Sir Henry Bagnall


Sir Henry Bagnall
(~1556 - 1598)

Bagenal [Bagnal], Sir Henry (c.1556-1598), soldier, was the son of Sir Nicholas Bagenal (d. 1590/91), marshal of the army in Ireland, and Eleanor (d. 1573), daughter and coheir of Sir Edward Griffith of Penrhyn in north Wales. Named after his godfather Sir Henry Sidney, Bagenal probably matriculated from Jesus College, Oxford, in 1572 or 1573, aged sixteen, but left without a degree to serve in Ireland with his father, marshal of the army since 1566; Henry obtained a reversion of that post on 26 August 1583. The Bagenals had a vested interest in developing their Newry headquarters and sought extensive immunities from Sir Henry Sidney, the lord deputy. Sidney refused these but appointed Sir Nicholas as chief commissioner of Ulster and Henry as his assistant in May 1577. Henry was knighted the following year. It may have been the government's intention that this commission would lead to a lord presidency of Ulster similar to the presidencies set up in the provinces of Connaught and Munster. In reality this jurisdiction became restricted to those areas under the Bagenals' military control. Hugh O'Neill was asserting traditional claims of overlordship in the territories of Magennis and O'Hanlon, into which the Bagenals had encroached; he once famously told Bagenal to put his commission in his pocket.

Sir Henry became associated with a series of military disasters. In August 1580 he commanded the rear with Sir William Stanley when Lord Grey of Wilton led his forces, many of them raw recruits, into the Wicklow mountain passes; they were defeated by Feagh McHugh O'Byrne's and Viscount Baltinglass's men at Glenmalure on 25 August. As chief assistant to his father on the commission for Ulster, Henry was active in taking musters and surveying lands. He was also associated with the various divide-and-rule schemes of Lord Deputy Perrot in his efforts to contain the rival ambitions of New English and Gaelic lords. In 1584 Sir Henry was stationed as colonel of the garrison at Carrickfergus to contain and repulse the incursions of Sorley Boy MacDonald's Scots, but in September about 1300 of them landed on Rathlin Island under Angus MacDonald. Bagenal went on the attack but was ambushed in a narrow defile at Glenarm in the Glens of Antrim and had to make a precipitate retreat to Carrickfergus.

Bagenal was frequently in dispute with other English officials and military men. In February 1585, during a disagreement with Sir William Stanley, his brother Dudley Bagenal, then captain of a band in south Clandeboye, Antrim, came to blows with Stanley. The steward of Clandeboye, Nicholas Dawtrey, alleged it was Bagenal's ambitions that drove O'Neill into open warfare. In May 1586 Sir Nicholas sent Sir Henry to the court to report on the troubles in the Dublin council with Lord Deputy Perrot. He went equipped with references and petitions to Lord Burghley demanding changes in government policy on Ulster. One of these, The Description and Present State of Ulster (1586), is an edited extract from one of the many contemporary accounts of Ireland then in circulation. Possibly the source was Sir Edward Waterhouse, a friend of both the lord deputy and of the Bagenals. Bagenal's tract was much concerned to point out the crown's weakness in Ulster, where O'Neill was becoming more powerful and was bringing in Scottish mercenaries, and at a time when the Spanish Armada was more than a rhetorical threat. Bagenal recommended a division of O'Neill's lands in Tyrone, a restraint on O'Neill's control over the petty chiefs in co. Down, the enhancement of his own role as marshal, and a presidency for Ulster with a shire hall and a provincial gaol to dispense royal justice. Other proposals were more obviously self-interested, such as his application to develop Newry, and to tax local lords to build walls and a college where the sons of Ulster lords could be educated in civility and concurrently kept hostage. Finally, he wanted a similar commission to that held by Sir Richard Bingham in Connaught.

At first the queen endorsed many of Bagenal's demands including the grant of a commission similar to Bingham's, but her letter of April 1587 was never enrolled as a patent in the Irish chancery. Hostilities between the Bagenals and Perrot reached crisis point when the latter claimed he had been defamed by a letter purportedly from Turlough Luineach O'Neill to the queen, but actually forged 'by means of Sir Henry Bagenal and other of that Machiavellian device' (CSP Ire., 1586-8, 277). In the council chamber in Dublin Sir Nicholas demanded that Perrot clear his son's name of military incompetence-allegations made by Henry Wallop, the treasurer-at-war. They accused each other of being liars, drunkards, and cowards and came to blows. Nicholas Dawtrey, who had been commissioned by Burghley to evaluate plans for Ulster, also attacked Bagenal's covetousness and avowed that 'Mr Marshal hath neither agreed with English or Irish that hath had as much or more discretion in governing of Ulster than himself ... [or with] ... any commissioners that hath been employed in that province, except his sons' (PRO, SP 63/129/nos. 3, 20).

