Joined up thinking for the Irish Left
New Books Worth Reading Mon Sep 19, 2016 23:25 | Seán Sheehan
13 Billion ? Lucky for some? Mon Sep 05, 2016 13:04 | Tony Phillips
Rebuilding Ireland: Long on Promise, Short on Detail Mon Aug 29, 2016 22:20 | Eoin O'Mahony
Brexit and Other Issues: Comments on the Current Situation Mon Aug 29, 2016 21:52 | Brendan Young
Bin Charges: From Private Circus to Public Service Tue Jun 21, 2016 12:38 | Michael Taft
Irish Left Review >>
For lefties too stubborn to quit
Visions of an agreed Ireland beyond the GFA/BA? what would it look like, where would it be going? 13:35 Wed Aug 16, 2017 | WorldbyStorm
Gender differentiation? 10:02 Wed Aug 16, 2017 | WorldbyStorm
Reality or desperation? the UK unveils a document on Brexit. 07:01 Wed Aug 16, 2017 | WorldbyStorm
What you want to say ? 16th August, 2017 03:51 Wed Aug 16, 2017 | WorldbyStorm
Behold the champion of the working class? 00:16 Wed Aug 16, 2017 | WorldbyStorm
Cedar Lounge >>
Life should be full of strangeness, like a rich painting
Notes for a Book on Money and the Irish State - The Marshall Aid Program 15:10 Sat Apr 02, 2016
The Financial Crisis:What Have We Learnt? 19:58 Sat Aug 29, 2015
Money in 35,000 Words or Less 21:34 Sat Aug 22, 2015
THE WRATH OF KANE: BANKING CRISES AND POLITICAL POWER 09:32 Fri Jan 30, 2015
ALWAYS THE ARTISTS: WEEK THREE OF THE BANK INQUIRY 23:11 Thu Jan 22, 2015
Dublin Opinion >>
Farewell from NWL Sun May 19, 2013 14:00 | namawinelake
Happy 70th Birthday, Michael Sun May 19, 2013 14:00 | namawinelake
Of the Week? Sat May 18, 2013 00:02 | namawinelake
Noonan denies IBRC legal fees loan approval to Paddy McKillen was in breach of E... Fri May 17, 2013 14:23 | namawinelake
Gayle Killilea Dunne asks to be added as notice party in Sean Dunne?s bankruptcy Fri May 17, 2013 12:30 | namawinelake
NAMA Wine Lake >>
Shakespeare was Irish! I kid you not....
history and heritage |
Tuesday October 31, 2006 01:42 by Brian
"Did you ever hear the like?.......Did you ever dream of such a thing?" (Pericles Act IV Scene IV 1).
I know many will probably not go along with the idea that Shakespeare was Irish :-) , but hopefully some of this 16th and 17th century Irish history might be of interest to indymedia readers.
To cut a long story short there are an increasing number of scholars all across the world who are beginning to question the theory that William Shakespeare came from Stratford upon Avon. More and more people feel that while that William certainly existed that he nonetheless did not write the works of Shakespeare, because so little of that actor's life seems to match the sort of political insider and aristocratic background that seems to come across from Shakespeare's plays. If you look at comparable examples of enduring popular works, in say contemporary fiction, you can see how difficult it is for somebody outside a particular profession or political circle to really convincingly about that chosen field without the sort of insider knowledge that authors like le Carre, John Grisham possess. Look at the life story of these writers for example:
John Grisham writes very popular works on the legal scene in the American South which is actually where he has practised as a lawyer until recently; John Mortimer, the author of Rumpole of the Bailey, is also a practising Barrister himself; 'Yes Minister' was written by two authors that used a network of political insiders, including Marcia Williams and Bernard Donoghue (1); Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books, was a member of MI6 and served with them in places like Hong Kong; John le Carre, who's real name is David Cornwell, also served with MI6 and was exposed as an agent by Kim Philby, who he then portrayed as Gerard in 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'(2); Frederick Forsyth was a well travelled correspondent with the BBC before he wrote his books, and one of them relates to a coup in Africa that he was actually involved in the planning for (3); Jeffrey Archer is famous for hob nobbing with the rich and famous almost all his life, starting with his time hosting the Beetles while he was a student at Oxford etc etc. The moral of the story is that if you want to write your blockbuster book then stick to some field that you have personal knowledge of! And yet Shakespeare's works, which teem with insights into aristocratic life and political intrigue, have endured for some 400 years without any link whatsoever being established between the William of Stratford and court or political life.
This has perplexed many people over the years like even Otto von Bismarck who felt that Shakespeare must have been "in touch with the great affairs of state [and] behind the scenes of political life."(4) There are also pretty direct allusions in his plays to people like Burghley (5), Edmund Campion SJ (6), and possibly the Duke of Guise (7), which show him to have had some inside knowledge of these people and their circle. Yet in the very extensive papers of people like Burghley there is again no link whatsoever to Shakespeare of Stratford.
Modern scholarship has also highlighted Shakespeare's accurate knowledge of the geography, and politics, of places like Italy and France,(8) while no evidence exists of the Stratford actor travelling any further than London.(9) Moreover modern scholars who have looked in great detail at the sources for Shakespeare have concluded that he must have been able to read Italian, again no evidence at all that the Stratford William could.(10) Finally Shakespeare's works have been shown to contain an intricate knowledge of the law, as Edmund Malone, the Irish barrister and Shakespearean scholar, remarked:
[Shakespeare's] "knowledge and application of legal terms, seems to me not merely such as might have been acquired by casual observation of his all-comprehending mind; it has the appearance of technical skill; and he is so fond of displaying it on all occasions, that there is, I think, some ground for supposing that he was early initiated in at least the forms of law."(11) Again needless to say 400 years of research has not yielded any evidence of legal learning, or any formal education, on the part of Shakespeare of Stratford. In fact the surviving documentation on Shakespeare seems to show if anything a money lender, or at least a man of business rather than a poet.(12)
Of course the standard reply to these criticisms of the Stratford story is that this is the 16th century after all and there is only so much surviving evidence on any poet at this time, so it is no surprise that we lack direct documentary of his education, possible foreign travel etc. But anybody who has read some of the surviving papers will tell you that there is still quite a lot out there, especially if a lot of time by a lot of people is expended in doing the research, and Shakespeare has had thousands of people researching intensively over nearly 400 years. (I concede of course that the intensive body of Shakespearean research dates from the late 18th century, but this still gives you say 220 years of continuous high level research). The fact that there is still so little to go on after all that effort seems suspicious. It is not true either that the same mysterious lack of supporting evidence is true of most of the poets of the time. Far from it, it seems only Shakespeare suffers from this lacuna, at least that was the finding by Diane Price who compared the surviving evidence for all the main Tudor/Stuart writers in a recent book. Her work is summarised here:
"The ten categories used by Price:
1) Evidence of education
2) Record of correspondence
3) Evidence of having been paid to write
4) Evidence of a direct relationship with a patron
5) Extant original manuscript
6) Handwritten inscriptions, receipts, letters, etc., touching on literary matters.
7) Commendatory verses, epistles, or epigrams contributed or received.
8) Miscellaneous records (e.g., referred to personally as a writer)
9) Evidence of books owned, written in, borrowed, or given
10) Notice at death as a writer.
...In category #2, Price found that, of the 25 writers, 14 had left record of correspondence, especially concerning literary matters - but not Shakspere of Stratford.
In category #6, Price found that 15 of the 25 left handwritten inscriptions, receipts, letters, etc., touching on literary matters - but not Shakspere of Stratford.
