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The Enemies of the O’Neill clan (Sir Henry Bagnall -1556-1598)


“ He was in sooth, a greedy adventurer, restless, rapacious, unscrupulous; in a word, one who deemed it no sin or shame to aid in any process by which the rightful owner might be driven from his holding provided he got share of the spoil”.


The above is a description of Sir Henry Bagnall however unflattering by Irish historian C. P. Meehan


Sir Henry Bagnal (c.1556-1598) was a soldier, adventure and son of Sir Nicholas Bagenal (d. 1590/91), marshal of the army in Ireland, and Eleanor Griffith (d. 1573), daughter and coheir of Sir Edward Griffith of Penrhyn in north Wales.  Named after his godfather Sir Henry Sidney Lord Deputy of Ireland,(strange, as Shane O’Neills son Henry was also named after his godfather Sir Henry Sidney) Bagenal probably matriculated from Jesus College, Oxford, in 1572 or 1573, aged sixteen, but left without a degree to serve in Ireland with his father, marshal of the army since 1566;


However the real reason he left was the following on the 26 August 1539:He fled England after involvement with other "light persons" in the death by misadventure of a man in a brawl in Leek, Staffordshire. Making his way to the court of Conn Baccagh (the lame) O'Neill in Ulster. He took employment there as a mercenary soldier, and it rapidly became evident that he was an arrogant and highly ambitious man. So began the saga of the Bagenal/O'Neill clan in the 16th century.

On the 7th of Dec 1542: A letter was sent by the Dublin Privy Council to London at the intercession of Conn Baccagh O'Neill recently created 1st Earl of Tyrone petitioning for a pardon for Bagenal.2 Mar 1543: Pardon granted to "Nicholas Bagenal, or Bagnolde, or Bagenholde late of Wolston, Warwickshire, alias of Warwick, alias of Stafford, alias of Langfords, Derbyshire, Yeoman. General pardon of all murders and felonies by him committed.

In 1544 he received permission from the Dublin Privy Council to depart Ireland for service in the French Wars. He was gone for 3 years and on his return brought back with him a high reputation as a soldier not from a strategic perspective but he acquired a fearsome military reputation for the wholesale slaughter of his enemy.

In the years 1548 – 1549 Bagenal served under Sir Edward Bellingham. It is with him that his reputation as a fearsome military opponent was further enhanced. A group of raiders led by one Cahir O' Connor were plundering in an area from Leix to North Carlow to South Kildare. In South Kildare Bagenal made contact. O'Connor retreated, even though Bagenals force was only in the ratio of 1 to 16 favouring O'Connor.

However O'Connor and his raiders were trapped by a bog, which, Bagenal's force again making contact Bellingham was later able to report to the Privy Council "that the oldest man in Ireland never saw so many woodkerne (Irish foot soldiers) slain in one day".

Bellingham's policy of erecting strong defences on the borders of the Southern Pale was mainly responsible for the revival of English Supremacy in the district. Hence, it was he who established the "Black Castle" at Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow, where stood a suppressed Carmelite Convent. A band of horse was kept there, under whose protection, the county slowly settled.

This castle was situated in the Barony of Idrone owned by the Carews. (Bagenal at a later date bought the Barony for one of, his sons, Dudley, who shortly afterwards was to meet a tragic and violent death there. That purchase began the shift of the Bagenals from their base in Ulster to the creation of another in this part of Leinster.

In the year 1550 was a full year for Nicholas he became a member of the Irish Privy Council and also secured the position of Marshall General of the Army in Ireland. (By this time he had acquired a detestation of all things Catholic and Irish, including the people, their language, customs, beliefs and lifestyle. He was determined to suppress both them and their Church and Monastery, to supplant the Cistercians, to take the Lordships of Newry and of Mourne, to carve a military role for himself as Marshal and a political role as Privy Councillor and as M.P.).

He settled in Newry where he was to reside for the remainder of his life and he received a lease of 21 years on the Abbey lands, which were then made a grant of the town and lands of Newry. Added to these properties and other rights and lands, he also ultimately realized his ambition of gaining the Lordship of Mourne. In 1550, two other major events occurred which were to pose a threat to English Rule in Ulster and eventually to English Supremacy in Ireland. In this, the Bagenal and O'Neill saga was to be irrevocably and indeed tragically interconnected.

Two of the Sons of Conn Baccagh O'Neill, Shane the proud and Matthew fell out over the succession to their father. The result was that Shane took up arms against his brother, and, from time to time, against the English. In this year also was born the man who was destined to become one of the most famous soldiers of Ireland and Europe of that century, and indeed, into the early Part of the next. With him, one might well argue that the nation of Ireland, or, at the very least; the idea of an Irish Nation and nationality was born.

