Violence, Colonization and Henry VIII’s Conquest of France, 1544–1546

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In 1579 the English writer Thomas Churchyard explained to his readers the military strategy that Sir Humphrey Gilbert had used in Ireland during the suppression of the First Desmond Rebellion ten years earlier. He wrote that ‘when soeuer he [Gilbert] made any ostyng, or inrode, into the enemies Countrey, he killed manne, woman, and child, and spoiled, wasted, and burned, by the grounde all that he might: leauyng nothyng of the enemies in saffetie, whiche he could possiblie waste, or consume’. Gilbert’s actions have been seen as emblematic of the apparently special character of English warfare in sixteenth-century Ireland. The editors of an influential collection of essays examining conflict in early modern Ireland have written of ‘a level of violence in Ireland that was more intense and vicious than elsewhere in the Tudor and Stuart kingdoms’. Other historians of early modern Ireland have made even bolder claims. For Vincent Carey, the English ‘campaigns of indiscriminate killing and systematic starvation in Munster and Ulster constituted an early modern European version of total war, which in its impact on the civilian population was probably unprecedented and unmatched until the events of the Thirty Years’ War some decades later’. Recently, David Edwards has reasserted the unique and brutal character of English violence in Ireland. Rather than being a product of the Elizabethan conquest, ‘this type of violence’, Edwards finds, was first used in Ireland during the repression of the Geraldine Rebellion in the 1530s and became especially pronounced in the ‘colonial wars’ that accompanied the establishment of English plantations in Laois and Offaly from the late 1540s.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-51
JournalPast & Present
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Nov 2016


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