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Campaign Journals of the Elizabethan Irish Wars
by Willy Maley

Campaign Journals of the Elizabethan Irish Wars. David Edwards, ed. Dublin: Irish Manuscripts Commission, 2014. xxii + 310 pp. ISBN: 978-1906865511. $57.00 cloth.


Some years ago Bert Hamilton said to me at a Spenser conference, “Soon we’ll know it all.” Reading David Edwards’s collection of nineteen journals from the archives of Elizabethan Ireland, it becomes clear that we may never know it all. Spenserians already owe a deep debt of gratitude to historians of Early Modern Ireland for sharing the fruits of their patient archival work over the years. In the 1980s it was Ciaran Brady, Brendan Bradshaw and Nicholas Canny who led the field in providing much-needed context for the poet’s Irish experiences. More recently, David Edwards, alongside his colleague at Cork, Hiram Morgan, has provided access to vital source material. Campaign Journals of the Elizabethan Irish Wars is the latest and most substantial contribution, a treasure-chest of information on the workings of the English colonial administration in Spenser’s lifetime.

Edwards’s book does two things: it adds to our understanding of an important archive, specifically the narrative accounts of provincial governors and chief governors. The second thing it does is to enhance our awareness of the extent and complexity of the Elizabethan administration in Ireland. I have been working with David Baker and Patricia Palmer on a project aimed at mapping out the parameters and perimeters of the Spenser circle in Ireland, and this collection of official perspectives is extremely valuable for giving a stronger sense of the community of educated individuals—not all of whom will be found in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the Cambridge Dictionary of Irish Biography, or indeed the Dictionary of Ulster Biography—who served in Ireland at the same time as Spenser. Those two aspects of this book, the archival work and the naming of personnel, enrich our understanding of what service in Ireland actually entailed. In particular Lord Grey’s account of his two years in office sheds light on Spenser’s initiation into the administration of that country.[1] Spenser’s employment under Grey occurred against a backdrop of beheading and amidst a catalogue of carnage.[2] Edwards opens his introduction with an arresting observation: 

It is surprising some of the things that were written down in the course of crown military operations in Tudor Ireland to form part of the official wartime record. Late in the reign of Elizabeth I […] while preparing an expedition into Wicklow where native rebels were showing in strength, the English viceroy and commander-in-chief of the queen’s forces received a message that had nothing at all to do with his impending mission. Instead it dealt with the fate of an Irish baby girl. She had been born ‘dead, with two heads upon one body’ and her little corpse had been sent to Waterford for medical examination. The message is entered, briefly summarised, in the viceroy’s journal of service. (ix)

Such material is not uncommon among the narratives collected here, a rich source of knowledge that remains relatively neglected, as Edwards observes: “For all their obvious importance, the campaign journals of the Elizabethan officers in Ireland have remained a markedly underutilised resource. They have never been written about, or even recognised as a distinct group of documents among the government papers of the period” (xii).

In his introduction, Edwards makes a strong case for seeing the campaign journals as a major source for historians, and, I would add, for literary critics too, since Elizabethan Ireland was represented and written up by some of the finest English writers of the period. Edwards divides the journals into five types: “Heraldic journals”; “Letter-journals”; “Discourses/ Reports”; “Discourses/Declarations”; and “Diaries.” Each form allows for a different register and rhetorical approach: “Unlike heraldic journals, which had to be written by an officer-of-arms in line with the (rather dull) literary conventions of his office, letter-journals could be written by anyone of the commander’s choosing, and in a style that was considered pleasing. Accordingly the generally higher caliber of the prose that characterizes the letter-journals was mostly the handiwork of the growing number of secretaries employed during Elizabeth’s reign, highly educated figures such as Ludovick Bryskett,[3] Morgan Coleman, Edmund Spenser, and Francis Mitchell, who served Viceroys Drury, Pelham, Grey, and Russell respectively, and were able to present their masters’ services in language designed to entertain as well as inform a select readership” (xvii). Morgan Coleman was a new name to me, and it transpires he was a Palesman of sorts, born in Calais around 1556. Elected MP for Newport in Cornwall in 1597, he ended up compiling genealogical tables for James I.[4]

