Hostname: page-component-84b7d79bbc-7nlkj Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-25T14:22:50.193Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Nationalist historiography and the English and Gaelic worlds in the late middle ages

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2016

Steven G. Ellis*
Department of History, University College, Galway


Much more so than in modern times, sharp cultural and social differences distinguished the various peoples inhabiting the British Isles in the later middle ages. Not surprisingly these differences and the interaction between medieval forms of culture and society have attracted considerable attention by historians. By comparison with other fields of research, we know much about the impact of the Westminster government on the various regions of the English polity, about the interaction between highland and lowland Scotland and about the similarities and differences between English and Gaelic Ireland. Yet the historical coverage of these questions has been uneven, and what at first glance might appear obvious and promising lines of inquiry have been largely neglected — for example the relationship between Gaelic Ireland and Gaelic Scotland, or between Wales, the north of England and the lordship of Ireland as borderlands of the English polity. No doubt the nature and extent of the surviving evidence is an important factor in explaining this unevenness, but in fact studies of interaction between different cultures seem to reflect not so much their intrinsic importance for our understanding of different late medieval societies as their perceived significance for the future development of movements culminating in the present.

Copyright © Irish Historical Studies Publications Ltd 1986

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 See in particular the works cited below, nn 5–8.

2 Some modifications in the present Anglo-centric presentation of the late medieval English polity are suggested in Ellis, S.G., ‘Crown, community and government in the English territories, 1450–1575’ in History, 71 (1986), pp 187204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3 See, e.g., Stokes, G.T., Ireland and the Anglo-Norman church (London, 1889)Google Scholar; Orpen, G.H., Ireland under the Normans, 1169–1333 (4 vols, Oxford, 1911–20)Google Scholar; Wilson, Philip, The beginnings of modern Ireland (Dublin, 1912)Google Scholar; Dunlop, Robert, Ireland from the earliest times to the present day (Oxford, 1922)Google Scholar; Ball, F.E., The judges in Ireland, 1221–1921 (2 vols, London, 1926).Google Scholar

4 A history of medieval Ireland (London, 1923; 2nd ed., 1938). See also Green, A.S., The making of Ireland and its undoing, 1200–1600 (London, 1908)Google Scholar; MacNeill, Eoin, Phases of Irish history (Dublin, 1919).Google Scholar

5 Lydon, J.F, The lordship of Ireland in the middle ages (Dublin, 1972), ch. 9Google Scholar; Ireland in the later middle ages (Dublin, 1972), ch. 5; ‘The middle nation’ in Lydon, J.F. (ed.), The English in medieval Ireland (Dublin, 1984), pp 126.Google Scholar

6 Nicholls, K.W, ‘Anglo-French Ireland and after’ in Peritia, 1 (1982), p. 394,Google Scholar reviewing Art Cosgrove, Late medieval Ireland, 1370–1541 (Dublin, 1981); Art Cosgrove, ‘Hiberniores ipsis Hibernis’ in Cosgrove, Art and McCartney, Donai (eds), Studies in Irish history presented to R. Dudley Edwards (Dublin, 1979), pp 114,Google Scholar idem, ‘Parliament and the Anglo-Irish community: the declaration of 1460’ in Cosgrove, Art and McGuire, J.I. (eds), Parliament and community: Historical Studies 14 (Belfast, 1983), pp 2541 Google Scholar

7 Edwards, R.Dudley, Ireland in the age of the Tudors: the destruction of Hiberno-Norman civilization (London, 1977).Google Scholar

8 Gearóid Mac Niocaill, ‘Gaelic Ireland to 1603’ in Lee, Joseph (ed.), Irish historiography, 1970–79 (Cork, 1981), p. 4 Google Scholar; Nicholls, loc. cit., Ó Corráin, Donnchadh, ‘Bibliographica’ in Peritia, 1 (1982), p. 411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

