Simancas: October 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: October 1596', in Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 4, 1587-1603, (London, 1899) pp. 637-643. British History Online [accessed 1 March 2024]

October 1596

Oct. Estado, 839. 654. Bundle of Documents endorsed :—"Despatches brought by Captain Alonso Cobos to the Pardo, 20th November 1596."
(Summary of the statement of Captain Alonso de Cobos of his voyage to Ireland on a mission from his Majesty. (fn. 1) )
I left Madrid 19th August. Arrived at La Coruña the following Saturday. Sailed 16th September. Made for the same port I went to before, Killibegs. Arrived 26th September. This was considered the most convenient port for summoning the chiefs. Sent word to O'Donnell of my coming, and asked him to write to the earl of Tyrone and other Catholics. O'Donnell came to the port on 1st October, and we agreed to call the meeting in the monastery of Donegal, and that I should be duly advised when the chiefs were gathered, so that I should go and fulfil my mission.
On 5th October they asked me to go to the monastery, as O'Neil, Cormack O'Neil, his brother, Macwilliam O'Neil, Hugh O'Donnell, Ardh O'Donnell, O'Dogarty, Neil Carew, brother-in-law of O'Donnell, O'Rourke, grandson of O'Neil, Hartoc, son of the late O'Neil and Macsuyne, lord of Tyrbane, as well as the bishop of Raphoe had arrived
We all met on Sunday, 6th October, and I gave them his Majesty's letter to the Catholic chiefs, and the separate letters to O'Neil, O'Donnell, Cormack, Macwilliam, the bishop of Raphoe, and the lord of Tyrbane. I told them that his Majesty in Council had decided to protect them, out of pity for their troubles, and to restore the Catholic faith, and would send them a good force of soldiers. They thanked God and his Majesty for this, and promised to die, if needful, in his service. Each took me aside separately to assure me that he and his folk would be the first to join the Spanish force when it arrived. I spoke to O'Neil and O'Donnell apart, and said that at last the hour they had longed for had arrived, and that before the winter set in the succour they had so often requested would be there. I urged them to set about what raids they could, to show their zeal, and also to make the necessary arrangements secretly for the reception of our force. They thanked his Majesty, and said they were always ready and waiting, like the faithful vassals they were. They would never fail in their promises. Secrecy was as important to them as to us. They had been playing fast and loose with the enemy for a long time, awaiting his Majesty's aid, and a fortnight ago the English came with 1,500 footmen and 600 horse into their lands to force them to make peace, but they had met them, and Norris left off fighting and tried to make terms, but all they would consent to was a truce for a month and a day. All this was only to await your Majesty's succour, whilst they prevented the Queen from sending more forces.
Whilst I was waiting in the port, I learnt that O'Neil had sent to Norris, the Queen's general, the letter I had given him from your Majesty last May, and I told O'Neil and O'Donnell that your Majesty had learnt this, in order to get at the reason why O'Neil had acted thus. O'Neil's explanation was that, as the enemy knew of the arrival of our ships this summer, and they (the Irish) had settled terms of peace, as I related at the time, the enemy accused him of acting falsely in corresponding with your Majesty, and he, therefore, sent them word to deceive them and avoid war, assuring them that he had answered your Majesty, saying he had now made peace and did not require aid. It was only when they disbelieved him and had insisted, that he had sent them the letter, on their solemn oath that they would return it, which they now refused to do, as they had sent it to the Queen. O'Neil is going to write a special letter to your Majesty about it. I warned them to keep their promises better for the future.
I asked O'Neil and O'Donnell what security we should have for the adhesion of the Catholic nobles and gentlemen now serving with the enemy. They replied, that they would be sure to come to your Majesty's side if they saw a sufficiently strong force to defend them, particularly the earl of Ormond, who is a great friend of O'Neil, and will do what the latter tells him, as will many others.
