Settling Ireland, Scotland and America
The 1500s had seen a series of attempted settlements in Scotland, Ireland and America.
In the 1500s, Spain was the world’s superpower. From Columbus' discovery of the Americas in 1492, the Spanish had colonized areas of South, Central and North America as well as the Carribean, and had grown rich on the profits of gold, silver and precious stones. A series of European wars had broken out, involving the Spanish, Dutch, French and English and, as the Reformation unfolded across Europe, there were religious dimensions to these wars. These countries became more powerful and ambitious. They too began to colonise other parts of the world.
Walter Raleigh's "Lost Colony" of Roanoke, Virginia
In the midst of ongoing wars in Ireland, in 1584, Queen Elizabeth I of England chartered Sir Walter Raleigh to establish the first English colony in the Americas. An expedition set sail and landed on 4th June 1584 at a region known as Roanoke in Virginia (known today as the Outer Banks of North Carolina). Two major settlement attempts were made at Roanoke, but failed. A supply ship from England arrived at Roanoke in 1591 to find the colonists had disappeared without trace. From this Roanoke became known as The Lost Colony.
Ireland Settlements and Plantations
There had been ongoing upsurges of warfare in Ireland for centuries. In an effort to pacify the country, a series of plantations of English settlers were planned.
In 1556 the Plantation of Laois and Offaly was the first major plantation project. The two counties were renamed King’s County and Queen's County, however this plantation was not a great success.
In 1572, Sir Thomas Smith was granted lands in east Ulster, with the aim of planting an English settlement in the Ards. Walter Devereux, the Earl of Essex, arrived in east Ulster in July 1573. After a number of battles and atrocities (including a slaughter on Rathlin Island, which the English adventurer Sir Francis Drake assisted) this settlement was also unsuccessful.
In the 1580s, the Munster Plantation saw the arrival of colonists from England and Wales. The planners hoped that up to 15,000 would arrive, but only an estimated 3000–4000 did. In later wars most of these colonists were dispersed or returned to England. Sir Walter Raleigh was involved in this scheme – he was granted around 40,000 acres and the coastal towns of Youghal (County Cork) and Lismore (County Waterford). However he sold his estates in 1602.
Scottish Settlements and Plantations
King James VI of Scotland followed the settlement or plantation strategy in his own kingdom. He tried to plant a colony of "gentlemen adventurers" from Fife to the Isle of Lewis in 1597, authorising them to use all means necessary to "root out the barbarous inhabitants". They set up a colony on Stornoway which was soon abandoned after an attack by the local MacLeods. He tried the same thing with the Mull of Kintyre and Lochaber in 1598 – but both of the schemes failed. Many of the settlers fled across the water to Ulster.
Was settlement ever going to work?
After their experiences of previous failed settlement/plantation projects, Queen Elizabeth I of England and King James VI of Scotland may have questioned settlement as a means of establishing strategically-important colonies. Even though Sir Walter Raleigh had named Virginia in Queen Elizabeth I's honour, she must surely have had doubts about the likelihood of ever planting a permanent colony there.
However, it would be her successor, King James VI of Scotland, who would make settlement and plantation work – in both Ulster and Virginia. In July 1603, King James became monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland, giving him unprecedented power. And the concept of settlement, which had been such a dismal failure before, was about to make a return.
Ulster was a frontier; Virginia was a frontier. Perhaps with enterprise and commitment, the time was right to try settlements once again? But it would not be the King himself who would risk his own finances to revisit the idea of organised settlement – it would be his old Ayrshire allies James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery.