Migratory flows (16th–19th century)

Secular sovereignty underlain with religious sovereignty

There were English people settling in Ireland as early as 1170-71 under the rule of Henry II[1] Plantagenet. Its institutions point to English suspicions towards the island's native inhabitants. The chief of the executive was one Lord Deputy appointed by the king of England. Technically, he worked with a Council of Ireland of ill-defined powers that had, since the end of the 15th century, enforced policies decided by the privy Council[2] of England. Dublin did have a parliament constituted on lines similar to that of the English parliament. It was made up of an Upper House where the lords “spiritual and temporal” sat and a House of Commons where, at the end queen Elizabeth I[3]'s reign, about a hundred representatives met : 66 representing the 33 counties and 40 odd the cities and boroughs. The workings of this parliament brought out the tensions opposing the English to the Irish. In 1494 Poynings' law put an end to Irish autonomy. The Lord Deputy and the Council of Ireland must set before the Privy Council of England any bill the Irish parliament wishes to discuss. Once approved by the king of England and his parliament, the bill came before the Dublin parliament which could accept it, reject it altogether or amend it – but, in the latter case, it had to be sent back to London.

Thus, although they form the majority of the island's population, the Irish do not take part in the government of their country ; the English grant them charges only at local level. In 1541, on Henry VIII[4]'s initiative, the king of England assumed the title of king of Ireland in order to reassert his power before the church of Rome that claimed possession over the island it considered a papal fiefdom. This decision is to be read in the context of the conflict opposing Henry VIII to the pope ever since the English parliament voted in 1534 the Act of Supremacy that made the Tudor king « the only Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England ». The king would henceforward be able to repress “heresies”, appoint the bishops and organise the pastoral visits through which to correct “errors” and “abuses”. In other words the doctrine, the assessment of misguided opinions and the definition of the paths to “salvation” would from then on be the preserve of the political authority. Not even Constantine[5] or the Holy Emperor[6] had dared such measures.

However, the English presence in Ireland remained discrete during the first half of the 16th century. English common law[7] was only applied in the Pale, that is the area stretching from Dublin to Dundalk. This was a small territory for some time protected by a fence (in Latin Palus) hence its name. Beyond this modest bridgehead, several regions held allegiance to the king of England, notably in the East and the South of the Island, such were the counties of Kildare, Ormond and Desmond.

Irish Catholic Migrations 16th to 19th century © SA, ESO Le Mans
  1. Henry II

    Henry II Plantagenet (1133-1189) was Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy. He became Count of Aquitaine in 1152 through his marriage to Eleanor, then king of England in 1154 as heir to Matilda, daughter of king Henry I.

  2. Privy Council

    The Privy Council of England, was a powerful institution. The body originally concerned itself with advising the Sovereign on legislation, administration and justice. Though different bodies assuming distinct functions evolved from this court (e.g. courts of law for dispensing justice and Parliament as the supreme legislature of the kingdom), the Council retained major powers, so that laws made by the Sovereign on the advice of the Council, rather than on the advice of Parliament, were accepted as valid.

  3. Elisabeth I (1533-1603)

    Daughter of Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn, who was sentenced to death on a charge of adultery. She became queen of England after the untimely death of her half-brother Edward VI (1547-1553) and her elder half-sister Mary Tudor (1553-1558).

  4. Henry VIII

    Henry VIII Tudor (1491-1547) ascended the throne in 1509. He set England on the path of Reformation by breaking relations with pope Clement VII who refused to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

  5. Constantine

    Roman emperor from 306 to 337, Constantine adopted policies favouring the interest of the Church, beginning with granting the Christians the same rights as the pagans. He called the ecumenical council in Nicea in 325 and converted to Christianity

  6. Holy Emperor

    The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was created in 962 by Otto I. It lasted until 1806. It bound together the German states and the Kingdom of Bohemia under the authority of an elected emperor who, since the Electors remained Catholic in their majority, was always a Catholic.

  7. Common law

    English law arose from ancient Germanic (Angle, Saxon) laws and customs. It was formalised under Henry II along Roman law categories, it evolves from court decisions and precedent and is also known as case law.

AccueilAccueilImprimerImprimer François Brizay, Maître de conférences à l'Université d'Angers (France). Paternité - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de ModificationRéalisé avec Scenari (nouvelle fenêtre)