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Richard Peard – Adventurer or Gentleman?

Dean, Frank; On the Irish Coast; Leeds Museums and Galleries;

Just who was Richard Peard of 1600s Cork?

I have a decades long fascination for the British plantations in Ireland. I’ve read everything I could find about them – which actually isn’t much. Popularised accounts tend to be polarised or romanticised and I don’t have easy access to scholarly databases. I’d hoped to specialise in this region/area when I went to uni, but Australian universities have Australian history as a primary focus (of course) and no guest lecturer presented with early modern Ireland as their special subject.

Which means – I’m not a scholar in this field and this is simply a genealogist’s look at a historically dense, culturally rich, deeply empassioned decade that meant different things to just about everyone who was present – or not present.

That said, after a few decades I’ve gleaned a few details to help me track my British ancestors in Ireland.

Thomas Luny-A Frigate of the Royal Navy leaving Cork Harbour.jpg

I came back to Peard research quite by chance and realised my first ever trial blog post was regarding the Peard family, so it seems fitting to return to them for my first post directly from the new website. This is an update on the Peards as I understand them.

The oral tradition regarding Richard Peard

Here’s the family story:

Richard Peard was born around 1598 in Barnstaple, Devonshire into the family of the Barnstaple mayor. He married Richorde Cole and became the parent to two sons, Richard and Henry. He travelled to Ireland in Cromwell’s army and was given land at Castlelyons in return for his services for England. He is buried in some state there while his sons went on to found a dynasty and build the family mansion of Coole Abbey.

Here’s how the family story became established:

Back in the 1970s one Peard descendant was greatly inspired by the Peard story. She paid a professional researcher in Ireland who put together a tree going right back to that Cromwellian soldier Richard Peard. She later made her own visit to Ireland where she photographed the ancestral mansion and viewed various parish records. She wrote to all the Peards in the phone book and offered a photocopy of the tree in return for genealogical information regarding their branch of the family.

I have no intention of denigrating the efforts of that researcher. She achieved a great deal and through her enthusiasm she gave the whole Peard diaspora in Australia a renewed pride in their lineage. But along with good was some not so good. The researcher endorsed a system of ‘I’ll give you a detail if you give me one’ . She requested that other researchers delete their online comments and communicate with her by private message only. In effect – maybe without meaning to – she prevented any collaboration at all. And because the research was kept offline there was no peer review, and no way to know what sources had been examined.

I’m not sure if she is still alive and I have no idea what became of her collected data.

The present day

Modern Peard researchers have challenged this oral history with the help of newly digitized records and DNA. Others have blogged about this and shared their findings. This is my summary.

Where did Richard Peard come from?

A view of Castletownshend, Cork.

Richard Peard’s tomb exists in Ireland in the cemetery of Kill-St-Anne in Coole, Cork. I’m very grateful to Niall C.E.J. O’Brien for writing about the tomb and its wording (1). His version of the family story has three sons to the original Richard, namely Richard, Henry and William.

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien reports the tomb giving Richard’s native place as Upcott in Welcombe, Devonshire. On this tomb, the original Richard is recorded as ‘Ensign Richard Peard‘. Richard’s death date is given – 28th Feb 1683 – and some other Peards are referenced including ‘Richard Peard of Coole, gent, eldest son’ .

Another researcher (Staigfamily) has uploaded a research document to their website regarding Richard Peard (2). He/she questions Richard’s connection to the Barnstaple family citing the wording on the tomb. He/she also notes a coat of arms on the tomb being the same as that of the Peards of Devon and further refers to probate records for a family of Peard in Welcombe at the right time to be our Richard’s.

Looking through the records, Burke’s Peerage says that Richard Peard “is stated to be a younger branch of the Peards of Devonshire”. Burke also says that Richard Peard married a Miss Cole, daughter of Richard Cole Esquire.

Burke was careful to remove himself from those assertions. “Stated to be” rather than “Is”. This is what the family said. It may or may not be true.

The Barnstaple Peards were powerful. Barnstaple was a hub of international trade in the 1600s and the Peards were goldsmiths and merchants. They were educated and political. Burke could have stirred up a lot of trouble even a century or two later if he stated a relationship that didn’t actually exist, especially when the family in question were so well connected.

There’s also no certainly about “Miss Cole”. The original paid researcher located a marriage between a Richard Peard and Richorde Cole in West Downs in 1636. That could be them. There’s also a marriage in 1608 between a Richard Peard and Christiana Cole in Bristol. That’s a bit early, but without birth details for Richard we once again can’t be sure.

I also note that the surname ‘Coole’ can be found in Welcombe, Devon. Did our Ensign Richard Peard marry a “Miss Coole” and is this where the mansion got its name? I’m aware ‘Coole’ was already a location name in other parts of Ireland, but the mansion could still have been named for a person.

I further note that the surname ‘Coole’ is deemed by surname websites to be an Irish name in the first place. It’s possible that Ensign Richard met and married his wife in Ireland. That could be true whether she was Coole or Cole.

