Mitchell Carroll.

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ship was the chronicler Gildas. The Ey-Bridges, /. e., the
Isles of Bridget, or the Hebrides, according to the modern
form of their name, claim the honor of holding in loving
embrace her mortal remains. In this claim, however,
they have a vigorous disputant in the town of Kildare,
which claims the renown of her burial.

Passing from the vague borderland between legend and
history, we come down to the twelfth century, when
medieval conditions were in full force and the manners
and customs already described in connection with the
women of the times had full hold upon their lives. As
representative of the spirit of the period, the life of the
renowned Eva, Princess of Leinster and Countess of Pem-
broke, may be briefly considered.

The history of the sad princess centres about the strug-
gles of Dermot to regain the throne of Leinster, from
which he had been deposed by the federated kings. First
he equipped a body of mercenaries from Wales, only to be
met with defeat in his endeavor to take Dublin from the
enemy. He appealed for aid to the English king, Henry II.,
who was then engaged in a campaign in France. He did
not receive direct help from that monarch, who himself
was looking with covetous eyes upon Ireland, but he did
receive permission to make recruits from among his Anglo-
Norman subjects. His real aid came from the Earl of


Pembroke, called Richard Strongbow. With a large fleet,
Dermot now set sail for Ireland, bent not only upon the
recovery of his possession of Leinster, but the conquest of
the whole island.

The consideration offered by Dermot to Pembroke for
his services was the hand of his daughter Eva, with the
kingdom of Leinster for a dowry. Waterford, a town
then of equal importance with Dublin, was successively
besieged and sacked; the Danes, who held it, were driven
out with great slaughter. Amid all the horror of the sacked
city was consummated the union of Eva and Richard, Earl
Strongbow. Dublin became the place of their residence.
A few years thereafter, the husband's checkered career
was closed by a wound in the foot. In Christ Church,
Dublin, lies the body of the warrior, and the monument
displays the figure of a recumbent knight in armor, with
that of his bride at his side.

The national struggles of Scotland are as replete with
examples of illustrious women as those of Ireland; the
tragedy of the lives of some of Scotia's daughters not only
serves to mark the brutal spirit of times which, with all
their superficial glorifying of the sex, yet could with good
conscience make war upon women, but also serves to illus-
trate the height of feminine devotion when called forth by
some great occasion with its demand for self-abnegation.
Among such heroic characters must ever be honorably
numbered the fair Isobel, Countess of Buchan, of whom
the poet Pratt says:

" Mothers henceforth shall proudly tell
How cag'd and prison'd Isobel
Did serve her country's weal."

The nine years which saw the struggles of a Wallace
and a Bruce, from the appearance of the former as the


champion of Scottish rights to the crowning of the latter
at Scone, were years big with the fate of a people full of
heroic purpose and undaunted fortitude. The story of the
national conquest must be sought elsewhere. In 1305,
upon the death of Wallace, the younger Bruce was im-
pelled to abandon the cause of the King of England, who
had been pleased to name him in a commission for the
direction of the affairs of Scotland. He made his peace
with Red Comyn, the leader of the rival Scottish faction,
and closed with him a pact on the terms proposed by
Bruce: "Support my title to the crown, and I will give
you my lands." The story of the perfidy of the treach-
erous Comyn and of the revolt of Bruce against Edward
of England is well-known history. The actual crowning
of the Scottish chieftain occurred on March 27, 1306. At
that time appeared Isobel, wife of John, Earl of Buchan,
who asserted the claim to install the king, which had come
down of ancient right in her family.

