John Thomas’s depiction of the siege of Enniskillen Castle is a rare and very useful view of a Gaelic tower house and military siege of the late sixteenth-century. It is part of an important genre of military maps and drawings undertaken during what became know as the Nine Year’s War. The Enniskillen drawing ranks highly for artistic merit and clarity of detail. My interpretation of it is drawn from many years of researching conflict in the later sixteenth-century and early seventeenth-century in places such as the Netherlands and northern France, but particularly Ulster.
During that period, just as with today’s world, events were interconnected. Having lost Enniskillen Castle by siege to the Crown, in turn, Maguire put the new Crown garrison there under siege. An attempt to lift that Gaelic siege led to the Crown relieving army being defeated at the battle of the Ford of the Biscuits. Due to that defeat and the ongoing troubles in Ulster, Elizabeth I withdrew two thousand of her troops from northern Brittany, where they had been helping their Protestant French allies fight the Spanish. They were known as the ‘Brittany men’ and ultimately many of them met their deaths in Ireland. The ‘Brittany men’ embarked for Ireland from the Breton port of Paimpol.
I visited it on my travels about seven years ago and, as the waiter in the small harbour restaurant served me my moules and frites, I thought about those men going onboard and what they would have made of being sent to fight a new enemy in some far away place called Fermanagh. Their officers would have told them that it would be over quickly, but it would take eight long years and many thousands of deaths before the rebellion was quelled. From the end of the Nine Year’s War we have Richard Bartlett’s iconic image of the capture of DungannonCastle, but John Thomas recorded the beginnings.
The Thomas illustration of the siege of EnniskillenCastle is a commanding one and intends a message to the reader; it is one of power and triumph over the enemies of the Tudor state. The state is represented by its well-marshalled troops in battle order and its cannon pouring fire upon the traitor’s castle. The Crown commander, Captain John Dowdall, stands openly in the centre of the action directing the siege in the face of his enemy.
In juxtaposition to this, no living Gaelic defenders are shown; the meaning is that they are cowering behind their walls, only poking their muskets out of the gun loops to fire inaccurately on the Crown soldiers. Ominously, the only Gaelic defenders actually depicted are the bearded severed heads shown on stakes in Dowdall’s camp at bottom left. The message is clear; do not rebel, as those who do are put to the sword and their castles taken from them.
C13343-69 © The British Library Board , Cotton Augustus I. ii. 39
Commissioned researcher for the Illustrated Siege Map of Enniskillen by John Thomas c. 1594 is Paul Logue. To find out more about Paul check out our blog:-
To read the full report on the Illustrated Siege Map of Enniskillen by John Thomas c. 1594 by Paul Logue download the pdf below.