CELT document E600001-003

Documents on Thomas Walker's plot against Tyrone in 1601

I have transcribed and modernised these documents relating to a failed attempt by a young Englishman to assassinate Hugh O'Neill, the earl of Tyrone in July 1601. The first two from State Papers Ireland have only been published in calendar format before and the third has hitherto not been appeared in any form. Together they give important insights into wartime conditions in the North of Ireland and some useful hints to O'Neill's opinions on the situation. They are the subject of further analysis in articles by me in History Ireland (18/2, March/April 2010) and Dúiche Néill (18, 2010).

Hiram Morgan

Lord Deputy Mountjoy

Documents on Thomas Walker's plot against Tyrone in 1601

1. UK National Archives, SP63/209, no. 42, Lord Deputy Mountjoy to Sir Robert Cecil, 23 August 1601.


When I planted the garrison at Armagh, I appointed Sir Henry Danvers to command the same in the absence of Sir Francis Stafford, both because I found him best able for the service without any new charge unto Her Majesty, having horse and foot of his own in entertenance and that I saw he was extraordinarily desirous to take that opportunity to be active, in hope thereby to deserve Her Majesty's favour and good opinion. I advised him to be often stirring with his forces upon the rebels and withal to practise what possibly he could devise upon the person of the Archtraitor Tyrone. And he assuring me that he would leave nothing unassayed that in his judgement might tend to the perfecting of that work, within a few days after found one Walker an Englishman and a Londoner newly come over, who brake with him to be employed in that same business, alleging that he knew it to be a service tending greatly to his country's good and that cause and to advance his own fortune, that he was come resolved to kill Tyrone, having plotted the manner how to do it. Sir Henry  p.1 was desirous to be made acquainted with his plot, but Walker refusing to discover it under pretence to keep it the more secret, he pressed him no further thereabout, and the rather for that Walker desired no other help or furtherance from him but to be put without the guards in the night and so left to take his fortune. Sir Henry imparted this offer of his to me and I wished him give way to it, as I have done to divers others, and may not refuse the like to any, for if any one speed it is enough and they that miss lose nothing but themselves. But because this Walker coming afterwards to Tyrone did not effect what he had undertaken, though (as himself sayeth) he was much made of and had once drawn his sword with purpose to kill him though under pretence of great matters in his quarrel, I thought fit at his return to our camp to appoint Mr Marshal and Sir George Bourchier to examine him, and he confessing unto them, that Tyrone would have sent him to Scotland by reason he was with Randal McDonnell and by him sent to Sir Arthur Chichester to Carrickfergus, and from thence to Sir Francis Stafford at the Newry, and so to the camp again to me. I committed him close prisoner and sent him to the Newry wishing Sir Francis Stafford further to examine him and do now sent him in bonds unto you Sir, who can best judge of him and may happily learn more of his intent and disposition, by reason of his friends dwelling there in London than we here can find the means to do. I am sorry I should be troublesome to you in a matter of this nature, because for mine own part I confess I think the man little better than frantic, though such a one was not unfit for such an enterprise; yet considering it might otherwise prove dangerous to myself or to the gentleman that set him a work, I presume you will hold me more excused and conceive that I have reason so to do for mine own discharge.

And so Sir I commend you to the grace of God, from the camp at Carrickbane, the 23rd of August 1602sYours Sir to do you service
Mountjoy The Mayor of Chester is written to to send you this prisoner, and the copie of this his letter herewith sent will show the discretion of the man.

