From "Notes of His Report"

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From "Notesofhis Report"


Sir William Gerard

The English-born Sir William Gerard was lord chancellor of Ireland in 1576. The notes of his report constitute part of the swelling Elizabethan ethnography of the Irish. He distinguishes between the ungovernable Irish, the sometimes governable Old English, and the "degenerate" Old English who have become almost as troublesome (from the government's point of view) as the Gaelic Irish.

SEE ALSO Colonial Theory from 1500 to 1690; English Writing on Ireland before 1800

It is necesarye to understand whoe be the Irishe enymies and howe they annoye the state, and also whoe ar they so termid Englishe rebells, and howe they woorke harme, and then to thinke of the desire to reforme, and whether one lyke and one same course & waye to subdue bothe be to be followed.

The Irishe is knowen by name, speache, habitt, feadinge, order, rule, and conversacion. He accompteth him self cheife in his owne country and (whatsoever he saye or professe) lykethe of noe superior. He mortally hatethe the Englishe. By will he governethe those under him, supplyinge his and their wantes by prayinge and spoylinge of other countryes adjoyninge. Theise lyve as the Irishe lyved in all respects before the conqueste.

In twoe sortes, theise ar to be dealte with: The one, totallye to conquere theim, and that muste be by force of the swoord, for so were the other of the Irishe subdued before the Englishe were setled: the other waye is by suche pollecye to keepe theim quiett as with smalleste force, and by consequent with least chardge they may be defended from harminge the Englishe. Whiche pollecyes I finde by those recordes from age to age putt in use in that governmente.

The Englishe rebells ar people of our owne nacion, suche whose auncestors and theim selves after the expultion of the Irishe, ever sithence Henrye the secondes tyme, some of longer, some of shorter tyme, have there contynued. Theise Englishe rebells may be devided into twoe kindes: the one, soche as enter into the field in open hostilitie and actuall rebellion agaynste the Prince, comparable to the rebellinge in England. To suppresse those, the swoord muste also be the instrument. Thother sorte of Englishe rebells are suche as refuzinge Englishe nature growe Irishe in soche sorte as (otherwise then in name) not to be discerned from the Irishe.

All the force of the Irishe with all the helpe they had of anye actuall Englishe rebell harmed not (as the recordes verifie) untill this degeneratinge fell, which beganne about the xxxth yeare of the sayd Kinge Edwarde the third his reigne.

The cawsies which move theise recordes to call theim Englishe degenerates apearethe in the same.

Theye (saye theise recordes) speake Irishe, use Irishe habitt, feadinge, rydinge, spendinge, coysheringe, coyninge; they exacte, oppresse, extorte, praye, spoyle, and take pledges and distresses as doe the Irishe. They marrye and foster with the Irishe, and, to conclude, they imbrace rather Irishe braghan lawes then sweete government by justice.

Soche as affirme the swoord muste goe before to subdue theise, greatly erre. For can the swoord teache theim to speake Englishe, to use Englishe apparell, to restrayne theim from Irishe exactions and extortions, and to shonne all the manners & orders of the Irishe. Noe it is the rodd of justice that muste scower out those blottes. For the sword once wente before, and setled their auncestors, and in theim yet resteth this instincte of Englishe nature, generally to feare justice. . . .

I told their Honnors that so long as the Englishe kepte under the government of Englishe lawes they prospered, and when they fell to be Irishe and embraced the Irishe orders, customs and lawes they decayed, so as to restore theim to former Englishe civilitie lawes had from tyme to tyme still bene made restrayninge the Englishe from the Irishe; forbiddinge theim under a payne to foster or marrye with theim or to use or followe anye their Irishe lawes or customs; to use or weare anye their habitt or apparell, to receive or seeke for judgement by anye of their lawes: forbiddinge all captens and marchers to retayne anye Kerne or idell followers, and under payne of deathe to take no prayes. . . .

I sayd to their Honnors all those lawes notwithstandinge the race of the Englishe throughout the pale were in everye forbidden respecte growen more Irishe then before and so the wound greater at this daye then ever before. I sayd if Irishe speache, habit and conditions made the man Irishe, the most parte of the Englishe were Irishe.

Reprinted in Strangers to That Land: British Perceptions of Ireland from the Reformation to the Famine, edited by Andrew Hadfield and John McVeagh (1994), pp. 39–41.

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From "Notes of His Report"

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