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sixteenth-century problems
By indigenous political culture I mean those ideas that had prevailed in
Ireland until the tenor of political life was disturbed, principally after
1579, by a determination of the English state to assert its authority over
the political elites in all provinces. Previously, there had been two streams
of political thinking in Ireland: one associated with those (the English
Irish) who traced their origin to the Norman conquest of the twelfth
century, and the other with Gaelic lords. Political discourse had a
Hibernian piquancy only because contributors were divided over whether
they accepted or rejected Gerald of Wales, who, in legitimizing the
conquest of Ireland undertaken by King Henry II, had portrayed the
Irish of the twelfth century as a barbaric people.4 If we disregard this
ideological cleavage, political culture on the island of Ireland at the mid-
point of the sixteenth century was remarkably similar to that obtaining in
Britain, even when Britain was not yet governed by a single monarch.
The most articulate on both islands were those representing lowland
interests. In Ireland these came from the English Irish population, and
usually from within the English Pale close to Dublin. These, like
lowlanders and townspeople in England and Scotland, were in favour of
resolving disputes through reconciliation rather than by force, they were
hopeful that a new educated generation of rulers would guide their

3
Morgan 1999b; Ohlmeyer 2000; Connolly 2000; Boyce, Eccleshall and Geoghegan 1993;
´
O Buachalla 1996; Palmer 2001; Rankin 2005.
4
Cambrensis 1978; Cambrensis 1982; Gillingham 1993; Gillingham 1995; Morgan 1999b.
Intersections between Irish and British Political Thought 69
peoples to a more peaceful, prosperous life, and they derided lords who
remained attached to lineage cultures, contending that their military
exactions were destroying trade and manufacturing and compelling
farmers to abandon their holdings.5
At the opposite pole was the political culture associated with the Gaelic
polity of Ireland and of the highlands and islands of Scotland. Here,
loyalty was focused on the lordship, with prime value attached to the
prowess of the lord on the battlefield and to his entertaining his followers,
especially after military victory. Each lordship was supposedly a self-
contained political entity, but lords could purport to be promoting the
security and enrichment of their followers when they led raids upon their
neighbours which they could justify by citing the deeds of real or putative
ancestors whose authority had been more extensive than theirs. Between
these poles were the lineage cultures fostered by lords of Norman ancestry
in the North of England, on Scotland™s borders with England, and in the
provinces of Munster and Leinster in Ireland where most noblemen were
of Norman extraction. These lords cultivated loyalty to themselves but
they differed from their Gaelic counterparts in recognizing a monarch
(either of Scotland or England) as a superior authority.6 The political
culture on the two islands might be seen to have been even more similar if
we recognize that the twelfth-century writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth,
(as argued by Colin Kidd), fulfilled the same function for English people
as did the writings of Gerald of Wales for the English Irish population
in justifying the suppression of their Celtic neighbours.7
Political developments in Ireland over the sixteenth century took
a different course from those of the other two kingdoms principally
because the Protestant Reformation failed to establish significant native
roots, whereas it did so in England and Scotland. Developing discrepancy
in religious allegiances compelled the government to assert its authority
over all elements of Ireland™s population lest some become influenced
by the continental enemies of Protestantism. This was achieved first by
increasing the number of Crown troops in Ireland, and then by requiring
that all potential officeholders take the oath of supremacy. This latter
resulted in posts in the Dublin administration, customarily occupied by
sons of English Irish families who had been to the London Inns of Court,

