Simancas: December 1580

Pages 69-71

Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 3, 1580-1586. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1896.

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December 1580

11 Dec. 57. Bernardino De Mendoza to the King.
On the 3rd I wrote to your Majesty the news I had from Ireland, and on the same day a captain came to the Queen from that island, who told her that the Viceroy, after having returned to Dublin with all his force, owing to want of victuals and the foul weather, had decided, in view of certain reports he had received of the bad conduct and poor courage of the Romans, to go and besiege them with eight hundred Englishmen, with whom he arrived on the 6th ultimo near Smerwick in Kerry, between two streams where they had made their fort ; the Queen's ships having already arrived on the coast, from which were landed two hundred soldiers and a few pieces of ordnance. After firing a few shots they dismounted one of the cannons in the fort, and the besieged at once hoisted a white flag to parley. Notwithstanding that they made not the slightest resistance and did not fire a shot, the Viceroy delayed parleying with them, in the fear that it might be a stratagem to keep him in check until Desmond arrived and attacked him in the rear ; since it was impossible for any soldier to believe that there could be so few brave men in the fort, which they had been strengthening for two months, as to surrender without striking a blow. In view, however, of their entreaties, the Viceroy asked them under whose authority they were, to which they answered only that they came by orders of the Pope ; whereupon he answered that he could not treat them as soldiers but simply as thieves. Notwithstanding this, they surrendered on condition of their lives being spared. Twelve of the chiefs came out and were told to order their men to lay down their arms. When this was done the Viceroy sent a company of his men to take possession of the fort, on the 10th. and they slaughtered 507 men who were in it and some pregnant woman, besides which they hanged 17 Irish and Englishmen, amongst whom was an Irishman named Plunkett, a priest, and an English servant of Dr. Sanders. (fn. 1) Only a single one of the Viceroy's men was injured. In the fort were found two thousand corselets and harquebusses and other weapons sufficient to arm four thousand men, besides great stores of victuals and munitions, enough to last for months, in addition to money. The Queen is informed that it would have been impossible to have found a worse place in which to build a fort, since it neither commanded a port nor a land pass, had no natural capabilities of defence, and did not even possess in the neighbourhood wood for fuel. This had necessitated their burning the ships that had brought them over. Dr. Sanders had left the fort ten days before with two thousand ducats for the insurgent camp, and Desmond arrived two days after the surrender, with six thousand men to succour the fort. Two foreign ships had arrived there, it was believed, with troops from Spain, accompanied by an English captain, but the weather had prevented their landing. The Viceroy said that, although he had gained this victory, it must be borne in mind that the only result of it was the slaughter of these foreigners, and it could not be counted as a victory over the Irish, who were more obstinate than ever, and it would be necessary to send him large reinforcements if the insurgents were to be crushed. The Englishmen there say that if the fort had held out for four days until Desmond arrived, the Viceroy's retreat would have been cut off, and the Queen's ships could not have held their own, to the great peril of the English in Ireland.
The Danish ambassador has been despatched by this Queen with many thanks for the offer brought on behalf of his master, giving him a chain of four hundred crowns. The renegade, of whom I wrote to your Majesty as having come from the Turk to the Queen, has gone to Holland to see Orange.
The Queen has ordered an inquiry into the incomes of the imprisoned Catholics, which cannot fail to be considerable as their number is large. It is understood that the object is to pass an Act in Parliament confiscating their property if they do not go to church. Their punishment hiherto has only been imprisonment.— London, 11th December 1580.
20 Dec. 58. Bernardino De Mendoza to the King.
I have been informed to-day that the Queen has sent from the west country a small vessel to the people of the Azores to tell them to stand firm to Don Antonio, and help shall not fail them, apart from the aid which may reach them from Oporto. The idea is that this may prevent them from acknowledging your Majesty, and no doubt it has been partly suggested by the idea that if Don Antonio should escape by sea, he may take refuge there, this course having been urged upon him here as a last resource. It is thought that he might hold out there, and it would be very important to the English to have the people of the islands in their favour, in view of the designs they entertain of sending a number of ships to the East and West Indies and to the Mollucas by the route taken by Drake on his homeward voyage. Ships are being made ready for this voyage with great haste, in order that they may leave in February. The business is in the hands of Leicester, who is very energetic about it.
I have received advice from St. Michaels, Azores, that a factor there was shipping, in a ship called the "White Falcon," 2,000 quintals of woad from the warehouses of your Majesty under the authority of Don Antonio, and that two Portuguese were being sent with it to sell it in Antwerp, with the object of employing the proceeds in arms and munitions. If the weather should force the ship into an English port, which is likely at this time of year, I have obtained permission from the Queen to stop the ship and I have sent a man secretly to Flushing to inform the Portuguese who bring the merchandise, when they arrive there, that it is the property of your Majesty, and that the best, thing they can do for their own safety will be to come to England with it, which would be more profitable to them than going elsewhere. If they should be so obstinate as to take it to Antwerp, I have written to the Portuguese Consuls, so that they may adopt the best means they can to get possession of the woad, on the ground that it is Portuguese property, and so to prevent it from falling into the hands of the rebels. I have taken these steps as the value is large, and, it being the property of your Majesty, I wish to prevent its loss.— London, 20th December 1580.


  • 1. The massacre of the surrendered garrison at which the Queen was, or pretended to be, much displeased is said by Camden to have been resolved upon "against the mind of the lord-deputy, who shed tears at the determination that the commanders should be spared, and the rest promiscuously put to the sword for a terror, and that the Irish should be hanged up." This cruel deed was partly entrusted to Sir Walter Raleigh ; and Spencer the poet, who was Lord Grey's secretary, endeavours to justify it in his View of the State of Ireland." It remains, however, an indelible stain upon Lord Grey's otherwise good name. The Lord Deputy himself in his despatch to the Queen (12th November) states the number of slain at 600, but Catholic historians have in some cases exaggerated the number to 1,700.