It must be remembered that these other 24 writers have not been subjected to 300 years of intensive search for relevant documents by an army of scholars equipped with a king's ransom in research funding, as Shakespeare has. If they had been, no doubt their paper trails would be more extensive.
To round out the cumulative impact that Stratfordians must find a way to ignore, here's the gist: of the 10 categories of personal literary paper trails left by the 25 most prominent writers of the day, here's how they fared:
Ben Jonson: 10 for 10
Thomas Nashe: 9 for 10
Phillip Massinger: 8 for 10
Gabriel Harvey: 8 for 10
Edmund Spenser: 7 for 10
Samuel Daniel: 7 for 10
George Peele: 7 for 10
Michael Drayton: 7 for 10
George Chapman: 7 for 10
William Drummond: 7 for 10
Anthony Mundy: 7 for 10
John Marston: 6 for 10
Thomas Middleton: 6 for 10
John Lyly: 6 for 10
Thomas Heywood: 6 for 10
Robert Greene: 6 for 10
Thomas Dekker: 5 for 10
Thomas Watson: 5 for 10
Christopher Marlowe: 4 for 10
Francis Beaumont: 4 for 10
John Fletcher: 4 for 10
Thomas Kyd: 4 for 10
John Webster: 3 for 10
Shakespeare of Stratford........0 for 10."(13)
Hence it is not surprising that so many people are beginning to think that maybe this 'William Shakespeare' is a pseudonym. Amazingly evidence for this idea has actually been floating around since the end of the 17th century, as you can see in this reference from 1687:
"...there is a play in Mr.Shakespeare's volume under the name of Titus Andronicus, from whence I drew part of this. I have been told by some anciently conversant with the stage that it was not originally his, but brought by a private author to be acted, and he only gave some master touches to one or two of the Principal parts or Characters;" (14)
Maybe going by that reference some scholars felt that this play was a collaboration by Shakespeare with George Peele but now it is felt that the whole play is as much Shakespeare's as an other. (15)This begs the question then that the above reference should really apply to the whole canon.
Here is another quote, this time from the controversial early references to Shakespeare .i.e. a quote from those critical references to a new playwright of the period 1585-1592 which some scholars say refer to Shakespeare. This is from Robert Greene of 1591:
"Others will flout and overread every line with a frump, and say 'tis scurvie, when they themselves are such scabbed Jades that they are like to die of the fashion, but if they come to write or publish any thing in print, it is either distilled out of ballads or borrowed of Theological poets, which for their calling and gravity, being loath to have any profane pamphlets pass under their hand, get some other Batillus to set his name to their verses: Thus is the asse made proud by this under hand brokery. And he that can not write true English without the help of Clerks of parish Churches, will needs make himself the father of interludes."(16)
As you can see then the idea that Shakespeare might be a pseudonym is by no means a new concept.
Irish influences on Shakespeare
Scholars who are examining this mystery, have tried to trace these early references to Shakespeare, like the above quote, by going back through the works of Robert Greene and Thomas Nash and tracing the pattern of complaints they had against some 'upstart' 'crow' from 1585. From these references, highlighted by Richard Simpson and many others, we possibly have our most complete picture of Shakespeare the playwright. Bear in mind the logic applied here. What is happening is that they are taking Greene's famous phrase about the 'upstart crow' (which is a pun on a line from Shakespeare and includes the word 'Shakescene') and showing that this is only the culmination of a long line of literary references which talk about some 'upstart' that has become a prominent figure on the London theatre scene.(17) From these clues we can say a few things about Shakespeare. Firstly he comes from some remote place (18) generally looked upon as a country backward area,(19) where they drink a lot and dance jigs and even have their own language or dialect (20). Here is a good example of these kind of references, (useful as a text book example of how to give an insult if nothing else!lol):
"Indeed, it may be the engrafted overflow of some kill-cow conceit that overcloyeth their imagination with a more than drunken resolution (being not extemporal in the invention of
any other means to vent their manhood) commits the digestion of their choleric encumbrances to the spacious volubility of a drumming decasyllabon."(21) Another example is:
"They which fear the biting of vipers do carry in their hands the plumes of a phoenix."(22)
What catches the eye of course is the 'kill-cow conceit' and 'fear ..of vipers' because of the allusion to St.Patrick with Ireland also well known at that time for its cattle raiding. So all these references seem to be consistent with that strange world ....
...which is the twilight zone where Shakespeare is Irish! I suppose you think no, surely people would have noticed phrases or words that would give away that the person was Irish ? Well ponder these:
Puck - a 'spirit' in Midsummer Nights Dream (Act II Scene 1) from Irish Púca meaning ghost (23);
kam (same as the Irish) for crooked Coriolanus Act 3 Scene1 c.317 ;
bob - to play a trick on someone , much the same in Irish, Troilus and Cressida Act III Scene II 69;
Queen Mab - (as a fairy queen in Romeo and Juliet Act I Scene IV 58-100) Queen Maeve, spelt in Old Irish script as 'Mab' with a dot over the 'b'.
Agrippa greets Coriolanus (Act II Scene I 185) with "A hundred thousand welcomes";
Hamlet swears "by St.Patrick" (Act I Scene V 132);
"Month's Mind" (Two Gentlemen of Verona Act I Scene II 137) a religious reference very common in Ireland but surely less so in England even then;
"Did you ever hear the like?.......Did you ever dream of such a thing?" (Pericles Act IV Scene IV 1).
Shakespeare it is said follows the Irish (and Scottish) use of 'shall' not the English method. One of these differences is described by Judge Barton:
"There is another misuse of the word 'shall' which is to be found both in Ireland and in Shakespeare, namely, its use in the first person in acceding to a request or a command.....e.g."We shall, my lord, perform what you command us."(24)
Barton again: "The Irish brogue is sometimes betrayed by the agency of a rhyme e.g. in the time of Shakespeare or even in much later times, we find 'again' and 'pen' rhyming with 'pin' ,'tea' with 'obey','drought' with 'youth', 'conceit' and 'receipt' with 'bait' and 'straight', 'devil' with 'evil'." Similarly a pun here by Falstaff can only be understood if 'reason' is pronounced like 'raisin': "If reasons here as plentiful as blackberries". The pronunciation can also be seen in the spelling of words like "Macbeth does murther".(25)
There is apparently one old Irish poem that Shakespeare seems to have some knowledge of. It is 'Womankind' by Gerald 'the bard' Fitzgerald the 4th Earl of Desmond and here are verses three and six from that poem:
"Married men with witless wife,
Fails in strife with foreign foe,
Bad for hart is belling hind,
Worse the tongue of Womankind
Wedded wife from altar rail,
Pious-pale before the priest,
After feast shows bitter rind -
Best beware of womankind."(26)
Maybe Touchstone in 'As You Like It' Act III Scene II 102 is alluding to it when he teases the vain Rosalind with these words:
"If a hart do lack a hind,
Let him seek out Rosalind
....Sweetest nut hath sourest rind,
Such a nut is Rosalind."
Its often said that Shakespeare knowledge of Celtic mythology in works like Macbeth is surprisingly accurate and here is one particular incident that has amazed at least one Irish scholar with its accuracy.(27) This is about a story from Macbeth that Shakespeare gets from this reference in Hollinshed:
"Macbeth would not be vanquished till the wood of Birnam came to the castell of Dunsinane." So that's all that Shakespeare has to work on and as you can see its not a very illuminating reference, like how is the wood supposed to move? Imagine you as the playwright trying to draw up a scene based on that line, how would you write it? Maybe you would have an avalanche moving the wood or some such because otherwise it doesn't make any sense! This is how Shakespeare interpreted it in Act V Scene IV 6:
"Let every soldier hew him down a bough
And bear't before him: thereby shall we shadow
The numbers of our host, and make discovery
Err in report of us."
