Legalities Justified Aggression in Early Ireland

A very thought-provoking article appeared in the William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Series (Oct 1973) 575-598.  It was written by Nicholas P. Canny and entitled, “The Ideology of English Colonization:  From Ireland to America, 1565-1576.”

Canny first reviews books and articles which illuminate some elements in his own view point. This article is based on his doctoral work and formed a portion of his dissertation.  It is well worth adding to your growing bibliography to support the whole cloth of who the Scots-Irish really are.

This is a common pattern in historical writing–laying the background and showing that other scholars have some understanding of the sources.  Then he outlines his view, with evidence piled on evidence from both printed sources and original documents–usually some which have not previously been studied.  Finally, he recommends other questions which his study, in the sources and records, has raised.

“…all is the conqueror’s…”

Canny discovered by studying carefully letters to the government, council minutes,  patents and warrants for property and jurisdiction, that those men from the West Country of England were leaders in England’s expansion and colonization ventures under Queen Elizabeth I.  They tried to justify trespassing on lands others considered their own.  They sought to prove to the Queen that her interests and those of her leading subjects were underwritten by legalities that could withstand the scrutiny of the courts.

England had established title to most of Ireland by right of conquest under the Normans.  They drove off the ruling elites or eliminated their claims and retained most of the local inhabitants as tenants and cultivators for the new elites. Any who questioned or resisted were attainted as rebels and traitors, with their lands and claims forfeit to the Crown.  Their descendants became the Old English.

Scots who had crossed the short water stretches between Ireland and Scotland were considered as interlopers and foreign claimants of lands and authority for which they had no legal claim.  The Queen was good with this–the Scots were not her subjects.

Hence, removal of both native Irish and the intruding Scots was justified under the law.  And this view was strengthened by the religious situation in Ireland–Catholicism was practiced imperfectly and incompletely–the Irish were Barbarians.  It was hard to see the practices of the Gaelics as Christian because they were mixed liberally with pre-Christian customs and deviant traditions.

The Irish were not totally lost–but they would have to be civilized before they could become full Christians.  And their English overlords were the ones to show them how. These Englishmen produced moral and civil justification for their conquest of Ireland.

What’s more–these aggressive conquerors applied this same reasoning and the same legalities to the Native Americans  once settlement was transferred to the New World–uncivilized and unchristian people did not require civility from their governors.

Reading the footnotes to an article like this is a real eye-opener as to the source material available for 16th century Ireland.  Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  Organizing and ordering my personal book collection (over 15,000 volumes) brought to view a book manuscript I wrote  some time ago.  Focused on the origins of the Scots-Irish, it was tentatively titled, The Irish and the Scots-Irish:  Redistribution of British Peoples.  Terrible title.  I’ll work on it.  It is an in-depth study of the plantation system in Ireland–who was planted where?  And where is the documentation today of those persons who were moved around to accomplish the will of the English government?

I plan to finish and publish the book–with a new title.  Stay tuned.  You will want your own copy if you have Scots-Irish ancestors.









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