Elizabeth I and Ireland, ed. Brendan Kane and Valerie McGowan-Doyle

Second paragraph of third chapter (“Elizabeth on Ireland”, by Leah S. Marcus):

In shortchanging Ireland in our volume of Works we were doubtless influenced by an anachronistic view of Britain as comprising its present territories and therefore including Scotland, but not most of Tudor Ireland. We were likewise influenced by the fact that James VI of Scotland went on to become James I of England. But we were, I suspect, also motivated by a desire to present Queen Elizabeth I in a positive light. The project of editing her writings was hatched during the heyday of second-wave feminism: we wanted to show that a woman could demonstrate all the skills and savvy that were usually attributed to men, and Elizabeth was for us a prime example. We avoided Ireland, perhaps, because the story of Elizabeth in relation to Ireland is not, by and large, a success story. Most of Elizabeth’s biographers – especially the most hagiographic among them – have also had disproportionately little to say about Elizabeth in Ireland.

Back in 2009 I had immense fun attending a conference on Elizabeth I and Ireland, held at the Storrs campus of the University of Connecticut. This is the book of that conference, with a number of the papers that were presented, refined for the delectation of an academic audience.

Lots of interesting stuff here. I admit that some of the literature chapters sailed over my head – my Irish is not up to epic poetry, even in short doses, and my tolerance for Spenser is rather low as well. But this is amply compensated by the chapters on politics and what might be called ideology; what did the rulers of Ireland, including Elizabeth herself, think that they were doing, or trying to do? Of course, it’s a messy picture, with individuals located along a spectrum ranging from those who wanted to engineer a durable political settlement to those who were just in it to get as much property as possible. But it’s lovely to have so much evidence, from different perspectives, gathered in one set of covers, and it took me back to that exciting weekend in 2009, of which I still have fond memories.

My not very secret agenda in reading books about Elizabethan Ireland is to look for mentions of my ancestor, Sir Nicholas White, who as Master of the Rolls was one of the leading Irish politicians of the day. I spotted three: Ciaran Brady describes him as one of “the most far-seeing members of the English-Irish elite”, and Valerie McGowan-Doyle mentions him twice, once briefly as the object of a patronage dispute but also quoting at length from one of his letters to Burghley, defending the right of the Queen’s loyal subjects in Ireland to complain about high taxes. All very useful if I ever get my project of writing his biography off the ground.

This was the unread non-fiction book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next on that pile is The Deep State of Europe: Welcome to Hell, by the late great Basil Coronakis.