The Ill-Effects of Unity: How it Caused Ireland to be Reconquered by the Tudor Dynasty

By Riocard Ó Cruimin

            The Tudor period of English history ran from the late 15th Century to the early 17th Century, beginning during the reign of King Henry VII and ending with the death of Queen Elizabeth I. While this dynamic period of time following the Black Death played host to dramatic improvements in human health and increases in agricultural and industrial development, the era was also rife with political and economic upheaval. This is exemplified in the Tudor conquest of Ireland, which was the result of inhumane English colonization practices in the face of a rising sense of unity for a fully-independent Irish state.
            For nearly 300 years prior to the rise of the English Tudor Dynasty, Ireland was being shaped by growing Hiberno-Norman influence (Palmer). The Hiberno-Normans arrived during the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169, seeking to retaliate against the High King of Ireland, Rory O’Connor, for his ouster of King Dermot MacMurrough of Leinster (Sullivan).
King MacMurrough called upon his longtime supporter, England’s Henry II, to provide reinforcements to help him take back his Irish crown, which Henry gladly sent in 1171 (Sullivan). These combined forces quickly assured that any remaining native Gaelic Irishmen were removed from the country’s major areas, replacing them instead with English commoners desiring a fresh start on “new” land. Naturally, this process reinforced Gaelic-Irish hatred of their British rulers and created a new sense of disdain for the recent Norman conquerors. Unbeknownst to MacMurrough and his Norman-followers however, the enormous amount of forces that Henry II sent to Ireland were not just to overthrow High King O’Connor, but rather to serve Henry’s primary objective of reasserting his control over the Hiberno-Normans (Sullivan).
            Over time, this caused the Normans, who once conquered the native Gaelic Irish, to become placed in the same position as them: under the dominion of British imperialism. Slowly but surely, this had the effect of developing an increasing sense of unity across Ireland. The relationship built between these two parties, who had both been forced into submission, is best described by an old adage that came to fruition: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.              
By the time the English Tudor Period was in full-swing, Hiberno-Normans and the outcast Irish Gaelic nobility had begun living amongst each other and interacting to such a great extent that it had even become commonplace for them to intermarry (Bradshaw). Simultaneously, the rigidity of English colonialism in Ireland was being loosened. Although Ireland was still under England’s imperial fist, Tudor Monarchs sought to cut back on the crown’s expenses by delegating almost all Irish governmental operations to the most prolific Hiberno-Norman families (Canny).
However, the Fitzgeralds of Kildare, who were the recipients of most of the Tudor’s governing-delegation, began acting entirely on their own accord, and eventually launched a rebellion against the English throne (Bradshaw). This caused King Henry VIII to launch a brutal attack that killed rebel leader Silken Thomas and his fellow Kildare family members (Canny). Then, in 154, Henry VIII inserted himself in place of the displaced Fitzgeralds and any other families who had previously been delegated control, as he forced the Irish Parliament to pass a resolution naming him King of Ireland (Canny). In so doing, Henry VIII instituted a policy of surrender and regrant (Bradshaw). This led to a 60-year period of oppression, during which Ireland was forced under the laws, language, culture, and religious beliefs of the English Tudors (Canny). The effects of this period included complete disarmament of Irish lords, deprivation of property, and new settlement by British loyalists (Canny). Ultimately, the conquest reached its conclusion at the end of the Tudor Dynasty, when King James I effectively took control over all of Ireland, setting forth years of strife between English Protestant’s and Irish Catholics (Bradshaw). 
Some scholars present a borderlines perspective for the Tudor conquest of Ireland, arguing that it was simply the result of the nation’s proximity to the Mother Land (Palmer). Admittedly, Ireland’s location may have played a role in England’s desire to expand its colonial empire. However, this betrays the true causes and effects of the events that took place. Ireland had enjoyed nearly 100 years of de facto sovereignty before being re-conquered by the English Tudor Dynasty, and the nation obviously did not change its location during this time.
Instead, the real problem was the bonding between Hiberno-Normans and Irish Gaelic, which not only allowed for an easement in tensions amongst themselves, but effectively enabled the Irish to reclaim a considerable portion of the land that they had been displaced of by Henry II’s forces. This caused the English Tudors to take a negative approach towards both groups. They referred to the Gaelic Irish as “the king’s Irish enemies” (Bradshaw 14), and to the Hiberno-Normans as Old-English, or even in an attempted more insulting fashion of describing them as “Hiberniores Hibernis ipsis,” meaning more Irish than the Irish themselves (Frame). These demeaning viewpoints of the Tudor Dynasty caused great unrest across the growingly unified Irish countryside, which ultimately set off the events that caused their own conquest.
            Therefore, it is made quite clear that the Tudor conquest of Ireland was not just happenstance based on the country’s physical relation to England; but rather it was a full-fledged assault on a uniting group of people who English colonialists disdained. The outcome of the conquest only further illustrates this notion, as the British imposed their religious and cultural will on Ireland that would impact the nation for centuries to come. 

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Tags: Irish Freedom Struggle

Comment by Séamus Ó Dubsláine on April 3, 2013 at 5:11pm

Further reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorcán_Ua_Tuathail

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