2. UK National Archives, SP63/209, no. 42 (a); Thomas Walker to Lord Deputy Mountjoy, 22 August 1601.

Right honourable,

I, your honour's poor petitioner, a prisoner till my truth have its trial which I trust in God will not be long, since I understand your lordship hath sent into England about me, doth beg for His sake, who hath fashioned us in his own similitude and likeness, that your honour will not see me hunger for want of means. My good lord, I speak this in all humility, for them I sent to for my means fears by sending to supply my want, least they be also brought in trouble for me. Thus in the world's eye, I seem hardly thought on, when had I had a soldier's hart, as I wanted not his forward mind, and not given place unto effeminate thoughts, forgetting how I promised to my God, if it would please him to send his angel to conduct me safe, and give me favour in the presence of Tyrone, I would not fear to strike him were his guards about him. It had been so with me as it is, and to see God's mercy towards me that day. He had no guard to speak on, neither had he on a quilted coat, only a black frieze jerkin which being unbuttoned I might see his naked breast. I having my arms delivered by his own commandment, he took me twice in that short time I was with him by the hand, saying I was welcome to him and told me by these words, I was fortunatest man that ever came unto him, for had not my horsemen been honester, said he, they would have sore wounded thee, but had my footmen met thee, thou hadst never come alive before me. Thus before and after I was most mightily preserved by  p.2 the Lord, and persuade myself it is to some good end, wherefore his name be praised which mercy indureth for ever. And my good lord when I am found an honest man towards my country, I will show myself a true servant to your honour, in giving your lordship to know what I have heard and seen in my travel. Meanwhile I will lay it up in my heart till I may have access to your lordship, yet earnestly beseeching your honour for God's sake to shake off by little and little the hard conceit your lordship with good reason hath of me. For God that knows my heart, knows it is free of that maculated spot. I am a fool to speak thus much but alas hath not the Silly Ass, that is beaten for his stumbling, sense to know in what he made his lord a fault. A little bear with me, good my Lord, for I have wrote this in my tears and whatsoever I have said or done, hereafter God willing I will give reason for it, but it will seem foolish for a time. Thus fearing to overtlay your honour's patience with copiousness of words, I will surcease, committing your honour to the safe keeping of the Almighty, that his strong arm may be ever with your good lordship to your life's end.

