Catastrophic Dimensions: The Rupture of English and Irish Identities in Early Modern Ireland, 1534-1615

D. W. Cunnane

Volume 40 (1999)

This essay’s intent is to assess the relationship between the anti-Catholic legislation passed by the Irish parliament of 1613-1615 and the emergence of a distinct national identity in early modern Ireland. For almost four centuries, the royal administration in Ireland had distinguished between the Gaelic Irish populations in the hinterlands of Leinster, Munster, Connacht, and Ulster, and the English population in the Pale, that relatively urbanized settlement centered on Dublin, and in the outlying towns and earldoms of Leinster and Munster. The parliament of 1613-1615 gave legal force to a new, equally impermeable cleavage between the two components of the Anglo-Irish(1) colonial community: the Old and New English. The New English were recent Protestant transplants, sent from England by the crown during the sixteenth century to operate the Irish government. The Catholic Old English were natives of Ireland. Descendants of the original twelfth-century Anglo-Norman conquerors, the Old English shared an Anglo-Irish heritage and the common interests shaped by that heritage.(2) By securing the rigorous enforcement of the Oath of Supremacy, the implementation of revenue-generating recusancy fines, the expulsion of all Jesuits and seminary priests from Ireland, and the confiscation of Catholic lands during the parliament of 1613-1615, the New English government systematically excluded the Catholic Old English from political and social influence on the grounds of religion.(3) The interpretation of the Irish government’s shift from racial to religious discrimination raises profound historiographical questions, for the attempt to locate this shift in a framework of cause and effect requires the historian to confront the problematic concept of Irish nationalism. This task has provoked significant debate among historians of early modern Ireland.

R. F. Foster has interpreted the Irish government’s new emphasis on religious discrimination as a primary cause of the emergence of a distinct Old English identity in seventeenth-century Ireland. The anti-Catholic thrust of the 1613-1615 parliament, Foster has suggested, was incidental to the government’s more significant attempt to secure English interests in the turmoil wrought by the failed rebellion of Hugh O’Neill, the renegade earl of Tyrone. “The real priority of government,” Foster has argued, “was to reorganize representation, incorporate new boroughs and Protestantize the personnel of parliament. This produced a decisive, if dependent, Protestant majority in the 1613 parliament, ranged against a largely Old English minority.”(4)The Irish government thus pursued strategies of Anglicization and Protestantization not as punitive or exclusionary measures but rather as matters of internal regulation; these strategies, intended to rein in particularistic, myopic, local interests, bore no nationalistic implications.(5)That “version of Irishness” cultivated by the Protestant New English settlers in the Irish administration most effectively conduced to the governance of Ireland “with English priorities and in English interests.”(6) Policies intended to stabilize, however, soon gave rise to instability; the aggrandizement of Protestant New English interests stirred resentment in the Catholic Old English community. “[T]hese developments in politics,” Foster has suggested, “coupled with the threat to land titles and the effects of the Counter-Reformation in Ireland, completed the politicization of the Old English, the phrase now applied universally to those ‘English of Irish birth.'”(7) The anti-Catholic legislation passed by the 1613-1615 parliament, Foster has argued, responded to no single threat to the interests of the crown in Ireland but rather to a political situation fragmented by local competition and dissent in both the Gaelic and Anglo-Irish communities. Protestantization and Anglicization simply provided the administration with the means to regularize the enforcement of English law and to elevate governance above local rivalries. The consequential exclusion of the Old English from political and social influence, Foster has argued, did not represent a chapter in what Steven G. Ellis calls “the dominant Whig-nationalist tradition of Irish historiography–an independent Irish nation ever emerging but always frustrated by English interference.”(8)

While Foster has perceptively escaped the distorting influences of this “whig-Nationalist tradition” of Irish historiography in his interpretation of the policies of the 1613-1615 Irish parliament that denied the political and social legitimacy of the Old English community, he has also neglected the nuances of the Irish national identity that emerged from the turbulent interaction of the Old and New English communities in the Tudor period and motivated those policies. During the sixteenth century, the attempt by the Old English to exercise the rights enjoyed by English subjects to comprehensive and effective local governance ran counter to the crown’s impulse to protect royal interests at minimal cost. Both groups demanded the governance of Ireland “with English priorities and in English interests,”(9) but each group understood those concepts differently. Political competition between the Old English community and the royal administration, filled increasingly by Protestant New English officials, gave rise to an ideological conflict over the meaning of Englishness and the relationship of the Old English identity to it. The Old English occupied an ambiguous position in Tudor Anglo-Irish society: Catholic but loyal to the crown, committed to principles of English governance in a distinctly Irish political context, they were neither fully English nor fully Irish but rather an amalgam of the two. The Old English raised legitimate opposition to adverse crown policies on the basis of their membership in an overarching English identity. As the crown administration’s frustration with this opposition grew, political conflict quickly assumed nationalistic implications. By emphasizing the growing divergence between the interests of the crown and the demands of the Old English community, New English officials and commentators transformed competition within a national identity into competition between national identities. The shift in emphasis from racial to religious discrimination, ratified by the 1613-1615 parliament but emergent well before then, allowed the New English administration to deny the Old English community its place in an overarching English identity. Race had linked the Old English and the New English, but religion linked the Old English undeniably to the Gaelic Irish. The rift that the Irish government established within the colonial community laid the foundations for the type of militant Irish nationalism that, in its aggressive opposition to English rule, expanded and augmented the tragic, catastrophic dimension of Irish experience. In their political action during the sixteenth century, the Old English shaped an integrated national identity that, though markedly distinct from the English identity cultivated by the royal administration, reconciled English principles with Anglo-Irish priorities. The militant and exclusionary response of the New English community, in turn, opened a chasm between Englishness and Irishness that the Old English had sought to close.

The crisis of Irish governance in 1534 set in motion the political and ideological conflicts that culminated in this rupture in the early seventeenth century. The eruption, and swift suppression, of the first significant opposition to the English administration emphasized both the instability of the medieval Irish lordship, divided between English and Gaelic Irish spheres of influence, and the precarious position of the English within their own sphere. In an attempt to have his father, the ninth Earl of Kildare, restored to his traditional office as Lord Deputy of Ireland, Thomas Lord Offaly and the Old English Fitzgeralds of Kildare had raised a “protest within the context of loyalty to the crown.”(10) Lord Offaly intended, through his resistance, to emphasize to Henry VIII the importance of the Kildare line for the stable governance of Ireland, but the political context of the period transformed resistance couched in loyalty into outright rebellion in the eyes of the king. The Fitzgerald rebellion coincided with Henry’s defiance of both pope and emperor and with Thomas Cromwell’s construction of a new national church; the king, unwilling to countenance militant unrest in his Irish lordship, dispatched Sir William Skeffington with 2,300 soldiers to crush the rebellion and to restore order.(11) The defeat of the Kildare rebellion and the collapse of the stabilizing influence of Fitzgerald hegemony in Ireland forced the royal administration to confront disquieting new circumstances. The fall of the Fitzgeralds left a vacuum of power “in geographical, political, and social terms.”(12) The reversion of the Kildare lands to the crown set the Pale at risk for invasion by the Gaelic Irish on its borders, and the administration soon recognized the necessity of a royal garrison to replace the disbanded Kildare retinues. The Fitzgerald rebellion indicated to the king the dangers of delegating executive power to Old English feudal lords, the traditional mode of governance in Ireland, and emphasized the increasing need for bureaucratic government, controlled from London, that would exercise broad jurisdiction to maintain stability. Indeed, the collapse of the Kildare earldom and the fall of the Fitzgeralds suggested the urgency of thoroughgoing reform in the Tudor Irish government.

