Battle of Knockdoe

The Book of Howth, which was probably written in 1544 and after, retells the history of the St. Laurence family, the lords of Howth. St. Laurences are not given a major role in this battle, but the lord of Howth is the soul of reason in the parlay of Kildare allies that precedes the fight.

Two interesting points are understated in the account. One is that although both the de Burghs and the FitzGeralds were old Norman families, the western de Burghs—who now call themselves Burkes—are considered Irish, while the FitzGeralds—from the Pale—are outspokenly English. Another is that when the baron of Delwin promises to be the first to cast a spear at the Irish, he is making a daring statement. In 1498, the Irish Parliament had passed a law requiring that troops from the Pale must use “English” weapons such as crossbows and swords and not “Irish” spears and darts. (Other laws from the same time prohibited traditional Irish battle cries in favor of calling out the names of St. George or the current king of England and outlawed the wearing of Irish-style clothing.) Perhaps the baron was feeling unusually Irish or wanted to taunt the enemy. Or maybe he simply thought a spear was a more effective weapon.

After this the Earl [Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of kildare] married another daughter of his to a great man in connoght [ulrick de burgh, or burke, and she] was not so used as the earl could be pleased with; and said he would be revenged upon this irishman, who stood at a defiance with the earl and all his partakers. The Earl sent to all the Irish lords that then was his friends, as O’Neyll [O’Neill], O’Rely [O’Reilly], O’Conner of Afaley, and all the power of the English Pale so many as he could possibl[y] make, for the Earl understood that all the Irish in Ireland were divided between him and his adversaries. They was a great number, whereof he had good experience. Therefore he made the better provision of all things, and best men in all the English Pale, both spiritual and temporal; and being a twenty mile east of Cnocke-two [Knockdoe], called the noblemen to Council. Amongst all were certain bishops and men of law.

When O’Neyll saw them he said, “My Lord of Kyldare [Kildare], command the bishops to go home and pray, for bishops’ counsels ought not to be taken in matters of war, for their perfection is to pray, to preach, and to make fair weather, and not to be privy to manslaughter nor blood shedding, but in preaching and teaching the Word of God; and I assure you it is a presumption for any proud prelate to come where as such matters is to be done, for it is contrary to his religion.”

And so A’Conore asked the Earl what he would do with the judges and men of law in his company. “We have no matters of pleading, no matters of arguments, no matters to debate, nor to be discussed by pen and ink, but by the bow, spear, and sword, and the valiant hearts of gentlemen and men of war by their fierce and lusty doings, and not by the simple, sorry, and weak and doubtful stomachs of learned men; for I never saw those that was learned ever give good counsel in matters of war, for they were always doubting, staying, and persuading more in frivolous and uncertain words, more than Ector or Launselot’s [Hector or Launcelot’s] doings. Away with them! They are overbold to press amongst this company; for our matter is to be discussed by valiant and stout stomachs of prudent and wise men of war, practised in this same faculty, and not matters of law nor matters of religion.”

The Baron of Delven, called Richard, said his learning was not such that with a glorious tale he could utter his stomach; “but I promise to God and to the Prince I shall be the first that shall throw the first spear amongst the Irish in this battle; say now on whos[o] will, for I have done.”

The Lord of Gormanstoune said that it was good to be advised what is to be done, for after a good advisement there shall come a good end, for a hasty man never lacked woe. “Let us understand the matter ere we take this weighty matter in hand, for many perils may fall unless we take the better keep [head] thereof. Let us understand the quarrel again, and debate the matter whether we shall proceed or no, ere we begin; and let the King be privy to this weighty and uncertain enterprise, for we may put the whole realm in hazard if we speed not well, for I understand that they are many against us; and this is so much as I at this time mean to say.”

