Irlanda y el rey prudente, [Ireland and the Prudent King], Enrique García Hernán. (Ediciones del Laberinto, Madrid, 2,000 pesetas) ISBN 8487482686

Published in Book Reviews, Issue 3 (Autumn 2001), Reviews, Volume 9

Those who read Spanish will find Enrique García’s book both rewarding and interesting. For too long Ireland’s relations with Philip II have centred on the ‘invincible armada’ of 1588. As this book shows, the king was continuously interested in Ireland during his time as monarch, 1556-98. Indeed, this comprehensiveness is the main feature of this book. It is precisely because the author has chosen to write a narrative account that we at last get an overview of Hiberno-Spanish relations in their true context. For instance, García’s book is the best survey we yet have of Philip’s time as king of Ireland, that is, the period of his crown matrimonial with Mary Tudor from the time of his marriage in July 1554 to her death without issue in November 1558. García mentions Philip’s warm relations with Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond, but as Vincent Carey’s Surviving the Tudors (Four Courts Press 2000) shows, King Philip also maintained warm relations with the FitzGerald Earls of Kildare. Perhaps the author’s emphasis (pp.37-8) on the papal donation of Ireland to Philip & Mary in 1555 is a little exaggerated. Early modern rulers—rather like their medieval predecessors—were often still happy to accept an accumulation of justifications for their titles, and certainly Philip had had no hesitation in sporting his title of ‘king of Ireland’ for at least a year. The role of Ireland in the great enterprise of 1588 is now clearer because of García’s minute reconstruction of Philip’s involvement with Stucley, Englefield, Wolf, Fitzgibbon, O’Healy as well as Fitzmaurice and the Earl of Desmond. Perhaps García’s account of 1588 borders is a little too positive. The support of Irish Catholics for shipwrecked Spaniards is recounted in some detail, yet the decision of at least some chiefs to hand over sailors to the Tudor state is not. One of the great merits of the book is to remind us that Spain’s interest in these islands did not flag after 1588. In 1596 the Count of San Gadea was all set to launch another armada in favour of Hugh O’Neill, only to find that Philip had changed his mind. Perhaps García has shown us that Philip II’s sobriquet of ‘prudent’ is perhaps too kind. We can only imagine the consequences if he had successfully taken the advice given to him earlier in his reign: ‘Let Ireland ride postillion for Spain in the Atlantic, defending the silver fleets and putting naval pressure on Elizabeth and her sailors and pirates’. García’s brilliant little book reveals Felipe el prudente was just as much ‘Philip the prevaricator’.

Glyn Redworth

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