In this respect, the collapse of Fitzgerald hegemony in Ireland was a blessing in disguise, for it provided an opportunity to realize the Old English demands for political reform that had developed during the first three decades of the sixteenth century. Brendan Bradshaw has called attention to a burgeoning movement for comprehensive political reform indigenous to the Old English Pale community.(13) The Old English demanded, in short, the full actualization of the king’s claim to Ireland; they sought vigorous local governance and a commitment by the crown to enforce English laws, to defend the Pale, and to expand jurisdiction over the Gaelic regions. This reform movement addressed the crown’s governance of Ireland and its failure to provide for the general security of Old English interests. “[T]he crown’s involvement in Irish government for the first twenty years or so of [the reign of Henry VIII] suggests an attitude fluctuating between apathy and feeble interest.”(14)The political reform movement of the early sixteenth century played out under the control of both the government and the Old English community. The socio-economic structure of the Pale, geared toward stable colonial life, invested the Old English with a strong commitment to peace. Their tradition of participation in local government and their loyalty to the crown motivated their attempt to secure peace and stability through traditional political processes. Bradshaw identified both conservative and liberal impulses in the Old English reform movement, but he nonetheless found similarities in their general approach to conditions inside and outside the Pale.(15) The Old English community of the Pale demanded a strengthening of the governmental apparatus, an improvement in the Pale’s military defenses, the reduction of the power of local Old English feudal magnates, and sustained and efficient royal governance in Ireland.(16) The Old English also demanded improved relations between the Pale community and the Gaelic Irish, the expansion of royal governance throughout Ireland, and the eventual assimilation of the Gaelic Irish communities under crown rule. Though the Old English reformers disagreed slightly on their time frame and their specific method of reform, they envisaged, by and large, the gradual expansion of English authority in Ireland on an increasingly national scale.(17) They sought an Irish government that would govern all of Ireland.

A treatise written by Sir Patrick Finglas, Chief Baron of the Exchequer after 1520 and a prominent member of the Old English community in the Pale, reflects the central themes of the Old English reform movement. In “A Breviat of the getting of Ireland, and of the Decaie of the Same,” Finglas, employing a historical framework to emphasize the imperative need for political reform, related the “decaie” of the Anglo-Irish community to governmental neglect. The medieval lords and governors of Ireland, “haveing grete Possessions in England of their owne, regarded little the defence of their Londs in Irland; but took the Profitts of the same for a while, as they culd, and some of them never saw Irland.”(18) This neglect, Finglas suggested, allowed the Old English feudal lords to aggrandize themselves by imposing Gaelic law along the borders of the Pale.

Nevir sithence did the Gerraldines of Mounster, the Butlers, ne Geraldines of Leinster obediently obey the Kyng’s Lawes in Irlaund; but continually allied themselves with Irishmen using continuallyCoyne and Livery,(19) whereby all the Londe is now of Irish rule, except the little English Pale, within the Counties of` Dublyn and Meath and Uriell.(20)

Finglas revealed none of the anti-Gaelic sentiment that would characterize later Old English treatises; he criticized the inability of the ineffectual royal Irish government to suppress Gaelic law, not the degenerative influence of Gaelic culture. In a striking passage, he unfavorably compared the failure of the administration to maintain English law with the assiduous commitment of the Gaelic Irish to their traditional Brehon laws.

It is a gret Abusion and Reproach, that the Laws and Statutes made in this Lond are not observed ne kept after the making of them eight Days, which matter is oone of the Distructions of Englishmenof this Lond; and divers Irishmen doth observe and kepe souche Laws and Statuts which they make upon Hills in ther Country firm and stable, without breaking them for any Favour or Reward.(21)

Finglas’ proposal for political reform involved the expansion of royal power within the Pale as a prelude to the reformation of the Irish lordship as a whole. “Furste, our Souveraigne Lorde the Kyng shuld extend his gracious power, for the Reformacion of Leinster which is the Key and highwaye for the Reformacion of the Remanent.”(22) The political reform of Ireland, however, ultimately required the Irish government to enforce English law uniformly throughout Ireland.

[W]hensoever our Souveraigne Lord shall extend the Reformacion of Irlaund, he must Reduce the Lordes and Gentilmen of this Londe whych be of English Nacion to due Obedience of his Grace’s Lawes, which is very harde to doe, unless the Kyng with an Army represse Irishmen upon the Borders, to contribute in a good conforming.(23)

Finglas and the other Old English reformers demanded, and expected, the reformation of the Irish government to proceed on their terms. They sought efficient, centralized English governance sensitive to their own interests. Only when the king acted on these interests would the English foothold in Ireland be secure.

The crown took little account of these Old English reform programs in framing the government that replaced the fallen Kildare administration. The crown responded to the Old English demands in only the most formal of ways. In the new Cromwellian administration (1534-1536), the Irish government gained a nominally expanded jurisdiction but lacked the manpower, financial resources, and commitment to enforce it. The new administration acted conservatively to fill the vacuum of power left by the collapse of Fitzgerald hegemony. The crown replaced the traditional governing mode of aristocratic delegation with a more centralized apparatus that included an English-born deputy, a standing garrison, and stronger control by the government in London. This new administration limited its reforms to the Englishry in Ireland; it attempted to create around the Pale a network of fortified garrisons similar to those defending the English settlement at Calais. Among the Irishry, the government attempted simply to secure and maintain traditional agreements with the Gaelic lords.(24) The Cromwellian administration thereby provoked bitter resentment in the Old English community. The suspension in 1536 of Poyning’s Law(25) during the so-called Reformation Parliament undermined the executive function of the local Dublin administration; legislative initiative passed from it to Cromwell and the Council in London.(26) The frustration of the Old English over their exclusion from traditional legislative processes provoked “the first appearance of organized opposition to government policy which became so marked a feature of parliaments in early modern Ireland.”(27) The succeeding Irish administration of Lord Leonard Grey (1536-1540) served only to exacerbate Old English dissatisfaction. The expansion of English jurisdiction to include the Irishry strained the resources of an already understaffed Dublin administration, and the regime threatened to deprive the Old English of the little influence that they had maintained in the government. “All Palesmen greatly resented the army of one thousand soldiers over whom they had no control,” Nicholas Canny has explained. “[T]his left the Dublin government even more isolated than usual, since the army was resented even by those whom it was purporting to defend.”(28) Thus, the outlines of future conflict emerged as crown and community pursued increasingly divergent goals for the government of Ireland. The Old English demanded a transformation of the Irish polity; the crown sought only to maintain the medieval lordship.

