Die Beziehungen zwischen Spanien und Irland im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert. Diplomatie, Handel und die soziale Integration katholischer Exulanten, [The Relationship between Spain and Ireland in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries: the diplomacy,

Published in Book Reviews, Early Modern History (1500–1700), Issue 3 (Autumn 2001), Reviews, Volume 9

For the last fifteen years ‘confessionalisation’ has been one of the most prominent concepts in German scholarship on early modern Europe. In the wake of the methodological approaches of Heinz Schilling and Wolfgang Reinhard concerning the role of religion in social change and state formation scholars have explored the impact of confessionalisation both on German territories and on other European regions. The theory has even been applied to international relations and European politics. It is this particular aspect of the whole ‘confessionalisation-package’ that Karin Schüller addresses and challenges in her book on Hiberno-Spanish relations in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The study approaches the topic from different angles, ranging from the famous Wild Geese in the Spanish army through trade and commerce to the establishment of Jesuit colleges for Irish seminarians in Spain. Here, she makes extensive use of existing Irish scholarship and succeeds in bringing together various hitherto isolated aspects of Hiberno-Spanish contacts. Whether this strategy can be labelled a histoire totale, as she claims in her introduction, is, however, debatable, particularly in the light of the rather limited range of sources available on the social and cultural relations of Irish exiles in Spain. Moreover, the Irish in Spain were only one part of a wider Irish diaspora at the time and the networks between Irish exiles abroad are certainly of great importance for the wider picture. Nevertheless, Schüller convincingly demonstrates that political, economic and cultural relations constantly overlapped. Irish Jesuit and Franciscan monks, for instance, liaised with Irish and Spanish merchants, soldiers, scholars and politicians. Although some work has been done on specific figures in this struggle for Irish independence, such as T.J. Morrissey’s study of the Jesuit James Archer, Schüller succeeds in completing the picture on the basis of intensive archival research in England, Ireland and Spain. She carefully distinguishes between the differing agendas of Gaelic Irish chieftains and Old English merchants, and this certainly helps German academic readers to understand the often precarious relations between two groups.
While Schüller convincingly masters both Irish and Spanish historiography, it is Spain and its politics which remain the focus of the study, and it is in this sphere that she offers fresh perspectives on ongoing debates. She argues that the Irish and the Spanish political agenda differed substantially. Irish-Spanish relations were based to a large extent on a misunderstanding of the other side’s position and political rationale. The Irish exiles and politicians at home expected Spain’s unfaltering solidarity and active support in their struggle against English oppression. Unlike German and Swiss Landsknechte, who fought for the best wages regardless of the political or confessional outlook of their employers, Irish soldiers in the Spanish army had a genuine interest in the Catholic cause which, for them, was intertwined with the liberation of Catholic Ireland from Protestant English dominance. Many of them regarded their duties in Flanders and elsewhere as a prelude to a Spanish invasion of Ireland. Their hopes, however, never materialised. Spain’s political interests were always driven by a pragmatic approach to the political realities of the day. In Spain’s political strategy, England, and so Ireland, were far less important than Irish and even English politicians believed. Ireland was supported only when it fitted into Spain’s wider political agenda. ‘Confessionalisation’ and confessional solidarity as a main stimulus for international politics certainly did not feature prominently in Spain’s strategic considerations.
Schüller’s work succeeds in the two tasks she has set herself in the introduction. She offers a convincing and, certainly for readers of German, new synthesis of Hiberno-Spanish relations which combines hitherto separate strands, and she challenges the ‘confessionalisation’ paradigm, which, as applied to international relations, has clearly overstretched its potential.

Raingard Esser

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