The Irish Plantation During Tudor England


By Jennifer Paxton, Ph.D., Catholic University of America

England, during the reign of the Tudors, faced a particular threat from Ireland. Therefore, the government took various measures to remove this liability by incorporating Irish lords into their political system. One of the most important strategies was of surrender and regrant, but it had its own problems.

Close up of a Tudor rose imprint on a red brick gate post
During the Tudor rule, many changes were made in Ireland. (Image: Sue Rae Edmondson/Shutterstock)

What Was Surrender and Regrant?

The policy of ‘surrender and regrant’ involved giving the titles of English lords to Irish community leaders, which led to creating loyal lords and, as a result, loyal subordinates. The English government had taken away the Irish lords’ right to land. So, if they accepted the rule of the English king in Ireland, they would be regranted the right to the properties they already had. Major landowners would also receive an English title like an earl or a baron. These titles led the Irish to be recognized as English and no different from English noblemen according to the law. What the Irish lords had to do in return was to observe English customs and learn the English language.

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Criticisms of Surrender and Regrant

Many people rejected surrender and regrant because they thought it was a betrayal of the Irish identity. Particularly among those were the Irish bards. This division between the old Irish traditions and the new English identity is best represented in a poem by Laoiseach Mac an Bhaird. Drawing on the Irish tradition of satire, the poem highlights the contrast between a native Irish rebel named Eoghan Bán and an anonymous Irish man who has adopted the new English style. The poet refers to him as “the man who follows English ways”.

In following the English style, he cut his long hair, which the poet criticizes. He also condemns the man for wearing a long satin scarf and a high Dutch collar, which were English-style clothes, for which he compares him to a tonsured monk. Clothes were of high significance because they were distinctive features of Irish and English identity.

The poet also ridicules the weapon that the man carries. It is an English-style weapon that the poet calls a “blunt rapier that would not kill a fly.” It is obvious that he is questioning his masculinity. It shows how differently the Irish and the English saw each other. While the English considered the Irish savages who needed to be Anglicized, the Irish saw them and their ways of living as effeminate.

The Submission of Conn O’Neill

Despite the criticisms, the submission of one of the most famous Irish lords became a significant success for the English. Conn O’Neill received the title of the first earl of Tyrone by making considerable compromises. One of his promises, which the English considered a big privilege, was attending the Irish parliament in Dublin. He also pledged to stop charging black rent, which was the protection money that Irish lords received from English settlers. Another major promise was to renounce the authority of the Pope and keep peace with the king. All of these were in return for his lands that were taken away from him.

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Plantation: A New Idea to Subdue the Irish

A portrait of Henry VIII.
Henry VIII gave many prominent Irish lords English titles. (Image: Joos van Cleve/Public domain/Public domain)

The surrender and regrant policy soon turned out to be unable to solve the Irish problem. Therefore, the English had to come up with another idea to put an end to Irish rebellions. The idea, which had profound effects in Irish history, was plantation. It involved bringing English people to the Irish lands and planting those lands to turn them into islands of Englishness.

The main cause of plantation was a number of Irish rebellions. In the 1540s and ‘50s, an uprising in the Irish midlands provoked plantation, which then spread to the southwest in the 1580s. The English government issued bills of attainder against the rebels. These bills of attainder were laws passed against specific individuals to confiscate their lands, which formed the legal basis for plantation.

When the lands were confiscated, they would be Anglicized. The English would survey the property, divide it into English acres, and cluster them into manors following the English style. They would proceed to organize them into shires and baronies, making every step of plantation, like measurement and organization, English-style.

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Military and Cultural Measures

To curb the Irish rebellions, the English put into place a combination of military and cultural measures and limitations. Obviously, helping Irish rebels was banned. The cultural measures included making Irish people who lived on plantations adopt an English-style way of living.

Portrait of Mary I, Queen of England
Mary Tudor was the English monarch who started the plantation system in Ireland. (Image: Hans Eworth/Public domain)

They had to wear English clothes, teach their children the English language, and attend the deputy every year. The common English law replaced the Brehon law. And marrying or fostering with the Irish was subject to penalty. Everything related to the Irish past and identity had to be forgotten.

Tudor Ireland struggled with two identity issues, which were independent from each other: religious identity involving Catholic and Protestant religions and cultural identity involving Irish versus English. The plantation policy, which was Anglicizing in nature, was started when a Catholic monarch was on the throne: Mary Tudor. She did not care that the Irish were Catholics; they were still Irish to her.

But Mary died soon after the introduction of plantation, and after her death, the religious policy of the English government shifted back to Protestantism. So, people would associate plantation and Protestantism, a combination that turned out to be toxic. Those who were against plantation rejected Protestantism, and those who resisted Protestantism turned against plantation.

Common Questions about Irish Plantations During Tudor England

Q: Who was Conn O’Neill?

Conn O’Neill belonged a famous family from Ireland. He was one of the first Irish lords who adopted the surrender and regrant plan. His submission was a significant success for the English.

Q: What was Irish plantation?

Irish plantation was a strategy developed by the English government to put an end to Irish rebellions. They would bring in English settlers to live in Irish lands, planted those lands and turned them into areas of Englishness.

Q: How did Irish plantation work?

The English would survey the property, divide it into English acres, and cluster them into manors based on the English style. They would proceed to organize them into shires and baronies, making every step of plantation, including measurement and organization, English-style.

Q: What was Brehon law?

Brehon law was the Irish native legal system deployed in Ireland. But after the introduction of surrender and regrant, it was replaced by the more unified English legal system.

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