From the prison of the Newry, Saturday the xxii th of August 1601

3. Hatfield House, Cecil Papers 88/121-2, Thomas Walker's narrative, written to Sir Robert Cecil. 1601. 1

Presuming on your worship's gentle favour that you will give me the hearing what I can say for myself in this form of order with your worship's leave, I do begin. I belong to the Bishop of Peterborough, on whom I gave attendance both in court and at his consecration at Lambeth and by reason his lordship kept not his house until this winter, I obtained his leave to spend the summer in Ireland in seeing of the country so I returned by Michelmas or thereabouts; but with much ado, after many hard words received from my father, I had his goodwill also. Soon after I took my journey unto Chester, where I continued full out the term of five weeks, all which time the wind kept out of the way. In the while I was there, I take the Lord to witness that hath so mightily preserved me, I harboured the first thought of my pretence, determining with my self to put my life in venture to do my country good, desiring the Lord's merciful assistance, before whom twice a day I was on my knees referring the event to his will and pleasure. At the end of five weeks I went to sea in the company of Sir Oliver Saint Johns and Captain Bartlett and many others; the wind somewhat contrarying us, we were forced to tide it over. I landed on a Thursday being the second of July, and came to Dublin in the afternoon, on the Saturday I went by sea to Carlingford, for I thought it not best for me to buy a horse. By reason I held on with my determination, on the Wednesday the week following in the morning I came to the Newry, where my abiding was for that day, and the next until about noon. At what time my Lord Deputy drew down with all his forces, and encamped ii miles beyond the Newry, which hearing I provided my self of a garran, and went to Mountnorris in company of soldiers of that fort where I stayed that night. The next day I dined with Captain Blayney and Captain Atherton - I thank them. That afternoon being almost spent, I rode in the company of 4 of Sir Henry Danvers' horsemen to Armagh, where that evening I spake with Sir Henry Danvers, and told his worship I was a gentleman newly come out of England, that would adventure my life to do my country some service. For said I, my mind gives me I shall kill Tyrone and if my heart will serve me. His worship made answer, it is an honourable attempt, but it was accompanied  p.3 with much danger and peril wherefore he wished me to leave it off, but finding me with no persuasions to alter my determination. I will tell you, quoth his worship, in what manner I would have you go, and I will warrant you both to have access unto him and to speak with him, then you may use your own discretion. I will send you with a letter to him, and in it I will tell him that I have sent it with a man that hath been brought up in my father's house. And the effect of it shall be, that I, being placed here governor near upon him by the appointment of my Lord Deputy, doth advise him to come in and submit himself to my Lord Deputy or ever he come down with his force, if not to expect no favour. I humbly thanked his worship and told him, if Tyrone should ask me some particular question of his father's house and I not able to answer him, it were as much as my head were worth. Well since, quoth he, you heard mine, now let me hear what you will say when you come before Tyrone. Which thing I heartily desired his worship to pardon in me, for I was loath to disclose it unto any, until it pleased God that I returned. Yet I would wish you, said Sir Henry Danvers, to make no long stay, since you are so resolved lest Tyrone have any spies upon you. I made answer it was not my desire to linger any time. At which words his worship went on the north side of Armagh, and pointing with his hand towards Blackwater, he bade me keep most the left hand ways, and the wind being then northerly, bade me still to keep it in my face. Then he went into the church and caused the captain of the watch to be sent for to him. At his coming he caused his man to lodge me in his chamber, giving the captain of the watch in charge to call us ii hours before day. Then went his way to bed and told me, he would pray for me. I returned his worship hearty thanks and went unto my lodging. In the morning, uncalled we waked much about the hour, having made us ready we past the watches, giving them the word. After he had brought me half a mile almost on my way, we parted. I had not gone far by myself but the wind being somewhat easterly, and the way overgrown with grass, I went out of it, wherefore I returned to Armagh. On the next morning, being Sunday and the viith of July, I took my way to the Blackwater the second time, in my cloak, my sword and dagger at my side. Wherein I found the track of horses which I followed till I come in sight of ii horsemen of Tyrone's, which made from me until upon the plain they saw me by myself. Then one of them, comes up and charges me, towards whom I put forth the hilts of my sword, which he received with my cloak. And for I had come running until I sweat, I continued in it beckoning them to come after me, and I had them at that pass for a mile's running, that as oft as I looked back, they did the same, until we came to a little hill, whence we might see Blackwater, where one of them alighted and took from me what I had, then took me up behind him and brought me to Tyrone, who asked me the cause of my coming. I made answer I thought it was not unknown unto his honour, how my Lord of Essex rose in London, and with him both earls, lords, knights and gentlemen, amongst whom my father being a citizen and ever a well-willer to my lord rose also and never left his honour until their taking, for which he was put to death, his lands and goods seized on, his wife and we, his poor children, thrust out of all. Alack my good youth, said Tyrone, the tears standing in his eyes, this was unchristian dealing to punish the children for the father's fact. But why runst thou away, there was no cause for thee to be afraid. My answer was, being in grief of mind, I thought to take some small revenge with making of a libel, letting a youth well-known to me be made acquainted with it. The same day was proclamation - he that could bring in a libel maker should have a hundred pound. Then fearing lest my fellow would betray me, I fled with such money as my mother gave me whither I knew not, until at length I unbethought me of your honour, then I rested in no place until I came before you. But God I pray never take mercy on my soul if I out dreamt of any any libel,  p.4 until the very day before I went unto Tyrone. Who asked me my name, which I said was Thomas Walker. Well, Tom Walker, quoth he, thou art welcome to me, and here thou shalt be safe and take no harm. Tell me truly what hath my men of thine. They shall not keep the value of a farthing from thee. I told him what they had, and I had all again, saving my knife, my scarf I wore about my neck and xiii S in silver, which they mightily forswore the having. Tyrone then sat him down on the side of a hill and bade me sit down by him, where he questioned me of many matters and much of the Spaniards coming and after bade me show him of the new coin, which he viewed earnestly. Says some of his men that was by, these wars hath made the Queen of England poor, that she coins copper money. Quoth a Spanish commander standing by, my master yet pays of the royalist of any in the world. I pray thee, says Tyrone anon, after whose device was this, they say Sir Robert Cecil. With willing wordes 2, quoth he, I would I had him here I would make him a little shorter by the head. Many threatening words did his men give out of his honour, which by reason I can not deliver as they were spoken, I