Political Ideology in Ireland, 1541-1641, Hiram Morgan (ed.) (Four Courts Press, £35) ISBN 1851824405

Published in Book Reviews, Early Modern History (1500–1700), Issue 4 (Winter 2000), Reviews, Volume 8

This collection of eleven articles, introduced and edited by Hiram Morgan, grew from a seminar on political ideology in the hundred years covering the second half of the sixteenth century and the pre-Cromwellian half of the seventeenth, that he directed at the Folger Institute, Washington DC, in 1995. His introductory essay ‘Beyond Spenser?’ takes the reader through a strand of historical and political writing from Stanihurst’s contribution to the Holinshed Chronicle in the later sixteenth century to current readings of the works of Edmund Spenser. His article ‘Giraldus Cambrensis and the Tudor Conquest of Ireland’ convincingly outlines the links between the Tudor and Norman conquests of Ireland in the political imagination of the sixteenth century and points out that the selective use of Geraldus’s works formed the basis of much discussion of the Gaelic versus Anglo-Norman (subsequently Old English) identities.
Vincent Carey’s ‘Neither good English nor good Irish’ discusses the bases for the anxiety that Stanihurst articulated in his ‘Description of Ireland’ (for Holinshed) that the seepage of the Irish language into the Pale would undermine the English identity there. Carey emphasises the ‘cultural flexibility’ found within Old English dynastic families and Gaelic lordly families. Stanihurt’s sense of Irish being a lesser language, or its literary artefacts being of lesser value was not shared by those Old English whom he sought to exalt as the spearhead of civility in Ireland. The second Carey article, ‘The Irish face of Machiavelli’, focuses on a discussion developed from M. Peltonen’s Classical Humanism and Republicanism in English Political Thought, 1570-1640 (Cambridge 1995) concerning the influence of Machiavellian principles in political writing, in this case in Richard Beacon’s Solon his follie. Carey argues that Solon his follie did not represent a radical departure either to republicanism, or to a wholehearted adaptation of Machiavelli’s advice to the successful prince, but used a modern politicised humanistic jargon to present a conservative case of repression of rebels and encouragement of faithful subjects.
Clare Carroll’s ‘Irish and Spanish cultural relations in the work of O’Sullivan Beare’ attempts to re-establish Philip O’Sullivan Beare as a historian of the early modern period. She explains how his exile in Spain influenced his writings on his family’s experiences in Ireland before and after their exile. O’Sullivan-Beare’s Historiae Catholicae Hiberniae Compendium (Lisbon 1621), was composed of materials remembered by him, gathered by him, told to him, and acquired by him from others, along with the stories of exiles in his circle. The hopes and ambitions of the exiles shaped the direction of his narrative. The effort to secure military aid against heretical England and to re-establish his own and related Catholic families to their former glory or pretensions gave a force and a poignancy to his history that Clare Carroll has both drawn attention to and explained.
Nicholas Canny’s ‘Poetry as politics: a view of the present state of The Faerie Queene’ argues that the View is a logical sequence to The Faerie Queene and that the ‘British’ idyll under Elizabeth that Spenser sought to encompass in the earlier work was articulated by other means in the View, the reasoning being logically sustained in the dialogue between Eudoxus and Irenius. Canny’s article provides a suitable basis from which to approach the more detailed and less literary approach taken by David Edwards in his ‘Ideology and experience: Spenser’s View and martial law in Ireland’. This tightly argued essay raises questions about the relationship between literature and political strategy in the early modern period. Eugene Flanagan’s ‘The anatomy of Jacobean Ireland: Captain Barnaby Rich, Sir John Davies and the failure of reform’ comments on the marginalisation of the soldier, informer, writer and religious commentator Barnaby Rich (1542-1617). Flanagan contrasts the fate of Rich’s works with the consistent presence of the much slimmer volume of Sir John Davies’s works on Ireland in the canon of historiographical writings since the seventeenth century, suggesting that whereas Davies sought to disguise a failing reform effort with a patina of commitment to reform and reinvigoration of a basically sound body politic, Rich excoriated the body itself as a sick and failed commonweal, riven and racked with secularism and corruption.
Colm Lennon’s meticulous article ‘Political thought of the Irish Counter-Reformation churchmen: the testimony of the Analecta of Bishop David Rothe’ sets out to examine Rothe’s work as a treatise on political thought. Rothe’s faith in religious diversity under a single monarch or government is supported by examples from continental Europe; the salvation of Catholicism as the majority religion of his countrymen is his goal. Rothe dreamt of a re-vitalised Catholic people, strengthened in religion and civility by the reformed religion of the Counter-Reformation. Lennon’s article shows some of the sinews and sources of what became in many ways an identification of Catholicism with the Irish people and their diverse political aspirations. Alan Ford’s ‘James Ussher and the Godly Prince in early seventeenth-century Ireland’ presents the converse of Lennon’s image of Rothe, the Protestant Archbishop James Ussher’s intellectual discourse on the fitness of things: a Protestant prince in regal authority over a Protestant church and a Protestant people. In Ireland, however, the theory outran the practice since the dependence of Irish Protestants on the immediate and active involvement of the monarch in the daily administration of the realm created tensions and contradictions in power and prelacy which James Ussher was especially involved in and was well able to articulate. Ford’s disentangling of these strands of conflicting aspirations and loyalties is the perfect complement to the Lennon article on David Rothe.
Marc Caball’s ‘Innovation and tradition: Irish Gaelic responses to early modern conquest and colonisation’ suggests that Irish bardic poets in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth century ‘re-evaluated and reformulated their ideological tradition’ at the same time as the structures of patronage supporting their existence declined. Caball sees it as significant that some of the leading ‘new Irish poets were of Anglo-Norman stock’. The collection as a whole carries with it the feeling of a group discussion where each individual contribution reinforces the sense of the period, with all its contradictions and with its familiar yet unknowable contexts examined in a most engaging and convincing way.

Michelle O’Riordan


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