Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex

Last updated

The Earl of Sussex
British (English) School - Thomas Radcliffe (1526-1583), 3rd Earl of Sussex - 515575 - National Trust.jpg
The Earl of Sussex, c.1575-80
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
In office
6 May 1560 13 October 1565
Religion Roman Catholicism

Arms of Sir Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, KG Coat of arms of Sir Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, KG.png
Arms of Sir Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, KG

Thomas Radclyffe (or Ratclyffe), 3rd Earl of Sussex KG (c. 1525 9 June 1583), was Lord Deputy of Ireland during the Tudor period of English history, and a leading courtier during the reign of Elizabeth I.



He was the eldest son of Henry Radclyffe, 2nd Earl of Sussex, and his first wife Elizabeth Howard. His maternal grandparents were Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, and his second wife, Agnes Tilney.

His maternal uncles included, among others, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Lord Edmund Howard (father of Queen Catherine Howard, Edward Howard, William Howard, 1st Baron Howard of Effingham, and Lord Thomas Howard). His aunt, Elizabeth Boleyn, was the mother of Queen Anne Boleyn.

Early life

He was born about 1525, and after his father's succession to the earldom in 1542 was styled Viscount Fitzwalter. After serving in the army abroad, he was employed in 1551 to negotiate a marriage between King Edward VI of England and a daughter of Henry II of France. [1] Radclyffe's prominence in the kingdom was shown by his inclusion among the signatories to the letters patent of 16 June 1553 settling the crown on Lady Jane Grey as Edward's successor; but he nevertheless won favour with Queen Mary, who employed him in arranging her marriage with Philip II of Spain, and who created him Baron Fitzwalter in August 1553. [2]

Sussex in Ireland

Returning to England from a mission to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, in April 1556, Fitzwalter was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition , the "prevailing anarchy in Ireland, a country which, nominally subject to the English Crown, was torn by feuds among its practically independent native chieftains, rendered the task of the lord deputy one of no ordinary difficulty; a difficulty that was increased by the ignorance of English statesmen con- cerning Ireland and Irish conditions, and by their incapacity to devise or to carry into execution any consistent and thorough- going policy for bringing the half-conquered island under an orderly system of administration." [2]

Fitzwalter effected Queen Mary's policy for Ireland: the reversal of the partial attempts that had been made during the short reign of Edward VI to promote Protestantism there, the "plantation" by English settlers in the midlands and the shiring of King's County and Queen's County in 1556, named after Mary and her husband Philip. [3] But before Fitzwalter could attend to such matters he had to make an expedition into Ulster, which was being kept in a constant state of disturbance by the Highland Scots from Kintyre and the Islands who were making settlements along the Antrim coast in the district of the "Glynnes" (now known as the Glens of Antrim), and by the efforts of Shane O'Neill to dominate more territory in Ulster. Brutal methods were deployed, as Sussex sent the earl of Ormond, Sir Nicholas Bagenal and other captains to Rathlin Island on 3 September 1557. They stayed for three days and hunted down the occupants of the island, and it was noted that they killed 'as many as they might come by or get out of caves, both man, woman, child and beasts'. [4]

Having defeated O'Neill and his allies, the MacDonnells, the lord deputy, who by the death of his father in February 1557 became Earl of Sussex, returned to Dublin, where he summoned a parliament in June of that year. Statutes were passed declaring the legitimacy of Mary I of England as Queen of the Kingdom of Ireland, reviving the laws for the suppression of heresy and forbidding the immigration of Scots. Having carried this legislation, Sussex endeavoured to give forcible effect to it, first by taking the field against Donough O'Conor, whom he failed to capture, and afterwards against Shane O'Neill, whose lands in Tyrone he ravaged (causing artificial famine by the burning of crops and killing of livestock), restoring to their nominal rights the Earl of Tyrone and his reputed son Matthew O'Neill, Baron of Dungannon. In June of the following year Sussex turned his attention to the west, where the head of the O'Brien clan had ousted his nephew Conor O'Brien, Earl of Thomond, from his possessions, and refused to pay allegiance to the Crown; he forced Limerick to open its gates to him, restored Thomond, and proclaimed The O'Brien a traitor. [5]

The Earl of Sussex, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, c. 1580s Thomas Radclyffe Earl of Sussex in Garter robes.JPG
The Earl of Sussex, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, c.1580s

In the autumn of 1558 the continued inroads of the Scottish islanders in the Antrim glens called for drastic treatment by the lord deputy. Sussex sailed from Dublin in the Mary Willoughby to Campbeltown Loch on the Kintyre peninsula. He burnt farms and houses including Saddell, a castle of James MacDonnell or MacDonald of Dunyvaig and Glynnes (died 1565), and then marched south to burn Dunaverty and Machrimore. He then burnt farms on the islands Arran, Bute, and Cumbrae. [6] Landing at Carrickfergus, he fired and plundered the settlements of the Scots on the Antrim coast before returning to Dublin for Christmas. [2]

