Surrender and Regrant

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Surrender and Regrant

The policy of "surrender and regrant" was an integral part of the "Tudor revolution" in government and religion. Its aim was to anglicize Ireland and to bring both Gaelic and Anglo-Irish lordships under English sovereignty without resorting to a military conquest. The revolt of Silken Thomas (Thomas Fitzgerald, tenth earl of Kildare) in 1534, though brutally suppressed by English forces, demonstrated that a rebellious Ireland could pose a serious threat to England's security. Though the rebellion was a reaction to efforts to limit the independence of the Irish lords, rather than an act of opposition to Henry's religious policies, the rebels' efforts to secure assistance from Catholic Spain and the papacy added a grave new dimension to relations between the two islands. The need to bring Ireland under English control and into religious conformity with England was recognized as pressing.

Prior to the accession of Henry VII in 1485, England's involvement in Irish affairs had been minimal. Having failed to make Ireland a source of profit and not wishing to spend any more money than was absolutely necessary to maintain a semblance of order, English kings had allowed Ireland a kind of self-rule. The government was entrusted to the island's leading Anglo-Irish lords. They and their followers maintained and commanded a small military force in the Pale (the area around Dublin). In return they agreed to protect the king's subjects and enforce his law. The Anglo-Irish lords also used their position and the resources at their disposal to increase their own influence. When the powerful Butlers of Ormond fell from royal favor during the English Wars of the Roses in the late fifteenth century, they were supplanted by their rivals, the Fitzgeralds of Kildare and Desmond. By the end of the fifteenth century Garret Mor Fitzgerald (1478–1513), eighth earl of Kildare and lord deputy of Ireland, had used his office and a series of alliances with the country's most powerful Gaelic and Anglo-Irish families to make himself the de facto ruler of Ireland. Fearful of allowing so much power to rest in the hands of men whose loyalty was questionable, the monarchy appointed only Englishmen as Irish lord deputies in the aftermath of the 1534 revolt.

A major source of the tensions that plagued Ireland before and after the suppression of that rebellion (called, after its instigator, "Silken Thomas"), was that both Anglo-Irish lords and Gaelic chieftains were insecure in possession of their titles to land and in their relationships with the Crown. Warfare was endemic between the two communities, and internecine strife within the Gaelic lordships added further tension. The authority of the Gaelic chieftains was based on Brehon (i.e., Gaelic Irish) law; their titles were elective. This custom meant that more than one member of a family might claim a title, with the result that titles were often won in battle and retained only by the maintenance of an army. Many Anglo-Irish lords, though inheriting their lands by primogeniture and holding their titles in accordance with English law, were able, in the absence of a strong government presence, to rule their lands independently and to make use of Irish or English law as it suited their purposes. Others, often those descended from the first Norman settlers in Ireland, did not have legally recognized titles to their lordships and feared losing both their lands and their local influence. All resented the government's increasing interference in their affairs. These "English rebels," like the "Irish enemies," as these troublesome subjects were known to their English contemporaries, were fiercely independent and resisted any government intervention that encroached upon their privileges and lifestyles.

England's religious reformation and its growing involvement in continental politics necessitated control of Irish affairs and the submission of those lords who remained loyal to Rome. Since England could not afford costly military intervention in Ireland, diplomatic means were sought to defuse a potentially explosive situation. Following the counsel of his Irish advisors, Henry VIII sought to win over the Gaelic lords by "sober ways, politic drifts, and amiable persuasions." It was hoped that if the Irish lords were given secure titles to their lands, the protection of English law, and a role in government, they could be persuaded to abandon their uncivilized manners, customs, and language and become sober, loyal servants of the Crown. This policy of conciliation, by which Gaelic chieftains and "English enemies" alike were enjoined by consent to become part of a fully anglicized Ireland, has come to be known as "surrender and regrant."

In July 1540 Sir Anthony Saint Leger replaced the unpopular Sir Leonard Gray as lord deputy of Ireland. Under his supervision a new direction was taken to win the allegiance of the king's Irish subjects and to restore order in Ireland. In the first stage the Irish chiefs and Anglo-Irish lords whose titles and/or allegiance were in question were invited to submit to the king by signing an indenture "surrendering" their lands and title in exchange for a royal patent and an English title. The title carried with it the full weight of English law and the right to be summoned to parliament. In short, the Irish earls and barons were offered constitutional equality with their Anglo-Irish peers—both would be vassals of the English king. In addition to surrendering their lands and titles, the Irish lords agreed to practice inheritance by primogeniture rather than the customary Gaelic system of elective succession, or tanistry. They also renounced papal supremacy in favor of royal authority. The policy made a major contribution to establishing peace and security in Ireland. Equally important was the passage of the Act for the King's Title, approved by the Irish parliament in 1541. Prior to this, Henry, like all monarchs since Henry II in the twelfth century, held the title lord of Ireland, granted by Pope Adrian IV. The new act dispelled any claim that the real overlord of Ireland was the pope. Now all Irishmen, Gaelic and Anglo-Irish, owed their allegiance to the king of Ireland; gone (in theory) were the distinctions and tensions created by the existence of two separate peoples—loyal Englishmen and Irish enemies.

The Crown's program was attractive to the Gaelic chiefs for a number of reasons. They were tired of war and fearful of the Crown's power, as evidenced by the fate of the 1534 rebels. Many of the rebels had been executed and much Kildare property had been confiscated. Under English law the land of a lordship became the lord's personal estate. This offered the Irish rulers greater control of their territories, and primogeniture promised greater internal peace within Gaelic lordships. By Henry's death in 1547 forty of the important Gaelic and Anglo-Irish lords had submitted, and Ireland enjoyed a measure of peace unknown in years. Not all Irish clans, however, were willing to abandon Brehon law, and some continued to elect their chiefs in defiance of English law. A disputed succession to the earldom of Tyrone and the violence that followed revealed that Henry's program of conciliation had not been entirely successful in Ulster. Surrender and regrant would cause as many problems as it solved, and it ultimately failed to provide an inexpensive alternative to military conquest.

SEE ALSO Monarchy; Politics: 1500 to 1690


Bradshaw, Brendan. The Irish Constitutional Revolution of the Sixteenth Century. 1979.

Canny, Nicholas. From Reformation to Restoration: Ireland, 1534–1660. 1987.

Ellis, Steven. Tudor Ireland, 1470–1603. 1985.

Moody, T. W., F. X. Martin, and F. J. Byrne, eds. A New History of Ireland, vol. 3, Early Modern Ireland, 1534–1691. 1976.

Monica A. Brennan