In the Irish parliament of 1541, the Old English struck preemptively to advance their program for reform against the crown’s reluctance. Through the Act for the Kingly Title, which declared Ireland to be a sovereign kingdom under the rule of the English monarch, the Old English secured the comprehensive reform of the Irish administration for which Finglas and other reformers had called. The text of the Act reveals an attempt to bind the king to the enforcement of English laws in Ireland.

[L]ack of naming the king’s majesty and his noble progenitors kings of Ireland, according to their said true and just title, style, and name therein, hath been great occasion that the Irishmen and inhabitants within this realm of Ireland have not been so obedient to the king’s highness and his most noble progenitors, and to their laws, as they of right, and according to their allegiance and bounden duties ought to have been.(29)

This Act provided for the political unity of all inhabitants of Ireland, both Gaelic and English, under the unilateral jurisdiction of the crown and revealed an emergent impulse among the Old English to use the Irish parliament as their forum for political action within the new polity.(30) In repudiating the divided structure of the medieval lordship established in the Statutes of Kilkenny (1366), the Act for the Kingly Title envisaged a single Irish community under the rule of the king, and it committed the crown’s energies to making this single community a reality.(31) The parliament of 1541, which included members of both the Irishry and the Englishry, acted for the first time as an instrument of national governance. By emphasizing their position as loyal subjects, the Old English constitutionally prevented the government from neglecting their interests. By transforming Ireland into a sovereign kingdom under the crown, the Old English gave constitutional legitimacy to their version of Englishness.(32) The implications of the Act for the relationship between crown and community were vast. “A local reform group lobbying for royal initiative to impose order throughout the island,” Steven Ellis explained, “had finally succeeded in committing the crown to just that, despite rebuffs in 1494, 1520 and the mid-1530s.”(33) What the Old English had not accomplished through persuasion and argument they achieved through constitutional manipulation. In emphasizing Henry’s kingly duty towards his subjects in Ireland, they bound the crown to political reform on Old English terms. Kingly duty would become “a much-used weapon in the armoury of persuasives” on which the Old English would rely as conflict with the colonial administration escalated.(34)

Reactions to the passage of the Act for the Kingly Title in Dublin and in London revealed that both the Old English community and the crown recognized its implications for the dynamics of Irish politics. On 18 June 1541, a public holiday and a general amnesty for prisoners were proclaimed in Dublin as the Act for the Kingly Title was promulgated at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Two thousand Dubliners celebrated High Mass and Te Deum, and cannonades, bonfires, and free wine marked the transformation of Ireland from a medieval lordship into a sovereign kingdom.(35) The reaction in London differed substantially. “Not a cheer was raised at court,”(36) and the king’s council handled the Act as matter of routine administration and statutory revision. The passage of the Act infuriated the irascible monarch who acquired the title. Henry VIII condemned it on both constitutional and pragmatic grounds. The Act’s text, he charged, implied that his kingly title in Ireland proceeded from the election and common consent of the Irish parliament and not from the right of original conquest; the bestowal of the kingly title by the Irish parliament, he argued, would derogate that title which he already held.(37) Henry also understood the Act’s practical implications. He rebuked his council for devising “by an act, to invest in us the name and title of king of Ireland” when royal revenues were not “sufficient to maintain the state of the same.”(38) Nevertheless, Henry could not refuse his new duties. The Old English, it seemed, had succeeded in binding him to protect and to advance their interests.

The statutory transformation of Ireland into a pan-insular kingdom, however, did not bring about this unity in practice. The attempt to implement the constitutional framework designed by the Act for the Kingly Title again raised tensions between the Old English desires for vigorous government and the crown’s impulse to reduce costs. Conciliatory measures designed to bring the Gaelic Irish under English rule showed most clearly the practical short-comings of the new constitutional system. Surrender and re-grant, by which English property laws replaced traditional Gaelic methods of land tenure, provoked substantial Gaelic resentment to the expansion of English jurisdiction.(39) Henry’s emphasis on economy in government initially kept these tensions to a minimum, but the attempt by the regime of Edward VI to impose a Protestant religious settlement and to deal aggressively with Gaelic Ireland gave rise to open conflict.(40) In Ulster, the imposition of English laws of primogeniture sparked a violent dispute between the sons of Con Bacagh O’Neill: Shane, who held the right of succession by Gaelic law, and Matthew, the firstborn who acquired this right by primogeniture. The intervention of the Tudor administration to enforce English law and to protect Matthew’s “legal” inheritance provoked Shane to launch an attack on the Pale. This, indeed, was the typical result of surrender and re-grant; the imposition of English property laws met with limited success only in the Gaelic regions of the western earldoms of Clanricard and Thomond.(41) In the context of increasing unrest, two impulses converged to motivate the crown to revise its strategies of Irish government. First, the rebellions of the O’Neills in Ulster and of the O’Connors and the O’Mores in the midlands led the Dublin administration to focus its resources and energies on the reduction of border threats to the English Pale; colonial officials recognized the tenuous position of an English settlement surrounded by an increasingly hostile Gaelic Irish population.(42) Secondly, the emergence of Irish patronage as a significant prize in court politics motivated leading courtiers to press for a military suppression of and expansion into Ireland. During the reigns of Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth I, these courtiers entrenched themselves in the Dublin administration and shaped an increasingly militant approach to Irish governance.(43)

Between 1547 and 1565, these two impulses shaped a program for the military conquest of Ireland. Events at the beginning of Edward’s reign suggested the form that this policy would assume. Gaelic Irish disturbances in the midlands erupted in 1546 and 1547 into open warfare under the leadership of the O’Connors and O’Mores. William Brabazon, Lord Justice of Ireland, suppressed the rebellions and established forts at Daingean, in Offaly, and at Ballyadams, in Leix. The privy council, in March 1547, authorized the establishment of English garrisons “in most meet places of service without the English Pale.”(44) Around these garrisons, Lord Deputy Sir Edward Bellingham, one of those courtiers who had secured patronage in Ireland, constructed a plantation to secure the Pale against further Gaelic unrest. By confiscating the land surrounding the garrisons and populating it with soldiers, by driving the indigenous Gaelic cultivators west toward the River Shannon, and by organizing the remaining Gaelic population under a seneschal system,(45) the Plantation of Leix and Offaly attempted to provide a self-financing system of defense for the English settlement in Ireland.(46) The precedent of this plantation in the midlands informed the program that Henry Sidney, Lord Deputy of Ireland between 1565 and 1571, attempted to apply to Ireland as a whole.(47) Sidney considered his program to be “the solution to the government of Ireland and was convinced that the appropriate machinery would be in operation within three years.”(48) It involved three aspects. Sidney would continue the seneschal system in the Gaelic parts of Leinster in order to make those areas into shire ground; he intended to remove the military threat to the Pale’s security by gradually eliminating local Gaelic rule. He would reform the feudal lordships by instituting provisional councils, with jurisdiction confined to areas where English law had formerly prevailed and areas that had been drawn into English law by surrender and re-grant. Finally, he would launch a military campaign to overthrow Shane O’Neill and to expel Gaelic Scots immigrants from northeast Ulster.(49) Sidney intended to further these proposals with the assistance of the New English, a class of settlers newly brought from England to Ireland.

