Moryson, Fynes (1566–1630), secretary to Lord Mountjoy and writer on Ireland, was third surviving son of Thomas Moryson (d. 1591), of Cadeby, Lincolnshire, England, clerk of the pipe and MP (for Great Grimsby in the parliaments of 1572, 1584, 1586, and 1588–9), and his wife Elizabeth (d. 1587), daughter of Thomas Moigue, of Willingham, Lincolnshire. He matriculated (18 May 1580) at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and graduated BA (1584) and MA (1587). In 1586 he received a fellowship, later serving as bursar of the college (1589–90). He received another fellowship to study civil law in 1590 and, after being incorporated MA at Oxford (22 March 1591), left England in May 1591 to travel Europe. Over the next four years he visited Germany, Bohemia, Switzerland, the Low Countries, Denmark, Poland, Moravia, Austria, Italy, and finally France; studied at the universities of Basel, Leiden, Wittenberg, and Padua; and became reasonably fluent in Dutch, Italian, German, and French. For an English protestant to travel through many of these countries without official accreditation was risky, and he often had to pose as a catholic or adopt a different nationality. Back in England from May 1595, he renewed his fellowship before resuming his travels with his younger brother Henry that December. After crossing Europe, they took ship from Venice for the Holy Lands and spent ten days in Jerusalem in June 1596. However, Henry died of dysentery near Antioch on 4 July. A distraught Fynes resumed his progress north to Crete and then Constantinople, where he was entertained by the English ambassador. He left Turkey in late February 1597, arriving in London on 10 July.
In April 1598 he visited Scotland, possibly on diplomatic business, and met King James VI at Falkland, but was forced to cut this trip short. A period of inactivity (partly brought on by poor health) ensued, during which time he lived with his sisters in Lincolnshire. In 1599 his hopes of employment under Charles Blount (qv), Lord Mountjoy, fell through when Mountjoy was passed over for the lord deputyship of Ireland. When Mountjoy did receive this post in spring 1600, sickness kept Moryson in England until the autumn. At the encouragement of his younger brother Richard (qv), who was a military officer in Ireland and a close friend of Mountjoy, he surrendered his fellowship and sailed for Dublin in November.
Initially Mountjoy wished Fynes to write a history of his ongoing campaigns against the Irish rebel forces that threatened to overthrow English rule in Ireland. However, the death of Mountjoy's chief secretary in battle at Carlingford (13 November 1600) led him to appoint Moryson to that position on their first meeting at Dundalk (14 November). From then until Mountjoy's final victory over the rebels in spring 1603 he served alongside the lord deputy on his campaigns throughout the country. The conspicuous courage displayed by Mountjoy in numerous encounters made this a particularly hazardous service for the lord deputy's entourage, many of whom were killed or wounded or had narrow escapes. For his part, Moryson's thigh was grazed by a bullet in Westmeath in February 1601, while his tent was raked by Spanish gunfire at the siege of Kinsale (October 1601–January 1602). These experiences of shared danger, combined with their mutual interest in theology and scholarly activities, account for the close bond that quickly formed between him and Mountjoy. He received Mountjoy's correspondence and drafted most of his letters. However, having flirted with supporting a failed coup in London, Mountjoy became fearful that he would be arrested for treason in February 1601. Much to Moryson's dismay, he began to lock his most sensitive correspondence in a cabinet and did not confide in his secretary to the same extent as before.
Nonetheless Moryson remained loyal to his master, and Mountjoy's decisive victory over the main rebel army at the battle of Kinsale in December 1601 greatly alleviated the lord deputy's concerns. Moryson's knowledge of Spanish proved useful during the ensuing negotiations between Mountjoy and the commanders of the Spanish force in Kinsale. Following the negotiated surrender of the Spanish he spent several days in the company of one of their officers, a Pedro Morizon, and found that Morizon was probably a relative, being descended from an Englishman who had settled in Spain in the early sixteenth century. In May 1603 he accompanied the victorious Mountjoy back to England and continued as his secretary until Mountjoy's death in April 1606.
Thereafter, Moryson failed to find further employment and was obliged to live off a modest pension assigned to him in 1604. In 1613 he accepted an invitation from his brother Richard, who was then vice-president of Munster, to visit him in Ireland, and landed at Youghal in September after narrowly avoiding shipwreck. He also appears to have gone to attend to a financial investment he had made in the region. Although impressed by the progress made in terms of prosperity and political stability in Ireland, he believed that the Irish remained unreconciled to English rule and that a future rebellion was likely.
