Festive Irishmen: an ‘Irish’ Procession in Stuttgart 1617

Published in Early Modern History (1500–1700), Features, Issue 3 (Autumn 1997), Volume 5

Major Henry McClintock’s Old Irish Dress (1943) has been an inspiration and a pleasure to many readers. In this and later editions he assembled many of the sources—written, pictorial and archaeological—relating to Irish costume from the earliest times. His labours have only recently been superseded by Mairead Dunlevy’s Dress in Ireland (1989). In McClintock’s enlarged 1949 edition he drew attention to an Irish procession at Stuttgart in 1617 which appeared in a German book by Georg Rudolf Weckherlin about festivities surrounding the christening of Prince Johann Friedrich of Württemburg and the wedding of his uncle Ludwig Friedrich to Elisabeth Magdalena of Hessen. ‘Among these festivities’ writes McClintock, ‘was a procession, organised by a body of Irish men, perhaps soldiers serving in the Württemberg army, of which there are five pictures together with a detailed description in Weckherlin’s book. This procession was in no sense a military display; weapons and armour hardly figure in it. It was rather a pageant intended to represent the faith and nationality of the men who took part in it’. In 1950 John Hennig complemented McClintock’s efforts with a short article in which he translated the text relating to the Irish pageant, provided information on Georg Weckherlin and noted earlier German representations of Irishmen as well as Irish involvement in other court entertainments.
It is highly unlikely that the figures in the Stuttgart procession are real Irishmen. More than likely they are Württemburg court officials or local actors dressed up. Their costumes are far richer and more colourful than other descriptions of Irish dress. The harpers in the procession have little false faces attached to their knees and bums—a sure sign that the participants are masquers. (Fig.1) Furthermore, far from passively depicting Irish faith and nationality, this representation of the Irish is part of a larger set-piece exercise in German Protestant propaganda on the eve of the Thirty Years War (1618-48). One can confidently make this reinterpretation because, since the days of McClintock and Hennig, the study of costume books upon which they drew and of court festivities such as Stuttgart has been revolutionised. Sir Roy Strong’s Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals, 1450-1650 (1984) comes most readily to mind.

Coffee-table books of their day

Costume books, first manuscript and later printed, are major sources for McClintock’s depiction of sixteenth-century Irishmen and women. A good case can be made for all these images being purely representational—at best mannequins, at worst total caricatures—rather than drawings of real people from Ireland. Interest in different costumes first became vogueish with the circulation of French and Italian engravings and woodcuts. When Albrecht Dürer did an ink and water colour drawing of Irish soldiers in 1521, it was one of a series of drawings of people in national dress possibly intended for later publication along similar lines. Significantly his caption runs ‘Thus go the soldiers in Ireland’, not ‘These are Irish soldiers’. About 1530 Christoph Weiditz put together a full manuscript costume-book after travels in the Iberian peninsula. His Trachtenbuch has coloured drawings of Moors, Basques, and many others whom he had encountered there with an appendix of other nationalities for comparative purposes. One of the latter was captioned ‘Thus go the women in Ireland’. (Fig.2) Much of Weiditz’s material re-appeared a generation later in the first printed costume-books—Recueil de la diversité des habits (Paris 1562) and Omnium fere gentium nostrae aetatis habitus (Venice 1563). Soon other compendiums of costume appeared, mostly emanating from the printing presses of the Low Countries and Germany. These, together with atlases, were the coffee-tables books of their day.
Another set of remarkable images which McClintock drew to our attention were the water colours by Dutch artist, Lucas de Heere, in the early 1570s. He incorporated images of Irish soldiers and of the wild Irish and civil Irish into a large manuscript costume-book in his native Ghent as well as into a gazetteer of the British Isles for refugees fleeing from the war in the Low Countries. De Heere’s drawings were merely adaptations of earlier images. McClintock correctly identified a highly stylised English drawing of Irish soldiers dating from the reign of Henry VIII as the common source of De Heere’s and other contemporary images of the Irish. Ironically these observations did not lead McClintock to question the utility of these pictorial sources for costume history, let alone his contention that the dress of these soldiers represented the regional costume of South Leinster where most of them were recruited. Such sources do seem to reflect, or refract, the involvement of Irish troops in Henry VIII’s continental wars. What is developed is first a caricature of the bellicose Irish dressed and armed in an outlandish fashion distinct from the European norm. This is succeeded and supplemented by a division of the Irish into wild and civil categories. The third development was the identification of the Irish with Catholicism. The first such image occurs on the frontispiece of John Bale’s Vocacyon to the Bishopric of Ossorie published during his continental exile at Wesel in 1553 portraying a meek English Christian menaced by a brutish Irish Papist. All three characteristics—the alleged Irish penchant for violence, incivility and Popery—come together in John Derrick’s Image of Ireland (1581) with its famous woodcuts. Derrick had been in Ireland, and so his work provided a far more accurate depiction of Irish dress but there was still a continental link because many of the woodcut experts employed by his London printer were Dutch.

