CUSTODIS, Hieronymus (fl. 1585-1598). Portrait of Field Marshall Sir William Pelham, Lord Justice of Ireland (D. 1587). ca. 1587.

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CUSTODIS, Hieronymus (fl. 1585-1598). Portrait of Field Marshall Sir William Pelham, Lord Justice of Ireland (D. 1587). ca. 1587.


This elegant portrait of Field Marshall and Lord Justice of Ireland Sir William Pelham is after a painting of the sitter attributed to Cornelius Ketel (Earls of Yarborough). The son of William Pelham (d. 1538), of Laughton in Sussex, and his wife Mary, daughter of Lord William Sandys, the sitter was probably thirty years old when he was appointed captain of the pioneers at the siege of Leith in 1560, where he was specially commanded for his valor. He commanded the pioneers again at Le Havre in November 1562, under the Earl of Warwick, and in February 1563 assisted the cap- ture of Caen.

 Following his return to England, Pelham’s unparalleled knowledge of siege craft resulted in his employment by Portinari and Concio to improve the fortifications at Berwick against potential Franco-Scottish attack. The Privy Council were so impressed with his competency and judgement that he was promoted lieutenant-general of the ordinance and spent the next few years strengthen- ing defenses. In the summer of 1579 Pelham was sent to Ireland to organize the defenses of the Pale against the rebellion of James fitz Maurice Fitzgerald, which threatened to spread from Munster. Knighted by Sir William Drury on September 14th of that year, he was elected Lord Justice of Ireland on Drury’s death on October 3rd, and it was in this capacity that he presided over the English in the well-documented English military activity in the aftermath of fitz Maurice’s rebellion and the subsequent suppression of the Earl of Desmond’s uprising.

 Pelham is chiefly remembered in Ireland for "Pelham's Pardon", a condition wherein a full pardon was granted to any rebel who had killed another suspected rebel of higher rank. This infamous standard for rule of law matches the portrait in which Pelham wields a non-ceremonial, and much worn staff—surely meant to symbolize his Draconian predilection.

 Returning to England in October 1580, in January of the following year Pelham joined the Earl of Shrewsbury and Sir Henry Neville in the commission to escort Mary Queen of Scots from Sheffield Abbey to Leicestershire, and was promoted Lieutenant-General of the Ordinance.

 In July 1586 Pelham accompanied the Earl of Leicester to the Netherlands, where he was advanced to Marshal of the army, and took a bullet in the stomach defending his commander-in-chief while inspecting the defenses before Doesburg. He survived his injuries and was present at the siege of Zutphen in September 1586 when Sir Philip Sydney was mortally wounded, it is said, imitating Pelham’s previous acts.