First conclusion:

It seems to me that Richard Peard died exactly when we were told he did, and that he really did come from Devonshire. Maybe not from Barnstaple, but from Devonshire. I think we can also accept that he had an eldest son named Richard which implies the existence of younger sons, otherwise they’d put ‘son’ or ‘only son’. So we do have something to work from here.

Was Ensign Richard a soldier?

It’s natural to start out in the army as an Ensign, but there are commissions to be bought and rewards for time served. Yet our Ensign Richard stayed at the bottom.

To explain my thoughts on this I need to summarise six hundred years in Ireland. Trust me, it’s relevant to the study of Richard Peard.

Propaganda or news? Published after the 1641 rebellion

Ireland has been contested ground for centuries. It wasn’t just England vs Ireland or Scandinavia vs Ireland. It was the ideal meeting ground for England vs Scotland, for France vs England, for Catholic England vs Protestant England. Ireland was geographically strategic. A lot of wars took place in Ireland that had little to do with the Irish people.

That helped nobody.

It was simpler for England to claim Ireland by colonising the place. As it were, to plant British cuckoos in the nest of Ireland. This is where the younger sons and the disenfranchised religious groups come in. Go to Ireland and establish an estate and it’s yours.

It was a feudal system at heart. Wealthy ambitious men received grants of land and took tenants of their own. By doing the hard work, the tenants could then receive their own reward. It might be a long lease, it might be land of their own. It might just be the protection of their sponsor against the displaced Irish rabble. The rewards trickled down from the highest rung of the hierarchy to the lowest.

England began plantations in Ireland in the time of Henry II, right back in the 12th century. Those inhabitants transformed into Irishmen and ceased to be loyal to England.

This happened again and again and again across the next few hundred years.

A major plantation was started in 1589 and that was the beginning of the famous trouble.

I used to think of plantations as a coherent crowd of settlers moving into a town and planting crops. Like you see in American westerns where the townspeople live safely in a fort, or like we had in Australia with the establishment of Sydney or Hobart Town. Houses going up, streets formed, soldiery patrolling the town borders.

It wasn’t like that at all, especially not in 1589. The designated leaders were given their powers and their prime land, and a list was compiled of all the land of the evicted Irish folk. When families arrived in Ireland – by boat – they were allocated their land and they went there. They moved into the Irish cottages and fenced and built their own and cleared fields and worked very very hard. But their neighbours weren’t other new settlers – their neighbours were the Irish rebels who hadn’t yet been evicted.

Those poor settlers moved into very hostile land without any protection at all. They couldn’t even set foot out of their gates to go visit their friends. They were trapped.

The 1589 plantation was a failure.

Another British monarch and another few decades later came the Ulster Plantation of 1610. That one was better managed. The Irish Lords were ousted. Britain gained its foothold.

The Irish Lords gathered strength in the lands that were still their own. It took a couple of decades.

And so we come to the Great Rebellion of 1641 when the Irish people fought back. They manged to reclaim a lot of territory. Not all – but a lot.

Reports filtering into England were terrifying. Complete annihilation of the British, hundreds of thousands slain, unspeakable atrocities. Today, historians think at least 4,000 British settlers were killed. There were atrocities committed on both sides. Like any war, there were acts of violence and acts of mercy.

Fighting continued for years.

Peacetime writeups rarely portray the true situation. It wasn’t a single finite piece of fighting that died away. There was one mammoth wave of destruction, and in its wake was sheer anarchy. Pillaging and burning and murdering went on for years. The strong Irish troops were getting even stronger and continuing to attack the British controlled cities.

The British survivors were stuck, especially the tenants. Suppose they went back to the safety of England?

They couldn’t. It was those British landlords who had sent them over in the first place. The British landlords were given this land by their king or queen, and their way of making it safe was to send their own labourers.

To return now meant facing the anger of those British landlords. It would be a considered a betrayal. Their landlord would deny them access, turn them away. They’d be homeless and considered faithless by all around.

They had to stay even if the Irish killed them, and wait for British troops to come and make everything sane again.

That’s where Cromwell enters the scene. He came over in 1649 to sort the whole mess out.

Oliver Cromwell

According to the family story, Richard Peard arrived with Cromwell.

That part of the story is definitely false. Richard Peard was already in Ireland before 1641. We know because he made the following deposition:

Richard Peard late of the Town & parish of Coole within the County of Cork husbandman (a British protestant) … saith that on or about the 6th of April last & since the beginning of this present rebellion in Ireland he lost was robbed and forceable despoiled of his goods & chattels .. worth 288 pound 10s. Of Cows heifers horses & swine at Coole aforesaid to the value of three score pounds ten shillings. Of household stuff one fowling piece & a rapier to the value of eight pounds. Of Corn in the haggard to the value of Twenty pounds.

