Soft power and subterfuge
The Nine Years War (1593-1603), also known as Tyrone’s Rebellion, brought death and devastation to every province in Ireland. Yet only recently have scholars focused on this pivotal event in Irish history. Therefore it is unsurprising to find that the role of women in the conflict has received scant attention.
Women were intrinsic indeed indispensable for the operation of military camps, but they also played a major part in both side’s communication and intelligence gathering networks. As in the rest of Europe, women provided domestic, commercial and medical support to both English and Irish armies. So they were exposed to the perils of war.
They lived and died in siege camps, beleaguered garrisons and in combat, however the impact of women on the conduct of the war was much broader than previously thought. They were indispensable elements in intelligence and communication networks, providing information and carrying letters between both allies and belligerents. More than simple couriers, many women acted as official envoys, providing communications between enemies where direct contact could lead to accusations of disloyalty.
The power of women to influence their husbands or male relatives, either for or against the crown was well recognised and utilised by crown and confederate leaders alike, causing defections in both English and Irish camps. Women were not just hapless victims or passive observers during the Nine Years War, but intrinsic to the Irish and English war efforts.