Renaissance festivals

Irish figures also entered the scenarios of Renaissance festivals. These increasingly elaborate events to celebrate royal rites of passage or mark state occasions saw huge expenditures by kings and princes. Despite the entertainment-oriented production values, their underlying purpose, if not the actual content, was always political. The festivals developed out of medieval tournaments, royal entries to cities and disguised or costumed playlets called ‘masques’. The tournament element was now less violent, more staged and often had a narrative theme. Huge floats with exotic and antique tableaux passed by interspersed with short threatrical performances. The whole show mixed neo-platonic ideas of harmony with chivalric ideals as a focus for aristocratic unity. The most famous festivals, commemorated in the Valois tapestries, took place under the direction of Catherine de’Medici at the French court. One of her events at Bayonne in 1565 featured a mock battle between British and Irish knights. (Fig.3) The British led by the king representing Heroic Virtue (King Arthur) triumphed over the Irish led by the dauphin representing Love (Tristan and Isolde). Such events gradually became private performances in specially constructed locations and not unsurprisingly the derived aspects of modern culture—orchestral music, ballet and opera—are still considered elite entertainments.
There were Irish characters in court masques performed for Henry VIII—Hennig opined that the images recast by Lucas de Heere in 1572 may have been masqueraders rather than soldiers. In 1552 William Baldwin staged ‘An Irish play of the state of Ireland’ for Edward VI. Queen Mary’s court witnessed a masque of ‘Almaynes, Pilgrymes and Irishmen’ in 1557. Her successor, Elizabeth, watched another masque entitled ‘The Irish Knight’ at Whitehall on Shrove Tuesday, 1577. Also staged in Elizabeth’s honour were the Accession Day tilts on 17 November each year. In the 1584 tournament ‘some of the servants were disguised like savages, or like Irishmen, with their hair hanging to the girdle like women, others had horses equipped like elephants, some carriages were drawn by men, others appeared to move by themselves, altogether the carriages had a very odd appearances’. This citation shows development towards the full-scale festival and also possible Irish representation. The same is evident in the 1594 portrayal of Captain Thomas Lee as an Irish kerne by the Flemish artist Marcus Gheeraedts. Sir Henry Lee, Elizabeth’s champion and organiser of her tournaments, was the uncle and patron of this English captain soldiering in Ireland. His dress, far more ornate and revealing than that of an ordinary kerne, would have been more suitable for the annual tilts than an Irish battlefield. Furthermore it is widely recognised to have been derived from ‘Hybernus Miles’ by the Dutch engraver Abrabam de Bruyn for a German costume book in 1578. (Fig.4) In this instance and others the costume-books were either used to kit out individuals attending and acting in the court festivals or plagiarised to stylise the various participants in the subsequent commemorative publications.
The annual tilts gradually died out under the Stuarts but the court masque reached its apogée under Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones. We have the text of Ben Jonson’s Irish Masque performed on 29 December 1613 against the backdrop of an Irish Catholic delegation to England following a chaotic opening session to the parliament in Dublin. This has the familiar Irish dichotomy. King James is interrupted by Irish servants—Dennisse, Dermock, Donnell and Patrick—speaking with a brogue, uttering superstitious Catholic oaths and dancing jigs to the sound of the bagpipes. They are displaced by their masters, Irish ambassadors to court, who reveal themselves by casting off their mantles. These men bring in a bard who proclaims to the more harmonious sound of the harp that James, the king foretold in Irish legend, will be a bringer of unity and civility to Ireland. Georg Weckherlin, the impresario and recorder of the Stuttgart festivities, came to Britain on diplomatic visits between 1609 and 1615. He may have attended court events such as this and more than likely the celebrations surrounding the marriage of Elizabeth Stuart to Friedrich Elector Palatinate earlier the same year. He may even have ventured further west if the beginning to an ode to drinking ‘I was also in Ireland once’ is more than mere poetic licence.