9 See especially Otway-Ruthven, A.J, A history of medieval Ireland (2nd ed., London, 1980)Google Scholar; Richardson, H.G. and Sayles, G.O., The Irish parliament in the middle ages (Philadelphia, 1952)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Lydon, , Lordship of Ireland; K.W Nicholls, Gaelic and gaelicised Ireland in the middle ages (Dublin, 1972)Google Scholar; Frame, Robin, English lordship in Ireland, 1318–1361 (Oxford, 1982).Google Scholar

10 As an ignorant foreigner, I have hitherto followed established conventions. Nevertheless, the term ‘Anglo-Irish’ has other meanings, and its use, even as a shorthand for ‘the English of Ireland’, misleadingly suggests the early emergence in England of a much more precise sense of English identity than the wide, primarily cultural sense of ‘Englishness’ which prevailed in the late middle ages. The terms ‘Anglo-Norman’, ‘Anglo-French’ and ‘Hiberno-Norman’ are in any case hardly appropriate to the later period. See also Richter, Michael, ‘The interpretation of medieval Irish history’ in I.H.S., 24, no. 95 (May 1985), pp 289–98.Google Scholar

11 E.g. A.C., pp 442, 642, 708.

12 (Oxford, 1979), p. vii.

13 A recent restatement of this view is Edwards, Ireland in the age of the Tudors.

14 Perhaps one reason why nationalist interpretations of medieval Ireland have not in the circumstances achieved an outright monopoly is that among modern historians specialising in Ireland, 1169-1603, the handful whose background and training were not nationalist have included such prolific writers as A.J Otway-Ruthven, H.G. Richardson and G.O. Say les, David Quinn and Robin Frame.

15 Nicholls, , ‘Anglo-French Ireland’, p. 392 Google Scholar; idem, Gaelic & gaelicised Ire.

16 See, most recently, Davies, R.R., Lordship and society in the march of Wales, 1282–1400 (Oxford, 1978), ch. 15.Google Scholar

17 Rae, T.I., The administration of the Scottish frontier, 1513–1603 (Edinburgh, 1966), pp 511,Google Scholar Tuck, J.A., ‘Northumbrian society in the fourteenth century’ in Northern History, 6 (1971), pp 2239 Google Scholar; Dixon, Philip, ‘Towerhouses, pelehouses and border society’ in Archaeological Journal, 136 (1979), pp 240–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar See also the seminal article by Robin Frame, ‘Power and society in the lordship of Ireland, 1272–1377’ in Past & Present, no. 76 (Aug. 1977), pp 3–33, which first suggested some of the arguments developed in this article.

18 Hore, & Graves, , Southern & eastern counties, p. 162 Google Scholar; Nicholls, , Gaelic & gaelicis-ed Ire., p. 48.Google Scholar Cf. Pugh, T.B., The marcher lordships of South Wales, 1415–1536: select documents (Cardiff, 1963)Google Scholar; Davies, , Lordship & society, pp 144–5, 162, 407–8, 449–50.Google Scholar

19 Cf. Griffiths, R.A., ‘Wales and the marches’ in Chrimes, S.B., Ross, CD. and Griffiths, R.A. (eds), Fifteenth-century England, 1399–1509: studies in politics and society (Manchester, 1972), pp 154, 155Google Scholar; Ellis, S.G., Reform and revival: English government in Ireland, 1470–1534 (London, 1986), pp 121–3, 139.Google Scholar

20 Palliser, D.M., The age of Elizabeth: England under the later Tudors, 1547–1603 (London, 1983), pp 162–3, 175–6Google Scholar; Harrison, Scott, The Pilgrimage of Grace in the Lake counties, 1536–7 (London, 1981), p. 7 Google Scholar; Watts, S.J., ‘Tenant-right in early seventeenth-century Northumberland’ in Northern History, 6 (1971), esp. pp 6971.Google Scholar

21 Cited in Parker, Geoffrey, The Dutch revolt (London, 1979), p. 35.Google Scholar

22 Cited in Smout, T.C., A history of the Scottish people, 1560–1830 (2nd, paperback ed., London, 1972), p. 39.Google Scholar