The deponent saith that by means of this present rebellion in Ireland he is dispossessed of the several farms .. the lands of Ballyrice wherein he has a lease of eighteen years to come worth yearly above the Landlords rent eight pounds per annum having payed forty pounds for the same his interest in the said lease he values to be worth four score pounds. Of another lease of the lands of Ballynelly in the said County worth yearly to this deponent ten pounds for seven years yet to come which lease he values to be worth twenty pounds Of another farm in Coole wherin he has a lease of fifteen years to come worth above the landlords rent eighteen pounds per annum which lease he values to be worth before the beginning of this rebellion the sum of one hundred pounds.

The total of his losses amounts to two hundred four score & eight pounds ten shillings. The deponent saith that Richard Condon of Ballymacpatrick and Richard Condon of Ballydurgen in the said County gentlemen took away this deponents said Cattle & household goods & further he deposeth not.

1641 Deposition for Richard Peard (3)

I love the 1641 depositions. They were statements made by British residents in Ireland declaring what damages they’d suffered in the 1641 rebellion. It actually took several years for the depositions to be taken so despite their name, it might have been as late as 1655 before their losses were actually recorded.

They are a fantastic source of information about life in the plantations of Ireland. But there’s a good chance people fluffed up their holdings and their revenue in the hope of good compensation.

It looks from this deposition as if Richard Peard was a middleman. That is, he rented land from someone and rented it on to a tenant at a higher price. ‘Worth above the Landlord’s rent’ refers to the profit he received for renting it on. He effectively acted like a rental agent today.

As well as this, he had cows and swine and horses. Richard Peard was farming.

This doesn’t mean he wasn’t a soldier. He got the rank of Ensign from somewhere. But I’m not sure soldiery was his career.

The 1649ers

When Cromwell came to Ireland in 1649 he was in a weak position.

He had to do it, given all his political manoeuvring in England. He had to take Ireland back or at least make a good showing, but would he have negotiated if he really expected to win?

He issued a promise to the Irish soldiers. If you side with me, you’ll be rewarded with land.

This is how it’s recorded in history. I presume the promise was actually to the officers, not to all the soldier rabble, on the understanding that the common soldiers would follow their officer into whatever the officer chose.

The soldiers (officers) who changed their allegiance and joined Cromwell were hereafter known as the 1649ers.

After a few decades it became a badge of honour. Cromwell held to his side of the bargain and by 1652 those officers were indeed granted land reclaimed from the Irish losers. Some of their families became influential businessmen. In the modern world they’d be considered turncoats, but nobody seems to have thought of it that way in these days. They were honourable soldiers.

Some people think Richard Peard was a 1649er. It’s certainly possible.

But .. another practise at the time was the selling of entitlements. This meant that a soldier who was entitled to a reward for services could sell his soldier identity to a non-soldier.

This didn’t mean just selling his reward – he had to sell the rank with it, his uniform and sword – whatever he had that showed his position in the regiment. They didn’t keep records of individual soldiers, just the number of each rank per troop. So as long as the numbers and ranks matched nobody official would know if the Ensign’s surname was Smith or Jones. And if Ensign Smith sold his entitlement to Farmer Jones, Farmer Jones became Ensign Jones who just happened to have a farm.

I’ve found a fascinating article from 1847 about the 1649ers.

Fisheries in the Co. Cork, by Hibernicus, p.251, ‘Gentleman’s Magazine, Or Monthly Intelligencer’ (1847)

Did our Ensign Richard Peard buy his military rank to obtain land and riches? It’s very possible.

I’ll just add another snip from the same article. When he says ‘Some persons thus designated’ he means persons described in the 1641 depositions as ‘gentlemen’.

The author might be being unfair. It might be that a rewrite was made if the original was messy and the mark is placed because the deponent wasn’t present at this time. But each one was supposed to be an affidavit, accurate at the time of making, so it’s likely true that if a man made his mark, he was illiterate.

That said, Richard Peard’s mark was a perfectly formed letter R. A mark carefully taught to an otherwise illiterate man? Maybe.

All the same, it’s a healthy note of scepticism in a rarely questioned story.

Richard Peard of Coole Abbey, gentleman and eldest son of the Ensign, had every reason to encourage the story of respectable ancestry and venerable forebears. He was the proud possessor of an estate, and he was keeping company with men of good name and solid fortune. They looked after that property with great care and they held onto it practically forever. It took World War II to wrest it away from the family.

That said, they made some very advantageous marriages along the way.

Gentleman Richard is my 8th great grandfather. I’m glad he made enough of a splash to get into Burke’s peerage, but I also am not convinced that he descends directly from the Barnstaple goldsmith Peards. Perhaps they’re the same family a couple of generations back.

I’ll just have to see what records show up next.

Coole Abbey built 1765 by Ensign Richard’s great great grandson Henry Peard at the time of his marriage to Mary Gumbleton, on the Peard family land at Coole. (5)

(1) Niall C.E.J. O’Brien


(3) 1641 Depositions, Dublin University

(4) Fisheries in the Co. Cork, by Hibernicus, p.251, ‘Gentleman’s Magazine, Or Monthly Intelligencer’ (1847)

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