05 January 2019

Why are the brothers
William and Thomas Dongan
the forgotten Earls of Limerick?

The site of Dungan’s Castle in Dalkey … once a family home of earlier Earls of Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The presence of the Earls of Limerick continues on the streets of Limerick long after the Pery family has moved on to new homes in England. The names of streets and squares recall their role in developing Newtown Pery as an elegant new area in Limerick, including Pery Square and Pery Street, Mallow Street, Glentworth Street, Henry Street, Hartstonge Street. Why, even the pew once reserved for the Earls of Limerick still survives at the west end of Saint Mary’s Cathedral.

The title of Earl of Limerick was created for the Pery family in 1803 when Edmund Henry Pery (1758-1844), who had already inherited the title of Baron Glentworth, made Earl of Limerick.

The title survives, and the present holder is the seventh earl. But, as I walked around the streets of Dalkey earlier this week, on New Year’s Day, and searched for the sites of the seven mediaeval castles of Dalkey, I was surprised to realise that over a century earlier the title Earl of Limerick was once held by the Dongan or Dungan family, who had a family home in Dungan’s Castle, on the corner of Castle Street and Hyde Road, in Dalkey, and also owned Archbold’s Castle on Castle Street, Dalkey, in the 16th and 17th centuries.

John Dungan, second remembrancer of the exchequer, held Archbold’s Castle in Dalkey in 1585. After the Cromwellian confiscations, the castle was leased to James Kennan. The Dungan family recovered Archbold’s Castle at the Caroline Restoration, only to lose once again at the Williamite confiscations.

Archbold’s Castle is still standing but is not open to the public (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

By the early 17th century, the Dongan family also owned Castletown, near Celbridge, Co Kildare, with an estate of about 21,000 acres.

The Dungan Baronetcy, of Castletown in the County of Kildare, was created in the Baronetage of Ireland in 1623 for Sir Walter Dungan or Dongan. Walter and his wife, Jane (Rochfort) were the parents of eight sons and five daughters, and he died on 21 December 1626, the title passed to his eldest son, Sir John Dongan, second baronet, who was MP for Newcastle, Co Kildare.

This Sir John Dongan married Mary Talbot of Carton, sister of Peter Talbot, Archbishop of Dublin, and Richard Talbot, the Jacobite Duke of Tyrconnell. They were the parents of five sons – William, Walter, Robert, Michael and Thomas – and three daughters, Alice, Margaret and Bridget.

When Sir John died in 1650, the title of baronet passed to his eldest son, Sir Walter Dongan, as third baronet. He died in 1686, and the title passed to his brother Sir William Dongan, 4th Baronet. That year, Sir William Dongan also became the first person to receive the title of Earl of Limerick, along with the Viscount Dungan of Clane, Co Kildare, in the Peerage of Ireland.

The coat-of-arms of William Dongan and Thomas Dongan as Earls of Limerick

At the time, peerage titles normally descended in the direct male line, from father to son. William’s son, Walter Dongan, was the obvious heir, and as heir he used the courtesy title of Lord Dungan. But the grant of titles specified that if William’s male line of descent died out, the titles should pass to his brothers Robert, Michael and Thomas, and ‘the heirs male of their bodies.’

It was an unusual concession for any peerage titles, and perhaps was designed by James II to ensure that the peerage titles would pass to any later baronets, and that they would, perhaps, eventually honour William’s youngest brother, Thomas Dongan (1634-1715), then Governor of New York (1683-1688).

William Dongan, 1st Earl of Limerick, and his son Colonel Walter Dongan, Lord Dungan, fought at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Walter was killed in battle, and his body was carried from the battlefield to the family mansion at Castletown and then buried in the parish church in Celbridge.

When William Dongan died in 1698, an inquisition found that he owned two castles, six messuages and gardens, seven acres of arable land together with meadow and pasture, totalling 74 acres, in Dalkey.

it might have been expected that his titles would die out because of his active Jacobite sympathies. But the government was deeply indebted to his brother Thomas Dongan for his work in New York and the colonies in North America. And so it was that Thomas Dongan, by then living in relative poverty, was allowed to succeed as the 2nd Earl of Limerick in 1698.

Thomas Dongan (1634-1715), 2nd Earl of Limerick, was Governor of the Province of New York

Thomas Dongan (1634-1715), 2nd Earl of Limerick, was a member of the Irish Parliament, a Royalist officer during the English Civil War, and Governor of the Province of New York. He is still remembered for having called the first representative legislature in New York, and for granting New York its first Charter of Liberties.

Thomas was born in 1634, the youngest son of Sir John Dongan MP and his wife Mary Talbot. After the execution of King Charles I in 1649, he went into exile in France, and later became a colonel in the French army in 1674.

