The Flemings and the Conynghams

By Terry Trench

The landownership changes which took place in Slane during sixty or more years following the rebellion of 1641 reflect what was taking place over a major part of Ireland during that period.

It was common practice, and not only in Ireland, for the property of defeated rebels to be confiscated. In Ireland the practice was followed with particular vigour, in support of the policy to replace Catholic rebel landowners, such as the “Old English” as well as the Gaelic aristocrats, with Protestant planters or ‘adventurers’ from England or Scotland, or with soldiers whom the crown was committed thus to reward for their services, the rewards in some cases being of vast dimensions.

Slane was no exception to this general pattern, though the ultimate owners were not planters nor adventurers, but purchasers of the forfeited lands at a later date.

So when the Fleming estates were confiscated, they did not pass immediately into the possession of the Conyngham family. In fact the estates changed hands, at least on paper, passing backwards and forwards, seven times between 1641 and 1703, when Henry Conyngham first purchased a small fraction of them.

Briefly, the Fleming estates were forfeited in 1641, restored in 1663, forfeited again in 1688, granted to General Ginkel in 1692, sold by him to ‘Irish Protestant purchasers’ in 1698, resumed to the crown in 1700, and sold by the trustees of the forfeited estates in 1703.

Richard Le Fleming and his forces had joined with De Lacy and the Normans in the invasion of Ireland in 1169. He had made his way up to Meath, seized the castle on the Hill of Slane and the lands attached to it, and been made baron of Slane. By the year 1640, his decendant William Fleming, 14th baron of Slane, was in possession of large estates in Meath, and smaller estates in Louth, Monaghan, Cavan and Roscommon. His estates in Meath extended, but by no means continuously, from the Boyne at Slane to Drumconrath and Ardagh at the northern extremity of the county, and across the Boyne to the parishes of Fennor and Duleek and as far south as Galtrim and Culmullin.

Whatever their racial origins in Flanders, the Flemings were ranked with the ‘Old English’ in Ireland. Decendants of the original Anglo Norman settlers, usurpers of the land of the native Irish, they steadfastly maintained their loyalty to the crown, while joining forces with the Catholic Irish in rebellion in 1641.

For his part in the rebellion, Slane, along with the other great lords of the Pale, was attainted for high treason and his estates were forfeited and vested in the king. Subsequently, under the Cromwellian Act of Settlement of 1652, the mass of Irish Papists was given a general pardon but this did not apply to Slane. Slane had been a member of a committee of Irish lords who in February 1641 objected to the Irish parliament being treated as if it were subordinate to the parliament of England. In the summer of that year, with Lord Gormanstown and many others in Leinster, he had been involved in an abortive plan to raise an army, at the request of Charles I, to seize Dublin Castle, and to declare for the king against the English parliament.

In October, rebellion having broken out in Ulster and spread widely, Slane, with most of the lords of the pale, had approached the lords justices, and, professing their loyalty to the king, had asked to be provided with arms for their own defence, a request which had met with no meaningful response. As the rebels advanced from the north, the nobility and gentry had feared that an assault by government troops would result in the extirpation of Catholicism and themselves with it, and Slane, with other representatives of the Old English had joined with the Ulster Irish, and had arranged to appoint captains and raise troops, later declaring in a petition to the king their loyalty to him and their reasons for taking up arms in self defence.

So Slane had played a leading part in the rebellion and although he had died before the end of that year, in 1641, he had been outlawed posthumously and his lands declared forfeit. His son, Charles, 15th baron, had carried on fighting and is named as one of the four lords of the pale ( the others were Gormanstown, Trimleston and Netterville ) to be driven out at Trim by Sir Charles Coote in late April 1642. Thus it came about that William, Lord Slane, and his son Charles, for their part in the rebellion, were excepted from pardon by Cromwell. So Slane had played a leading part in the rebellion and although he had died before the end of that year, in 1641, he had been outlawed posthumously and his lands declared forfeit. His son, Charles, 15th baron, had carried on fighting and is named as one of the four lords of the pale ( the others were Gormanstown, Trimleston and Netterville ) to be driven out at Trim by Sir Charles Coote in late April 1642. Thus it came about that William, Lord Slane, and his son Charles, for their part in the rebellion, were excepted from pardon by Cromwell. Charles entered the service of Louis XIV with 10,000 men and lost his life in that service in Italy in 1661.

