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Irish soldiers in Loreto and Rome: a pilgrimage, and an employment request c.1609

  • Brian Mac Cuarta (a1)


Scholarly attention to the Irish Catholic experience on the Continent in the early Stuart era is increasing.1 Interest in Irish pilgrimage to continental sanctuaries in the early modern period is one facet of that broader historiographical trend. However the surviving evidence tends to favour the travels of those of higher social standing, and it is their experience which has received attention.2 The present text, by contrast, arose from the journey to Rome of two brothers, soldiers who had been serving in the Irish regiment in Flanders. Having visited the Marian shrine of Loreto (north-east of Rome) on the way, while in Rome they made a petition to be employed in the papal military service. Their request is at several levels. Irish participation in Spanish military forces both in Flanders and Spain in the early seventeenth century has been of interest to scholars in recent decades; Irish involvement with the papal military forces in the same period is less well noted.3 Early modern soldiers regularly faced unemployment arising from a cessation of hostilities; in the case of two soldiers in the Spanish Netherlands, this document throws light on the need to find a new employer, and on strategies adopted to that end. Further, in presenting themselves to the Pope as a prospective employer, the petition illustrates how Irish soldier exiles fashioned an assertive Catholic identity for themselves, in which the family’s experience of religious persecution in their homeland was linked with subsequent military service against heretics on the Continent. Hence the significance of the text presented here. The brothers’ army career was outlined, with referees indicated, and some possible openings in the papal forces were suggested. These professional elements were integrated into a family narrative of persecution for the Catholic faith, and personal religious devotion, with a view to making an informed request for employment in papal service.



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I acknowledge the permission of The Board of Trinity College Dublin to reproduce this text, and the assistance of Bernadette Cunningham in verifying a reference.



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1 See the series of essay collections edited by Ann Lyons, Mary and O’Connor, Thomas: Irish migrants in Europe after Kinsale (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2003); Irish communities in early modern Europe (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2006); Strangers to citizens: the Irish in Europe, 1600-1800 (Dublin: National Library of Ireland, 2008); The Ulster earls and baroque Europe (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2010); on the Irish college network in the context of other national colleges, see Chambers, Liam and O’Connor, Thomas eds. College communities abroad: education, migration and Catholicism in early modern Europe (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017); Hazard, Benjamin, Faith and patronage: the political career of Flaithrí Ó Maolchonaire c.1560-1629 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2010); for Irish migration to one region of Spain, see O’Scea, Ciaran, Surviving Kinsale: Irish migration and identity formation in early modern Spain, 1601-40 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015); on the Irish experience of the Spanish Inquisition, see O’Connor, Thomas, Irish voices from the Spanish Inquisition: migrants, converts and brokers in early modern Iberia (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016); for a study of Irish theological engagement, see Mac Craith, Micheál, ‘The Irish Franciscan continental colleges and the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception’, in Binasco, Matteo ed. Rome and Irish Catholicism in the Atlantic world, 1622-1908 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 137–65; for conversions to Catholicism of Irish Protestants living in Rome at a somewhat later period, see Carroll, Clare, Exiles in a global city: the Irish and early modern Rome, 1609-1783 (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 209–31.

2 We know of 36 Irish pilgrims who visited de Compostela, Santiago, c.1570-c.1610, Bernadette Cunningham, Medieval Irish pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2018), 151–7, 166-7; on the Loreto pilgrimage of the Ulster earls in Apr. 1608, see Ó Muraíle, Nollaig ed., Turas na dtaoiseach nUltach as Éirinn: from Ráth Maoláin to Rome (Rome: Pontifical Irish College, 2007), 180257 ; for the visits to Rome and Loreto of a Westmeath landowner, see Mac Cuarta, Brian ed. Henry Piers’s Continental Travels, 1595-1598 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

3 For Irish soldiers in Spanish service in the mid-seventeenth century, see Stradling, R.A., The Spanish monarchy and Irish mercenaries: the Wild Geese in Spain 1618-68 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1994); on Irish soldiers in Flanders, see Henry, Gráinne, The Irish military community in Spanish Flanders, 1586-1621 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1992); see also de Mesa, Eduardo, The Irish in the Spanish armies in the seventeenth century (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2014); a stimulating survey of Scottish involvement in Italy suggests possibilities for a comparative approach, Richard Adam Marks, ‘The Scots in the Italian peninsula during the Thirty Years War’, in O’Connor and Lyons eds. The Ulster earls and baroque Europe, 327-48; on the emergence of Irish colleges in Rome from 1625, see Matteo Binasco, ‘The “Urbs” and “Hibernia”: missionary connections between the Irish community of Rome and Ireland in the seventeenth century’, in Binasco ed. Rome and Irish Catholicism in the Atlantic world, 113-135.