Sir Henry's visit to England was not a total failure. He wrote on 16 September 1586 to Edward Manners, third earl of Rutland, whose cousin Eleanor, daughter of Sir John Savage of Rock Savage, in the Wirral, Cheshire, he had married, inquiring if the earl had a parliamentary borough to spare; on 29 September he was returned at Grantham and in the event also returned for Anglesey, which he preferred. His marriage to Eleanor produced three sons: Arthur, mentally handicapped, became a ward of his uncle Sir Patrick Barnewell; Dudley, who founded the co. Carlow branch of the family (not to be confused with Henry's brother Dudley, killed by the Kavanaghs in May 1587); and Ambrose. Their six daughters married into the families of wealthy palesmen.

In September 1587 Bagenal went back to Ireland to deputize for his father, Sir Nicholas, and Perrot was commanded to allow him to do so 'without any trouble, molestation or impeachment' (APC, 1587-8, 169-70, 226-7). With the active co-operation of the new lord deputy, Sir William Fitzwilliam, he led the invasion in 1588 against Sir Ross McMahon in Monaghan who, at O'Neill's behest, had refused to have a sheriff appointed there. In the final settlement of Monaghan, Bagenal received substantial termon (ecclesiastical) lands nominally outside the control of the McMahons. In October 1590 Sir Nicholas Bagenal formally resigned his office of marshal of the army provided his son succeeded him; Henry did so on 24 October and on the same day was sworn of the privy council. On 18 May 1591 he succeeded his father as chief commissioner for the government of Ulster, in effect an empty title. In the following year he wrote to Lord Burghley with a detailed analysis of his situation: 'The chiefest, or rather the only means to reduce these barbarous people to obedience is to so disunite them as all may be enforced to depend of the queen' (PRO, SP 63/163/no. 29). His proposals were little heeded; Burghley and the privy council had by then adopted a conciliatory attitude to Hugh O'Neill, even to the extent of exempting the earl's country from Bagenal's jurisdiction. Following the death of his second wife, Joanna O'Donnell, O'Neill asked Bagenal for the hand of his sister Mabel in marriage. This approach was repulsed with contempt; Sir Henry had Mabel removed to live with her sister Mary at Turvey, co. Dublin. Mabel's subsequent elopement and marriage to O'Neill so deepened the feud between the two men that she became 'the Helen of the Irish War' (Bagwell, 3.223). They were married in August 1591; Bagenal vainly attempted to prove that O'Neill was not properly divorced from his first wife and consistently refused to pay the £1000 dowry to O'Neill.

Bagenal kept a journal of the military campaign of the autumn of 1593. In September he led his soldiers into Monaghan again, attacking the McMahons en route for Fermanagh to repulse Hugh Maguire, whose forces had recently defeated Sir Richard Bingham. Maguire's defences at the Erne fords near Beleek were broken. Bagenal left troops under Captain Dowdall to consolidate his hold over Enniskillen, captured on 2 February 1594 after a nine-day siege. Bagenal and O'Neill gave conflicting accounts of their service against Maguire. A war of words preceded open hostilities; Bagenal reported to Dublin that O'Neill was in touch with Spain and was recruiting and arming his lordship, while O'Neill claimed that the real beneficiaries of his services to the crown were his enemies. The struggle for power in Ulster was personalized, and may have been overdramatized by historians. By May 1595 the relief of the Monaghan garrison had become crucial. Bagenal led out an army of 1750 men from Dundalk and Newry on 24 May; O'Neill had besieged the garrison and his forces attacked Bagenal at Clontibret near Monaghan, inflicting heavy losses. Bagenal's defeat, reported as a tactical withdrawal to Newry, was the first of O'Neill's victories. Bagenal had to be reinforced and revictualled at Newry by sea, sending back his wounded to Dublin by that route, because O'Neill had blocked the Moyry Pass-the famed Gap of the North. By July 1596 he had raided Bagenal's lands right to the gates of Newry.

In December 1596, and again in June 1597, Bagenal successfully revictualled the garrison at Armagh, but by 1598 the more northerly fort on the Blackwater was in dire straits. Bagenal went to relieve the fort. He knew the terrain well as far as Armagh and had good guides, but his army was stalked by ill luck and outmanoeuvred by O'Neill's forces. On 14 August 1598, on the field of battle at the Yellow Ford, Bagenal raised the visor of his helmet and was mortally wounded. Some dispatches say that his body fell into O'Neill's hands, others that it was brought off the field with those who sought refuge in Armagh Cathedral and was buried there, but in all probability it was buried in his father's church, St Patrick's in Newry. The Irish historian C. P. Meehan cites an almost contemporary character description of Bagenal:

He was in sooth, a greedy adventurer, restless, rapacious, unscrupulous; in a word, one who deemed it no sin or shame to aid in any process by which the rightful owner might be driven from his holding provided he got share of the spoil. (Meehan, 29-30)

Bagenal is also given a certain literary immortality in Sir Walter Scott's romantic ballad Rokeby.