The last of the nineteen journals presented by Edwards is that of Sir Thomas Norris campaigning in Cork from 27 March—4 April 1599, in the wake of Spenser’s departure and death. According to Edwards, this narrative is “written by his commissary William Jones” (285). This is the same William Jones (1566-1640) to whose 1595 translation of Giovanni Battista Nenna’s Nennio, or A Treatise of Nobility Spenser contributed a dedicatory sonnet, and thus another addition to Spenser’s Irish circle. Among the offices Jones held were “King’s bench in Ireland 1617-20; judge of common pleas 1621, of King’s bench 1624; commr. to inquire into the state of Ireland 20 Mar. 1622—Nov. 1623, and 1624; member, council in the marches of Wales 1623.”[5] Jones can now be added to a growing list of translators active in Ireland that would include Lodowick Bryskett, Geoffrey Fenton, Barnabe Googe, John Harington and Thomas North, who served as a captain in Ireland in 1580, and again in 1596.  

Elizabeth’s officials in Ireland were subject to constant scrutiny and often open to rebuke, which meant that their reports were more than objective accounts of services done. As Edwards notes, “To a large extent the journals were a form of self-defence” (xix). Campaign Journals of the Elizabethan Irish Wars makes for fascinating reading, and Spenserians will learn much from all of accounts encompassing the duration of the poet’s time there and the immediate aftermath, from Sir William Drury in 1578 through to Thomas Norris in 1599. But at the heart of this volume is an account that will be of particular interest, namely “Lord Grey de Wilton’s declaration of service, August 1580—August 1582” (140-154), or, to give it its full title, “A brief declaration of the state of your majesty’s realm of Ireland, when by your highness’s appointment I entered the charge thereof, with the services done during the time of that my government, and the plight that I left it in: which it may please your majesty to afford a reading.” Edwards gives Grey’s journal the heading, “Another Viceroy’s Vindication,” because he recognises that this short treatise, as a retrospective justification of service by a lord deputy, comes closest to Sir Henry Sidney’s “Memoir” of 1583, the same year that Grey completed his own narrative. In my view, Grey’s text, ably but all too briefly introduced here, notwithstanding the scholarly thoroughness of the footnotes, deserves the same extended treatment as Ciaran Brady’s edition of Sidney’s text, and I hope it will be given that level of attention in future.[6]

Edwards provides, in addition to an elegant general introduction, brief prefaces to each individual journal. These are useful in situating the texts, but should prompt us to further investigation. Grey’s own opening gambit is to depict the dire state in which he found the country he was instructed to govern, province-by-province, after which he remarks: “And such was the condition of the land when I entered into it; now whether any ever before hath found so broken a work of it to all records I refer it” (142). While he is campaigning in Ulster against Turlough Luineach, Grey learns of enemy activity near Dublin:

In this time of my absence the Mountain Rebels had put forth an 100 swords of their pickedest men to take a prey out of the County of Dublin; to the rescue whereof one George FitzGarrett, lieutenant to the Earl of Kildare of his horsemen, and one John Barrington, lieutenant to Sir Henry Harrington of the like, with as many of the companies as the sudden would suffer, did rise out, and overtaking the enemy slew every one of them save 5 or 6: amongst whom was a younger son of Feagh McHugh, and 10 or 12 besides of great accompt amongst them, whose heads being brought in, did garnish the Gate Tower of Dublin Castle; George FitzGarrett [the] only of ours in this service slain. (143)

It is at this point that Grey hears that the Spaniards have landed at Smerwick—“about midnight letters came to me of the Spaniards’ landing, and their number thousands at the least” (143)—and so he sets out “Cork-ward.” Grey gives a very detailed account of the journey to the fort and the various royal forces in the area, both at sea and on land, including the Earl of Ormond’s uncertain behaviour en route, but his account of the siege and slaughter is remarkably brief: “I held my Journey straight to the Mountain of Slieve Lougher, and so after no small toil of way and misery for want of victuals and hardness of wheat, was come to the fort, which after three days environing, by God’s great favour we took and did put most of the enemies to the sword; the issue of the service being the spectacle that the eyes of all that land’s rebels and hollow hearts of this your Realm were bent upon” (144).

