Simancas: May 1596

Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 4, 1587-1603. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1899.

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'Simancas: May 1596', in Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 4, 1587-1603, (London, 1899) pp. 617-623. British History Online [accessed 1 March 2024]

May 1596

May. Estado, 839.
634. Document endorsed :—"The Paper delivered in May 1596 by the Irish Confessor who came with the approval of the Bishop-confessors. A true relation of the events happening to the Catholics of Ireland, from the 1st January 1596 to the 28th March 1596."
At the beginning of January the earl of Tyrone, who is now Prince, and Grand O'Neil, commanding the Catholics, sallied from his principality of Ulster, which is the fifth part of Ireland, and entered Munster near Dublin, arriving within eight leagues of the city, where many Catholic gentlemen joined him, especially a great gentleman named O'Reilly, with all his following, his estates being 30 leagues long. They took a fortress called Cavan, and killed all the heretics there. All the Catholic gentlemen of Meath sent word that if the Catholic King would send them help they would join at once.
2. About the same time Bernard O'Neil, cousin of the earl of Tyrone, killed 400 English heretics near an English fort called Newry (?), and as many more near another fort called Carlingford.
3. On the 13th February, in Connaught, where Galway alone remains in English hands, two powerful Catholic chiefs, O'Donaill and O'Rourke, gathered an army of 8,000 foot and 500 horse. They arrived within three leagues of Galway, where they were met by 3,000 English, of whom but few escaped by flight to Galway. For want of artillery the Catholics could not attack the place, but they captured many horses and stores.
4. Three days after this victory, six great chiefs who were on the English side, joined the Catholics, with all their vassals. They are named O'Connor Don, who has 20 leagues of land, O'Kelly as much, O'Connor Roe, (fn. 1) 12 leagues, Macguire (?) as much, Macdam, (fn. 2) 8 leagues, O'Flaherty, 12 leagues, O'Malley, 8 leagues, all of which lands join. The English then fled from that province to the neighbourhood of Dublin. Only 300 English remained in the province, in two fortresses called Killaloe and Roscommon, which the Catholics cannot take for want of artillery.
5. Soon after, O'Rourke, a brave Catholic, killed 100 Englishman near one of the said fortresses.
6. In the same month O'Rourke entered Meath near Dublin, where he was joined by many Catholics. One, named O'Ferrall, whose lands extend 10 leagues by 5, joined with all his vassals, over 600 of them. There also many principal Catholics, now subject to the English, sent to say that if the king of Spain would send help they would join him.
7. In Leinster a great chief named O'More has risen against the English, and burnt 14 towns and villages of heretics, the English in them being burnt and killed. O'Rourke and the Catholics of Connaught sent aid to O'More, though he was 30 leagues from Connaught, and on the way they burnt many English, with their villages and castles.
8. The earl of Tyrone, the Catholic general, pays the soldiery every month, and hitherto has paid them well. It was, therefore, said that there was plenty of Spanish money in the Catholic army. It was suspected that his Majesty was paying them, and it was feared he might send an armed force from Spain.
9. When I left the city of Dublin on the 28th March, the Catholics (although they had made a two months' truce with the English, in the hope Spanish succour arriving), had two different armies, 40 leagues apart ; one commanded by Tyrone, with 16,000 infantry and 2,000 horse, within eight leagues of Dublin (where reside the Viceroy and General Norris, who has lost all his men), and the other army, under O'Donnaill and O'Rourke, in Connaught, near Galway, with 10,000 men. When the truce expires they intend to follow the English into Munster, where (and in Dublin) all that are still alive have taken refuge.
10. The Englishwoman is raising troops in England, and it is said she intends to send 20,000 men to Ireland in this month of May, but if his Catholic Majesty will send help, the Catholics do not fear as many more.
11. The Catholics greatly need great artillery, muskets and powder, and they have no doubt that when his Majesty sends aid, with artillery to attack towns and fortresses in English hands, they will have the whole country in their power.
12. The Catholics wish (if his Majesty sends the help, as they hope to God he will) that he will send with it the bishops, priests, and other Irishmen now in Spain, and that they (the Spaniards) should enter Connaught by Galway, or Leinster near Dublin, where the Catholics will at once join them.
13. This is all the bearer, who was confessor to O'Donnaill and O'Rourke, knows of his own knowledge, having seen it. The Catholics having no ships, he came disguised to Dublin, and out of fear of the English, could bring no writing from the chiefs. He may say in addition to the above that all that the bishop of Clonfert has told his Majesty about Irish events is true.
15 May.
