Essay: Spanish Irish Relations in the 16th Century

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Spanish-Irish Relations in the 16th Century

Role of Ireland within the Priorities of Spanish Government between 1580-1604

The overthrow of the Munster settlement in 1598, followed by the intervention of Spain to assist Hugh O'Neill and his confederates, brought it home to Queen Elizabeth and her advisers that a real possibility existed that England's interest in Ireland would be obliterated, and that Ireland would become a satellite jurisdiction of the Spanish monarchy. It was to prevent the effective encirclement of England by the power of Spain that the government authorized a level of military expenditure in Ireland such as could not have been imagined even a decade earlier.

At the height of the war effort, according to the calculations of John Mc Gurk, the strength of the army reached 21,000 men, and the total cost of maintaining this force came to £1,845,696 (Smyth, 2006). Most of the soldiers, as had previously been the case, came from the west of England and from Wales, but many of the new recruits, and their captains, assigned to the wars in Ireland were seasoned campaigners who had fought in the Netherlands or Brittany, rather than the raw conscripts who were more typical of the Irish service, and those placed in charge of the campaign, ranging from the queen's favorite Robert Devereux, earl of Essex, to Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, were people of the highest reputation in England' (Murphy, 2002). Therefore, as the queen and her officials fretted over the financial strain that the war was placing on the finances of the English state, they took consolation from the belief that some of the outlay would be recouped through the confiscations which would follow upon their eventual victory. Moreover they convinced themselves that the resulting plantations would prove enduring because they would be comprehensive, and would draw upon the talents of disciplined people with a commendable range of experience.

Spenser's recommendation that a colonel, with military subordinates, was necessary to make way for a comprehensive plantation also derived from the contemporary English under- standing of classical precedent, even if it came indirectly to Spenser through Sir Thomas Smith. Then also Spenser's suggestion that the cost of his scheme should be met primarily from composition rents to be levied on Irish land was consistent with the endeavor of successive governments, ever since the middle of the sixteenth century, to extend the scope of composition rents to the point where they would meet the cost of governing Ireland (Leerssen, 1986). Moreover when Eudoxus and Irenius agreed upon their most radical proposition, that a plantation scheme should remain in continual process until it had covered the entire country, Spenser was reviving a view which had been current among English officials at the outset of the plantation in Munster.

This argument had been stated most emphatically, in 1583, by Geoffrey Fenton when, in suggesting that Munster should be converted into 'an English Pale' managed by 'a mere English government', he held out the prospect that this would become a bridgehead which would provide the queen with the opportunity 'in time' to have 'entrance into the other remote parts of the realm, to reduce them after the line and square of Munster' (Smyth, 2006). The reason, therefore, that these opinions seemed radical in i5g6 was that most planters, and their associates, had lost sight of the grander purpose which had legitimized the plantation in the first instance, and had devoted themselves instead to reaping whatever financial return was available to them. The planters believed they could afford to do this because they were quietly confident they could resist any challenge to their authority that might arise, and those whose consciences troubled them could argue that there was some moral purpose behind their existence in Ireland by pointing to the reforms they had implemented on their own particular estates.

Moreover the truly scrupulous ones who recognized that reform meant ultimately a transformation in religious allegiance could draw solace from the endeavors of Bishop Lyon of Cork, and much was made of the supposedly capacity audiences who attended his Communion services of thanksgiving for deliverance from the Spanish Armada (Murphy, 2002). McDermott seems to have seen and read every pertinent document in London (he seems not to have ventured to records and libraries beyond), and many of them add considerably to our knowledge of how England prepared to resist the Spanish Armada (McDermott, 2006). The falsity of these assumptions and self-deceits was exposed when the settlement in Munster was dramatically overthrown in October 1598 with a lightning strike from the Irish midlands, led by Owny O'Moore an agent of Hugh O'Neill, earl of Tyrone), and supported by malcontents in Munster who aimed to expel all English people from the province and to recover their ancestral lands. Despite subsequent Protestant claims of a bloody slaughter, it seems that no more than a few hundred settlers were killed, and the truly demoralizing aspect of the insurrection for those who survived was that the much-vaunted plantation was swept from the ground virtually without a fight, and that the settlers were forced initially into their castles and then to the port towns, from which most of them (including Spenser and some of his family) retreated penniless to England.

And, to add insult to injury, it was clear that the fate of the settler community would have been even worse if they had not enjoyed the protection of Ormond and those few Munster lords who remained loyal to the crown even as Munster society was generally absorbed into the polity of Tyrone.

Then James Fitzthomas Fitzgerald, a nephew of the deceased earl of Desmond, laid claim to the extinguished title of his uncle. This continued support of Ormond and his adherents was more appreciated by the queen and her advisers than by the survivors of the onslaught upon the plantation. Their immediate reaction, once they reached the security of England, was to decry all elements of the Irish population as an irredeemable people who had been directed in their perverse actions of murder and mayhem by the foreign enemies of England, and especially by the Pope (Leerssen, 1986). Their call for revenge was answered by the government when it assigned an army of 3,000 men which (under the command of Sir George Carew who was appointed as president of Munster in 1600) had restored government authority, but not the English plantation, to the province before the anticipated Spanish support for Tyrone's revolt disembarked at Kinsale in October 1601. A careful review of the private colonization endeavors of Sir Thomas Smith and the earl of Essex-ventures which Robert Dunlop had portrayed as landmarks in the devising of plantation techniques (Scot.Hist.Rev., xxii, 1924-5)-leads Dr. Canny to suggest that their failure made the Elizabethan government realize that colonization was not the task of subjects but of the state; a realization which contributed to the official acceptance of the 'Sidney model ', although Sidney himself was unable to pursue his own policy consistently (Canny, 1976).

The ensuing battle of Kinsale, December 1601, which resulted in the defeat of Tyrone's Irish army together with their continental allies, was the decisive encounter of Ireland's Nine Years War, and victory for the English meant that the government could reassert its authority in Munster, and inevitably in all other provinces also. The continuing military campaign, which persisted to the final submission of Tyrone in March I603, and which resulted in much of the country being placed under garrison government, was perceived by English servitors in Ireland at the time as preparatory for a comprehensive plantation of the country such as had been adumbrated in Spenser's View. As this assumption gained ground, so also did Spenser's related proposition that the plantation in Munster had been fundamentally flawed and that a fresh beginning was called for (Leerssen, 1986). This was put most forcefully by Fynes Moryson, secretary to Lord Mountjoy under whose deputyship the war was brought to a successful conclusion. Moryson not only decried the insufficiency of all plantations which had been attempted in Ireland previous to that date but held that their inadequacy had been principally responsible for the threat to the crown interest in the country.

On the other hand, Moryson, like Spenser, believed that 'those of the army' which had been brought into Ireland to deal with the rebellion were 'of another time ... And well-known to be of good condition', and the expectation of the English community in Ireland was that the future settlement of the country would depend on the energies and resourcefulness of the force that fought the last of Queen Elizabeth's Irish wars. As we consider this appraisal of developments we can see that three essential consequences derived from what historians have come to describe as the First Plantation in Munster. The most obvious consequence was that the plantation society which had been painfully and expensively established over a process of thirteen years was swept from the ground (Smyth, 2006).

Yet the fact that a plantation society had been… [END OF PREVIEW]

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