The not-so-great and (definitely) not-so-good: John Perrot

This follows from that previous, on Humphrey Gilbert. It, too, has had an outing on

artist or estate?; (c) Philipps House, Dinton; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Gilbert’s successor in Munster was Sir John Perrot (1528-1592). At least he breaks the mould in one respect: he wasn’t English, but Welsh — and aggressively so.

The short version:

Perrot wasn’t top of anyone’s short-list for the job. Unfortunately — perhaps because it wasn’t financially attractive enough, or simply because his qualifications were unique (see below)— he got the posting as new-minted presidency of Munster..

The Elizabethan agenda (i.e. that of Cecil and Walsingham) was:

  • to put the likes of James FitzMaurice Fitzgerald out of business, especially as they offered a backdoor for Spanish interference;
  • followed by reformation in religion and plantation of the land.

Perrot was offered the Munster post in December 1570, after Gilbert had quashed the worst. He himself wasn’t enthused by the prospect; but in February 1571 he arrived at Waterford in the company of Black Tom Butler, tenth earl of Ormond and (since 1559) treasurer of Ireland. He made his oath to Lord Deputy Sidney (who, himself, promptly debunked from Dublin for England and some civil society), then made his way to Cork.

Over the next two years Perrot extended Gilbert’s rule of blood and iron: he had over 800 rebels swinging from gallows. FitzMaurice Fitzgerald was a tougher prospect, and wasn’t brought to heel until Perrot’s siege of Castlemaine, and the humiliating surrender in Kilmallock church, with Perrot’s sword at his heart. Perrot made doubly sure by taking hostages, including the younger Fitzgerald.

Perrot was now well-and-truly knackered: he complained bitterly to Walsingham that for every white hair he’d brought with him, he now had sixty.

Never particularly “in” with Elizabeth’s privy council, Parrot wanted out of Ireland. A further motive was dodgy business over the seizure of a Portuguese vessel, the Peter and Paul, and its valuable spice cargo — over which Perrot found himself sued by a Parisian merchant.

Doubtless with sighs of relief, Perrot left Ireland in the July of 1573.

The small print:

Perrot defected from the family’s catholicism when he was sent to the cathedral school at St David’s, and fell under the influence of Bishop William Barlow. His step-father then found Perrot a place in the household of William Paulet, Lord St John, later first marquess of Winchester and lord treasurer of England. His companions there were Henry Neville, sixth Lord Bergavenny, and John de Vere, sixteenth earl of Oxford (by one of those historical oddities, both were grandfathers of candidates for the authorship of Shakespeare).

By his late teens Perrot had a reputation for violence: on his way to a debauch in Southwark, he had a run-in with Yeomen of the Guard. which brought Perrot to the notice of the dying Henry VIII. He immediately received preferment under Edward VI. At court he sided with the Earl of Dudley, was involved in the plot against the Protector Somerset, and became an MP.

His facility with languages made him an obvious choice for the embassy to arrange a political marriage between Edward VI and the infant Princess of France. Though the marriage was going nowhere, Perrot apparently rescued Henri II from a wounded boar: promises of a French pension, etc. Perrot, back in England was skint (£7-8,000 down the drain): he had to mortgage his Welsh estates. Edward VI kicked in with a small allowance, but — as so often — the remedy was a good wedding (Anne, daughter of Sir Thomas Cheyney, a Kentish grandee). That ended with the wife’s prompt death in childbirth. Over the next decade Perrot devoted himself to his estates and producing illegitimate by-blows (the usual count is at least four). A second marriage, to a wealthy Devonshire widow (Jane Pollard, daughter of Hugh Prust — note how the Devon mafia appear so often in this saga), came along in 1563-4.

