The ‘flight of the earls’ is considered one of the most intriguing events in Irish history. Traditionally, historians explaining this event have been divided into two schools of thought. Some have depicted the earls as offended innocents, forced into exile by unwarrantable pressure from Lord Deputy Chichester’s administration. Others have accepted the conspiracy theory, agreeing with the Dublin government’s contemporary view that the earls fled because they feared that their treasonable machinations had been uncovered. Since 1971, however, historical interpretation of the affair has been dominated by an article written by Nicholas Canny.
Departing from the previous lines of explanation, Canny focused on the intentions of the earl of Tyrconnell and Cuchonnacht Maguire to leave Ireland in 1607 as the key to understanding the flight. Anxious to leave the country because they were in acute financial difficulties, they were determined to seek profitable service with Archduke Albert, governor of the Spanish Netherlands. The ‘premature’ arrival of the ship that was sent to encompass Tyrconnell’s passage discomfited Tyrone, then preparing to go to court, causing him to ‘panic’ and take flight.