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Noble wardships as part of the ‘civilizing’ process in Ireland prior to the 1640s: the cases of James Butler, George Fitzgerald and Murrough O’Brien

Noble wardships as part of the ‘civilizing’ process in Ireland prior to the 1640s: the cases of James Butler, George Fitzgerald and Murrough O’Brien

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Aoife Torpey. Originally submitted for TSM History and English Literature at None, with lecturer Dr. Eamon Darcy in the category of Historical Studies & Archaeology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Aoife Torpey. Originally submitted for TSM History and English Literature at None, with lecturer Dr. Eamon Darcy in the category of Historical Studies & Archaeology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 30, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
1
Noble w
ardships as part of the ‘civilizing’ process in Ireland
prior to the1640s: the cases of James Butler, George Fitzgerald and Murrough
O’Brien
 
Abstract:Taking the Irish nobility as a main focus, this paper examines the early modern
‘civilizing’
process through the lens of the wardships of several key nobles during this period. Central tothe concerns of the Irish administration was the control and coercion of the nobility, whocould provide much needed access to power in the localities. The premature deaths of severalpeers, or their heirs, in the seventeenth century left a number of nobles as minors. Taken asroyal wards, these heirs, specifically James Butler, George Fitzgerald and Murrough O
’Brien,
became part of a wider
‘anglicization’
initiative in Ireland. Whilst works on this process tendto focus on the failure of these aims, this paper examines the subtle, yet profound impact onthe power structures of Ireland. The nobility of Ireland were an important aspect of government, and the conversion and assimilation of these key peers was of utmostimportance to the Dublin administration. Primary sources, including state sources, and morepersonal accounts, reveal the effect these wardships had on the noble, their family, and theirwider purpose in Ireland. Whilst the focus of the court of wards in England was primarilyfinancial, affording the monarch and his favourites control of the minor
’s estates and person,
in Ireland, though finance certainly remained an important concern, the conversion andcontinued Protestantism of the Irish peers took precedence. The court of wards has oft beenstudied, but the narrow focus of this essay affords a close investigation into the motives,implications and reality of the process which reveals much of the wider policy of Anglicization in Ireland. Wardship was a transformative process, and this paper elucidates theway in which some of the premier lineages in Ireland became permanently Protestant, andmainstays of the anglo-centric administration in Ireland. Focusing on both the close detail andthe wider implications of early modern noble wardships, conclusions can be drawn about theimportance of these minorities in the transformation of Ireland
’s peerage during the
seventeenth century.
 
2
Noble w
ardships as part of the ‘civilizing’ process in Ireland
prior to the1640s: the cases of James Butler, George Fitzgerald and Murrough
O’Brien
 In the early decades of the seventeenth century, a number of the key nobles in thehierarchy of Ireland died prematurely, leaving young heirs who came into royal controlthrough the process of wardship. Based on feudal ideas of knight service, wardships gavecontrol of the heir
’s estates and body
to the lord when the heir was a minor and thereforeunable to provide the military service upon which his tenure rested. With the deaths of various ruling peers, or indeed their direct heirs, the houses of Kildare, Ormond andInchiquin, amongst others, were all subject to wardships in this period, and it is the intentionof this essay to examine how the Crown exploited this opportunity. Previous works onwardship tend to have focused on the failure of its aims, but this essay intends to argue thatits impact was restrained, but profound.
Concepts of ‘anglicisation’ were prevalent in this era,
 and in the relatively settled early years of the Stuarts, the Crown and the Irish administration
endeavoured to ‘anglicise’
the Irish peerage. Previous attempts to manage the nobility of Ireland, particularly those of Gaelic provenance, had been made through the programme of 
surrender and regrant
, which demanded certain conformity to English practices but inreality these changes in tenure
were not always accompanied by cultural or political
mutations.”
1
Concurrent to attempts to regulate the nobility, the Crown attempted to extendroyal control across Ireland, through the plantations and also the Commission for DefectiveTit
les. The control of land, and landowners, was significant to the Crown’s in
terest in
‘civilizing’ Ireland
and measures were undertaken in order bring the Irish kingdomincreasingly in line with the other British dominions.
“Crucially, in pursuit of its goa
ls thegovernment was more than ever prepared to meddle in both local administration and
landowning arrangements.”
2
With the estates and persons of these young peers in the controlof the crown, it was possible, more than ever before, to restructure the shape of Irish nobility.
“The whole of the business of the wards was founded on the king’s feudal tenures,”
3
 and older tenants in Ireland, mainly the Catholic Old English and many of the recently
1
 