This Council was at three of the clock afternoon before the day of battle. Then, within a few miles from the field appointed, Sir Nicholas [St. Laurence], Lord of Houthe, said, “The sayings of A’Neyll and A’Conore is not to be disallowed; let it be as they have said. And my Lord of Gormanstoune’s opinion is good, so it had been spoken before our coming to the field; and for that, here is my opinion, seeing the time is short.” For at this time appeared upon a hill two miles from the English camp above two hundred horsemen; whereunto Gerot, the Earl’s son, would have been at them, and asked of the Council to go to them. But the Lords of the Council said that none should go till they had gone all, and so stayed this lusty and stalworth gentleman; of which young Gerot was very sorry, as though he should never have his fill in fighting.

“Well,” said the Lord of Houth to answer the Lord of Gormanstoune, “this matter was determined before we came hither deliberately by the Council, and if it were not, the time is not now to argue the cause, our enemies being in sight. And for the displeasure of our Prince, if we win this battle, as I am [as]sured we shall, tho’ the King [of England] frown a little with his countenance, his heart will rejoice. And admit he will be offended upon losing this field, he that shall live let him bear the blame or burden, and as for my part I am assured to win this battle or to lose my life, and then all the world is gone with me …. But to the matter; let us send away our sons and heirs, to revenge our quarrel if need so require, and prescribe our battles in perfect order this night, that every man shall know to-morrow his charge, for it is not when we shall go to fight that we should trouble us with discussing that matter.”

“Well,” said the Earl, “my dear cousin, you hath well spoken; be it as you hath said.” “No!” said young Gerott, the Earl’s son; “by God’s blood, I will not go home and leave so many of my friends in battle, for I mean to live and die amongst you all.” “Well,” said the Lord of Houth; “boy, thou speakest natural, for ever thy kind is such one from thy first generation and first coming into Ireland, for thou art to be borne withall, thou worthy gentleman and lion’s heart.”

The Lords of Kyllen and Tremlestone thought the number of Irishmen very great, as they were credibly informed by certain spials which brought them word, and that the number of younglings were not the sixth man to a man; and said in plain terms, that a good giving back [retreat] were better than a[n] evil standing, and in further time better provision might be made to serve such a turn. “It is well spoken,” said the Baron of Slane and the Lord of Donesany.

“O good God!” said the Lord of Houthe; “by our blessed Lady, that bliste [blessed us] in the north church of Houth, you four might have spoken these words in some other ground than this is, and our enemies now being in sight and the night at hand.”

“Well,” said the Earl; “call to me the captain of the galoglas, for he and his shall begin this game ….”

“I am glad” said the captain; “you can do me no more honour, by God’s blood!” and took his axe in his hand, and began to flourish.

“No,” said the Lord of Houth, “I will be the beginner of this dance, and my kinsmen and friends, for we will not hazard our English good[s] upon the Irish blood; howbeit it is well spoken by the captain of the galoglas, nor they shall not be mixed among us.”

Then all things was according to the matter prepared; the bowmen put in two wings, which the Lord of Gormanstoune and Kyllen had the charge, being good men that day; the billmen in the main battle, which the Lord of Houthe was leader, and in the woward himself; the galoglas and the Irish in another quarter; the horsemen on the left side the battle under the guiding of the worthy Baron of Delven, by reason there was a little wall of two foot height on the other side the battle, which would somewhat have troubled the horsemen.

After all things put in order, they went to supper, and after to their lodging to rest the residue of the night. The ground was appointed, and all such things as was necessary for such a purpose. At midnight a horseman came from the Irish camp to the Earl, and willed him to get away and save his life, and said it was but folly to fight, for this man was afore this time a horse boy with the Earl, and gave him first horses. The Earl came incontinent to the Lord of Houth, being in a sound sleep, to tell it him, and a long while he was ere he could wake him, for he called upon him divers times, which the Earl marvelled, for he could not awake him by his voice he slept so sad; and at length awoke by stirring of him, and blamed him, who answered that all things was before determined in his mind, and so nothing else in his mind to trouble him, but sleep; “for it must be ours or theirs,” said the Lord of Howthe; “therefore my mind is settled, but before this I could not rest well,” [et]c.

