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9-08-2015, 15:06

The British Isles

In England, centralization began under the Anglo-Saxon monarchs, who unifi ed the kingdom and established a system of sheriffs, unpaid offi cials from well-off families responsible for collecting taxes, catching and trying criminals, and raising infantry. After the conquest of England in 1066 by Duke William of Normandy, the Norman kings assessed and collected taxes, required nobles to take oaths of allegiance, and used traveling circuit judges to work for uniform legal procedures throughout the country: what later became known as common law. (English common law is the basis of the legal system in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and many other countries.) Demands for taxes to fi ght the Crusades and war with France led the higher-level nobility to force the king to agree to a settlement limiting his power in 1215. This agreement, known as Magna Carta (Great Charter), has achieved almost mythical stature in history as the foundation of constitutional government, individual rights, and democracy. In reality it made almost no reference to the common people, but simply limited the king’s powers vis-à-vis his barons, particularly his power to demand money. Later in the thirteenth century the king expanded his body of advisors from a group of upper nobility and high-level clergy to include relatively low-level knights and representatives from some towns; this group slowly evolved into a permanent representative body known as Parliament. This representative group gradually claimed the right to approve taxes and statutes, basing this on Magna Carta. The Hundred Years War, fought between England and France from 1337 to 1453 initially over rival claims to the French throne, led to an increase in the power of Parliament, as representatives refused to grant taxes unless the monarch granted something in return. Immediately after the end of the Hundred Years War, the English nobility became embroiled in a civil war and succession controversy between two ducal houses, the Yorkists and the Lancastrians. This war, termed the War of the Roses because the symbol of the Yorkists was a white rose and that of the Lancastrians a red rose, saw fi rst one side and then the other gain the throne. The desire for a reestablishment of order became stronger than either army, and in 1485 Henry Tudor, a Welsh nobleman with weak Lancastrian ties, defeated Yorkist forces and became King Henry VII. He initiated what would become his family’s most important political strategy – astute marriages – marrying the daughter of the popular Yorkist king, Edward IV (ruled 1461–70; 1471–83). Henry VII was shrewd, cautious, and so unwilling to spend money that, as we have seen, courtiers such as Polydore Vergil accused him of being miserly and greedy. He called parliaments a few times early in his reign to confi rm laws, but ruled primarily through his royal council, which included high nobles, high church offi cials, knights, lawyers, and professional civil servants. The council conducted diplomatic negotiations with foreign governments, and set up specialized bodies, such as the courts of Chancery, Requests, and Star Chamber, to handle cases more expeditiously than the common law courts did. Recognizing the importance of foreign trade and a healthy economy, Henry encouraged cloth production and built up the merchant marine to protect shipping; he secured a permanent right to customs duties on cloth exports, which would be an important part of royal revenues from that point forward. Henry VII married his eldest daughter, Margaret, to King James IV of Scotland (ruled 1488–1513), and then arranged a marriage between his son Arthur and Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, the rulers of Spain. Arthur died unexpectedly, and rather than lose this alliance and the dowry Catherine had brought with her, Henry wangled a papal dispensation to allow Catherine to marry his second son, Henry. Marriage to a brother’s widow was technically not allowed in Christian canon law, but the pope in this case was persuaded to allow it with the argument that Arthur and Catherine had been children and thus had not consummated their marriage, along with strong royal pressure and donations to the papal coffers. Henry built up the royal treasury largely by keeping England out of war, a lesson his son Henry VIII (ruled 1509–47) did not learn, though his granddaughter Elizabeth I (ruled 1558–1603) did. Henry VIII’s need for cash to fi ght in Ireland and France was largely met by the confi scation and then sale of church lands following England’s break with the papacy in Rome; had this not happened, the monarchy would have probably gone bankrupt. (For more on the break with Rome, see chapter 5 .) In the early part of her reign Elizabeth avoided becoming involved in the religious and dynastic wars of continental Europe, but by the 1580s this was no longer possible because of Spanish moves in the Netherlands. She needed both loans and taxes approved by Parliament to support troops on land as well as ships at sea. Parliament only met when it was called by the monarch – Elizabeth called it thirteen times in her forty-fi ve-year reign – but once in session, it raised issues of policy beyond the approval of taxes and laws. Elizabeth did not agree with this expanded view of Parliament’s role, and several times imprisoned members of the House of Commons for comments she regarded as seditious; she preferred to govern, as had her father and grandfather, through a small circle of advisors. Though Elizabeth stayed out of continental wars as long as she could, this reluctance to take military measures did not apply to Ireland. Since the twelfth century, English kings had claimed authority over Ireland, backing this up by granting English nobles land in Ireland and by military intervention during times of unrest or rebellion. In the middle of the fi fteenth century, attempts to keep all of Ireland under English control became too expensive. Ireland was unoffi cially divided into the area around Dublin ruled by the English deputy – known as the Pale – and the rest of Ireland controlled by Anglo-Irish and Gaelic lords. There were many revolts against royal overlordship, including one rebellion in the 1530s led by an Anglo-Irish nobleman, Thomas Fitzgerald, tenth earl of Kildare, several in the 1560s–1580s in the southern province of Munster, led by the earls of Desmond, and another in the 1590s led by Hugh O’Neill, third earl of Tyrone. These, combined with Anglo-Irish and Gaelic Irish armed opposition to the Protestant Reformation, led to increasing repression on the part of the English. Slowly English common law was imposed throughout Ireland, with Dublin emerging as the most Anglicized and most prosperous area. English offi cials in Ireland often recommended great brutality, particularly against the Gaelic Irish, whom they regarded as barbarous, pagan, “brutish,” and “bestial.” In the Desmond rebellions, English armies used scorched-earth tactics, destroying villages and crops; famine and disease killed perhaps one-third of the population of the province of Munster in the 1580s. Land was confi scated from Irish Catholics and given to Protestant English and Scottish landholders in what became known as the plantations of Ireland. Settlers were brought in from England, Wales, and Scotland, though there were never as many as the English crown wanted, nor were they as separate from the surrounding Irish as English policy dictated. After Tyrone’s rebellion, the largest plantation was organized in the northern province of Ulster, the site of the most determined resistance to English rule; by 1640, it is estimated that there were about 40,000 “planters” in Ulster, most of them Protestant Scots. This English colonization sowed the seeds of mutual hatred and violence between Catholics and Protestants that has continued to the present day.

