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Chichester, Arthur, Baron Chichester (1563-1625), army officer and administrator, was born at Raleigh, Devon, in May 1563, and was five and a half years old when his father died on 30 November 1568. He was the second son (in a family of seven sons and nine daughters) of Sir John Chichester of Raleigh, landowner, and Gertrude, daughter of Sir William Courtenay of Powderham Castle.



Education and early career

Chichester matriculated from Exeter College, Oxford, in 1583, but did not graduate. This may have been due to financial considerations and he probably left university to join the army. At that time the increasing intensity of the war with Spain presented opportunities for career soldiers; by 1588, when he took part in the naval operation which frustrated the Spanish Armada, Chichester already had substantial military experience, having attained the rank of captain, probably of marines.

       A promising military career was jeopardized in 1592 by Chichester's involvement in a notorious attack on the queen's purveyor. The incident was not a simple case of highway robbery but a factional feud and Chichester and his kinsmen were summoned to appear before the English privy council. In serious trouble, Chichester absconded, sought refuge with relatives in Ireland, and subsequently lay low for several years; exactly where is not clear. He is next heard of in 1595 as a captain of marines on Sir Francis Drake's last voyage to the New World, where he distinguished himself in military operations, not least by setting fire to the frigate of a Spanish admiral at Puerto Rico. His reputation restored, he was promoted serjeant-major-general of the English army in Picardy. Wounded in the shoulder during the siege of Amiens in 1597, he was knighted by the French king for his valour.

      With the onset of the campaign against the earl of Tyrone in Ireland in 1594 it was only a matter of time before an experienced officer such as Chichester would be drawn into the conflict. The personal circumstances which provided the background to his involvement were important not only in dictating his comportment during the war, but also his later conduct as lord deputy of Ireland. His brother Sir John Chichester, governor of Carrickfergus, after notable military successes, had lost his life in a battle with the MacDonnells in Co. Antrim in 1597, his severed head forwarded as a trophy of war to Tyrone's camp, where it was reputed to have been kicked about like a football. When, therefore, Chichester arrived as part of the earl of Essex's expedition to Ireland in 1599, a desire for vengeance and restoration of family honour was apparent. Indeed, Chichester went to great lengths to obtain his brother's command at Carrickfergus, a highly dangerous posting in the wake of Tyrone's striking victory against English forces at the Yellow Ford in 1598.

  Dunluce Castle  

Ruins of Dunluce Castle, power-base of the MacDonnells of Antrim. Scene of the assassination of Sir James MacDonnell, by poisoning, in retaliation for the death of Sir John Chichester. The plot seems to have been hatched by Sir Robert Cecil in order to assuage the anger of Sir Arthur Chichester.  

Chichester's rise through the ranks of the English army and officialdom, however, was temporarily interrupted by the threat of financial ruin. Following Lord Mountjoy's appointment to the viceroyalty in 1600, Chichester was forced to return to England for a short time on private business, reportedly being on the verge of bankruptcy.


Carrickfergus Castle  

 Mountjoy's relatively successful prosecution of the war owed much to both Chichester's advice and his practical implementation of an effective military strategy in the north. Chichester was to the fore in advocating the twin-pronged approach of encumbering Tyrone's forces by a ring of garrisons combined with a ruthless policy of despoliation. Of the latter strategy he infamously remarked, 'a million swords will not do them so much harm as one winter's famine' (Chichester to Cecil, 21 May 1600, PRO, SP 63/207iii/53). Ruthlessly efficient in the manner in which he subsequently carried out this policy of 'extermination' (Falls, 67), it was this trait which earned him his elevated status in the pantheon of English hate-figures in Irish history. After one raid across Lough Neagh, Chichester personally testified that he spared neither woman, child, nor beast. On reflection, he acknowledged that in this period of his career in Ireland he had been among the 'wasters and destroyers', though he later preferred to join the ranks of the 'builders and planters' (Chichester to Salisbury, November 1610, PRO, SP 63/229/135). However, it was precisely because of his successful military strategy that he enjoyed a growing reputation which ultimately was rewarded with his appointment to the lord deputyship in February 1605. Shortly after his appointment, on 8 April 1605, he married Letitia (Lettice), widow of Walter Vaughan of Golden Grove, Carmarthen, and of John Langhorne ofSt Bride's, Pembrokeshire, and daughter of Sir John Perrot, a former lord deputy of Ireland. They had only one child, Arthur, born on 22 September 1606, who survived little more than a month and was buried in Christ Church, Dublin, on 31 October 1606 and later reinterred in the family vault at Carrickfergus.


