Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pelham, William
PELHAM, Sir WILLIAM (d. 1587), lord justice of Ireland, was third son of Sir William Pelham of Laughton, Sussex, by his second wife, Mary, daughter of William, lord Sandys of the Vine, near Basingstoke in Hampshire. His father died in 1538, and Pelham was probably thirty when he was appointed captain of the pioneers at the siege of Leith in 1560. He was specially commended for his ‘stout and valiant endeavour’ on that occasion; but, according to Humfrey Barwick (Brief Discourse), his bad engineering was responsible for the wound inflicted during the assault on Arthur Grey, fourteenth lord Grey de Wilton [q. v.] He commanded the pioneers at Havre in November 1562 under the Earl of Warwick; and, being despatched to the assistance of Admiral Coligny in February 1563, was present at the capture of Caen. Returning to Havre in March, he was wounded during a skirmish with the forces of the Rhinegrave in June. He assisted at the negotiations for the surrender of Havre, and was a hostage for the fulfilment of the conditions of surrender. Subsequently, on his return to England, he was employed with Portinari and Concio in inspecting and improving the fortifications of Berwick. Much confidence was reposed in his judgment, and, being appointed lieutenant-general of the ordnance, he was chiefly occupied for several years in strengthening the defences of the kingdom. He accompanied Henry, lord Cobham, and Secretary Walsingham on a diplomatic mission to the Netherlands in the summer of 1578, and in the following summer he was sent to Ireland to organise the defence of the Pale against possible inroads by the O'Neills. He was knighted by Sir William Drury [q. v.], and, on the latter's death shortly afterwards, was chosen by the council lord justice ad interim.
The situation of affairs in Munster, recently convulsed by the rebellion of James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald (d 1579) [q. v.], and the menacing attitude of the Earl of Desmond [see FitzGerald, Gerald, fifteenth Earl of Desmond] and his brother Sir John of Desmond, obliged him instantly to repair thither. His efforts at conciliation proving ineffectual, he caused the earl to be proclaimed a traitor; but, finding himself not sufficiently strong to attack Askeaton, he returned to Dublin by way of Galway, leaving the management of the war in Munster to the Earl of Ormonde [see Butler, Thomas, tenth Earl]. His proceeding gave considerable offence to Elizabeth, who was loth to involve herself in a new and costly campaign; and Pelham, though pleading in justification Drury's intentions and the absolute necessity of the proclamation, found no little difficulty in mitigating her displeasure, and earnestly begged to be relieved of his thankless office. It was soon apparent that Ormonde's individual resources were unequal to the task of reducing Desmond, and, yielding to pressure from England, Pelham in January 1580 prepared to go to Munster himself. At Waterford, where he was detained till about the middle of February for want of victuals, he determined, in consequence of rumours of a Spanish invasion, to entrust the government of the counties of Cork and Waterford to Sir William Morgan (d. 1584) [q. v.], and in conjunction with the Earl of Ormonde to direct his march through Connello and Kerry to Dingle, and ‘to make as bare a country as ever Spaniard put his foot in, if he intend to make that his landing place.’ He carried out his intention ruthlessly to the letter, killing, according to the ‘Four Masters,’ ‘blind and feeble men, women, boys and girls, sick persons, idiots and old people.’ Returning along the sea-coast, he sat down before Carrigafoyle Castle on 25 March. Two days later he carried the place by assault, and put the garrison to the sword, sparing neither man, woman, nor child. Terrified by the fate of Carrigafoyle, the garrison at Askeaton surrendered without a blow, and Desmond's last stronghold of Ballyloughan fell at the same time into Pelham's hands.
Fixing his headquarters at Limerick, the lord justice proceeded to carry out his scheme of bridling the Desmond district with garrisons, his object being to confine the struggle to Kerry, and, with the assistance of the fleet, under Admiral Winter, to starve the rebels into submission. Thinking, too, as he said, to strike while the iron was still hot, he summoned a meeting of the noblemen and chief gentry of the province ‘to see what they may be drawn to do against the rebels … and what relief of victuals we may have of them, and what contributions they will yield to ease some part of her majesty's charge hereafter.’ But the attendance at the meeting was meagre in the extreme, and even among the best disposed Pelham found ‘such a settled hatred of English government’ that it was clearly useless to expect any general submission so long as Desmond was at liberty. Accordingly, after many delays, he and Ormonde entered Kerry together. From Castle Island, where they narrowly missed capturing the Earl of Desmond and Dr. Nicholas Sanders [q. v.], they advanced along the valley of the Maine, scouring the country as they went, to Dingle. At Dingle they found Admiral Winter, and, with his assistance, Pelham ransacked every cove and creek between Dingle and Cork, while Ormonde harried the interior of the country. The devotion of the western chiefs to the house of Desmond was unable to bear the strain placed upon it, and one by one they submitted to Ormonde. At Cork there was a great meeting of all the lords and chiefs, ‘cisalpine and transalpine the mountains of Slieve Logher.’ All were received to mercy except Lord Barrymore; but Pelham, acting on the advice of Sir Warham St. Leger [q. v.], took them along with him to Limerick. Desmond was still at large, but his power had been greatly crippled, and Pelham, though by no means blind to the serious consequences of a Spanish invasion, was fairly satisfied with the results of his expedition.