The short shrift Grey gives to the siege of Smerwick in this reflective account of his service is in sharp contrast to the detail in the story of a close call by one of his officers, Captain Mackworth, who after some of the O’Mores “had […] thrice dallied him out with their delays” (145), resolved to take one of them as surety:

they asking then whether of them he would have the Captain told Melaghlin Roe that he would have him: and thereupon willing one of his men to take his weapons from him, for that he was armed as they usually go. The Irishman suddenly thereupon draws his skeane and runs upon Mackworth, who walked up and down the chamber as he talked with them, and had certainly sticked him had not the standers-by cried unto him, ‘Take heed’; wherewith he turning and drawing his sword, received the traitor thereon. And so Melaghlin being slain, Ross and the other three were taken in hand, their protections by this farce being broken; and the Captain having present knowledge where the rest of them were left and lodged, takes a competent number of soldiers, and being come to the place, cuts them all in pieces. Ross and the others were sent to Dublin, where they were tried and executed; which one service pulled that sept in manner on their knees, all these being of the chiefest of that nation. The longer I have been in setting forth of this service, for that I have heard that your majesty hath been informed that it was compassed by Treason, which in truth was nothing so, nor any otherwise than here is declared. (146)

There are times when Grey, like Henry Sidney before him, cannot put a name to a face, and does not always take heed of the heads he has taken. Grey recalls one head being brought to him whose owner he forgets. Keeping track of the dead is not easy and yet for Grey it seems to be vital as a sign of his active engagement in prosecuting the so-called rebels: “The enemy coming another time to burn and spoil Rathcoole, were by certain of Captain Furres’s company (who guarded a pile therein) repulsed, and 10 or 12 of them slain, amongst whom was one principal fellow whose head was brought me to Dublin; his name I have forgotten” (145). Throughout Grey’s declaration of service we find traces of experiences that will make their way in different forms into Spenser’s work, such as the effects of establishing “‘noe and narre” [new and near] garrisons to straiten the enemy, finding that to be the only means, either to drive him to fight abroad, or else to starve him in his fastness” (146). This strategy has the desired effect: “These garrisons […] had every day some killing or other of them, besides taking their cattle from them, which was not the least weakening of them, insomuch as by Michaelmas following, they were ready to starve and most of their sustenance was certainly known to be stud;[7] and the service was now brought to that pass, as famish, fight or yield of necessity they were driven, had it not pleased your Majesty by a general pardon and a cass of men, to free all and give a breathing time again” (146-7). Edwards glosses “cass” as the cashiering of men, and Grey concludes this passage by stating that he could have pressed his advantage over the Irish were it not that Elizabeth was “bent to another course” (147).

Grey has some distinctive turns of phrase that were new to me. He speaks of certain of the Irish having “liking and link” with others (147), which is a useful expression when pondering the nature of circles—political, social and cultural. He describes the enemy trying to enter an English stronghold “by Sapp and Scale,” then being “glad to levy and leave it, hearing of the Governor’s drawing to the rescue thereof” (149). Grey’s declaration of service reads at times like a declaration of decapitations or severances of heads. We learn that while Colonel John Zouche was “lying sick” in Munster, “Captain Acham […] went out upon a draught, and brought him in a dozen heads of wood kerne” (148). But beheading was not the only game in town: “One Oliverus Burke, a notorious traitor in the county was by James Goulde, your highness’s Attorney of that Province, apprehended, and being arraigned, obstinately refusing to make any answer, pressed to death” (149). In an earlier journal, that of Sir William Pelham, the same Oliverus Burke had been granted protection provided he turned traitor to others like himself and “do such service upon the traitors as might merit his pardon. He brought in 3 heads, and had 20 crowns given him” (98).

Grey’s account of his service centers on the fact that his achievements are undermined by royal pardons and parsimony:

In the beginning of the second and last year of my service there, I was an earnest suitor for one thousand of men more for the bearding of Turlough Luineach, who (as formerly is declared) was no small clog still to all my other attempts and services, nor no less back and upholdster to every rebel else, which if might have been granted me, I promised in God’s trust and honour to have so pulled his plums, as his princeliness in Ulster should no longer have graced himself, nor prejudiced your highness: but by the Lords of the Council it was signified unto me that your pleasure was not to have any such forcible course held with him, if possibly it might be otherwise, and that for no small piece of service it should be accompted and accepted, if by quiet means and without further charge he were held in peaceable terms. (150)