With great pomp, this illustrious scion of the house of
the Earls of Macduff led Bruce to the regal chair. The
English chronicler crustily remarks: "She was mad for
the beauty of the fool who was crowned." The English
king was enraged at the presumption of his vassal, and
sent out his soldiers against the Scottish sovereign. In the
notable battle which followed, the forces of Bruce were
routed and he himself made a fugitive. Other reverses
befell the arms of the Scotch, and among those who were
carried away captive to gratify the lust for vengeance
of the English was the noble lady who had proudly
inducted Bruce into the royal power. Isobel of Buchan
was carried to Berwick, and condemned to a fate which
can best be described in the words of an early chron-
icler: "Because she has not struck with the sword,
she shall not die by the sword, but on account of the


unlawful coronation which she performed, let her be closely
confined in an abode of stone and iron, made in the shape
of a cross, and let her be hung up out of doors in the open
air of Berwick, that both in her life and after her death
she may be a spectacle and an eternal reproach to travel-
lers." For four years she suffered the imposition of this
heinous punishment, which was then mitigated to impris-
onment in the monastery of Mount Carmel at Berwick.
After three years she was removed to the custody of
Henry de Beaumont. Her final fate is unknown, but it is
presumable that, if she lived, her release from durance
was secured by the victory of Bannockburn.

Amid the misfortunes which pressed thickly upon the
house of those whose name, more than that of any other,
is linked with Scotland's history — the mighty Douglases —
must ever appear the sad-visaged Janet, Lady Giamis.
When under the royal ban, remorseless as the will of fate,
the house of Douglas was expelled from its native heath,
a woman of unusual nobility suffered death in the general
disaster to her kin. Gratitude is not a virtue of kings, or
else there would have been some remembrance of that
earlier lady of the Douglas line, Catherine Douglas, who,
when the assassins upon midnight murder bent appeared
at the chamber of the queen of James I., opposed to their
entrance — ^fruitlessly, indeed, but none the less nobly — her
slender arm, which she thrust into the staple to replace
the bar that had been treacherously removed. The am-
bition of the Douglases, however, knew no bounds, and in
actual fact their power often not only rivalled but over-
topped that of the crown. The feud, with varying degrees
of irritation and occasions of outbreak, had gone on until
the time of James V., when the reverses suffered by the
Douglases effectually destroyed their power and made
them fugitives during the reign of that monarch. That


king had an undying resentment to the Earl of Angus,
who had obtained possession of his person as a child and
had continued to be his keeper until he finally slipped the
leash to take up the sovereignty unhampered. One of
the sisters of the mighty earl, in the flower of her youth,
became the wife of Lord Glamis. While her kinsmen
were in exile, she secretly did what she could to further
their designs against the Scottish throne. Charges were
formulated against her, but do not appear to have been
pressed. Other actions against her for treason were in-
stituted by her enemies, and she lived under continual
harassment and apprehension of danger. All her property
was confiscated as that of a fugitive from the law and one
tainted with treason. Her enemies were not satisfied with
the measure of revenge they had wrought upon her, and
were content with nothing short of her life.

The venom of the persecution is shown by the nature
of the charge which was trumped up against her to ensure
her death. Four years after the death of her husband,
she was indicted on the charge of killing him by poison.
Three times the majority of those summoned to serve on
the jury to hear the charges against her refused to attend,
thus showing how little faith the popular mind had in the
sincerity of the indictment against her. As it seemed im-
possible to secure a jury to hear the odious charge against
an innocent and high-minded lady, the case was allowed
to lapse. Soon after this she again married.

A description of her which was penned by a writer in
the early part of the seventeenth century represents her
as having been reputed in her prime the greatest beauty
in Britain. " She was," he says, " of an ordinary stature,
not too fat, her mien was majestic, her eyes full, her face
was oval, and her complection was delicate and extremely
fair. Besides all these perfections, she was a lady of


singular chastity; as lier body was a finished piece, with-
out the least blemish, so Heaven designed that her mind
should want none of those perfections a mortal creature
can be capable of; her modesty was admirable, her courage
was above what could be expected from her sex, her judg-
ment solid, her carriage was gaining and affable to her in-
feriors, as she tcnew well how to behave herself to her
equals; she was descended from one of the most honorable
and wealthy families of Scotland, and of great interest
in the kingdom, but at that time eclipsed." This is the
testimony of hearsay, but, allowing for exaggeration, the
great impression which she made upon her contemporaries
is amply shown.