Pelham, who insisted on an unconditional surrender, was preparing for a fresh inroad into Kerry, when he received information that the new viceroy, Arthur, lord Grey de Wilton, had arrived at Dublin. He had more than once expressed his willingness to serve in a subordinate capacity under Grey, and it was originally intended to send Wallop with the sword of state to Dublin. But Pelham was offended at the lack of courtesy shown to him by the deputy's secretary, Edmund Spenser, and determined to go himself to Dublin. He was detained for some time about Athlone by bad weather, and it was not till 7 Sept. that he formally resigned the sword of state to the deputy in St. Patrick's Cathedral. There was some talk of making him president of Munster, and he accompanied Grey to Drogheda to inspect the fortifications; but being taken dangerously ill, he was obliged to return to Dublin in a wagon. He obtained permission to return to England, and left Ireland early in October. On 16 Jan. 1581 he was joined in commission with the Earl of Shrewsbury and Sir Henry Neville to convey the Queen of Scots from Sheffield to Ashby in Leicestershire. He still retained the office of lieutenant-general of the ordnance, but his disbursements so far exceeded the profits of his office that in 1585 he found himself 8,000l. in arrears by virtue of his office alone, while his personal debts amounted to at least 5,000l. The queen refused either to remit or stall his debts; and, certain defalcations in connection with his office, for which he was held responsible, coming to light about the same time, she made the payment of his arrears, much to Leicester's annoyance and the detriment of the service, absolutely essential to permitting him to serve under the Earl of Leicester in the Netherlands. In vain Pelham implored her, ‘If you will not ease me of my debts, pray take my poor living into your possession, and give order for their payment, and imprest me some convenient sum to set me forward.’ Elizabeth was inexorable; but the remonstrances of Leicester and Burghley induced her so far to relent as to accept a mortgage on his property, and in July 1586 he joined Leicester in the Netherlands.
Leicester, who thought highly of his military abilities, created him marshal of the army, though by doing so he gave great offence to Sir John Norris [q. v.] and his brother Sir Edward. As for Pelham, he shared Leicester's prejudices against the Norrises, and at a drinking bout on 6 Aug. at Count Hohenlohe's quarters at Gertruydenberg, he was the cause of a fierce and brutal brawl which nearly cost Sir Edward Norris [q. v.] his life (cf. Motley, United Netherlands, ii. 92–9). Leicester laid the blame of the whole affair on Norris; but Pelham was naturally of an irascible disposition. A few days later, while inspecting the trenches before Doesburg in company with Leicester, he was wounded by a shot in the stomach. Thinking the wound to be fatal, he expressed his satisfaction at having warded off the blow from the commander-in-chief, who was standing directly behind him, and made other ‘comfortable and resolute speeches.’ But, though fated ‘to carry a bullet in his belly’ as long as he lived, the wound did not prove immediately fatal. He was able to take part in the fight at Zutphen, and, according to Fulke Greville, it was the desire to emulate him, and ‘to venture without any inequality,’ that made Sir Philip Sidney [q. v.] lay aside his cuisses and so to receive the wound that caused his death. In consequence of the recalcitrant behaviour of the citizens of Deventer, he was entrusted with the task of bringing them to their senses, which he did in a resolute and summary fashion (Leycester Corresp. App. vi.). He returned to England with the Earl of Leicester in April 1587, and is said to have derived much benefit from the waters of Bath. He was sent back with reinforcements to Holland in the autumn, but died shortly after landing at Flushing, on 24 Nov. 1587.
Pelham married, first, Eleanor (d. 1574), daughter of Henry Neville, fifth earl of Westmorland. By her he had one son, Sir William Pelham, who succeeded him, and married Ann, eldest daughter of Charles, lord Willoughby of Parham. His second wife was Dorothy, daughter of Anthony Catesby of Whiston, Northamptonshire, and widow of Sir William Dormer, by whom he had a son, Peregrine, and a daughter, Ann.
Pelham's ‘Letter Book,’ comprising his diary and official correspondence when lord justice of Ireland, is preserved among the Carew MSS. at Lambeth (Brewer, Cal. Carew MSS. ii. 296). It was compiled by Morgan Colman, and consists of 455 leaves. The title-page is elaborately ornamented. Pelham also wrote commendatory verses prefixed to Sir George Peckham's ‘A true Reporte of the late Discoveries … of the Newfound Landes: By … Sir Humphrey Gilbert,’ London, 1583. And there is an interesting tract by him, with the title, ‘A form or maner howe to have the Exersyse of the Harquebuse thorowe England for the better Defence of the same,’ in ‘State Papers,’ Dom. Eliz. xliv. 60.
A portrait by Zucchero belongs to the Earl of Yarborough.[Burke's Peerage, ‘Yarborough;’ Berry's County Genealogies, ‘Sussex;’ Horsfield's Hist. of Lewes, i. 340; Lower's Historical and Genealogical Notices of the Pelham Family; Stow's Annals; Cal. State Papers, Foreign; Toussaint's Pièces Historiques relatives au Siège du Havre; Churchyard's Chips; Barwick's Briefe Discourse concerning … Manual Weapons of Fire; Cal. State Papers, Eliz. Domestic and Ireland; Cal. Carew MSS.; Cal. Hatfield MSS.; Cal. Fiants, Eliz. Irel.; Bagwell's Ireland under the Tudors; Sadler's State Papers; Leycester Corresp. (Camden Soc.); Clements Markham's Fighting Veres; Grimestone's Historie of the Netherlands; Motley's United Netherlands; Sir John Smythe's Certain Discourses … concerning … divers sorts of Weapons, p. 36; Fulke Greville's Life of Sir Philip Sidney (ed. 1651), p. 143; Ritson's Bibliographia Poetica, p. 297; MSS. Brit. Museum Harl. 285 f. 239, 6993 f. 129, 6994 f. 88, Cotton. Galba, C. x. ff. 65, 67; Titus, B. xiii. ff. 285, 291, Lansdowne, 109, f. 158, Addit. 5752 ff. 28, 33, 375, 5754 ff. 188, 205, 5935 f. 5, 33594 ff. 5, 12–15.]