23 L & Ρ Hen. VIII, xix (ii), no. 795.

24 Curtis, Edmund, Richard II in Ireland, 1394–5 (Oxford, 1927), pp 58–9, 88Google Scholar; Quinn, D.B. and Nicholls, K.W, ‘Ireland in 1534’ in New hist. Ire., 3, 17 Google Scholar; Dickenson, W.C., Scotland from the earliest times to 1603 (2nd ed., London, 1965), p. 5.Google Scholar See also the remarks in Cosgrove, , Late medieval Ire., pp 83–5.Google Scholar

25 Bannerman, John, ‘The lordship of the Isles’ in Brown, J.M. (ed.) Scottish society in the fifteenth century (London, 1977), pp 212–13, 222Google Scholar; Grant, Alexander, Independence and nationhood: Scotland, 1306–1469 (London, 1984), pp 212–13Google Scholar; Munro, Jean, ‘The lordship of the Isles’ in Loraine MacLean of Dochgarroch (ed.), The middle ages in the Highlands (Inverness, 1981), pp 33, 35.Google Scholar

26 Nicholls, , Gaelic & gaelicised Ire., p. 3.Google Scholar Cf. Ó Cuív, Brian, ‘The Irish language in the early modern period’ in New hist. Ire., 3, 527 Google Scholar

27 See esp., Bradshaw, Brendan, The Irish constitutional revolution of the sixteenth century (Cambridge, 1979), pp 15–27, 179–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Ó Corrá, Donnchadh in, ‘Nationality and kingship in pre-Norman Ireland’ in Moody, T W (ed.), Nationality and the pursuit of national independence: Historical Studies 11 (Belfast, 1978), pp 135,Google Scholar argues for an Irish sense of identity and ‘Otherness’ in pre-Norman Ireland, but refers only incidentally to Gaelic Scotland (p. 23, n. 89: grant by RuaidriConchobair to teach the students of Ireland and Scotland, 1169).

28 Cited in Bannerman, , ‘Lordship of the Isles’, pp 235–6, 238.Google Scholar

29 Cosgrove, , Late medieval Ire., p. 79.Google Scholar

30 A.L.C, ii, 176, 290, 364. Cf. ibid., ii, 416: an attack by the Clann-Duiphshith of Scotland, with their Scottish and Irish kin, on O’Connor Don.

31 See Bradshaw, , Irish constitutional revolution, p. 27 Google Scholar; Cosgrove, , Late medieval Ire., p. 74,Google Scholar but cf. A.L. C., ii, 460 (‘Eire uile ar na gabáil le Gallaibh in bliadhain sin [ 1584 ], innus ccur cuirset oineach ocus uaisle fer nErenn ar gcul’). The English nicknames are of course those proscribed by the statutes of Kilkenny

32 A.C., p. 684.

33 A.U., passim; A.C., p. 716. Cf. ibid., pp 398, 406, 410; A.L.C., ii, 136, 324; Ó Cuív, ‘Irish language’, 519, 523, 527, 541.

34 Curtis, , Med. Ire., p. 211.Google Scholar Cf. Frame, , English lordship in Ireland, pp 131, 151–2.Google Scholar

35 Grant, Independence & nationhood, ch. 8; Smout, , History of the Scottish people, p. 40 Google Scholar; Dickenson, , Scotland, pp 41–2.Google Scholar

36 Falls, Cyril, Elizabeth’s Irish wars (London, 1950), p. 155.Google Scholar

37 Bannerman, , ‘Lordship of the Isles’, pp 211–19Google Scholar; Grant, , Independence & nationhood, PP 212–20Google Scholar; Munro, , ‘Lordship of the Isles’, pp 2635.Google Scholar

38 Dickenson, , Scotland, pp 5, 37–41, 274–98Google Scholar; Ellis, Reform & revival, passim.

39 Shennan, J.H., Government and society in France, 1461–1661 (London, 1969), p. 35 Google Scholar; and passim for the following remarks.