4 On the place of Loreto in the Catholic world of the sixteenth century, see Murphy, Paul, ‘Santa Casa di Loreto: Orazio Torsellini’s Lauretanae historiae libri quinque, in Lucas, Thomas ed.–Spirit, Style, Story: Essays honoring John W. Padberg (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2002), 269–81.

5 Torsellinus, Horatius [Torsellino, Orazio, also Torsellini, ], Lauretanae historiae libri quinque (Rome, 1597), 244–7. This text was translated by the English Jesuit Thomas Price (1570-1625), The history of our Blessed Lady of Loreto. Translated out of Latyn into English. ([St Omer], 1608). In 1581 Edmund MacGauran became bishop of Ardagh, and in 1587 was appointed archbishop of Armagh, T.W. Moody, F. X. Martin, and Byrne, F. J. eds. A New History of Ireland, ix: Maps, genealogies, lists: a companion to Irish history, part ii (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 337, 339.

6 Irish pilgrims included a visit to the Holy House at Loreto, on the Adriatic coast, on a journey to Rome. Hugh O’Neill and other exiled Ulster lords visited Loreto in April 1608 on their way to Rome; for an outline of Tadhg Ó Cianáin’s account (in Irish) of their journey, see Muraíle, N. Ó, ‘An insider’s view: Tadhg Ó Cianáin as eyewitness to the exile of Ulster’s lords, 1607–8’, in Gillespie, R. and Ó hUiginn, R. eds., Irish Europe, 1600–1650: Writing and Learning (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2013), 4462.

7 Armstrong, Robert, ‘Valentine Blake (1560-c.1634)’, in McGuire, James and Quinn, James eds. Dictionary of Irish Biography, 11 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009-2018) (hereafter DIB), 1: 590; Micheál Ó Siochrú, ‘Sir Richard Nugent (1583-1642), 1st earl of Westmeath’, in DIB, 6: 978-9; the earl was going blind at the time of the pilgrimage.

8 For the journey from the Low Countries to Rome: the Ulster earls, 28 February-29 April 1608, Ó Muraíle, Nollaig ed. Turas na dTaoiseach nUltach as Éirinn: from Ráth Maoláin to Rome (Rome: Pontifical Irish College, 2007), 133, 267; Piers, Henry, 1 July - 25 September 1595, Cuarta, Mac ed. Henry Piers’s Continental Travels 54, 76.

9 Laurence Mellon, an Irish soldier in the regiment of Sir William Stanley, received food and alms at the English College, Rome, in April 1593, ‘The pilgrim-book of the English College’, in Henry Foley ed. Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus, VI (London: Burns and Oates, 1880), 566. In December 1615, two soldiers from Flanders spent some days in the College, en route to serve with the king of Poland, ibid., 594.

10 For an autobiographical account of one pilgrim’s experience, see Mac Cuarta ed. Henry Piers’s Continental Travels, 77-8; on foreigners, including those from England, Ireland, and Scotland and the Inquisition in Rome, 1580-c.1640, see Fosi, Irene, Convertire lo straniero: forestieri e Inquisizione a Roma in età moderna (Roma: Viella, 2011), 2588.

11 For mercenaries from Ireland in the service of Sweden in these years, see Steve Murdoch, ‘The northern flight: Irish soldiers in seventeenth-century Scandinavia’, in O’Connor and Lyons eds. The Ulster earls and baroque Europe 88-109, at 90-3; see also Murdoch, S. and Grosjean, A., ‘A Note on Irish soldiers in Swedish service, 1609-13’, The Irish Sword, xxiv, 96 (2004): 161–3; on the Baltic political background to this service, see Dunning, Chester and Hudson, David, ‘The transportation of Irish swordsmen to Sweden and Russia and plantation in Ulster (1609-1613)’, Archivium Hibernicum, 66 (2013): 422453, at 235-6.

