Published online by Cambridge University Press: 31 July 2009
Why was Shane O'Neill attainted some two years after his death by means of a statute of attainder passed by the Irish parliament which met in January 1569? The answer would appear to be as simple as the question. Shane was attainted because the crown wished to employ the easiest and most comprehensive way of confiscating all of his lands and rights of lordship and the lands and lordships of those, both among the O'Neills and among the other Ulster dynasties, who had pledged allegiance to him. It was a sly move, it has commonly been observed: for after actively opposing all of Shane's tenurial and feudal claims during his lifetime, now that he was dead the English government chose after all to accept such claims at their fullest in order to extract the greatest possible yield. For those seduced by the pleasures of prosecution this mode of explanation has always been enough: perfidious Albion once again supplementing brute force with subtle legal subterfuge.
Yet however vicious and malign England's intentions towards Ireland may be presumed to have been in general, a moment's reflection will suggest that in this particular case the means chosen for such a design were remarkably clumsy. Not only was it unnecessary, as will be demonstrated below, it was also replete with concessions, implicit and explicit, that rendered it quite subversive of its own supposed purpose.