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‘Les Engleys Nées en Irlande’: The English Political Identity in Medieval Ireland

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 February 2009


By the fourteenth century the descendants of those who had gone from Britain to Ireland in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries had come to call themselves ‘the English of Ireland’ or ‘the English born in Ireland’. Or, to be more accurate, they did so when faced by Englishmen from England: within Ireland they described themselves simply as ‘the English’. From the 1340s onwards a series of disputes with agents of the king formed a context in which they collectively stressed their Englishness. By the fifteenth century this identity was from time to time problematical, both for those who claimed it and for the metropolis. Historians who work on the late medieval and early modern periods have found it equally so, and have argued about the atuitudes and nationality of the settler élite. While fourteenth-century evidence has been called upon in these debates, there has been little serious consideration of the first two centuries of the lordship of Ireland. In what senses were those who went to Ireland during the founding period ‘English’? Why does the emphasis upon being English appear to have intensified among their successors as time went by? What does the self-proclaimed Englishness of the fourteenth century signify? How far do the complexities and tensions associated with it foreshadow the better-known difficulties of later periods? These are the matters I wish to explore.

Research Article
Copyright © Royal Historical Society 1993

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