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Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916.
Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century

The Misery of Ireland

Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599)

From A View of the Present State of Ireland

Eudoxus.But now, when all things are brought to this pass, and all filled with this rueful spectacle of so many wretched carcases starving, goodly countries wasted, so huge a desolation and confusion as even I that do but hear it from you, and do picture it in my mind, do greatly pity and commiserate it, if it shall happen that the state of this misery and lamentable image of things shall be told, and feelingly presented to her Sacred Majesty, being by nature full of mercy and clemency, who is most inclinable to such pitiful complaints, and will not endure to hear such tragedies made of her people and poor subjects as some about her may insinuate; then she perhaps, for very compassion of such calamities, will not only stop the stream of such violence, and return to her wonted mildness, but also con them little thanks which have been the authors and counsellors of such bloody platforms. So I remember in the late government of the good Lord Gray, when, after long travail and many perilous assayes, he had brought things almost to this pass that ye speak of, and that when it was even made ready for reformation, and might have been brought to what her Majesty would, like complaint was made against him, that he was a bloody man, and regarded not the life of her subjects no more than dogs, but had wasted and consumed all, so as now she had nothing almost left, but to reign in their ashes; her Majesty’s ear was soon lent thereunto, and all suddenly turned topsy turvy; the noble lord eft-sones was blamed; the wretched people pitied; and new counsels plotted, in which it was concluded that a general pardon should be sent over to all that would accept of it, upon which all former purposes were blanked, the governor at a bay, and not only all that great and long charge, which she had before been at, quite lost and cancelled, but also that hope of good which was even at the door put back, and clean frustrated. All which, whether it be true or no, yourself can well tell.

Irenæus.Too true, Eudoxus, the more the pity, for I may not forget so memorable a thing: neither can I be ignorant of that perilous devise, and of the whole means by which it was compassed, and very cunningly contrived by sowing first dissension between him and another noble personage, wherein they both found at length how notably they had been abused, and how thereby under-hand, this universal alteration of things was brought about, but then too late to stay the same; for in the mean time all that was formerly done with long labour and great toil, was (as you say) in a moment undone, and that good lord blotted with the name of a bloody man, whom, who that well knew, knew him to be most gentle, affable, loving, and temperate; but that the necessity of that present state of things enforced him to that violence, and almost changed his very natural disposition. But otherwise he was so far from delighting in blood, that oftentimes he suffered not just vengeance to fall where it was deserved; and even some of those which were afterwards his accusers had tasted too much of his mercy, and were from the gallows brought to be his accusers. But his course indeed was this, that he spared not the heads and principals of any mischievous practice or rebellion, but showed sharp judgment on them, chiefly for example’s sake, that all the meaner sort, which also then were generally infected with that evil, might by terror thereof be reclaimed, and saved, if it might be possible. For in that last conspiracy of some of the English pale, think you not that there were many more guilty than they that felt the punishment, or was there any almost clear from the same? yet he touched only a few of special note; and in the trial of them also even to prevent the blame of cruelty and partial dealing, as seeking their blood, which he, in his great wisdom (as it seemeth) did foresee would be objected against him; he, for the avoiding thereof did use a singular discretion and regard. For the jury that went upon their trial he made to be chosen out of their nearest kinsmen, and their judges he made of some of their own fathers, of others their uncles and dearest friends, who, when they could not but justly condemn them, yet uttered their judgment in abundance of tears, and yet he even herein was counted bloody and cruel.

Eudox.Indeed so have I heard it often here spoken, and I perceive (as I always verily thought) that it was most unjustly; for he was always known to be a most just, sincere, godly, and right noble man, far from such sternness, far from such unrighteousness. But in that sharp execution of the Spaniards at the Fort of Smerwick, I heard it specially noted, and, if it were true as some reported, surely it was a great touch to him in honour, for some say that he promised them life; others that at least he did put them in hope thereof.

Iren.Both the one and the other is most untrue; for this I can assure you, myself being as near them as any, that he was so far from either promising, or putting them in hope, that when first their secretary, called, as I remember, Jacques Geffray, an Italian, being sent to treat with the Lord Deputy for grace, was flatly denied; and afterwards their coronel, named Don Sebastian, came forth to intreat that they might part with their arms like soldiers, at least with their lives, according to the custom of war and law of nations, it was strongly denied him, and told him by the Lord Deputy himself, that they could not justly plead either custom of war, or law of nations, for that they were not any lawful enemies; and if they were, he willed them to show by what commission they came thither into another prince’s dominions to war, whether from the Pope or the King of Spain, or any other; the which when they said they had not, but were only adventurers that came to seek fortune abroad, and serve in wars amongst the Irish, who desired to entertain them, it was then told them that the Irish themselves, as the earl and John of Desmond with the rest, were no lawful enemies, but rebels and traitors; and therefore they that came to succour them no better than rogues and runnagates, specially coming with no licence nor commission from their own king: so as it should be dishonourable for him in the name of his Queen to condition or make any terms with such rascals, but left them to their choice, to yield and submit themselves or no. Whereupon the said coronel did absolutely yield himself and the fort, with all therein, and craved only mercy, which it being not thought good to show them, both for danger of themselves, if being saved, they should afterwards join with the Irish, and also for terror to the Irish, who were much emboldened by those foreign succours, and also put in hope of more ere long; there was no other way but to make that short end of them which was made. Therefore most untruly and maliciously do these evil tongues backbite and slander the sacred ashes of that most just and honourable personage, whose least virtue, of many most excellent which abounded in his heroical spirit, they were never able to aspire unto.