Georg Rudolf Weckherlin

In 1615 Weckherlin returned to his native Württemburg, a small frontline Protestant principality in Southern Germany facing the militant revival of Catholicism in nearby Bavaria and Austria. The following year he organised a festival for the christening of the duke’s son, Friedrich. This was a pretext for another gathering of the members of the Protestant Union along the lines to Duke Johann Friedrich’s own wedding in November 1609 which had seen an eight-day festival attended by thirty-nine princes and princesses, fifty-two counts and countesses, over six hundred nobles and ladies backed up by nearly two thousand servants. At Weckherlin’s event Elizabeth Stuart and her husband the Elector were the guests of honour. Consequently he published an English version of the proceedings dedicated to the princess entitled Triumphall shews set forth lately at Stütgart (Stuttgart 1616). The evening after the christening, present-giving and feasting, the noble guests assembled in a large hall of the palace. The show began with the entry of four huge heads each containing six masquers representing respectively western, northern, eastern and southern nations. (Fig.5) The first head disgorged the westerners—an Englishman played a lute and an English gentlemen danced a galliard; then a wild Scotsman dancing to the sound of a Scottish drum and finally an Irishman who danced for a compatriot playing a harp. The fact that the English dancer was dressed in ‘white silver cloth, as English lords were wonted to use some twenty years ago’ suggests the influence of costume books. Out of other heads sprang Frenchmen, Germans, Lapplanders, Spaniards, Italians, Poles, Africans, Turks and Amerindians.
Next day the action moved to the tilt-garden of the palace where Duke Johann Friedrich playing Priam king of Troy arrived attended by the three Graces, the nine Muses and other characters and warriors from the Trojan War. Next Friedrich the Elector Palatinate appeared as the Roman Scipio fresh from his victory over the Carthaginians in Africa. His victory is reported as Justice driving out Injustice. Then a nymph representing Germany salutes the princes and Discord represented by four men tied back to back is ceremonially defeated by Concord. Tilt matches and various other shows follow interspersed with political comment. The four sons of Aymon (aristocratic opponents of the Emperor Charlemagne in a medieval romance) carry banners protesting Pro Religione, Pro Libertate, Pro Patria and Pro Amicis and hold shields decrying neutralism and infighting. Venus and Cupid are captured and then rescued. Ludwig Friedrich, the duke’s brother, fights for the honour of three English ladies styled Derby, Pembroke and Winchester. A king from far-off Madagascar turns up to challenge the European knights. The climax was a series of foot-battles between aristocrat-led teams of Germans, French, knights of Malta and Amazons. On the following day there was a carnivalesque anti-masque with chimney-sweeps staging mock tournaments etc.. There were other days set aside for rest and conversation, hunting and fencing and the week’s celebrations ended with fireworks and a cannonade on Sunday night.
Weckherlin was appointed secretary, interpreter and court historiographer to the Duke as a result of the successful organisation and publicity of the 1616 event. He organised further festivities for the christening of the Duke’s second son and the marriage of his brother Ludwig in 1617 and produced a commemorative programme entitled Kurtze Beschreibung dess zu Stutgarten bey den Furstlichen Kindtauf und Hochzeit jungstgehalten Frewden-Fests (Tübingen 1618). These followed a similar format but were even more political as tension escalated towards the outbreak of the Thirty Years War in Bohemia. In the 1617 festival there was a distinct Irish section in a pageant of representing ancient and modern nations. The Irish segment was preceded by the Spanish parade. Four court officials were dressed up as nasty and vainglorious Spanish knights—’El espantoso Espadesternudo’, ‘El fuerte Ferraguto’, ‘El orrible Rodomonte’ and ‘El terrible Mandricardo’. Of these nasty and vainglorious Spanish knights, the last two, drawn from Ariosto’s epic romance Orlando Furioso, had fought for the Moors against the Christians.
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While the crowd was still laughing at the send-up of the Spaniards, they were ‘attracted by the ringing of many brightly sounding bells and by pitiful crying and fearful clamouring. After being cheered by so many divine heroes and nymphs, they beheld a group, very strange and curious, but of stately attire, moving into the lists in the following order’. German heralds on horseback ushered in three Irishmen on foot. (Fig.6) The middle one carried a yellow banner with the symbol of a hand testing gold on a touchstone and an inscription Sic spectanda fides which Weckherlin translates as ‘Thus faith and belief would be freely exhibited’. His two sidekicks rang ‘bells to call the people to devotion’. Then came another three Irish impersonators ‘apparently worn out by many a long pilgrimage and vigil’ carrying outsize rosaries, the middle one dressed in purple holding a large key with a shamrock handle. Next were three harpers dressed in yellow, blue and green respectively ‘playing together in sweet accord, according to their national custom’. (Fig.1) Then two elaborately-dressed footmen and their splendidly-arrayed master mounted on a snow-white steed ‘bedecked with a red cover and bridled in the Irish fashion’. A cleric and his servant came by sprinkling holy water ‘to free the spectators from pain and torment of what followed him’. A huge float representing St Patrick’s Purgatory with St Patrick sitting on top hove into view. (Fig.7) ‘All kinds of vermin crawling upon it, smoke rising from it, fire and screaming indicate the large number of souls pitifully tormented inside.’ Next a female figure ‘to warn the mortals and to save them from all fear of the torment represented by the previous scene’ carried a cross with an inscription Solum Crede translated by Weckherlin as ‘belief alone helps with suffering’. (Fig.8) Then followed two footmen in stripped costume armed with axes clearing the way for their masters on horse-back. Four grooms in feathered caps leading horses brought up the rear. (Fig.9)