Artist’s impression of Chichester leaving Carrickfergus



Lord deputy of Ireland, 1605-1616

Chichester served almost exactly eleven years as lord deputy, 'one of the most powerful positions in European politics' (A. Hadfield and W. Maley, Introduction: Irish representations and English alternatives'. Representing Ireland: Literature and the Origins of Conflict, 1534-1660, ed. B. Bradshaw, A. Hadfield, and W. Maley, 1993, 13). Fundamental to his analysis of England's problem in Ireland was the Catholicism of the vast majority of the indigenous populace which he considered constituted a threat to English interests. His view, like so many contemporaries, protestant or Catholic, was that political allegiance was measured by religious affiliation and one king meant, or should mean, one religion. Seeking to grasp the nettle of the Catholic issue, Chichester launched his novel 'mandates' policy in 1605-6. He aimed to reduce Irish Catholics to conformity by both coercion and persuasion. Persecution, using mandates (a prerogative procedure), was designed to break the back of Catholic recalcitrance. Reinvigorating the Church of Ireland and providing ministers to inculcate the new 'converts' was intended to bind the Irish to protestantism in the longer term. Symptomatic of Chichester's pragmatic approach was his sponsorship of the translation of protestant religious texts and prayers into Gaelic.

     Hardly surprisingly, Irish Catholics did not appreciate Chichester's 'enlightened' approach, the activities of rampaging troops and priest-hunters giving rise to considerable resentment. The targeting of the Catholic Old English (who had largely remained loyal to the English crown during the Nine Years' War of 1594-1603) as the primary focus of the mandates campaign precipitated conspiratorial activities. Intensely aggrieved, elements of the Old English conspired with Tyrone. Ultimately, apprehending that he had been compromised by his treasonable activities, and fearing Chichester's deep personal antipathy towards him, the earl fled to exile in what has become known as the flight of the earls in 1607. For Chichester, the way was at last paved for the plantation of Ulster.

     Despite Chichester's demonic reputation in Irish nationalist historiography, the lord deputy was not a supporter of expansive plantation plans in Ulster at the expense of the local inhabitants, preferring to allocate to:

     every man of note or good desert so much as he can conveniently stock  and manure by himself and his tenants and followers, and so much more as by conjecture he shall be able to so stock and manure for five years to come. (Chichester to privy council, 17 Sept 1607, PRO, SP 63/222/137)

The lord deputy hoped to lure the indigenous Ulster population away from their fidelity to their traditional lords by an imaginative policy of inducement. At first it appeared that Chichester's plans would be implemented as the king and privy council in England indicated that his advice would be followed, but as it turned out Chichester was not to be the architect of the Ulster plantation, as has so often been suggested. The eruption of O'Doherty's rising in 1608 panicked the London authorities into giving way to the advice of others who suggested that the best way to extirpate the menace of a northern revolt was to opt for a massive influx of British settlers instead. Chichester greatly feared the consequences of the native Irish in Ulster receiving a paltry share of the lands on offer, believing that acute grievances would inevitably spawn revolt. In an effort to avert a catastrophe befalling the plantation he resorted to a transportation project. Disaffected elements from Ireland, mostly from Ulster, were deported. As many as 6000 were shipped out. Alert to the dangers of transporting 'swordsmen' to a hostile Catholic country, Chichester dispatched them to protestant Sweden instead, in an attempt to remove them permanently from harm's way. His only worry was that 'at their coming thither [Sweden] they will run to the adverse side and thereby discover the perfidy of their nation' (Chichester to Salisbury, 31 Oct 1609, PRO, SP 63/227/150). His concerns were realized when, during a battle between Swedish forces and the army of the Catholic king of Poland, a number of Irish companies in the service of Sweden duly deserted.

    Despite his endeavours to rid Ulster of potentially rebellious elements the fact remains that Chichester was appalled by the London government's change of tack on the plantation issue. He believed that expectations were far too high. As an experienced military commander he would have been acutely conscious of the enormous logistical problems attendant on the building and settlement plans which were given three years for realization. Not surprisingly, in the short term the Ulster plantation made dilatory progress when measured against expectations. As a result, when decisions were later taken to extend the plantation policy to other parts of Ireland (to Wexford and other parts of Leinster), Chichester's preferred model of allocating the largest share of plantation lands to the local inhabitants was employed. Not that local opponents of the plantation projects appreciated Chichester's 'generosity'. Such was the vehemence of opposition to his plantation plans in Wexford that the settlement was unable to proceed for some years. What particularly enraged the Wexford men was the duplicitous conduct of Chichester's administration. Having been encouraged to sue for firmer legal titles to their lands, a legal loophole was unearthed which rendered those titles invalid, thereby paving the way for confiscation and redistribution of the land by the crown. For Chichester matters of state superseded legal proprieties. This was evident in his response to suggestions that the Wexford controversy might spill into violence. In his view, there had been more reason to have 'doubted the men of Ulster who are forty times more in number, and I am assured greater grievance and harder measure was offered unto them' (Chichester to Northampton,14 Aug 1613, BL, Cotton MS Titus B.X.224). Strategic considerations, reflecting his military background, were uppermost in the lord deputy's mind as he sought to establish a vigilant presence in areas from which rebellion had particularly threatened the pale during the sixteenth century.