Then Act V Scene V 33:
"Messenger: As I did stand my watch upon the hill,
I lookt toward Birnam, and anon, methought,
The wood began to move.
Macbeth: Liar and slave!
Messenger:Let me endure your wrath if't be not so:
Within these three mile may you see it coming;
I say, a moving grove."
And this is very accurate according to Irish mythology as this passage from Measca Ulad indicates:
[Crom Deroil one of the watchers arguing with Crom Daroil]
"O Crom Darail what seest thou through the fog,
On whom rests disrepute after the contest ?
'Tis not right to contend with me in every way;
Thou sayst, O stooping man, they are slow moving groves!
If they were groves, they would be still at rest,
They would not rise, unless alive to depart.
...As they are not trees, ugly their uproar - a fact undoubted -
Victorious men they, men with shields, their weapons great.
...'Visible to us now is the host,' said Crom Darail."(28)
Would anybody have made that kind of interpretation of Holinshed's phrase without knowing more detail of Irish mythology?
W.H. Gratton Flood in his 'History of Irish Music' (Dublin, 1905) devotes a whole chapter to Shakespeare's knowledge of Irish songs. He feels that Shakespeare alludes to 11 Irish songs in his plays:
1. Callino casturame - Mentioned as an Irish tune in 'A handful of Pleasant dities' (1594).
2. Ducdame - a corruption of An d-tiocfaidh from Eileen A Rún .
3. "Fortune my Foe" - (Merry Wives of Windsor Act II Scene III) 'reckoned always an Irish tune'.
4. "Peg a Ramsay" - (Twelfth Night Act II Scene III) This was known as a 'dump tune' and Flood stated that those tunes are so called because they were played on an Irish instrument called a tiompán. It was a kind of a small harp. It referred to the sound the instrument made and is not a reference to a doleful song as you can see from the phrase in Romeo and Juliet where they talk about a "merry dump".(29)
5. "Bonny Sweet Robin" - also an Irish song.
6. "Whoop do me no harm, good man"- (A Winter's Tale Act IV Scene III) better known in Ireland as "Paddy whack" and adapted by Tom Moore to "While History's Muse".
7. "Welladay; or Essex's last Good-Night" - Irish origin as well. It is about the death of the Earl of Essex in Ireland in 1576 and used again when his descendant was Lord Lieutenant in 1601 .
8. "The Fading " or "Witha a fading" - ("A Winter's Tale" Act IV) "is, even on the testimony of the late Mr William Chappell (an uncompromising advocate of English music) undoubtedly an Irish dance tune. Also called the 'Rince Fada'."
9. "Light o' Love" - (Two Gentlemen of Verona Act I Scene 2) allusion is made to the tune of 'light o'love' another Irish tune.
10. "Yellow Stockings" - undeniably Irish tune. Known in Gaelic as "Cuma, liom" and the reference is to the saffron 'truis' of the medieval Irish. Tom Moore set the tune to his lyric "Fairest put on awhile".
11. "Edgar: Wantest thou eyes at trial, madam ? Come o'er the bourn, Bessie, to me." - (King Lear Act III Scene VI) Irish melody again.(30)
Yes believe it or not it is now the mainstream interpretation of Shakespeare to admit that there are a few words of Gaelic used in his works.(31) It is now accepted that the phrase in Henry V Act IV Scene IV 4 "Calin o custure me" is from an Old Irish harp melody called "Cailín ó cois Stúir mé", which means girl from the banks of the Suir (in Tipperary). In English it was written like this:
"When as I view your comely grace
Your golden hairs, your angel's face,
When it was published in 1673 it was called 'an Irish tune'.(32) As pointed out Ducdame is also felt to have a similar origin and the interesting thing is that its Irish meaning could be alluded to in the text ('As You Like It' near the end of Act II Scene V). The meaning in Irish of ducdame in Eileen a Rún is said to be '(an) dtiocfaidh (tú)' meaning roughly 'will you come'. Then in the text Shakespeare seems to be saying that it means to come into a circle.(33) A couple more references are of interest here as well. Shakespeare translates the Irish word for whiskey 'uisce beatha' correctly as 'aqua-vitae' in Latin (34) whereas most other writers of the period use some corruption of the Irish word, like 'usquebagh' used by Ben Jonson (35), possibly because they, unlike Shakespeare, didn't know the true meaning of the original Irish words. Finally Gratton Flood tells us that when Shakespeare mentions "a roundel and a fairy song" he is mentioning types of Irish music with 'fairy song' being a direct, and unusual for the time, translation of Ceol-Sidhe.(36)
BTW on this subject of the Irish language it might be helpful to point out that there is explicit use of Irish in one of the 'apocryphal plays of Shakespeare called the "Famous History of Captain Stukely"(1605) . By 'apocryphal it is meant that some people claim Shakespeare wrote it but it is not accepted by mainstream scholarship. In the case of this work Richard Simpson examined the story of Stukely and the play in great depth and he feels that Shakespeare wrote the first three acts which is interesting because it is in act two that the Irish references are which include characters responding to the meaning of the word 'eist' in gaelic etc. The interesting thing is that who could have written this play if not Shakespeare in the sense that what other playwright operating in London at the time has ever displayed the knowledge of Ireland necessary to write it? None comes to mind which should make people suspect that there was some unknown Irish playwright on the London scene at that time.(37)
The list of Talbot's titles in Henry VI part 1 Act IV Scene VII "great Earl of Washford, Waterford and Valence" is taken from an epitaph to this deceased Irish nobleman from Rouen in France and its a mystery how Shakespeare tripped across it while on the other hand it wouldn't be particularly surprising for an Irish person travelling through France to have viewed it.(38)
But the fact is that on the surface at least Ireland is almost anonymous in Shakespeare. There are maybe about three pages of explicit references to Ireland in a thousand pages of his works and this is very unlike the way he treats almost all other countries in this part of Europe. For Wales you have numerous characters and allusions like Owen Glendower, for Scotland Macbeth, for Denmark Hamlet, as well as numerous plays set in Italy and France but for Ireland almost nothing. We get just one brief character called Captain Macmorris (probably Captain James Fitzmaurice, the famous Irish rebel which might show Shakespeare's sympathies) who says:
"Of my nation? What ish my nation? Ish a villaine, and a bastard, and a knave, and a rascal. What ish my nation? Who talks of my nation?" (Henry V Act II Scene II )(39)
While overtly Ireland is absent it seems that more and more mainstream scholars accept that this country is present in a kind of coded and covert way. Here is a few quotes from modern scholars on this like Michael Neill:
"Similarly in Henry V, a play full of conscious allusions to the Irish wars..... the many details that reveal Shakespeare's "preoccupation with Irish affairs".(40) And from Willy Maley: "Ireland looms large in Shakespeare's work and in the political culture which produced it, but not in obvious ways."(41) Neill refers as well to "this shadowy presence" of Ireland in this literature echoing Andrew Hadfield who's research showed that "the ghostly presence of Ireland haunts many of Shakespeare's works" including even King Lear, Macbeth and Othello (42). Clearly the question then has to be asked why does Shakespeare allude only obliquely to Ireland, of which he was quietly very knowledgeable, when he is happy bringing forth all these obvious references to the other countries of western europe? Why the secrecy? Of course it is obvious that if Shakespeare himself was Irish then he would have a motive to disguise his knowledge of Ireland both because it might give away his identity and because he might wish to be sympathetic to his own country in a way that would scandalise an English Elizabethan audience.
