Conquest and Resistance: War in Seventeenth-Century Ireland

By Pádraig Lenihan | Go to book overview

THE STRATEGIC INVOLVEMENT OF
CONTINENTAL POWERS IN IRELAND 1596-1691

Tadhg Ó hAnnracháin


Introduction

In 1596, Edmund Spenser opened his political tract A View of the State of Ireland by putting into the mouth of his character Ireneus the notion that Ireland had been preserved in an unsettled state 'for some secret scourge, which shall by her come into England.'1 This fear that Ireland represented a potential danger to English security, particularly as a result of continental patronage of Irish rebellion, was highly conventional. In the aftermath of the 1641 rebellion, for instance, hysterical expectations and rumours of an Irish invasion mushroomed in different parts of England.2 The pamphlet literature to which the crisis gave rise also carried lurid and entirely fictitious reports of the deployment of large numbers of foreign catholic troops in aid for the rebels.3 Similar rumours emerged again following the disbanding of James II's troops in 1688. Nor was it in England alone that the notion of Ireland as a threat to English security flourished. Throughout the Early Modern period Irish rebels and continental observers also portrayed Ireland as the potential Achilles heel of the English state. The leaders of every major Irish insurrections of this period sought to mobilise continental assistance and every deterioration in relations between England and either France or Spain led almost axiomatically to a consideration by all protagonists of the role which Ireland might play in an English defeat.4

1 Henry Morley (ed.), Ireland under Elizabeth and James I, (London, 1890), p. 35;
see also p. 133, and p. 178 concerning the manner of guarding against a Spanish
invasion of Ireland.

2 Keith Lindley, 'The Impact of the 1641 Rising on England and Wales, 1641-
5' in Irish Historical Studies, xviii (1972), pp. 143-76

3 Tom O'Gorman, 'Occurrences from Ireland: Contemporary Pamphlet Re-
actions to the Confederate War, 1641-49' (Unpublished M.Litt Thesis, N.U.I., 2000),
pp. 21-2, 63-5.

4 The almost reflex nature of such considerations is perhaps best exemplified
by the relatively minor Anglo-French war of 1621 which immediately led to En-

-25-

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