The very nemesis of misfortune seemed to pursue this
innocent lady. The next turn of envious fate brought to
light a plot for her destruction which was hatched in the
dark recesses of a heart burning with passionate resent-
ment over its inability to invade her wifely integrity.
William Lyon had been one of the suitors who were dis-
appointed at her acceptance of the son of the Earl of
Argyll. After several years had elapsed, this man sought
to pass the limits of friendship, and had the baseness to
seek to draw her away from the path of honor. Her con-
temptuous and indignant rebuff rankled in his mind, and
led him to lay a deep plot tending to bring Lady Glamis
under suspicion of attempting to poison the king. Her
former indictment as a poisoner was counted upon to give
probability to the charge. She, with all other persons
under suspicion as parties to the plot, was arrested and
immured in Edinburgh Castle.

So much of political matter entered into the testimony,
and so skilfully was it wrought, that the jury found her
guilty of the crimes charged, namely, treasonable com-
munication with her relatives, the enemies of the king,


and of conspiring to poison her monarch. The sentence
was that she should be burned at the stake, and the same
day of its delivery it was executed. "She seemed to be
the only unconcerned person there, and her beauty and
charms never appeared with greater advantage than when
she was led to the flames; and her soul being fortified with
support from Heaven, and the sense of her own innocence,
she outbraved death, and her courage was equal in the
fire to what it was before her judges. She suffered those
torments without the least noise: only she prayed devoutly
for Divine assistance to support her under her sufferings."
She died as a burnt offering to the hate which was en-
gendered against her line, but which could be visited only
upon her, as all others of her house were out of reach of
the royal anger.

Returning to Ireland and leaving behind the atmosphere
of political machinations and persecutions, it is pleasant to
take up the characters of some women of the fifteenth
and the sixteenth centuries who for different reasons have
written their names lastingly in the memories of their
race. To be hailed as the best woman of her times was
the happy privilege of Margaret O'Carroll, who died in
1461. McFirbis, the antiquary of Lecan, her contempo-
rary, says of her: "She was the one woman that made
most of preparing highways, and erecting bridges, churches
and mass-books, and of all manner of things profitable to
serve God and her soul." Her life was most celebrated
for her pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint James of Com-
postella in Spain, and her unbounded charity. The pil-
grimage followed upon a great revival of religion which
seems to have swept over Ireland in 1445. The occasion
of the awakening is not known, other than that following
upon the signs of religious discontent upon the continent
the monks of Ireland roused themselves to earnest and


arduous religious labors. The chronicler gives illustra-
tion of her practical charity in the account of her two
"invitations": twice in the one year did she call upon all
persons "Irish and Scottish" to bestow largely of their
money and goods as a feast for the poor. Thousands
resorted to the place of distribution, and, as each was
aided in an orderly manner, they had their names and the
amount and nature of their relief entered in a book kept
for the purpose. In summing up her life's work, the
chronicler says: "While the world lasts, her very many
gifts to the Irish and Scottish nations cannot be numbered.
God's blessing, the blessing of all saints, and every our
blessing from Jerusalem to Innis Glauir be on her going to
Heaven, and blessed be he that will reade and will heare
this, for the blessing of her soule. Cursed be the sore in
her breast that killed Margrett." Such a picture as this
serves to offset the more usual idea of the women of Ire-
land during the Middle Ages as coarse, half-civilized beings.
Such a character would lend dignity and worth to any
people during any age.

The many benefactions and the public spirit of this great
lady make her deserving of mention in any account of the
development of charities. The poet D'Arcy McGee has
immortalized her in a poem in which, referring to the
occasion of her "great Invitation," he says:

" In cloth of gold, like a queen new-come out of the royal wood
On the round, proud, white-walled rath Margeret O'Carroll stood;
That day came guests to Rath Imayn from afar from beyond the sea
Bards and Bretons of Albyn and Erin— to feast in Offaly 1"

To be celebrated for beauty alone is the prerogative of
a few of the women of the ages. What nation is there
that does not hold in as cherished regard the women who
have represented its noblest physical possibilities as their


women of unusual sanctity or those who have glorified
their literature or ennobled their arts? A beautiful woman
— a woman whose beauty is not alone flawless in feature
and full of the instinctive intellectuality of a soul mirrored
in a countenance, but also typical of the expression of
racial characteristics, is as much a product of ages, as
much a climax of evolution at the point of perfection,
as the saint, the artist, the dramatist who marks a
period and exalts a people. To pass down in history as
an exceptional beauty is to inspire art ideals and to
furnish a theme for the lyricist. Frailty is often found
united with such exceptional beauty, so is it with excep-
tional genius; alas! that predominating gifts should be
so often inimical to balance. To find such beauty in the
way of virtue is as grateful as to find an orchid exhaling