Far from being reluctant to employ scorched earth tactics because of the high civilian mortality that it wrought (as has been claimed elsewhere), the government forces resorted to land and crop-burning repeatedly during the mid-Tudor and early Elizabethan years, and did so precisely because it promised to wreak the most havoc, and kill the most people. Once in Ulster's Gaelic heartland Sussex's army moved freely about, burning at will. Presumably because he could not linger in the province for as long as he would have liked, the earl prioritised the fastest route to a lasting impact: famine. Hence his ordering the slaughter of 4,000 captured cows in Tír Eoghain. As early as 1558 large parts of the country were destroyed by war, whole areas depopulated. According to Archbishop Dowdall, it was possible to ride 30 miles across much of central and southern Ulster without seeing any sign of life. Famine stalked the province.

David Edwards, Age of Atrocity: Violence and Political Conflict in Early Modern Ireland, 2010. [7]

In the metropolis, the news reached him of the queen's death. Crossing to England, he took part in the ceremonial of Queen Elizabeth's coronation in January 1559; and in the following July, he returned to Ireland with a fresh commission, now as lord lieutenant, from the new queen, whose policy required him to come to terms if possible with the troublesome leaders of the O'Neills and the MacDonnells. Shane O'Neill refused to meet Sussex without security for his safety, and having established his power in Ulster he demanded terms of peace which Elizabeth was unwilling to grant. Sussex failed in his efforts to bring Shane to submission, either by open warfare or by subterfuge.

He was preparing for a fresh attempt when he was superseded by Gerald FitzGerald, 11th Earl of Kildare, who was commissioned by Elizabeth to open negotiations with O'Neill, the result of which was that the latter repaired to London and made a formal submission to the queen. Shane's conduct on his return to Ireland was no less rebellious than before, and energetic measures against him became more imperative than ever. Having obtained Elizabeth's sanction, Sussex conducted a campaign in the summer of 1563 with Armagh as his temporary headquarters; but except for some indecisive skirmishing and the seizure of many of O'Neill's cattle, the operations led to no result and left O'Neill with his power little diminished. His continued failure to effect a purpose for the accomplishment of which he possessed inadequate resources led Sussex to pray for his recall from Ireland, and his wish was granted in May 1564. His government of Ireland had not, however, been wholly without fruit. [2]

Sussex the politician

Sussex was the first representative of the English Crown who enforced authority to any considerable extent beyond the limits of the Pale; the policy of planting English settlers in Offaly and Leix was carried out by him in 1562 with a certain measure of success; and although he fell far short of establishing English rule throughout any large part of Ireland, he made its influence felt in remote parts of the island, such as Thomond and the Glynnes of Antrim, where the independence of the native septs had hitherto been subjected not even to nominal interference. His letters from Ireland display a just conception of the problems with which he was confronted, and of the methods by which their solution should be undertaken; and his failure was due, not to lack of statesmanship or of executive capacity on his own part, but to the insufficiency of the resources placed at his command and want of insight and persistence on the part of Elizabeth and her ministers. He also had to contend with the hostility of certain highly placed officials in the Dublin administration, led by John Parker, the Master of the Rolls in Ireland. Parker, a strong Protestant and English by birth, accused Sussex of having Roman Catholic sympathies, a charge to which Sussex was clearly vulnerable in light of his loyal service to Queen Mary in her efforts to stamp out heresy in Ireland. [2]

Sussex as courtier

On his return to England, Sussex, who before leaving Ireland had to endure the indignity of an inquiry into his administration instigated by his enemies and led by John Parker, threw himself into opposition to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, especially in regard to the suggested marriage between Leicester and the queen. He does not appear to have incurred Elizabeth's displeasure, for in 1566 and the following year she employed him in negotiations for bringing about a different matrimonial alliance which he warmly supported, the proposal that she should bestow her hand on the Archduke Charles. When this project failed, Sussex returned from Vienna to London in March 1568, and in July he was appointed Lord President of the North, a position which threw on him the responsibility of dealing with the rebellion of the Northern Earls of Northumberland and Westmorland in the following year. The weakness of the force at his disposal rendered necessary at the outset a caution which engendered some suspicion of his loyalty, and this suspicion was increased by the counsel of moderation which he urged upon the queen; but in 1570 he laid waste the border, invaded Scotland, and raided the country round Dumfries, reducing the rebel leaders to complete submission. In July 1572 Sussex became Lord Chamberlain, and he was henceforth in frequent attendance on Queen Elizabeth, both in her progresses through the country and at court, until his death. [2]


