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  • Print publication year: 1997
  • Online publication date: December 2009

1 - Spenser's Irish courts

Summary

So ships he to the wolvish westerne ile,

Among the savage Kernes in sad exile.

Joseph Hall, Virgidemiarum, Satire Five

By the late 1590s, Joseph Hall's satirical portrait of the young English gentleman, down on his luck and seeking refuge in Ireland, was something of a commonplace. For the “threedbare malecontent” of Hall's poem who has sold his lands and whose creditors are closing in, Ireland represents a convenient if dangerous hiding place. Stereotypes aside, many Englishmen who shipped to Ireland in the sixteenth century did indeed look upon their sojourn as a form of exile. When in 1582 the courtier and poet Barnabe Googe accepted the position of Provost Marshal of Connaught at an annual salary of £40, he informed his patron, Lord Burghley, that he had done so through “mere carefulness of my poor estate” – an estate which included “a wife and a great sort of children.” Googe saw his service in Ireland as a temporary expedient for managing a financial crisis. But it was also a painful expedient: “I shall ffor thys wynter tyme have ffull experryens off the purgatory off Saynt Patryck,” he complained; “I hear lyve amongste a sort off Scythians, wantynge the comffort off mye Contrey, mye poor wyff and chyldren.” Googe remained in Ireland only until his fortunes changed in England upon the death of his stepmother in 1587 when he received his inheritance.

Although only a short-term resident, Googe belongs to an expatriate group of English writers, poets, translators, intellectuals, and humanists who in the mid to late sixteenth century secured positions in the administrative and military hierarchies of colonial Ireland.