I asked them where they thought would be the best place to land troops to be most effectual and safe, and for facilitating the junction of the forces. They thought on the north-west coast, such a place as Galway, where there is a company of English in garrison for the last three months. The town is close to the lands of Macwilliam Burke, one of the Catholic gentlemen. They say the town will surrender the moment a fleet approaches. If weather forces the fleet into St. George's Channel, they think it should anchor at Carlingford, 30 Irish miles from Dublin. There they would be in touch with O'Neil's people. All north of this is friendly. All this is set forth more fully, and signed by them in another statement herewith.
The following are the towns and fortresses where the Queen has garrisons :—Dublin, eight or nine companies of infantry, except when the general takes the field. There are 20 soldiers usually in the castle guarding the Irish prisoners. There are two companies in the town of Pontana (Portarlington?). This town contains 1,000 inhabitants, well disposed. Another town, called Zaradobel (?), of 500 well-disposed people, has one company of English. Ennis (?), 520 inhabitants, one company with a squadron of horse. They say the English general lodges here. A castle on the seaside, called Carlin, has a company in garrison, and in another castle, called Carcales (Kilkeel?), another company. On the straits north of Dublin the Queen has no other garrison than that of Port O'Clarick (?), which has 600 inhabitants, and on the seashore. There are usually two companies there, unless the general takes the field, when it is left defenceless. Limerick has four companies of English infantry in garrison ; Galway, one company. The latter city has 1,500 inhabitants, well disposed ; there are six guns in the fortress. Athlumney has three companies, one horse and two foot. At Roscommon there is a company of foot and one of horse. There are no more places with English garrisons. The whole force of infantry in fortresses, &c. amounts to 4,000 and 400 English lancers. One of the letters your Majesty gave me without superscription, to be given to whom I thought best, I gave to a gentleman named O'Dogherty, a lord of many vassals, a great soldier, and greatly esteemed. He said he was anxious to prove his loyalty by his acts. I gave the other to a gentleman named James Oge McSorleyboy, (fn. 2) a Scotsman, who holds some ports on this coast opposite Scotland. He is a good soldier and very brave. He was neutral when I arrived previously, but he is now great friends with the Catholic chiefs, and they thought he would be flattered at your Majesty's writing to him. The letter was taken to him by Hugo David, (fn. 3) of whom I have already written to your Majesty, a great soldier and firm adherent of your Majesty. He has served in Flanders. He is asking for a pension. He deserves it, and it will encourage the others.
The chiefs left again for their lands, and I for the ship on the 9th October. Two of the free chiefs failed to come, namely, O'Rourke, and the other, Macwilliam Burke. O'Rourke is ill in bed with a shot in his arm, but he sent his secretary. Macwilliam Burke did not come on account of the great distance, and because he was at issue with a relative as to his title to his lands. He sent messages to me by another gentleman, to which I replied. He says that your Majesty has no better servant than he in Ireland.
The chiefs asked me what the English fleet had done in Spain, as the enemy said it had sacked Cadiz and other places, burning the fleet there, &c., and taking much plunder and many prisoners. I replied, that they, being neighbours of the English, should know better than anyone that, in order to bring about peace in Ireland they would invent all manner of lies. I said it was true they sacked Cadiz, in consequence of the weakness of the townspeople there, but they did not wait to encounter any force, and only made incursions and raids on a few unprotected places, and ran away as quickly as they could. I said your Majesty's fleet was distributed in two or three ports, besides the Indian fleet, which is the one which afterwards destroyed the English fleet. I was quite sure, I said, that the English had not told them that, as they came so badly out of it. Roe O'Donnell, brother of Odo (Ardh?) O'Donnell, who is heir of the chief, sent to say he was determined to come with me to Spain, and accompany the fleet to Ireland, as he greatly wished to see your Majesty. I wrote to him, saying, he would better serve your Majesty by keeping here and pushing forward the preparations.
O'Neil and O'Donnell asked me what your Majesty had thought of those notes they had given to me when I came before, about the persons they had suggested as governors of Ireland (see page 620). I said the notes had been approved of, and in due time the matter would be discussed. They were much pleased.
