Next came a tale from Linkin. One he’d not wished to tell.
I told him he’d get no more help in his Irish investigations if he did not oblige me in this matter.
He sayt he could not swear to the truth of it.
“Who troubles with truth at a Revel?” sayt I.
So Linkin came forward, and spake well.
“Friends,” he sayt. “If you have ears, prepare to prick them now.
“I’ll tell of a deed so foul you’ll ne’er take meat from any paw but your own. Else you may be lured to your destruction.”
All screeched in feigned fear.
“The year my lord of Southampton first oped his eyes , Her Majestie sayt the Earl of Essex could go to Ireland. This Earl was not the Essex that we know and love, but his father.
“I shall call him Wat Devilry. That’s like enough unto the name he had before he was called Essex. He was a good soldier once, but then he sought reputation and riches by chasing the Irishes from their rightful places.
“First, he hoped to make the Irishes fight among theirselves and against the Scots that dwell there. Two things they’re never loathe to do.
“But, as we cats know, to fight each other to prove our valour is one thing. To fight at the behest of our enemies is quite another.
“The Irishes aren’t fool. They knew Wat Devilry was not the Lord Deputie of Ireland. Queen Puss [Bess] had made him governor of Ulcer [Ulster]. Nothing more and nothing less. And what need had the Ulcer men of a governor? They sent Wat a gift of cows, then stole them from him.
“At length Wat Devilry waxed wearie. ’Twas in the dark of winter that he conceived his bright idea. He offered a good dinner to the Irish lord whose lands and cows he sayt were his.
“This Irish lord brought with him his wife and his friends. They came with cleanlie paws and faces, and friendness in their hearts.
“I know not what vittles were served forth, but there was plenty. Fancy, if you can, the flavours of the fish market, and the scents of a score of cookshops. Pies and pasties, meats baked and broyled, sweet sauces and good gravies!
“And tipple, too. Beer and wine and uskwibow. Did Wat’s men drink deep to readie theirselves for what was to come? Or were they ’stemious, so their sword arms might be the stronger?
“The Irishes, fearing nowt, ate and drank their fill. And after they’d sought their beds, Wat Devilry gave the word.
“His men slew them all, save the lord, his wife and his brother. They were taken to be hanged for treason, and cut into collops for all to admire.”
“May we be assured,” called Picker, with virtuous mien, “that Wat Devilry’s son will not do the like in Ireland?”
“Upon my life,” swore Linkin, “Lord Essex would sooner slay hisself. He will beat his foe in the field.”
“Or not at all,” sayt Picker.
Stealer arrkst, “Did you not say in our parlement that the Irish don’t fight in the fields? But in their bogs and woods?”
“By field,” sayt Linkin, “I mean the field of battle, not the field where housewives dry the linen.”
Then he added, “Wat Devilry did not prosper. Some say the Queen Cat of Heaven turned his bowels to blood. Others that Lord Lester [Leicester] poysoned him. May all such false folk perish!”
He stepped from the centre of our circle, to great applauds.
Then Picker and Stealer sayt they’d brought newes for all to hear.
However, English and Irish sources usually agree that in November 1574 Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, invited Sir Brian mac Phelim O’Neill to meet him for a conference and feast in Belfast, then had about 200 of his retainers slaughtered. This was followed by the judicial murder of Sir Brian, his wife Anne, and his brother in Dublin.
Brian mac Phelim O’Neill, lord of Clandeboye – a territory disputed among the O’Neills themselves – had formed a mutually beneficial alliance with Sir William Piers, who held Carrickfergus as an English garrison. Brian was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, and seemed prepared to accommodate English ambition – up to a point. That point being the takeover of Clandeboye.
Walter Devereux’ grand design was to colonise eastern Ulster and create a barrier between the wild Irish and the equally wild Scots coming in from the Hebrides. Queen Elizabeth agreed to back him, and he mortgaged a third of his properties to her for the enormous sum of £10,000. She also agreed to cover half the cost of his troops.
He’d underestimated woefully. The difficulty of obtaining supplies, the ever-shifting local alliances, the guerrilla-style warfare, disease, desertions… His debts escalated; his judgement deteriorated.
Initially, O’Neill had joined with other local leaders to offer resistance. Then he seemed prepared for reconciliation…
Walter Devereux died at the age of 36 in Dublin in September 1576, probably of dysentery, though he suspected poison. A young woman who’d drunk from the same cup as he died too, and his boy (attendant) became ill.
In September 1578 his widow Lettice Knollys married the Queen’s long-term favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Queen Elizabeth never forgave Lettice for that crime.