Charles’s brother, Randall, 16th baron, was restored to his estates, as were many other peers and large landowners, under the Act of Settlement and Distribution of Charles II’s reign, namely by decree dated 27th March 1663. Randall is to be remembered for the beautifully inscribed tomb which he erected in St. Erc’s Hermitage in the grounds of Slane Castle and on which he commemorates his two wives, Ellenor, daughter of Sir Richard Barnewall of Crickstown, and Penelope, daughter of Henry Moore, earl of Drogheda. Penelope was the mother of Christopher, 17th baron of Slane, who was seven years old when his father died in 1676.

Penelope’s mother, Alice, Countess Dowager of Drogheda, was Christopher’s guardian during his minority. In a petition which she presented to the king on his behalf, she declared ‘that his father Randall, late lord baron of Slane, was declared an innocent Papistand was restored to all the lands whereof he or his ancestors were seized on or before 23 October 1641, by decree dated 30 April 1663 … and prayed that as it appears by the said decree his father had always demeaned himself a loyal dutiful subject and faithful to the crown, his Majesty would, in consideration thereof and for the further preserving a family whose ancestors were always faithful subjects, be pleased to direct a patent to pass of all the lands so declared to his father’. whereof he or his ancestors were seized on or before 23 October 1641, by decree dated 30 April 1663 … and prayed that as it appears by the said decree his father had always demeaned himself a loyal dutiful subject and faithful to the crown, his Majesty would, in consideration thereof and for the further preserving a family whose ancestors were always faithful subjects, be pleased to direct a patent to pass of all the lands so declared to his father’. whereof he or his ancestors were seized on or before 23 October 1641, by decree dated 30 April 1663 … and prayed that as it appears by the said decree his father had always demeaned himself a loyal dutiful subject and faithful to the crown, his Majesty would, in consideration thereof and for the further preserving a family whose ancestors were always faithful subjects, be pleased to direct a patent to pass of all the lands so declared to his father'.

In this petition the lands are listed townland by townland to a total of 12,635 Irish acres, namely 11,228 acres in Meath, 205 acres in Louth, 1,002 in Cavan and 200 in Monaghan. These figures were evidently agreed when the lands were confirmed to Christopher by patent pf 20 March 1682.

In 1688 everything was forfeited again. Bereft of his lands, Christopher continued to support the Jacobite cause. He sat in James II’s parliament in 1689 and fought at the Boyne. Along with many of the Jacobite aristocracy, including Lord Bellew of Duleek ( who died of wounds ) he was taken prisioner at Aughrim. He was attainted on 16 April 1691 and followed James to France. By an act of parliament of 1708 he was restored to his peerage, but not to his estates, which had finally been disposed of by the trustees of the forfeited estates and interests in Ireland. Christopher died without male issue in 1726, and his only daughter died unmarried. So ended this Fleming line.

Out of the Irish estates forfeited in 1688, enormous grants of land were made to a number of foreigners who had contributed to the success of William of Orange. Amongst the major grantees was the Dutch general, Goddard, baron de Ginkel, who commanded the Williamite forces and who was created earl of Athlone. He was granted 26.480 acres of which 12,931 comprised the estates of Christopher Fleming, late baron of Slane.

This grant, made in 1693, was confirmed by an act of the Irish parliament in 1695, and was the only grant to be confirmed in this way. Nevertheless, it was set aside by the Act of Resumption five years later, by which the English parliament resumed all but a small fraction of the Irish forfeitures and vested them in trustees. Meanwhile, however, in June 1698 Ginkel had already disposed of the land, breaking the great estate for the first time and selling small parcels to seventeen persons for a total sum of £17,684.12s.9d. The Act of Resumption rendered these sales invalid and the lands were put up for sale on 3 April 1703 by auction to the best bidder; but there was little or no competition and they were in fact sold back to the seventeen who had purchased them from Ginkel.

The total of profitable acres forfeited in Co.Meath and sold by the trustees was 92,452, the largest acreage forfeited in any county but Cork, and Lord Slane lost more in Meath than anyone but the late King James and more in Cavan than any other owner.