The implementation of Sidney’s program soon revealed a divergence between conquest in theory and conquest in practice. Colonization formed a central part of the program; in 1567, Sidney explained to Elizabeth that,

. . . all the Treasure your Highenes sendeth, is yssued out of this Realm; and so will it be, thoughe your Majestie sent as muche as Englande bredeth. This Myschief is no Waye to be helped, but by ministring of Justice, and planting of som civill People upon thoise barbarous Placies. And, moste gracious Soveraigne, this Matter is worthie of deliberate Consideracion and spedy Redress.(50)

Sidney’s colonization proposal of 1568, however, involved a larger commitment than the queen had anticipated: eight garrisons, with two thousand men, in Ulster alone. When Elizabeth withheld her support from so vast and costly an endeavor, Sidney pressed on with colonization by private enterprise. He enlisted as his subalterns landless adventurers eager to seize property and wealth in Ireland.(51) “[S]uch men,” Nicholas Canny has explained, “would give enthusiastic support for a military campaign the end of which was colonization in the hope that they themselves would benefit from the spoils.”(52) In the Munster colony of Kerricurrihy, west of Cork City, these landless adventurers sought royal authorization to confiscate property so that “thies contries now possessed by disobedient people assistinge euerie rebellion to the disglorie of God and greate dislike of your Maiestie shalbe inhabited by naturall Englishe men.”(53) The colonizers of Kerricurrihy, in truth, revealed little intention to act as a “lanterne and countenance of all cyvilitie within that province.”(54) They concerned themselves rather with the quick accumulation of Irish wealth and an equally quick return to eminence in England. Through Sidney’s program of conquest and colonization, Ireland became a profit-making venue, and the exploits of these New English colonizers caused great unrest within both the Gaelic Irish and Old English communities. The English government, in the late 1560s, was “slowly groping” towards an efficient method of colonization; the experience of private enterprise had convinced the government of the necessity of the royal army’s support in a centralized process of settlement.(55) In many ways, however, the damage to Irish governance and sensibilities had already been done.

During the 1560s, Sidney’s colonization program dangerously alienated the Old English community from the royal Irish government. The imposition of unorthodox military extractions known as “cesses,” the gradual exclusion of Old English influence from colonial politics, and an increasing suspicion of Old English loyalties by the New English settlers threatened to exacerbate the tensions that already existed between crown and colony. The augmented military establishment necessary to actualize Sidney’s colonization program transgressed what Steven Ellis has called the “unwritten law” of English government: that “rule of the counties lay in the hands of their native elites.”(56) The principal spokesmen of the Old English community began to assert “in open speche that ther Kyngdom was kept from them by force and by such as be strangers in bloodd to them.”(57) Against the advance of the military conquest and colonization of Ireland, the Palesmen advocated the delegation of power to the Old English feudal lords who could both protect Old English interests and contain Gaelic regions and Gaelic resistance. Increasingly, the Old English held up the Act for the Kingly Title as a bulwark against the work of colonization. Old English lawyers repudiated the extension of superior English jurisdiction over the institutions of Irish government on the basis of Ireland’s sovereign status.(58) The Old English continued to assert their inviolable rights as subjects of the monarch, but the conquest and colonization of Ireland in the 1560s and 1570s forced a shift in emphasis. Before 1541, the Old English had asserted their English rights to secure the protection of their interests in the absence of adequate English governance. After 1547, the Old English asserted their English rights to protect themselves against the increased encroachment of the royal administration.

Old English resistance to the New English colonization of Ireland played out along two distinct paths. One path was armed rebellion. Old English landholders outside the Pale revolted against the New English colonial officers in order to protect property rights and to stem the advance of colonization. The perceived inability of the Old English landed classes to forestall the implementation of Sidney’s colonization schemes through traditional political processes prompted five Old English rebellions between 1568 and 1576: the rebellion of James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald between 1568 and 1573; the rebellion of Edmund, Piers, and Edward Butler, brothers of the earl of Ormond, in 1569; the rebellion of the earl of Thomond in 1570; and the two rebellions of Ulick and John Burke, sons of the earl of Clanricard, in 1572 and again in 1576. These rebellions, as Nicholas Canny has explained, were “by no means a total onslaught against the queen or her government in Dublin but were rather aimed specifically at ending local interference by the government.”(59) Rebellion provided the last resort for landowners who saw the government closing in to confiscate their property; landowners thereby attempted to attract the attention of the crown in the hope that the queen would redress their grievances and restore them to their former positions. The Old English rebellions were conservative movements led by men, loyal to the crown, who attempted to preserve the integrity of the queen’s justice in Ireland against overweening New English colonial officials who had overstepped their legitimate authority.(60) The rebellions shared several prominent characteristics. The Old English leaders, discarding English customs and dress, appropriated Gaelic traditions and reasserted their claims to the traditional rights and immunities of which the Sidney administration had deprived them. The leaders raised armies to defy the government, evicted the New English from their localities, and attacked those in their own communities who had favored and benefited from the colonial administration.(61) What they did not share, however, was a religious dimension. Though Catholic Old Englishmen led all five rebellions, only Fitzmaurice overtly opposed the incursion of English Protestantism. His attempt to usurp the earldom of Desmond necessarily required him to eliminate all Anglo-Irish, and not simply New English, influence from Munster. This religious dimension, however, stirred little loyalty; few Catholic landholders in Munster supported him, and his rebellion collapsed soon after assuming confessional overtones.(62) None of the five rebellions succeeded. Indeed, they merely spurred the New English administration to press on with the work of colonization.

The Old English enjoyed more substantial success in rolling back the colonization of Ireland through organized resistance in the Irish parliament. The parliament in session between 1569 and 1571 revealed a new political alignment between the Old English landowners of the Pale and the Old English feudal lords. Sir Edmund Butler, brother of the earl of Ormond, and the Palesman Sir Christopher Barnewall succeeded in consolidating Old English interests in the Commons to oppose the colonization policies of the government. Sidney had expected the parliament to endorse his programs without criticism; the emergence of a cohesive Old English bloc that transcended internal divisions between the Pale and the landed classes succeeded in extending the parliament for eight sessions over two years. The Old English in Commons forced the government to concede defeat on a number of key issues. The passage of many other bills was largely permitted by the withdrawal of the government’s most strident opponents from the parliament. Frustration with the political process quickly drove Butler himself into open rebellion.(63) By 1584, the leadership of this Old English parliamentary bloc had passed to younger men who asserted that the English government was, by its very nature, inimical to local interests. An overwhelmingly Old English majority secured the defeat of an ambitious and autocratic program introduced by Sir John Perrot, the Lord Deputy, during the Irish parliament of 1584. Perrot’s dual attack on constitutional liberty and on recusancy solidified Roman Catholicism as a rallying cry of the Old English cause.(64) The Perrot parliament of 1584, Steven Ellis has explained, saw “the final emergence of a distinct Old English community, centering on the Pale, overwhelmingly and tenaciously Catholic, but loyal . . . asserting its primacy in defending English civility in Ireland and its unique ability to secure a peaceful reformation of the Irishry.”(65) The Old English had achieved through parliamentary opposition what they had failed to secure through armed rebellion; though they did not defeat the colonization project, they had, for a time, frustrated its expansion.

