|Clare County Library||
in County Clare 1534 - 1911
Letter of Connor O’Brien to Charles V, 1534
In the 1530s the government of England under Henry VIII began to exert its authority in the remotest corners of Ireland. The ancient freedoms enjoyed by Irish lordships were threatened with extinction; Irish lords appealed to the Roman Emperor Charles V, England’s main rival on the continent, to come to their assistance. The earl of Desmond had exchanged letters and envoys with Charles in 1529 but nothing came of the initiative. At the outbreak of the rebellion of Silken Thomas in 1534, Connor O’Brien of Thomond, a staunch ally of the house of Kildare, again appealed to the emperor; O’Brien offered allegiance to Charles V in return for military aid. O’Brien’s letter is notable, not just for its anti English sentiment, but because its reveals how militarised society then was in County Clare and the determination of its inhabitants to retain their ancient rights and liberties.
To the most sacred and most invincible Cæsar, Charles Emperor of the Romans, most Catholic King of Spain, health with all submission. Most sacred Cæsar, lord most clement, we give your Majesty to know that our predecessors for a long time quietly and peacefully occupied Ireland, with constancy, force, and courage, and without rebellion. They possessed and governed this country in manner royal, as by our ancient chronicles doth plainly appear. Our said predecessors and ancestry did come from your Majesty’s realm of Spain, where they were of the blood of a Spanish prince, and many kings of that lineage, in long succession, governed all Ireland happily, until it was conquered by the English. The last king of this land was of my blood and name; and ever since that time our ancestors, and we ourselves, have ceased not to oppose the English intruders; we have never been subject to English rule, or yielded up our ancient rights and liberties; and there is at this present, and for ever will be, perpetual discord between us, and we will harass them with continual war.
For this cause, we, who till this present, have sworn fealty to no man, submit ourselves, our lands, our families, our followers, to the protection and defence of your Majesty, and of free will and deliberate purpose we promise to obey your Majesty’s orders and commands in all honest behests. We will serve your Majesty with all our force; that is to say, with 1,660 horse and 2,440 foot, equipped and armed. Further, we will levy and direct for your Majesty’s use 13,000 men, well armed with harquebuss, bows, arrows, and swords. We will submit to your Majesty’s will and jurisdiction more than a hundred castles, and they and all else shall be at your Majesty’s disposition to be employed as you shall direct.
We can undertake also for the assistance and support of our good brother the earl of Desmond, whose cousin, the daughter of the late earl James, your Majesty’s friend, is our wife.
Our further pleasure will be declared to you by our servants and friends, Robert and Dominic de Paul, to whom your Majesty will deign to give credence. May your Majesty be ever prosperous.
Written at our castle at Clare, witness, our daughter, July 21, 1534, by your humble servant and unfailing friend,
Connor O’Brien, Prince of Ireland.