Making Ireland English: The Making of a National Homeland in Turkey

Making Ireland English: The Making of a National Homeland in Turkey

by Jane Ohlmeyer
Making Ireland English: The Making of a National Homeland in Turkey

Making Ireland English: The Making of a National Homeland in Turkey

by Jane Ohlmeyer


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This groundbreaking book provides the first comprehensive study of the remaking of Ireland's aristocracy during the seventeenth century. It is a study of the Irish peerage and its role in the establishment of English control over Ireland. Jane Ohlmeyer's research in the archives of the era yields a major new understanding of early Irish and British elite, and it offers fresh perspectives on the experiences of the Irish, English, and Scottish lords in wider British and continental contexts.

The book examines the resident peerage as an aggregate of 91 families, not simply 311 individuals, and demonstrates how a reconstituted peerage of mixed faith and ethnicity assimilated the established Catholic aristocracy. Tracking the impact of colonization, civil war, and other significant factors on the fortunes of the peerage in Ireland, Ohlmeyer arrives at a fresh assessment of the key accomplishment of the new Irish elite: making Ireland English.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300177503
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 06/26/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
File size: 7 MB

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Making Ireland English



Copyright © 2012 Jane Ohlmeyer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-17750-3

Chapter One


In July 1668 the Irish resident peerage gathered to mourn the sudden and premature death of the seventeen-year-old Mary Stuart, a granddaughter of the infamous first duke of Buckingham, daughter and heir of a great courtier Lady Arran's funeral was a public celebration of the Ormond dynasty and a powerful demonstration of the support the duke could command from amongst his peers and followers, many of whom had lined the route taken by the hearse. The funeral highlighted Butler influence in Ireland, the grandeur, nobleness and munificence of the family, together with its Englishness, especially its alliances with the great British houses of Buckingham and Lennox. The fact that the duke and his eldest sons were conspicuous by their absence at court, the seat of royal power and authority, simply underscored this and their intimate association with the house of Stuart.

This book analyzes how the resident peers, many of whom participated in Lady Arran's funeral, charted their way through a particularly transitional and tumultuous period. An inflation of honours, itself an exercise in social engineering dating from the 1610s and 1620s and often accompanied by significant grants of land, created numerous opportunities for advancement for both natives and newcomers. In 1603 the peers were predominantly of Catholic native Irish and Old English backgrounds. An inflation of honours allowed New English and Scottish lords to join their ranks to the point where the newcomers, many of whom were Protestant, predominated numerically and increasingly socially, economically and politically. During these years the Stuarts allowed a generation of ambitious and avaricious lords, who were determined either to consolidate their patrimonies and political influence or to make their fortunes in Ireland, to secure public reward and social recognition. These 'new' lords joined ranks with members of the established peerage. Together these men comprised Ireland's leading landlords, politicians, military leaders, property developers, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. They exercised power and influence locally, nationally and across the Stuart kingdoms. Land underpinned their status as cultural, economic and political brokers, and provided the wealth needed to sustain their rank.

This landed aristocracy helped to shape the face of early modern Ireland. This book examines the resident peerage as an aggregate of 91 families and not simply as individuals, many of whom are worthy of study in their own right. It represents a new departure in a number of ways. First, it charts how a reconstituted composite resident peerage of mixed faith and ethnicity assimilated the established Catholic aristocracy. Second, it offers an overview of 91 titled families, usually over three or four generations. It situates the fortunes of these lords, 311 men, in the social and political contexts in which they operated: as fathers, husbands and landlords in their territorial patrimonies; as power brokers in county and national politics; and as courtiers and influential figures in England. Third, by tracing the fortunes of the resident peerage over nearly a century, this book eschews the traditional chronological boundaries that shackle the study of early modern Ireland. This enables change over time to be tracked and the galvanic impact of expropriation, plantation and a decade of civil war during the 1640s to be examined, especially on landholding. Fourth, this book assesses the agency of the peers in and their responses to many of the convulsive processes that gripped early modern Ireland, especially anglicization, Protestantization, commercialization and colonization.