Estado, 839.
635. Certificate given by Captain Alonso Cobos to the Irish Catholics.
I, Captain Alonso Cobos, hereby certify that I arrived in this realm of Ireland at the time when the Irish chiefs had almost concluded peace with the Queen, on terms satisfactory to themselves, and that solely on conscientious grounds, and out of affection for his Majesty, they desisted from finally making peace, taking up arms against the queen of England, and sincerely turning their hearts to God, and the King, in whose services as faithful vassals they remain during his Majesty's pleasure. As I know this to be the truth, I give this solemn testimony at the request of the chiefs, under my hand and seal.—Leffer, 15th May 1596.
16 May.
Estado, 839.
636. Relation of Ensign Alonso Cobos of his Voyage To Ireland. He left Santander on the 22nd April 1596.
(A detailed account is given of his journey, with particulars of the country, from a military point of view, and of the strength of the Catholic Chiefs, to whom he was sent to dissuade them from continuing their peace negotiations with the English. As his account differs in no material particular from that of Captains Cisneros and Medinilla, who went to Spain in the following month, it is not reproduced here.) There is also in the packet a similar relation by Captain Ochoa, with several rough charts and soundings of the Irish coast, and a nautical description of the same.
16 May.
Latin. Estado, 839.
637. O'Neil and O'Donnaill to Juan De Idiaquez.
Letter sent by Ensign Cobos, assuring his Majesty that they would stand firm, and would follow his wishes. Refers his Majesty for information to the bishop of Clonfert (who resided at Burgos), and Bernard O'Donnaill. (fn. 3) —Leffer (Lifford?), 16th May 1596.
638. O'Neil and O'Donnaill to the King.
Letter also sent by Ensign Cobos, begging for armed force to be sent to their aid in re-establishing the Catholic faith, and that Philip will appoint the Cardinal Archduke Albert to be their Prince. —Leffer (Lifford?), 16th May 1596.
25 May.
Latin. Estado, 839.
639. O'Neil and O'Donnaill to the King.
Before the arrival of the King's messenger, very favourable offers of peace had been made to them on behalf of the Viceroy, giving to Catholics full freedom and liberty of conscience. They are unwilling to make peace with the heretics, as it may be a subterfuge of the English, but unless aid reaches them soon, they may be forced to do so. Again beg for 6,000 soldiers and arms for 10,000 more.— Donegal, 25th May 1596.
640. MacWilliam (Eurke) to the King.
In the name of the oppressed Catholics risen against the tyranny and cruelty of the English, he fervently prays for help to be sent to them. (The terms of this letter are extremely violent, in contrast with the more dignified tone of the letters of O'Neil and O'Donnaill, which, however, seem to have been written by the same scribe.)— Donegal, 25th May 1596.
Note.—Similar letters to the above were written to Philip about the same date by the bishop of Raphoe, Macguire, Donatus MacSuyne lord of Tyrbane, and O'Rourke. All the letters appear to have been sent in duplicate or triplicate. Some are signed in Irish, and some in Latin characters, the body of the letters, in all cases, being in Latin.
Estado, 839.
641. Instructions given by Count Portalegre to Captains Luis de Cisneros and de Medinilla, as to the questions they are to ask the earl of Tyrone, and the information they are to obtain, with the answers given thereto.
In virtue of your credence you will assure them (the Irish Catholics) of his Majesty's goodwill, which they deserve for their acts and quality, and especially for their defence of the Catholic faith in Ireland. The King rejoiced greatly at their victory last year, and the bravery that won it.
To keep the fruits, perseverance is needed, and he exhorts them to stand firm, and to seek means to continue the war against the heretics. The King sends Captain Medinilla to stay with them, and advise and help them, and he has with him two experienced soldiers. Cisneros will return to his Majesty to inform him of what you have seen and heard. You are to seek detailed information as to their present position, the strength of the enemy, the plans of attack, and resistance, and as soon as you have gained all the knowledge you can, you will start homeward. Let them know that your speedy return will be advantageous.
1. You will ask them what they wish his Majesty to do for them. Goodwill will never be wanting on his part in defence of their faith and lands, so long as their demands be regulated by prudence, and due consideration. You will also assure them of my (Count Portalegre's) personal desire to serve them.
You will discuss with them the question of the aid they request, and after getting from every assurance of sincerity, firmness and means, you will hint softly at the difficulties in the way, to see how they meet them, but do not push the matter far enough to cause distrust.
(Reply.—"Arms for 10,000 footmen. Corseletes, pikes, morrions, harquebusses and muskets, powder balls, cord, &c. One thousand men should at once be sent with the munitions.")
