During the sixteenth-century officials and interested parties in Ireland composed hundreds of papers on crown policy in the country and sent them to the metropolitan government in England. The information contained in these ‘reform’ treatises substantially shaped how senior ministers in England viewed an Ireland which very few of them had visited personally. Moreover these documents informed much of these ministers’ outlooks on the Irish of Ireland and the allegedly backward political and social system operating there. Perhaps most importantly, these treatises argued for the adoption of specific policies to confront various problems perceived in Ireland. Some of these in arguing for ‘reform’ through an aggressive programme of regional conquest and colonization were highly coercive, while others in proposing that ‘reform’ could be achieved through educational and social reform or the expansion of the court system had a more sanguine view of Ireland. Whatever the approach, a great many of these were in due course implemented in Ireland. In time the decision to implement these same policies played a major role in shaping the history of early modern Ireland and indeed the wider British state. As such these treatises are central to how the Tudors governed Ireland. This book offers the first extended treatment of the approximately six-hundred extant ‘reform’ treatises. In doing so it examines not just the content of this large body of papers, but how officials and other parties on the periphery of the Irish government debated policy in sixteenth-century Ireland and what impact their writings had.
Debating Tudor policy in Ireland: The ‘reform’ treatises
The introduction provides a general overview of the ‘reform’ treatises as a body of sources. The fact that there are approximately six-hundred of these documents is noted. The authors of the documents are examined with specific reference to their ethnic background and status within Irish officialdom. The different forms in which treatises were written and the major themes are then overviewed. Finally, issues such as intertextuality and how writers borrowed from one another are looked at.
The policy debate in Henrician Ireland, c.1515–1546
The first chapter examines the ‘reform’ treatises written more or less during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII and how they impacted upon the development of government policy in Ireland up to 1546. I argue that most writers were overwhelmingly in favour of a programme of renewed conquest, beginning in those parts of Leinster immediately adjoining the Dublin-centred Pale, and that they believed this would finally be initiated following the Kildare Rebellion in the mid-1530s. However owing to Henry VIII’s unwillingness to fund such a conquest a cheap strategy of conciliation known as ‘surrender and regrant’ was briefly experimented with in the early 1540s. The chapter also examines the policy debate, and treatises written on, religious reform and regional reform of Munster and Ulster through the establishment of provincial councils and settlement of colonies.
The chapter begins in 1546 when a military incursion was launched by the Dublin government against the Irish lordships of the O’Mores and O’Connors in the Irish midlands of Laois and Offaly. I argue that this military venture was the first step in the Tudor conquest of Ireland. Eventually in the 1550s the plantation of this region was undertaken, thus initiating the general pattern whereby Ireland would be conquered and resettled down to the end of the seventeenth century. The chapter then goes on to examine the other major policy issues of the mid-Tudor period, specifically the growing threat posed to the Tudor state by Shane O’Neill’s ascendancy in Ulster and the incursion of Scottish settlers from the Outer Hebrides into the north-east of Ireland. Finally, consideration is given to the long viceregal administration of the third earl of Sussex and the criticism it drew from Irish officials in the late 1550s and early 1560s owing to its recourse to the ‘cess’ and other practices. Throughout the chapter how these issues arose in the treatises is discussed and the ideas put forward contextualised.
This chapter discusses a wide array of policy developments in mid-Elizabethan Ireland including drives to colonise parts of Ulster and Munster, to establish new systems of crown taxation, to extend the institutions of the English state into the more remote parts of Ireland and to spread the Protestant faith. In doing so it argues that there was a major expansion of the English state in Ireland at this time. This led to an increasing need to find new ways of financing the state apparatus there and the implementation of policies designed to bring more remote parts of the country under control, for instance by establishing colonies in north-east Ulster. It also argues that there was an intensifying of the drive to protestantise the country at this time, in large part owing to the excommunication of Elizabeth I in 1570. Throughout the ‘reform’ treatises written at this time are examined in order to fully examine how these policies were being debated and promoted by officials in Ireland.
Treatise writing in late Elizabethan Ireland, 1579–1594
This chapter proposes a revision of our understanding of political discourse in late Elizabethan Ireland and public policy there more generally. Previously it has largely been contended that officials in Ireland at this time began to believe that the country was beyond ‘reform’ and that a harsh brand of military subjugation would have to be employed to create a tabula rasa on which an English society could be constructed. Converse to this the chapter argues that officials were actually deeply critical of Tudor policy in Ireland itself at this time. Accordingly they argued that what was needed was a more conciliatory approach to the governance of the country and reformation of the gross levels of militarisation and corruption which had become endemic there. These views were clearly laid out in a literature of complaint which emerged in the ‘reform’ treatises being written at this time. The chapter is primarily an exploration of this literature of complaint. It also examines the treatises attendant upon the inception of the Munster Plantation. Finally, it examines attitudes towards the problem posed by Ulster in the 1580s and early 1590s and queries what policies were promoted for the province in the years preceding the outbreak of the Nine Years War in 1594.
This chapter addresses the development of Dublin by focusing on a debate on government policy which occurred within that bureaucratic system in the closing decades of the reign of Elizabeth I. There were serious divergences of opinion at this time on how the Irish kingdom ought to be governed, disagreements which consequently spawned an extensive 'literature of complaint'. The chapter examines the broad range of figures critiquing government policy and the political culture of the Irish kingdom, from high-ranking officials to more marginal figures. It shows that the barrage of complaints had at least one tangible result, in the reeling in of martial law in the early 1590s. The chapter discusses the parallel development of an exculpatory literature of justification in response to the criticism of high ranking crown officers.