If you missed it there, the Cheyney connection was highly significant: it got Perrot elected as MP for Sandwich. However, we are now into the reign of Mary I — and Perrot’s protestantism soon soured any relationship with the Queen and her circle. In January 1554 Perrot was in the Fleet prison, after clashing with the Earl of Worcester’s men. Released, Perrot refused to hunt down the protestants of west Wales (actually sheltering some in his fastness of Haroldston). He was denounced by a neighbour (Thomas Catherne of Pendergast: this one would fester), and back in the Fleet. Out again, it didn’t take long before he was re-arrested for suspected complicity in the Dudley plot.

By this time even Perrot was getting the message, and he recognised a period of removal was advisable: he buried the hatchet with the Earl of Pembroke and joined the expedition to France, distinguishing himself at the siege of St Quentin. Once home, Perrot squandered any credit so earned by taking revenge on Catherne — housebreaking and kidnapping him. Both were summoned to appear before the privy council, Perrot again briefly consigned to the Fleet, and ordered to give sureties for future conduct.

The accession of Elizabeth changed Perrot’s fortunes (though he was again in quod for debt), and he was one of the four gentlemen chosen to carry the canopy of state at the coronation. Under Elizabeth he became the power in Pembrokeshire, adding to his personal estates by the usual legal skulduggeries. His opponents (and there were many) and the adherents of Catherine took advantage while Perrot was in Ireland. He soon put them aright on his return: despite protesting to Cecil/Burghly that he was retiring to “the life of a countryman, and keeping out of debt”, we find his name repeatedly cropping up in Welsh administration.

Ireland again

After years of badgering the privy council with schemes to pacify (and plant) Ireland, in 1579 Perrot was again given his chance. He was put in command of a small flotilla to police the Cork coast against Spanish and “pirates” (the Salee Rovers were already venturing this far north). As the sailing season came to an end, Perrot encountered, and set on capturing, Deryfold — which he did, but then ran into trouble on the Kentish Knocks, and was saved and brought safely into Harwich by the better seamanship of his captive, Deryfold.

Perrot did himself few favours by pleading for Deryfold’s life: his Welsh enemies laid charges of piracy against him personally. That, in time, went into abeyance.

Meanwhile, one of Perrot’s efforts did bear fruit. In 1581 he had submitted a scheme for the “better government of Ireland”. Elizabeth and Cecil/Burghley — always on the look-out for a cheap “solution” to any problem — decided to give Perrot his chance. On 17 January 1584 Perrot, against all his family advice, accepted the the lord deputyship of Ireland.

He arrived in Dublin to receive the sword of state on Midsummer’s day, 1584; and began with a tour of the island. The intent was to impress all-comers, to see and to be seen, to overawe both native and Old English with a public demonstration of royal power which he hoped might foster a healthier respect for English law. Sir Richard Bingham in Connacht and Sir John Norris in Munster were made provincial presidents. Perrot insisted on formal submission by the native Irish, and he prepared to subjugate and plant Ulster.

This is the moment of the Scots invasion, in cahoots with Sorley Boy MacDonnell. Perrot was up for it: with Ormond and Donough O’Brien of Thomond he was off to Ulster, only to be disappointed of action by the withdrawal of the Scots.

Never one to miss an opportunity, Perrot set about sorting out Ulster. Turlough Luineach O’Neill was forced to submit, and give hostages. The MacDonnells were dispossessed from their Antrim lands. Dunluce Castle fell after a three-day siege, and Perrot was able to send choice bits of plunder to Walsingham and Burghley. Only Sorley Boy evaded him (for which, typically, Perrot blamed his subordinates).

We can now see that, as successful Perrot was a-soldiering, he was no great shakes at administration. He intended the reform of Irish finances, a shire-county arrangement for planted Ulster, the imposition of English law across the island, and a protestant university in Dublin. None of this came about under his dispositions. Nor did he revoke Poyning’s Law. Indeed, the parliament he called in 1585-6 was largely ineffective.

The revived Spanish war (which would culminate in the Armada) meant he had to seek some arrangement with Sorley Boy and the rump of the MacDonnells — but by now Perrot had (temporarily) attained his, and Elizabeth’s aims: Ireland was effectively pacified.

