Ulster’s “New Men”, 1610

Here I am again, slip-sliding gently towards a promise on Sir John Poo Beresford, (1766–1844).

Getting there involves getting my mind around the Beresford family, and that was where I was starting.

New Men

What was in my mind was how the Ulster Plantation represents another dimension of the “New Men” of the Renaissance and its aftermath.

The conceit starts in ancient Rome. A novus homo would be, precisely, the individual, the first person in a previously-undistinguished family, elected to the Senate.  Seneca, in Epistle XLIV, laid down the rules (or lack of them):

… who is well-born?  He who is by nature well fitted for virtue. That is the one point to be considered; otherwise, if you hark back to antiquity, every one traces back to a date before which there is nothing. From the earliest beginnings of the universe to the present time, we have been led forward out of origins that were alternately illustrious and ignoble. A hall full of smoke- begrimed busts does not make the nobleman.  No past life has been lived to lend us glory, and that which has existed before us is not ours; the soul alone renders us noble, and it may rise superior to Fortune out of any earlier condition, no matter what that condition has been.

The notion was serially revisited by Boethius (a civil servant under Theodoric), Dante (whose background is cloudy), Petrarch (son of a lawyer), and Chaucer (a background from Ipswich shoe-makers). It regains currency in the Italian fifteenth-century, and the ideas are current in Elizabethan England.

Enter the Beresfords

Another point of departure was John Lodge, The Peerage of Ireland, revised by Mervyn Archdall, vol 2, pages 296-7:

Tristram Beresford, Esq., the third son, was born before the year 1574, and coming into Ireland as manager for the corporation of Londoners, known by the name of the society of the New-Plantation in Ulster, at the time they made the plantation in county of Derry, in the reign of James I, settled at Coleraine in the coiunty of Londonderry, having issue by the daughter of _____ Brooke [*] of London, two sons and three daughters, viz:

(1) Sir Tristram, his successor.

(2) Michael of Dungarvan and of Coleraine, Esq., who was constituted, with his brother, and others, commissioners in the precinct of Derry, for examining the delinquency of the Irish, in order so the distinguishing of their qualifications for transplantion; and in 1654 he was sheriff of the counties of Derry, Donegall, and Tyrone, of which he was also a commissioner of the civil survey and revenue. He married Mary, daughter of Sir John Leake, Knt. and by his will, dated 5 July 1660, directed his body to be buried in the church of Coleraine, in his father’s sepulchre, which was done accordingly; and he had issue by her, who was buried at Temple-Patrick in the county of Antrim, one son Tristram, who died young; and four daughters his coheirs, viz: Anne, married to Thomas Whyte, of Redhills in county of Cavan, Esq.; Olive, first to _____ Thornton, and secondly to Sir Oliver St George, of Headford in Galway, Bart.; Elizabeth to captain Robert Shields; and _____ to Arthur Upton of Temple-Patrick, Esq.

(1) Daughter Anne was first married to Sir Edward Doddington, and secondly to Sir Francis Cooke, Knt, and was buried at Coleraine.

(2) Jane, to George Cary of Redcastle in the county of Donegall (descended from the Carys of Clonelly in Devonshire) and by him, who died 22 April 1640, had five sons and four daughters, viz. Francis of Redcastle (who married Avice, sister to Captain Henry Vaughan, and they both lie buried in the church of Redcastle, having had issue Francis; Chichester, who died unmarried; Margaret; Avice; and Letitia); George; Edward of Dungiven in the county of Derry, (who died 4 June 1686, leaving issue Edward, George; Tristram; Elizabeth; Mary; Anee and Jaen); Robert of Whitecastle in the county of Donegall, (who died in March 1681, leaving Robert; George; Edward; Tristram; William; Anne; Letitia and Mary);

(3) Susanna, married to _____ Ellis.

[*] Elsewhere there ‘s “genealogist” gossip which identifies her as Susannah Brooke or Elizabeth Brookes. Note the naming of the third daughter, which may help.

tree1

Already we can outline four generations, and we haven’t ventured beyond the seventeenth century.

We can start to draw some “conclusions”

The most obvious is that the leading Ulster planters were — very definitely — young men (typically younger sons) on the make.

[1] Many were sprung, like Tristram Beresford, from the London guildsmen. This again makes perfect sense. The London liveried companies were not over-pleased by having the whole plantation scheme descended on them:

When the embryo project was unveiled to the liveried companies in July 1609, and individuals invited to adventure, there was a marked lack of enthusiasm. The Mercers were perhaps the frankest. While thanking the king for his offer, they pointed out that ‘they are for the most part men that live by merchandise and therefore are very inexperienced in managing business of that nature and withal want means and ability for the accomplishment thereof. [So] this company are not willing to have a hand or intermeddle in the same’. The Ironmongers expressed their ‘desire with our best means to help the state and commonwealth, but what we would we cannot in respect of weakness’. When it came to attempts to generate subscriptions, members were curiously absent or unavailable because they were dwelling out of the city. Of the 46 men on the Ironmongers’ subscription list, 9 were absen, 10out of the city, and 2 allegedly ‘not of ability’. The story was much the same elsewhere.