In the tales of fair women, the Fair Geraldine, who was
born in the first half of the sixteenth century, must always
be celebrated, not only as a typical Irish beauty, but as a
woman whose virtues were of a similar order to her phys-
ical charms. She was the second daughter of the Earl of
Kildare by his second wife. Lady Elizabeth Grey, and in-
herited from both sides of this union, which was most
auspicious, the high breeding and gentle graces which
fitted well her gracious carriage and great beauty and
served, by enhancing her physical charms, to attract to
Iier a wide circle of friends and to secure for her the
knightly attendance of a band of distinguished suitors.
She i/as taken to England to be educated, and at court re-
ceived the polish which perfected the jewel of her beauty.
She made her home with a second cousin of her mother,
Lady Mary, who was afterward England's queen. While
quite young she was appointed maid of honor to her kins-
woman. Already her charms had ripened to the point of


eliciting from the poet, soldier, and politician, Henry, Earl
of Surrey, the high praise of the following sonnet:

" From Tuscane came my lady's worthy race,

Fair Florence was sometime her ancient seat.
The western isle, whose pleasant shore doth face

Wild Cambor's cliffs, did give her lively heat
Fostered she was with milk of Irish breast;

Her sire an Earl, her dame of Princes' blood,
From tender years in Britain doth she rest.

With King's child ; where she tasteth costly foci
Hunsdon did first present her to mine eyes ;

Bright is her hue, and Geraldine she hight.
Hampton me taught to wish her first as mine,

And Windsor, alas ! doth chase her from my sight
Her beauty of kind ; her virtues from above,
Happy is he that can attain her love."

The noble earl who lamented that Windsor chased her
from his sight was suffering incarceration in Windsor
Castle for eating meat in Lent. That the Fair Geraldine
had made full conquest of his heart is shown by his con-
duct at a tournament at Florence, where he defied the
world to produce her equal. He was victorious, and the
palm was awarded the Irish beauty. Again, he is found
resorting to a famous alchemist of the day to enable him to
peer into the future, that he might know what disposition
of her heart would be made by the lady of his affections.
The only satisfaction he obtained was the seeing of Ger-
aldine recumbent upon a couch reading one of his sonnets.
This must have stirred his blood and have strengthened
his faith in the ultimate success of his wooing. Had he
obtained the revelation he sought, he would have seen the
adored beauty, with that curious inconsistency of her sex,
bestowing herself upon Sir Anthony Brown, a man sixty
years of age, and who was forty-four years her senior.
After his death she married the Earl of Lincoln, whom she
also survived. There is no further record of the beauty


whose fame extended over England and Ireland. The cir-
cumstance of Surrey's visit to the alchemist has beeiv
preserved in Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel:

" Fair all the pageant— but how passing fair

The slender form that lay on couch of Ind t
O'er her white bosom strayed her hazel hair,

Pale her dear cheek, as if for love she pined ;

All in her night-robe loose she lay reclined
And, pensive, read from tablet eburine

Some strain that seemed her inmost soul to find;
That favored strain was Surrey's raptured line.
That fair and lovely form, the Ladye Geraldine."

In the picturesque annals of the piracy of the sixteenth
century, when England was getting that sea training which
was to make her the undisputed naval power of the world,
when the Turkish corsair spread the terror of his savage
brutality through the hearts of the brave seamen who
manned the craft of legitimate commerce, at a time when
the trade routes of the sea were the paths of piracy, and
the sabre, the cutlass, and the newly invented gunpowder
were depended upon to establish the right of way for the
ships of the nations, there appears no more daring character
than Grainne O'Malley. Many stories of her prowess are
still current in the west of Ireland, and the political ballads of
her time make frequent allusion to the sea queen. For the
greater part of the sixteenth century she lived, an example of
that splendid virility which is yet characteristic of the hardy
Irish peasantry, when not under the shadow of famine.