12 The exceptional honour shown to the Ulster group on arrival in Rome is discussed in Carroll, Exiles in a global city, 31-4.

13 Prodi, Paolo, The papal prince: one body and two souls: the papal monarchy in early modern Europe (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1987), 52. For the names of the ships in the seventeenth century, see Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu, Rome, Fondo Gesuitico, Titulus XX, Manuscripta selecta et libri editi, 10 ‘Ristretto per instruttione di quelli, che sono inviati alla missione delle Galere, e soldatesca in Civita Vecchia’ (s.d., c.17th cent.).

14 For an outline of the structures and location of papal military forces in the mid-seventeenth century, see Lutz, Georg, ‘Das päpstliche Heer im Jahre 1667 Apostolische Kammer und Nepotismus, römisches Militärbudget in der frühen Neuzeit’, Archivum Historiae Pontificiae, 14 (1976): 169217 ; on the military role of the papal forces in the period 1592-1621, see Brunelli, Giampiero, Soldati del papa: politica militare e nobilità nello Stato della Chiesa (1560-1644) (Roma: Carocci, 2003), 101–32.

15 On the O’Shaughnessy family in the late sixteenth century, see Blake, M. J., ‘O’Shaughnessy of Gort: a tabular pedigree’, Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, 6 (1909-10), between pp 64-5; there is a detailed schedule from Oct. 1594 listing the lands comprising O’Shaughnessy’s country, TNA SP 63/176/55 II; on the fate of this lesser lordly family within the changing political and social context of the Clanricard lordship see Cunningham, Bernadette, Clanricard and Thomond, 1540-1640: provincial politics and society transformed (Dublin, 2012), 27, 32, 44-5.

16 Terry Clavin, ‘Sir Roger O’Shaughnessy (?1580-1650)’, DIB, 7: 938-9; Breatnach, Pádraig ed., ‘Litir ó Thadhg Mac Bruaideadha’ [1617], Éigse, 28 (1994-5), 9799 ; Sir Roger served as MP for Co. Galway in the 1634-5 parliament; this William may be identified with the William O’Shaghnessy of Ballymulfeig (Kilmacduagh parish, Kiltartan barony), one of the parties to a land conveyance in 1627, National Archives of Ireland, Chancery bill Y6.

17 Henry, Gráinne, The Irish military community in Spanish Flanders, 1586-1621 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1992), 72, 152; Jennings, Brendan ed. Wild Geese in Spanish Flanders, 1572-1700 (Dublin: Irish Manuscripts Commission, 1964), 75.

18 Jennings ed. Wild Geese, 90.

19 ‘Certificate of concordatums granted for extraordinary services… ending last of June 1609’, Russell, C. W. and Prendergast, John P. eds. Calendar of State Papers relating to Ireland, vol. 3: 1608-10 (London: Longman, 1874), 18 231. The registers of the Privy Council are not extant from 1 January 1602 to 30 April 1613, Atkinson, E.G. ed., Acts of the Privy Council of England vol. 33, 1613-14 (London: Longman, 1921), v; for another example of payment (21 Oct. 1601) for the transfer of two Irish prisoners, in this instance James MacThomas and Florence MacCartie, from Cork to the Tower of London, see Roche Dasent, John ed. Acts of the Privy Council of England, new series, vol. 32, 1601-4 (London , 1907), 298–9.

20 Jennings ed. Wild Geese, 133.

21 For example, the volume Archivio Segreto Vaticano (ASV), Reg. suppl. 4037 is comprised of entries for May 1609; a further difficulty is the poor condition of some volumes, in Reg. suppl. 4038 the upper margin of the folios is badly damaged throughout the volume, and consequently a part of the text is missing; for the series ASV, ‘Lettere di Soldati’ [1572-1713] there are no materials for the years 1607-21.

22 On this urban revolt, see Sheehan, Anthony, ‘The recusancy revolt of 1603: a reinterpretation’, Archivium Hibernicum, 38 (1983): 313.

23 McCavitt, John, ‘Lord Deputy Chichester and the English government’s “mandates policy” in Ireland, 1605-1607’, Recusant History 20 (1991): 320335.