He was the man who would one day marry a sister of Bagenal - Mabel, and also be responsible for the death of one of his sons, Henry, at the Battle of the Yellow Ford. Who was he? He was Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone and second son of Matthew.

In the year 1551: Sir James Croft - the then Lord Deputy, after his failure to capture Rathlin Island (in which Sir Ralph, Nicholas' brother, was involved) ordered Bagenal to keep the peace in Tyrone. Accordingly he raided into that area. Shane (Sean) O'Neill was his target, but he was elusive, making little resistance, and remaining in the woodland.

However he did eventually come in on parole to make a truce. Enticed to Dublin, O'Neill was detained there for over a year. Bagenal and Matthew (Shane's half brother) worked together in this effort at re-establishing order in Tyrone under English rule. In the same year Bagenal made a successful expedition against the Antrim Clandeboye O'Neills. Again in this year a letter from the Privy Council in England, requested Bagenal with others named, to attend there "for the better understanding of the matter informed against Sir Anthony St. Leger by the Archbishop of Dublin".

Probably living in the abbots house in Castle Street (Newry) at this period he subsequently built a castle called Greencastle. Here he brought his Welsh wife, raised his family (the descendants later for the most part, were to marry into anglo-irish families, and become caught up, in the web of 17th century Irish Civil Wars) they in fact would convert to Catholicism.

The Bagenals had a vested interest in developing their Newry headquarters and sought extensive immunities from Sir Henry Sidney, the lord deputy.  Sidney refused these but appointed Sir Nicholas as chief commissioner of Ulster and Henry as his assistant in May 1577.  Henry was knighted the following year.

It may have been the government's intention that this commission would lead to a lord presidency of Ulster similar to the presidencies set up in the provinces of Connaught and Munster.  In reality this jurisdiction became restricted to those areas under the Bagenals' military control.  Hugh O'Neill was asserting traditional claims of overlordship in the territories of Magennis and O'Hanlon, into which the Bagenals had encroached; he once famously told “Bagenal to put his commission in his pocket”.

Sir Henry Bagnell from this point forward became associated with a series of military disasters.  In August 1580 he commanded the rear with Sir William Stanley when Lord Grey of Wilton led his forces, many of them raw recruits, into the Wicklow mountain passes; they were defeated by Feagh McHugh O'Byrne's and Viscount Baltinglass's men at Glenmalure on 25 August. 


As chief assistant to his father on the commission for Ulster, Henry was active in taking musters and surveying lands.  He was also associated with the various divide-and-rule schemes of Lord Deputy Perrot in his efforts to contain the rival ambitions of the English invaders and the native Gaelic Chiefs. 


In 1584 Sir Henry was stationed as colonel of the garrison at Carrickfergus to contain and repulse the incursions of Sorley Boy MacDonald's Scots, but in September about 1300 of them landed on Rathlin Island under Angus MacDonald.  Bagenal went on the attack but was ambushed in a narrow defile at Glenarm in the Glens of Antrim and had to make a precipitate retreat to Carrickfergus. Bagenal was frequently in dispute with other English officials and military men.


In February 1585, during a disagreement with Sir William Stanley, his brother Dudley Bagenal, then captain of a band in south Clandeboye, Antrim, came to blows with Stanley. The steward of Clandeboye, Nicholas Dawtrey, alleged it was Bagenal's ambitions that drove Hugh O'Neill and branches within the Clandeboye O’Neills into open warfare.  In May 1586 Sir Nicholas sent Sir Henry to the court to report on the troubles in the Dublin council with Lord Deputy Perrot. 


He went equipped with references and petitions to Lord Burghley demanding changes in government policy on Ulster. One of these, The Description and Present State of Ulster (1586), is an edited extract from one of the many contemporary accounts of Ireland then in circulation.  Possibly the source was Sir Edward Waterhouse, a friend of both the lord deputy and of the Bagenals.


Bagenal's tract was much concerned to point out the crown's weakness in Ulster, where O'Neill was becoming more powerful and was bringing in Scottish mercenaries, and at a time when the Spanish Armada was more than a rhetorical threat.  Bagenal recommended a division of O'Neill's lands in Tyrone, a restraint on O'Neill's control over the petty chiefs in co. Down, the enhancement of his own role as marshal, and a presidency for Ulster with a shire hall and a provincial gaol to dispense royal justice.