T.C Barnard, ‘Introduction: the Dukes of Ormonde’, in T.C. Barnard & Jane Fenlon, (eds.),
The Dukes of Ormonde, 1610-1715
, (Suffolk, 2000), p. 49
2
David Edwards,
The Ormond Lordship in County Kilkenny, 1515-1642, The rise and fall of Butler feudal power,
(Dublin, 2003), p. 265
3
 
Victor Treadwell, ‘The Irish Court of Wards under James I’, in
Irish Historical Studies,
Vol. 12, No. 45, (Mar.,1960), p.2
 
3
accepted Gaelic lords, held their lands in knight service, which left them vulnerable to feudalincidents such as wardships. Many of the planters and Protestant nobles had been grantedtheir land by socage, on which fewer demands were placed. Both kinds of tenancy wereaccompanied by cash payments to the Crown, but it was the court of wards, as an unofficialtax on certain elements of the landed nobility, that drew the most attention. From the outset,the court manufactured revenue for the Crown, making £7,000 in 1628, though itscontribution was always small in comparison to its English counterpart (£49,000 in 1627.)This could be attributed to a number of reasons. Firstly, the court of wards was longestablished in England and, moreover, the nobility there were more plentiful, thereforemaking increased numbers of wardships likely. However, this disparity also highlights theimportance placed, in Ireland, on the potential for the court to secure the conversion andanglicisation of those nobles who fell under its jurisdiction. An interesting comparison can bemade, which starkly contrasts the aims of the two courts of wards. In England, as has beenshown, it was a lucrative manipulation of feudal rights, but in terms of a conversion mission,the case study of J.T. Cliffe on Yorkshire Catholics demonstrates that though 33 Catholicfamilies experienced a minority from 1603 to 1642, six abandoned Catholicism (not entirely
due to the minorities), three were largely Protestant, but the “rest remained staunchly
Cath
olic.”
4
In Ireland, by comparison, out of the seven pre-war wardships of Ormond,Kildare, Barry ,Inchiquin, Mayo, and Castleconnell, all conformed to Protestantism after theirminority (though the latter three later reconverted.)Therefore, tied in with
“a new
-fangled concept of religious conformity,
5
the court of wards not only weighed a financial burden on Catholic nobles, but also provided for theconversion of Catholic minors to the Established Church. As Kearney asserts, when the courtwas introduce
d, “it could be foreseen that the main weight of its financial demands would fallupon the adherents of the old religion”
6
since as mentioned above, only those who held their
land in knight service were subject to wardship. Not only this, but since “the ad
ministration
risked no unpopularity among the Protestant “new English” settlers when it chose a methodof taxation,”
7
the court of wards offered a chance not only to tax recusant families, but also
the opportunity to tame the ‘over 
-
mighty’ nobles in Irelan
d. Stating that no minor could be
4
J.T Cliffe,
The Yorkshire Gentry, from the Reformation to the Civil War,
referenced
Patrick J. Doyle, ‘Catholicsand the Court of Wards’, in
The London Recusant 
, Vol. 1, No. 3, (Sep., 1971), p. 88
5
 
Treadwell, ‘The Irish Court of Wards under James I’, p. 4
 
6
Hugh Kear
ney, ‘The Court of Wards and Liveries in Ireland, 1622
-
1641’, in
Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature,
Vol. 57, (1955/56), p. 30
7
Ibid.

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