The Old English, of course, had always been Catholic, but the holding up of Roman Catholicism as a central and overt component of the Old English identity during the Irish parliament of 1584 suggested that the political struggle between the Old English and New English communities had taken on vast ideological dimensions. Religious conflict, it will be noted, has thus far been conspicuously absent from this essay. The tensions between the Old English community and the New English in the crown administration broke down largely along political lines during most of the sixteenth century. In their conflicts with the crown before 1541 and during the colonization program of the 1560s and 1570s, the Old English claimed and asserted rights on the basis of their English identity. As these conflicts intensified, however, the legitimacy of this identity came under attack. The struggle to maintain their political influence reflected a larger, ideological struggle on the part of the Old English to maintain their membership in the Pale community. The denial of this membership provided the means by which the New English extended and secured their authority in Ireland. Thus, political conflict sparked ideological conflict. During the latter half of the sixteenth century, articulate members of the Old English community attempted to reify their English identity; they defined themselves against the “uncivilized” Gaelic Irish and asserted the compatibility of loyalty and Roman Catholicism. At the same time, the New English deployed concepts of “degeneracy” and called attention to the common Catholic faith that linked the “civilized” Old English with the “barbarous” Gaelic Irish. The later sixteenth century, therefore, saw the Old English identity redefined.

The attempt to reify the Old English identity during this period manifested itself clearly in the writings of Richard Stanihurst, a leading spokesman for the Old English community and the descendant of a long line of prominent Palesmen. In his De Rebus in Hibernia Gestis, Stanihurst coined the term “Anglo-Hiberni,” which “claims for the Old English society an identity apart from the mother-country,” as Colm Lennon has explained. “Stanihurst’s society was not to be considered merely as a remote outpost of English civilization but as a vibrant cultural organism with its own institutions which he took pride in portraying.”(66) In an extended passage of his “Description of Ireland,” Stanihurst praised the Fitzgerald Earls of Kildare and Lords Deputy of Ireland whose commitment to local Old English interests and management of the Gaelic Irish had secured the efficient operation of the Irish administration. “If it had stood with the good fortune of the Giraldines, that the king with equall balance would poise their valure, long yer this had all Ireland beene put in a quiet and peaceable state.”(67) Stanihurst criticized those members of the Pale community who shunned their distinctive Old English identity:

There are some of the ruder sort so quaint in seuering the name Irish and Ireland, as that they would be named Ireland men, but in no wise Irishmen . . . who so will grate upon such diuersities, in respect that he is ashamed of his countrie; trulie (in mine opinion) his countrie maie be ashamed of him.(68)

Even the “meere Irish,” Stanihurst argued, recognized the vast differences between the Old English and New English identities. “[T]he Irish man . . . termeth anie one of the English sept, and planted in Ireland, Bobdeagh Galteagh, that is, English churle: but if he be an Englishman borne, then he nameth him, Bobdeagh Saxonnegh, that is, a Saxon churle.”(69) However, while he affirmed the distinctive identity of the Old English community and advocated a return to local governance, Stanihurst would by no means associate the Old English with the Gaelic Irish:

Before I attempt the unfolding of the maners of the meere Irish, I think it expedient, to forware thee reader, not to impute anie barbarous custome that shall here be laid downe, to the citizens, townsmen, and inhabitants of the English pale, in that they differe litle or nothing from the ancient customes and dispositions of their progenitors, the English and Welsh men, being therefore as mortallie behated of the Irish, as those that are born in England.(70)

Stanihurst described an Old English identity utterly distinct from that of the Gaelic Irish and equal in manners and civility to that of the royal administration. Stanihurst’s Old English identity had a dignity and dynamism all its own. Uncorrupted by the influence of the “meere Irish,” it was well adapted for the governance of Ireland.

Aidan Clarke has trenchantly argued that the influence of the Counter-Reformation on the Old English community provided the practical justification for the type of anti-Gaelic sentiment reflected in the writings of Stanihurst and other Old English commentators. The creed of the late sixteenth-century Old English community, Clarke explained, was based on the premise that Roman Catholicism and loyalty were perfectly compatible.(71) The Roman Catholicism of the Old English community and the Roman Catholicism of the Gaelic Irish, Clarke argued, differed fundamentally in structure and in practice. The Counter-Reformation aimed to preserve the Catholic faith by standardizing its practice through organizational reform; the Old English impulse to impose these reforms on Gaelic Irish Roman Catholicism provoked division and resentment between the two Catholic communities. The influence of the Counter-Reformation “operated positively, in the sense that tridentine catholicism reinforced nationality and descent by enabling the traditional presumption of the cultural inferiority of the Irish to be continued in a new context,” Clarke wrote. “The Old English were rescued from provincial backwardness and given access to modernity through their links with a religious movement that allowed them to . . . strip the term ‘civility’ of its protestant associations.”(72)The Old English were Catholic, but they by no means considered themselves to be native Irish Catholics; the influence of the Counter-Reformation in Ireland distinguished the Old English from their “barbarous” and “uncivilized” co-religionists. The reformed Old English faith, in the eyes of the Pale community, powerfully reconciled Roman Catholicism and civility and lent support to its claims for local political influence in the crown’s Irish government.

The colonial New English refused to acknowledge these differences in religion and culture that distinguished the Old English and Gaelic Irish communities. As articulate members of the Old English community asserted their civility and loyalty, the New English actively stripped them of both qualities. Nicholas Canny has shown that a dramatic reconceptualization of the Gaelic Irish and Old English identities accompanied, and indeed justified, the widespread colonization of Ireland. Sidney was profoundly critical of the Old English feudal society but admitted that English colonization would reform it on the model of English civility. William Gerrard, one of Sidney’s subordinates, argued similarly that only force could subdue the Gaelic Irish but that the “rodd of justice” would reform the feudal Old English, for “in theim yet resteth this instincte of Englishe nature generally to feare justice.”(73) By the 1590s, however, New English perceptions had begun to change. Edmund Spenser’s A View of the State of Ireland, written around the year 1598, reflected a subtle yet striking shift in the New English understanding of the task of reforming Ireland. Spenser’s View revealed neither a recognition of the differences between the Old English and the Gaelic Irish nor any suggestion that the Old English could participate in the reformation process. The conditions of Irish society, he argued, had made legal reform impossible:

So the lawes were at first intended for the reformation of abuses, and peaceable continuation of the subject; but are sithence disannulled, or quite prevaricated through change and alternation of times, yet they are good still in themselves; but, in that commonwealth that is ruled by them, they worke not that good which they should, and sometimes also that evill which they would not.(74)

Spenser condemned both the Act for the Kingly Title and the parliament of 1584, instances of Old English self-assertion, as detrimental to the English reformation of Ireland; both suggested to Spenser the intractability of the Old English and their disloyalty to the crown. Nothing, however, revealed this disloyalty more clearly than did the Old English allegiance to Roman Catholicism:

[T]here bee many ill disposed and undutifull persons of that realme, like as in this point there are also in this realme of England, too many, which being men of good inheritance, are for dislike of religion, or danger of the law, into which they are run, or discontent of the present government, fled beyond the seas [to the Catholic kingdoms of the continent], where they live under Princes, which are her Maiesties professed enemies, and converse and are confederat with other traitors and fugitives which are there abiding. The which nevertheless have the benefits and profits of their lands here, by pretence of such colourable conveyances thereof, formerly made by them unto their privie friends heere in trust, who privily doe send over unto them the said revenues wherwith they are there maintained and enabled against her Majestie.(75)

For Edmund Spenser, the Roman Catholicism of the Old English community made it inherently traitorous and set it, for all intents and purposes, outside the civil Pale community. The suppression and reformation of Ireland that Spenser advocated involved a suppression and reformation of the Old English community. Indeed, that community, in its political action and popish loyalties, had emerged as a more inimical threat to English colonial interests than the Gaelic Irish had ever been.

