Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/St. Lawrence, Christopher (1568?-1619)
ST. LAWRENCE, Sir CHRISTOPHER, twenty-second, or more properly tenth, Baron Howth (1568?–1619), eldest son of Sir Nicholas St. Lawrence, twenty-first baron Howth [see under St. Lawrence, Christopher, twentieth Baron Howth], was born about 1568. According to a story recorded by D'Alton (Hist. of Dublin, p. 136), he was, when very young, kidnapped by the celebrated Grace O'Malley [q. v.] in retaliation for a supposed act of inhospitality towards her on the part of his father or grandfather. A picture said to represent this incident is preserved in Howth Castle. He displayed great aptitude in military exercises, and accompanied his father on an expedition into Wicklow against Fiagh MacHugh O'Byrne, when he showed some boldness by capturing two of Fiagh's followers in April 1595. Subsequently he paid a visit to England, and, returning to Ireland with Sir Conyers Clifford on 4 July 1597, he was given a company of foot, and for the next two years was chiefly employed on the borders of King's County in holding the O'Conors in check. He acquired a reputation as an active but somewhat quarrelsome officer, though there was no truth in the report that he stabbed Sir Samuel Bagenal ‘about the lie or such like brabble’ (Chamberlain, Letters, p. 23). He served under the Earl of Essex in Leinster in 1599, and distinguished himself by swimming across the Barrow in order to recover some stolen horses, and returned with one of the marauders' heads. He was present at the siege of Cahir Castle, and, having repulsed a sortie of the garrison, was one of the first to enter the place. He accompanied Essex, to whom he was greatly attached, to England, and is said to have offered to revenge him personally on Lord Grey de Wilton and Sir Robert Cecil (Camden, iii. 796). In April 1600 he was sent to reinforce the president of Munster, Sir George Carew; but later in the year he accompanied Lord-deputy Mountjoy into Leix, and in October he was slightly wounded in an encounter with the forces of O'Neill in the neighbourhood of Carlingford. On the news of the arrival of the Spaniards he was despatched into Munster, but his attempt, in conjunction with the president, to intercept O'Donnell failed. At the siege of Kinsale he and the Earl of Clanricarde were stationed to the west of the town in order to prevent a junction between the Spaniards and O'Donnell. On the submission of Hugh, earl of Tyrone, his company was reduced, and in February 1605 he ventured to solicit the king for ‘some mark of his gracious and liberal recognition of past services.’
His appeal met with no response, and, having about this time separated from his wife, he made preparations for realising his property with the intention of seeking his fortunes abroad. Chichester, who evidently felt that he had not been treated according to his deserts, wrote strongly in his favour to Salisbury, emphasising the fact of his being a protestant, and insisting that he should not quit the kingdom without permission. Nothing, however, was done for him, and in July 1606, having obtained the king's consent to go abroad, he entered the service of the archduke. His example proved contagious, and in January 1607 Chichester wrote that so many of the Irish gentry were preparing to leave the country that he thought it would be for the public service if he could be induced to return. But his father's death early in May relieved the deputy from further anxiety on that point, and in June St. Lawrence returned to Ireland. Meanwhile, however, he had become mixed up in an obscure conspiracy for subverting the government of Ireland, in which several noblemen, including, it was said, the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnel and Lord Delvin, were implicated. Now whether the prospect of returning to Ireland in a position more suited to his ambition, or the dread of the consequences of discovery, induced him to inform the government, Howth, on his way through England, revealed some part of the conspiracy to the privy council. His information was regarded with suspicion, and the work of sifting him was transferred to Chichester.