Ulster aside, Munster remains the most problematic province for Grey. Just when starvation and regular decapitation looks like paying off, the queen offers clemency again:

In Munster only did rest some little war, which could not but soon have been finished, the enemy being brought to such extremities, their chiefest men being all wasted (the Earl himself and Seneschal of Imokilly only excepted), their associates having given over and left them, the country so spoiled, as, besides studs and shamrocks, no sustenance it could afford them; and now every day did one bring in another’s head of them, so to be taken in and shown their miserable state and end of famine, all resting hopeless of favour but by present service, in which course and whiles that God not slowly thus prospered the plough, it seemed to your Majesty to direct a second discharge with another grant of a general pardon, whereupon the enemy grew into such heart, finding your Majesty’s weariness of the war, and into such relief both from such of them as were taken in, as also from the subject himself (who feared revenge and doubted defence) all the former fervency of service in the country man was clean cooled, and spright in the rebel to stand to his tackling increased. (151)

Grey goes on to claim that despite the premature halt called to his famine and sword policy, the aftereffects of his strategy are the real reason that the country has remained relatively subdued since his departure: “whereof I crave no better proof than comparison of the present issue and continued estate ever since of the country, with the services since done, which I dare avow have not been so great as can make an equal censure ajudge them the cause of so great a change” (151). The fortuitous killing under his successor of the Earl of Desmond aside, Grey takes credit for the pacification of Munster and the other provinces:

The rest of this after service consisting most if not altogether in protecting, which though it gave a gloss of great weakening of the enemy, and sudden quieting of the stir, yet in truth was it but a very shadow of the body before passed that had indeed wrought the effect, which stood in this choice, either to abide certain famine abroad if sword spared them, or else to adventure the reward of justice if mercy favoured not: what great a-do then it was to bring in men in that plight, it is not Sphinx’s Riddle. But far it is besides my purpose, otherwise than urged, to stand in comparison or lessen any other’s service, so that my plumes be not pulled to garnish other’s tops; every man’s due I desire to be saved unto him: and therefore to come to my time again and conclude, because I doubt it will be loathed before half read, I will let pass recital of infinite meaner services which would come to no more accompt in number, besides the general destruction in manner of the enemy’s churls, in whom their no small maintenance and relief consisted; neither say I anything of the multitude of malefactors taken away by Justice in the chief incorporate and shire towns, as Dublin, Wexford, Ross, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Kilkenny and others, the catalogue of whom would fill no few sheets of paper: these therefore overslipped in particular recital, yet not unworthy to be remembered in general consideration. I hope that these services conferred with the total tumult of the land when I received it, and the general quiet thereof (one only part excepted) when I left it, shall not seem so small (if my Disaster be not too great) as hitherto I have found them reckoned, which indeed is the cause that hath forced me to this most unpleasant travail, nothing more repining with my nature than to be a reciter and as it were commender of mine own actions. (151-2)

Here Grey comes to the crux of his response to those who view his period of office as unsuccessful:

the chiefest or rather only cloud that darkens all my travails, hazards and desert with your Majesty I find to be the expense of your treasure in the service, I am in humbleness to say, if it can be charged upon me, that either to mine own benefit I have employed any part thereof or wilfully wasted, otherwise then the necessity of the service required, let my body and what else I have answer it. (152)

Grey closes the main body of his account by comparing his service in Elizabeth’s Irish wars to other kingdoms’ campaigns:

if either the King of Spain or the French King should in like proportion measure their servant’s services in this their so long civil wars, by the waste of treasure therein consumed (pardon I crave), I think surely that far worse pennyworths should theirs fall out, than hath done these of your Majesty’s. So having no more to say in it, I do submit all to your highness’s censure, and rest ever your Majesty’s true and dutiful subject, however disfavoured and light accompted of. (152)

Grey may have had in mind a work by one of his fellow English officials in Ireland, since Geoffrey Fenton had in 1570 translated A Discourse of the Civile Warres and Late Troubles in Fraunce, and dedicated it to Sir Henry Sidney.

