“Men to Monsters”: Civility, Barbarism, and “Race” in Early Modern Ireland

  • David J. Baker
Part of the Signs of Race book series (SOR)


They are blacke Moores, o Queene, wash them as long as you will, you shall never alter their hue.”1 The author of this statement remains anonymous, but was most likely an English clergyman, once of Cork, but driven out of his acquired home in 1598 by Gaelic allies of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone. In The Supplication of the Blood of the English Most Lamentably Murdered in Ireland, Cryeng Out of the Yearth for Revenge, he seeks to persuade Elizabeth I that the Gaels who have dispossessed him cannot be reformed. There is no more profit to be had in that attempt “then he that endevored wth washinge to make a blacke moore white” (60). “[T]hose Englishe-bloode thirsters,” he tells her, “murder yore faithfull people: ravishe theire wives and daughters: beate out the braines of their younge children in the armes of their nurses” (72).


English Text Irish Woman Early Modern Period English Writing Racial Oppression 
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  1. 1.
    The Supplication of the Blood of the English Most Lamentably Murdered in Ireland, Cryeing Out of the Yearth for Revenge (1598), ed. Willy Maley, Analecta Hibernica, 36 (1994): 60. All further references are given parenthetically in the text.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Andrew Hadfield, “‘The naked and the dead’: Elizabethan perceptions of Ireland,” Travel and Drama in Shakespeares Time, ed. Jean-Pierre Maqueslot and Michele Willems (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 46.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    On these debates, see Brendan Bradshaw, The Irish Constitutional Revolution of the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See, for instance, Christopher Ivic, “Spenser and the Bounds of Race,” Genre, 32 (1999): 141–173, passim; Margo Hendricks and Patricia Parker, introduction to Women, “Race,” and Writing in the Early Modern Period, ed. Margo Hendricks and Patricia Parker (London: Routledge, 1994), 1–2; Lynda E. Boose, “‘The Getting of a Lawful Race’: Racial discourse in early modern England and the unrepresentable black woman,” Women, “Race,” and Writing, 36–37; Dympna Callaghan, “Re-reading Elizabeth Cary’s The Tragedie of Mariam, Faire Queene of Jewry,” Women, “Race, ” and Writing, 164–165; Willy Maley, “‘This ripping of auncestors’: The Ethnographic Present in Spenser’s A View of the State of Ireland,” The Texture of Renaissance Knowledge, ed. Philippa Berry and Margaret Tudeau-Clayton (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003): 117–134. On the relation between early modern racial categories and those of our own period, see Margaret W. Ferguson’s remarks in “Juggling the Categories of Race, Class, and Gender: Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko,” Women, “Race,” and Writing, 211–212. For a general treatment that locates Ireland in the history of racist thought and practice, see Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, Volume One: Racial Oppression and Social Control (London: Verso, 1994). Allen argues plausibly for analogies between the treatment of “the Africans, the American Indians, and the Irish” in the early modern period. In Ireland, he says, the English “reduced all members of the oppressed group to one undifferentiated social status, a status beneath that of any member of any social class within the colonizing population. This is the hallmark of racial oppression in its colonial origins, and it has persisted in subsequent historical contexts” (32, Allen’s emphasis).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ivic, “Spenser and the Bounds of Race,” 143. Ivic refers the comparison with which I open as an instance of the “discourse on ‘blackness’ … surfac[ing] in early modern English discourse on the Irish” (“Spenser and the Bounds of Race,” 147).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ivic, “Spenser and the Bounds of Race,” 143.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Boose, “Getting of a Lawful Race,” 36. Boose’s emphasis.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Hendricks and Parker, “Introduction,” 1.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Boose, “Getting of a Lawful Race,” 37.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Ivic, “Spenser and the Bounds of Race,” 145.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Hadfield, “The naked and the dead,” 38.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Canny, Making Ireland British 1580–1650 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 163.Google Scholar
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    See David Edwards, “Ideology and experience: Spenser’s View and martial law in Ireland,” Political Ideology in Ireland, 1541–1641, ed. Hiram Morgan (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1999), 143–144.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    A Discovery of the True Causes Why Ireland Was Never Entirely Subdued [And] Brought Under Obedience of the Crown of England Until the Beginning of His Majestys Happy Reign (1612), ed. James P. Myers, Jr. (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Shuger, “Irishmen, Aristocrats, and Other White Barbarians,” Renaissance Quarterly, 50 (1997): 506.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Ivic, “Spenser and the Bounds of Race,” 154.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Hadfield, “The naked and the dead,” 34.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Quoted in Hadfield, “The naked and the dead,” 34–35.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 34.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Ancient Irish Histories (Dublin: Hibernia Press, 1809), 1, 19.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    The Works of Edmund Spenser, vol. 10 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1949), 215.Google Scholar
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    Spenser, Works, 218.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    According to Willy Maley, the Supplications editor, there is a “single complete original text” (Maley, introduction to the Supplication 11) of this treatise extant. He also notes that it is “written in a very legible secretary hand. All deletions and insertions are in the same hand as the author” (90).Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Spenser, Works, 119.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    See, for instance, Joan Fitzpatrick, Irish Demons: English Writings on Ireland, the Irish, and Gender by Spenser and his Contemporaries (Lanham: University Press of America, 2000), passim. Google Scholar
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    See n. 14.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Davies, Discovery, 217. On a New English critic of Davies’s views and policies, see Eugene Flanagan, “The anatomy of Jacobean Ireland: Captain Barnaby Rich, Sir John Davies and the failure of reform, 1609–22,” Political Ideology in Ireland, 158–180.Google Scholar
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    Sir John Davies and the Conquest of Ireland: A Study in Legal Imperialism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 14.Google Scholar
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    Maley, “Introduction,” 10.Google Scholar
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    Maley, “Introduction,” 7.Google Scholar
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    The Irish Rebellion; or, An History of the Attempts of the Irish Papists to Extirpate the Protestants in the Kingdom of Ireland; Together with the Barbarous Cruelties and Bloody Massacres which Ensued Thereupon (1646; rpt. London: 1812). All further references will be given parenthetically.Google Scholar
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    Hadfield, “English Colonialism and National Identity in Early Modern Ireland,” Eire/Ireland, 28 (1993): 83.Google Scholar
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    Shuger, “Irishmen,” 497.Google Scholar
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    Ivic, “Spenser and the Bounds of Race,” 143.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Callaghan, “Re-reading,” 165. •Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Shuger, “Irishmen,” 495.Google Scholar

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© Philip D. Beidler and Gary Taylor 2005

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  • David J. Baker

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