It is in connection with the sales of the forfeited estates in 1703 that the name of Conyngham first appears with reference to Slane. Like most of the purchasers of these estates, the Conynghams were already established in Ireland before the forfeitures of 1688. They have been in Donegal since the reign of James I, when Alexander Conyngham arrived from Scotland. He was in 1611 the first Protestant minister to Enver and Killymardin the diocese of Raphoe, and he was appointed dean of Raphoe in 1631. He settled at Mount Charles, which estate he leased from John Murray, earl of Annandale, the owner of ‘a vast estate’ in Scotland. Conyngham subsequently acquired the Mount Charles property through his marriage to the earl’s grand-neice, Marian, daughter of John Murray of Broughton, in Scotland. By her he had twenty seven children, the second being Sir Albert Conyngham, Kt.

Sir Albert’s son, Henry, was the first of the family to acquire property in Meath, namely in the baronies of Slane, Upper and Lower. On 10th April 1703 Brigadier Henry Conyngham purchased 806 profitable acres in the townlands of Rochestown ( 220 acres ) Roestown ( 128 acres, with the tucking mill and the corn mill thereon ) Stackallan ( 198 acres ), Abelstown ( 113 acres ), Barnwelltown ( 40 acres ), Corballis ( 107 acres ) and all other lands in the tenure of John Blackley as tenant to said trustees. For these 806 acres Conyngham paid £1766 and a rent of £160. This lot came out of the estate of James II, the previous proprietors having been Richard Fleming, James Fleming, Robert Barnewall and Richard Barnewall.

This sale was registered on 18 June 1703. Five days later a further sale to Conyngham was registered, of 1,422 acres for £4,637.19s.3d. and a rent of £23.18s. 7½d. This lot was from ‘the estates of Lord Slane and the late King James’. This is a case where the estates of Lord Slane and the late King James are so intermixed that they are not readily differentiated, but I give the acreage purchased by Conyngham as follows: The manor, capital messuage ( i.e. the dwelling occupied by the proprietor ) and castle of Slane, The town and lands of Slane and Slane Hill, 991 Irish acres, Harlinstown 215, Mullaghdillon 180, Cashel 36, total 1422. This figure, added to the 10,032 acres of the other sixteen purchasers, approximately makes up the total of the very large acreage of Slane’s estates sold in Meath

In respect of Conyngham’s purchase of 806 acres for the net sum of £1,776, it is recorded that he paid one-third previous to the execution of the conveyance and obtained the usual credit for the remainder, but that he only paid a further £600.15s.9 ½d, leaving a balance of £577.16s.10 ¾d which ‘does not appear to have been ever paid in order to complete the said purchase’. Similarly, in respect of the purchase of 1,422 acres for the net sum of £4,637.19s.3d., it is recorded that Conyngham paid £1,545.19s 0 ½d. And later another one-third, leaving a sum which ‘appears to remain unpaid’.

Whatever he paid, brig. Conyngham had by his two purchases acquired 2,228 profitable Irish acres or 3,609 statute acres, just over half of what became the total Conyngham holding in Meath by the 1870s. The Meath lands are detailed in an enormously complicated settlement executed by Conyngham on 21 August 1704 for the benifitof his wife, Mary, lady shelburn, and their three sons and thre3e daughters. Mary was the daughter. Mary was the daughter of Sir John Williams, bart., of Minster, kent. (Minister gives the Marquis Conyngham his title of Baron Minster in the U.K. peerage, whence his seat in the House of Lords).

Of his sons, Albert is named as the eldest in the settlement and he is recorded as having died young. The second son, called Williams after his mother, Died without issue surviving. The third son, Henry, created Baron Conyngham in 1753, Died without issue. Of the Brigadier’s eldest daughter, Susanna, we know only the date of her baptism, and the second daughter, Margaret, only that she Died young. That left the third daughter, Mary, as heiress. She married Francis Burton, and t5hier son succeeded to his uncle’s title and estates, and to his name, and from his descends the presents Conynghwm line.

NOTE The above is extracted from a lengthier and more detailed article by the present writer which appeared under the title of ‘Fleming and Conyngham of Slane’ in Ríocht na Midhe, vol. VII, no.2, 1982-83, with precise details of the sources for the information given therein.