     In the wake of the flight of the earls in 1607, and while the plantation of Ulster was being planned and implemented between 1607 and 1610, the volatile situation in Ireland forced Chichester to suspend his penal activities against Catholics. Since, however, he considered the protestantization of Ireland to be the 'greatest and most sacred work his Majesty [King James] can do' (lord deputy and council to privy council, 5 Dee 1605, PRO, SP 63/217/95), it is not surprising that he availed himself of a hardening of attitudes in London on the Catholic issue to relaunch a vigorous bid to suppress Catholicism in Ireland. This time the oath of supremacy was employed as the catch-all method of enforcing religious conformity among the Catholic elites in the country. Having almost entirely purged Catholics from central government in the early stages of his administration (the earl of Clanricard, a royal favourite, being the only exception), Chichester extended the policy to municipal government-Catholics were excluded from office as mayors, sheriffs, and bailiffs. The renewed campaign of persecution reached its pitch with the public execution on I February 1612 of two Catholic clerics in Dublin: Cornelius O'Devany, the octogenarian Catholic bishop of Down and Connor, and Patrick O'Loughran, former chaplain to the earl of Tyrone, were sentenced to death for treason. Chichester believed that annihilating the influence of the Catholic clergy in Ireland was fundamental to his campaign. These executions, therefore, were designed to terrorize the Catholic community, lay and clerical alike. Reacting to suggestions that O'Devany and O'Loughran were regarded among Irish Catholics as saints and martyrs, the deputy reportedly declared that he had every intention of increasing the complement of Irish martyrs. In practice, however, Chichester was unable to eradicate the Catholic clergy by 'fire and sword' (Chichester to privy council, 5 Feb 1609, PRO, SP 63/226/21). Such were the hysterical scenes at the executions that the London government baulked at further such punishments. Chichester continued in favour, however, and a year later, on 23 February 1613, was created Baron Chichester of Belfast.

       Frustrated in his attempt to reduce Catholics to conformity to the protestant religion by executing their clergy, Chichester maximized pressure in other ways. He was keen to utilize the Irish legislature to pass additional anti-Catholic measures and, as protestants constituted a tiny minority in Ireland at the time, he manufactured a protestant majority in the legislature, giving rise to a political crisis in May 1613. Dramatic scenes occurred in the Irish House of Commons during the election to the speakership. Unwilling to recognize the protestant 'majority', the leader of the Catholic MPs, Sir John Everard, ascended the speaker's chair in unconventional fashion. He was just as unceremoniously removed by an enraged protestant contingent who wrestled him from his seat. As a result the Catholics walked out en masse, subsequently abstaining from parliament for well over a year while their grievances were adjudicated in England. In what amounted to the most co-ordinated effort to oust Chichester as deputy, there were rumours in England that he had been culpable of misconduct. In the end, however, menacing Catholic tactics alienated James I who branded them 'half subjects' (J. S. Brewer and W. Bullen, eds., Calendar of the Carew Manuscripts, 5, 1871, 288-92). By the time Chichester's term of office as lord deputy terminated in February 1616 he had managed to incline King James to his view that Irish Catholics were not to be trusted. A wide-ranging package of anti-Catholic measures, proposed by Chichester, was ratified by the king in 1614.

       During 1614 the sequence of events leading to Chichester's replacement as lord deputy gathered pace. He had become seriously ill, prompting a senior official in the Irish administration to predict his imminent demise. A rumour even swept London that he had died. Chichester survived this bout of illness and after he had steered a subsidy bill through the Irish parliament in the following year King James terminated his appointment as lord deputy, citing concerns for Chichester's personal welfare. Thus concluded a long and highly eventful lord deputyship. A vigilant, perhaps at times paranoiac, lord deputy, Chichester played a pivotal role in securing the English conquest of Ireland in 1603. Backsliding had already occurred under his predecessor, the aged and infirm Sir George Carey. But for Chichester, it is a moot point whether the conquest would ever have been consolidated. A recrudescence of the power-base of the earl of Tyrone was by no means inconceivable. As a contemporary, Thomas Gainsford, remarked, Chichester 'watched those parts of the North more narrowly than any before him' (T. Gainsford, The True and Exemplary and Remarkable History of the Earle of Tirone, 1619). Chichester's tenure of office as lord deputy was also marked by a major judicial and administrative development in Ireland, with the successful regularization of a nationwide system of assize circuits for the first time. Overall there is substantial evidence to suggest that while Chichester was virulently anti-Catholic his tenure of office was not marked by anti-Irish sentiment. He did not subscribe to the contemporary view among elements of the English who regarded the Irish as an inferior race. While often giving vent to his frustrations at the apparent incorrigibility of the Catholic Irish, Chichester always hoped to win them round to his way of thinking, whether by force or persuasion. Indeed, had he managed to protestantize the indigenous Irish it is clear that he would have seen little value in disappropriating them and bringing in so many 'British' settlers. As Cyril Falls remarked, by the time Chichester became lord deputy:

