Henry Sidney

Henry Sidney

Sir Henry Sidney (1529 - 5 May 1586), lord deputy of Ireland, was the eldest son of Sir William Sidney of Penshurst, a prominent politician and courtier during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, from both of whom he received extensive grants of land, including the manor of Penshurst in Kent, which became the principal residence of the family.

Henry Sidney was brought up at court as the companion of Prince Edward, afterwards King Edward VI, and he continued to enjoy the favour of the Crown, particularly throughout the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Marriage and family

Sidney married Mary Dudley, eldest daughter of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland in 1551. They would have three sons and four daughters. His eldest son was Sir Philip Sidney, and his second was Robert Sidney, 1st Earl of Leicester.

His daughter Mary Sidney married Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, and by reason of her literary achievements was one of the most celebrated women of her time.


First trip to Ireland

In 1556 he went to Ireland with the lord deputy, Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, who in the previous year had married his sister Frances Sidney; and from the first he had a large share in the administration of the country, especially in the military measures taken by his brother-in-law for bringing the native Irish chieftains into submission to the English Crown. In the course of the lord deputy's Ulster expedition in 1557 Sidney devastated the island of Rathlin; and during the absence of Sussex in England in the following year, Sidney was charged with the sole responsibility for the government of Ireland, which he conducted with marked ability and success. A second absence of the lord deputy from Ireland, occasioned by the accession of Queen Elizabeth, threw the chief control into Sidney's hands at the outbreak of trouble with Shane O'Neill, and he displayed great skill in temporizing with the chieftain until Sussex reluctantly returned to his duties in August 1559. About the same time Sidney resigned his office of vice-treasurer of Ireland on his appointment as president of the council of the Marches in Wales, and for the next few years he resided chiefly at Ludlow Castle, with frequent visits to the court in London.

Lord deputy

In 1565 Sidney was appointed lord deputy of Ireland in place of Sir Nicholas Arnold, who had succeeded the earl of Sussex in the previous year. He found the country in a more impoverished and more turbulent condition than when he left it, the chief disturbing factor being Shane O'Neill in Ulster. With difficulty he persuaded Elizabeth to sanction vigorous measures against O'Neill; and although the latter successfully avoided a decisive encounter, Sidney restored O'Neill's rival Calvagh O'Donnell to his rights, and established an English garrison at Derry which maintained some degree of order.

In 1567 Shane was murdered by the MacDonnells of Antrim, and Sidney was then free to turn his attention to the south, where with vigour and determination he arranged the quarrel between Gerald FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond and Thomas Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormonde, and laid his hand heavily on other disturbers of the peace; then, returning to Ulster, he compelled Turlough Luineach O'Neill, Shane's successor in the clan chieftainship, to make submission, and placed garrisons at Belfast and Carrickfergus to overawe Tyrone and the Glynns.

Desmond Rebellions

In the autumn of 1567 Sidney returned to England, and was absent from Ireland for the next ten months. On his return he urged upon Cecil the necessity for measures to improve the economic condition of Ireland, to open up the country by the construction of roads and bridges, to replace the Ulster tribal institutions by a system of freehold land tenure, and to repress the ceaseless disorder prevalent in every part of the island. In 1569, he oversaw the opening of parliament, the first to be held for ten years.

In pursuance of this policy Sidney proposed the appointment of a military governor ("Lord President") in the provinces of Munster and Connaught. This provoked the first of the Desmond Rebellions led by James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald of the Geraldine family, which had been put down with great severity by 1573. Sidney dealt severely with the unruly Butlers in Ormond and Kilkenny, who had risen out in defiance of the government in reaction to the opportunistic claims to certain of their lands by Sir Peter Carew, a rather rough gentleman from Devon who pursued his entitlement with the blessing of the Dublin administration. At Kilkenny large numbers of Sir Edmund Butler's followers were hanged, and three brothers of Thomas Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormonde,were attainted by an act of the Irish parliament in 1570.

Sidney left Ireland in 1571, aggrieved by the slight appreciation of his statesmanship shown by the queen; but he returned in September, 1575 with increased powers and renewed tokens of royal approval, to find matters in a worse state than before, especially in Antrim, where the MacQuillans of the Route and Sorley Boy MacDonnell were the chief fomenters of disorder. Having to some extent pacified this northern territory, Sidney repaired to the south, where he was equally successful in making his authority respected. He left his mark on the administrative areas of the island by perfecting certain shire divisions on the English model.

At an earlier period he had already in the north combined the districts of the Ardes and Clandeboye to form the county of Carrickfergus, and had converted the country of the O'Farrells into the County Longford. He then carried out a similar policy in Connaught, where the ancient Irish district of Thomond became County Clare, and the counties of Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon were also delimited.

Sidney also suppressed a rebellion headed by the earl of Clanricarde and his sons in 1576, and hunted Rory O'More to his death two years later. Meantime Sidney's annual levy (the cess), which was designed to fund a central government militia, had caused discontent among the gentry of the Pale, who carried their grievances to queen Elizabeth. Greatly to Sidney's chagrin the queen censured his extravagance, and notwithstanding his distinguished services to the Crown he was recalled in September 1578, and was coldly received by Elizabeth.

Later years

From his position on the Privy Council at London, Sidney used his influence in the bloody suppression of the Second Desmond Rebellion, which led to great loss of life in Munster in the period 1579-83 Fact|date=April 2008, and ultimately to the plantation of the province with settler and planter families.

He lived chiefly at Ludlow Castle for the remainder of his life, performing his duties as president of the Welsh Marches.


* Holinshed's "Chronicles", vol. iii. (6 vols., London, 1807).
* "Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin", edited by Sir JT Gilbert, vols. i. and ii. (Dublin, 1889).
* Sir J.T. Gilbert, "History of the Viceroys of Ireland" (Dublin, 1865).
* J.A. Froude, "History of England" 12 vols. (London, 1856-1870).
* Richard Bagwell, "Ireland under the Tudors", 3 vols. (London, 1885–1890).
* John O'Donovan (ed.) "Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters" (1851).
* "Calendar of State Papers: Carew MSS" 6 vols (London, 1867-1873).
* "Calendar of State Papers: Ireland" (London)
* Colm Lennon "Sixteenth Century Ireland — The Incomplete Conquest" (Dublin, 1995) ISBN 0-312-12462-7.
* Nicholas P. Canny "The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland: A Pattern Established, 1565–76" (London, 1976) ISBN 0-85527-034-9.
* N.P. Canny "Making Ireland British, 1580–1650" (Oxford University Press, 2001) ISBN 0-19-820091-9.
* Steven G. Ellis "Tudor Ireland" (London, 1985) ISBN 0-582-49341-2.
* Cyril Falls "Elizabeth's Irish Wars" (1950; reprint London, 1996) ISBN 0-09-477220-7.
* Gerard A.H. McCoy "Irish Battles" (Belfast, 1989) ISBN 0-86281-212-7.



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