Anna Parnell Travel Grant Awardee Report: Melissa Shiels

Anna Parnell Travel Grant 2021 Awardee Report: Melissa Shiels
Archival Research: Kent Archives Office and British Library

I first used some of the travel grant money to request certain original manuscripts in the Viscount De L’Isle collection, held in Kent Archives Office. The manuscripts were suggested to me by my advisor as worthy of study since they were the gift lists of food donations given by members of the Pale elite and gentry to Lord Deputy Henry Sidney during the height of the cess controversy in 1578, when several members of this community were imprisoned for their protest. Upon receiving scans of the documents I analysed them and found that there were 4 women donors among those listed, and finding their names and gift giving activities gave me a jumping off point for further research into women’s participation or protest against taxation in the Pale. One of these women (Lady Barnewall) was staunchly opposed to the taxation and heavily fined, yet still gave a generous gift and later that year married one of the main Pale supporters of the tax; another female participant, Mistress Strange, appears to have acted as a femme sole, and was the only donor to give hippocras and a marchpane for the feast, which were privately kept by the Lord Deputy instead of dispersed at the feast. I subsequently requested another document from this collection and found the gift of a horse from one female donor to Sir Henry Sidney in 1575 upon embarking his last term as Lord Deputy. The donor, Alice FitzGarrett, gave a horse in her own name, though she was married to a prominent member of the Pale community in Meath. Prior to this discovery, the only other mention of her is in the State Papers where she is begging for relief for herself and her children upon the death of her husband fighting for the Crown in the Baltinglass rebellion. This proof of her gift-giving shows Pale women acting on their own initiative in political circles, even prior to widowhood. Though she utlised the traditional narratives of requesting aid to support her children after her husband’s death, she was also politically active before his death, through the gift of a horse in her own name to the Lord Deputy.

The greatest use of the grant money was to visit the British Library in London and transcribe certain documents there relating to a number of political actors, both male and female. My first priority was to examine some hitherto unpublished correspondence of Elizabeth Clinton (nee Fitzgerald) sister to the 11th Earl of Kildare. This correspondence did reveal a gift exchange event in 1584; as Elizabeth Clinton, Countess of Lincoln, was married to Edward Clinton, Lord High Admiral, she often corresponded with lower political actors in alliance with her husband. One such event was agreeing to be godmother and sending a christening gift to the newborn daughter of Sir Julius Caesar, a judge in the Admiralty. Less than a year after sending that gift, a letter I examined revealed that she (upon being newly widowed) wrote to Sir Julius Caesar and asked his help in recouping some money owed to her. Yet another letter 2 years later in 1587, she wrote again to Sir Julius Caesar with information regarding the illegal activites of a political foe at Court, trading on her prior relationship with him to accomplish the takedown of a rival faction. Most importantly, I uncovered a letter where she wrote asking another friend to stay with her husband while she went to Court to speak with the Queen about her brother, the Earl of Kildare, and the treason charges against him. These letters highlight the function of gift exchange as a tool of political activity, which Anglo-Irish women utilised for the benefit of their kind and patronage networks that has hitherto gone unresearched.