“Well,” said the Earl, “here is the business; this man is come to me as a trusty friend”; and so told the whole matter as he told the Earl before. “Well,” said the Lord of Houth, “suffer him to pass, and I pray you tell this tale to no more, for it would sooner do harm than good”; and with that he arose and incontinent after the day appeared.

And so they went, and prepared themselves in good order of battle, and did appoint young Gerot, a valiant young gentleman, with a chosen company for relief, fearing so great a number of enemies would enclose them about, being far less in number than they.

The [enemy] Irish, as O’Kelly, McWilliam, O’Brens, and the rest, all that night was watching, drinking, and playing at cards, who should have this prisoner and that prisoner; and thus they passed the night over, and at morrow they prepared to battle in such order as their custom was. They set forward their galoglasse and footmen in one main battle, and all their horsemen on their left side, and so came on.

The Earl of Kyldare, after his battle set, willed that they should stand within that little walls of two foot high that was made afore by those that dwelled there for sa[fe]guard of their corns, and rode upon a black horse, and made his oration, “My friends and kinsmen, I say to you that there is against us a great number of people without weapon, for a great number of them hath but one spear and a knife. Without wisdom or good order, they march to battle, as drunken as swine to a trough, which makefs] them more rash and foolish than wise and valiant. Remember all that we have doth rest upon this day’s service, and also the honour of our Prince; and remember how we are in a country unknown to the most number of us, and far from our towns and castles.”

The Earl did not well finish those words, when they heard three great cries that disturbed his oration.

A company of stalworthy gentlemen being in the forefront of the English battle, amongst all was Holywod of Tartaine, which seldom heard the like. “What meaneth this cry?” said he; “do they think that we are crows, that we will flee with crying?” and sware, “By the holy Saint Nicholas, that blisse in Tertayne, they shall find us men ere we depart.”

With that the Irish galoglas came on, to whom the English archers sent them such a shower of arrows that their weapon and their hands were put fast together. MackSwine, captain of the Irish galoglasse, came foremost, and asked where was Great Darsey? Darsey answered that he was at hand, which he should well understand. With that McSwine strack Darsey such a blow upon the helmet that he put Darsey upon his knees. With that Nangell, Baron of the Nowan, being a lusty gentleman that day, gave McSwine such payment that he was satisfied ever after.

They fought terrible and bold a while. The Irish fled; amongst whom there came a horseman running amongst the English, and asked who had the Earl of Kildare and the rest of the Lords of the English Pale prisoners? With that one Skquyvors, a soldier out of Dublin, strack him with a gun with both his hands, and so beat out his brains. The young Gerotte this time being left for relief, seeing the battle joining, could not stand still to wait his time as he was appointed by the Earl his father, but set on with the foremost in such sort that no man alive could do better with his own hands than he did that day, for manhood of a man; but by reason of his lustiness not tarrying in the place appointed, all the English carriages was taken away by the Irish horsemen, and a few of the English gentlemen take[n] prisoners. That was on that side of the battle.

When the battle was done, and a great number of the Irish slain, as it was reported nine thousand, the Lord of Gormanston said to the Earl, “We have done one good work, and if we do the other we shall do well.” Being asked what he meant, said he “We hath for the most number killed our enemies, and if we do the like with all the Irishmen that we have with us, it were a good deed.”

This battle was fought the 19 day of August 1504, at Knocke-twoe, which is from Galwe five miles. The hill is not high, but a great plain. The greatest of the Irish was Richard Bourke …. The Baron of Delven, a little before the joining of the battle, took his horse with the spurs, and threw a small spear amongst the Irish, and slew by chance one of the Bourkes, and turned. The Earl said to him that he kept promise well, and well did and stalworthly, saving that after his throw he retired back. After they went to Galway, where as the Irish gathered again, and said they would give to the Earl another field, but they durst not fight a battle never after with the English Pale. The Earl bestowed thirty tun of wine amongst the army ….

The Earl of Kyldare was made Knight of the Garter after the field of Cnocktwo.


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