Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Discovery and Recovery of Ireland with the Author's Apology (Author: Thomas Lee)

Preamble by John McGurk

A brief biography of Thomas Lee may be found in my entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online. This tract was composed about the end of the year 1599 or early in 1600. It is addressed to the English Privy Council rather than individually to Sir Robert Cecil or any other specific privy councillor. Though the appended Epistle is likely addressed to Cecil as is the dedication. This substantial treatise appears to have been written during Lee's imprisonment in Dublin Castle; internal evidence attests to the fact that it was written around April 1599 for it mentions Sir Richard Bingham, and Sir Henry Bagenal who was killed at the Yellow Ford on 14th August 1598. Although the author's name, at the end of the introductory letter and indeed on the last page, have been indelibly blotted out; nevertheless from internal and external evidence there is no doubt that this tract is the work of Captain Thomas Lee. The format and style of the manuscript here conform to Lee's other writings; his 'A Brief Declaration of the Government of Ireland Opining many Corruptions in the same. Discovering the Discontentments of the Irishry and the causes moving those expected Troubles, and showing meanes how to establish Quietness in that Kingdom honourably to your Majesty's profit without any encrease of Charge' (1594) (the full title) exists in many manuscript copies notably B.L. Add. MSS. 34313(2); N.L.I. MS. 1750 and the Folger Shakespeare Library MS. Add. 586 no. 3 was published by John Lodge in Desiderata Curiosa Hibernica (Dublin, 1772, vol.1 pp.87-150). His second major work: 'Informacion given to Queen Elizabeth against Sir William Fitzwilliam's; his government in Ireland' (recently affirmed to be Lee's work by Dr. Hiram Morgan) is in B.L. Harleian MS. 35, ff.258-265 and gives a detailed account of Fitzwilliam's corruption and sets out a possible peace solution to the 1590s crisis in Ulster. There is much repetition of ideas and allegations from the 'Information given ...' in his third extended writing, 'The Discoverye and Recoverye of Ireland with the author's Apology' hereafter transcribed. These three major tracts left by Lee give extraordinary insights into the shady life of an Elizabethan military captain living in the shadows as a double-agent on the edges of loyalty and treason. The present tract evinces a more than normal grasp of what was happening on both sides during the Nine Years War. As a participating military captain Lee, of acute intelligence and percipient observation of men and manners, was well placed to comment on the war right from its outbreak until the Essex debacle in 1601. But, because of his friendship with Hugh O'Neill, he was used by the latter and exploited by the state to act as a negotiator on account of his court contacts and likely bilingualism. Despite all his astuteness the inherent dangers of a double role cast an air of suspicion on his motives and often landed him in prison and finally to his execution as a traitor.

The first part of the tract 'the Discoverye' gives much information on traitors which he divides into 'open' and 'secret' together with a series of complaints against the authorities in the Dublin administration echoing his allegations against Sir William Fitzwilliam's government as lord deputy, but here levelled at the Earl of Ormond whom he claimed never did the Queen any good service and that it was only when she kept him in England that Ireland was quiet. The second part 'the Recoverye' suggests remedies for the state of Ireland; his prescription reads: ‘the best meanes to recover that crazed kingedome and repayre the sicklie state thereof’ (f. 52). Some of his practical suggestions for the recovery of Ireland were anticipatory of later Jacobean arrangements such as the advocacy of a free but Protestant school in every shire, the removal of bishops out of the civil administration, and that the income from recusancy fines should be used to pay the hospital bills of sick and wounded soldiers. As well as a genuine concern for the fate of the soldiery he held strong views on financial probity and military efficiency in the recruitment, clothing, and victualling of troops in Ireland. More controversially he recommended that none should carry arms on pain of death unless they spoke English and attended the established church services. The third and final part, his 'Apology', is virtually his autobiography, and, as such, is unfinished business. His portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts, the younger, purchased by the Tate Gallery, London in 1980 was likely painted in the winter of 1594 on his visit to England. It has been so often reproduced and studied by art and political historians that the lineaments of Captain Thomas Lee are among the best known of the late Elizabethan military captains operating in Ireland during the Nine Years War.

Note by Hiram Morgan: ‘The name of the Author was obliterated when I purchased this book which I believe belonged to Sir John Oglander.’ This British Library manuscript had a curious nineteenth-century owner who annotated it in an attempt to determine its authorship. Drawing on near-contemporary sources such as Fynes Moryson and William Camden, he came to conclusion that the author was probably Thomas Lee but was not entirely sure. Besides comments in the margins and underlinings in the text, he also jotted down extensive notes on pages inserted at the beginning of the Discoverye and again at the beginning and end of the Apologye. As a result of these page insertions, he decided to repaginate the whole text in a single enumeration. Since these notes and insertions are not contemporary and add little to the comprehension of the document, we have omitted them from our edition. We have also returned to the original pagination with separate enumerations for the Discoverye and Recoverye and then for the Apologye.