2. You will thus open the conference, and other points will follow, which cannot all be foreseen here. You must especially urge them to secrecy. If they are willing for Captain Medinilla to stay, he may do so, but do not press it if they seem unwilling.
First you must ascertain whether real unity exists amongst these chiefs, and whether they will obey Tyrone. Does the latter command by authority or prayers?
(Reply.—The earl of Tyrone and O'Donnel are like one man, and the rest respect them.)
3. Is this Catholic league of theirs really for the support of the faith, or for any private ends of their own?
(Reply.—They are making war sincerely in defence of the Catholic faith.)
4. Do they admits heretics who for any reason are willing to join them against the Queen, if they grant liberty of conscience to them?
(Reply.—They will not do so on any account.)
5. What forces of horse and foot have they, and what means of keeping them together, especially outside of their own lands?
(Reply.—They carry victuals with them for the time they arrange beforehand to be away from their lands. They raise 6,000 foot and 1,200 horse.)
6. Are the roads to the territories and ports they desire to conquer fit for artillery?
(Reply.—No artillery could be sent from their land to any port to which our fleet could go. It is very marshy.)
7. Are there waggons for the guns? Inform yourself especially about passes, fords, and bridges.
(Reply.—The passes of the rivers are difficult, but mostly fordable. Some are crossed by boats or bridges. Inland the passes are good.)
8. What victuals can be had in the country, bread, meat, beer, barley, flour, hay, &c.?
(Reply.—Although the land is desolated by war, they have enough for their own support and no more.)
9. Is there enough milling acccommodation for themselves, and those who may be sent as well?
(Reply—The water-mills suffice for the people here, but there are facilities for constructing many more.)
10. How do they raise their troops. Do they use carts and horses for transport?
(No reply.)
11. Inform yourself well about the quality of the ports in the hands of the Queen ; and which of them is capable of receiving a great fleet to attack the Catholics.
(Reply—The ports possessed by the Queen are the town of Drogheda, with an ancient wall, the city of Dublin, also an ancient fortress, and the residence of the Viceroy. The munitions, &c., are kept there and a small garrison. Rosse is an old fortress. Waterford has a tower with a little ordnance, and a port capable of receiving a great fleet. Wexford an old fortress, and Dungarvan a harbour with a castle and a few English.)
Youghal is an ancient walled port.
Cork an ancient port.
Limerick an ancient walled city, capable of harbouring a great fleet. Galway the same. These are all the ports held by the Queen.)
12. You will discuss between yourselves, in view of what you see and hear, the best way to carry out the enterprise.
What sort of ships, and what number of them will be required?
(No reply.)
13. Can they do without cavalry? If not, how many and how armed?
(Reply.—A thousand lancers and two or three hundred mounted harquebussiers, for whom horses may be bought here.)
14. What spare ordnance should be sent to be landed, and how many artillery mules? Can pioneers with tools be had there used to the work? Must the tools be sent from here?
(Reply.—The pioneers can be obtained, but spades, picks, hatchets, &c. must be sent and a full company of pioneers to teach the people.)
15. Try to learn particulars of the fortresses they expect to gain, as much depends upon that.
(No reply.)
16. Discover particulars of all the Queen's forces there.
(No reply.)
17. How many places has she fully garrisoned, the number of troops and their nationality? How are they victualled, and which of them are nearest to the Catholic strongholds?
Has she generally ships in the Irish ports, and how many?
Are there any hidden Catholics in the ports and fortresses held by the Queen?
Are they (the Catholics) forced to stay with the heretics or are they content to do so? If a strong force were to be sent, would many declare against the hereties?
(Reply.—It is considered certain that, as soon as they saw our fleet, they would declare for us.)
18. Who commands in the island? Is John Norris or any other important officer there?
(Reply.—The Viceroy is William Russell. John Norris is commander-in-chief.)
You will endeavour to learn all this very thoroughly and speedily.
You are well aware of the difficulty there was in finding the pilots who are to take you, and even they are not experienced anywhere north of Galway. When you enter Donegal, or any other port, let these pilots examine it thoroughly ; and if it be not too far, and is possible, let two of them go ashore and reconnoitre the coast as far as Cape Teelin. At least let Sligo, Donegal, Easky and Teelin be well reconnoitred. Ask the earl (of Tyrone) to give you a couple of pilots, if there are any who know the coast well. Take four, if you can get them, and offer them good wages on his Majesty's fleet.


  • 1. O'Connor Roe was one of the chiefs of the McDermots.
  • 2. Probably McDermot.
  • 3. By the statement, dated 8th December, 1598, made by Bernard O'Donnell to the Bishop of Limerick (State Papers, Irish), this man seems to have been the writer of all these letters.