What emerges is a series of complex and, at times, contradictory stories of ruthless self-aggrandizement, of pragmatic assimilation and mutation, and of a dogged determination to pursue agendas – in themselves often ambiguous – that preserved or, where possible, enhanced prestige, social standing, material wealth and political power. Families exploited the favourable circumstances created by the wider political situation to consolidate landed power and in the instances of dynasties like the Boyles or Butlers used their family networks to assemble vast territorial empires. Yet even dynasties that prospered often struggled to produce a legitimate male heir and thereby secure the succession. The fact that only the resilient and lucky few survived and succeeded should not, however, blind us to the importance of those families who failed in this regard.


For the sake of clarity it is important to define terms, particularly the meanings of 'peerage', 'nobility', 'aristocracy', 'resident' and 'Irish'. In early modern Ireland the peers were a class of nobility who enjoyed a title (as duke, marquis, earl, viscount and baron), awarded to them by the English monarch, and had the privilege of sitting as temporal lords in the House of Lords, alongside the Protestant archbishops and bishops. The greater peers also formed the ruling aristocracy. Traditionally the term 'aristocracy' designated 'rule by the best'. By the early modern period its meaning had begun to change and correspond with the modern sense of the word and to denote 'the very top layer of the nobility' rather than a particular system of government. In 1603 the aristocracy of Ireland comprised the Butlers of Ormond, Fitzgeralds of Kildare, Bourkes of Clanricarde, O'Briens of Thomond, O'Neills of Tyrone, O'Donnells of Tyrconnell and a handful of lesser lords, such as the Nugents of Delvin (and later Westmeath). The ranks of the aristocracy were neither fixed nor impermeable. Some dynasties, like the O'Donnells and O'Neills, fell from royal favour and were attainted and their lands forfeited. Upward social mobility also occurred as 'new' lineages joined the established ones. In the pre-1641 years the Boyles of Cork and MacDonnells of Antrim entered the ranks of the ruling aristocracy, and after 1660 a significant number of new Protestant families, the Annesleys of Anglesey, Aungiers of Longford, Boyles of Orrery and Jones of Ranelagh, together with established ones like the MacCarthys of Clancarthy or the O'Briens of Inchiquin, did likewise. These great aristocratic dynasties, together with the lesser titled houses, comprised the Irish peerage which was closely modelled on the English hereditary peerage.

The nobility was a social order that encompassed the titled peerage, together with baronets, knights and the upper echelons of the gentry. The concept of nobility had its origins in the division of medieval society into three orders, or Estates. The First Estate, the clergy, prayed; the Second Estate, the nobility, fought; and the Third Estate, the rest of society, worked. Traditionally the European nobility, the Second Estate, had comprised mounted knights who in return for military service received lands and social, political and sometimes legal privileges from the king. Birth usually determined noble status, but it was also critical to behave nobly and to maintain a lifestyle that was regarded as being noble. In addition to a military role, which was transformed and strengthened by the tactical, technological and logistical developments associated with the Military Revolution, nobles were regarded as being the king's natural counsellors and as the essential points of contact with the wider community, ensuring that the king's writ reached the furthest corners of his kingdom. Government was the king's business and increasingly nobles also held key offices in the administration and judiciary.

How large was the nobility in Ireland? Across early modern Europe the nobility constituted between 1 and 1.5 per cent of the general population. Calculating with precision the numbers of nobles in seventeenth-century Ireland is impossible, so a guesstimate must suffice. In 1600 the population of Ireland was between approximately 750,000 and 1.4 million people, of whom between 7,500 and 14,000 (1 per cent) might have enjoyed noble status. In neighbouring Scotland, where population size and definitions of nobility were comparable, Keith Brown has estimated that 7,500 people enjoyed noble status and 'the total size of the landed nobility was at least 1,500 heads of houses'. By 1641 the population of Ireland had increased to between 1.5 and 2.1 million people and the number of nobles presumably also rose, even if many of the newcomers were of lowly origins.