In 1606 he dusted off the detailed jottings he had made in notebooks while on his travels and began writing an account of his various foreign excursions. He intended to preface this with a short history of each of the countries he had travelled through but abandoned this in 1609, as it threatened to be greater in length than the account itself. In 1617 he published his Itinerary in three parts. The first part outlined in detail his journeys through Europe and the Holy Lands during the 1590s, the second part dealt with his time serving Mountjoy in Ireland, and the final part was an incomplete series of essays on travel, geography, and the different national customs and characteristics he had encountered. Included within the third part is a geographical description of Ireland. He also wrote a fourth part of his Itinerary, which was to be the completion of his unfinished third part but was not published in his lifetime. The manuscript version was maintained in Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and about 40 per cent of it was eventually published in 1903. In 1998 the Irish sections of this were published.
Lacking much literary skill, he was content to provide detailed accounts of the social mores, food, economies, technologies, religious practices, political systems, military tactics and technologies, and academic institutions of the countries he visited, and also included a wealth of statistics. He often drew comparisons between countries and explored the reasons for differences in wealth and sophistication. His knowledge of the more advanced countries of continental Europe enabled him to portray Irish society in a particularly unflattering light, and he was the first of many commentators to note similarities between Ireland and Poland: mainly, that they were both backward and catholic.
Although the published Itinerary was not a commercial success, the Irish section remains one of the most valuable historical sources on the latter part of the nine years’ war (1594–1603) in Ireland, due to his own presence at some of the key moments in the conflict, his closeness to Mountjoy, and his access to and inclusion of much original documentation, some of which would not have otherwise survived. Particularly useful are his pen portrait of Mountjoy and his description of the siege and battle of Kinsale. He made no attempt to censor the ruthlessness and savagery of Mountjoy's 1602 campaigns in the rebel heartland in Ulster, and did not spare the reader details of the mass starvation and instances of cannibalism brought on by the royal army's scorched earth tactics. Although he unrepentantly defended Mountjoy's conduct as a grim necessity, the manner in which he dwelt on the suffering that was caused suggests that he was disturbed by what he had witnessed.
He lauds Mountjoy throughout his work and is wholly committed to the English colonisation of Ireland; like most English observers of Ireland, he regarded the Gaelic Irish with hostility and called for the suppression of Gaelic culture. However, he prefaces his account of his service with Mountjoy with a brief history of Ireland and of the early stages of the war, in which he is sharply critical of the manner in which Ireland had previously been administered. In particular he singles out Sir William Fitzwilliam (qv), lord deputy of Ireland 1588–94, accusing him of corruption and criminal complacency in the face of the growing rebel threat. He is also scathing of previous colonising ventures, particularly the Munster plantation of the 1580s, damning these settlers as representing the dregs of English society. Being bookish, fastidious, and self-consciously gentlemanly, as well as possessing a slightly otherworldly disregard for material gain, Moryson probably felt uncomfortable around the tough, acquisitive frontiersmen that service in Ireland attracted.
He reserved his most trenchant criticisms for the unpublished fourth part of his Itinerary, where he reiterates his complaints against Fitzwilliam and other unnamed royal officials in greater detail. He argued that Queen Elizabeth I, by failing to pursue with consistency appropriately repressive measures against malcontents in Ireland, bore much of the blame for the outbreak of the nine years’ war. Turning to contemporary Ireland he observes that while the Gaelic Irish had yet to recover from their defeat in 1603, the Old English catholics remained powerful and were likely to be the leaders of a future revolt. He accuses the Old English of secretly aiding the rebels during the nine years’ war, of becoming largely gaelicised (hence his description of them as the ‘English Irish’), and of being fundamentally disloyal due to their catholic faith. Dismayed by the manner in which counter-reformation catholicism had continued to thrive in Ireland, he called for harsh repressive measures against the catholic clergy and a strict enforcement of the penal laws. While many English jurists welcomed the manner in which the common law was enforced throughout Ireland, he complained that the catholic elites were able to use it to thwart urgently needed government initiatives, and he argued for the imposition of martial law in certain circumstances instead.
Moryson's anti-catholicism is apparent in his writings both on Ireland and on Italy. He believed that the pope and his agents sought the downfall of English protestantism and were behind all the previous rebellions in Ireland. Following Mountjoy's death, he attached himself to William Herbert, 3rd earl of Pembroke and royal adviser, who was opposed to attempts to develop good relations between England and the catholic powers, particularly Spain. In summer 1626 Moryson sought to publish the fourth part of his Itinerary at a time when war with Spain had led the English monarch King Charles I to contemplate granting a series of legal and religious concessions to his catholic subjects in Ireland in order to encourage their loyalty during the conflict. Much of the final part of his Itinerary was a thinly veiled criticism of this policy, and unsurprisingly it was not published. Somewhat bitterly, Moryson said he would desist from his political writings and would concentrate on theology instead. He died unmarried in St Botolph's parish, London, on 12 February 1630.