24 For official efforts to prepare lists of potential Protestant candidates to represent counties and corporations in Munster, see certificate of vice-president of Munster, October [1611], Brewer, J. S. and Bullen, William eds. Calendar of the Carew Manuscripts preserved in the Archiepiscopal Library at Lambeth, vol. 6: 1603-24 (London: Longman, 1873), 137.

25 On the tense religious and political context in the early 1610s, see McCavitt, John, Sir Arthur Chichester: lord deputy of Ireland 1605-16 (Belfast: The Institute of Irish Studies, 1998), 173184.

26 Proposed legislation included bills against seminary priests and those who sheltered them; the application of the more stringent English legislation against English Catholics living in Ireland; and the ban on education abroad, hitherto expressed by proclamation, Moody, T.W., Martin, F. X. and Byrne, F. J. eds. A new history of Ireland, iii, Early modern Ireland 1534-1691 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), 212.

27 On the tumultuous scenes at the opening of parliament, see McCavitt, JohnAn unspeakable parliamentary fracas: the Irish House of Commons 1613’, Analecta Hibernica, 37 (1998): 223235.

28 For the provenance of this collection, see Mac Cuarta, Brian, ‘Irish government lists of Catholic personnel c.1613’, Archivium Hibernicum, 68 (2015): 63102 at 63-8.

29 John J. Silke, ‘The Irish abroad, 1534 -1691’, in T.W. Moody et al eds. A New History of Ireland, iii, 604.

30 For correspondence associated with one individual officer’s military service in Flanders, see De Mesa, Eduardo, ‘The career of Owen Roe O’Neill in the Spanish Army of Flanders (1606-42): documentation held in Spanish archives’, Archivium Hibernicum, 67 (2014): 724.

31 On the widespread desertion by Irish soldiers in Swedish service see Murdoch and Grosjean, ‘Irish soldiers in Swedish service’.

32 For a case-study of a contemporary Irish clerical exile, see Caball, Marc, ‘Articulating Irish identity in early seventeenth-century Europe: the case of Giolla Brighde Ó hEodhusa (c.1570-1614)’, Archivium Hibernicum, 62 (2009): 271–93; for a recent survey of the evolution of Irish Catholicism in the wake of the Reformation, see Ó hAnnracháin, Tadhg, ‘Counter reformation: the Catholic Church, 1550-1641’, in Ohlmeyer, Jane ed., The Cambridge History of Ireland: volume II 1550-1730 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 171–95.

33 Previous word deleted; illegible.

34 Archduke Albert (1559-1621), captain-general of the Army; with his wife, the Infanta Isabella, joint ruler of Spanish Netherlands (1598-1621).

35 Don Francisco de Mendoza (1547-1623); in 1597, Archduke Albert appointed Mendoza (already Admiral of Aragon, and commander of the Army’s cavalry) as head of his household, a position he held until 1602; Mendoza served as the Army’s commander-in-chief, Parker, Geoffrey, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish road 1567-1659 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 93, 165 n 21.

36 The principal officer of the standard unit (tercio) of the Spanish infantry was called ‘maestre de campo’ (or colonel), Parker, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish road, 233.

37 ‘his’ deleted.

38 ‘as’ inserted.

39 ‘as’ deleted.

40 It has not been possible to find documentary support for this assertion; on killings associated with surrenders in the Nine Years War (1594-1603), see O’Neill, James, ‘Like sheep to the shambles? Slaughter and surrender during Tyrone’s rebellion, 1593-1603’, The Irish Sword, 31 no 126 (2018): 366–80.

41 ‘that’ deleted.

42 Word uncertain.

43 ‘unto’ inserted; ‘with’ deleted.

44 ‘Polonia’: mercenaries were recruited for armies involved in the Polish-Swedish War (1600-1611).

45 Was ‘thither’ – corrected to ‘hither’; initial ‘t’ deleted.

46 Blank space in text.

47 Abbreviation unclear.

* I acknowledge the permission of The Board of Trinity College Dublin to reproduce this text, and the assistance of Bernadette Cunningham in verifying a reference.

Irish soldiers in Loreto and Rome: a pilgrimage, and an employment request c.1609

  • Brian Mac Cuarta (a1)


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