Adding to that there have apparently always being strong traditions in Ireland that Shakespeare was an Irish poet. Specifically it is claimed that he got his account of Hamlet from old Irish folklore, as you can see from this reference in a journal in the 1940s:
"In the province of Munster in Éire one may learn more about Hamlet than from a course in any college. The shanachies or story-tellers there tell their own story of Hamlet, and of how Shakespeare got the material from his play from the Irish tradition."(43)
The curious thing here is that in the mid19th century there were already references to these old traditions:
"There is a tradition common in the north of Ireland that Hamlet's father was a native of that country, named Howndale, and that he followed the trade of a tailor."(44)One modern scholar also agrees that "Hamlet's name is Irish not Danish", and goes on to say that in Hamlet "the extent and nature of the allusions to Ireland seem to me to be particularly systematic, and to point directly to a crucial area of interest in the text."(45)
Another persistent tradition is that Shakespeare composed Hamlet while visiting his friend Dowling at Dalkey near Dublin, and that the account of the shore of Elsinore is actually based on the shoreline in Dalkey.(46)They seem to be quite proud of these traditions there and even celebrated it in poetry:
"Along to coast
That makes out "Elsinore",
To the left as you look
Out to sea,
Cross the harbour of old Colimore."(47)
These stories seem to date back some distance judging by the fact that an old 1840s house in Dalkey is called Elsinore.(48) There are also numerous other scattered references to Shakespeare as Irish that I have added to the footnotes.(49)
So all we need now is a champion! Some likely candidate to carry the flag as the brilliant Irishman behind the Shakespeare myth! What most people don't seem to know is that in fact a scholarly book was written in 1978 already putting forward an Irish candidate for Shakespeare. The book is called "The Green Cockatrice" and was written by Elizabeth Hickey who for many decades was probably the most highly respected Meath historian.(50) And the candidate is one William Nugent, a Catholic rebel who lived most of the time at Ross castle (near Lough Sheelin Co.Meath) and Kilkarne near Navan. First of all I will hope to show this persons family background, and in doing so I think I can prove that his circle of family and acquaintances teem with poets and musicians in contrast to the Stratford William, who's parents and children and said to have been illiterate. Of course this doesn't prove anything on its own, but it still seems more likely that the literary genius that is Shakespeare came from and blossomed in this learned background rather than the business orientated atmosphere of Shakespeare's Stratford.
"My heritage is mystic speech"
William Nugent was from an ancient family settled at Delvin Co.Westmeath since the 1170s and ennobled as the Barons of Delvin. His family is frequently mentioned in works like the Annals of the Four Masters. For example Richard Nugent the Baron who died in 1475 was described there as "an eminent leader of charity and humanity" with a "knowledge of every science".(51) Of course it was quite traditional for those old Irish lords, Gaelic and Norman, to patronise the hereditary gaelic poets and the Nugents were no exception. They employed the O'Coffeys who ran a poetry school at Uisneach Co.Westmeath and it is they who are the authors of the numerous praise poems on the Nugents, the traditional poem recited on the death of a chief. (52) Here is a few quotes from the praise poem on Richard Nugent, William's father:
"The groups of wits and poets, who will be found to provide for them now since the protecting tree of the Gall is dead? - the leader of warriors and horses.
...where will the scholars of Ireland, South and North henceforth get support since the chief patron of the poets is in his grave? Cause for keening in the land of Conn - for poets and musicians - is the death of the man who did not hoard wealth: it would be strange if all poets did not mourn him....I will mourn the patron of the poets..Tara and Tailtin of the crafts, Uisneach of Meath of the smooth swords, though sad that they should be as they are, it is not they that have wounded my heart.
Cruachan, Kincora of the harbours, Aileach of the cups and horns - I consider more grievous than them is the plight of the poets without the warrior of shields and swords."(53)
..with many more references to his patronage of the poets. Of course in a poem like that a bit of hyperbole goes with the territory but evenso you cannot help but think that the poet really does feel that Richard was a great patron of poetry. As you can see poetry as an art was quite prominent and cherished at this time in Ireland, moreso I would guess than it was in England.
Moving on then to William's brother Christopher we find a similar character in that he was first and foremost a soldier but also dabbled in the poetic arts. Christopher is the author of a famous manuscript book called a 'Primer' which was a sort of traveller's phrase book in Irish, Latin and English which he presented to Queen Elizabeth c.1583.(54) From his preface to the work:
"And albeit that few or none of English nation born and bred in England, ever had that gift [of speaking Irish]; yet the same chanced not through difficulty of speech, but only for want of taking the right manner of instruction; for commonly men do learn by demanding the signification of the words; not by the letter, as your Majesty hath here set down unto you, which is the speedier and better way." Here is a few of the phrases in Irish - Latin - English:
"Cones ta tu - Quomodo habes - How doe you
Taim go maih - Bene sum - I am well
Go ro maih agad - Habeo gratias - I thanke you."(55)
At the same time he wrote a plan to reform the Irish government which obviously reflects some of what he had observed of that government over the previous years:
"3. The lack of justice in the judges who either for fear or flattery do wrest the laws to the injury of the innocent, as they see the Governor affected...
5. The breach of the prince's word in giving protection and defrauding the same again, many times with the murder of the party protected, an occasion of great scandal to the state and mistrust in the Irish.
6. The privy plot between the Captains, which consisteth at times of discharge in moving of war by thrusting out such of the Irish as otherwise would be content to live quiet; for no longer war no longer pay."(56)
Christopher also wrote Latin poetry (57) and even composed music, this is from Lynch writing of him in 1664:
"who as he became melancholy through his long abode in prison, so he sought to soften it a little and cultivated music till he gained a great proficiency in it. We have often heard his celebrated song on liberty lost sung to the harp, the violin and the harpsicord."(58)
Fr.Charles O'Conor writing in the early 1800s mentioned that he heard this song played by the great harpers that frequented Clonalis when he was growing up.(59) Incidentally he seems to have been fond of falconry as well judging by the references in his will to his eerie of hawks.(60) In general Christopher is clearly well educated and there are many mentions of his interest in law, books, history, architecture and theology as well as his ongoing struggles in the military and political sphere.(61) Even Lord Deputy Fitzwilliam begrudgedly had to admit of "the wit wherewith God had endued the Baron of Delvin and the love wherewith the country does affect him."(62)
Next up is William's son Richard who was also a poet. He was the author of a long poem called 'Cynthia' that was published posthumously in London in 1604. It is supposed to be the story of a long unrequited romance but it may be an illusion to Richard's troubles with the state in the person of Queen Elizabeth who is often called Cynthia by poets of the age. Richard had gone over to Hugh O'Neill during the period 1597-1600, later fleeing to Holland on the way to Spain, and next we hear of his death c.1603 .(63) In the poem he says how he had to flee into exile:
"Coming to take my last leave of my love,
(Oh that I then leave of my life had taken [sic])
I told her, how I now my chance would prove:
Abroad, since home-borne hopes had me forsaken."
