MacCarthy Reagh, Florence (DNB00)
|←Maccarthy, Nicholas Tuite||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 34
MacCarthy Reagh, Florence
MACCARTHY REAGH, FLORENCE (FINEEN) (1562?–1640?), Irish chieftain, eldest son of Sir Donogh MacCarthy Reagh, lord of Carbery in Munster, was born probably at Kilbrittain Castle about 1562. On the death of his father, in 1576, he inherited considerable private property, though the chieftainship passed by tanistry to his uncle, Sir Owen MacCarthy. Despite certain youthful indiscretions that had aroused the suspicions of the authorities, he served loyally on the side of the crown during the rebellion of the Earl of Desmond. On the final suppression of the rebellion (1583) he proceeded to court, where he was graciously received by Elizabeth, who rewarded him with a thousand marks in money and an annuity of one hundred marks. He attended the parliament held by Sir John Perrot in 1585, but in 1588 he gave great offence to government by secretly marrying his kinswoman, Ellen, the daughter and sole heiress of Donal MacCarthy Mor, earl of Clancar, and thus prospectively reuniting in himself the two main branches of the Clan Carthy. His conduct, and a rumour that he was intriguing with Spain, induced government to issue orders for his instant arrest, and for a thorough investigation of the whole business. Six months later he was removed to Dublin, and thence to London, where on his arrival, on 10 Feb. 1589, he was immediately committed to the Tower. A few days afterwards his wife, acting, it was supposed, on his instructions, escaped from Cork. On 23 March Florence was examined before the privy council. He denied all complicity with Sir William Stanley [q. v.]; but not being successful in entirely removing suspicion, he was recommitted to the Tower. Fifteen months later his wife was allowed to appear at court, and the Earl of Ormonde offering to stand surety for him in the sum of 1,000l., he was on 19 Jan. 1591 liberated on condition that he did not quit the realm, nor go more than three miles outside the city without permission. He, however, succeeded in interesting Lord Burghley in his case, and having obtained protection against his creditors, together with a permission to recover, if possible, an old fine of 500l. due to the crown from Lord Barry, to whose malice, incurred during the time of the Desmond rebellion, he attributed his arrest, he returned to Ireland, whither his wife and child had a few months preceded him, early in November 1593.
In 1594 Sir Owen MacCarthy died, and, according to the Irish custom of tanistry, was succeeded by his nephew, Donal-na-Pipi (d. 1612), who bound himself under a penalty of 10,000l. not to divert the succession from Florence, who stood to him in the relation of tanist or heir apparent. Florence meanwhile had been unsuccessfully prosecuting his suit for the recovery of his 500l. fine from Lord Barry, who retaliated by preferring a fresh charge of disloyalty against him. Florence, who was still only a prisoner at large, accordingly appeared before the council at Dublin in June 1594, and having formally replied to Barry's ‘articles’ implicating him in Sir W. Stanley's treasonable projects, he obtained permission to proceed to England, where he seems to have remained till the spring of 1596, occupied in vainly prosecuting his suit against Barry.
Towards the close of that year the Earl of Clancar died. By the terms of his grant his estate ought to have lapsed to the crown, he having died without legitimate issue male; but Florence, who claimed some interest in the property as a mortgagee and also in right of his wife, found himself in competition with Donal, a favourite illegitimate son of the earl, the Countess Honora, and Sir Nicholas Browne, to whom Clancar had mortgaged the signory of Molahiffe. Donal's and the countess's claims were soon disposed of, but those of Florence and Browne to the bulk of the property were less easily settled. In order to support his pretensions the former had returned to England in June 1598, and he was still there when in October the news arrived that Donal, ambitious of greater power than had been allotted him, had acknowledged O'Neill, and, relying on his support, had assumed the title of MacCarthy Mor, though as yet the rod of inauguration had been withheld from him by O'Sullivan Mor, who favoured Florence. Perceiving the necessity of meeting Donal on his own ground, the government consented to acknowledge, with certain reservations, Florence's claims, and to grant him a free pardon on condition that he immediately withdrew his followers from rebellion. But Florence, foreseeing the difficulties he would have to encounter as the nominee of the English government, manifested no eagerness to accept the terms offered him, and on one pretence or another continued to linger in England in the expectation that the enterprise of the Earl of Essex would simplify matters, and it was not till Essex had returned to England that he actually arrived at Cork at the close of 1599.
