Noting that Sir Walter Raleigh had first introduced tobacco to Britain, and had been born in Devon, I went searching on Google maps this morning for his birthplace, and found that it was only a mile or so from the river Otter, on whose banks I often sat after being exiled to the outdoors by the 2007 UK smoking ban.
Raleigh is recorded as being a English landed gentleman, writer, poet, soldier, politician, courtier, spy and explorer. He was eventually executed by James I (author of A Counterblaste To Tobacco) in 1618, at the age of 65 – although for plotting against the king, rather than for smoking.
Having been one of the people to popularise tobacco smoking in England, he left a small tobacco pouch, found in his cell shortly after his execution. Engraved upon the pouch was a Latin inscription: Comes meus fuit in illo miserrimo tempore (“It was my companion at that most miserable time”).
Raleigh’s head was embalmed and presented to his wife. His body was to be buried in the local church in Beddington, Surrey, the home of Lady Raleigh, but was finally laid to rest in St. Margaret’s, Westminster, where his tomb may still be visited today. “The Lords”, she wrote, “have given me his dead body, though they have denied me his life. God hold me in my wits.” It has been said that Lady Raleigh kept her husband’s head in a velvet bag until her death. After Raleigh’s wife’s death 29 years later, his head was returned to his tomb and interred at St. Margaret’s Church.
My inquiry next led to Ireland. For some 17 years, Raleigh became a landowner in Ireland, after taking part in the suppression of the second Desmond Rebellion. As a reward for this he was given 40,000 acres of land in Ireland, including the towns of Youghal and Lismore.
In Ireland he also took part in the Siege of Smerwick, in which some 600 Spanish and Italian soldiers were massacred.
I’d never heard of the Desmond Rebellions or the siege of Smerwick. It took quite a while to hunt down the little promontory near Dingle where this siege and massacre took place, at latitude 52.190831ºN, -10.414610ºW. Here, after a three-day siege, and after they had surrendered, all 600 defending soldiers were beheaded, and their bodies thrown into the sea, while their heads were buried in a field which is still known as Gort na gCeann, “The Field of the Heads.”
The episode seems to have more to do with the religious disputes of the time, rather than Angl0-Irish affairs. For the 600 Spanish and Italian soldiers were Catholics in the pay of Pope Gregory XIII, while the English (including Raleigh) were Protestants. For it had only been some 50 years earlier that the English had more or less completely suppressed Catholicism in England, which the papacy wished to recover. So the Siege of Smerwick would seem to belong more with the Spanish Armada of 1588.
Next wondering how long Englishmen like Raleigh had been in Ireland, I was led further back in history to the Norman Invasion of Ireland:
The Norman invasion of Ireland was a Norman military expedition to Ireland that took place on May 1, 1169 at the behest of Dermot MacMurrough, the King of Leinster. It was partially consolidated by Henry II on October 18, 1171 and led to the eventual entry of the Lordship of Ireland into the Angevin Empire. The invasion had the Pope’s blessing because Irish Christianity did not conform to Rome’s rules. Therefore, Ireland could be pacified and brought under the authority of the Pope. Later, papal blessing would sanction the imperial projects of Spain and Portugal. Immediate consequences were the end of the Irish High Kingship and the beginning of English rule in Ireland, which continued until 1922.
So 100 years after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, the Norman kings of England extended their rule to much of Ireland, with the blessing of the Pope. The blue areas on the map at right show those areas which were under Norman control a century later.
Over the next few centuries, it seems that much of Ireland reverted to Irish control, so that by 1450, the Norman-English crown only directly controlled an area around Dublin called The Pale (below).
It appears that it was only after about 1550 that the newly-Protestant English crown began to re-assert its control over Catholic Ireland. And by this time, the Norman kings of England had lost their Norman and French territories, shown in the map of the Angevin Empire in 1172 below:
It would seem that the role played by the Papacy in Rome during this period was much like that played by the EU today. Nobody could be allowed to break away, and the English reformation was the Brexit of its time.
And with that, an inquiry that had begun with Sir Walter Raleigh, and dug deep into Irish history, discovering a forgotten massacre in the process, came to an end.