I think this poem could be a reference to his rebellion, which went against the wishes of his parents:
"Step forth into the world mine Orphan verse,
Abortive brood, of my deceased hopes,
And dolefully, pursue your parents hearse,
Attir'd in your black stoles, and tawnie copes,
Such mourning weeds, beseems our mournful woes,
And sith [since] revenge, is all your remedy,
With out-cries loud, to coasts unknown disclose,
The dire contriver of my tragedy:
Then prophecy, with holy fury fir'd(?),
And tell fair Cynthia, how the heav'ns on high,
The sun, the stars, the earth have all conspir'd,
To wreak my wrongs, and end her tyranny:
And that the sprights below, and pow'rs above her,
Threaten revenge, for murther of her lover."(64)
He seems to have been as well a good friend of the Irish poet Bonaventura O'Hussey who composed an elegy in his honour addressed to his mother Jenet Marward, here is a few lines from the translation:
"Noble was the young scion that has parted from thee, no marvel is thy reason for sorrow. His career was happy, he was wise in conflict, he was a fighter, a leader, a scholar."(65)
The poem also alludes to his interest in astronomy which matches with a reference in the state papers where he is reported to have owned a telescope.(66)
Then there is William's nephew Gerald (a brother of the Earl of Westmeath) who wrote 'Fada in éagmais Inse Fáil' while he was homesick in exile in England. First off he was broke! and secondly maybe he did miss those things he mentions in the poem, this is he writing to Cecil in 1607:
"being here in England utterly disfurnished of means for my maintenance...I humbly crave your Lordships favourable leave to repair unto my country, being utterly disablest to live here any longer."(67) Here are a few verses from his poem:
"Fada i n-éagmais inse Fáil
i Saxaibh (dia do dhiombáidh):
sia an bhliadhain ó Bhanbha a-bhus
('s labhra dhiamhuir ar ndúthchus)
binne ós gach cúil a ceól;
gile a húir a's a haieór.....
Garg a laoich i ló fheadhma;
álainn a mná míndealbha;...
A haifrinn, a huird chrábhaidh,
a haos ciúil (mo chompánuigh)
filidh cláir Ghall a's Ghaoidheal,
ann is cláir do chommaoidheamh.
"In England, away from Inis Fáil, time passes slowly (sufficient reason for sorrow). Here, far from Banbha, the year is longer (my heritage is mystic speech).
....[Ireland's] music is sweeter than that of any land, and her soil and air are brighter...Fierce are her warriors in the day of need: lovely her women with the gentle visage;...
Her masses, her religious orders, her musicians who were my companions, and the poets of that land where Goill and Gaoidhil dwell."(68)
Fr. Robert Nugent SJ (1577-1652) was another famous relative of William's. He was his first cousin (a son of Oliver Nugent of Ballina) and was the head of the Jesuits in Ireland from 1626-46 and 1650-52. He has been described by Charles O'Connor of Stowe thus: "The celebrated Fr. Robert Nugent of Kilkea [his aunt Lady Kildare's house], who was much beloved of the Irish, on account of his amiable manners, his profound mathematical learning, his exquisite compositions on the harp, and his zeal in defence of his religion....was equally celebrated for his poetical talents....[quoting John Lynch:] his modesty, his learning and his virtue are above all praise."(69) The improvements that he made to the Irish harp are elaborately described in Lynch's 'Cambrensis Eversus'(70). Unfortunately its not clear from the references to him in Lynch as to which language he was a poet in. It was either Irish, English or Latin but probably Irish because he was a correspondent of the famous poet Bonaventura O'Hussey.(71) He was well known for his learning as you can see and for this reason the Confederation of Kilkenny put him in charge of their printing press in the 1640s.(72)
A brother of this Robert, Nicholas Nugent, was also a Jesuit and it seems also obsessed with music !:
"In 1616 Fr. Nicholas Nugent, an Irish Jesuit, was taken prisoner at the house of his relative, Lord Inchiquin, and was imprisoned in Dublin Castle for 4 years. During his imprisonment he solaced himself by composing Irish hymns set to old tunes, which, as his biographers tell us, 'became very popular, and were sung throughout Ireland.' "(73)
Still with the same Ballina family a nephew of these Jesuits (a son of their brother William (74)) , and a first cousin once removed of our William, was another poet Séamus Dubh Nuinseann. Here is a few lines from his poem Lucht an Mhacnasa (1659) edited and translated by Patrick Fagan :
"Ní le ceart a sinnseireacht
ach le neart a láimhe-
baoghlach iad don Impeireacht
's do bhiocáire Mhic Mháire.
Tar gach ní dá n-abramuid
a ndubhras ní ádhbhar cáile;
is dearbh liom gur shladadar
Críost fá luach a pháise."
"Not by the right of ancestors but by the strength of their arms,
they are a danger to the Empire and to the Vicar of Mary's Son.
Let everything we mentioned happen, their black tribe is nothing to be proud of (?);
it is clear to me that they have robbed Christ of the price of His Passion."(75)
Séamus was apparently a frequent correspondent with Fr.Thomas Dease the Bishop of Meath (1568-1651), they used to write poems across to one another, and he is another learned figure who is very much part of this milieu of William's family.(76) The bishop was a second cousin of William's (77) and lived most of the time in the Earl of Westmeath's (William's nephew of course) house at Delvin. As well as that he was a frequent correspondent of the Jesuit Robert Nugent (78) and is described as "perhaps good friends" with the Capuchin Lavallin Nugent.(79) Again a learned figure, he had been President of the Irish College in Rome(80) as well as being the reputed author of "Letters printed from Paris to the persecuted Catholiques in Ireland concerning the presenting of Recusants and other points."(81) No doubt following the tradition that he must have found in the Earl's house he is also famous as an Irish poet.(82) Finally we find that he is described as a musician and: "bequeathed in his will of 1648 a tiompan as an heirloom, he was a timpanist."(83) I think this reference could be to Dease's poem 'Tiomna Thomáis Déis' where he writes a poem on making a will, here is a few lines from it:
"Tinte móra ar an urlár,
tormán tiompán is cláirseach,
ó d'imthigh sin is an fhéile
d'fhágbhas Éire 'na fásach"
"Great fires on the floor, sound of harp and kettle-drum - since these and hospitality went, Ireland was left a wilderness."(84)
Mind you some people had a go at him for his risque rhymes which contrasted so much with his strict and senior church position, like the author of the 'Aphorismical Discovery':
[Dease] "ever spent his time in jollitie, composing Irish rhymes, more like libels than any exemplary or virtuous myters (as the subject now offered), displaying therein the secret faults or private miscarriage of either sex, whether right or wrong..."(85)
As pointed out Dease was a friend of the famous Capuchin Lavallin Nugent from Dysert Co.Westmeath who cuts quite a dash in Counter Reformation Europe, never mind Ireland, while never losing sight of his family connections, describing himself for example as a good friend of the Earl of Westmeath.(86) Lavallin had been well educated in Irish and English in Ireland (87) before he went to college in Paris after which we find him so learned in Hebrew and Greek (88) that he became lecturer in Philosophy at Louvain before he was 21.(89) After that he joined the Capuchins, founded the Capuchin mission to Ireland and was a leading figure in their missions to Germany and Belgium. It was said that he was an expert preacher in Latin, Flemish, Italian and French as well as obviously his native Irish and English.(90) He is an important political figure as well and in 1623 was involved in the negotiations leading to the marriage of James I's son to a French princess (as opposed to the Spanish match, Lavallin had taught Pere Joseph and so favoured the French government's position) .(91) William must have known him quite well and F.X. Martin thinks that it was William who got Lavallin his place in college in Paris in the early 1580s.(92)
Then there is Richard Nugent of Donore who was clearly a good friend of William's. We can see that because he employs him as a trustee of his estate (93) and was the probable source for the inside information that William received from prisoners in Dublin Castle during the court case in the 1590s. (Richard was a prisoner in Dublin Castle at the same time)(94). Its no surprise then to find Richard writing a poem to William's son as recorded in Cynthia. He starts off with a little pun that he holds the same name as the person he is writing to and I wonder too if the romantic troubles referred to are really an allusion to political ones ?:
"Mine own dear Dicke, whom I love as my life,
And ever shall, whiles I in life remain,
I thee advise, to leave this lingring strife,
Between thy love, and thy loves hope so vain,
And for those years, wasted so long in vain,
To shed some tears, with full remorse of minde,
And to be rid of thy tormenting pain,
To shun the path, misguided by the blind:
As for to flee the place of thy decay,
I no mislike, (if that may work thine ease.)
