to Limerick to avoid further division, he could not be held responsible for the taking of Athlone on 30 June or the defeat at Aughrim on 12 July.
In the aftermath of catastrophe at Aughrim and the surrender of Galway on 21 July, Tyrconnell worked to strengthen Limerick's defences and to preserve the morale of the garrison. A reconciliation with Sarsfield looked possible when the latter had Henry Luttrell arrested for corresponding with the enemy. On 10 August the marquis d'Usson, a French lieutenant general, entertained Tyrconnell to dinner: ‘he and the company were very merry’ (Jacobite narrative, 155), but afterwards Tyrconnell felt ill while preparing for bed: ‘he was seized with a fit of an apoplexy’ (Sergeant, 560) and his condition deteriorated over the following three days; he died on 14 August and was buried in Limerick cathedral. He was survived by his wife, who had left for France the previous year, and was succeeded as earl of Tyrconnell by his nephew William Talbot.
Writing on the day Tyrconnell died, Sir Richard Nagle called his death ‘a fatal stroke to this poor country. . . As he appeared always zealous for his country, so his loss at this time was extreme pernicious to the welfare of this poor nation’ (Sergeant, 561). Some years later the author of the Jacobite narrative A light to the blind wrote in similar terms of how Tyrconnell's fall, by which he means his death, ‘pulled down a mighty edifice, videlicet, a considerable catholic nation, for there was no other subject left able to support the national cause’. These tributes were heartfelt and rightly pointed to Tyrconnell's consistent political objective in his later years, the restoration to their estates of the Old English catholic nation into which he had been born. But the suggestion that things might have been otherwise had he lived is unsustainable. By 1691 Tyrconnell was at best responding to external events and internal political divisions as the Jacobite cause in Ireland faced imminent collapse.
Some of his harshest critics were themselves Jacobites. They included his sometime chief secretary Thomas Sheridan and the Jacobite historian Charles O'Kelly (qv). The year after the war ended O'Kelly, himself a participant in recent events, wrote of Tyrconnell: ‘he was a man of stately presence, bold and resolute, of greater courage than conduct, naturally proud and passionate, of moderate parts, but of an unbounded ambition. In his private friendships he was observed to be inconstant, and (as some did not spare to accuse him) even to those by whose assistance he gained his point, when once he obtained his own ends’ (O'Kelly, 98–9). Eleven years after Tyrconnel's death Thomas Sheridan, who had no more wanted to serve under Tyrconnell than Tyrconnell had wanted him in his service, provided a portrait that manages to combine unremitting hostility with considerable insight: ‘He was a tall proper handsome man, but publicly known to be most insolent in prosperity and most abject in adversity, a cunning dissembling courtier, of mean judgement and small understanding, uncertain and unsteady in his resolutions, turning with every wind to bring about his ambitious ends and purposes, on which he was so intent that to compass them he would stick at nothing and so false that a most impudent notorious lie was called at Whitehall and St James's one of Dick Talbot's ordinary truths’. Both assessments underline his physical stature, his overbearing personality and his character flaws, but O'Kelly's man ‘of moderate parts’ and Sheridan's courtier ‘of mean judgement and small understanding’ are the judgements of intellectuals who viewed events through the prism of defeat in 1691. By contrast, three years earlier, with James still on his English throne, Tyrconnell had been on the verge of success: army, judiciary, and civil administration were in catholic hands, the king's permission to modify the restoration settlement had been secured, and the boroughs had been transformed to guarantee a catholic parliament. Even then Tyrconnell had doubted the durability of a settlement sympathetic to the catholic interest beyond the lifetime of James II, but he had taken the opportunities offered and made of them what he could.