The guardian of the monastery of Donegal, a Franciscan friar, gave me a memorial for your Majesty. It is to the effect that last year the enemy was there for seven days, and ruined the place. He asks your Majesty to give something to repair the monastery, some chalices and ornaments, &c. The friars there are very religious. There are 25 or 30 of them.
The Spaniards I describe as being there since the wreck of the Armada in '88 wished to come home with me before, but I would not allow them, as I was there on a special mission of aid, and it would look bad to the chiefs to take Spaniards away. I told them to remain quiet. When I returned this time, they asked me why I had not brought them some pay or money. I replied that they had not asked me to do so. They again wanted to come back with me, but I refused to allow them, as your Majesty was going to send a force, and they would be wanted as interpreters and otherwise. They have given me a memorial to your Majesty, begging you to help them.
Hugo David (to whom he gives a very high character) has given me a memorial for your Majesty asking for a pension.
Note.—The above statement is written by Captain Cobos himself, and is excessively diffuse and illiterate, indeed, almost unintelligible in places. The English and Irish names are so disfigured that they have mostly to be guessed at.
October (?). Estado, 839. 655. The Memorials or Petitions mentioned by Cobos are enclosed in his report with one from himself, asking for a captain's dotation, and a special grant of money. The only memorial which appears to merit reproduction is that of the wrecked soldiers from the Great Armada, which runs as follows :—
The soldiers who were wrecked in your Majesty's Armada against England in 1588, and were cast upon the coast of Ireland, are the following :—Alonso Carmona, who served in the company of Don Garcia Manrique de Lara, and was lost in the "Venetian" ; Francisco de Aguilar, who was in the same ship, a soldier in the company of Captain Beltran de Salto, and Pedro Blanco, a soldier of Captain Lopez Arques Salcedo, who was lost in the ship "Juliana" ; Bartolome Rodriguez, soldier of Don Francisco de Toledo, lost in the ship "Lavia" ; Juan de la Cruz, a soldier of Captain Zarate, Juan Perez Cebada, Anton Fernandez, and Juan Montesinos, all lost in the same ship. These eight soldiers were all wrecked in your Majesty's service, and have since been serving in this country of Ireland as soldiers, as will be seen by the following attestation of O'Neil and O'Donnell. They humbly pray your Majesty to send them some help, in the form of wages, that they may fit out their persons and arms the better to serve your Majesty here as guides, interpreters, and otherwise, as will be needful when the Spanish force lands. (The above petition is accompanied by a certificate signed by O'Neil and O'Donnell that the soldiers have served well.)
6 Oct. Estado, 839. 656. O'Neil and O'Donnell to Captain Cobos (?).
Having considered the great advantage it would be that his Majesty's fleet should anchor in a good, deep, convenient, and accessible port in this island, we have decided to set forth, for the guidance of the commander, that in case the wind favours him for this side, towards the north, he should do his utmost to enter Galway, and be guided by his pilots after he has entered the port. If the wind be unfavourable for this, and he has to enter St. George's Channel, he should run for the port of Carlingford, which is 30 Irish miles from Dublin, to the north-east of it. He will also need pilots there. He should bear in mind that all the country between these two ports towards the north is friendly, and that there are many good harbours on the coast. The enemy only possesses three posts or earthworks on the coast not far from Carlingford. North of this latter port extend the lands of O'Neil, whilst north of Galway extends the country of MacWilliam Burke.—Donegal, 6th October 1596.
7 Oct.
Latin. Estado, 839.
657. O'Dojarty (O'Dogherty) to Philip II.
Acknowledges his gracious letter. Rejoices at the intention to send succour for those who are warring for the faith. Professes fervent loyalty.—Donegal, 7th October 1596.
Note.—Similar letters to the above were sent to Philip by Hugh O'Donnell (fn. 4) (who signs in Irish characters), MacWilliam Burke, O'Ruairk, (fn. 5) Hugh David (fn. 6), etc. They are all couched in the most fervid terms. Two original copies of most of these letters are in the archives, as they were apparently sent in duplicate by different vessels.
8 Oct.
Estado, 839.