Whatever the precise figure, the 311 peers who lived over the course of the seventeenth century and are the subjects of this book represented a tiny minority of the wider community of nobles. Yet these men quickly established themselves as the dominant social group in Irish society. By 1641 half of the resident peerage was Catholic and half Protestant. The peerage combined distinct ethnic groups: the native or Gaelic-speaking Irish; the Old English, as the descendants of the English-speaking Anglo-Norman invaders were known; the New English, as those who had migrated to Ireland from England since the 1530s were labelled; the Scots and the Welsh. The social background of these men was equally varied with 52 (out of 91) houses of ancient lineage or noble blood, including the Bourkes of Clanricarde, Butlers of Ormond, Fitzgeralds of Kildare, MacDonnells of Antrim and O'Briens of Thomond. The remaining 39 families, like the Boyles, Blayneys, Hamiltons, Sarsfields, Taaffes and Moores, were soldiers or from the gentry or mercantile classes and thus regarded as arrivistes or upstarts. Whatever their background, these titled families, especially the ancient houses, held a disproportionately large amount of Irish land, at least 18 per cent in 1641 rising to 26 per cent by c.1670. They controlled a significant element of the country's wealth, and the richest aristocrats in Ireland were on a par with the most prosperous English or Scottish lords. Men of money, power, prestige and privilege, the peers lived nobly and conspicuously. They acted as cultural brokers, dressing in the latest London fashions (see plates 4, 5 and 6), speaking English (though a significant number would have been native Irish speakers or bilingual), and living in 'great houses'.

The creation of a 'service nobility' is a central element of the argument developed throughout this book. The fact that peers were required to take the oath of supremacy before holding office ensured that the service nobility was predominantly Protestant, with only a handful of Catholic aristocrats holding senior legal or administrative positions or enjoying military commands in the Stuart army. Unable to hold office as their forebears had, the only political outlet for many recusant lords was the royal court at Whitehall and the Irish parliament, which only met sporadically, and even there they often opposed government policies. Hardly surprisingly, the fact that Catholics, especially those who had previously formed part of the ruling elite, were excluded from serving the king became a major grievance. The Old English poet and historian, Richard Bellings, justified the reluctant involvement of the Catholic lords in the 1641 rebellion on the grounds that they were denied adequate opportunity to serve:

We have considered the condition of all the other kingdomes of Europe, and we are the sole subjects, who, being much the more numerous and powerfull, are made incapable of raysing our fortunes by serving our King in any place of honour, profitt, or trust, in that country wherin we were borne, and which God, of his providence, appointed us as a part of the earth which our ancestors for soe many hundred yeares did inhabit.

Ironically it was during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which the 1641 rebellion helped to trigger, or in exile during the 1650s, that many of these lords finally secured an opportunity to serve the Stuarts. With the Restoration after 1660, Charles II endeavoured (not always successfully) to reward those who had stood by him in his darkest hour, but back in Ireland opportunities for service were once again restricted and limited to the Protestant peers. Deprived of opportunities to wield patronage, generate income and secure their noble honour, the continued exclusion of Catholics from holding office and bearing arms undoubtedly contributed to the long-term political and economic demise of Catholic lords, especially the lesser lineages.

The term 'resident' peers also requires definition. The resident peers were those lords whose principal estates and interests were in Ireland even if, especially after 1660, the lord himself may have spent extended periods at court and acquired English estates. This group, the subject of this book, needs to be distinguished from those, usually Englishmen, who held Irish titles of honour but did not reside in Ireland nor own Irish lands and enjoyed few connections with that country. By 1628 nearly one-third of the seventeenth-century peerage was non-resident and comprised a curious medley of entrepreneurs, upstarts and social climbers. Invariably these titled absentees were associated with the duke of Buckingham who viewed Irish titles as a resource that could be exploited in the interests of wider Stuart politics. During the late 1610s and 1620s he either sold Irish honours to enrich himself or used them to fob off tedious claimants who had insufficient money or political clout to secure an English peerage. Hardly surprisingly, Buckingham's creations proved deeply controversial and had wider ramifications for Stuart politics as the sheer scale of the ennoblements alarmed many. The English peers were particularly horrified at the prospect of being outranked by an arriviste with a more senior Irish title. The established peers in Ireland were equally appalled and resented the fact that the link between land and title, so carefully nurtured by the Tudors, had been broken. Significant though these non-resident peers with Irish titles may have been, they do not feature in this book aside from a brief mention in chapter 2.