In a lengthy treatise published for the first time in 1612, Sir John Davies, Solicitor-General for Ireland and Speaker of the Irish parliament of 1613-1615, attempted to explain how this transformation of the Old English from loyal subjects to enemies of the crown had come to pass. James P. Myers, Jr., has stressed the importance of this document to an understanding of New English perceptions at the turn of the seventeenth century; the treatise, he has suggested, may properly be read as “Observations on the State of Ireland in 1612” written by the commonwealth’s highest administrator.(76) Davies’ treatise shared structural similarities with Finglas’ earlier “Breviat of the getting of Ireland, and of the Decaie of the Same”; both relied on historical frames of reference to account for deficiencies in the government of Ireland that demanded swift and comprehensive reform. However, while Finglas attributed these deficiencies to the neglect of the crown administration, Davies located them within the nature of the relationship between the Old English community and the crown:

[T]he State of England ought to be cleared of an imputation, which a vulgar error hath called upon it, in one point: namely, that Ireland long since might have been subdued and reduced to Civility, if some Statesman in policy, had not thought it more fit to continue that Realm in Barbarism . . . ever since Our Nation had any footing in this Land, the State of England did earnestly desire, and did accordingly endeavor from time to time, to perfect the Conquest of this Kingdom, but that in every age there were found such impediments and defects in both Realms, as caused almost an impossibility, that things should have been otherwise than they were.(77)

The theme of degeneracy pervades Davies’ Discovery. He argued that, through their contact with the Gaelic Irish surrounding the Pale, the Old English became degenerate, adopted Irish ways, lost their English identity, and thus became crude and ungovernable.

These were the Irish Customs, which the English Colonies did embrace and use, after they had rejected the Civil and Honorable Laws and Customs of England, whereby they became Degenerate and Metamorphosed like Nebuchadnezzar: who although he had the face of a man, had the heart of a beast; or like those who had drunk of Circes Cup, and were turned into very Beasts; and yet took such pleasure in their beastly manner of life, as they would not return to the shape of man again; Insomuch, as within less time than the age of a man, they had no marks or differences left among them of that noble Nation, from which they were descended. For, as they did not, onely forget the English language and scorn the use thereof, but grew to be ashamed of their very English names . . . and took Irish Sirnames and Nick-names.(78)

The Old English, Davies argued, had in fact become Irish; their adoption of Gaelic customs indicated the decay and degeneration of their very Englishness:

[I]f we consider the Nature of the Irish Customs, we shall find that the people, which doth use them, must of necessity be Rebels to all good Government, destroy the commonwealth wherein they live, and bring Barbarisme and desolation upon the richest and most fruitfull Land of the world.(79)

This concept of degeneracy provided both a powerful justification for the exclusion of the Old English from political influence in the colonial administration and a compelling motivation for the thoroughgoing suppression of their incorrigible “Irish Catholic” ways. Davies collapsed the two threats to English interests in Ireland–the easily handled series of Gaelic rebellions and insurrections and the more intractable and problematic political opposition raised by the Old English community that had frustrated crown policy throughout the sixteenth century–into a single problem with a single solution. The suppression of “Irish Catholicism” and the “barbarism” which it engendered would solidify the strength and security of the English government in Ireland.

It was in this ideological context that the most significant Gaelic challenge to English rule in Ireland erupted. Between 1594 and 1603, Hugh O’Neill, the renegade earl of Tyrone, led a rebellion to secure his palatinate rule over Ulster. Essentially a provincial figure, O’Neill nonetheless wrapped himself in the rhetoric of a broad Irish and Catholic nationalism. O’Neill fought, he said, so “[t]hat the catholic, apostolic, and Roman religion be openly preached and taught throughout all Ireland, as well in cities as borough towns, by bishops, seminary priests, jesuits, and all other religious men,” “[t]hat the Church of Ireland be wholly governed by the pope,” and “[t]hat the lord chancellor, lord treasurer, lord admiral, the council of state, the justices of the laws, queen’s attorney, queen’s serjeant, and all other officers appertaining to the council and law of Ireland, be Irishmen . . . [and] that all principal governments of Ireland, as Connaught, Munster, etc., be governed by Irish noblemen.”(80)The reaction of the colonial communities to O’Neill’s rebellion reflected clearly the ideological conflict over the nature of the Old English identity. The Old English community was not swayed by the Counter-Reformation appeals of one “whose career had been far from that of an exemplary Catholic.”(81) Rejecting his claims to wide religious authority, the Old English overwhelmingly opposed O’Neill and his Gaelic confederacy; they lobbied in Rome against O’Neill and against subsequent papal measures designed to enlist support for his movement. The Old English refused to participate in a revolt intended solely to secure the supremacy of an ambitious Gaelic Irish lord.(82) In the eyes of the New English administration, however, O’Neill’s rebellion revealed overtly the inherent Irish Catholic disloyalty that they had long suspected. In the rebellion, the colonial administration mistakenly saw the convergence of the degenerate Old English and the fractious Gaelic Irish in a campaign to oust the English government and the Protestant religion from Ireland. Lord Burghley, during the rising, saw “the queen’s loyal subjects in the English Pale tempted to rebel.”(83) Sir John Davies perceived in O’Neill’s movement the collusion of “all the lords and chieftains of the Irishry, and degenerate or rebellious English.”(84) In O’Neill’s rebellion, each component of the colonial community recognized the proof of the arguments that they had developed and deployed during the later sixteenth century. In withholding their support from a Gaelic Irish insurrection, the Old English confirmed their loyalty to English law and civility. In the rebellion’s seemingly nationalistic resistance to English rule in Ireland, the New English saw the traitorous nature of Irish Roman Catholicism, an identity in which they included both the Gaels and the “degenerate” Old English.