When the Treaty of Nijmegen brought an end to the French-Dutch War in 1678, Dongan returned to England. The king’s brother, James, Duke of York, later King James II, arranged for him to receive an army commission and income. That year Thomas Dongan was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Tangiers, which had been granted to England as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza, and he was part of the Tangier Garrison that defended the settlement.

In September 1682, the Duke of York, as Lord Proprietor of the Province of New York, appointed Dongan as provincial governor (1683-1688) to replace Edmund Andros and granted him an estate on Staten Island. The estate eventually became the town of Castleton. Later, another section of the island was named Dongan Hills in his honour.

Thomas Dongan addresses the first-ever representative assembly in New York in 1683

At the time of his appointment, New York was bankrupt and in a state of rebellion. On 14 October 1683, Dongan convened the first-ever representative assembly in New York at Fort James – like New York, Fort James was named after Dongan’s patron, the Duke of York, later James II.

The New York General Assembly passed an act entitled ‘A Charter of Liberties.’ It decreed that the supreme legislative power under the Duke of York shall reside in a governor, council, and the people convened in general assembly. It conferred on the members of the assembly rights and privileges making them a body coequal to and independent of the British Parliament. It established town, county, and general courts of justice. It solemnly proclaimed the right of religious liberty. And it passed acts guaranteeing many liberties, including taxes being levied only by the people met in general assembly, the right of suffrage, and the prohibition of martial law or quartering soldiers without the consent of the inhabitants.

As Governor of New York, Dongan granted Albany a municipal charter on 22 July 1686 that was almost identical to the charter granted to New York City. The charter incorporated the city of Albany, establishing a separate municipal entity in the midst of the Van Rensselaer Manor.

Dongan also delineated the boundary lines of New York, settling disputes with Connecticut to the east, French Canada and the Iroquois to the north, and Pennsylvania to the South, marking out the present limits of New York State.

Dongan executed land grants establishing several towns throughout New York State including the eastern Long Island communities of East Hampton and Southampton. These grants, called the Dongan Patents, set up Town Trustees as the governing bodies with a mission of managing common land for common good.

The Dongan Patents still hold force of law and have been upheld by the US Supreme Court, with the Trustees – rather than town boards, city councils or even the State Legislature – still managing much of the common land in the state.

Dongan also established a college in New York City under the direction of three Jesuit priests, Harvey (his own private chaplain), Harrison, and Gage.

But the Assembly of New York was dissolved in 1687 by King James II, who later consolidated the colonial governments of New York, New Jersey and the United Colonies of New England into the Dominion of New England. Edmund Andros, was reappointed Governor-General, and Dongan transferred his office back to Andros on 11 August 1688.

Dongan turned down the offer of the command of a regiment with the rank of major-general, and instead retired to his estate on Staten Island, New York. But he was obliged to flee for safety during a religious persecution in 1689, and he returned to England in 1691.

When William Dongan, Earl of Limerick, died in 1698 without a surviving male son, his titles passed to his only surviving brother, Thomas Dongan, as 2nd Earl of Limerick. Thomas was also granted a portion of his brother’s forfeited estates under the terms of a special Act of Parliament. In 1709, Lord Limerick sold his 2,300-acre property at Celbridge to William Conolly.

Dongan lived in London for the last years of his life and he died poor and childless on 14 December 1715, without any direct male heirs. In his will, dated 1713, he asked to be buried at a cost of no more than £100. He was buried in Old Saint Pancras churchyard in London. He left the rest of his estate to his niece, wife of Colonel Nugent, afterwards Marshal of France.

As I wondered whether the Pery family were ever aware of the earlier Earls of Limerick in the Dongan family, I realised I too had overlooked the role of Thomas Dongan, 2nd Earl of Limerick, as Lieutenant-Governor of Tangier in 1678. When I visited Tangier two months ago, I had noted that three Irish men had been Governors of Tangier: Colonel Sir John FitzGerald from Co Limerick (1664-1665); William O’Brien, 2nd Earl of Inchiquin (1675-1680); and Thomas Butler, Earl of Ossory (1680). Lord Inchiquin was Governor of the small English outpost on the Moroccan coast of North Africa when Dongan was sent there as his deputy.

This week, as I walked through Limerick, I wondered whether the Dongans are remembered anywhere in the city as Earls of Limerick. They are not forgotten in Dalkey today. Perhaps they were forgotten in Celbridge until 1995, when a plaque in honour of Thomas Dongan was unveiled at the Tea Lane Graveyard by the then American Ambassador to Ireland, Jean Kennedy-Smith.

