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St. Leger, William (d.1642) (DNB00)

ST. LEGER, Sir WILLIAM, president of Munster, was son of Sir Warham St. Leger (d. 1600) [see under St. Leger, Sir Warham]. William was probably born in Ireland, but the date is uncertain. He appears to have killed a man in early life, to have taken refuge with the Earl of Tyrone, and to have followed him in his flight, only because he did not know what else to do. At Brussels he reported himself to Sir Thomas Edmonds, who mentioned the matter to Salisbury in his despatch on 4 Nov. 1607. He went from Brussels to Holland, and served in the army for at least eight years, during which he probably received the king's pardon. He was knighted on 25 April 1618, and on 3 July 1619 he had a large grant by patent of crown lands in Queen's County and Limerick, which was supplemented next year by a further grant in the former county. In 1624 his Dutch wife was made a denizen, and he had a company of foot on the Irish establishment. He was in London on 19 Feb. 1624–5 on the king's business, and, as he says, neglecting his own (Cal. State Papers). His time was not, however, wasted; for he returned to Ireland in July 1627 as lord president of Munster and a privy councillor, with a company of foot and a troop of horse (Morrin, pp. 197, 236, 270).

Soon after his appointment St. Leger was busy about the fortifications of Youghal, which proved useful later on (Youghal Council Book, p. 135). On 27 June 1628 he was sworn a freeman of Cork (Cork Council Book, p. 139). Some years later he ordered the discontinuance of football and hurling in the streets of Cork, and the corporation carried out the order (ib. p. 157). St. Leger was at Waterford in June 1630, and published an order there against the ‘excessive multitude of Irish beggars encumbering England.’ Constables were straitly charged to whip vagrants and hand them on to the next parish, until they came to some settled course of life, and shipmasters who took them on board were to be imprisoned (Youghal Council Book, p. 155). In November 1630 St. Leger claimed to have originated the scheme for the plantation of Ormond, the north part of Tipperary, which Wentworth afterwards took up, but which was never really carried out. St. Leger hoped to profit by the settlement (Lismore Papers, iii. 171; Strafford Letters, ii. 93, 97; Carte, Ormonde, i. 59).

When Wentworth went to Ireland in 1633, he was supported by St. Leger in his arbitrary measures for maintaining an army (Smith, Cork, i. 107). St. Leger attended the parliament of 1634 as member for the county of Cork, his position as lord president of Munster in the opening procession being immediately below the peers (Strafford Letters, i. 283). In the privy council he rather favoured delay in asking the House of Commons for money, on the ground that ‘the protestants not being well prepared, many of them might be against granting the supply, and so, joining with the popish party, might foil the business’ (ib. p. 277). Of his government in Munster there are not materials for a detailed account; but Strafford, on his trial, called him a ‘very noble and just man’ (Lismore Papers, iv. 179), from which it may be inferred that he generally supported the government; and the fact that he was not always on the best terms with Lord Cork points to the same conclusion (ib. p. 217). In 1637, when the president was engaged in litigation with Lord Antrim, Wentworth took St. Leger's part, both on the merits and because, as he wrote from Limerick, ‘the president carried himself so round and affectionately in his majesty's service that he passing well deserved the gracious regard and favour of the crown’ (Strafford Letters, ii. 97).

In April 1638 St. Leger attended the meeting of the privy council at which the chancellor, Adam Loftus, first viscount Loftus of Ely [q. v.], was unanimously suspended until the king's pleasure should be known (ib. p. 161). He sat again for the county of Cork in the parliament of 1639, and in the same year he had a confirmation of his lands under the commission of grace, and Doneraile was erected into a manor (ib. ii. 394–8; Lodge, p. 112). He took a leading part in levying and drilling the army of eight thousand foot and a thousand horse which Wentworth raised for the invasion of Great Britain, and in July 1640 he was in command at Carrickfergus. He kept strict discipline, and after a few weeks pronounced the army fit for service (Strafford Letters, ii. 403; Carte, i. 99). After the dismissal of this ill-starred host in the spring of 1641, he was active in trying to get the soldiers out of Ireland and into the service of foreign princes (Confederation and War, i. 217–44). After Wandesford's death in November 1640, Strafford advised the king to make Ormonde, Dillon, or St. Leger deputy. Had Charles chosen either the first or the third, his fate might have been different.

