Maintaining political stability in 16th century Ireland

  • An early turning point came in 1494-96 in the wake of the Lambert Simnel revolt
    • Sir Edward Poynings was sent by Henry VII to restore order. He introduced laws that would last for over 300 years and first established a permanent garrison to keep order.
    • Interesting scale – Poynings was given 400 troops to restore order; a century later Essex’s 17,000 could not succeed. This indicates the degree to which Tudor “reform” roused opposition
    • Poynings’ Law, 1495, tied Ireland’s administration much closer to England. It said that Irish parliaments could only be summoned at the English monarch’s request and that the English monarch had to approve each new Irish law.
    • Poynings did not disturb the rule of the Irish chieftains, and there were no serious rebellions for the next 40 years
  • The first stage in the destabilisation of Ireland came in 1520, when Henry VIII, as part of his aggressive policy, decided he wanted a stronger grip on Ireland – especially over tax collection. He dismissed Kildare as Lord Deputy and appointed the Earl of Surrey, sending him to Ireland to command an army of 550 men.
    • Henry’s main aim was to make the Irish full English subjects
      • He was willing to compromise on a part-Irish legal system to obtain this
      • But he insisted on the right to choose the men who would fill the 8 key offices of state
    • The effect was to badly destabilise Ireland and set the scene for the Irish rebellions of 1534-1603
    • Eg there were 12 further changes in the Lord Deputyship in the next 15 years
    • Surrey told Henry he would need 6,000 men to subdue all Ireland, but even his 500 man army was too expensive – Henry had to send another £4,000 for wages
    • Surrey was recalled after only 18 months
    • After that, the Lord Deputyship was rotated between the Butler and Kildare families in an effort to prevent either becoming too powerful – what it really led to was fierce rivalry between the clans. This instability helped lead to Silken Thomas’s revolt
    • Kildare complained of the impossibility of controlling the Irish countryside: “I have small grace with our Irish, unless I cut them off at the knees.”
  • After Silken Thomas, Earl of Kildare’s rebellion of 1534-37, Henry VIII introduced many changes to the government of Ireland.
    • The Kildares ceased to be the crown’s deputy lieutenant, having served the Yorkists and early Tudors for more than 70 years.
    • Instead Irish administration was put in the hands of English officials in Dublin – a major change that caused resentment among the Gaelic and Anglo-Irish and in practice made the maintenance of stability more difficult to achieve.
    • Until 1534 the Butler clan had occasionally been used to keep the Kildares in check; after 1534, clan rivalry increased
      • Kildare power had been undermined
      • English forces were not strong enough to keep order
    • Until 1534 only a small garrison had been kept in Dublin; after 1534, its size increased (though not consistently) and small garrisons were established in most counties.
    • The English introduced a policy of seizing attainted land and granting it to English and Irish officials, a practice that started in 1534 and was repeated after rebellions in the 1550s, 1570s and 1580s.
    • Henry VIII’s seizure of Church land to pay for the cost of putting down Silken Thomas’s rebellion saw the start of an unpopular reformation in Ireland which later caused deeper resentment among Roman Catholics.
    • 1541 saw the introduction of the Anglicisation of the Irish political system
      • Henry VIII became ‘King of Ireland’ rather than ‘Lord of Ireland’
      • Henry forced Gaelic chiefs to surrender their lands and titles to him before re-granting them with English titles, and under English law.
      • For the first time English laws, customs and language were made mandatory.
      • Anglicisation however was not popular and this policy can be seen as counter-productive – anti- English sentiments surfaced in several Elizabethan rebellions
    • The introduction of plantations was a turning-point in the 1550s.
      • Lands seized from rebellious clans in Munster were granted to English settlers and presaged the policy of colonisation under Elizabeth.
      • Results varied:
        • Munster – successful plantation of 300,000 acres in 1580s. Sale of land repaid cost of suppressing the Munster Rebellion
        • But these new estates were seized bach during Tyrone’s rebellion
        • Eg Sir Walter Raleigh lost his estate at Tallow
      • Overall, a more stable country was indeed emerging – but Tyrone’s rebellion in 1595 destroyed the settlements
    • There were certainly elements of continuity as well as change
      • Anglo-Irish and Irish nobles held effective power no matter what the English born officials in Dublin attempted to do.
      • Every Tudor ultimately resorted to patronage, bribery, threats and applied force in an attempt to maintain order and stability.
      • Martial law became a feature of the period – eg imposed 1548, 1575
      • The key throughout was lack of money. Especially under Elizabeth, when diversion of funds to meet the Spanish threat meant meant experiments in how to run Ireland more cheaply, English policy lacked coherence and consistency. Dsorder was the most common characteristic – this helps to explain the prevalence of Irish rebellion in the latter half of the 16th century
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