By the early 17th century, the Dongan family also owned the Castletown estate near Celbridge, Co Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Stories of division from
an old Cold War frontier

A double-page centre-spread of photographs from Gorizia in the ‘Diocesan Magazine’ this weekend

Patrick Comerford

My monthly features in two diocesan magazines, the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) continue this month [January 2019] with a look at the twin border towns of Gorizia and Gorica, near Venice.

In my first column of the New Year in these magazines, I visit the former ‘Cold War’ frontier between Italy and Slovenia, that was drawn down through one town in 1947, It was a straight line that cut through squares, streets and gardens, ignoring the natural contours of streets and buildings.

The frontier remained in place until Slovenia became part of the Schengen Agreement in 2007.

The feature, with 16 photographs, is two-page spread the Church Review and a six-page spread in the Diocesan Magazine. In addition, the Diocesan Magazine gives a double-page centre-spread of four of my photographs from Gorizia.

The first edition of the Church Review and the Diocesan Magazine for this new year are available in churches tomorrow [6 January 2019]. And there’s more about Gorizia on this blog tomorrow afternoon.

The Elizabethan Dean of
Lichfield and the stories
of his strange life

The Deanery in the Cathedral Close in Lichfield … George Boleyn was Dean of Lichfield in 1576-1603 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Tudor dynastic disputes, secret romances in royal households, hidden heirs and the claims of alleged illegitimate children to family titles and estates are all ingredients for blockbuster romances and television series that become box sets.

These stories include tales of high treason, hurried executions and accusations of inappropriate liaisons. Add in the secret life of Anne Boleyn, plots to dethrone Elizabeth I, stories of young children secretly sent across the sea to secure their safety in Ireland, and we have the storyline for a Tudor drama that is likely to be + 90 per cent fiction and – 10 per cent history.

It becomes farcical when I hear about a barking dog who interrupts a dean’s sermons in Lichfield Cathedral – yet that episode, however comical, is one of the truest elements in a series that mixes farce, fiction and history.

But in some idle moments over Christmas and New Year, I came across an additional ingredient seldom found in popular paperback romances: George Boleyn, who was the Dean of Lichfield from 1576 until he died 1603.

Was this colourful character at the court of Queen Elizabeth really her first cousin? Was he the illegitimate son – or even the legitimate son – of Anne Boleyn’s brother, the tragic George Boleyn, who was executed on accusations of high treason and claims of incest with his sister?

However, another theory states that he could not have been the legitimate son of Henry VIII’s brother-in-law, although there was no record of children. Other sources say it is more likely that he was a distant cousin and relative of Queen Anne Boleyn.

The dean is sometimes said to have been the son of Jane Boleyn, née Parker, who died in 1542, and George Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire. This would introduce the first Irish connection through his supposed grandfather, Thomas Boleyn (1477-1539), and his wife, Lady Margaret Butler (1465-1540), a daughter of Thomas Butler (1426-1515), 7th Earl of Ormond.

Despite these persistent claims, we cannot be sure of the parentage of George Boleyn, who became Dean of Lichfield, and we know very little about his childhood and early life, not even his date or place of birth.

The Dean’s stall in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

George Boleyn was probably born in London around 1526, and he entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in November 1544, at a time when Stephen Gardiner was Master of Trinity Hall and Chancellor of Cambridge University and Henry Comberford, a future Precentor of Lichfield, was Senior Proctor of Cambridge University (1543-1544).

George entered Cambridge as a sizar, or a poor student who paid his way undertaking menial tasks. In other words, he did not come from a privileged family or comfortable circumstances.

Although Cambridge records suggest he was ‘perhaps’ a son of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, this suggestion relies on secondary sources, including the Dictionary of National Biography, which says he ‘was not improbably the son of George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford …, who is usually reported to have left no male issue.’ But we have no primary sources for these claims.

At Cambridge, Boleyn was a pupil of John Whitgift, then Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity and later Archbishop of Canterbury (1583-1604). He graduated BA (1553) and proceeded MA (1559).

The Jerwood Library at Trinity Hall overlooking the Backs and the River Cam in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

He was ordained deacon by Edmund Grindal, Bishop of London, on 21 March 1563, and priest on 11 December 1566. But by then he was holding church offices, and was Prebendary of Ulleskelf in York Minster from 3 August 1560, a post he held until he died.

On 21 December 1566, ten days after being ordained priest by Grindal, Boleyn was made a canon of Canterbury Cathedral, and in the following year he received the degree BD in Cambridge. He returned to Cambridge as the University Preacher 1572.

Serious charges were laid against Boleyn in Canterbury in September 1573, alleging he had threatened the dean, Thomas Godwin (later Bishop of Bath and Wells), that he would nail him to the wall, had struck one of the canons, William Eling, with a blow on the ear, had attempted to strike another canon, Dr Rush, had struck a third canon in the chapter house, and had thrashed a lawyer. Obviously, Boleyn had a fiery temper, and he admitted he habitually swore when he was provoked.