[Source: Ó Ciardha & Ó Siochrú (eds): The plantation of Ulster, Ideology and practice, page 82]

Hence any overseers put in place by the London companies would be hungry young thrusters, hard of complexion and temperament.

[2] This was a new, a frontier society. The blueprint was already well-defined. It was a society of incorporated cities and boroughs, which is a prime reason why the liveried companies of London were the chosen means of delivery:

This use of urbanity for colonial purposes was not the mere product of over-ripe imaginations. Rather it was borne of experience and practice. Just as corporations were a crucial dynamic in the plantation of Ulster after 1610, so they had figured prominently in the wide-ranging social and economic reforms initiated in England since the 1540s. The origins of these reforms were many, complex and varied. However, in terms of sanction by central government, the driving force — including urban incorporation — was [Sir Thomas] Smith, [William] Cecil and other members of their sprawling Cambridge mafia who dominated the higher echelons of royal power for much of the Edwardian and Elizabeth eras. More to the point, one of the outcomes by the turn of the seventeenth century was a discernible ‘corporate system’ by which cities and boroughs — or ‘little commonwealths’, as contemporaries described them – had filled the topography of provincial England.

[Source: Ó Ciardha & Ó Siochrú (eds): The plantation of Ulster, Ideology and practice, page 69]

Consequently a main requirement imposed on the planters was the establishment of boroughs: 25 corporate towns (though by 1613 only 14 had been established — and only 16 were to happen) across the plantation. Derry was to have 200 houses, and room for 300 more; Coleraine to have 100 and room for 200 more (that came down to a quibble over what constituted a “house”) [see Ó Ciardha & Ó Siochrú, pages 84-85].

[3] The success (and failure) of the plantation was this focus on ‘urbanity’. Derry and Coleraine (the third largest borough was Strabane) may have been puny in global terms; but they were all that the planted territory could boast. Not that they didn’t do well enough:

… although they didn’t become the thriving metropoloi envisaged by the propaganda of 1609-10, they did enjoy a significant mercantile presence. Merchants from Scotland, Chester and London were soon frequenting the two ports, while as early as 1614-15 a merchant fleet of seven ships accounted for 18.5% of Londonderry’s exports. London derry boasted urban amenities not available elsewhere. Its street were paved: it had a town hall costing between £500 and £1,000; its school was founded by the London merchant Matthew Springham, its master receiving a salary of 20 marks per annum through the London Society; its cathedral church of St Columba, the first purposely built Protestant cathedral in the three kingdoms, costing at least £3,800 opened in 1633 with a capacity of 1,000 people. True, Londonderry lacked other key features found in Englishtowns: there was still no bridge; a recommendation that a bridewell should be built was resisted; and there were no almshouses: indeed there was little sign of any charitable activity at all. A key variable in determining the relative success of Londonderry and Coleraine was the fact that the landlord was directly involved in building whereas elsewhere in the plantation urban development was promoted through the granting of building leases. Urban settlements elsewhere were terribly under-capitalised.

[Source: Ó Ciardha & Ó Siochrú (eds): The plantation of Ulster, Ideology and practice, page 85]

In passing, I suffer a slight cringe over the attempt there to apply anachronistic and economic-history evaluations: “18.5%”, “a capacity of 1,000 people”, “key variable”, “under-capitalised”.

One could — in a more romantic spirit — extrapolate into group psychology. This is the earliest seventeen-century. The minds involved are still accustomed to think of social advance in terms of acquiring lands, rather than anything ‘entrepreneurial’ or ‘proto-capitalist’. Just as in Virginia and the Carolinas, a century later, that kind of social position is going to be found, carving out estates in the countryside.

[4] These interlopers efficiently established themselves, and built networks — those daughters seem to have been seeded very effectively to generate a nexus of power and possession.

Note, though, as far as Beresford genealogy goes, that it is a “west” Ulster concentration: Derry, Donegal, Cavan and Galway. There is not, as yet, a social top-tier: distinctions and titles beyond mere baronet or knight are not yet present. That will come a generation or two still further on.

We can look to a precise contemporary, the glove-maker’s son from Stratford, for the definition of the “new men”. He puts the words into the mouth of Brutus, the old republican patrician, somewhat scornful of the arriviste Caesar — but they could easily apply to himself, his generation, and the aspiring and arriving Ulster ascendancy:

But ’tis a common proof,
That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round.
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend.

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Filed under Chaucer, History, Ireland, Literature, Northern Ireland, politics, Shakespeare, social class

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