Frances Sydney The Countess of Sussex c. 1570-75 Frances Sydney Countess of Sussex.jpg
Frances Sydney The Countess of Sussex c. 1570–75

He married twice: first to Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton; and secondly to Frances, daughter of Sir William Sidney of Penshurst. His second wife was the foundress of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, which she endowed by her will, and whose name commemorates the father and the husband of the countess. The earl left no children, and at his death, his titles passed to his brother Henry. [2]

See also

Related Research Articles

Somhairle Buíodh MacDonnell, also spelt as MacDonald, was a Gaelic chief, the son of Alexander Carragh MacDonnell, 5th of Dunnyveg, of Dunyvaig Castle, lord of Islay and Cantire, and Catherine, daughter of the Lord of Ardnamurchan, both in Scotland. MacDonnell is best known for establishing the MacDonnell clan in Antrim, Ireland, and resisting the campaign of Shane O'Neill and the English crown to expel the clan from Ireland. Sorley Boy's connection to other Irish Roman Catholic lords was complicated, but also culturally and familiarly strong: for example, he married Mary O'Neill, the daughter of Conn O'Neill. He is also known in English as Somerled and Somerled of the yellow hair.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone</span> Irish earl (died 1616)

Hugh O'Neill was an Irish Gaelic lord, Earl of Tyrone and was later created The Ó Néill Mór, Chief of the Name. O'Neill's career was played out against the background of the Tudor conquest of Ireland, and he is best known for leading a coalition of Irish clans during the Nine Years' War, the strongest threat to the House of Tudor in Ireland since the uprising of Silken Thomas against King Henry VIII.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Henry Sidney</span> English politician and courtier (1529–1586)

Sir Henry Sidney was an English soldier, politician and Lord Deputy of Ireland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shane O'Neill (Irish chieftain)</span> 16th-century Irish leader

Shane O'Neill was an Irish chieftain of the O'Neill dynasty of Ulster in the mid-16th century. Shane O'Neill's career was marked by his ambition to be the O'Neill—sovereign of the dominant O'Neill family of Tír Eoghain. This brought him into conflict with competing branches of the O'Neill family and with the English government in Ireland, who recognised a rival claim. Shane's support was considered worth gaining by the English even during the lifetime of his father Conn O'Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone. But rejecting overtures from Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, the lord deputy from 1556, Shane refused to help the English against the Scottish settlers on the coast of Antrim, allying himself for a short time instead with the MacDonnells, the most powerful of these settlers. Shane viewed the Scottish settlers as invaders, but decided to stay his hand against them with hopes of using them to strengthen his position with the English. However, tensions quickly boiled over and he declared war on the Scottish MacDonnell's defeating them at the Battle of Glentaisie despite the MacDonnells calling for reinforcements from Scotland. The Scottish MacDonnells would later assassinate Shane O'Neill and collect the bounty on his head.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tudor conquest of Ireland</span> 1536–1603 English campaign in Ireland

The Tudor conquestof Ireland took place during the 16th century under the Tudor dynasty, which ruled the Kingdom of England. The Anglo-Normans had conquered swathes of Ireland in the late 12th century, bringing it under English rule. In the 14th century, the effective area of English rule shrank markedly, and from then most of Ireland was held by native Gaelic chiefdoms. Following a failed rebellion by the Earl of Kildare in the 1530s, the English Crown set about restoring its authority. Henry VIII of England was made "King of Ireland" by the Crown of Ireland Act 1542. The conquest involved assimilating the Gaelic nobility by way of "surrender and regrant"; the confiscation and colonization ('plantation') of lands with settlers from Britain; imposing English law and language; banning Catholicism, dissolving the monasteries and making Anglican Protestantism the state religion.

Sir William FitzWilliam (1526–1599) was an English Lord Justice of Ireland and afterwards Lord Deputy of Ireland. In 1587, as Governor of Fotheringhay Castle, he supervised the execution of the death sentence on Mary, Queen of Scots. He was the Member of Parliament for Peterborough and represented County Carlow in the Irish House of Commons. He lived at Gainspark, Essex, and Milton Hall.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clandeboye</span> Former Gaelic Kingdom on the island of Ireland

Clandeboye or Clannaboy was a kingdom of Gaelic Ireland, comprising what is now south County Antrim, north County Down, and the barony of Loughinsholin. The entity was relatively late in appearance and is associated partly with the Gaelic resurgence of the High Middle Ages. The O'Neill Clandeboy who reigned in the territory descended from Hugh Boy O'Neill, a king of Tyrone. His descendants took advantage of the demise of the Earldom of Ulster during the latter 14th century and seized vast portions of territory. Clandeboye's main seats of power were Shane's Castle and Castle Reagh.

