« PreviousContinue »
SYDNEY AND SUSSEX
mediately became the acknowledged head of his house, and, repudiating the English peerage, proudly assumed the old Irish title “The O'Neil.' Elizabeth (1558 - 1603) was queen, and her government at once entered into negotiations with the formidable Ulster rebel.
The lord-deputy, Sir Henry Sydney, marched northwards and summoned Shane to meet him at Dundalk. Shane utterly ignored the summons, but, with a delicious sense of humour, invited Sydney to come to the christening of his child, and stand sponsor. Sydney, who was a man of conciliatory disposition, and no doubt appreciated the adroitness of O'Neil in thus cleverly evading his summons to enter the Pale, accepted the invitation, and remained for some days on a visit to the castle of the rebel chief. Shane explained his position. He said that he had been elected, according to the Irish custom, head of the O'Neils, and head he would remain. He desired no quarrel with the English. If they left him alone, he would leave them alone. But he should not be interfered with. Sydney accepted the explanation, returned to Dublin, and peace for a time reigned in Ulster.
But in 1559, Sydney returned to England, and Lord Sussex was sent to succeed him in the government of Ireland. Sussex came to the conclusion that Shane was a serious danger to English authority in the island, and resolved to bring him to subjection. With this view, and having gained the support of O'Donnell and the
Scotch settlers in Antrim, he prepared to invade Ulster.
Shane wrote directly to Elizabeth, and laid his case before her.
He was loyal to England, he said, and would be delighted if the queen would get him an English wife. He would visit the queen if she would send him three thousand pounds for his expenses His province was well governed, as the queen might see if she would send commissioners to inquire. He acknowledged the queen's authority, but would allow no deputy to rule his territories. This letter was left unnoticed, and Sussex pushed on with his preparations. Shane soon got ready for
He began with a master-stroke, dashed into O'Donnell's country, seized O'Donnell and his wife—who was half-sister of the Earl of Argyll — and bore them off in captivity to Tyrone. This move paralysed the O'Donnells and astounded Sussex, and converted the Scots into Shane's allies, for the Countess of Argyll befriended Shane. Sussex at once marched forward, and entering Ulster in July 1561, seized and fortified the cathedral of Armagh, and made the town his head-quarters.
Shane bided his time, and watched the English carefully. He ran no risks. The opportunity he waited for at length came. A force of 1000 men was sent forward by Sussex to ravage Tyrone. Shane allowed them to enter his territory and to seize the goods and cattle of his people. But as they were returning in triumph, he hung on their flank with an army of trained warriors, and at a given moment fell upon them, routing them
utterly, and recapturing the spoils they had seized.
Sussex was confounded by his defeat. He wrote to the English minister,
Never before durst Scot or Irishman look on Englishmen in plain or wood since I was here, and now Shane, in a plain three miles away from any wood, and where I would have asked of God to have had him, both with a hundred-and-twenty horse and a few Scots and galloglasse (heavy-armed infantry), scarce half in numbers, charged our whole army and was like in one hour not to have left one man of that army alive, and to have taken me and the rest at Armagh.'
Shane's victory caused a panic in London, and Elizabeth counselled peace. She invited Shane's kinsman, Kildare, to treat with the rebel, sent him a pardon, and invited him to come to London to see her. Shane first demanded that the English army should be withdrawn from Ulster, and that Armagh should be given up. The army was withdrawn, but Sussex still kept a garrison in Armagh.
Shane had triumphed in the field; Sussex, despairing of destroying him in battle, resolved that the victorious rebel should fall by the steel of the assassin. The story seems incredible; but we have it under Sussex's own hand. In August 1561 he wrote to Elizabeth saying that he had had a conference with Shane's seneschal, Grey Neil (about the surrender of Armagh), and that he had bribed the seneschal to kill his chief. 'In fine,' says Sussex, 'I brake with him to kill Shane, and bound myself by my oath to see him have a hundred marks of land by the year to him and to his heirs for his reward. I told him the way he might do it, and how to escape after with safety.' But the assassination plot failed. Whether Neil Grey had simply imposed on Sussex by pretending that he was willing to do the deed, or whether he was for a moment tempted by the offer of the lorddeputy, it may be difficult to say, but the fact is, he never attempted to kill Shane.
Kildare was successful in his negotiations with Shane, and it was settled that the rebel should visit London. A safe conduct was sent to him, and towards the end of the year he set out for the English capital with a guard of galloglasses, accompanied by Kildare. He was well received by the queen's councillors, and lodged at the lord keeper's house.
On the 6th of January 1562, Elizabeth received him in state. He entered the council chamber, his saffron mantle sweeping round and round him, his hair curling down his back, and clipped short below the eyes, which gleamed from under it with a grey lustre,' looking fierce and defiant. 'Behind him followed his galloglasses, bare-headed and fair-haired, with shirts of mail which reached beneath their knees, a wolf skin flung across their shoulders, and short, broad battle axes in their hands.' At the foot of the throne he paused, bent forward, knelt, and then, rising, addressed the queen in a diplomatic speech. He protested his loyalty,
SHANE AND ELIZABETH
flattered Elizabeth, and, in a word, showed himself match for the most practised courtiers
around her. Elizabeth was not unfriendly to him. She appreciated his ability, admired his boldness, and was disposed to treat him well. But her advisers, having once got the dreaded O'Neil in England, were resolved that he should never go back. His safe conduct was So worded that no time was specified for his return. When he asked leave to go home, his attention was called to this fact. Various pretexts were devised to delay him. It was said that the son of Matthew should be summoned to England in order that his claims to the estates of the O'Neils should be investigated Shane saw at a glance that he had been outwitted, and that, despite his caution, the safeconduct had been so worded as to put him at the mercy of his enemies. In these circumstances he played, as usual, a bold game. He approached the queen directly, called her his friend, said he trusted to her protection, and placed his life and honour in her hands,'having no refuge nor succour to flee to but only her majesty.' Elizabeth was touched; she would not allow Shane to be imprisoned, though she still detained him. At length news reached England that Matthew's son had been killed, and that Ulster was growing impatient for Shane's return. Elizabeth determined to detain him no longer. She granted all his demands, made him sovereign of Ulster, subject alone to herself, and sent him back to Ireland with