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The O’Donnells, the Four Masters and the Personnel of the Wars of the Roses

In the context of the current search for the remains of the Red Hugh O’Donnell who died in Spain in 1602, I thought that readers Murrey and Blue might be interested in a few vaguely Wars-of-the-Roses-related snippets from the O’Donnell history of the fifteenth century. In 1434 Red Hugh’s predecessor Niall Garbh O’Donnell was captured by Sir Thomas Stanley when the latter was Justiciar of Ireland for Henry VI, and he died five years later a prisoner in the Stanley castle on the Isle of Man. He was then succeeded by his son, the first Red Hugh O’Donnell (above, d. 1505).

The O’Donnell annals (the Annals of the Four Masters) make occasional reference to members of the House of York, although the O’Donnells themselves lived too far to the north and west to have been likely to have been personally involved. For instance, they record that in 1449:

The Duke of York arrived in Ireland, and was received with great honour; and the Earls of Ireland went into his house, as did also the Irish adjacent to Meath, and gave him as many beeves for the use of his kitchen as it pleased him to demand.

Moving forward to 1472, we are told that King Edward IV sent a strange exotic beastie to Ireland:
She resembled a mare, and was of a yellow colour, with the hoofs of a cow, a
long neck, a very large head, a large tail, which was ugly and scant of hair. She had a saddle of her own. Wheat and salt were her usual food. She used to draw the largest sled-burden by her tail. She used to kneel when passing under any doorway, however high, and also to let her rider mount.

Camel and the pyramids in Giza : Stock Photo
The beastie from Edward IV

In those far-off days, the O’Neills and the O’Donnells were bitter rivals for the overlordship of the North. Though Henry O’Neill could count on the support of the Lord Deputy Kildare whose sister was married to his eldest son and heir, Red Hugh O’Donnell I was at this time at the height of his powers and his interests happened to align with those of Richard III, who was anxious to push O’Neill from the other side in order to reclaim his de Burgho ancestors’ earldom of Ulster in the east of the province. In pursuance of this ambition, Richard instructed his ambassador, the Bishop of Annaghdown, to impress on Kildare that:

“. . . if O’Donnell, by the means that the King’s Grace hath committed and
showed unto the said bishop, will come in, and either to be his liege man or true peace man, that his said cousin of Kildare shall be content so to receive and enter him, as the bishop shall show him more at large by mouth . . . by whose means, strength and coming in the said earldom may soonest be had and reduced to the king’s hands and possession.

The most exciting O’Donnell link to the House of York that has been alleged, however – that Red Hugh I was a strong supporter of “Perkin Warbeck” – is built on rather shaky ground. O’Donnell was not a friend of King Henry, but what placed him at odds with the authorities at Dublin and Westminster were the expansionary wars he was fighting on his own borders; and it was probably to ask for Scottish aid for himself rather than to arrange ‘for Perkin’s regal reception in Scotland’, as has been suggested, that he visited King James in 1495. The Annals of the Four Masters, sadly, do not even allude to the Yorkist pretender.

Red Hugh I left a son Hugh, who left a son Manus, who left a son Hugh who was the father of the Red Hugh O’Donnell who is buried in Valladolid.

Sources:
R. Horrox and P. Hammond (ed.), British Library Harleian Manuscript 433, vol 3, p. 110
The Annals of the Four Masters, CELT edition, Part 4 (https://celt.ucc.ie//published/T100005D/index.html)

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