The parliament of 1613-1615 thus responded proximately to O’Neill’s rebellion, but the anti-Catholic legislation secured by the Irish government marked the culmination of the political and ideological struggle within the colonial community over the nature of the Old English identity and its place in the Irish polity. R. F. Foster portrayed this struggle as one aspect of a local competition between varieties of Irishness; in the 1613-1615 parliament, he suggested, internal regulation subdued internal rivalries. During the sixteenth century, however, this struggle assumed nationalistic implications that Foster fails to acknowledge; what was at stake in the political and ideological conflict between the Old and New English was not regional or local identity but rather the very distinction between Irishness and Englishness. Initially during the early sixteenth century and then increasingly as the royal Irish government adopted more autocratic policies, the Old English recognized the divergence of their interests from the priorities of the crown. To protect these interests, the Old English community asserted an integrative identity that reconciled differences of religion, national origin, and political outlook. The Act for the Kingly Title articulated most clearly the Old English national identity. In order to secure their ambiguous position in the English polity, the Old English bound themselves to the crown as Anglo-Irish subjects of an Anglo-Irish monarch. The royal Irish government, however, rejected this expansive definition of Englishness; as New English officials gained political power and social influence, the English identity that they cultivated became increasingly restricted. Anglo-Irishness, thus, became strictly Irishness, and the Old English community that had operated within an overarching English identity found itself excluded from it. “By degrees,” Aidan Clarke has explained, “the loyal element in the population of Ireland not merely lost the potentiality to improve its position through the successful assertion of royal power, but found that its actual position had been placed in jeopardy.”(85) The Old English identity rested on the fundamental affinity between English and Irish life; it was, indeed, an Anglo-Irish identity in the fullest sense of both terms. Political and ideological manipulation by the New English community that culminated in the anti-Catholic legislation of the 1613-1615 Irish parliament permanently destroyed that affinity and left the Old English in search of a new identity. Expelled from the English community, as Aidan Clarke has argued, the Old English, during the seventeenth century, gradually joined the Irish community. The New English prevailed in the political and ideological conflict of the sixteenth century; they destroyed both the most intractable political opposition to their rule in Ireland and the identity that supported it. In doing so, however, the New English drew the lines for the destructive conflict between the English and Irish communities that has characterized the history of modern Ireland.


  1. The history of modern Ireland has invested the term “Anglo-Irish” with profoundly nationalistic overtones that are anachronistic in the early modern period. In this essay, the term “Anglo-Irish” will refer simply to the English community in Ireland.
  2. Aidan Clarke, The Old English in Ireland 1625-1642(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1966), 16.
  3. Aidan Clarke, “Colonial Identity in Early Seventeenth-Century Ireland,” in Nationality and the Pursuit of National Independence, ed. T. W. Moody (Belfast: Appletree Press, 1978), 57; R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland 1600-1972(London: Penguin, 1988), 50; Calendar of the State Papers Relating to Ireland of the Reign of James I, eds. C. W. Russell and John P. Prendergast (1872; Nendeln: Kraus Reprint, 1974), 4:289; Nicholas Canny, “Early Modern Ireland c. 1500-1700,” in The Oxford History of Ireland, ed. R. F. Foster (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 114.
  4. Foster, Modern Ireland, 45.
  5. Foster develops this argument in the second chapter of Modern Ireland 1600-1972, entitled “‘Nationalism’ and Recusancy.”
  6. Ibid., 49, 51.
  7. Ibid., 51.
  8. Steven G. Ellis, Tudor Ireland: Crown, Community and the Conflict of Cultures(London: Longman, 1985), 13. In articles published in Interpreting Irish History: The Debate on Historical Revisionism 1938-1994, ed. Ciaran Brady (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1994), Stephen Ellis and Brendan Bradshaw debated the nature and purpose of Irish historiography in the early modern period. In “Nationalist Historiography and the English and Gaelic Worlds in the Late Middle Ages,” Ellis critiqued the Whiggish character of early modern Irish historiography. “[T]he concern with the pre-history of Irish nationalism,” he argued, “has been allowed to prejudge the issue of the island’s separate development in the late middle ages.” In this essay, he sketched the outlines of a Revisionist manifesto that applied Foster’s interpretative approach to the general historiography of early modern Ireland. Rejecting the attempt of nationalistic historians to find in this period historical justification for their outlook, Ellis has interpreted the Anglo-Irish identity as a regional variant of a larger English identity and of Irish colonial life as a local manifestation of the larger trends of English life. The conflict between the crown administration and the Old English community, he suggested, played out as little more than a local feud, similar to the regional feudal conflicts of fifteenth-century England. Tensions between the Old and New English communities involved no nationalistic implications because of their provincial scale; a common English identity ultimately subsumed all regional biases and loyalties. “[N]ationalist interpretations necessarily reveal steady ‘progress’ towards an independent Ireland,” Ellis has written. “But the validity of such concepts can only be tested by discussing developments in English and Gaelic Ireland in their respective contexts of the English and Gaelic worlds.”

Brendan Bradshaw’s response, “Nationalism and Historical Scholarship in Modern Ireland,” suggested the flaws of this Revisionist project. The attempt to establish an inviolable barrier between the intellectual climate of the present and the events of the past, Bradshaw argued, served to obscure rather than to elucidate the dynamics of that past. “‘Separatism’ well describes an important current that developed within the political consciousness of the colonial élite in the late medieval period,” Bradshaw explained. “That a clear distinction was made between the colonists and any such regional sub-group is indicated by the contemporary designation which applied to [the Old English community] the qualifying epithet ‘by blood,’ thus setting them apart from the normal English ‘by birth.'” The Revisionist attraction to “value-free” history, Bradshaw suggested, involved sins of commission and omission. By actively purging modern values and convictions from their assessment of historical events, Revisionists, Bradshaw charged, disguised a powerfully destructive ideology in the guise of benign explanation. In response to the nationalist attempt to establish long lines of continuity between the modern Irish nation and its historical predecessors, Bradshaw alleged that the Revisionists have with equal zeal interpreted “the past as a foreign country.” In this approach to the past, he argued, the Revisionists have neglected a central aspect of it. “It is . . . in responding to the interpretative challenge posed by the catastrophic dimensions of Irish history,” Bradshaw has written, “that the sins of omission of the value-free school are to be observed.”8 The reluctance of Revisionist historians to make recourse to value judgments, Bradshaw argued, has marginalized, and even excluded, a central aspect of Irish history from the historical record. Though at times disturbingly presentist in orientation, Bradshaw has valuably emphasized the importance of personal values and biases for early modern Irish historiography. Sensitivity to the catastrophic dimensions of Irish history, he suggested, permits a clearer comprehension of the choices and forces that shaped it.

