Sir Arthur Chichester

As Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir Arthur Chichester oversaw the plantation of Ulster

Arthur Chichester was born into minor gentry, in Raleigh, near the Devon town of Barnstaple, in 1563. Although he matriculated at Exeter College, Oxford, he did not complete his degree and seems to have preferred military life. He took part in the operations leading to the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and following a period of disfavour spent in Irish exile, he commanded 500 troops in Drake’s last expedition. Chichester was with the Earl of Essex’s forces in Spain in 1596, then fought in France and the Low Countries.

In 1597, after the death of his brother John Chichester, the governor of Carrickfergus castle, Arthur arrived in Ireland at the head of a contingent of Essex’s troops and was in his turn installed at Carrickfergus. His ‘scorched earth’ suppression of the guerrilla revolts of the native Irish was brutally pragmatic. However, he resisted attempts at outright expropriation of the native population, as well as arguing, in vain, against the planting of expropriated lands with Scottish settlers.

By 1601, Arthur Chichester’s military and administrative successes brought him wealth and social position at a time when he was virtually bankrupt. He was awarded both the patent to the castle at Belfast in 1603 and lands in Antrim and Donegal and when offered the Lord Deputyship of Ireland in 1604, he accepted grudgingly the following year. Finally, ennobled as Lord Belfast in 1613, Chichester was able to build Joymount, a palatial residence at Carrickfergus and to renovate and extend the castle at Belfast.

Chichester was removed from the Lord Deputy position in 1615, but he did not withdraw from military or political affairs. He was ambassador to the Habsburg empire in 1622, as Europe descended into the Thirty Years’ war and was made Privy Councillor in the same year. At the heart of the English establishment, he was a member of the council overseeing the war against Spain in 1624. Chichester died in February 1625 and is buried in an imposing tomb in St Nicholas’ church in Carrickfergus.

Further reading:
Belfast: An Illustrated History (1982) by J Bardon; A Dictionary of Irish Biography (1998) by H Boylan; Sir Arthur Chichester: Lord Deputy of Ireland 1605-16 (1998) by J McCavitt; The Oxford Companion to Irish History (2002) by SJ Connolly.