Other proposals were more obviously self-interested, such as his application to develop Newry, and to tax local lords to build walls and a college where the sons of Ulster lords could be educated in civility and concurrently kept hostage. Finally, he wanted a similar commission to that held by Sir Richard Bingham in Connaught.


At first the queen endorsed many of Bagenal's demands including the grant of a commission similar to Bingham's, but her letter of April 1587 was never enrolled as a patent in the Irish chancery.  Hostilities between the Bagenals and Perrot reached crisis point when the latter claimed he had been defamed by a letter purportedly from Turlough Luineach O'Neill to the queen, but actually forged 'by means of Sir Henry Bagenal and other of that Machiavellian device.


In the council chamber in Dublin Sir Nicholas demanded that Perrot clear his son's name of military incompetence-allegations made by Henry Wallop, the treasurer-at-war. They accused each other of being liars, drunkards, and cowards and came to blows.  Nicholas Dawtrey, who had been commissioned by Burghley to evaluate plans for Ulster, also attacked Bagenal's covetousness and avowed that 'Mr Marshal hath neither agreed with English or Irish that hath had as much or more discretion in governing of Ulster than himself … [or with] … any commissioners that hath been employed in that province, except his sons.


Sir Henry's visit to England was not a total failure.  He wrote on 16 September 1586 to Edward Manners, third earl of Rutland, whose cousin Eleanor, daughter of Sir John Savage of Rock Savage, in the Wirral, Cheshire, he had married, inquiring if the earl had a parliamentary borough to spare; on 29 September he was returned at Grantham and in the event also returned for Anglesey, which he preferred.  His marriage to Eleanor produced three sons: Arthur, mentally handicapped, became a ward of his uncle Sir Patrick Barnewell; Dudley, who founded the co. Carlow branch of the family (not to be confused with Henry's brother Dudley, killed by the Kavanaghs in May 1587); and Ambrose.  Their six daughters married into the families of wealthy palesmen.


Bagenal was deputized for his father, Sir Nicholas, and Perrot was commanded to allow him to do so 'without any trouble, molestation or impeachment'.  With the active co-operation of the new lord deputy, Sir William Fitzwilliam, he led the invasion in 1588 against Sir Ross McMahon in Monaghan who, at O'Neill's behest, had refused to have a sheriff appointed there.  In the final settlement of Monaghan, Bagenal received substantial termon (ecclesiastical) lands nominally outside the control of the McMahons. In October 1590 Sir Nicholas Bagenal formally resigned his office of marshal of the army provided his son succeeded him; Henry did so on 24 October and on the same day was sworn of the Privy Council.


On 18 May 1591 he succeeded his father as chief commissioner for the government of Ulster, in effect an empty title.  In the following year he wrote to Lord Burghley with a detailed analysis of his situation: 'The chiefest, or rather the only means to reduce these barbarous people to obedience is to so disunite them as all may be enforced to depend of the queen. His proposals were little heeded; Burghley and the Privy Council had by then adopted a conciliatory attitude to Hugh O'Neill, even to the extent of exempting the earl's country from Bagenal's jurisdiction.  Following the death of his second wife, Joanna O'Donnell, O'Neill asked Bagenal for the hand of his sister Mabel in marriage. 


This approach was repulsed with contempt; Sir Henry had Mabel removed to live with her sister Mary at Turvey, co. Dublin.  Mabel's subsequent elopement and marriage to Hugh O'Neill so deepened the feud between the two men that she became known as “'the Helen of the Irish War.  They were married in August 1591; Bagenal vainly attempted to prove that O'Neill was not properly divorced from his first wife and consistently refused to pay the £1000 dowry to O'Neill.


Bagenal kept a journal of the military campaign of the autumn of 1593.  In September he led his soldiers into Monaghan again, attacking the McMahons en route for Fermanagh to repulse Hugh Maguire, whose forces had recently defeated Sir Richard Bingham.  Maguire's defenses at the Erne fords near Beleek were broken.  Bagenal left troops under Captain Dowdall to consolidate his hold over Enniskillen, captured on 2 February 1594 after a nine-day siege. 


Bagenal and O'Neill gave conflicting accounts of their service against Maguire.  A war of words preceded open hostilities; Bagenal reported to Dublin that O'Neill was in touch with Spain and was recruiting and arming his lordship, while O'Neill claimed that the real beneficiaries of his services to the crown were his enemies.


The struggle for power in Ulster was personalized, and may have been overdramatized by historians.  By May 1595 the relief of the Monaghan garrison had become crucial.  Bagenal led out an army of 1750 men from Dundalk and Newry on 24 May; O'Neill had besieged the garrison and his forces attacked Bagenal at Clontibret near Monaghan, inflicting heavy losses.  Bagenal's defeat, reported as a tactical withdrawal to Newry, was the first of O'Neill's victories.