By July 1587, after Perrot’s second son, Willliam, died, Perrot was pleading with Walsingham to be allowed to leave “this slimy country”. That took a while, and Perrot distinguished his later months in Ireland by squabbling, alienating and engaging in fisticuffs with his advisers and provincial governors. When he handed over to his successor, Sir William Fitzwilliam, even Fitzwilliam acknowledged Ireland was in a state of peace.

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Labour Conference, 1945

There are evocative images of Major Denis Healey, Royal Engineers, beach master at Anzio, in uniform at the Labour Conference of 1945.

I hope they are trotted out in his obituaries.


Yes, that’s Captain Roy Jenkins. Two giants for the price of one.

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The not-so-great and (definitely) not-so-good: Humphrey Gilbert

There are a number of candidates to stand alongside Cromwell in Irish demonology. Not all of them have to be English, but such is a helpful indicator.

GilbertMy personal nomination would be Humphrey Gilbert, who had a passing mention in JohnD66‘s fine headline post for the thread, which is where this began.

Pretty well the whole of our knowledge of Gilbert’s beginnings comes from John Hooker of Exeter. Gilbert’s parents (Otto Gilbert, from Compton, and Katherine Champernoun of Modbury) were both south Devon gentry. On Otto’s death (1547), the widow remarried Walter Raleigh, of similar background. So Humphrey Gilbert was (Sir) Walter Raleigh’s half-brother, and early patron.

Gilbert followed the usual progress of a “New Man” of the Tudor era: Eton and Oxford, and a place in Princess Elizabeth’s service (it helps if your aunt, Kate Astley, has been the princess’s governess). Then a bit of law at the Inns of Court, next a bit of military service: the shambles that was the Earl of Warwick’s Newhaven expedition to support the Huguenots. Gilbert came out of this well.

Gilbert built on this new fame and devised a hare-brained scheme to seek the North-West Passage. This would be done under the auspices of the Muscovy Company, which is why it all fell through. He was already advocating this project as a way of:

  • damaging Spanish and Portuguese interests in the New World;
  • “planting” the Americas with the dross of English society (vagrancy and the rootless poor were a major issue in Elizabeth’s England). An indicator of what was to come.

Irish interest in Gilbert stems from 1566, when Gilbert served as a captain under Henry Sidney, the Lord Deputy, in the campaign against Shane O’Neill. That seems to have come through the Champernoun connexion: these Devon-men scratched each other’s backs. Gilbert then became the emissary between Sidney and London, and was already adapting the American plantation scheme to Ireland, both for Ulster and with Sir Warham St Leger for Munster. The Fitzgerald and Butler risings of 1569 put these plans into abeyance.

In September 1569 Gilbert was made colonel of the army in Munster, and so became the military governor with powers of martial law, riding rough-shod over any niceties of municipal or personal rights. He had a disciplined force of just 500 men, but it was enough to suppress Munster in six weeks. Only James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald eluded him. His own letters, and the 1579 account by Thomas Churchyard, splatter the episode with blood (I’m unconvinced we should treat either source as gospel).

What cannot be in doubt is that the whole campaign, and Gilbert’s part in particular, was “shock and awe”. Gilbert refused to deal with the rebels, except face-to-face, then he required total submission, an oath of loyalty to the Queen, and bankable pledges of future good behaviour. The story of the decapitated heads is straight Churchyard:

 His manner was that the heads of all those (of what sort soever they were) which were killed in the day, should be cut off from their bodies, and brought to the place where he encamped at night: and should there be laid on the ground, by each side of the way leading into his own Tent: so that none could come into his Tent for any cause, but commonly he must pass through a lane of heads, which he used ad terrorem, the dead feeling nothing the more pains thereby: and yet did it bring great terror to the people, when they saw the heads of their dead fathers, brothers, children, kinsfolk, and friends, lie on the ground before their faces, as they came to speak with the said Colonel. Which course of government may by some be thought to cruel, in excuse whereof it is to be answered: That he did but then begin that order with them, which they had in effect ever to fore used toward the English. And further he was out of doubt, that the dead felt no pains by cutting of their heads, according to the example of Diogenes, who being asked by his friends, what should be done with him when he died, answered in this sort: Caste me on a dunghill quoth he, where unto his friends replied, saying: The Dogs will then eat you, his answer thereto was thus why then set a staff by me: Whereunto they answered, you shall not feel them, to whom he again replied with these words, what need I then to care.