Although he remained a canon of Canterbury for the rest of his life, Boleyn was soon moved from the cathedral precinct. On the nomination of the dean and chapter of Canterbury, he became Rector of Saint Dionis, Backchurch, London, in 1575. At the same time, he became Rector of Kempston in Nottinghamshire for 12 months, from October 1575 to December 1576.

Lichfield Cathedral … George Boleyn was installed as Dean of Lichfield on 22 December 1576 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Boleyn received the degree DD through Trinity College Cambridge in 1576, and later that year he was installed as Dean of Lichfield on 22 December 1576.

As Dean of Lichfield, Boleyn was also the Prebendary of Dasset Parva from 16 November 1577, but he resigned that post on 18 February 1579, and he is not listed for this prebend in Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae. He was also the Prebendary of Brewood, a chapter position that was annexed to the deanery.

Boleyn became involved in a lengthy and serious dispute with John Aylmer, Bishop of London, in 1582. It is recorded that the bishop, ‘being necessitous on his coming into the diocese, laboured all he could to supply himself from his clergy.’ But Boleyn, a man ‘prudent and stout,’ strenuously resisted the bishop’s planned visit. When he appealed the privy council, the Archbishop of Canterbury was appointed to institute a visitation.

Dean Boleyn had a dog named Spring, and on one occasion, when he was in the pulpit, ‘hearing his dogg cry, he out with this text: whie how now hoe, can you not lett the dogg alone there? come Springe, come Spring.’ At another time, as he was delivering a sermon, ‘taking himself with a fault he said there I lyed, there I lyed.’

The stall of the Prebendary of Dassett Parva in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Boleyn resigned the rectory of Saint Dionis, Backchurch, in London, in August 1591, and in 1595, after much opposition, he was appointed Rector of Bangor-on-Dee, or Bangor Monachorum with Overton, near Wrexham in North Wales.

Willis’s Survey of Cathedrals’ says ‘Dean Boleyn was kinsman to Queen Elizabeth, who would have made him Bishop of Worcester, but he refused it.’ In his will he writes: ‘Her majestie gave me all that ever I have and subjectes gave me nothing.’

Boleyn died on 25 January 1603, and was buried in front of the choir in Lichfield Cathedral.

Queen Elizabeth, his supposed cousin (in some fictional accounts), died two months later, on 24 March 1603.

The choir in Lichfield Cathedral ... Dean George Boleyn was buried in front of the choir after his death in 1603 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In his will, Boleyn says he is a kinsman of Lord Hunsdon, who was the grandson of Mary, eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, father of the ill-fated Viscount Rochford.

There are continuing debates on online forums about the dean’s parentage, with many suggestions that he was a son of George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, and his wife and Jane, although there is no record that they ever had any children.

Many of these debates also discuss his father’s sexuality, with contradictory claims that he was gay, that he was ‘a womaniser,’ and that he was a wife-hater, as well as the old allegations at his trial that he had incestuous affair with his sister, Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Queen Elizabeth.

If there had been a legitimate son, he would have been a claimant to the title of Earl of Ormond and Earl of Wiltshire, which Henry VIII had forcibly removed from the Ormond Butlers and the Stafford family and bestowed on the Boleyn family. But there is no record that the Dean of Lichfield ever considered making a claim to these titles.

The debate has been fraught, with unsigned comments by people who claim they are reputable authors, biographers and historians; claims and counterclaims have been removed and restored on pages on Wikipedia.

Many of the suggestions have been speculative. Some contributors concede that George Boleyn of Lichfield may have been an illegitimate son of the executed George Boleyn, but there is no evidence from any primary sources for his parentage.

But the trail also links to Clonony Castle, a mediaeval tower house near Birr, Co Offaly, that briefly belonged once to the Boleyn family. The castle was granted by Henry VIII to Thomas Boleyn, father of the ill-fated Ann and George, and eventually was home of Elizabeth and Mary Boleyn, exiled there after her death.

Claire Ridgway and Clare Cherry, in George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier & Diplomat (2014) suggest that when the elder George Boleyn was executed, that another illegitimate son, Thomas Boleyn, was moved to Clonony Castle for his safety, and that Elizabeth and Mary Boleyn were descended from this illegitimate son.

It has also been suggested that Elizabeth and Mary Boleyn were the granddaughters of George Boleyn, Dean of Lichfield. However, the Dean of Lichfield never once claimed to be the illegitimate son of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, nor did he have any children himself, and he left his savings to be distributed among his servants. His family tree needs more historical research and less fictional speculation and fantasy.

Clonony Castle, near Birr, Co Offaly … claimed as the hiding place and home of two exiled Boleyn sister (Source: Facebook)