5
Canny 1977; Canny 1979.
6
Ellis 1995; Rae 1966; Maginn 2005, pp. 5À32; Edwards 2003, pp. 11À78.
7
Kidd, in this volume, pp. 50À2.
70 nicholas canny
falling to English-born Protestants. This meant that the character of
government in Dublin became increasingly English, Protestant and
military, and as the administration set about modelling Irish society to its
wishes even Queen Elizabeth acknowledged it a ˜thing impossible™ to treat
her loyal supporters in Ireland as ˜any others of her Queen™s Majesty™s
subjects™.8
Different elements of the Irish population reacted differently to the
gulf that emerged between government and society, but three typical
responses can be discerned. The most clear-cut English Irish response was
that taken in 1569À1570 by James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald (a cousin of the
Earl of Desmond), and a decade later by Desmond and his adherents in
Munster and by James Eustace, Viscount Baltinglass, and his followers
within, and on the borders of, the Pale. These rejected the Crown™s claim
to wield authority in Ireland because, in 1570, Queen Elizabeth had
been excommunicated by the Pope.9 This justification for withdrawing
allegiance proved unconvincing for most of the English Irish community,
who wished to repair, rather than sever, connections with the English
Crown, but Catholic clergy, especially those who had been educated in
Catholic Europe, could hardly ignore a papal decree.
Hugh O™Neill, Earl of Tyrone, who emerged in 1594 as leader of
a confederacy of Ulster lords intent on preventing the English from
interfering in the internal affairs of this primarily Gaelic province,
recognized that he could turn the excommunication of Queen Elizabeth
to political advantage. Earlier Gaelic opposition to Crown encroachment,
emanating from lords in Leinster, Connacht, the Gaelic midlands, and
Ulster, had been piecemeal, inept and inchoate, and English officers in
the provinces had held their ground with small complements of troops.
The challenge presented by Tyrone was different because he, who had
originally been a creature of the Crown in Ulster, had spent the greater
part of his youth in English Irish and English company. These contacts
provided him with experience with the Crown forces in Ireland, and he
put this knowledge to good purpose when it became clear to him that his
survival could be better achieved by opposing rather than assisting
the Crown. Then he created a military alliance that included tradi-
tional enemies of the O™Neills as well as personal supporters.10 As his
challenge escalated, some Catholic bishops recognized him as the best

8
Canny 1975, p. 24; Morgan 2004b.
9
Coburn-Walshe 1990; Edwards 1992; Brady 1981; Brady 1994a, pp. 209À18.
10
Canny 2003a.
Intersections between Irish and British Political Thought 71
potential champion of Catholicism in Ireland. This resulted in an alliance
between the pragmatic, and possibly Protestant-leaning, Tyrone, and
militant Catholic bishops, with Tyrone willing to represent his opposition
to the crown as religiously inspired, and the bishops seeking to have
Tyrone™s struggle recognized by the Papacy as a Catholic crusade. They
did succeed in persuading King Philip III of Spain to provide significant
support to Tyrone, and they toyed with alternative modes of government,
such as recognizing the Spanish king, or the ArchDuke Albert, as
protectors of an Irish federation over which Tyrone might enjoy
suzerainty.11 However the English Irish community was not impressed
by the call to arms, and the bishops also failed in their effort to persuade
Pope Clement VIII (then suspicious of the increasing power of Spain) to
compel Catholics in Ireland to support O™Neill™s confederacy.
The more normal response of the English Irish community (with the
exception of the few who became Protestant and intermarried with
families of English-born officials) was, in Ciaran Brady™s phrase, to
become ˜conservative subversives™. These individuals challenged officials
whenever they breached customary practice or legal precedent, appealed
over the government in Dublin to the Crown in England, or lobbied in
London to have officials and even governors dismissed.12 On the positive
side they pointed to their, and their ancestors™, records of loyalty,
emphasizing their neutral stance during the insurrections of Desmond,
Baltinglass and Tyrone. More particularly, they argued that religious and
political allegiance were separable and to give substance to this
rationalization they offered to take an oath of allegiance, pledging loyalty
to the Crown, instead of the supremacy oath, hoping that this would
qualify them for return to office. Therefore they seemed reconciled to
Catholicism™s being a clandestine faith, and appeared only to be seeking
exemption from the legal consequences of not participating in Protestant
services.13
Despite these strategems of the English Irish population, the
government persisted in requiring the supremacy oath of all nominees
to office. The arguments launched by Protestant officials against any
political rehabilitation of the English Irish (who they now dubbed as
Old English) were more compelling. These contended that it was the
Old English, rather than the Gaelic Irish, who were the primary