Yet better were, this weed to root away,
Which so infects, and fills thee with disease:
For lust it is not love, that doth torment,
Where love is just, there still is found content."
There are a lot of other friends and relations that you could mention in this context, like the Stanihurst family of the Skyrne area who were friends of the family e.g. William's son travels to the continent with Walter Stanihurst, a brother of the poet Richard who wrote the Irish entries in Holinshed's Chronicles (a frequent source for Shakespeare)(95); and the Baron's of Howth. The Baron in 1590, who was William's first cousin and heavily involved with the Nugents in the famous court cases, was the owner of an important work on Pale history which had been compiled by his father known as the 'Book of Howth'. It draws on sources like Hall's Chronicle which is another favoured source of Shakespeare's.(96)
To sum up then William's father was noted for his 'wit' (97) and patronage of poets, his son was a poet, his brother was a songwriter for the harp as well as a Latin poet and the author of two well known and much admired works on language and politics, his nephew was a poet, his first cousin was celebrated for his great learning in mathematics, theology, poetry and music etc etc. And yet out of all this pretty learned and poetic milieu William was always considered the greatest poet and intellect a fact reflected for example in the fame awarded to his poem 'Diombaidh triall' which is sometimes even included in the Leaving Cert syllabus. 'Wit' was the Elizabethan word for intelligence and this is what Richard Stanihurst says of William in 'Hollinshed's Chronicles' (chapter 7):
"a proper gentleman and of singular good wit, he wrote in the English tongue divers sonnets"(98). John Lynch, who is probably Ireland's most respected historian of the 17th century, says of him in 1664:
"He learnt the more difficult niceties of the Italian language and carried his proficiency to that point that he could write Italian poetry with elegance. Before that however he had been very successful in writing poetry in Latin, English and Irish and would yield to none in the precision and excellence of his verses in each of these languages. His poems which speak for themselves are still extant."
Bonaventura O'Hussey the famous Irish poet says of him in c.1602:
"..once the sun of my intellect...
Gaiety without insult to any...well of wisdom unfathomed...
Not a day would pass that I learnt not some rare branch of knowledge by his side."(99)
As well as these influences from Ireland William must have imbued the atmosphere in England at the household of his guardian Thomas Radcliffe the third Earl of Sussex. This famous noblemen was fluent in Latin and Italian, a poet, and a "great patron of literature and drama". For our purposes it is particularly interesting to note that he founded a playing company to stage dramas for the court, known as the 'Lord Chamberlain's Men'.(100) He was the uncle of Sir Philip Sidney who is said to have started the sonnet craze in England, also the uncle of Henry Wriothesley 3rd Earl of Southampton (Shakespeare's patron) and finally an uncle of Robert Radcliffe 5th Earl of Sussex who is another well known patron of poets and dramatists like Robert Greene. (This Robert Radcliffe was entered as a Knight of the Garter in 1599 which maybe mentioned in Shakespeare's 'Merry Wives of Windsor'.)(101) Sussex seems to have been a good friend of William's father going by the letters he sent to Burghley imploring him to grant him the guardianship of William and Christopher on the grounds that his father had made this his dying request.(102) Furthermore Christopher is said to have been a "great friend"(103) of Sussex and in 1581 their uncle goes to England to see his friend Sussex.(104) It seems too that this connection between the two extended families survived the death of Sussex in 1583 because in 1602 Christopher was reported to be "very inward with Southampton".(105) It clearly isn't much of a stretch then to imagine William trying his hand at writing drama under the influence of his famous guardian.
"I hope to obtain his head."
As well as these literary influences and experiences William had a very colourful political career which I think must have given him the type of insights into statecraft that adorn Shakespeare's works. I will try and illustrate this by giving a short chronology of his life, based mostly on Elizabeth Hickey's book:
1550 Born as the second son of the Baron of Delvin one of the old Norman lords of Westmeath.
1559 His father dies and his 14 year old brother Christopher becomes the next Baron of Delvin. Around these years William was fostered with the Maguires,(106) then after his father's death he was given in ward to the Earl of Sussex.
1563 His brother admitted to Clare Hall in Cambridge.
1565 Seems to have hosted a Gaelic scribe who writes on a brehon law tract that he was in the house of 'young William' in the Delvin area.
1566 Possibly called up with the army that defended the Pale from Shane O'Neill.
1571 Matriculated to Hart Hall Oxford, Edmund Campion was a tutor at St. John's college in Oxford at the time and Robert Persons was a fellow of Balliol at that time.(107)
1573 On the 12th December we get this colourful description of the courtship of his wife:
"One Marward, late Baronet of Skyrne in the county of Meath, which held of the Queen 800 marks a year died leaving behind him only a daughter which was his heir and in the Queen's ward. She was first granted to my Lord Deputy being then treasurer, and by him sold to [Nicholas, William's uncle] Nugent second Baron of the Exchequer, which married her mother daughter of Justice Plunkett.
And Nugent himself agreed, for some considerations of gain to himself, [to] marry her to the Baron of Delvin's brother which is his nephew; and afterwards by procurement of the mother, the maid being but eleven years old, was made to dislike of Nugent, and to like of the young Lord of Dunsany (being of the Plunketts) whereupon there fell great discord between both houses of Delvin and Dunsany.
And the maid, being by her mother and father-in-law (stepfather) brought into this city as the safest place to keep her, on Friday last at night (being the fourth of this month) the Baron of Delvin's brother being accompanied with a number of armed men, entered one of the postern gates of this city about twelve of the clock in the night (the watch being either negligent or corrupted) and with twenty naked swords entered by sleight into the house where the maid lay and forcibly carried her away, to the great terror of the mother and all the rest."(108)
1574 The Baron of Delvin and his cousin the Viscount Gormanston refused to sign the proclamation against the Earl of Desmond much to the displeasure of the Dublin and London governments.
1575 As part of this new frostiness the Earl of Kildare is arrested and "an easy restraint of liberty (yet a sure [one])[is placed] upon the Barons of Delvin and Louth and William Nugent."(109)
1577 William gets livery of his estate and was probably also at the convention of the poets at Turlough Luineach O'Neill's court in Tyrone. There is a great dispute in the Pale over new taxes (the cess) and the Baron and his uncle Nicholas particularly try to organise meetings against it and even propose indicting the Lord Deputy in the courts for levying an illegal tax.
13 June - The ringleaders are thrown into jail in Dublin Castle,(110) these included the Baron, Sir Thomas Nugent [of Moyrath] and four of William's uncles Nicholas, Thomas, Lavallin and James. (111) For an account of the characters of some of these relatives we have this from c.Jan 1582:
"Nicholas Nugent [the judge] ...well liked in the English Pale among his neighbours for he did always join with them in all their actions.
James Nugent is uncle to William Nugent, he is a gentleman of great authority upon the borders where he dwelleth and can do great service there, if he be so disposed, and the only man that can keep those parts in quietness, where William Nugent's greatest haunts are.