there was coming a remarkable change, which continued throughout his viceroyalty,so that, by the end of it, he is hardly to be recognized as the relentless Governor of Carrickfergus. There is some excuse for regarding him as an inhuman monster in those early days, but historians who persist in picturing him as such when he was Lord Deputy cannot have read his letters, or are deliberately concealing their good side. (Falls, 222)

While there is considerable currency in Falls's remarks, he overstated his case. Chichester's ghoulish streak continued to be manifest at times during his lord deputyship, not least by his blood-curdling utterances at the time of the execution of Bishop O'Devany in 1612. What is more, it has been suggested that he was the first person to sanction the employment of the rack as a means of torture during the ill-fated Ulster conspiracy of 1615, a putative plot which ultimately only offered a token menace to the plantation.

Later career, death, and reputation

Following his retirement from the lord deputyship Chichester spent some years completing his stately mansion, Joymount, in Carrickfergus, as well as looking after his ailing wife, who died on 27 November 1620 and was buried on 10 January 1621 at Carrickfergus. In May 1622 Chichester was summoned into service again, being sent as ambassador on a high-profile mission to the Palatinate in the Habsburg empire. While abroad he contracted what he later referred to as 'my German sickness' (Chichester to Calvert, 28 Dee 1622, PRO, SP 14/134/96), an illness which recurred in subsequent years. On his return in late 1622 he was appointed to the English privy council, and was even considered a serious candidate for the post of lord treasurer of England. For the sake of royal finances it is perhaps just as well that he did not succeed in attaining this lofty position. When he died in London on 19 February 1625 from pleurisy the formerly indigent Elizabethan captain was the proprietor of 100,000 acres earning some £6000 yearly, though his estates were encumbered by vast debts, including one of £10,000. Seven months after his death his body was finally buried on 27 October 1625 in St Nicholas' Church, Carrickfergus.



Chichester family vault, St.Nicholas’ church, Carrickfergus. Sir John Chichester is also buried here, the vault including his image (head included). Having decapitated Sir John following the battle of Altfracken in 1597, Sir Randal McDonnell was to query on visiting the vault ‘how the de’il came he (Sir John) to get his heid again? – for I was sure I had ance ta’en it frae him’.



Historical Reputation

  Religious crusader, courageous, if ruthless, army commander, precipitator of the flight of the earls, and supposed architect of the plantation of Ulster, Chichester has been the subject of highly polarized representations both by contemporaries and by historians. He was lauded by his nephew Faithful Fortescue, in a posthumous account, as a 'greate Statesman, and good Common-wealth's man, and as knowing and able a souldier as any of our nation in those Tymes' (Fortescue, 19). In stark contrast, Irish Catholics entertained a profound antipathy towards their lord deputy, portraying him as a reincarnated 'Nero' for his persecuting zeal (H. Fitzsimon, Words of Comfort, ed. E. Hogan, 1881, 64). Later historians have usually fallen into similarly antagonistic schools. Lord Ernest Hamilton, writing in 1920, regarded Chichester as 'unquestionably one of the greatest men that Ireland has seen' (E. Hamilton, The Irish Rebellion of 1641, 1920, 65), but in the eyes of hostile nineteenth-century commentators he was merely a robber, who had practised his thieving skills as a young man in Devon only to perfect them later in Ireland by illicitly purloining the lands of the Gaelic Irish at the time of the plantations. He was despised so much by the Irish nationalist historian C. P. Meehan that even his looks were made to count against him; his 'physiognomy was repulsive and petrifying; so much so, that, looking at his engraved portrait, one is inclined to wonder that he ever sat to a painter' (Meehan, 35). It was 1936 before some semblance of a balanced account of this highly controversial figure was offered. Cyril Falls astutely observed then that 'while to uninstructed Irish Nationalists Cromwell is the English villain of Irish history, the better read reserve that place for Chichester'. Despite this, Falls considered him the 'greatest of Irish viceroys, not excepting Strafford or Mountjoy himself (Falls, 212).

  (A version of this article is published in the New Dictionary of National Biography)  

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