Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex

Last updated

Thomas Radclyffe, Earl of Sussex, c. 1560-65 Thomas Radclyffe Earl of Sussex.jpg
Thomas Radclyffe, Earl of Sussex, c. 1560–65
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. The prevailing anarchy in Ireland, a country which, nominally subject to the English Crown, was torn by feuds among its practically independent native chieftains, made the task of the lord deputy a difficult one; the difficulty was increased by the ignorance of English statesmen concerning Ireland and Irish conditions, and by their incapacity to devise any consistent and thoroughgoing policy for bringing the 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 the 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] 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 laid waste Kintyre and some of the southern Hebridean isles, and 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. [6]

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 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 Buidhe Mac Domhnaill, Scoto-Irish prince or flaith and chief, was the son of Alexander MacDonnell, lord of Islay and Kintyre (Cantire), and Catherine, daughter of the Lord of Ardnamurchan. MacDonnell is best known for establishing the MacDonnell clan in Antrim 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 Catholic lords was complicated, but also culturally and familiarly strong: for example, he married Mary O'Neill the daughter of Conn O'Neill.

Hugh ONeill, Earl of Tyrone Irish earl

Hugh O'Neill, was an Irish Gaelic lord, Earl of Tyrone and was later created The Ó Néill. O'Neill's career was played out against the background of the Tudor conquest of Ireland, and he is best known for leading the resistance during the Nine Years' War, the strongest threat to English authority in Ireland since the revolt of Silken Thomas.

Henry Sidney English politician and courtier

Sir Henry Sidney, Lord Deputy of Ireland, was the eldest son of Sir William Sidney of Penshurst, a prominent politician and courtier during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, from both of whom he received extensive grants of land, including the manor of Penshurst in Kent, which became the principal residence of the family.

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—and thus overlord of the entire province. 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. Shanes'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 instead with the MacDonnells, the most powerful of these immigrants.

Manus O'Donnell was an Irish lord and son of Sir Hugh Dubh O'Donnell. He was an important member of the O'Donnell dynasty based in County Donegal in Ulster.

Nine Years War (Ireland) War that took place in Ireland from 1593 to 1603

The Nine Years' War, sometimes called Tyrone's Rebellion, took place in Ireland from 1593 to 1603. It was fought between an Irish alliance—led mainly by Hugh O'Neill of Tír Eoghain and Hugh Roe O'Donnell of Tyrconnell—against English rule in Ireland, and was a response to the then-ongoing Tudor conquest of Ireland. The war was fought in all parts of the country, but mainly in the northern province of Ulster. The Irish alliance won some important early victories, such as the Battle of Clontibret (1595) and the Battle of the Yellow Ford (1598), but the English won a decisive victory against the alliance and their Spanish allies in the Siege of Kinsale (1601–02). The war ended with the Treaty of Mellifont (1603). Many of the defeated northern lords left Ireland to seek support for a new uprising in the Flight of the Earls (1607), never to return. This marked the end of Gaelic Ireland and led to the Plantation of Ulster.

The Tudor conquestof Ireland took place under the Tudor dynasty, which held the Kingdom of England during the 16th century. Following a failed rebellion against the crown by Silken Thomas, the Earl of Kildare, in the 1530s, Henry VIII was declared King of Ireland in 1542 by statute of the Parliament of Ireland, with the aim of restoring such central authority as had been lost throughout the country during the previous two centuries.

Gerald FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond Irish noble

Gerald FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond was an Irish nobleman and leader of the Desmond Rebellions of 1579.

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.

Events from the year 1565 in Ireland.

Sir Brian McPhelim Bacagh O'Neill was a lord of Clandeboye, a Gaelic lordship in north-eastern Ireland during the Tudor period.

Connor O'Brien, 3rd Earl of Thomond, called Groibleach, grandson of Conor O'Brien ; succeeded to the earldom, 1553; his right to the lordship of Thomond was disputed by his uncle, Donnell; confirmed in his possessions by Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex in 1558, who proclaimed his uncles traitors, though peace was not established until 1565. He intrigued with Fitzgerald in 1569, and fled to France; returned to Ireland and received pardon, 1571, with the restoration of his lands, 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.

Events from the year 1573 in Ireland.

Events from the year 1557 in Ireland.

The Betrayal of Clannabuidhe in 1574 was a massacre of the O'Neills of Clannaboy by the English forces of The 1st Earl of Essex. It took place during an attempted English colonisation of Ulster as part of the Tudor conquest of Ireland. The lord of Clannaboy, Sir Brian McPhelim O'Neill, had invited Lord Essex to parley at his castle in Belfast. At the end of the feast, the English forces turned on the O'Neills and killed up to 200 of them. Essex ordered Sir Brian O'Neill, his wife and brother to be seized and executed for treason. Note they also killed the women and children.

Sir William Warren (c.1558-1602) 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 private residence, Drumcondra Castle, in 1591.

Brian Ó Néill, Baron Dungannon was an Irish aristocrat of the Elizabethan era. He was part of the O'Neill dynasty, a powerful Gaelic family in Ulster. Brian's father was Matthew O'Neill, 1st Baron Dungannon who had been given his title by Henry VIII as part of the surrender and regrant policy. Matthew was assassinated by his half-brother and rival Shane O'Neill in 1558. Shane tried to have the government recognise Matthew and his sons as illegitimate, but they continued to be supported by the Viceroy the Earl of Sussex in Dublin.

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
  6. Edwards 2010, p. 74.


  • Edwards, David (2010). Age of Atrocity: Violence and Political Conflict in Early Modern Ireland. Four Courts Press. ISBN   184682267X.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)


Political offices
Preceded by
The Marquess of Northampton
Captain of the Gentlemen Pensioners
Succeeded by
The Lord Hunsdon
Preceded by
Sir Anthony St Leger
Lord Deputy of Ireland
Succeeded by
Lords Justices
Preceded by
Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk
Succeeded by
The Duke of Norfolk
Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk
Title next held by
The Lord Hunsdon
Preceded by
Lords Justices
Lord Deputy of Ireland
Succeeded by
Sir Henry Sidney
as lord deputy
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
Preceded by
The Lord Howard of Effingham
Lord Chamberlain
Succeeded by
The Lord Hunsdon
Legal offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Sussex
Justice in Eyre
south of the Trent

Succeeded by
The Earl of Bedford
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Henry Radclyffe
Earl of Sussex
Succeeded by
Henry Radclyffe
Baron FitzWalter
(writ in acceleration)