658. Cormack O Neil to Martin De Idiaquez.
Your Lordship has done me great honour, and I now again beg you to favour me as follows, for I have always fought against the English for the Catholic faith, and if God give me health I will devote the rest of my life to his Majesty's service. I have many witnesses who will bear testimony to what I have done against the heretics in all the past time, and I hope to God that his Majesty will remember me for the land of Lacal, Ardulo, Murna with all its villages, also some land which Dialo (fn. 7) has from the English, also Ballenerick with all its villages, also Ballinacol with all its villages and Dufferin. I beg you to ask his Majesty for all these for me, as I have well deserved them fighting against the English. I also beg you to ask his Majesty to please supply me with 400 infantry and 100 cavalry for his Majesty's service, as I have great experience in this country. I pray your Lordship to obtain prompt succour for us, and you will very soon see the advantage which will result to his Majesty's service.—Donegal, 8th October 1596.
Note.—The above letter is badly written in illiterate Spanish, apparently by one of the wrecked soldiers from the Armada, and is signed in Irish by Cormack O'Neil. The local names are given here as they are written. Several of them are unknown to me.
659. O'Neil to Philip II.
May it please your Majesty. Before Captain Cobos came hither first, I had delivered some hostages to the Queen's Viceroy, to fulfil certains terms we had then made between the Catholics and the Viceroy. When, however, your Majesty's royal and comfortable letters were received, and Captain Cobos' message was delivered, to my great consolation and content, as I wrote by Captain Cobos ; the English learnt of the coming of the smacks (Zabras) by your Majesty's orders with despatches for us Catholics, and they artfully tried to discover what was going on. They again asserted that I was asking for aid from Spain, as I had been doing for seven years past. In order to discredit the stories against me, and to gain time, so that the English should make no move, I sent them your Majesty's letters on their solemn oath to return them after reading them. This they have not fulfilled and offered money to the gentleman I sent with the letter, to say that it was lost. In the name of God, and my holy baptism, I assert that I did not send the letter to the Viceroy, except for the above-mentioned reasons, and I pray your Majesty to pardon me, without distrust or misgiving.—Donegal, 8th October 1596.
9 Oct.
660. O'Neil and O'Donnell to Philip II.
Acknowledge receipt of his gracious letter, which fills them with joy. The English have been trying to lure them to peace, but they stand firm in faith, and hope that his Majesty will send the promised aid.—Donegal, 9th October 1596.
12 Oct.
Latin. Estado, 839.
661. Donatus Macsuyne, Lord Of Tyrbane (fn. 8) to Philip II.
Learns with joy by his Majesty's letters of his intention to come to the succour of those who have always defended the Catholic faith. Assures him of firmness and fidelity. Offers him, for the purpose of the landing of the force, his safe port of Killibeg, which he holds under O'Donnell. Refers to Cobos for further information.—Killibeg, 12th October 1596.


  • 1. By reference to the Calendar of Irish State Papers, it will he seen that the English Government was fully and minutely informed of everything that passed between Cobos and the Irish Catholic chiefs.
  • 2. James Oge McSovleyboy McDonnell, alias McConnell, of Dunlucc, lord of the Route. His father had received kindly and sent to Scotland all the survivors of the Armada who had reached his territories.
  • 3. This was Hugh Boy O'Davitt, who was afterwards sent as Tyrone's ambassador to the king of Spain. See Calendar of State Papers, Irish, 1598.
  • 4. Hugh Roe O'Donnell.
  • 5. Brian O'Rourke.
  • 6. Hugh Boy O'Davitt.
  • 7. Probably Donogh McCormack McCarthy, called Donogh Doallo, in consequence of his holding the lands of Doallo.
  • 8. A well drawn map of "Macsuyne's bay" accompanies the relation of Captain Cobos. Donagh MacSuyne was chief of Tyrbane. In 1598 he joined Shane McManus Oge O'Donnell against his chief, the O'Donnell, at the instance of the English, who had gained Shane McManus. The latter was captured by his chief ; and McSuyne had to skulk in hiding until Sir Conyers Clifford came to his aid.