The Battle of Glentaisie, was an Irish battle fought in the north of Ulster on 2 May 1565. The result was a victory for Shane O'Neill over the Clan MacDonald of Dunnyveg. The conflict was a part of the political and military struggle, involving the English and occasionally the Scots, for control of northern Ireland. Although the MacDonalds were a Scottish family, based principally on the island of Islay in the Hebrides, they had long been associated with the Gaelic polity rather than the Kingdom of Scotland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tír Eoghain</span> Gaelic kingdom of ancient and Medieval Ireland

Tír Eoghain, also known as Tyrone, was a kingdom and later earldom of Gaelic Ireland, comprising parts of present-day County Tyrone, County Armagh, County Londonderry and County Donegal (Raphoe). The kingdom represented the core homeland of the Cenél nEógain people of the Northern Uí Néill and although they ruled, there were smaller groups of other Gaels in the area. One part of the realm to the north-east broke away and expanded, becoming Clandeboye, ruled by a scion branch of the O'Neill dynasty. In one form or another, Tyrone existed for over a millennium. Its main capital was Dungannon, though kings were inaugurated at Tullyhogue Fort.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex</span> 16th-century English noblewoman

Frances Radclyffe, Countess of Sussex was a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth I and the founder of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. She was the daughter of Sir William Sidney, of Penshurst Place in Kent, a prominent courtier during the reign of King Henry VIII, and his wife, the former Anne Packenham. She was the sister of Sir Henry Sidney, and aunt to both the poet Sir Philip Sidney and the first Sidney Earl of Leicester.

Events from the year 1565 in Ireland.

Sir Brian McPhelim Bacagh O'Neill was Chief of the Name of Clan O'Neill Lower Clandeboye, an Irish clan in north-eastern Ireland during the Tudor conquest of Ireland.

Connor O'Brien, 3rd Earl of Thomond also spelt Conor and called Groibleach, or the "long-nailed", contended with his uncle Donnell for the Chieftainship of Clan O'Brien from 1535 to 1565. He was confirmed as 3rd Earl of Thomond in 1558 by the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex. O'Brien intrigued with fitz Maurice in 1569 during the 1st Desmond Rebellion and fled to France. He returned and was pardoned in 1571, being restored to his lands at the end of the rebellion in 1573.

Lady Frances Radclyffe was an English noblewoman, who early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England became one of her Maids of Honour. It was at the royal court when Frances attracted the attention of visiting Irish chieftain Shane O'Neill, who was searching for a "proper English wife" and made her a proposal of matrimony, which she refused to consider. She later married Sir Thomas Mildmay, by whom she had two sons.

William Piers was an English constable, who spent most of his life in Ireland. He was the first mayor and practical founder of Carrickfergus. He was noted in particular for his attempts to drive out the Scots from Ulster and the great lengths that he went to in attempting to enhance the power of local chiefs at the expense of the Scots. Granted Tristernagh Abbey as a reward for his military services, he made it into his family home from the late 1560s until his death in 1603.

Richard St Lawrence, 7th Baron Howth was an Anglo-Irish nobleman and military commander of the Tudor era.

Events from the year 1573 in Ireland.

Events from the year 1557 in Ireland.

Sir William Warren was an Irish landowner, statesman and soldier of the late sixteenth century. He is mainly remembered now for having facilitated the much-discussed marriage of Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone and his third wife Mabel Bagenal, which took place at Warren's home, Drumcondra Castle, in 1591.

Jacques Wingfield (1519–1587) was an Anglo-Irish soldier and public official of the Tudor era. He is also sometimes known as John Wingfield or Jack Wingfield.


  1. Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Chisholm 1911.
  3. Since 1922 Queen's County is known as County Laois, and King's County as County Offaly, based on earlier Gaelic names.
  4. David Edwards, Campaign journals of the Elizabethan Irish Wars (Dublin, 20154), pp 8-9
  5. "Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex". National Portrait Gallery.
  6. C. S. Knighton & David Loades, Navy of Edward VI and Mary I (Navy Records Society, 2011), pp. 386-9.
  7. Edwards 2010, p. 74.


  • Edwards, David (2010). Age of Atrocity: Violence and Political Conflict in Early Modern Ireland. Four Courts Press. ISBN   978-1846822674.


Political offices
Preceded by Captain of the Gentlemen Pensioners
Succeeded by
Preceded by Lord Deputy of Ireland
Succeeded by
Lords Justices
Unknown Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk
Succeeded by
Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk
Title next held by
The Lord Hunsdon
Preceded by
Lords Justices
Lord Deputy of Ireland
Succeeded byas lord deputy
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
Preceded by Lord Chamberlain
Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by Justice in Eyre
south of the Trent

Succeeded by
Peerage of England
Preceded by Earl of Sussex
Succeeded by
Baron FitzWalter
(writ in acceleration)