Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

May Books 16) Contested Island

16) Contested Island: Ireland 1460-1630, by S.J. Connolly

I found this a much more interesting and well-structured book than Lennon's Sixteenth Century Ireland. By the end of it I had a much better idea of the two key narratives - the shift of the Old English areas to permanent alliance with Gaelic Ireland, and the growth in power of the state apparatus centred in Dublin. The general failure of the Reformation to take hold in Ireland is a part of this story, but Connolly admits after surveying the various theories that he does not have a good explanation of why it failed. The least satisfactory thing about the book is that the six maps at the end are horrendously mislabelled; only one is published with the correct caption.

An unexpected benefit of reading about this period of Irish history is that it gives me a slightly different insight into international relations today. Reading how various English military expeditions tended to end not with the defeat of the Irish enemies, but with them being bought off with recognition of their authority and (often temporarily) converted to allies, has obvious parallels with today's Iraq and Afghanistan. And the gradual extension of the central govenment's authority across the whole island has many resonances with state-building efforts around the world up to the present.

It is fascinating that the British government in Ireland was utterly unable to cover its costs from locally raised revenue. At the start of the book, roughly 90% of Dublin Castle's budget had to be met from Westminster; by the end of the book it was down to roughly 30% but that is still a heck of a lot - and the cost of this improvement in the finances was the loss of identification with English interests of the vast majority of the previously loyal population. One question that is rarely asked is, given the huge costs of Ireland to England, why bother? I guess there was a certain amount of protecting existing investments of property and prestige, but the question of securing a geographical back door to the English realm must have been even more important - just before the start of the sixteenth century, you have Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, and just after the century ends you have thousands of Spanish troops landing in Kinsale.

Some of you will remember that my interest in this period is driven by family history. My namesake and ancestor Sir Nicholas White gets two mentions, one in passing as a reformist official, the other as the person who suggested that a legal dispute be resolved by the two litigants fighting to the death in the yard of Dublin Castle - which doesn't sound terribly reformist to me...

Anyway, somewhat heavy going in places, but enlightening all the same.
Tags: bookblog 2008, people: sir nicholas white, tudor history, world: ireland

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