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The COUNCIL of the CAMDEN SOCIETY desire it to be understood that they are not answerable for any opinions or observations that may appear in the Society's publications; the Editors of the several Works being alone responsible for the same.
THE Letters contained in this volume are selected from the Essex correspondence, which forms part of the Stowe collection of MSS. in the British Museum. This correspondence covers the period of Essex's Viceroyalty of Ireland from 1672 to 1679. Of the original letters to him, official and private, there must be some thousands; and these are supplemented by probably almost as many of his own letters copied by Aldworth, his private secretary at Dublin.
Of the official despatches the greater number are from Arlington, Williamson, and Henry Coventry.
But there are many also from Clifford, Shaftesbury, Ormond, Anglesey, and other public men of the day. In endeavouring to make the most satisfactory selection, I have had before me principally the questions of the condition of Ireland and the personal character of Essex; but I fear that what has been omitted is but little less worthy of notice, in some respects, indeed, more worthy. The letters which deal with Ranelagh and the farming of the Irish revenue would
form a volume ; those from Sir Joseph Williamson describing the course of the abortive conference at Cologne, at which he acted as one of the British plenipotentiaries, would form another. I have omitted these entirely.
The private letters are of extreme interest. They are principally to and from the successive private secretaries of Essex in England, Francis Godolphin (brother of Queen Anne's Lord Treasurer), William Harbord (son of Sir Charles Harbord, and member of parliament), and Sir Cyril Wyche (member for Kellington), by all of whom he was kept in touch with the Government at Whitehall. Those of his brother, Sir Henry Capel, the chivalrous defender of Arlington, of Lord Aungier, and especially of Lord Conway, afterwards Secretary of State, form a vivid commentary upon the state of affairs previous to, and at the time of, the Test Act, and of the character and intrigues of the Court during Danby's régime. In some instances they are of great historical value.
Arthur Capel, Earl of Essex, possessed in full measure precisely those qualities which were rarest in the prominent men of the reign of Charles II. There is nothing mysterious about him, except the tragedy of his death, nothing upon which one conjectures, and conjectures in vain. He lived his life in the open light of day; he was poor, and yet he preserved complete independence, and kept his hands clean of bribes; he was so disinterested, so conscientious, so sensible, so laborious—and
no one who has not studied the correspondence can form any adequate idea of the toil of his office — that he gained and preserved the confidence and support of that keen judge of character, Charles II. He did his best firmly, fearlessly, without passion or weakness, to remedy the almost hopeless state of confusion in which he found Ireland, even when this necessitated a frank opposition to the greed of the female harpies who ministered to the pleasures of the king, and regarded the exchequer of Ireland as their easy and lawful prey. His letters (p. 58 and following) regarding the proposed gift of the Phønix Park to the Duchess of Cleveland would alone entitle him to honour. He was an accomplished scholar, a keen sportsman, and, after the fashion of the day, a great builder and gardener; his family affections were deep, his private life singularly pure, his religion unaffected. Among his loyal friends he counted such men as the chivalrous Ormond, the cultivated Temple. It is still more to his credit that the corrupt and avaricious Danby, the crafty though accomplished Orrery, the unprincipled jobber Ranelagh, were his keen and consistent opponents in public life.
As far as page 139, where the private letters begin, of which much is in cypher (expressed in italics in the text), the correspondence is official. Almost at the outset
find Essex obliged to withstand the efforts of Orrery, the President of Munster (whose letters, descriptive of the state of Ireland, are of great value, pp. 1-12), to assume a dangerous independence
(pp. 12, 20, 24, 245). On pp. 26, 38, 77 will be found some interesting notices of the Scotch Presbyterians in the north, with an excellent example of Essex's quiet good sense on p. 125. With respect to this matter the copy of Archbishop Sharp's letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, p. 243, which Sharp himself declared to be forged (Wodrow, of course, Vol. 2, p. 301, gives it as genuine), deserves attention. The difficulties in Essex's way find illustration in almost every one of his letters. The reader may refer particularly to pp. 36 and 54; the whole Phænix Park episode ; the description on p. 78 of the effect of the Dutch war, and of English jealousy in stopping any development of Irish trade ; the interesting letter regarding the army on p. 87 ; the long despatch to Charles II. on p. 147; and the letter to Harbord on p. 200. The pregnant phrase on p. 201, “ The truth is, the lands of Ireland have been a mere scramble,” expresses one aspect of the situation most graphically, as graphically as the fact that Essex was driven, in order to save the Phoenix Park, to propose a small tax on the whole of Ireland for raising the money promised to the Duchess of Cleveland, and that when the Duchess of Portsmouth wanted £8,000 for a necklace, Danby referred her at once to the Irish Exchequer. The letter which deals with the disarming of the Papists, p. 134, is full of good
The frequent protests which Essex was compelled to make against interference from England (e.g. pp. 16, 40, 51, 224) are couched in moderate but decided language. On page 322