Lavallin Nugent is but a simple witted man and is of good living in lands; a good housekeeper and well beloved among his neighbours."(112)
1580 23rd December the Lord Deputy Grey, fresh from his bloody exploits at Smerwick, arrests the Baron of Delvin and the Earl of Kildare accusing them of involvement in the Baltinglass revolt. William is soon looked for by the government but he goes into hiding at first apparently just to avoid arrest and later this develops into a rebellion.(113)
1581 30 March Accused of going into rebellion at Robinstown in Co.Westmeath, leading many others like Brian McGeoghegan, his friend Richard Nugent of Donore, and his illegitimate brother Edmund.
April - Trying to get help from Turlough Luineach O'Neill in Ulster.
July 23 - Receives 400 Scots from Turlough to invade Westmeath with.(114)
August - Lord Deputy Grey and Sir Nicholas Bagenal invade Ulster to intimidate Turlough Luineach but he refuses to hand over William.
At this time John Cusack is travelling around the Pale (especially Meath) enlisting people to agree to go into rebellion.
September 1 - William sends his servant to Dublin to discuss peace terms. The government hangs the servant.
November - The government starts hanging some of those accused of involvement in the rebellion.
1582 January William flees to Scotland to try to get support for a rebellion. He goes from there to Paris, then to Rome via the lands of the Duke of Savoy, and finally he visited Duke Francesco in Florence before he eventually got to Rome.
Easter week - The trial of William's uncle, justice Nicholas Nugent, at Trim. He is found guilty of involvement in the rebellion.
April 6 - Nicholas is hung, drawn and quartered at Mullingar.
1583 In Rome he took service with the Pope and specifically the Cardinal de Como. Then in the summer of 1583 with his companion Brian McGeoghegan:
"...The Cardinal sends for them and puts them in comfort that they shall have succour shortly. They talk with the Pope once a month or six weeks by means of the said Cardinal who telleth them that every turn of his head he remembereth them. Nugent resorts much to Signor Jacoma and sets down to him what friends he has in Ireland, O'Neill, Maguire, O'Rourke and O'Reilly, and how they are furnished to help him, and what commodities of that country are in value in every way, and offers with 10,000 men to keep Ireland against the force of the Prince (Elizabeth)."(115)
Sometime in late 1583 or early 1584 he goes to Spain and possibly visits Ireland on a Spanish ship.
1584 23 January. His servant Nowland Tadee is held by the Irish government.
March 1 - The Bishop of Leon signs a safe conduct allowing him to go to Rome but it seems he uses it to go to Paris.
May 12 - Writes to Rome from Paris. His journey to Paris probably brought him through the lands of Navarre (half way between Madrid and Paris) between those two dates.
end of May - Having met the Duke of Guise they set out for Scotland.
June 12 - In Scotland where the English ambassador receives these instructions from Walsingham:
"Her Majesty desires that you should carefully seek to discover the Irishmen's doings, as also upon promise of pardon to Nugent, who is attainted of treason, to see if you may recover him. But now this must proceed as a thing growing from yourself. His companion is one of mean judgement. The end of their repair into that realm is to head some new trouble in Ireland." (116)
The ambassador Davison replies inter alia:
"It is confessed to him at court and not denied by the King, that Nugent made some overture to him for the troubling of the estate of Ireland, offering him a party there. But he denies having consented to anything to her Majesty's prejudice."(117)
As part of these european wide conspiracies William was trying to organise a Scottish army to invade Ireland from the north, in cooperation with Turlough Luineach O'Neill.
September 14 - The Lord Deputy John Perrot gets wind of this, invades Ulster and on this date writes of receiving hostages from Turlough. But William lands in Ireland anyway with some Scottish soldiers at Strabane and sets off to O'Rourkes country.
September 17 - Perrot reporting back to London:
"William Nugent lurketh under Maguire and O'Rourke. He assures the Irish that the Spanish and Scottish Kings will confirm anything he shall conclude with them. He has shaven his head and otherwise disguised himself as a friar but he has laboured in vain. The whole realm is quiet. I hope to obtain his head. You may expect unprecedented success."
The Scottish invasion peters out with some skirmishing in Glenconkeine and Antrim with Walsingham continually pressing Perrot "that he wisheth William Nugent might be gotten".(118)
December 4 - Perrot couldn't catch William: "I have laid all the baits I could to catch William Nugent, but seeing myself dallied withal therein" he decided to offer him a protection if he would come in and reveal some of the european plotting. William submitted and apologised for his activities which had "proceeded not of malice but of an inconsiderate fear" of being arrested.(119)
1585 The Baron meanwhile had been all along in jail (or on bail) in England but he had charmed the Queen and Burghley with his works on language and politics and had been allowed back to Ireland to attend the parliament in this year.
1590 Up to this time there are few references to William but some in the administration were nervous about what he was up to:
"What her Majesty's pleasure and your Lordship's to have done with William Nugent, who is quiet for anything I know at his house, and up and down the country, I humbly rest to know, but a most dangerous man if time and power would serve, he now by this manifestly appears to be."(120)
It is clear now that William was receiving a lot of complaints that the Pale was secretly under the grip of a kind of corrupt clique which was headed by the Dillons, backed by the Lord Deputy and presumably supported by powerful figures in London. It meant that all jobs, and no doubt government contracts, only went to this clique, that the court system operated under their secret influence etc. It was kept secret because the state took great care to stop any of these stories about what the people of the Pale were going through from getting out. For example Edward Cusack, who had been tried along with Nicholas Nugent in 1582, tried to compile a book on his experiences of the justice system, but to no avail:
"He wrote a book in which were contained divers misdemeanours of Sir Robert Dillon, especially of Sir Robert Dillon's hard usage of this deponent in his arraignment and likewise upon the arraignment of Justice Nugent attainted, and other matters of corruptions, that this book was taken out of his trunk by the sheriff of Meath, Christopher Plunkett, and he understands this book was in the possession of Sir Robert Dillon."(121)
In fact the whole populace seemed to be living in quiet fear of this corrupt group as John Nugent of Skurlockstown explains:
"It is not unknown to such as know the English Pale in Ireland what stroake [sic] the Dillons have borne there these latter years clinging to credit with the Magistrates by following their humours though never so directly. To the spoiling of this poor country in so much as you shall not find man advanced or rejected to or from any office or charge in the country but by them preferred. Which hath won unto them such fear in the Commonality, and such duty with the jurors as you shall hardly see any matter in controversy pass against him they love, or with him they favor not. I speak not this, I promise you, for that I envy their credit but the better to intimate unto you what sway they carry in the country. In so much as a beck private half a word of one of them is enough to make a juror know his intent."(122)
So William I think felt obliged to try to help out the people intimidated like this, especially since many of them were been blackmailed with allegations of involvement in his own rebellion.(123) No doubt building on his great legal knowledge he decided then to launch a major court case against this judge and all his backers.
1591 August 4 The storm breaks as William launches the court case seeking to indict the leading judge Sir Robert Dillon with corruption. The case later involves indicting the Lord Deputy himself. This is William's own description of the start of the case:
"On Wednesday, the 4th of August, I delivered to the Lords of Gormanston, Delvin and Howth an information, a copy is enclosed, requiring them to deliver the same to the Lord Deputy and Council. Two days afterwards I was called before the Lord Deputy, the Lord Chancellor, and Bishop Jones of Meath. After showing me the paper and asking if that were my hand, to which I confessed, then said the Lord Deputy to this effect,
"Master William, you have entered into an action here wherein you have done as becomes a good subject, if the matters be true. If not and you cannot prove them, you have dealt in a dangerous and great matter against one of the Privy Council and a chief Judge in this realm. What proof can you bring us of these things ?"