omit. Within a while after Tyrone took me unto mass, to which he said I could not be admitted until I had a godfather, but bade me go forth again. Mass being ended he sent for me, taking me by the hand the second time and told me welcome should be my best fare, and that I should see his soldiers eat their meat without their bread, the thing I never see before. At dinner time came 4 runaways from Lough Foyle, and a Scottish man in their company, that brought their pass from O'Donnell. After Tyrone had read it, he caused another pass be made them from himself to Art O'Hagan and Randal McSorley to suffer them be shipped for Scotland. Dinner ended iii horsemen brought Tyrone word that English forces were come unto Armagh, whereat he started up as one amazed, his colour quite forsaken him, his lady and her mother fell to crossing of themselves. I seeing him stricken with fear, stood up and desired his honour I might have a horse. For now is the time, quoth I, for me to take revenge, and I hold not my life too dear in your honour's service to be spent that hath used me with such kindness. No Tom Walker, thou art come to me for succour, and I will not have thee bring thyself in danger, but I will send thee with my lady to my house, where thou shalt do no worse nor she herself. But seeing me very importunate to stay - in face, said he, I passed not much, and if thou didst, so those great breeches were off, and thou had a pair of trousers on, for if thou shouldst be forced to running in them, thou were not able in this country where is nought but wood and bog. Then spake he to his lady to take me with her, and command me to have a horse, after rode his way up and down commanding his men out of the victualling cabins, for here was all the victuals dressed that served the whole camp being more than two miles off, whither he rode with those men he found there after him. When he was gone, his household servants would have had me gone with them the nearer way through the woods, which I refused, and went with his lady which rode towards the camp, and within a quarter of a mile of it upon a hill they stayed, where I took the view of his men the second time, and on my life I dare speak it, they were then but between six and seven hundred at the most. All the favour Tyrone's lady showed me, was here to cause her man to take my cloak. Then her mother and she rode their ways to Dungannon, and I lacked after them, when too late I repented me of the opportunity I had letten slip. After they had rid half way, they mended their pace that I was left behind, where I had been set on by iii kernes had not eight soldiers sent by Tyrone to guard his lady been in sight, who ever after kept me company until I overtook Tyrone's servants that went through the woods with whom they left me to  p.5 go to Dungannon. When I came thither, I found his lady in a cott, where she made me drink, and then sent me before with her servants to her island in a canoe, and sent for me unto them, where I see brought in 4 hampers one of them as much as iii could lift. The fortifications of the island was as then unfinished; Tyrone's lady came unto me and said, is not this a strong town, I tell you I care not and if all the English forces came before it. When I was asleep, she came again unto me, and asked me my nation, and my other name and knowing what she ment, I told her Thomas Walker; then went she back unto her mother. In the morning her men came to me and told me Scots and brought me to them that came from Lough Foyle, and charged them take me with me into Scotland. They would not suffer me go back to the camp for some things I had left there but gave me eight shillings they said came from their lady and vowed to kill me if I offered to go back. Yet I would have gone back, could I have spoken Irish. I offered all the money I had to one of them that came from Lough Foyle that could speak Irish to go with me to the camp but his heart would not serve him so I was fain to go with them. In our company was sent a guide, and a little after us ii soldiers that I slipped not back. After we had gone a mile our guide brought us out of the way unto a house to know there whether any of the Scottish men were ready to go back that were newly come into the country. Them of the house made answer no, for they had as yet but unladen one of their horses, which I saw tied at the door. With the rest they said they were gone half a mile further, and being so much more out of our way, we took it for an answer and went twelve miles out of our way where we found O'Hagan newly come thither to see his sheep. In whose company we went seven miles farther to his camp but ere we stirred hence, there came one to him from Tyrone and presently returned back again. The next day being Tuesday, his camp removed towards Tyrone, and for that the Scottish man to whom I had shown myself somewhat liberal, had told O'Hagan my father was put to death for the earl of Essex's sake, and for that O'Neill used me with all kindness, he showed me this favour. He stayed us with him until he had sent his men away, then sent us thence with iii other of his men that went with ii horse loads of hides to sell them unto Scottish men at Dunluce whither we came that night. In the morning I told my Scottish man, I would to McSorley, and from thence to Sir Arthur Chichester at Knockfergus, and for I had promised my cloak unto him, I gave him all my silver I had left, conditionally he should be my guide unto McSorley which he was, when I came before Randal McSorley. I was told him I had been a prisioner with O'Neill and came by stealth away in company of 4 that came from Lough Foyle, which had a pass from O'Neill unto himself to suffer them quietly to pass into Scotland. I marvel, quoth he, looking pale of the matter, that O'Neill would write to me knowing I am sworn to the Queen of England. I can not think it until I see the writing. I told him if he sent for the Scottish man in that came with me and received it of Tyrone himself, he then should see it. The Scottish man came in and showed it him, which when he had read, he spurned him forth a doors and was threatened to be killed, while I was there, for bringing him thither. After supper, Randal bade me go forth with him to walk down my supper, being abraid I had been killed with a pistol, if it had gone off, but when I told him that I was a papist, he seemed to use me very kindly, and at my request, bade his priest lie with me all night. The morrow after he sent me to Sir Arthur Chichester, and for my safety sent with me xii shot. I came to Sir Arthur on the Thursday at night, and desired his worship I might be sent with all speed to my Lord Deputy. The next morning he went to prey Brian McArt, wherefore he caused me stay at Massereene until his return because he would write by me to my Lord Deputy. But there I was in a manner as a prisoner for I went not forth of the fort but one went with me. Upon Sunday Sir Arthur Chichester  p.6 being returned, he sent me to Sir Richard Moryson, and Sir Richard on the Wednesday sent me to Sir Francis Stafford at the Newry. And to secure my passage sent with me, one Phelim of Dundrum, who within eight miles of the Newry, led me out of my way to friends of his that were drinking in the field and making merry, who offered to set me at liberty and send me whither I would. I gave them thanks and told them there was no cause. Anon, after we went to horse and came to the Newry, from whence Sir Francis Stafford sent me on the Friday to my Lord Deputy, being incamped at Blackwater where I was committed that night and the next day sent to the Newry again, where I lay seven weeks in irons. Thus I have delivered your worship the cause and manner of my travel but I fear me I have been over tedious, for which and many defaults in my writing, I crave of your worship hearty pardon.