Grey appends to his Declaration “An abstract of the services contained in this discourse,” which is basically a headcount that ends with these words: “So the number of slain in these services of note, comes to 1,485,” adding immediately that this figure is arrived at “not accompting those of meaner sort, neither executions by law, nor killing of churls, the accompt of which is besides number” (154). 1,485 lives had ended under Grey’s iron rule, and not just Gaelic Irish and Old English, but Spaniards and Scots too. 1485 is a very Tudor figure, and a very Arthurian one for Arthur Lord Grey de Wilton to arrive at (bearing Malory in mind). And that’s just the ones that count, because Grey does not include the “meaner sort” in his computation. A lot of unnamed individuals died during Grey’s tenure, including some whose names could not be attached to their severed heads. Of Grey’s text Edwards remarks: “As a historical record of English soldiering exploits across the whole of Ireland during the period of Grey’s rule the Declaration is invaluable; as a defence of his own lack of progress in Munster in 1581 and 1582 it is clearly less effective” (140).

There is more here than valuable material for the military historian. Like Sir Henry Sidney’s Memoir, Grey’s Declaration is a document of culture as well as a record of barbarism. It informed the View as well as The Faerie Queene. One indication of the potential effects of serving in such a violent environment is offered by Edwards in his introduction: “The physical and mental strain of service could also fall heavily on junior officers, particularly those given command of remote garrison outposts. In July 1580 the stress of holding out for months in the middle of Desmond country proved too much for Captain Roger Butler, the English constable of Adare. A contemporary journal states that as the main detachment of the royal army passed by his fort, marching away towards Limerick, he ‘wilfully slew himself ’ with his handgun” (ix). The relevant journal account—“The ‘Breviate’ of Lord Justice Pelham,” written by his secretary Morgan Coleman—states simply that on 29th July 1580: “His lordship removed to Askeaton from Limerick, and as we passed by Adare, Butler, late constable of that place, with his own piece wilfully (as it is conjectured) slew himself” (101). Roger Butler is another new name to me, and his story, such as it is offers another fascinating insight into life—wars and words—in Elizabethan Ireland.

There are names to be conjured with in the other journals made available here. The accounts of service by Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Sir William Drury, Sir William Pelham, Sir Richard Bingham, Sir Nicholas Malby, Sir John Perrot, Sir William Russell and Sir Thomas Norris will add to our understanding of the context in which Spenser lived, worked and wrote. For me it is Grey’s Declaration, with its echoes of Henry Sidney’s Memoir, that is the standout section of this rich and revealing collection. David Edwards is to be commended for producing such an important selection of material, and the Irish Manuscripts Commission is to be congratulated on publishing such an essential reference work in such a handsome form. This is one book reviewed that I know I will return to again and again.


Willy Maley
University of Glasgow 

[1] The retrospective justification of his tenure offered by Grey in his journal can be usefully read alongside Andrew Hadfield’s authoritative account of Grey’s period in office as told through contemporary correspondence and Spenser’s recollections. See “To Ireland I,” in Edmund Spenser: A Life (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012), 153-195.

[2] The leading authority on the subject is Pat Palmer. See The Severed Head and the Grafted Tongue: Translating Violence in Early Modern Ireland (Cambridge UP, October 2013).

