Nature of the War, 1500-1541

13. Such was the new policy employed in the war that had now been re-opened between polity and polity, nation and nation. From English State Papers it appears that a special fund was kept in Dublin to promote disturbances and to create feuds; while secret provocative agents were employed throughout the country, whose reports may be found among the same State Papers. Such efforts were worked from a compact and single directive against a nation which was at all costs to be frustrated from achieving such a directive of its own. The name and intention of governance were presumed, and, in order the better to maintain the presumption, English writers of the time wrote scornfully of the Irish nation as of barbarians and rebels; yet the result was war--not simply a war of conquest, but a war of destruction and obliteration.

The English armies that went abroad were especially careful to destroy all Irish manuscripts that came within their reach. All traces of the old culture and learning, that looked down on the vandals from an honoured heritage of fifteen hundred years, were to be deliberately obliterated in order to promulgate the new legend of a barbarian people to whom the blessings of civilisation were brought, at the swordpoint. The Statutes of Kilkenny became the guiding principle of the war: they were turned into an offensive instrument by which a whole nation, its beauties and its distinctive being were to be blotted from the earth. When Irish rulers had been prompted into a feud, or when in the continual war that prevailed feuds broke out without such direct prompting, the English military power waited till both sides were exhausted, and then, in the name of good order, fell upon each, exacted submissions, bestowed English titles, demanded that poets, historians and lawyers should be banished, and decreed that Irish children should be taken to train in the English language and in English ways. Special care, indeed, was taken to procure wards to train in England, in order thus the more effectually to extend one polity over another. An additional advantage was thus gained. For so all the lands over which a ward's father ruled, at the election of the people, was presumed by English law to pass to the son; and so a whole people's lands, held by them since before history in free Stateships, were held to come within the gift of the English Crown.

Once again, therefore, it was a question of a polity against a polity, but now with valuable property to be seized as a result. Against such a policy, naturally, the whole people rose, in the name of their ancient rights and laws; and further upheavals were caused, out of which the English Crown reaped advantage. All these things were done, however, not frankly in the name of conquest and extinction, but in the guise of superior worth and in the pretence of the blessings of civilisation to be brought to a barbarous people. Yet certain English agents at that time quite clearly saw the matter as it truly stood. The Chief Baron at Dublin, Lord Finglas, wrote, anno 1520: "It is a great abusion and reproach that the laws and statutes made in this land are not observed nor kept after the making of them eight days; which matter is one of the destructions of Englishmen of this land; and divers Irishmen doth keep and observe such laws which they make upon hills in their country firm and stable, without breaking them for any favour or reward." Another observer stated: "The Irish keep their promise faithfully and are more desirous of peace than the English; nothing is more pleasing to them than good justice." For the war between the nations was still one whereby a militarist system, desirous of plunder and under no obligation to law, sought to extinguish an ancient civilisation whose polity had been made by a whole nation and was rooted in law. Only it was now aided by all the wiles of an unscrupulous statecraft.