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BORDERLANDS AND COLONIES: TUDOR IRELAND IN THE PERSPECTIVE OF COLONIAL AMERICA WILLIAM PALMER during the past twenty years several gifted and erudite scholars have injected new life into the historiography of early modern Ireland. Beginning with the publication of Nicholas Canny’s The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland: A Pattern Established in 1976, the trajectory and thrust of early modern Irish history has been decisively altered. Analyzing the key events leading to the conquest unfolding between 1560 and 1575, Canny’s work made it possible for historians to break out of earlier explanatory frameworks which either tended to stress the uncivilized state of Tudor Ireland, thereby justifying the English conquest, or tended to glorify the role of the Gaelic chiefs who resisted it.1 Canny succeeded in disposing of both approaches . He painted a bleak picture of conditions in Ireland in 1560, and he regarded the Gaelic chiefs as oppressive and parasitical landlords, rather than heroic rebels. More consequentially, he attributed the implementation of aggressive policies toward Ireland in the 1560s to the deputyship of Sir Henry Sidney rather than to a preordained design toward which the English had been aiming for centuries. At the same time, however, Canny stressed the stunning savagery and racism displayed by the English conquerors . Examining both actual episodes and tracts written by English colonizers, Canny concluded that the English behaved in Ireland as though they were absolved from then normal ethical and moral constraints.2 In several respects Canny’s work was both complemented and challenged TUDOR IRELAND IN THE PERSPECTIVE OF COLONIAL AMERICA 37 1 See R. Dudley Edwards, Church and State in Tudor Ireland, (Dublin, 1935), and David Mathew, The Celtic Peoples of Renaissance Europe (London, 1933), for a sampling of viewpoints . For a recent attempt to place the subject in context, see Steven G. Ellis, “Historiographical Debate: Representations of the Past in Tudor Ireland: Whose past and whose present?” Irish Historical Studies, 27 (November, 1991), 289–308. 2 Nicholas Canny, The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland: A Pattern Established (Hassocks, 1976). See also Canny’s refinement of several of his positions in Reformation to Restoration: Ireland, 1534–1660 (Dublin, 1987), Kingdom to Colony: Ireland in the Atlantic by Brendan Bradshaw. Bradshaw has been concerned primarily with the problems of governing Ireland during the reign of Henry VIII, and speciWcally with the impact of the dissolution of the monasteries in Ireland and the ideas of a group he called the “Irish reformers.” While his work on the later Tudors was not based on the same level of detailed primary source investigation, he extrapolated his Wndings on the earlier Tudors into a comprehensive interpretation. Arguing that the Old English reformers in Ireland advanced proposals for reforming the Gaelic Irish population along lines similar to those proposed by the Erasmian humanists in England, Bradshaw followed Canny in denying the existence of any grand English design to conquer Ireland, but he contended, as well, that those who preferred reform by persuasive or humanist means were gradually supplanted by those who, inspired by predestinarian Protestant theology, argued that Ireland could be subdued only by force. The introduction of unambiguously Protestant religious policies under Edward VI, the reaction in England against Mary’s coercive policies, and Lord Deputy St. Leger’s Wnal recall in 1556 were harbingers of the abandonment of policies of persuasion. As radical Protestant theology gained a stronger hold in government circles by Elizabeth’s reign, any chance that the Protestant Reformation in Ireland would succeed by peaceful means was destroyed, and it was at this point that the English turned decisively toward policies of aggression and violence .3 This aspect of Bradshaw’s interpretation was subsequently challenged by Canny, who argued that Bradshaw too easily pronounced the death of the Reformation in Ireland. In fact, argued Canny, marshaling considerable evidence that many observers expected the Reformation to succeed in Ireland, the Reformation in Ireland was a process whose outcome remained in doubt until the nineteenth century.4 Despite their manifest disagreement on points of detail and interpretation , Canny and Bradshaw exercised a liberating eVect on Irish hisTUDOR IRELAND IN THE PERSPECTIVE OF COLONIAL AMERICA 38 World (Baltimore, 1988), and “The British Atlantic World: Toward a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1550-5162
Print ISSN
0013-2683
Pages
pp. 37-51
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-31
Open Access
No
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