St. Leger was at Doneraile when the great Irish rebellion broke out on 23 Oct. 1641. The army which he had helped to raise had been disbanded, and the discharged soldiers were ready fuel for the flames. The frightened lords justices had only the old standing force to rely on, and they withdrew all the garrison of Munster to guard Dublin. St. Leger was left to defend his province with a single troop of horse, and with such irregular auxiliaries as his loyal neighbours could furnish (cf. Lismore Papers, iv. 216–227; Carte, Letters 34–9). Lord Cork co-operated with him; but their relations were not always quite cordial, though the common danger brought them together [see Boyle, Richard, first Earl of Cork]. St. Leger wrote to Ormonde that ‘in these days Magna Charta must not be wholly insisted upon.’ The great point, he held, was to leave no weapon in the hands of men ‘Romishly affected.’ On the other hand he begged for three thousand stand of arms; ‘for I can find protestants to wear and fight with them which I had rather have than all those that come out of England.’ Yet there were some who thought him too favourable to the Irish (Lismore Papers, iv. 189). For a month there was no rising in Munster; but Leinster was on fire, and the unresisted flames spread gradually southwards.

St. Leger's first expedition was into Tipperary towards the end of November, his brother-in-law, William Kingsmill, having been plundered by the Irish near Silvermines. Many were hanged, and some of these had probably nothing to do with the robbery (Hickson, ii. 241). About the same time loose bands began to infest the eastern end of county Waterford, and St. Leger made a bold raid over the mountains in the neighbourhood of Carrick-on-Suir. According to a contemporary account, he ‘within a few days destroyed about six hundred of the rebels without the loss of one man;’ but the gallows did more than the sword, and his force was too small to impose permanent peace. While praising the lord president, Cork described him as ‘utterly destitute of men, money, and munition’ (Orrery Letters, p. 3; Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. p. 346). At the beginning of December St. Leger was at Clonmel, and found the Tipperary gentlemen ‘standing at gaze and suffering the rascals to rob and pillage all the English about them’ (Lismore Papers, iv. 228). The Boyles had soon enough to do to defend their own castles and the town of Youghal, of which St. Leger appointed Lord Dungarvan governor (Youghal Council Book, p. 217). Unable to keep the field with his handful of men, St. Leger returned to Doneraile on 23 Dec. On 30 Jan. 1641–2 he reported that the enemy were at Cashel, ten thousand strong and partly well armed, and that their horse was equal both in quantity and quality to any that he had been able to get together (Lismore Papers, iv. 262). Two troops had been added to his original one. Early in February he vainly endeavoured, with the help of Lords Barrymore, Broghill, and Dungarvan, to stop Mountgarret's army near Killmallock. ‘Our foot,’ he wrote to Cork, ‘be of so inconsiderable and wretched composure and condition of men as that I dare not adventure anything upon them. All that we have to rely upon are our horse’ (ib.). Negotiations were futile, though Broghill [see Boyle, Richard, second Earl of Cork], who was a good judge, admired the way in which ‘the lord president answered like a cunning fox, not having force to do it with the sword’ (Smith, Cork, ii. 117). Before the end of February St. Leger had to fall back upon Cork, leaving the open country to the enemy.

