The causes of Tudor Rebellions from 1485-1601

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Tyrone 1595

In the final decade of Elizabeth’s reign it was clear tensions were building again. The plantations provoked ill-feeling as new owners raised rents and took land to which they were not entitled. Government policies of compositions, establishing Protestant churches at the expense of the Catholics, seizing attainted lands all fuelled resentment. Hugh O’Neill, despite being brought up in the earl of Leicester’s household, returned to Ireland in 1593 and wished to be recognised as ‘the O’Neill’ ruler of Ulster. He had defended Elizabeth’s policies of garrisons when other clans had attacked them and he did not feel he had been adequately rewarded. His aim was to expel the new English settlers and Anglo-Irish administration, and to achieve independence. Some historians see O’Neill using the resentment growing in Ireland as a useful cover for what was actually an attempt at power.

The O’Neill rebellion was allowed to grow as Elizabeth had a shortage of both men and money to fight the rebellion. He managed to rally more than 6000 troops. It traversed all four Irish provinces and the size of rebel armies exceeded Elizabeth’s resources. Not until 1599 was a force of 17,000 sent under the command of the Earl of Essex. This would have been large enough to combat the revolt if he had deployed the troops effectively but he proceeded to divide his army, putting half in garrisons and sending the rest into the provinces, without ever forcing Tyrone to submit. By 1603, when Tyrone finally surrendered to Lord Mountjoy, more than 30,000 English troops had been sent to Ireland.

Dangerous: Unlike other rebellions it sparked nationwide revolts against English rule and lasted for 8 years. England was at war with Spain and there were serious domestic problems such as runaway inflation, food shortages, rising unemployment and recurrent plague. Elizabeth was aware of the strategic importance of Ireland [Spain had landed there before] but money to fight a rebellion was in short supply. Elizabeth underestimated the scale of his revolt, made several unwise appointments and deployed insufficient resources until her military commander persuaded Tyrone to submit.

Cost Elizabeth £2 million. The Earl renounced his title of ‘the O’Neill’ and agreed to support English sheriffs and garrisons in Ulster but the was granted a pardon and recovered all he had held at the start of the rebellion.

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