Menu Loading - Please Wait

Review of Sir Arthur Chichester by Toby Bernard,
English Historical Review
(2000 115: 459-460)

Until recently a gap yawned in the historical treatment of early seventeenth­ century Ireland. In comparison with the detail lavished on Elizabethan viceroys such as Sussex, Sidney and Perrot, or on Wentworth in the 1630s, the Jacobean period was poorly served. Yet, as has been shown by exemplary studies of the genesis and implementation of plantations in Munster and Ulster and of a principal architect of those schemes, Sir John Davies, it was a time of important initiatives. However, thanks to Victor Treadwell's recent exploration of Buckingham's encounters with Ireland (rev. ante, cxiv. 1312), and now with John McCavitt's admirable monograph on Chichester, Sir Arthur Chichester: Lord Deputy of Ireland, 1605-16 (Belfast: Queen's U., for Institute of Irish Studies, 1998; pp. 282. N.p.), the largest holes are plugged. Chichester, a Devonian, served as Lord Deputy of Ireland for an unprecedented eleven years. He had come to prominence as an experienced and often brutal commander in the Nine Years' War, and evolved into an adept politician. Dr McCavitt judiciously reviews the many issues with which Chichester had to grapple: finance; patronage; the introduction of English systems of law and land tenure; religious recusancy; and the curmudgeonly parliament of 1613 to 1615. McCavitt's analysis of the evidence inspires confidence in his measured judgements. He is also fully alive to the difficulties of deciding just how much freedom was enjoyed by the viceroy in Dublin. Chichester's generally harmonious relations with the councils in Dublin and London and with the king are considered. James, it is shown, alternated between indolence and activity. Ireland, as was its wont, forced its way on to the political agenda in England usually because of its expense. To English administrators, it seemed an appropriate area for retrench­ment. Equally, it beguiled with the prospect of easy enrichment, both of the crown and of lucky individuals. As the ruthless and successful soldier mutated into the more diplomatic and equally successful proconsul, Chichester seldom paused to reveal his philosophy, other than a conventional anti-popery. On some issues, such as a tougher way with important Catholics or the extent and character of the Ulster plantation, Chichester was overruled. Wisely, he did not allow any resentment to fester and so unbalance his political poise. In consequence, he survived into retirement with the lustre of his reputation still glowing.

Studies of the quality of McCavitt's at once ease and complicate the task of the compilers of textbooks. When Stephen G. Ellis's Ireland in the Age of the Tudors first appeared in 1985, it was widely welcomed as a heroic attempt to map what had for too long baffled even the most intrepid explorer (rev. ante, ciii. 486). In the intervening years more has appeared to clarify religion, politics, administration and even culture. Much of this has been assimilated into a considerably revised version, Ireland in the Age of the Tudors, 1447-1603. English Expansion and the End of Gaelic Rule (London/New York: Longman, 1998; pp. xxii+437. N.p.). Moreover, Professor Ellis has lengthened the age of the Tudors, so that it now starts in 1447. Also, since 1985, the author has emerged as an intrepid historiographical crusader. Inspired by a wish to incorporate Ireland more fully into the history of the English state, Ellis practised early the 'archipelagic' approach to Irish history, and proudly jousted in 'the Revisionist Controversy' (as he grandly terms it). Much of the strength of his volume derives from his capacity to link developments in Ireland with concurrent events in Wales and England. If Ellis seemed most drawn to English and official Ireland - the worlds of councillors, judges, servitors and adventurers - he never ignored the shadowy hinterlands which submitted only slowly or resisted the jerky spread of English ways. In this revision, remoter and traditional societies receive greater attention. The changed emphasis reflects the work of the last fifteen years. Notable among it has been that of Colm Lennon, summarized in his own survey of 1994: Sixteenth-Century Ireland: the Incomplete Conquest. This treats more sympathetically the awkward who held tenaciously to their different beliefs in religion and social organization, whether in a vibrant Dublin or in the Gaelic lordships. The current vitality of writing on early modern Ireland, to which Ellis has signally contributed, adds detail to and refines interpretations in his original treatment. Any enquirer, equipped with Lennon's and Ellis's happily complementary accounts, and McCavitt's model mono­graph, can now traverse the tricky terrain of Tudor and early Stuart Ireland much more confidently than was possible in 1985.

 Hertford College, Oxford 

TOBY BARNARD

 

<< Back To Last Page

       ©2004 DR. J. MCCAVITT.  |  LINK EXCHANGE  |  CONTACT US |  SITE CREDITS |  BUY THE BOOK |  BACK TO HOMEPAGE