From the middle of February 1641–2 until his death St. Leger's quarters were at Cork, but he took the field whenever he could. To keep his men together at all he had to make a forced loan of 4,000l. from Sir Robert Tynte, who had refused to lend on the public faith (True and Happy News). In March Sir Charles Vavasour landed at Youghal with one thousand men, and St. Leger joined him there. Dungarvan was taken, but in the president's absence Muskerry, in whom he had trusted, threw off the mask and threatened Cork with four thousand men [see under MacCarthy Donogh, fourth Earl of Clancarty]. St. Leger marched from Dungarvan in two days, and got into the city in spite of the Irish, who besieged it until they were dispersed by Inchiquin's sally on 23 April (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. p. 346; Confederation and War, i. 76). Writing a few days later to congratulate Ormonde on his victory at Kilrush, St. Leger complained of neglect. He had received no money for twelve months, and the Dublin government would not even give him a few small field-pieces which were not wanted anywhere else. ‘If they have not wholly deserted me, and bestowed the government on my Lord of Cork, persuade them to disburthen themselves of so much artillery as they cannot themselves employ’ (Carte, Letter 78). Further reinforcements arriving, St. Leger took the field again; but his illness increased, and he died at or near Cork on 2 July, leaving the government to Inchiquin, whom he had made vice-president some time before, and whose appointment had been confirmed under the great seal.

St. Leger, says Carte, ‘was a brave, gallant, and honest man, but somewhat too rough and fiery in his temper; and he did not give greater terror to the rebels by his activity in pursuing, his intrepidity in attacking, or his severity in executing them without mercy when they fell into his hands than he did offence to the gentlemen of the country by his hasty and rough manner of treating them.’ As president of Munster St. Leger had a commission to execute martial law; but in March 1641 he found it necessary or prudent to sue out a pardon under the great seal for anything that he had done or might have done in that way. Instances are given, but it may be doubted whether his rough ways had really much to do with the spread of civil war. St. Leger hanged rebels wholesale, but so did many other officers, and the work had been begun by the Ulster insurgents.

Bellings says St. Leger was ‘a man of long experience and good conduct in the war, who hoped … to deter the loose rovers by the exemplary punishment of some among them. Yet this his prudent design being executed confusedly in so great a distraction of all things, and some innocent labourers and husbandmen having suffered by martial law for the transgressions of others,’ many were driven to despair, and the evil increased (Confederation and War, i. 64, 244). In December 1641 Lord Cork described St. Leger as ‘a brave, martial man, who acts all the parts of a good governor.’ Rushworth records but misdates his death, as that of ‘a brave, prudent gentleman, and hearty protestant.’ It appears, from an amusing story told in Borlase's ‘Reduction of Ireland’ (p. 157), and repeated in Ware's account of Chappel, bishop of Cork, that St. Leger had some taste for theological controversy, and also that he was on friendly terms with the Roman catholic dean of Cork. A portrait of St. Leger, painted by William Dobson, belonged in 1866 to Mr. W. H. Blaauw (cf. Cat. of First Loan Exhibition, No. 734).

By his first wife, Gertrude de Vries of Dort, St. Leger had a daughter Elizabeth, who married Murrough O'Brien, first earl of Inchiquin [q. v.] The eldest of his four sons fell at the second battle of Newbury, fighting on the king's side. The Doneraile peerage was first granted to Sir William's grandson. St. Leger built a church at Doneraile, which was rebuilt in 1726. His house there, where the presidency court was usually held in his time, was burned by the Irish in 1645.

[Calendar of Irish State Papers, James I; Strafford's Letters and Despatches; Lismore Papers, ed. Grosart, 2nd ser.; Morrin's Calendar of Patent Rolls, Charles I; Confederation and War in Ireland, ed. Gilbert, vol. i.; True and Happy News from Ireland, being a letter read in the House of Commons on Tuesday, 25 April 1642; Carte's Ormonde; Clarendon's Hist. of the Rebellion; Borlase's Hist. of the Execrable Irish Rebellion; Lodge's Peerage of Ireland, ed. Archdall, vol. vi.; Stemmata Leodegaria, by E. F. S. L., pedigree in the British Museum; Council Books of Cork and Youghal, ed. Caulfield; Morrice's Life of Orrery and Letters in vol. i. of Orrery State Letters; Ireland in the Seventeenth Century, ed. Hickson; Smith's Histories of Cork and Waterford.]

R. B-l.