Considering the general conviction that the days of English rule in Ireland were numbered, it is not surprising that Florence, who was naturally of an irresolute disposition, and knew better than most Irishmen the resources of the crown, should have tried to trim his conduct with a view to his own safety in either case. Having secured the good opinion of the authorities at Cork, his first step was to visit the Sugan Earl of Desmond, who, with his followers, was quartered on his estate in Carbery. According to his own account he was not well received, partly on account of his ‘English attire,’ but chiefly because of his ‘piercing speeches in her majesty's behalf, and against their foolish, senseless, damned action to the undoing of themselves and all men else near them.’ It is certain that a day or so afterwards the Sugan Earl, followed reluctantly by Donal, quartered their men on Lord Barry's barony of Ibawne, and that Florence, having established himself at Kinsale, closed all the approaches into his country which was ‘the back and strength of all Munster.’ This in itself was suspicious, but worse was soon to follow. Early in 1600 O'Neill arrived in Munster, and among those who came to his camp between the Lea and the Bandon was Florence. Of what passed at the interview that took place nothing is known for certain, except that Donal was deposed and Florence appointed MacCarthy Mor. He pleaded, when excusing his conduct to his English friends, the force of circumstances, the innocency of his intentions, and his inability to oppose O'Neill. But he offered open resistance in April to Captain Flower, who had been commissioned to destroy the rebels in Carbery. Sir George Carew [q. v.], who succeeded to the government of Munster in the same month, while regretting Flower's expedition as likely to alienate him at a critical time, evidently placed little confidence in his professions of loyalty, and summoned him to Cork in order to explain his conduct. Florence, however, declined to come without a safe-conduct, and when he arrived he refused to put in his eldest son as a pledge of his loyalty, alleging in excuse his fear of Donal and Dermod O'Conor, captain of his mercenaries, and ‘more than to be a neutral he would not promise.’ At the same time he wrote at great length to Sir Robert Cecil urging the difficulties of his position. Carew grew more convinced of his duplicity, but the evidence, specious though it is, is hardly sufficient to convict either Carew or Cecil of a design to poison him. Carew was certainly determined to extract a definite announcement from him, but, failing in this, he thought circumstances justified him in arresting him, notwithstanding he had come to him on a safe-conduct, and though his pardon under the great seal, ‘by which he was enjoined by a time prefixed to put in assurance for his further loyalty,’ had still fourteen days to run. His action was approved by Cecil. Florence was sent to England in August 1601, and committed to the Tower. There he remained, vainly petitioning to be tried or to be liberated on condition of serving against O'Neill, till Lady Day, 1604, when he was removed to the Marshalsea on account of his health, but was afterwards sent back to the Tower.
In 1606 Donal-na-Pipi, regardless of his promise to Florence and his bond of 10,000l., surrendered the lordship of Carbery and received a grant of the same to hold by English tenure. About the same time Lord de Courcy, instigated by Richard Boyle [q. v.], afterwards ‘the great Earl of Cork,’ and Lord Barry, tried to wrest his patrimonial inheritance in Carbery from him, but he succeeded in frustrating their efforts. During his imprisonment in the Tower, where he seems to have enjoyed exceptional privileges, including access to his books, he wrote a treatise on the antiquity and history of Ireland during the mythic ages, dedicated to the Earl of Thomond, and which, according to MacCarthy (Life and Letters of Florence MacCarthy, p. 391), was first published and edited about 1858 by John O'Donovan, who spoke highly of it. He was again in 1608 transferred to the Marshalsea. In 1614, on finding sureties in 5,000l., he was liberated on condition that he would not quit the realm; but three years later, on the information of one of his servants, a certain Teige Hurly, as to his intimacy with Sir William Stanley, he was recommitted to the Tower. On 4 Dec. 1619 there was an order in council for his release from the Gatehouse; but in 1624 he was again confined there owing to the death of two of his sureties, the Earl of Thomond and Sir Patrick Barnwall, ‘being kept in a little narrow close room without sight of the air.’ Fresh sureties having been found, he was restored to liberty in 1626. In 1630 his old suit with the Brownes for the possession of the signory of Molahiffe was decided in his favour; but from a letter of Strafford to Secretary Coke in August 1637, it would appear that the lands were still at that time in the possession of the Brownes.
Florence MacCarthy died, it is conjectured, about 1640. He was a man of heroic stature and benignant aspect, a scholar of considerable pretension, and well versed in the traditions of his country. His rival, Donal-na-Pipi, described him as ‘a damned counterfeit Englishman, whose study and practice was to deceive and betray all the Irishmen in Ireland.’ To Carew and Cecil he seemed alternately fool and knave. Posterity will probably regard him as an ambitious, but by no means an astute man, who tried to play a difficult part at a critical time, perhaps honestly, but certainly unsuccessfully, and whose long-continued imprisonment entitles him to pity.
A rough portrait of him was carried to France about 1776 by a descendant of Donal-na-Pipi, and, having been restored, it is now said to form one of the ornaments of the city of Toulouse (MacCarthy, Life and Letters, p. 313). By his wife Ellen, daughter of the Earl of Clancar, for whom he had latterly little affection, he had four sons, viz.: Teige, the eldest, who died in his boyhood in the Tower; Donal MacCarthy Mor, who married Sarah, daughter of Randal MacDonnell, earl of Antrim; Charles, who married a daughter of the seventeenth Lord Kerry, and Florence.
[All that is known regarding Florence MacCarthy will be found in Daniel MacCarthy's Life and Letters of Florence MacCarthy Reagh, Lond. 1867; a work of research and importance for the period it covers. Many of Florence's Lettsrs, some of which have not bean included in the Life and Letters, are among the Hatfield House MSS. See Hist. MSS. Comm., 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th Reps., App.]