Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fitzwilliam, William (1526-1599)
FITZWILLIAM, Sir WILLIAM (1526–1599), lord deputy of Ireland, eldest son of Sir William Fitzwilliam of Milton in the hundred of Nassaburgh, Northamptonshire, and Anne, daughter of Sir Richard Sapcote of Elton, Huntingdonshire, was born at Milton in 1526. He was grandson of Sir William Fitzwilliam, sheriff of London [q. v.] Related through his mother to Sir John Russell, first earl of Bedford, he was on his entrance into court placed under the protection of that nobleman, who presented him to Edward VI, by whom he was created marshal of the king's bench. From a lease granted to William Fitzwilliam, esq., ‘one of the gentlemen of the king's chamber,’ of certain lands in Ireland on 10 July 1547, it would appear that he had already at that time formed a connection with Ireland, which throughout a long life was the chief sphere of his labours (Collins, Peerage; Lodge, Peerage (Archdall); Bridges, Northamptonshire, vol. ii.; Wiffin, House of Russell; Cal. of Fiants, Ed. VI, 70).
When the succession to the throne was threatened through Lady Jane Grey, he loyally (though a protestant) stood by Mary, and in 1555 was created temporary keeper of the great seal of Ireland (Lib. Hib. ii. 14). Coming under the influence of the Earl of Sussex, who spoke of him as a friend, he took that nobleman's side against Sir A. St. Leger (Hamilton Cal. i. 133, 231; Cal. Carew MSS. i. 257, 260). On 24 July 1559 he was made vice-treasurer and treasurer at wars in Ireland, a post he held till 1 April 1573, when he was relieved by Sir Edward Fitton (Lib. Hib. ii. 43; Ham. Cal. i. 157). In 1559, too, he was elected M.P. for Carlow county in the Irish House of Commons. In 1560, during the temporary absence of the Earl of Sussex, he was appointed lord justice, taking the oath and receiving the sword at Christ Church on Thursday 15 Feb. (patent, 18 Jan. 1560). His conduct was approved by the queen (Ham. Cal. i. 160), who again entrusted the government to him during the absence of Sussex in 1561 (patent, 10 Jan. 1561). Meanwhile Shane O'Neill had entered upon a course of conduct which for the next eight years was destined to perplex and madden the government. On the return of Sussex in June a campaign was undertaken against him which, though ending in failure, reflected great credit on Fitzwilliam, by whose ‘worthiness,’ and that of Captain Warne, the English army was, according to Sussex, saved from annihilation (ib. i. 177). In August he was sent into England to explain the state of affairs to the council; but immediately afterwards returned to Ireland. On Thursday, 22 Jan. 1562 he was again sworn chief governor during the absence of Sussex from 16 Jan. to 24 July (patent, 20 Dec. 1561). On 3 Dec. he and Justice Plunket were despatched into England to acquaint the council with the situation of affairs in Ireland. He returned about the end of January 1563; but appears to have spent the greater part of that year and the beginning of the next in England. In May 1564 Sir Nicholas Arnold, late commissioner for reforming and introducing economy into the Irish government, was appointed lord justice, and having insinuated many things against him as vice-treasurer, which he wholly failed to substantiate, the latter retorted by saying that he could have governed Ireland as well as Arnold and saved the queen twenty thousand marks (State Papers, Eliz., xiii. 57, xviii. 1, 2, 3). Arnold was succeeded by Sir Henry Sidney, and he being summoned home, Fitzwilliam and Dr. R. Weston were on 14 Oct. 1567 sworn lords justices, much against the will of the former, who declared that his last justiceship had cost him 2,000l. This was bad enough, but to be charged by the queen with not preventing the landing of the Scots in Antrim was intolerable, and he complained bitterly against it, protesting that he had for eight years and more truly and faithfully served her majesty without bribery, robbery, or friendly gifts (ib. xxiii. 13). Though ‘not bred up to arms,’ he, in the spring of the following year (1568), undertook an expedition into the north; but it was badly managed, and ended in disgraceful failure (Bagwell, Ireland, ii. 133). Fortunately Sidney returned in October and relieved him from his more onerous duties. In 1570 he appears to have resided chiefly in England; but on 29 Jan. 1571 he returned to Ireland. In March Sidney departed, and on 1 April he was appointed lord justice. He was suffering severely at the time from ague, and protested his unfitness for the government, and his impoverishment after thirteen years' service, tending to his utter ruin (Ham. Cal. i, 454, 457). His petition, supported by the entreaties of Lady Fitzwilliam, who implored the queen to allow her husband to return to England before the winter came on, was unsuccessful, and instead he was appointed lord deputy, and sworn into office on 13 Jan. 1572 (patent, 11 Dec. 1571).
