The Fall of the Noble House of Desmond, Part II: 1579-1583

Tracked down to a ‘hut in the cavern of a rock’, writes J.J.N. McGurk, Desmond met his death at the hands of fellow Irishmen.

In Rome Fitzmaurice was to meet with an unexpected ally in Thomas Stukeley, the extraordinary one time courtier, pirate and soldier, who had seen much service in Ireland in the 1560’s, and who had been once sufficiently in the confidence of the Queen and Council to be a negotiator with Shane O’Neill and to be licensed and financed to found a colony in Florida. Stukeley, however, turned these resources to the more lucrative trade of piracy off the Munster coast. He now hated the Queen’s policies in Ireland and became wholeheartedly an Irish ally and English traitor.

Like Fitzmaurice, he had travelled widely in Spain, the Netherlands, Paris and Rome to drum up support for an invasion of Ireland. The Pope was favourably impressed with Stukeley’s sincerity and ability, and at Fitzmaurice’s request agreed to create him Marquis of Leinster and had fitted out for him an expeditionary force of seven hundred men, Gregory XIII providing six hundred Papal infantry which were conveyed to the port of embarkation, the Fortezza del Re Catholico at Port ’Ercole.

Early in January 1578 Stukeley as commander set sail, probably in a Spanish vessel the San Giovanni Battista. By now he had abandoned his lesser title and adopted the grandiose style of Duke of Ireland. By April 4th, 1578, he reached Cadiz but Philip II refused him permission to re-fit his rotten ships there; so he sailed for San Lucar and eventually on to Lisbon.

King Sebastian of Portugal had no ships to offer him but persuaded him, apparently with out difficulty, to deflect his Papal troops from invading Ireland to join the Portuguese army, then about to invade Morocco. Stukeley fought bravely at the battle of Alcazar, but was killed on August 4th, 1578. Posthumously, Stukeley’s remarkable life became the subject of more than one play and several ballads, and in modern literature he appears in Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho.

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