I answered, "My Lord, I know your Lordship and my Lords here are both too faithful and too wise to admit exception of persons in the Queen's cause, and therefore, if that course be followed which I shall lay down, and which is ordinary in like cases, then will I bring forth my proofs; otherwise I may not with mine own safety, but especially for hindering her Majesty's service, show them."
Herewith my Lord Deputy seemed to be somewhat altered, and asked, "Do you say then that except we commit Sir Robert Dillon you will not show us your proofs ?"
I answered, "Yea my Lord."
Then said my Lord, "Mr.Solicitor, write what he says," which Mr. Solicitor did. Then my Lord, something moved, uttered a few choleric words, imagining that I had suspected him of partiality and favour towards the party accused. Wherefore I besought his Lordship, like as he caused my former words to be written, so would he also do the reason which I would yield for the same, which I prayed that he would hear patiently. And then his lordship giving me hearing.."
Here are the initial nine charges against Sir Robert Dillon:
"1. Concealment of the treason of Robert Cusack, who threshed his corn by night in time of conspiracy, by which the said Sir R. Dillon extorted an easy purchase of land from his brother, Walter Cusack.
2. Receiving 12 kine from the late notorious traitor, Brian McFerrall Oge O'Reilly, when in open rebellion.
3. Procuring a false record to be made to entitle O'Connor Sligo to Sligo, upon the death of his predecessor, Donnell O'Connor Sligo, for 100 kine.
4. Inciting the Earl of Tyrone to hang Hugh Gavelagh, the son of Shane O'Neill, which the said Earl had been charged by the Lord Chancellor on his allegiance not to do.
5. Receiving a horse from Brian McHugh Oge McMahon when in open rebellion, and after his having burned the monastery of Clones.
6. Taking a bribe of £40 to secure that the seignory of O'Ferrall Boy should not be divided among the O'Ferralls.
7. Dismissed one Melaghlin Moyle McCongawney, a felon convicted by a jury.
8. Having conference in England with Parsons the Jesuit; and also,
9. Sir Robert Dillon said it were good for Ireland that there were never a nobleman in it, and no harm for England if there were not any there either.
Under the hand of William Nugent."(124)
So now the government found out what he was doing in his travels around the country!
October - The court case goes on for a long time, it was considered by commissioners and the Privy Councils in Dublin and London as part of which William probably had an audience with the Queen in London at this time.
1592 February to June - William is back in Ireland putting his case before Commissioners who are examining it at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. After this William returned to England but is back in Ireland in September.
November 20 - O'Rourke's former secretary leaks information from Dublin Castle, where he is imprisoned, that the Dillons et al had encouraged O'Rourke to rebel. The Baron's of Delvin and Howth, alongwith William and Patrick Bermingham detail these allegations in a 'book' that they send to Burghley in London.
1593 19 March - William and his allies, Delvin, Howth and Patrick Bermingham, are disappointed at the progress the case is making in Ireland so they plan to bring charges against Sir Robert at each of the Circuit Court sessions as they are held in Meath, Westmeath and Longford.(125)This plan is superceded by the flight of Sir Robert and then William to London to plead their case before the Privy Council there.
By the Autumn of this year William had unearthed a whole new series of charges but the case had by now being sent to Sir Henry Wallop for decision. He was a noted ally of the Dillons and so Sir Robert was found not guilty in November and dies two years later and buried at Tara. In giving the case to Wallop the English council had clearly decided to acquit the Dillons et al, irrespective of the evidence, and it is interesting to speculate why Burghley, who was usually an ally of the Nugents in this, would allow that to happen. But still I'm sure he found ways of easing his discomfort, at one time for example Sir Henry Wallop had written to Burghley offering "acceptance of a small parcel of plate as a token of his good will" after Burghley had sided with him on a government matter!(126)
1594-1603 The nine years war, the great rebellion by Hugh O'Neill Earl of Tyrone.
1597 Sometime around this date Richard, William's son, joins O'Neill and becomes his chief lieutenant in Leinster alongwith Captain Tyrell.(127)
1600 August - This Richard goes to Spain via Scotland in company with Walter Stanihurst.
September 29 - William has time to launch a religious controversy in Dublin:
"On the 29th of September, 1600, Mr.William Nugent, an honourable and learned esquire, maintained at the Rider's table that there was no diversity of belief between Catholics of the present day and those who lived at the time of the Apostles. Mr. Rider maintained that the difference was as great as betwixt Protestantcy and Papacy. Both agreed to abide a lawful resolution of the learned."(128)
1602 The Baron of Delvin was arrested for treason, accused of aiding O'Neill. He died on the 5th of September while on bail to see a doctor for the cancer that was visibly killing him during his incarceration. He was succeeded by his son Richard as the next Baron of Delvin.
1607 This Baron of Delvin was arrested and accused of being part of the Flight of the Earls conspiracy. He escaped from Dublin Castle two weeks later and raised a revolt around Clogh Oughter castle in Cavan.
1608 May - He submits and travels to London.
1621 November 22 This Baron of Delvin is created the first Earl of Westmeath.
1624 Friday of Easter week a great assembly at Fore is reported to have cried that the Earl of Westmeath should be declared the King of Ireland.
1625 William died on the last day of June this year.
1642 His nephew the Earl of Westmeath died sometime after deciding to support the Confederation of Kilkenny although initially he did not join the 1641 rebellion. This rebellion of course marks the end of the power of those old Norman lords who were all swept away after it by Cromwellian planters.
As you can see this is quite a colourful history that Elizabeth Hickey found herself researching when she started to write her biography of William Nugent. And as she researched this story she was struck by how much this career matches the character and experiences of Shakespeare, as is known from his works. As well as his poetic talents, that have already been mentioned, you can she what she was referring to as regards the european travel, legal knowledge, and political experiences:
As you can see from the chronology he visited all the places that Shakespeare is reckoned to have been, particularly Italy, France and Scotland although there is no direct evidence of any travels to Denmark. Also not only did he know Italian, but he was an Italian poet as you can see from the quote by John Lynch. Furthermore he, and his companion Brian Geoghegan, wrote in Italian when they communicated with the Vatican.(129)
His legal knowledge and interest comes across from his court case of course and from other references in the state papers like this one from about 1584. Here his friends are writing to William from Paris explaining that he needs to grant proper powers of attorney, called a 'procuration', so that they can receive his pension for him from Rome, and they don't bother sending him draft letters for this because his skill in these matters is better than their own:
"We need not to give you instructions for the manner of making the procuration, whereby it may be of vigour and force in law, because we know your own skill and practise therein to be better than ours."(130) There is no doubt as well that William himself wrote the legal papers in use during the court case, as this summary of a complaint of his in the state papers shows: "Complains that not allowed to be present at the examination, though he pens the interrogatories."(131) Presumably he had studied law while he was at Oxford and he had also lived much of his life in the house of his uncle Nicholas, who was a leading Irish judge well known for his learning, as you can read in the 'Green Cockatrice'(132).
Again it is clear I think from the chronology that William had an unrivalled knowledge of European politics, rebellions, warfare, corruption and political intrigue. Not only that but the Tudor wars in Ireland also provide that extra blood thirsty element that I think comes across in Shakespeare. What I mean is that Ireland was not a place where any kind of 'civilised' warfare was practised at this time, it is almost unrelentingly gory with severed heads being a common backdrop to the viceroy's processions and even Dublin Castle.(133) This overt violence is really much much moreso a feature of Ireland at the time than in England and therefore may explain the almost gratuitous violence of many of Shakespeare's plays.