Forced into the gap against his will, and miserably supplied with money, Fitzwilliam's government (1572–5) was not remarkably successful, though he declared that Ireland in 1575 was in a much better state than it was in 1571 (ib. ii. 49). With Sir Edward Fitton in Connaught and Sir John Perrot in Munster, his attention was chiefly directed to Ulster. Here the grants of land made by Elizabeth to Malby, Chatterton, Sir Thomas Smith, and the Earl of Essex (1572–3), leading as they did to serious complications with the Irish, and with Turlough Luineach O'Neill in particular, greatly added to his difficulties; but his conduct in the matter appears to have been much misrepresented. He was not, he declared, opposed to the plantation scheme; on the contrary, he warmly approved of it, only he objected to the way in which it was carried into execution. There was too much talk about it. The thing ought to have been done quietly and with celerity. Instead of that the Irish obtained wind of what was intended, and had time to band together, thereby not only obstructing the plantation, but considerably embarrassing him in the government. His views on the subject were undoubtedly sound, and were indeed recognised to be so by Essex himself, who, however much he might feel inclined to resent his unwillingness to co-operate and the alacrity with which he obeyed the order to disband, was obliged to admit that he had no other choice in the matter (Ham. Cal. 1572–5, passim; Bagwell, Ireland, ch. xxix–xxxii.; Devereux, Lives of the Earls of Essex, vol. i.; Shirley, Monaghan).
The post of treasurer, which he resigned in 1573 to Sir Edward Fitton, far from being a lucrative appointment, had involved him in debts amounting to nearly 4,000l. The deputyship profited him nothing, and unless shortly relieved he declared he would be obliged to sell Milton; as it was, his wife had already been instructed to sell part of the stock on the property. At the last moment Elizabeth remitted 1,000l. and ‘stalled’ the rest, thus saving him from absolute beggary. These private difficulties, superadded to his bodily infirmities, rendered him extremely irritable, and led to one quarrel after another with Sir E. Fitton [q. v.] Despite his advice and that of Sir J. Perrot, the Earl of Desmond had in 1573 been allowed to return to Ireland, and though promptly rearrested in Dublin, he had a few months later managed to escape into Munster. Mischief was of course anticipated; but nothing was done—nothing indeed could be done so long as Fitton proved insubordinate. The queen was enraged, declaring that her honour was wounded so long as the traitor was allowed to continue abroad (Ham. Cal. ii. 15; Cal. Carew MSS. i. 464, 466, 473). Fitzwilliam replied that he had neither men nor credit to enable him to take the field. Compelled at length to act, he in August 1574 marched into Munster, captured in rapid succession Derinlaur Castle, Castlemagne, and Ballymartyr, and obliged the earl to submit himself at Cork on 2 Sept. For this service he had Elizabeth's thanks (Cal. Carew, i. 483), but he still continued to be hampered by the reports of his detractors at court (just retribution for his own attacks on Sir Anthony St. Leger), and especially of his brother-in-law Sir H. Sidney. He was seriously ill, so ill in fact that in March 1575 he thought he could not live a year longer, and that he was likely to be buried in Ireland and slandered in England. Lady Fitzwilliam, who his enemies asserted was the real lord deputy, was despatched to solicit his recall. His prayer was at last listened to, and the arrival of Sir H. Sidney on 12 Sept. restored him to private life (Lib. Hib. ii. 4).
