Sir Arthur Chichester

DIED A. D. 1624.

Taken from The Irish Nation: Its History and Its Biography

By James and Freeman Wills

THE name and lineage of Chichester has been traced by to an ancient family in Devonshire.

The subject of this memoir was the second son of Sir John Chichester,knight: his mother was Gertrude, daughter of Sir William Courtney of Powderham castle, in Devonshire: he was born at Raleigh, his father's seat in that county. A precocious promise of talent was probably the occasion of his being at an early age sent to pursue his studies at the university. But there was an activity in his temperament which soon rendered him impatient of a studious life. A daring frolic, more suited to the manners of his time than the present, made it necessary for him to fly the country. The queen's purveyors, instruments of despotic power, and by no means limiting their exactions to the demands of law, were the objects of popular hatred, and considered (like the bailiffs of the last generation) as fair game for either mischief or spite: they were universally set down as robbers, and it was thought by the young student to be no bad joke to follow the precedent of prince Henry, and ease the robber of his plunder. This exploit was followed by discovery, and Chichester was compelled to save himself from the resentment of the queen, who little relished a joke for which she was to have paid; the unpopularity of the exaction made it dangerous, as the laughter of the public was imbittered by discontent; it was no laughing matter to Elizabeth. Chichester betook himself to France, where his personal bravery and military talent recommended him to the favour of Henry IV., by whom he was knighted. His reputation soon reached the English court, where it was not lost upon the ear of the queen. It was her study to encircle her throne with genius and heroism, and Chichester received his pardon.

After some years spent in the military service, he was sent into Ireland, where his services were numerous, and his promotion rapid. He commanded the troops garrisoned at Carrickfergus in 1599, and was, during the entire of that war which we have related in the life of Hugh, earl of Tyrone, among the most active, successful, and trusted leaders under lord Mountjoy. In 1603, he was appointed by patent, governor of Carrickfergus, with the fee of thirteen shillings per day for life.

In the next year a new patent extended his powers; he was appointed commander of all the forces and governor of the inhabitants of the surrounding districts, of which the towns, forts, shipping and fisheries were placed at his discretion. This was followed by another patent, appointing him lord-deputy of Ireland. He began his government by renewing the circuits, and establishing two for the first time, as already described, so as to establish justice and order throughout the country. He at the same time issued proclamations declaring the abolition of tanistry, and enforcing the laws. Among the numerous projects for the plantation of Ulster, that of Chichester was selected, and its details carried through by his own skill and activity.

In recompense for these great services to Ireland, king James made him a grant of Inishowen, the territory of Sir Cahir O'Doherty, with other rights and lands in the province of Ulster.

On the meeting of parliament, Sir Arthur was created baron Chichester of Belfast. In the preamble to his patent there occurs a remarkable passage, which we here extract because it evidently contains the idea of James and his councillors concerning this island and its condition:--"Hiberniae, insulae post Britanniam omnium insularum occidentalium maximae et amplissimae, et pulcherrimae, coeli et soli felicitate et faecunditate afluentis et insignis; sed nihilominus per multa jam secula perpetuis seditionum et rebellionum fluctibus jaetatae; necnon superstitioni et barbaribus moribus, praesertim in provincia Ultoniae, addictae et immersae."

We here also insert a letter to Chichester from the king, who, when favouritism did not influence his feeble character, was a just and discriminating observer:--"As at first you were called by our election without seeking for it, to this high place of trust and government of our kingdom of Ireland, and have so faithfully discharged the duties thereof, so now we are pleased, merely of our own grace, without any mediation of friends, without your suit or ambition, to advance you to the state of a baron of that kingdom, in acknowledgment of your many acceptable services performed to us there."

Chichester continued in his government for the ten years ending with the parliament of 1613, the cardinal period of Irish history. As the events in which he was a principal actor are those which, from their primary importance, we have selected for the introduction to this period, we may pass on the more briefly to the end of this memoir.

Chichester was a second time appointed lord deputy in 1614. On this occasion he maintained his wonted activity, by repressing many disorders in the counties of Leinster, especially in those more wild and uncultivated mountain districts of the county of Wicklow, which he reduced to subjection.

In 1615 he obtained the king's permission to retire from his arduous post, but was in the next year appointed lord high treasurer of Ireland. He built a splendid house for his own residence at Carrickfergus.

In 1622, he was sent ambassador to the Palatinate. To enter on the subject of this embassy we should occupy a space disproportionate to the scale of this memoir. He returned in October the same year, and was sworn of the privy council. He died in the year 1624, in London, and was interred in a chapel on the north side of the church of St. Nicholas in Carrickfergus, about eight months after his death.

He was married to a daughter of Sir John Perrott, by whom he had one son who died in little more than a month after his birth. In consequence his estates descended to his next brother, Sir Edward Chichester. As we shall not have to offer any further notice of this person, we may here add, that his brother's title had been limited to his issue male; the title fell, but as Sir Edward was a person of influence and very serviceable, King Charles revived the title and added a step by the title of viscount Chichester of Carrickfergus.