She came of right by her seafaring proclivities, for from
the earliest period the O'Malleys have been celebrated as
rivalling the Vikings in their love of the sea. In the four-
teenth century a bard is found singing:

"A good man never was there
Of the O'Mailly's but a mariner;
The prophets of the weather are ye,
A tribe of affection and brotherly love."


Grainne O'Malley, with all her depredations upon the
sea, was no common pirate; through her veins ran the
royal blood of the line of Connaught, and, despite her
serviceability to the English as a freebooting ally upon
the western coasts of the island, she acknowledged no
higher power than her own. Her title of dignity was re-
garded as inviolable. Quite worthy of the brush of an
artist was the scene presented by the reception at court
of the wild Irish chieftainess. Disdaining land travel, she
performed the whole trip to London by water, sailing up
the Thames to the Tower Gate. The little son who was
born upon this voyage was fittingly called Theobald of
the Ship. There has come down to us no account of the
meeting of the two queens, but one may readily imagine
the scene — the blonde Elizabeth, thin, unbeautiful, her
scant features lined by petulance, but with indomitable
will shown in the turn of her mouth and the strength of
her chin, and the large-limbed, full-bodied Irish woman,
dressed in the semi-wild attire of her race and of her call-
ing, her arms, her wrists, her ankles, gleaming with cir-
clets of gold, a fillet of massive metal binding her hair, her
mantle caught up at the shoulder by an immense, ornately
wrought brooch. Courteously, but with no sign of inferior-
ity in her demeanor, her swarthy skin showing the dash
of Spanish blood in her veins, and her eyes flashing with
the light of an unconquered spirit, stood the female bucca-
neer before the woman who had rule of England. The best
tradition of the results of the interview tell us that a
treaty was effected between the two, but that the Irish
chieftainess did not yield an iota of her royal claims.

Thus was cemented a union between the English throne
and the piratical leader. It must be borne in mind, how-
ever, that piracy was not then the despicable vice that it
afterward came to be regarded. The commerce of the


enemy was always lawful spoil, and, even when there
was not actually a state of hostilities existing between
countries, preying upon one another's commerce was often
regarded as a semi-legitimate industry; and if the free-
booter kept out of reach of the enemy, he was not likely
to be seriously sought out for punishment by the authori-
ties of his own country. The exploiters of the New World,
under the title of merchant-adventurers, were for the most
part pirates; the Spanish galleons were always lawful
spoil for the English merchantman, who knew the trick of
painting out the name of his craft, giving it a garb of pirat-
ical black, using a false flag, spoiling the enemy after some
swift, hard fighting, and then resuming again his real or
assumed pacific character. In the light of her times must
Grainne O'Malley be regarded.

As a sea queen she is without parallel in any time; and
if the stain of their piracy does not attach to her English
contemporaries, Drake, Raleigh, and Gilbert, no more
should it to her. By force of a powerful individuality,
she ruled a race of men who were noted as the most law-
less of all Ireland, men among whom women as a class
were so little esteemed that they were not allowed to hold
property. An early traditional account of this woman of
the waves, which is preserved in manuscript at the Royal
Irish Academy, Dublin, describes her as follows:

" She was a great pirate and plunderer from her youth.
It is Transcended to us by Tradition that the very Day
she was brought to bed of her first Child that a Turkish
Corsair attacked her ships, and that they were Getting
the Better of her Men, she got up, put her Quilt about
her and a string about her neck, took two Blunder Bushes
in her hands, came on deck, began damming and Capering
about, her monstrous size and odd figure surprised the
Turks, their officers gathered themselves talking of her; this


was what she wanted, stretched both her hands, fired the
two Blunder Bushes at them and Destroyed the officers."
Many are the deeds of prowess ascribed to her, and so wide-
spread was her fame that desperate characters came from
all parts to enroll themselves under her standard. Her ser-
viceability to the English, to whose extending power she
had the good sense not to put herself in opposition, secured
to her the right to continue her depredations.

Online LibraryMitchell CarrollWoman: in all ages and in all countries → online text (page 28 of 30)