During the next twelve years he remained in England quietly engaged, we may presume, in attending to his own affairs. In 1582 there was some talk of appointing him successor to Lord Grey (Ham. Cal. ii. 364, 374, 499), but nothing came of it. He, however, obtained a crown lease of Fotheringay Castle (Lemon, Cal. ii. 395), and it was during his governorship that Mary of Scotland met her doom there. His conduct on that occasion reflected great credit on him. The only one who showed any respect for her feelings, Mary gratefully acknowledged his kindness to her, and in token of her esteem presented him with the picture of her infant son, James, which is still carefully preserved by his successors (Topog. Brit. vol. iv.)
On 17 Feb. 1588 he was reappointed lord deputy of Ireland in the room of Sir John Perrot, and on 23 June, being Sunday, he landed at the Ring's End, about six o'clock in the morning, and on Sunday following received the sword of state in Christ's Church. The country was at peace, but the period was one of critical importance. The timely storm that dissipated the Armada relieved the government of its chief danger, but there were still a number of ships in the narrow seas to cause considerable anxiety. Fitzwilliam's vigilance was worthy the high trust reposed in him. A number of Spaniards, it was reported, who had escaped the clutches of the sea, were roaming about the country, and likely, if they were allowed to band together, to prove dangerous. On 22 Sept. 1588, therefore, he issued orders to the provincial governors to take all hulls of ships, stores, treasure, &c., and to apprehend and execute all Spaniards they might find in their districts (Cal. Carew MSS. ii. 490). For himself he proposed to make a journey into Connaught and O'Donnell's country, ‘as well for the riddance of such Spaniards thence who were reported to be dispersed in great numbers throughout that province, as also for that the Irishry of that province towards the Pale and Feagh MacHugh O'Byrne, with the rest upon the mountain's side, grew into such pride upon hope of those Spaniards and their assistants.’ His design was approved by the council, and on 4 Nov. he set out from Dublin. Proceeding directly to Athlone and thence to Sligo, he held on towards Ballyshannon, ‘where, as I heard, lay not long before twelve hundred or thirteen hundred of the dead bodies.’ A little before coming to Donegal, ‘I being then accompanied with Sir Owen O'Tool, whom by courteous entreaty I had drawn thither to help the compounding of some good course for the well-ordering of his country,’ he was met by O'Donnell and courteously entertained by him. At Strabane Sir John O'Dogherty came to him, ‘whereof I was not a little glad, for then I made account before his and Sir Owen O'Tool's departures to settle her majesty in some good surety for the 2,100 beeves and 1,000 more for a fine, which at Dungannon, the Earl of Tyrone's house, upon handling of the matter, was accomplished, and by them both and O'Donnell agreed that they should be cut upon the country and paid, and in the meantime that Sir Owen and Sir John should go and remain with me till such pledges as I then named were put in.’ (A very different account of this transaction will be found in Fynes Moryson's history.) On 23 Dec. he returned to Dublin without the loss of a single man (Ham. Cal. iv. 53, 73, 92).
In January 1589 Sir Ross MacMahon, captain of Monaghan, exasperated by the exactions of the sheriff, Captain Willis, and his soldiers, a collection of arrant rascals according to Fitzwilliam, took the law into his own hand and expelled them from his country. Thereupon in March Fitzwilliam invaded and spoiled his country so thoroughly that he left not a house standing or a grain of corn unburnt. Shortly afterwards Sir Ross died, and his brother, Hugh, being entitled to succeed him, was by the deputy established in possession in August (ib. iv. 224). The Irish (see Fynes Moryson) asserted that he was bribed; but this he denied. According to Fitzwilliam the new MacMahon immediately entered upon treasonable courses, and was by him arrested. Process, however, was for a time delayed owing to the unwillingness of the privy council to proceed to extremities in what might be construed into a mere border raid (ib. iv. 263). Convinced at last by the deputy's representations, order was on 10 Aug. 1590 given to proceed with his trial. ‘Wherein, for the avoiding the scandal of justice with severity, he had the favour to be tried in his own country, and by a jury of the best gentlemen of his own name and blood’ (Add. MSS. 12503, f. 389–90. What the Irish said about this transaction may be read in Fynes Moryson's History, bk. i. ch. i.; cf. also Shirley, Monaghan, ch. iv.).
