Sir Arthur Chichester, lord deputy of Ireland 1605-1616, John McCavitt. (Institute of Irish Studies, Queens, £9.95) ISBN 0853897190

Published in Early Modern History (1500–1700), Issue 3 (Autumn 1999), Reviews, Volume 7

One of the major differences between viceroys and those they represent is the length of time they govern. The average, uninterrupted term in office for Elizabeth I’s governors in Ireland was approximately eighteen-and-a-half months. There were, of course, wide variations between one governor and another. Sir William Fitzwilliam, who ran Ireland from June 1588 to August 1594, held office for seventy-five consecutive months, but this was a record. Sir Arthur Chichester, after becoming lord deputy in February 1605, governed without a break for 108 months, and, after a short stay in England during parts of 1614 and 1615, for a further eighteen months after that.
These figures highlight the importance of Chichester’s rule that saw the ‘flight of the earls’, the brief (and tragic) rebellion by Sir Cahir O’Dogherty, the initiation of plantation in Ulster, Wexford, Leitrim, Longford and Westmeath and the meeting of the Irish parliament from 1613 to 1615. Yet despite Chichester’s prominence, there has been no biography since that written by his nephew, Sir Faithful Fortescue (published in 1858) till now. The wait, however, has been worthwhile.  John McCavitt has provided an original, carefully researched, closely argued and balanced account of a man who has been both reviled as a ‘bloodthirsty maniac’ and praised as an ‘exemplary public servant’. Indeed, this book is more than a biography because it provides one of the clearest accounts of the first fifteen years of Irish seventeenth- century history available.
Chichester was the chief architect of the policy of using famine as the means of bringing Hugh O’Neill to submission, a policy which was pursued ruthlessly and effectively. McCavitt argues that the same combination of ruthlessness and efficiency characterised Sir Arthur’s governorship. There was no mellowing, as Cyril Falls detected, in his later life, but Chichester’s severity as governor was neither savage nor vindictive. He was motivated by the dominant ideology of his age—religious conviction—and, as an Englishman who understood that the independence of his country was threatened by Catholicism, he was determined to anglicise Ireland and thus to enforce Protestantism on the population. This single-mindedness led to paradoxes.
The implementation of the ‘Mandates’, a policy of conversion by a combination of coercion and persuasion, influenced the decision by the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell to plot with Spain, and when found out, to flee. McCavitt has no doubt that treason had been committed, nor that it had some Old English support, which was inspired by Chichester’s religious policies. The ‘flight’ led to the proposal for the plantation of Ulster. Here McCavitt confirms what has recently been challenged, namely, that had Chichester had his way, most of the available land would have been distributed to Irish small holders and servitors, thus giving to the Irish a vested interest in maintaining the redistribution. It was fear in England aroused by O’Dogherty’s rebellion—as unnecessary as it was futile—that led to Chichester’s plan being thrust aside in favour of the substantial influx of English and Scottish undertakers. It is argued that the deputy avoided the mistakes made in Ulster in his plans for the plantations in Wexford, Leitrim, Longford and Westmeath.
The links between Irish and Old English interests became even more evident during the 1613-15 parliament than they were in the first decade of the century—again as a result of Chichester’s coercive religious policies. The execution of Bishop O’Devany and Father O’Loughran one year before parliament met aroused consternation in the Old English community. McCavitt shows James I at his diplomatic best as he managed to mollify the Old English MPs without abandoning his deputy, and in this case, in contrast to 1608, Irish plots served Sir Arthur’s interests. The discovery of the 1615 plot robbed the Old English of the opportunity of extracting religious concessions in return for a subsidy.
McCavitt gives full credit to Chichester as an efficient and fair administrator, and he judges him as essentially honest by the standards of the time. Moreover, he shows some understanding of Chichester’s religious policies even if his ultimate verdict on them is that they were disastrous. He makes a convincing case that, whereas Sir Arthur’s policy on land was wise, his persecution of recusants helped to forge the bond that led to the Irish-Old English alliance during the 1640s. He carefully avoids a deterministic interpretation of the causes of 1641, but there are times when his interpretation appears simplistic. There were at least two occasions after Chichester left office before 1641 when Old English concerns about land security could have been settled in a manner that would have assured their loyalty to the crown. Moreover, it has to be remarked that the planted regions which managed to resist the onslaught of 1641 were, on the whole, those that had been subjected to the type of plantation Chichester did not want.
These caveats aside, McCavitt throws much new light on many aspects of early Stuart Ireland. Space does not permit notice of the many small issues that are illuminated as the broad picture is revealed.  The role of the provost marshall is, for instance, perhaps an obscure matter, but it had a deep impact during the early days of the 1641 rebellion, and McCavitt explains how this institution came to have prominence in Ireland. In short, this book is an example of the excellent scholarship that early modern Irish history is currently enjoying.

Michael Perceval-Maxwell


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