Published in Book Reviews, Book Reviews, Issue 3 (May/June 2022), Reviews, Volume 30

Four Courts Press
ISBN 9781846827945

Reviewed by Simon Egan

Simon Egan is Assistant Professor of Medieval Irish and British History at Trinity College, Dublin.

Recent years have witnessed a growing scholarly interest in locating the development of English power in medieval Ireland within a broader comparative framework of interpretation. This approach, commonly referred to as the ‘Plantagenet’ or ‘wider English’ world model, has yielded invaluable insights into the history of the English lordship in Ireland, throwing new light on the colony’s enduring political, social, mercantile and cultural links with England. For the last 50 years Robin Frame has been a driving force in this area of scholarship.

This collection of fifteen essays includes some of Frame’s most important contributions to the field of late medieval Irish and British history. Ten of them have previously been published elsewhere and have, with the exception of two essays (Chapters 6 and 12), appeared in print between 1995 and 2013. The book is divided into two main thematic sections. Part 1 focuses on Ireland’s place within the wider Plantagenet world. The opening chapter, a new and valuable essay, provides a detailed overview of the lordship of Ireland’s evolving relationship with this wider English world. The chapter not only serves as an excellent introduction to the first section of the book but also provides readers with a succinct overview of four centuries of Anglo-Irish relations, as well as offering a helpful overview of the historiography’s recent and current trajectories. Chapter 2 explores the concept of acculturation in medieval Ireland and considers the reasons why the Irish aristocracy were never fully incorporated into the structures of the new colony. Chapter 3 examines the evolution of the colonial aristocracy and challenges the traditional notion that the colonial nobility constituted an impediment to the development of strong royal lordship in Ireland. The fourth chapter investigates the development of liberties in Ireland, while Chapter 6 returns to the issue of ethnicity and examines legislation enacted in 1331. The seventh chapter, another new contribution, considers the reasons why most of England’s Plantagenet monarchs failed to visit their lordship in Ireland. It is a well-known fact that Henry II (d. 1189), John (d. 1216) and Richard II (d. 1400) each led expeditions to Ireland, while others such as Henry III (d. 1272) and Edward III (d. 1377) considered campaigning there. Frame argues that the absence of England’s kings should be viewed in context: the king’s absence from Irish affairs was offset by a well-developed and highly competent colonial administration that maintained close and regular ties with Westminster.

The second part of the book examines the theme of royal government in the later Middle Ages. Importantly, the essays do not seek to elide the challenges facing the colonists in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries: the chapters acknowledge that the lordship of Ireland faced successive threats in the face of the Bruce Invasions, the Black Death and the so-called ‘Little Ice Age’, resulting in the weakening of English power across large areas of the island. Rather, the essays pay close attention to how the colonial administration managed, with varying degrees of success, to navigate these problems and exercise royal authority effectively, if unevenly, across much of the island’s eastern and southern seaboards. In a similar fashion to Chapter 1, the eighth chapter provides an introduction to this theme. It delivers a succinct overview of the debate on the decline of the lordship before discussing the manner in which the colonial administration was able to extend and maintain its authority across different regions of the island. Chapter 9 examines the importance of the Irish Chancery rolls, recently digitised by Trinity College, Dublin, and their value as a source for studying the vibrancy of colonial government in the later Middle Ages. Chapter 10 is another new essay and explores the foundational work of G.O. Sayles and his long-time collaborator H.G. Richardson: the chapter offers a detailed guide to their scholarship but also draws attention to the fact that their oeuvre has perhaps led to a hardening of divisions within the historiography of late medieval Ireland. Chapters 11, 12 and 13 examine the careers of three respective colonial governors. Chapter 11, another newly published piece, examines the career of Anthony Lucy (d. 1343), a soldier who served in both Cumbria and Ireland. The essay dovetails nicely with Chapter 12, which traces the career of Thomas Rokeby (d. 1356), another official from northern England who served on both the Anglo-Scottish border and in Ireland. Both essays compare and assess the challenges faced by the king’s officers within hostile ‘frontier’ zones. Chapter 13 examines the lieutenancy of Ralph D’Ufford (d. 1346) and explores the rising problems posed by over-mighty subjects to gubernatorial authority. The final two chapters deal with looser forms of lordship in Plantagenet Ireland. Chapter 14 examines the administration’s relations with the MacMurrough-Kavanagh dynasty and reveals how diplomacy could be used to cultivate clients within the Gaelic world; Chapter 15 explores the world of late medieval Munster and considers the more supple forms of English lordship in the region.

Overall, this is an incredibly useful collection of essays. It makes many of Robin Frame’s more notable contributions to the field more easily accessible; it is replete with tables and figures and includes several useful family trees, as well as several detailed maps. In sum, this book will appeal to anyone interested in late medieval Irish history.


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