In 1589 a quarrel arose between him and the president of Connaught, Sir Richard Bingham, which created considerable excitement at the time. Bingham had been charged by the natives with extreme harshness in his government and as being the sole cause for their rebellious attitude. The deputy, therefore, on 2 June 1589, undertook a journey into that province for the purpose of pacifying it and inquiring into the charges against Bingham. These proceedings Bingham resented and poured out the vials of his wrath upon Fitzwilliam. The charges preferred against him he categorically denied, with the result that the deputy was severely reprimanded by Elizabeth. In reply, he could only say that ‘Sir Richard hath unjustly dealt with me, as in his answers in several parts appeareth, to which upon the margin I have set down some notes of truth. God make him his, but I fear if there be an atheist upon earth, he is one, for he careth not what he doeth, nor to say anything (how untrue soever), so it may serve his turn’ (Ham. Cal. iv. 194–281 passim). Never of a strong constitution, his health had of recent years been very bad. During the journey into Connaught ‘he swooned twice on one day, and after had three fits of a tertian.’ His enemies caricatured him as being ‘blind, lame, burst and full of dropsy;’ nevertheless he contrived manfully to attend to his business, and his conduct in suppressing the mutiny of Sir Thomas Norreys's soldiers (May 1590) won him the high praise of Sir George Carew (Cal. Carew MSS. iii. 33). Hugh MacMahon out of the way, he in October 1591 partitioned Monaghan (with the exception of Donnamyne, which belonged to the Earl of Essex) among the principal gentlemen of the MacMahons, the termon or ecclesiastical lands being reserved for English officials. In July 1592 he proceeded to Dundalk in order to determine certain border disputes between Tyrone and Turlough Lunieach, and in June in the following year he, at the same place, concluded a treaty between them (Ham. Cal. iv. 568, v. 99; Cal. Carew MSS. iii. 73). Hardly had he done this when he was called upon to suppress the rebellion of Maguire, setting out from Dublin on 4 Dec. ‘into the Cavan, whither by easy journeys, yet through very foul ways and deep fords by reason of continual rain, he arrived within five days after his departure’ (Ham. Cal. v. 190). His expedition was successful so far as the capture of Enniskillen Castle and the proclaiming Maguire traitor went; but the rebellion was only the first act of a tragedy, the end of which he was not to see. His health had been fairly good while in the field, but on his return he was confined closely to his chamber. On 30 Jan. 1594 he wrote: ‘It is God's good blessing that this state is reduced to that staidness of quiet that the infirmities of the governor, old, weak in body, sick in stomach, racked with the stone, bedrid with the gout, and disgraced with restraints, do not make it stagger’ (ib. p. 201). In the spring death seemed so near that he deemed it necessary to provide for the government by nominating lords justices. On 31 July his successor, Sir W. Russell, arrived, and on 12 Aug. he and his family sailed for England. His infirmities increased, and eventually he lost his sight entirely. He lived to hear of Tyrone's rebellion, and to hear it laid to his charge. One of his last acts was to dictate a vindication of his conduct during his last deputyship (Addit. MS. 12503, Brit. Mus.)
He married Anne, daughter of Sir William Sidney, and sister of Sir Henry Sidney, by whom he had two sons (William, who succeeded him, and John, a captain in the wars in Scotland) and three daughters. He died in 1599 at his house at Milton, and was buried in the church of Marham, where, on the north side, is a noble monument erected to him by his widow. One of the ablest of Elizabeth's viceroys, it was his misfortune to be vilified by his contemporaries and to be misrepresented in history as the most avaricious and wantonly cruel of English governors.[Authorities as in the text. In addition to the State Papers calendared by Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Brewer there are in the great Carte collection in the Bodleian at Oxford four volumes of State Papers (lv–viii.) specifically known as the ‘Fitzwilliam Papers,’ relating to Ireland during the period of his government there.]