The final term that requires definition is 'Irish', since 'Irishness' meant a variety of things to different people. Only the Gaelic-speaking Catholic natives regarded themselves as being truly 'Irish'. Those of Anglo-Norman ancestry, such as the earls of Clanricarde or the Butlers of Ormond, consistently stressed their 'Englishness', often at the expense of their 'Irishness'. Aidan Clarke's seminal work on the political connections and cultural makeup of this 'Old English' community clearly demonstrates that throughout the first half of the seventeenth century they perceived themselves as the Crown's loyal and devoted servants, and argued that their Catholicism in no way jeopardized their fealty to a Protestant prince nor their ability to serve him as their ancestors had done. Studies largely by Gaelic literary scholars, especially Breandán Ó Buachalla, suggest that after the defeat in the Nine Years War (1594–1603) and the 'Flight of the Earls' in 1607 the native Irish, while acknowledging the centrality of Catholicism to their identity, increasingly adopted the same conciliatory, politique attitude towards the Crown that had traditionally characterized the Old English.

Despite prohibitions against extensive intermarriage and cultural cross-assimilation, both had occurred between the native Irish and the Old English, with the result that many members of the former had become anglicized and the latter gaelicized. Predictably, this blurred boundaries between 'Irishness' and 'Englishness' and allowed Catholic peers to juggle identities. Some – like the Butlers of Mountgarret or the Barnewalls of Kingsland – touted their 'Englishness' when it was politically expedient to do so. Though of Scottish provenance and married to a prominent Englishwoman, the marquis of Antrim was born in Ireland, spoke Irish and upheld traditional Gaelic values. He sincerely wanted to succeed in, and be accepted by, very different worlds; to be both lauded by Gaelic bards on either side of the North Channel and painted by Van Dyck. A man of all three kingdoms, Antrim nevertheless remained a committed Catholic. For Antrim and so many of the recusant peers, religious belief fundamentally shaped identity. Lords did everything possible to prevent children being schooled by Protestants, and the fact that they sent children to be educated abroad at continental colleges underscored this devotion to Catholicism.


Excerpted from Making Ireland English by JANE OHLMEYER Copyright © 2012 by Jane Ohlmeyer. Excerpted by permission of YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations....................xiii
Chapter 1: Introduction....................1
Chapter 2: The Transformation of the Peerage....................27
Chapter 3: The Transformation of Noble Culture....................64
Chapter 4: Landed Nobility....................84
Chapter 5: Religion....................135
Chapter 6: Marriage....................169
Chapter 7: Power, Politics and Public Office....................211
Chapter 8: Early Stuart Parliaments....................232
Chapter 9: Civil War....................250
Chapter 10: Survival....................280
Chapter 11: The Restoration Land Settlement....................301
Chapter 12: Political Life....................336
Chapter 13: Income....................361
Chapter 14: Expenditure....................389
Chapter 15: Lineage and Formation....................419
Chapter 16: Death and Memory....................448
Chapter 17: Conclusion....................475
Appendix I: Lands held by resident titled nobles in 1641, ranked according to size....................572
Appendix II: Office holding and political activity of resident peers, c.1600–c.1690....................575
Appendix III: Military and political activity of resident peers during the 1640s....................599
Appendix IV: Peers recorded in the 1660 poll tax (the so-called '1659 census')....................606
Appendix V: Attendance and activity in the House of Lords, 1661–6....................608
Appendix VI: The land settlement and the process of restoration....................614
Select Bibliography....................617

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