Arrived in Dublin, ‘A. B.’ (the initials under which Howth concealed his identity) was secretly examined by the lord deputy; but his story, resting solely on his own authority, seemed so improbable that the deputy was inclined to treat it as a fiction of a disordered mind, when the sudden and unexpected flight of the northern earls, owing doubtless to a rumour of treachery, caused him to view the matter in another light. Howth, who was himself apparently meditating flight, was, in consequence of directions from the privy council, arrested, along with Lord Delvin [see Nugent, Sir Richard, first Earl of Westmeath], and confined to the castle. Delvin shortly afterwards managed to escape; and, in order to avoid another mishap, Howth was in December sent to London in charge of Sir John Jephson, Chichester remarking that during his imprisonment in the castle he had ‘carried himself in his accustomed half-witted fashion.’ He was examined before the privy council, and ‘no cause of exception to his loyalty’ having been found, he was allowed to return to Ireland in March 1608. Meanwhile his secret had leaked out, so that he went about in constant fear of his life, distrusting his most intimate acquaintances. Even those who could hardly be suspected of sympathising with any attempt to upset the government looked askance at him and spoke contemptuously of him. The remarks of Sir Garret Moore [q. v.] galled him particularly; and, in revenge, Howth preferred a charge against Moore of complicity in the conspiracy, to which Moore's well-known intimacy with the Earl of Tyrone lent plausibility. But, meeting with little encouragement from Chichester, Howth repaired to England, and was so far successful that on his return to Ireland in June the deputy was ordered to assign him a company of 150 soldiers; and for his encouragement, as ‘having raised himself adversaries for doing service for the king,’ to give him the support that he required. Being called upon to make good his charge of treason against Sir Garret Moore, he refused to open his case before the Irish council on the ground of its partiality towards Moore, and in February 1609 repaired to England. This time he obtained a letter from the king testifying to his loyalty, exonerating him ‘in verbo regis’ of having in his disclosures compromised Lord Delvin, ‘of whose safety he had been more careful than of his own,’ and recommending him for employment ‘in any fitting service which may fall out.’ But the letter unfortunately did him more harm than good, being, as he dolefully expressed it to the king, ‘rather construed disgraceful than of favour or protection for him,’ and he implored to be allowed to quit Ireland and fix his residence in England.
This time it was Sir Roger Jones who had offended him, by speaking of him as ‘a brave man among cowards;’ and one day when Jones and some friends were playing tennis together in a court in Thomas Street, he repaired thither ‘with some ten or twelve persons in his company and a cudgel in his hand with purpose to have cudgelled him.’ Jones's friends interfered, and in the fray one of his retainers was killed. The lord deputy, who happened at the time to be at Christ Church, hearing of the uproar, at once committed Howth to the castle till—an inquest having been held on the dead man and the jury having returned a verdict of manslaughter—he was enlarged on his own bonds. When called upon to explain himself, Howth declared that he was the victim of a conspiracy on the part of Sir Roger's father, the lord chancellor, Archbishop Jones, and Sir Garret Moore, and even went so far as to reflect on the impartiality of Chichester's government. His ‘audacity in daring to incense the king against his faithful servants’ the deputy pronounced to be ‘beyond comparison’ and endurance. After hearing both sides, the privy council found that ‘most of Lord Howth's charges arose out of unkind speeches behind backs, and were grounded sometimes upon looks and sometimes on loose observations that men did not much love him;’ wherefore, seeing that he was ‘so much subject to his own passions,’ he was strictly commanded ‘to retire himself to his own house … that the world might take notice that his majesty disliked his proud carriage towards the supreme officers of the kingdom.’ He was expressly forbidden to leave Ireland on any pretext; but, notwithstanding the prohibition, he repaired to England without license early in May 1611. He was immediately, on his arrival in London, clapped in the Fleet, but had sufficient interest at court to procure his release in July. He refused to be reconciled to Sir Roger Jones, whom the council had exonerated of all blame; but his behaviour in England impressed the king favourably, and on returning to Ireland in October 1612 he was specially commended to Chichester, who was desired to treat him, as he had not hitherto done, in friendly sort. He sat in parliament in 1612, and in 1614 he subscribed 100l. by way of a free gift to the king. He died on 24 Oct. 1619, and was buried at Howth. By his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of John Wentworth of Little Horkesley, Essex, from whom he had long been separated, and who after his death married Sir Robert Newcomen, bart., he had two sons—Nicholas, his successor; and Thomas, who settled at Wiston, Suffolk, and married Ellinor, daughter of William Lynne of Wormingford and Little Horkesley (Genealogist, new ser. i. 149–50, note on the ‘Essex Visitation’ by J. H. Round)—and a daughter Margaret, said by Lodge to have married, first, William FitzWilliam of Donamon, and, secondly, Michael Birford of Kilrow.[Lodge's Peerage, ed. Archdall, iii. 199; G. E. C[okayne]'s Peerage; Cal. Carew MSS. iii. 229, 254, 304, 323, 378, 431–2, 439, 465; Cal. State Papers, Ireland, Eliz. vii. 121, 411, 457; James I, i. 91, 258, 338, 346, 519, and vols. ii. iii. iv. passim; Bagwell's Ireland under the Tudors, vol. iii.; Cal. of Fiants, Eliz. 6164, 6281, 6288, 6572, 6636; Erck's Repertory, p. 148 n.; Harrington's Nugæ Antiquæ, pp. 31, 41; Meehan's Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell; J. Hubandsmith's A Day at Howth; Devereux's Earls of Essex; D'Alton's Hist. of Dublin, pp. 164–5; Harl. MS. 1425, f. 104; Lansdowne MS. 160, f. 221.]