Letter to Elizabeth

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Letterto Elizabeth

12 November 1580

Lord Arthur Grey de Wilton

Lord Arthur Grey de Wilton (1536–1593) was lord deputy of Ireland from 1580 to 1582. Zealously Protestant, he defeated and then slaughtered some six hundred Spanish and Italian soldiers who had been sent by the pope to aid a Catholic rebellion in Munster, and who landed in Smerwick harbor on County Kerry's Dingle peninsula. Grey's letter makes clear the ferocity of his actions.

SEE ALSO English Writing on Ireland before 1800

There was presently sent unto me one Alexandro, their campmaster; he told me that certain Spaniards and Italians were there arrived upon fair . . . speeches and great promises, which altogether vain and false they found, and t[hat] it was no part of their intent to molest or take any government from your Majesty, for proof that they were ready to depart as they came, and deliver in [to] my hands the fort. Mine answer was, that for that I perceived their people to stand of two nations, Italian and Spanish, I would give no a[nswer] unless a Spaniard were likewise by. He presently went and returned [with] a Spanish captain. I then told the Spaniard that I knew their nation [to] have an absolute Prince, one that was in good league and amity with your Majesty, which made me marvel that any of his people should be found associate . . . them that went about to maintain rebels against you and to disturb . . . any your Highness' governments, and taking it that it could not be his Kings' will, I was to know by whom and for what cause they were sent. His reply was, that the King had not sent them, but that one John Martinez de Ricaldi, Governor for the King, at Bilboa, had willed them to levy a band and to repair with it to St. Andrews, and there to be directed by this their colonel here, whom he followed as a blind man, not knowing whither. The other avouched that they were all sent by the Pope for the defence of the Catholica fede. My answer was, that I would not greatly have marvelled if men being commanded by natural and absolute princes did sometimes take in hand wrong actions, but that men, and that of account as some of them made show of, should be carried into unjust, desperate, and wicked actions by one that neither from God nor man could claim any princely power or empire, but indeed a detestable shaveling, the right Antichrist and general ambitious tyrant over all right principalities, and patron of the diabolica fede, I could not but greatly rest in wonder, their fault therefore, far to be aggravated by the vileness of the commander, and that at my hands no condition of composition they were to expect, other than that simply they should render me the fort, and yield their selves to my will for life or death.

With this answer he departed, after which there was one or two courses to and fro more, to have gotten a certainty for some of their lives, but finding that it would not be, the colonel himself about sunsetting came forth and requested respite with surcease of arms till the next morning, and then he would give a resolute answer.

Finding that to be but a gain of time for them and loss of the same for myself, I definitely answered, I would not grant it, and therefore presently either that he took my offer or else return, and I would fall to my business. He then embraced my knees simply putting himself to my mercy, only he prayed that for that night he might abide in the fort, and that in the morning all should be put into my hands. I asked hostages for the performance; they were given. Morning come; I presented my companies in battle before the fort, the colonel comes forth with 10 or 12 of his chief gentlemen, trailing their ensigns rolled up, and presented them unto me with their lives and the fort. I sent straight, certain gentlemen in, to see their weapons and armours laid down, and to guard the munition and victual there left for spoil. Then put I in certain bands, who straight fell to execution. There were 600 slain.

Reprinted in Strangers to That Land: British Perceptions of Ireland from the Reformation to the Famine, edited by Andrew Hadfield and John McVeagh (1994), pp. 102–104.

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Letter to Elizabeth

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