[3] Bryskett’s forename is given as “Lodowick” in The Spenser Encyclopedia and the DNB, but the variant form “Ludovick” is common both in modern criticism and in the contemporary Irish state papers. See Thomas E. Wright, “Bryskett, Lodowick (c.1546-1612),” in A. C. Hamilton, ed., A Spenser Encyclopedia (Routledge: London and Toronto, 1990), 119, and Richard A. McCabe, “Bryskett, Lodowick (c.1546–1609x12),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford UP, 2004 <, accessed 8 January 2016>. Some recent criticism uses “Ludovick,” for example Walter S. H. Lim, The Arts of Empire: The Poetics of Colonialism from Raleigh to Milton (London and Newark, New Jersey: Delaware P/Associated U Presses, 1998), 188, a spelling also found in the state papers, for example “Folio 155: Instructions for Ludovick Bryskett” (Oct. 1600), <>, accessed 8 January 2016. McCabe’s DNB entry mentions only “Lewis” as a variant on “Lodowick.” Bryskett may have suggested to Shakespeare the name of the king’s close advisor in Edward III: “This fellow is well read in poetry […] Hast thou pen, ink, and paper ready, Lodowick?” (2.1.53; 59). See Giorgio Melchiori (ed.), Edward III, The New Cambridge Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998), 77. Another of the same forename, Lodowick Lloyd, was thought to have been in Ireland with Spenser. See Stephen Hamrick, The Catholic Imaginary and the Cults of Elizabeth, 1558-1582 (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009), 36. Andrew Hadfield makes no mention of the Irish link in his Spenser biography or his DNB entry for Lloyd. Lloyd, who prompted the earl of Essex to fund Spenser’s funeral, is as likely a candidate for suggesting Shakespeare’s secretary as Bryskett. Hadfield does cite Lloyd as “further evidence that many of the poets who looked up to Spenser were connected to each other and existed within small, overlapping groups.” See Andrew Hadfield, Edmund Spenser: A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), (396). See also Andrew Hadfield, “Lloyd, Lodowick (fl. 1573–1607),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford UP, 2004 <, accessed 8 January 2015>. Certainly Lloyd was associated with both Spenser and Shakespeare. See Edward Jones, Ludovic Lloyd, a long-forgotten Welshman, a contemporary and probable acquaintance of William Shakespeare and the possible exemplar of Shakespeare’s “Fluellen” (Wrexham: Jarman, 1931). Of course, Ludovico Ariosto was another name to conjure with in the period, his Orlando Furioso translated by another Elizabethan serving in Ireland, Sir John Harington.

[4] P. W. Hasler, The House of Commons, 1558-1603: Introductory survey. Appendices. Constituencies. Members, A-C (London: History of Parliament Trust, 1981), 19. See also <>, accessed 8 January 2016. Coleman appears to have had links with William Pelham, William Drury, and George Carew.

[6] I discuss the rhetoric of “normalization”—state terror masking as the rule of law—in my review of Ciaran Brady’s edition of Henry Sidney’s Memoir. See Willy Maley, “Apology for Sidney: Making a Virtue of a Viceroy,” rev. of A Viceroy’s Vindication?: Sir Henry Sidney’s Memoir of Service in Ireland, 1556-1578, ed. Ciaran Brady (Cork: Cork UP, 2002), The Sidney Journal 20: 94-105. I expanded on these views in “‘The name of the country I have forgotten’: Remembering and Dismembering in Sir Henry Sidney’s Irish Memoir (1583),” in Thomas Herron and Michael Potterton, eds., Ireland in the Renaissance, c.1540-1660 (Dublin: Four Courts P, 2007), 52-73, and in Willy Maley, “‘Something Quite Atrocious’: English Colonialism Beyond the Pale and the License to Violence,” rev. of Age of Atrocity: Violence and Political Conflict in Early Modern Ireland, ed. David Edwards, Padraig Lenihan and Clodagh Tait (Dublin: Four Courts P, 2007), Eolas: The Journal of the American Society of Irish Medieval Studies 3: 82-111.

[7] The context suggests vegetation, as in the phrase “studs and shamrocks,” so “stud” here must be related to OED 4a:

A stem, trunk (of a tree). Obs.
1579 Spenser Shepheardes Cal. Mar. 13 Seest not thilke same Hawthorne studde?
1591 Spenser Virgil’s Gnat in Complaints sig. H2v, This with full bit doth catch the vtmost top Of some soft Willow, or new growen stud.
1632 G. Sandys tr. Ovid Metamorphosis (new ed.) v. 187 Vpon a Sallow stud My robe I hung, and leapt into the flood.

I am grateful to Richard Danson Brown and David Lee Miller for this and other insights. See also Barnabe Googe, Foure Bookes of Husbandrie, collected by Conradus Heresbachius, Newly Englished and encreased by Barnaby Googe (London, 1577), 120: “The stocke or studde, must be pastured in large pastures and marshes, as also vpon mountaines and hilly groundes, but euer well watred, not dry, rather champion then woddy, and rather soft sweete grasse, then hye and flaggy.” Googe is clearly alluding to livestock and horses, i.e., “stock and studde,” since he introduces this passage by moving from the bodies of Cattell” to “The Horse.” 


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Willy Maley, "Campaign Journals of the Elizabethan Irish Wars," Spenser Review 45.3.2 (Winter 2016). Accessed May 23rd, 2024.
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