In a leaflet passed round the noble spectators the three Irish horsemen presented a challenge or defiance. They styled themselves three brothers—Con Crochbragan, Teg Kilmannug and Ned Clochmoga—’insuperable Irish knights of St Patrick’s Purgatory’. Having travelled the world cleansing it of vice and vermin, they had been attracted to the noble gathering in Stuttgart as a means of enhancing their knightly reputation. The brothers announced that their ‘heroic fortitude cannot be resisted by any knightly adversary, not even the devil himself, because those who behold us as enemies, even the devil himself and St Patrick’s whole purgatory (which we have produced here in triumph) are terrified and frightened at our strong hearts and irresistible blows. Therefore, we kindly admonish and earnestly warn them to join devoutly our procession, promising them that we shall protect them, in their knightly honours, not only from all temptations of the devil and hell, but also from all enemies, whom we may encounter’.
Literary sources as well as Weckherlin’s own imagination went into the creation of this Irish pageant. In his text he states that he used William Camden’s Britannia (1586) which had an Irish component for information about St Patrick’s Purgatory in County Donegal referring to it as ‘the rocky cave of Ellanu frugatory’ [recte Oileán an phurgadóra] about fifteen miles from Lough Erne. St Patrick mise en scène with snakes and other reptile-like creatures would have been recognised by the audience. The fact that the Purgatory is more of a hill than a cave may suggest some confusion in Weckherlin’s mind with Croagh Patrick which was also known to continental Europeans. For the Irish knights he simply took three short Christian names and tagged them onto Irish place-names out of contemporary atlases. This apparent unfamiliarity with ‘Mac’ and ‘O’ surnames seems to cast doubt on his claim to have visited Ireland. Weckherlin proclaims that the horses are bridled in Irish style but here as in a few other places the text and pictures disagree because the associated drawings show them to be fitted with standard European harness. Presumably the German riders would have fallen off if they had tried to use snaffle bits and ride without stirrups like real Irish horsemen. The weaponry, close-fitting clothes and conical hats of these stage Irishman do have a passing resemblance to what is depicted in Derrick’s Image. Though as McClintock himself stated the rich fabrics that went into their outfits were never used in Ireland.

