Treaty of Mellifont

The Treaty of Mellifont (Irish: Conradh na Mainistreach Móire), also known as the Articles of Mellifont was signed in 1603 ending the Nine Years' War which took place in the Kingdom of Ireland from 1594 to 1603.

The end of the war

Following the English victory in the Battle of Kinsale, the leaders fighting in Cork returned to protect their homelands. The Lord Deputy of Ireland, Charles Blount, 8th Baron Mountjoy, had succeeded where his predecessor, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, had failed. However, Mountjoy knew that as long as Hugh O'Neill was still in hiding he was still a threat. Although most of the lesser chiefs allied with him had been compelled to submit, Rory O'Donnell, Brian Oge O'Rourke, Cuchonnacht Maguire (brother of Hugh Maguire), and Donal Cam O'Sullivan Beare remained loyal to The Great Earl.[1] During the Spring of 1603, Lord Mountjoy concentrated his campaign in the northern counties and the province of Leinster. He ordered all land be scorched. Harvests and stock were destroyed and famine soon prevailed. Mountjoy and the English Privy Council had long urged Queen Elizabeth I of England to make peace. The war was costing three quarters of the Exchequer's annual revenue and the aged Queen had been obliged to maintain an army of 20,000 men for several years past.[2] By contrast, the English army assisting the Dutch during the Eighty Years' War was never more than 12,000 strong at any one time.[3] Horrified by the cost of the war, Elizabeth now dropped her insistence on unconditional surrender and authorised Mountjoy to treat with The O'Neill upon honourable terms.

The negotiations

The agents employed by the Lord Deputy in this negotiation were Sir William Godolphin and Sir Garrett Moore who was the ancestor of the Marquesses of Drogheda. Negotiations were conducted at Mellifont near Ballymascanlan, Sir Garret's seat which had been awarded to him following the dissolution of the Cistercian Abbey. Moore was a personal friend of O Neill's. They found him in his retreat near Lough Neagh early in March. The Lord Deputy was aware of the Queen's serious illness and so he was anxious to conclude an agreement before the news became known to the Irish Princes.

On the 27th of March Mountjoy received news that the Queen had died in London on the 24th but he kept this information from the other parties until the 5th of April. Delaying the news had no legal effect, because of the principle of the demise of the Crown and the lack of an interregnum, but it might have caused a further delay had the new King James wanted to appoint different negotiators.

The terms

On the 31st of March Tyrone submitted to the Crown.[4] The pardon and terms were considered to be very generous at the time.[5][6][7]

These terms were similar in policy to many previous "surrender and regrant" agreements conducted after 1537 between the Crown and many autonomous Irish chieftains, though the earl was not obliged to convert to the Church of Ireland as was usually the case.

The aftermath

By the terms of the Treaty of London, the kings of England and Spain committed each side to the cessation of "all hostility and enmity" from April 24, 1603 forward. The terms further provided that neither side would furnish "soldiers, provision, mony [sic], arms ammunition or any other king of assistance to foment war with the enemies and rebels of the other party". By this, the Irish rebels understood that no more aid could be expected from Spain.

On June 2, 1603, Mountjoy left Ireland in company with Hugh O'Neill and the new lord of Tír Conaill, Rory O'Donnell, to see King James in London.

In 1604, an Act of Oblivion declared that all "offences against the Crown" committed before the King's accession were to be "pardoned, remitted, and utterly extinguished". O'Neill returned to Ulster and appeared to have become a model subject of the Crown. Mountjoy, now a Privy Counsellor remained a champion of the terms of the Treaty and it seems he had become quite taken with his former adversary. The elderly Sir George Carey, who took over as Lord Deputy, made no attempt to clip Tyrone's wings.

This state of affairs was reversed when Sir Arthur Chichester was sworn in as Lord Deputy in February 1605. Lord Deputy Chichester saw Irish Catholicism as a major threat to the crown after the Gunpowder Plot was revealed in October 1605. Though no Irish people were involved in the plot, he oversaw a widespread persecution of Catholics, and ordered the execution of two bishops. He led the campaign by royal officials, acting on the complaints of the "servitors" (tenants) to undermine the authority of Tyrone and Tyrconnell and to erode their economic base. When Hugh O'Neill and other rebel chieftains left Ireland in the Flight of the Earls (1607) to seek Spanish help for a new rebellion, Chichester became entitled to seize their lands under the law of forfeiture. The Plantation of Ulster followed within a decade.[8]

Some of the loyal Gaelic lords were unhappy with the restoration of lands to the rebel leaders, and this was one factor which drove one of them Sir Cahir O'Doherty to launch O'Doherty's Rebellion which he began with the Burning of Derry in 1608.


  1. Sullivan, A.M., "Story of Ireland", Chapter LI.
  2. Thomas D'Arcy McGee, "A popular history of Ireland: from the earliest period to the Emancipation of the Catholics", Volume 1, CHAPTER XI , p.68, GLASGOW CAMERON AND FERGUSO , 1869.
  3. Falls, Elizabeth's Irish Wars, pg 49
  4. Padraig Lenihan, Consolidating Conquest, Ireland 1603-1727, p18-23
  5. Sullivan AM (1900)
  6. Colm Lennon, Sixteenth Century Ireland, the Incomplete Conquest, p301-302
  7. Lyons, Prof. Marian, The historiography of the Treaty of Mellifont (Seanchas Ard Mhacha / Historical Society, Armagh, 2003)
  8. O'Neill and his party were obliged to obtain permission to leave the kingdom, and not having done so, their lands and titles became forfeit.

External links

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