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Elizabethan justifications for violence in Ireland Tronrud, Thorold John


Violence was a central feature of Anglo-Irish relations in the latter half of the sixteenth century. Besides the devastation brought about by organized warfare there were many incidents of violence of an extraordinary nature—violence employed in times of truce.as well as war, exercised against, non-combatants of all ages, and often carried out with extreme cruelty. Such destruction evoked extensive response from many English gentry serving as officials and administrators in Ireland. Their private and official accounts of the Irish people and the Irish problem serve as the basis of my study. This thesis will be an analysis of how these Elizabethan gentry attempted to justify their violence, to legitimate it in the face of external opposition, and to rationalize it within their own minds. I will attempt to discover why Elizabethans found it necessary to justify their actions in the intricate manner in which they did, and what this may tell us about the intellectual development of the English gentry throughout the sixteenth century. An examination of the attitudes and policies of sixteenth-century Englishmen towards Ireland reveals that a great change took place over a relatively short period of time. Accounts and policies dating from the reign of Henry VIII were both lenient and sympathetic towards the Irish whereas those from the reign of Elizabeth were, by and large, brutal. This change was to occur mainly during the period of the Protectorate in England at a time when military force and religious persecution became the primary tools by which Ireland could be brought to 'civility'. The works dating from the reign of Elizabeth were, in large part, a response to.the extraordinary violence which began at the mid-century and to the psychological tensions that such destruction created. For this reason, I have relied, to a limited extent, upon modern psychological theories to help explain some aspects of the Elizabethan justifications. Finally, I am stating, as propositions, two conclusions. First, I propose that in the latter half of the sixteenth century the English and the Irish thought out and formulated ideas on two distinct intellectual planes and, as a consequence, were unable to fully comprehend the motives and aspirations of each other. This, I suggest, negated the possibility of a lasting peace in the sixteenth century and seriously hampered future attempts at reconciliation. Secondly, I submit that in their attempts to analyse and describe Ireland and to justify the violence perpetrated in that land, Englishmen were forced to re-examine their own society and to re-evaluate their role within it. It is possible, therefore, that their experience in Ireland was one of the numerous factors which helped many Englishmen break with the intellectual bonds of the past and to think in new and distinctive ways.

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