Bagenal had to be reinforced and revictualled at Newry by sea, sending back his wounded to Dublin by that route, because O'Neill had blocked the Moyry Pass-the famed Gap of the North.  By July 1596 he had raided Bagenal's lands right to the gates of Newry.


In December 1596, and again in June 1597, Bagenal successfully revictualled the garrison at Armagh, but by 1598 the more northerly fort on the Blackwater was in dire straits.  Bagenal went to relieve the fort.  He knew the terrain well as far as Armagh and had good guides, but his army was stalked by ill luck and outmaneuvered by O'Neill's forces.  On 14 August 1598, on the field of battle at the Yellow Ford, Bagenal raised the visor of his helmet and was mortally wounded. 


Some dispatches say that his body fell into O'Neill's hands, others that it was brought off the field with those who sought refuge in Armagh Cathedral and was buried there, but in all probability it was buried in his father's church, St Patrick's in Newry. Bagenal is also given a certain literary immortality in Sir Walter Scott's romantic ballad Rokeby.


The Poem entitled Rokeby by Sir Walter Scott revolves around three neighboring families along the Tees River in northern England that for centuries have stood together against their country's raiding invaders from Scotland. Now they are divided by the English Civil War of King Charles I against Parliament, Oliver Cromwell and others.

Sir Richard of Rokeby is for the King. Living with him is a beautiful daughter Matilda and a young Irish warrior, Redmond O'Neale, whom he has raised as a member of his own family. Rokeby's long dead wife, Matilda's mother, was the sister of Philip Mortham. And for many years Mortham and Rokeby were comrades in arms. Fighting in Ireland both had been taken prisoner by the great Ulster chieftain and lord of the Tyrone O’Neill Turlough O'Neale, Redmond's maternal grandfather. Near kin to Mortham, and long his closest friend but now a deadly enemy is a third River Tees neighbor, Oswald Wycliffe. It was once understood by their parents that Matilda of Rokeby would wed young Wilfrid Wycliffe. But the Wycliffes and the Morthams took arms against the King on the side of the Parliamentarians. And Sir Richard would never let his daughter wed traitor's son.

In some ways resembling Milton's Satan, the hero of Rokeby is one who should of right be no more than a minor disgruntled former follower of Philip Mortham: Bertram Risingham. Bertram had been Mortham's right-hand man fighting against Spaniards in the Caribbean, but, once back in England, the two later fell out over division of rich spoils which Mortham brought home with him. The poem is about utterly unscrupulous efforts by Oswald Wycliffe to take control of the neighboring estates of the Morthams and the Rokebys and their successful efforts to thwart him.


Rokeby is also a tale of a missing heir, three young men in love with the same young woman, treachery, piracy, minstrelsy, snippets of English and Irish history including characters based on real individuals like Bagnell etc , efforts of three bad men to do justice to their troubled consciences and good local color of rivers, cliffs, forests and animals.

Some Verses include the following it’s all a bit flowery and very of the period  

Any youthful virtues Bertram Risingham once had are long gone:

"All that gives gloss to sin, all gay
Light folly, past with youth away,
But rooted stood, in manhood's hour,
The weeds of vice without their flower."

On dreamy, effeminate Wilfred Wycliffe:

"For his was minstrel's skill, he caught
The art unteachable, untaught;"


Again you get the idea, what we know of Bagnell the man is not as poetic he was as with most invaders ruthless in everything he did from his soldiery to his passion and personal hate of the Irish people but in particular Hugh O’Neill and his clan. Based on his personal writings the Privy Council in England ambition and his venomous disgust of the Irish clan system and of course his personal dislike of all things O’Neill. Unfortunately for Sir Henry they historically define who he was as a person and not a very nice one based on his own personal writings. In fact he thought the Irish people barbarians and vermin ripe for extermination.


At times we have tendency to when remembering the famine in Ireland we evoke the years from 1840-1847. However, Bagnell and other English commanders that would follow his lead where responsible in times of war and not when in War, for many man made famines in order to starve the population of Ulster and the O’Neill clan. He had tendency to burn corps on a regular basis this concept had a twofold effect (1) Bagnell believed an army can’t fight without food in its belly (2) a starving people perhaps would revolt against its Chieftain, however none of it worked the People of the O’Neill clan rallied behind its leaders in order to subdue a haughty, thoroughly dislikable, land greedy, Murderer, and criminal called Sir Henry Bagnell.