40 Weber, Eugen, Peasants into Frenchmen: the modernization of rural France, 1870–1914 (London, 1977), chs 6–7Google Scholar

41 Vale, M.G.A., English Gascony, 1399–1453 (Oxford, 1970), esp. p. 1 Google Scholar

42 Ellis, S.G., ‘Parliaments and great councils, 1483–99: addenda et corrigenda’ in Anal Hib., no. 30 (1980), pp 104–5; idem, Reform & revival, pp 5052.Google Scholar

43 Frame, English lordship in Ireland, esp. ch. 2. Cf. Bliss, Alan, ‘Language and literature’ in Lydon, (ed.), English in medieval Ireland, pp 2745,Google Scholar and my review of it in Studia Hib., xxiv (1984), forthcoming.

44 Although the fact has generally escaped attention, the towns of the Yorkist and early Tudor lordship were both prosperous and plentiful by comparison with those of other English borderlands. See Ellis, S.G., Tudor Ireland: crown, community and the conflict of cultures, 1470–1603 (London, 1985), ch. 2Google Scholar; Palliser, Age of Elizabeth, ch. 7

45 Otway-Ruthven, History of medieval Ireland, ch. 11, Ellis, S.G., ‘Parliament and community in Yorkist and Tudor Ireland’ in Cosgrove, & McGuire, (eds), Parliament & community, pp 52–3Google Scholar; idem, Tudor Ireland, pp 131, 135.

46 Anglica historia, ed. Hay, D. (London, 1950), pp 7880, 90–94, 108Google Scholar; Goodman, Anthony, A history of England from Edward II to James I (London, 1977), p. 7, n. 4.Google Scholar

47 Green, Making of Ireland, ch. 8; Hammerstein, Helga, ‘Aspects of the continental education of Irish students in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I’ in Williams, T.D. (ed.), Historical Studies VIII (Dublin, 1971), pp 137–53Google Scholar; Canny, N.P, The formation of the Old English élite in Ireland (Dublin, 1975), pp 2631. For administrative reform, see Ellis, Reform & revival.Google Scholar

48 Representation in the English commons was of course confined to England until Henry VIII’s reign and was weighted in favour of the south, with Cheshire and Durham unrepresented. Thomas, 7th earl of Ormond, was summoned to the upper house as a baron.

49 Cf. Cosgrove, Art, ‘century of decline’ in Farrell, Brian (ed.), The Irish parliamentary tradition (Dublin, 1973), ch. 4,Google Scholar Elton, G.R., ‘Parliament’ in Haigh, Christopher (ed.), The reign of Elizabeth I (London, 1984), esp. pp 7984.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

50 MacCurtain, Margaret, Tudor and Stuart Ireland (Dublin, 1972), p. 7 Cf. Ellis, ‘Parliament & community’Google Scholar

51 See especially James, M.E., A Tudor magnate and the Tudor state: Henry, fifth earl of Northumberland (York, 1966).Google Scholar The evidence on which the following interpretation of the lordship’s history is generally based is set out in Ellis, Tudor Ireland, chs 3–5.

52 See especially, Griffith, M.C., ‘The Talbot-Ormond struggle for control of the Anglo-Irish government, 1414–47’ in I.H.S., 2, no. 8 (Sept. 1941), pp 376–97Google Scholar; Cherry, Martin, ‘The struggle for power in mid fifteenth-century Devonshire’ in Griffiths, R.A. (ed.), Patronage, the crown and the provinces in later medieval England (Gloucester, 1981), pp 123–44Google Scholar; Griffiths, R.A., ‘Local rivalries and national politics: the Percies, the Nevilles and the duke of Exeter, 1452–1455’ in Speculum, 43 (1968), pp 589632 Google Scholar; Hicks, M.A., ‘Dynastic change and northern society the career of the fourth earl of Northumberland, 1470–89’ in Northern History, 14 (1978), pp 78107 Google Scholar

53 For the Dacre connexion, see James, M.E., Change and continuity in the Tudor north: the rise of Thomas, first Lord Wharton (York, 1965),Google Scholar app. i. For his estates, see also Cott, S.E., ‘The wardenship of Thomas Lord Dacre, 1485–1525’ (unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Manchester, 1971), pp 717 Google Scholar