Good works v faith alone

The message contained in Weckherlin’s representation of the Irish would have been obvious to the aristocratic members of the German Protestant Union assembled in Stuttgart. It represented the brand of Christianity which Luther had swept away in Germany. The Irish Catholics which it portrayed are full of superstitions, given to farcical devotions and took piety to extremes. They are slavishly devoted to the cult of saints here represented by St Patrick and torment themselves with pilgrimages such as that to Lough Derg. The emblem on their banner indicates that they were always willing to put their religion to the test. The shamrock key suggests not only that the Trinity is the key to heaven but also that the Irish are aligned with Rome. The clergyman in the parade is clearly identified as Catholic by his biretta though ironically he could never have gone about similarly dressed in Protestant-controlled Ireland. St Patrick, though referred to by Weckherlin as the apostle of Ireland, does not carry a cross. Rather he has a mitre and crozier and is therefore a Protestant hate-figure—the Catholic bishop. His miraculous casting out of snakes and reptiles would have seemed ridiculous to this Protestant audience. The Donegal pilgrimage site represented here—historically not associated with St Patrick at all in spite of its name—was supposed to give visitors lowered into a dark pit an uncomfortable glimpse of the torments awaiting sinners in Purgatory. The selling of indulgences to get time off Purgatory had of course been what triggered Luther to launch the Reformation. The culture of indulgences derived from the doctrine of good works. The slogan on the Irish banner Sic spectanda fides betrays their commitment to this ostentatious approach to getting redemption; indeed the motto on the cross they are carrying Solum Crede is the exact opposite to the famous catch-phrase of the whole Protestant Reformation Sola Fide.
The Irish horsemen, by their challenge, show themselves to be the self-appointed crusaders who will bring back Catholicism with all its fervent display. In this light the fact that superstitious and threatening Irish should follow the anti-Christian Spaniards into the arena is no accident. The Spaniards had already been engaged in a number of military actions on the western borders of Germany in the years leading up to the Thirty Years War and were seen as possible backers for an Austrian Habsburg attempt to overthrow German Protestantism. The outlandish Catholic Irish—who in recent years entered the military service of the Spanish Habsburgs in such numbers that separate Irish units had been established in Flanders—were regarded as their most willing accomplices.
Weckherlin’s German pageant was a biting parody of the Irish in comparison with the burlesque optimism of Jonson’s masque in London four years before or medieval romanticism evident at the Bayonne tournament fifty years previously. Plainly the Renaissance caricature of the Irish was not simply an English phenomenon. The striking thing about the evolution of this representation was the involvement of so many continental Protestants from Dürer onwards. They tended to employ earlier images and ideas rather than work from real life. As a result we have a series of images which accreted characteristics over time. This evolving stage Irishman was a product of European religious reformation as much as English attempts to conquer Ireland. Continental Protestants were attracted by the outlandishness of the Irish; they were also repelled by what appeared to be the absolute antithesis of their beliefs. Through costume books and pageants the Irish attained a place in the Renaissance world—a world in which all nations were subject to varying degrees of generalisation, misrepresentation and caricature.

Hiram Morgan lectures in history at University College Cork.

Further reading:

H.F. McClintock, Old Irish and Highland Dress (Dundalk 1949).

J. Hennig, ‘Notes on early representations of Irishmen in German books’, Journal of the royal society of antiquaries of Ireland (1950).

L.W. Forster, Georg Rudolf Weckherlin (Basel 1944).

L. Krapf & C. Wagenknecht, Stuttgarter Hoffëste: text und materialien zur höfischen repräsentation im frühen 17. jahrhundert (Tübingen 1979).


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