The transatlantic colonial context
John Derricke versus Edmund Spenser
in John Derricke’s The Image of Irelande: with a Discoverie of Woodkarne
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Early Modern English perspectives on the conquest of Ireland reflected broad humanist ideals about just conquest and colonialism that were emerging within debates between continental humanists and traditional Spanish scholastics concerning the Spanish conquest of the New World. For example, the focus on Irish behaviour in works by John Derricke and Edmund Spenser, in particular their characterisation of the Irish as nomadic brigands, were influenced to some extent by early sixteenth-century humanist accounts of the Amerindians. This chapter considers Derricke’s Image of Irelande (1581) within the context of religious and humanist debates on the conquest and settlement of the New World and the contemporary representation of New World inhabitants. Ultimately, it shows that the terms of the debates concerning the reform of ‘unnatural’ New World polities were reproduced, albeit in modified form, within the Irish context, allowing writers such as Derricke and Spenser to condemn native Irish barbarism from the perspective of natural law while also identifying a clear path to reform.

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