By me Thomas Walker3

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Title (uniform): Documents on Thomas Walker's plot against Tyrone in 1601

Author: Lord Deputy Mountjoy

Author: Thomas Walker

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Electronic edition compiled by: Beatrix Färber

Text transcribed and edited by: Hiram Morgan

Proof corrections by: Hiram Morgan

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1. First draft, revised and corrected.

Extent: 4930 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of the History Department, University College Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland — http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2010

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: E600001-003

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only.

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Acknowledgement: Hiram Morgan of University College Cork has been funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences to write a biography of Hugh O'Neill. It is contracted in the Royal Irish Academy's Judging Irish Historical Figures series.

Source description


  1. UK National Archives, SP63/209, no. 42, Lord Deputy Mountjoy to Sir Robert Cecil, 23 August 1601. 2 pages.
  2. UK National Archives, SP63/209, no. 42 (a); Thomas Walker to Lord Deputy Mountjoy, 22 August 1601. 1 page.
  3. Hatfield House, Cecil Papers 88/121-2, Thomas Walker's narrative, written to Sir Robert Cecil. 4 pages. 1601. Published with the permission of the Marquis of Salisbury.


  1. Fynes Moryson, 'The rebellion of the earl of Tyrone' in: An Itinerary (London 1617).
  2. R. P. Mahaffy (ed.), Calendar of State Papers relating to Ireland, 1601–3 (London 1912).
  3. Ramsay Colles, History of Ulster from the earliest times to the present day (London 1919).

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Creation: by Thomas Walker and Lord Deputy Mountjoy

Date: 1601

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  1. 2019-06-05: Changes made to div0 type. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
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  3. 2009: Text transcribed; text proofed (1, 2); preamble, acknowledgement and bibliographic details added. (ed. Hiram Morgan)

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  1. The end of this document bears the inscription '3 Oct. 1601' in a nineteenth-century hand. 🢀

  2. Walker has erased what the earl of Tyrone said originally and replaced it with this presumably more innocuous phrase. 🢀

  3. Each of the four pages is subscribed in the same way. 🢀


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