54 Cott, op. cit., p. 81, James, , Change & continuity, pp 89.Google Scholar

55 B.L., Cotton MS, Caligula B.I., ff 46v-7 (L. & Ρ Hen. VIII, iv (i), no. 1289).

56 L. & p Hen. VIII, iv (i), nos 10, 220, 405, 1223, 1429, 1779, 2176.

57 James, , Change & continuity, pp 910.Google Scholar

58 MacKenzie, W MacKay, ‘The Debateable Land’ in Scot. Hist. Rev., 30 (1951), pp 109–25.Google Scholar

59 James, , Continuity & change, pp 1619.Google Scholar See also Jackson, G.M., ‘The wardenship of William Lord Dacre, 1527–1534’ (unpublished B.A. dissertation, University of Manchester, 1972).Google Scholar

60 Ibid., P.R.O., S.P 1/84, p. 199, cited in James, , Change & continuity, p. 17 Google Scholar

61 These points are developed in Ellis, ‘Crown, community and government’

62 Kempe, A.J. (ed.), The Loseley manuscripts (London, 1835), pp 114–15Google Scholar; [ Morison, Richard], A remedy for sedition, ed. Cox, E.M. (London, 1933), p. 41. I am grateful to Keith Thomas for these references.Google Scholar

63 For example, Harris, Hibernica, i, 30.

64 Pollard, A.J., ‘The tyranny of Richard III’ in Jn. Med Hist., 3 (1977), pp 147–66.Google Scholar

65 Goodman, Anthony, The Wars of the Roses (London, 1981), pp 224–6Google Scholar; Fletcher, Anthony, Tudor rebellions (3rd ed., London, 1983), ch. 4Google Scholar and docs 2-11.

66 Ellis, , Tudor Ireland, pp 5464.Google Scholar Cf. Memoranda roll, 18 Edward IV m. 26 (P.R.O.I., Ferguson coll., iii, f. 221v): the bishop of Meath’s servant resisted Lord Treasurer FitzEustace when he distrained for rent, threatened ‘quam cito hoc fecerit, tarn cito decapitus erit’ and asserted that the bishop was governor of Ireland.

67 Bradshaw, Irish constitutional revolution, ch. 9; Ellis, , ‘Crown, community and government’ Cf. Lydon, , Ireland in the later middle ages, pp 144–5Google Scholar; Bradshaw, op. cit., pp 29–30.

68 Hayden, M.T, ‘Lambert Simnel in Ireland’ in Studies, 4 (1915), pp 622–38Google Scholar; Goodman, , Wars of the Roses, pp 99107 Google Scholar

69 Memoranda roll, 10 Edward IV m. 8 (P.R.O.I., Ferguson coll., iii, f. 221); Parliament roll, 8 Henry VII c. 22 (P.R.O.I., RC 13/9).

70 Ellis, S.G., ‘Henry VII and Ireland’ in Lydon, J.F (ed.), England and Ireland in the later middle ages (Dublin, 1981), pp 237–54.Google Scholar See also Cal anc. rec. Dublin, i, 171 (bond of nisi by the city of Dublin in 1,000 marks, 1488); and (against retaining) Cal pat. rolls, 1485–94, p. 316; Statute roll, 10 Henry VII, c. 12 (Stat. Ire., i, 45–6).

71 Ellis, Tudor Ire., chs 2–4, 6, passim. For the Salisbury settlement, see Conway, Agnes, Henry VII' s relations with Scotland and Ireland (Cambridge, 1932), pp 226–9.Google Scholar

72 Ellis, , Reform & revival, pp 15, 18, 24–8, 37, 46, 69; idem, Tudor Ire., pp 61–4.Google Scholar

73 Cf. Ross, Charles, Edward IV (London, 1974), pp 203–4.Google Scholar

74 Cf. MacCurtain, , Tudor & Stuart Ire., pp 621 Google Scholar

75 ‘“Factors in modern history’” in Hexter, J.H., Reappraisals in history: new views on history and society in early modern Europe (2nd ed., Chicago, 1979), pp 2644.Google Scholar

76 Earlier versions of this paper were delivered, in whole or in part, at meetings of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, the student history societies at Trinity College, Dublin, and St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and the Irish Historical Society I am very grateful for the comments and criticisms offered there.