But certainly by this course of government (although to some it may seem otherwise) there was much blood saved, and great peace ensued in haste. For through the terror, which the people conceived thereby, it made short wars.

With that, Gilbert was knighted by Sidney at Drogheda, returned to England, had himself elected to parliament, married an heiress, and devoted himself to maritime adventures.

In the Irish context, we meet him again in 1578, commissioned to patrol the southern coast of Ireland against James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald’s expected return, with Spanish aid. Gilbert muffed it, was blown south into the Bay of Biscay, and Desmond slipped past into Dingle. From the outset, this was fraught with “issues”: Gilbert quarrelled with Henry Knollys, who was supposed to be his fellow in the venture, and Knollys went off with three ships, to leave Gilbert to it. This operation went further sour when Gilbert failed to pay his crews, and two ships simply offed. Gilbert got himself into a further mess, by trying to sell off some of his patent rights to recoup his losses (already around £2000). Gilbert’s favour at Court thereafter was definitely in doubt.

More to the point, on 11 June 1578, Gilbert had received letters patent to search out remote heathen and barbarous landes, for a personal and eternal fiefdom, and plant them. This would occupy the rest of his life, particularly so after in 1581. On the dismissal of Ormond, he failed to get the presidency of Munster he expected. There is a plaque at St John’s, Newfoundland, celebrating Gilbert’s landing, and identifying him as the founder of the English/British empire.

The plantation of Munster, conceived by Gilbert in the 1560s, came about inn the later 1580s, schemed by Burghley, attempted by Sir John Perrot (an illegitimate son of Henry VIII?), then enforced by the likes of Walter Raleigh (in Waterford and east Cork), by William Courtney and Henry Oughted (in Limerick), and Valentine Browne (in Kerry).

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I am collecting nominations for future Top 10s, my feature in The New Review, the Independent on Sunday magazine. Andrew Denny suggested anachronistic skeuomorphs, symbols such as the floppy disk to mean “save” and a bellows camera as a speed camera sign. I am also compiling a Top 10 People Who Would Have Been Good On Twitter, with Twitter name and a sample tweet. Best so far from Rob Warm: @Schrödinger: “wow! check out this possibly cute cat pic”

There’s a covert reminder in there: Rentoul is not just a son-of-the-manse, but a King’s, Cambridge, English-graduate.

NotesAnd I’m not going to pretend I’d ever personally met a “skeuomorph” until that moment. I think with the information so far, I’d be calling it a “pictogram” or an “icon”.

Indeed, on this evidence, I’m not convinced “skeuomorph” is the proper term here.

As I understand “skeuomorph”, it implies “visual metaphor”. As used by Rentoul, it’s a metaphor of a metaphor: the term (see below) seems to originate in archaeology. The Greek roots suggest: “implement”+””shape”. So, when — in the old pre-MacOs7 dispensation,  — I opened Notes, and got something that looked like an American yellow legal pad, that was a skeuomorph (as right).

My doubts increase when I refer to the OED:


Even though I note the side-bar admonition, in red — This entry has not yet been fully updated (first published 1933) — there’s absolutely nothing there to suggest why we should prefer “skeuomorph” to the generally-accepted, and simpler “icon”.


As I now understand the term, a “skeuomorph” is brought about when a new product (say an electric kettle) mimics the form of its predecessor, with disregard to the change of function. There is no functional reason why the electric kettle should mimic the form of the stick-it-on-the-hob job, except (a) innate conservatism, (b) customer familiarity. There actually are good reasons why not: stick the electric job on the hob, and you’ve possibly buggered it. Yet pretty well every technological innovation begins the same way: early railway carriages retained the format of horse-drawn coaches. It takes the designer some time for form to follow function.

