Henry Docwra, 1st Baron Docwra of Culmore

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Henry Docwra, 1st Baron Docwra of Culmore (1564–1631) was a leading soldier and statesman in early seventeenth-century Ireland: he has been called "the founder of Derry".[1]


He was born at Chamberhouse Castle, Crookham near Thatcham, Berkshire. He was the son of Edmund Docwra MP and his wife Dorothy Golding, sister of the noted translator Arthur Golding. His father was a prominent local politician, who sat in the House of Commons for Aylesbury, but he was later obliged due to financial difficulties to sell Chamberhouse: this may be the reason why Henry pursued a military career.[2]

Military career[edit]

After serving as a professional soldier in the Netherlands and France, Docwra was sent to Ireland about 1584. He was made constable of Dungarvan Castle, and served under Sir Richard Bingham in 1586. Bingham besieged Annis Castle near Ballinrobe, and used Ballinrobe as a base from which to attempt to pacify County Mayo. He was unable to subdue the powerful Burke clan, and the campaign ended inconclusively.[3]

Docwra left Ireland and served with Essex in the war against Spain; he took part in the Capture of Cadiz in 1596 and was knighted for his good service there.

In 1599 he was sent back to Ireland with Essex during the Nine Years War, and was given 4200 men to subdue Northern Ireland. He landed at Carrickfergus, and proceeded to Culmore where he fortified both the ruined castle there, and Flogh, near Inishowen, Donegal. Proceeding to what is now Derry, he fortified the hill, and laid out the first streets of the new town. Further up the River Foyle he fortified Dunnalong, a position dividing Donegal and Tyrone, in July 1600. He constructed Dutch-inspired star-shaped bastion forts, each with a strong earthen rampart, surrounded by a ditch, at the three sites of Culmore, Derry and Dunnalong. He also engaged in several skirmishes with the Irish, reportedly winning their admiration for his courage and cunning, and was wounded by a son of Red Hugh O'Donnell. The winter of 1600/1601 was spent in further military expeditions, and in negotiations with the Irish. In 1602 he secured Dungiven Castle, giving him control of most of the modern county of Londonderry. On the death of Queen Elizabeth I, it was his firm action which prevented a rising in the north of Ireland.[4]

Later career[edit]

His reputation as "the founder of Derry" rests on his attempts to develop it as a city. He was appointed Governor and Provost of Derry with a charter to hold markets and a fair. In 1607 he was replaced by George Paulet, whose relations with the Irish of the area, and particularly the ruler of Inishowen, Sir Cahir O'Doherty, were far less amicable.[5] During O'Doherty's subsequent rising in 1608, Paulet was murdered by O'Doherty and Derry was burned.[6] As a result, Docwra was accused of neglect of duty and recalled.

In retirement in England, Docwra protested that he had been unfairly accused, and poorly rewarded for his service: in particular he complained of the failure to make him Lord President of Ulster. In 1614 he published his Narrative, which is both a description of and justification for his military actions.[7]

In 1616 he was made Treasurer of War for Ireland and returned to live there; in 1621 he was raised to the peerage. In 1628 he was one of fifteen peers empanelled to try Lord Dunboyne for manslaughter, and was the only one to vote "guilty".[8] He died on 18 April 1631 in Dublin and was buried in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.


He married Anne Vaughan, daughter of Francis Vaughan of Sutton-upon-Derwent. They had two sons, of whom the elder, Theodore, succeeded to the barony but died without issue, when the title became extinct. They also had three daughters, including Elizabeth, who married Basil Brooke of Brookeborough.[9]


As a soldier he was brave, skillful and ruthless; the Irish are said to have admired him as "a knight of wisdom and prudence". He showed considerable skill in negotiation with the Irish clans, and in fomenting quarrels among them to strengthen the Crown's position.[10] In private life he had a reputation for being honest, public-spirited and independent, as shown by his dissent in the Dunboyne trial.


  1. ^ Moore, Norman "Henry Docwra" Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900 Vol.15 p.140
  2. ^ Ford, David Nash Royal Berkshire History
  3. ^ Moore p.140
  4. ^ Moore, p.140
  5. ^ New History of Ireland, vol.3 eds. Moody, Martin and Byrne (OUP 1991) p.196
  6. ^ Docwra's Narrative edited by William P.Kelly 2003 p.2
  7. ^ Reprinted 2003, edited by William P. Kelly
  8. ^ Moore, p.140
  9. ^ Moore, p.140
  10. ^ Moore, p.140