  1. Foster, Modern Ireland, 51.
  2. Ellis, Tudor Ireland, 124; quoted in Canny, “Early Modern Ireland,” 103.
  3. Ellis, Tudor Ireland, 124; Canny, “Early Modern Ireland,” 103.
  4. Colm Lennon, Sixteenth-Century Ireland: The Incomplete Conquest(New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), 111.
  5. Brendan Bradshaw, The Irish Constitutional Revolution of the Sixteenth Century(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 32-57.
  6. Ibid., 32-33.
  7. In the second chapter of The Irish Constitutional Revolution of the Sixteenth Century, Bradshaw engages in an extensive analysis of the two varieties of the Old English reform movement. The first, arising during the early years of the sixteenth century, sought reforms on a limited scale; it aimed to stabilize the Pale before extending English jurisdiction to the Gaelic hinterlands. The second, emergent by the later 1520s, sought a general reformation that would encompass the entire island; this impulse, Bradshaw argues, embodied the principles of commonwealth liberalism. Discussion of the distinctions between these two impulses is better left to Bradshaw; what is important, for purposes of this essay, is not the subtle differences in the Old English demands for reform but rather the general themes and similarities that these demands reflected.
  8. Bradshaw, Irish Constitutional Revolution, 44-45.
  9. Ibid., 46-48.
  10. Sir Patrick Finglas, “A Breviate of the getting of Ireland, and of the Decaie of the Same,” in Hibernica: Or, some Antient Pieces relating to Ireland, ed. Walter Harris (Dublin: 1747), 82.
  11. Coyne and Livery was a Gaelic extraction that provided for private military retinues, not unlike the system of bastard feudalism characteristic of fifteenth-century England.
  12. Finglas, “Breviate,” 84.
  13. Ibid., 101.
  14. Ibid., 88.
  15. Ibid., 88.
  16. Ellis, Tudor Ireland, 130-132; Lennon, Sixteenth-Century Ireland, 145-147.
  17. According to the provisions of Poyning’s Law (1494), “the Irish council had to request permission from London for the holding of a private assembly, and it had to transmit to the English king and his Privy Council there the bills which it intended to pass in the Irish legislature. Only when the bills were returned in the approved form to Dublin could parliament be asked to go ahead and pass them into law.” Lennon, Sixteenth-Century Ireland, 14.
  18. Lennon, Sixteenth-Century Ireland, 147.
  19. Ellis, Tudor Ireland, 131.
  20. Nicholas Canny, The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland: A Pattern Established 1565-1576(Sussex: Harvester Press, 1976), 32.
  21. “An Act that the king of England, his heirs and his successors be kings of Ireland,” in Irish Historical Documents 1172-1922, ed. Edmund Curtis and R. B. McDowell (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1968), 77.
  22. Lennon, Sixteenth-Century Ireland, 154-155.
  23. Bradshaw, Irish Constitutional Revolution, 238.
  24. Ibid., 189, 240, 238.
  25. Ellis, Tudor Ireland, 140.
  26. Bradshaw, Irish Constitutional Revolution, 237.
  27. Ellis, Tudor Ireland, 139.
  28. Bradshaw, Irish Constitutional Revolution, 264.
  29. Hans Claude Hamilton, ed., Calendar of State Papers Relating to Ireland of the Reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth, 11 vols. (1860; Nendeln: Kraus Reprint, 1974), 1:59; James Gairdner, ed., Calendar of Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509-1547, 21 vols. (1883; Vaduz: Kraus Reprint, 1965), 16:486.
  30. Quoted in Ellis, Tudor Ireland, 140.
  31. Canny, Elizabethan Conquest, 33-34.
  32. Ellis, Tudor Ireland, 148.
  33. Canny, Elizabethan Conquest, 34.
  34. Ibid., 35.
  35. Ellis, Tudor Ireland, 245.
  36. Quoted in Ellis, Tudor Ireland, 229.
  37. Bellingham, one of the new advocates of a military conquest of Ireland, had first imposed the seneschal system in Wicklow to suppress the Byrnes, O’Tooles, and Kavanaghs. Under this system, an English captain ruled as a seneschal, or bailiff, in the place of the dismissed Gaelic chieftain, enforced martial law, and financed himself and his retinues by the rents and dues of the subdued Gaelic Irish. See Canny, Elizabethan Conquest, 34.
  38. Canny, Elizabethan Conquest, 35.
  39. In The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland: A Pattern Established 1565-1576, Nicholas Canny writes that “[t]he scheme outlined by Sidney was, in many ways, an elaboration upon the proposals for the government of Ireland put forward in 1562 by [then-Lord Deputy] Sussex,” but that it “was essentially different in purpose and broke away from the limited objective of defending the Pale” (Canny 47-48). Steven Ellis takes him to task on this point: “the ‘new departure,'” Ellis writes, “had been anticipated by Sussex and was less novel or systematically pursued than had been thought” (Ellis, Tudor Ireland, 250). This essay is not concerned with settling this dispute between Canny and Ellis. What is important for our purposes is not whether Sussex or Sidney designed the program for military conquest, but rather that this program of military conquest was pursued by the crown administration.
  40. Canny, Elizabethan Conquest, 47.
  41. Ibid., 49-51.
  42. Arthur Collins, ed., Letters and Memorials of State, In the Reigns of Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, King James, King Charles the First, Part of the Reign of Charles the Second, and Oliver’s Usurpation, Written and collected By Sir Henry Sydney . . .(1746; New York: AMS Press, 1973), 24.
  43. Canny, Elizabethan Conquest, 64-67.
  44. Ibid., 70.
  45. Quoted in Canny, Elizabethan Conquest, 82.
  46. Ibid.
  47. Canny, Elizabethan Conquest, 90.
  48. Ellis, Tudor Ireland, 246.
  49. Quoted in Canny, Elizabethan Conquest, 37.
  50. Bradshaw, Irish Constitutional Revolution, 267.
  51. Canny, Elizabethan Conquest, 142.
  52. Ibid.
  53. Ibid., 143-144.
  54. Ibid., 147.
  55. Ibid., 140-141.
  56. Ellis, Tudor Ireland, 284-286.
  57. Ibid., 286.
  58. Colm Lennon, “Richard Stanihurst (1547-1618) and Old English Identity,” in Irish Historical Studies21 (1978), 130.
  59. Richard Stanihurst, “A Treatise Conteining a plaine and perfect description of Ireland; with an Introduction to the better understanding of the histories apperteining to that Iland,” in Chronicles, ed. Raphael Hollinshed and William Harrison (London: 1586), 34.
  60. Ibid., 10.
  61. Ibid., 44.
  62. Ibid., 44.
  63. Clarke, “Colonial Identity,” 60.
  64. Ibid., 71.
  65. Quoted in Canny, Elizabethan Conquest, 132.
  66. Edmund Spenser, A View of the State of Ireland, ed. Andrew Hadfield and Willy Maley (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 13.
  67. Ibid., 35-36.
  68. James P. Myers, Jr., “Introduction,” in A Discovery of the True Causes Why Ireland Was Never Entirely Subdued [And] Brought Under Obedience of the Crown Until the Beginning of His Majesty’s Happy Reign, ed. James P. Myers, Jr. (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1988), 3-4.
  69. Sir John Davies, Historical Relations: Or, a Discovery of the True Causes Why Ireland Was Never Intirely Subdu’d nor Brought under Obedience of the Crown of England until the Beginning of the Reign of King James of Happy Memory, 3ded. (Dublin: 1666), 4, in A Short-title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and British America and of English Books Printed in Other Countries, 1641-1700, ed. Donald Wing (New York: Columbia University Press, 1945).
  70. Ibid., 164.
  71. Ibid., 150.
  72. Quoted here are the most conspicuously “nationalist” aims of Hugh O’Neill’s rebellion. For the remainder, see “Hugh O’Neill’s War Aims, 1599,” in Irish Historical Documents 1172-1922, eds. Edmund Curtis and R. B. McDowell (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1968), 119-120.
  73. Canny, “Early Modern Ireland,” 113.
  74. Ellis, Tudor Ireland, 300-303.
  75. Quoted in Ellis, Tudor Ireland, 303.
  76. Davies, Discovery, 65.
  77. Aidan Clarke, The Old English in Ireland, 18.


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