If we refer to the wikipedia entry, which seems — at least to me — severely disconnected,  the confusion becomes greater, and Apple-specific:

Apple Inc., while under the direction of Steve Jobs, was known for its wide usage of skeuomorphic designs in various applications. The debate over the merits of Apple’s extensive use of skeuomorphism became the subject of substantial media attention in October 2012, a year after Jobs’ death, largely as the result of the reported resignation of Scott Forstall, described as “the most vocal and high-ranking proponent of the visual design style favored by Mr. Jobs”. Apple designer Jonathan Ive, who took over some of Forstall’s responsibilities and had “made his distaste for the visual ornamentation in Apple’s mobile software known within the company”, was expected to move the company toward a less skeuomorphic aesthetic. With the announcement of iOS 7 at WWDC, Apple officially shifted from skeuomorphism to a more simplified design, thus beginning the so-called “death of skeuomorphism.”

Someone must be to blame, and I finger Professor Dan O’Hara.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I reckon Rentoul’s borrowing of “skeuomorph” is precisely the kind of inflated language he would deplore in others.

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Filed under History, Independent, John Rentoul, Oxford English Dictionary

The aggregate deterrent

Something odd here.

Example 1:

On 15th July 1948, amid great trumpetings, at the hottest moment of the first Berlin crisis, President Truman ordered sixty B-29 atomic bombers to bases in Britain. An alternative version of that is: Ernie Bevin and Clem Attlee sidled up to the Americans, and said, “Wouldn’t it be a neat idea?” Somehow an agreement came about.

Except, under the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, Truman didn’t have that power. The bombs remained in the United States, under civilian control. Not all the aircraft despatched were nuke-capable. At worst, what arrived in Britain were “pumpkins”, the concrete-filled dummies used to practise loading and unloading.

Somehow, nobody noticed the difference.

Example 2:

After 1968 Britain threw large chunks of the defence budget at a submarine-based deterrent. Four Resolution-class nuclear-powered submarines would each mount sixteen Polaris missiles. The war-heads were derived from the WE177 device, and were designed and built in the United Kingdom. Mass wavings of the Union flag, if you’d be so kind.

Allegedly, and we know how these things proceed in Britain, deliveries ran late.

Resolution and its mates went to sea with less than their designed weaponry. To keep the balance of the boat, more concrete warheads were loaded.

Similar stories were muttered when Chevaline came along in 1982.

And we are to believe the Soviets (and their derivations) weren’t up to similar dissimulations?

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Walk-on parts in (Irish!) history

We’re kicking off (I hope) a thread on

With luck we can compile a gallery of those who get squeezed out of “history”, undeservedly. But still have this shadowy afterlife. Ireland is full of them. Anecdotally.

I suggested as starters:

  • “the real Ally Daly” (see Portrait of the Artist);
  • Atty Hayes of the aged goat;
  • Beaney and Barney;
  • Bessy Bell and Mary Gray (were they not hills each side of the road at Newtownstewart? But why?);
  • the Bird Flanagan …

All of those have now been adopted — with the exception of Atty Hayes’s goat.

All welcome to get involved. If you can’t be arsed to register, post here and we’ll try to get it up for you (as the best proctologist might say).

Did you know, for example, that Charlotte Despard (Sir John French’s unlikely sister, who now has a pub named after herself at the bottom end of Archway, North London) and Maud Gonne MacBride were known to Dubliners as “Maud Gone Mad and Mrs Desperate”?

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By Bonnivard!

There was a time when we well-eddikated chaps found this stuff brought up with the pay-and-rations. Obviously, something here passed me by, or the brain-cells are popping bulbs faster than I thought.

There was I, as one does, idly leafing through Byron, and stopped off at Chillon.

