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Reviewed by:
  • Franco-Irish Relations, 1500–1610: Politics, Migration and Trade
  • William Palmer
Mary Ann Lyons . Franco-Irish Relations, 1500-1610: Politics, Migration and Trade. Royal Historical Society Studies in History New Series 35. Suffolk and Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer, Inc., 2003. xiii + 242 pp. index. illus. map. gloss. bibl. $70. ISBN: 08-61-93266-8.

Mary Anne Lyons's Franco-Irish Relations, 1500–1610: Politics, Migration and Trade reflects three important threads in the recent historiography of early [End Page 710] modern Ireland. First, early modern Irish history, once regarded as the endless and largely meaningless history of warring lords and factions, has been elevated to a subject of real importance. The surge of interest can be dated to the publication of Nicholas Canny's classic study, The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland: A Pattern Established, in 1975. The work of subsequent scholars, such as Steven Ellis,Brendan Bradshaw, and Ciaran Brady, to name only a few, has taken the subject to a yet higher intellectual and theoretical level.

Second, within the context of early modern Irish history itself, the importance of international forces in shaping its history and relations with England has also received considerable attention in recent years. After the publication of David Potter's 1983 article on French intrigue in Scotland during the reign of Henry II and the present writer's The Problem of Ireland in Tudor Foreign Policy, 1485–1603 in 1994, any account of sixteenth-century Anglo-Irish relations that did not take into consideration international pressures and concerns could not be considered complete.

The imperatives of foreign policy regularly shaped England's relations with Ireland. During the sixteenth century foreign rulers, particularly those in France and Spain, frequently considered using Ireland as a base for attacks againstEngland, especially after Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church and England became a target for Catholic plotting of many kinds. Moreover, even whenCatholic plotting was imaginary or non-existent, the English could never be sure of their sketchy nature and had always to take seriously the possibility that Irish rebels could link up with Catholic rulers eager to invade Protestant England.

By the 1550s the English had even more to fear. Catholic leaders regularly preached war against schismatic England, and the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis in 1559 ended more than thirty years of fighting between France and Spain, allowing them to focus more of their attention on England. In fact it can be argued that international fears are ultimately what drove the English to conquer Ireland.

Third, Lyons's book also contributes to the study of another important theme in recent historiography, the "British Problem," meaning the need to examine many issues not simply for an English context, but from the perspective of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. In the Tudor period, foreign policy is the issue where British issues most commonly appear. Foreign plotters were rarely interested in Ireland or Scotland simply by themselves; they were interested in Ireland or Scotland to guard against the problems those areas could cause for England.

Dr. Lyons's book is therefore a welcome and timely addition to the literature on several aspects of early modern Ireland and Britain. Lyons's main contribution is to provide a detailed examination of the attitudes of English policymakers toward the connections between the French and Irish lords and the threats posed by international power politics. She also examines the first wave of Irish migration to France in the 1590s and early 1600s.

While Dr. Lyons adds some interesting details to our knowledge of migration, she is less successful in elucidating foreign policy. While she does examine the subject of Franco-Irish relations in impressive depth, she adds little of importance [End Page 711] to the subject that cannot be found in earlier accounts. While she criticizes earlier writers for interpretive deficiencies, her book is mainly a narrative of events and has no real interpretive framework of its own to offer.

More critically, her book suffers from a methodological flaw. Foreign policy is a holistic enterprise, and studying one component of it — the relations between England and France in terms of Ireland — is necessarily limiting. What onereally studies in books like Dr. Lyons's...


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Archived 2009
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