SOURCE 8 Edmund Spenser, View of the Present State of Ireland (1596)

An extreme statement of English hostility to the Irish came from the poet and courtier Edmund Spenser (1552–99), who came to Ireland in the 1570s, hoping to gain land and wealth. He served with English forces during one of the many rebellions against English overlordship, and was awarded lands. During his stay in Ireland, he wrote a prose pamphlet, View of the Present State of Ireland, recommending the complete and violent suppression of the Gaelic language and Irish customs, using famine as a tactic. The pamphlet, written as a dialogue, was not published until long after Spenser was dead. Eudoxus: But if that country of Ireland whence you lately came, be so goodly and commodious a soil as you report, I wonder that no course is taken for the turning therof to good uses, and reducing that savage nation to better government and civility. [He asks what has prevented this.] Ireneus: I will then … begin to declare the evils which seem to be most hurtful to the commonweal of that land … they are also of 3 kinds; the fi rst in the laws, the second in customs, the last in religion … [One of the customs was letting cattle graze freely, and living in isolated houses called bollies to be near them.] The people that live thus in these Bollies grow thereby more barbarous, and live more licentiously than they would in towns, using what means they list, and practicing what mischiefs and villainies they will, either against the government there … or against private men, whom they malign, by stealing their goods, or murdering [them]. For there they think themselves half exempted from law and obedience, and having once tasted freedom, do, like a steer that has been long out of his yoke, grudge and refuse ever after to come under rule again. [Eudoxus suggests changing the laws.] Ireneus: And therefore where you think, that good and sound laws might amend and reform things amiss there, you think surely amiss. For it is vain to prescribe laws, where no man cares for keeping of them, nor fears the danger for breaking of them. [The Irish are] a people altogether stubborn and untamed and, if it were once tamed, yet now lately having quite shaken off their yoke and broken the bands of their obedience … [they can be tamed] only by the sword; for all those evils must fi rst be cut away with a strong hand, before any good can be planted; like as the corrupt branches and unwholesome laws are fi rst to bee pruned, and the fowl moss cleansed or scraped away, before the tree can bring forth any good fruit. [He then recommends destroying crops and animals.] The end I assure thee will be very short … for, although there should none of them fall by the sword, nor be slain by the soldier, yet thus being kept from maintenance, and their cattle from running abroad, by this hard restraint, they would quickly consume themselves, and devour one another. The proof whereof I saw suffi ciently in those late wars in Munster [a province in Ireland]; for notwithstanding that the same was a most rich and plentiful country, full of corn and cattle, that you would have thought they could have been able to stand long, yet before one year and a half they were brought to such wretchedness, as that any stony heart would have rued the same. Out of every corner of the wood and glens they came creeping forth upon their hands, for their legs could not bear them; they looked [like] anatomies [of] death, they spoke like ghosts, crying out of their graves; they did eat of the carrions, happy where they could fi nd them … yet sure in all that war, there perished not many by the sword, but all by the extremity of famine which they themselves had wrought [by their rebellion]. Scotland’s political history during this period was in many ways similar to England’s: succession controversies involving civil war and murder, struggles for power between the great nobles and the kings, the development of a parliament with control over the declaration of war and fi nancial matters, and increasing levels of taxation. In the late fourteenth century, the Stuarts won a struggle among several claimants to the throne, establishing a dynasty that would rule for three centuries, though almost every monarch was a minor when he or she came to the throne. The Stuarts generally maintained close ties with France, cemented by various marriages, and throughout the fi fteenth century engaged in intermittent war with England. In 1503, James IV attempted to make peace with England by marrying Margaret Tudor. This amity did not last long, however, for James supported France in a war with England, and the English defeated and killed James at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. The marriage ultimately proved more important than the war, however, as it was through this marriage that the Stuarts later became the rulers of England. War between Scotland and England broke out again in 1542, and the king of Scotland, James V (ruled 1513–42), died later that year, leaving a week-old daughter, Mary, who was immediately proclaimed queen, though the actual government was in the hands of a royal council. Mary spent most of her childhood in France, under the guidance of her mother, Mary of Guise, and married the heir to the French throne. He died when they were both still teenagers, and Mary returned to Scotland in 1561. Scotland had become Protestant by this point, and Mary’s marriage to her cousin Lord Darnley, a Scottish Catholic nobleman, combined with the perception that she favored Catholic France, led powerful Protestant lords to oppose her. A fi rst rebellion was put down, but at the same time Mary grew to hate Darnley, though she had a son by him. She was implicated in a plot that killed him – in fact, she married the chief plotter – and in 1567 she was forced to abdicate in favor of her infant son James. She fl ed to England, where she was imprisoned by Elizabeth, for Mary was next in line to the English throne and Elizabeth worried – quite rightly – that she would become the center of Catholic plots to overthrow her. (Elizabeth’s aunt Margaret was Mary’s grandmother.) The one-yearold James was raised by Protestant advisors, and Mary – who never saw her son again – was eventually tried for treason and executed in 1587. With Elizabeth’s death in 1603, James became the king of England and Ireland as well as Scotland.