Eternal Spirit of the chainless Mind!
Brightest in dungeons, Liberty, thou art;–
For there thy habitation is the heart,–
The heart which love of thee alone can bind;
And when thy sons to fetters are consigned,
To fetters, and the damp vault’s dayless gloom,
Their country conquers with their martyrdom,
And Freedom’s fame finds wings on every wind.
Chillon! thy prison is a holy place,
And thy sad floor an altar, for ’twas trod,
Until his very steps have left a trace,
Worn, as if thy cold pavement were a sod,
By Bonnivard! May none those marks efface!
For they appeal from tyranny to God.

Georgie-Porgie Gordon could crank out that stuff by the quire. I cannot enumerate the times I’ve skimmed that sonnet over the years, without a pause for thought. Similarly, at some stage I must have taken time out with The Prisoner of Chillon, which ought to have clarified my moment of mystification.

Essentially (and I can’t claim it all floods back to me), the castle had outlived its primary function as a point at which travellers heading for the Great Saint Bernard could be … err … fleeced. Small tricks like that kept the Counts of Savoy flush in Emmental and brandy. After a spell as a summer home for the Savoys, it became — as many of these joints did — a gaol.

Shoving inconvenient clerics, of the other faith (and there always was another faith), into chokey became an international sport. After all, some storage was required while Sire decided whether we needed a burning.

A Prior engagement

Which brings us to François Bonivard (or, as Byron has him, “Bonnivard”). He was a hereditary (i.e. he inherited from his uncle) prior of St Victor, just outside the walls of Geneva. Our Frankie was a merry monk, who preferred the pleasures of the flesh to the calls of mother church. Then fate came visiting him.

These being the years of the Wars of Religion, anyone and everyone had to take sides. Bonivard leaned to the reformers. Anyone going that way might easily offend a feudal lord of the other persuasion. The local Big Cheese was Charles III, Duke of Savoy, who readily hoovered up all the readies of those of the other persuasion. All that was left of the Bonivard patrimony was that one priory.

So François threw his lot (and there wasn’t much left) with the rebels. Which in turn meant he had to do a sudden bunk when the Savoyards came looking for him. He was betrayed by those he thought “mates”, one of whom (Abbot Brisset) snaffled his personal priory, and he spent a couple of years in Savoy’s Grolée clink at Lyon.

The table turns: Brisset ate something that terminally disagreed with him, Bonivard “escaped” from his prison, and made it back to claim his priory. All’s well that ends well?

As if. Bonivard went off for a weekend (dirty or not, but he had the beginnings of a reputation) at scenic Moudon, and found himself again in the clutches of the Savoyards, this time consigned to the Castle of Chillon — so we get there eventually — and was incarcerated there for the next six years.

Quality? Nah! Feel the width!

His release came when the burgeoning power of the city-state of Bern took over the Vaud. His priory was a rubble heap, and he was definitely out-of-funds. But Bonivard was instantly a national hero and a fire-brand: Geneva awarded him a pension, and a salaried place on the management committee.

He had also lost any pretentions to monkish celibacy, but a recognition of how to finance a rather rackety lifestyle — marrying a succession of well-off widows, until he arrived (#4) at a defrocked — in any sense — nun (she ended badly, drowned for immorality in the Rhône, with her inamorato beheaded).

Doubtless with a resigned sigh, Bonivard now devoted his declining years — until his death in 1570, aded 77 — to compiling the Chronicles of Geneva, and some other works, none of which need to detain us on any grounds of literary merit.

You need a good spin-doctor, my friend …

… allow me to introduce the sixth Baron Byron.

I seriously doubt Bonivard would have any significance had it not been for the romanticising he got at the hands of Byron.

Like any starry-eyed undergraduate, I fell for his mad, bad and dangerous-to-know attractions. When I woke the morning-after, I realised the language was superb, but any political or social thought was pretty jejune.

Which is all pretty well summed up by that slogan, worthy of any MadMen:

Freedom’s fame finds wings on every wind.

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