11 12
Morgan 1993; Morgan 2004b. Brady 1985; Brady 1994b.
13
Canny 1975; Lennon 1994, pp. 177À207.
72 nicholas canny
opponents of Crown government, a charge they substantiated by
reference to Old English associations with Catholic Europe, and to the
endeavours of their priests to forestall Protestant missionary efforts in the
Gaelic areas. To counter such trends, the New English (for so we shall call
them) called for untrammelled state power to defeat the conspiracies that,
they asserted, would persist so long as Irish people remained attached
to Catholicism.
The common adherence of Old English and Gaelic Irish to
Catholicism made it possible for New English commentators to conflate
the two populations, but while Edmund Spenser (the most stentorian of
the New English) was adroit at representing both populations as
undifferentiated Papists, his primary purpose was to suggest that each was
at the same cultural level as all twelfth-century Celtic peoples had been
when their mores had been described by Gerald of Wales and Geoffrey of
Monmouth. Reference to Geoffrey™s text, which, as we know from Colin
Kidd, was more usually invoked to assert English supremacy over
Scotland, was pertinent to Spenser because it had alluded also to a British
dominion over Ireland asserted by King Arthur.14
In A View of the Present State of Ireland (1596) Spenser followed two
paths to his perverse conclusion that both populations of Ireland were a
single barbaric race. First, he summarized the portrayal of the Gaelic Irish
given by Gerald of Wales and concluded, from his own personal
observations, that the Gaelic Irish remained as Gerald had described
them, but that the Old English (the descendants of the Normans) had
since degenerated to their level. Here he turned Old English rhetoric
against themselves by referring to legislation that had been passed by the
medieval Irish parliament to counter such degeneration, and claimed that
the process had now culminated in the once civil Old English having
become more depraved than their Gaelic opponents.
A state governed by a godly prince was, in the opinion of Spenser,
necessary to counter this process of decay in Ireland. It was therefore
consistent that he should dismiss the official position of the 1540s which
held that the Gaelic population might be lured to civility by gradual
means. Arguing the impossibility of this, Spenser became the prime
advocate of increasing the military authority of the Crown to effect the
destruction of all opposing elites in Ireland, and the redistribution of
their property among committed Protestants from England who would

14
Kidd, in this volume.
Intersections between Irish and British Political Thought 73
introduce further enterprising Protestants from England. These, in turn,
would develop the economy and bring the indigenous population to
civility and true religion. If the prince lacked the determination to see this
programme to completion, Spenser predicted the instant destruction
or degeneration of the New English, and the exposure of England to
corruption from within and onslaught from without. What Spenser
required was, therefore, a continuing cycle of military interventions both
to advance civil conditions into previously barbaric regions, and to
maintain the vigour and security of the civilizing parent body. The
sequence of onslaughts on Irish lordships would end only when the more
tractable elements of the population had been given the opportunity
to engage with educational and evangelical endeavours. It was at this
point, contended Spenser, that English common law would maintain
this re-constituted Irish polity in a civil condition, and that England
would become secure and prosperous, having fulfilled a providential
demand.15
Therefore, by the end of the sixteenth century, a political culture had
emerged in Ireland that was strikingly different from, and more
variegated than, that flourishing in England. The extreme views being
expressed by the New English had anticipated by half a century what
Hobbes would have to say in England. The political arguments of the
Old English community would have been equally foreign to an English
audience who would have found them specious, unconvincing and
untenable, especially since they were inconsistent with the more rigid
political teachings of Catholics that were well known to, and reviled by,
English political writers. In several respects Irish political discourse
differed also from the political culture of Scotland, a kingdom that was
destined, in 1603, to join England and Ireland in a common Union of
Crowns. The Scots, more than the English, understood the aspirations for
independence of Gaelic lords, but they would not have countenanced the
virulent anti-English (and soon also anti-Scottish) sentiment that had
entered into poetic discourse in Gaelic Ireland.16 Scots would also have
been shocked that many Gaelic lords had responded to calls from their
priests and bishops to confront the English Crown, particularly when
this meant countenancing over-lordship by a foreign Catholic prince.
However, while such calls had been made, there is scant evidence that any

15
Canny 2001, pp. 1À58; for companion texts see Beacon 1996; Herbert 1992.
16
On this, see Maginn 2005, pp. 180À96; Bradshaw 1978; Brown 1992; Macinnes 1996.
74 nicholas canny
Gaelic lords had any understanding of how such a foreign alliance would
impact upon their existing claims to sovereignty. This conclusion
indicates that the extreme, or implausible, political options that had
been articulated in Ireland were the product of decades of uncertainty and
that all who championed individual options were aware that their
implementation awaited the outcome of the war that was in full flow
in 1594À1603.


seventeenth-century solutions
The new century brought victory for the crown over Tyrone and his
Spanish allies but it also brought Queen Elizabeth™s death in 1603 and the
succession of King James VI of Scotland as King James I of England. The
new monarch inherited a near-bankrupt state which explains why he
immediately sought peace with Spain, effected by the Treaty of London
in 1604. Taking account of these changes, the different political interests
in Ireland put forward their preferred political options for royal
consideration.
The Old English urban communities were first to put their preferences
to the test. They welcomed the new king, but purported to believe that,
as the son of Mary Queen of Scots, he would favour Catholicism. The
mayors of the Munster towns, accompanied by priests in processional
robes, made overtures to the victorious governor Lord Mountjoy,
claiming an entitlement to hold Catholic worship within their towns,
while professing loyalty to the new monarch.17 By so doing the priests
exposed the Old English homespun political philosophy as threadbare,
and Mountjoy dissipated doubt by pronouncing King James to be a firm

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