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Uniting the Kingdoms? 1066-1603



Reform, Conquest and Rebellion, 1541-1603

In 1541 Henry VIII was declared King of Ireland in the Irish Parliament. This event signalled the beginning of a period of fundamental change, as English involvement in the new kingdom increased dramatically in an attempt to gain dominance over the whole of Ireland.

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After 1541 the military garrison in Ireland steadily increased. Two permanent forts in Leix, on the Pale frontier, were constructed and named Fort Protector and Fort Governor. Forced exactions of supplies and labour services by the government were replaced by fixed, annual payments from Anglo-Irish nobles. English settlements known as 'plantations' were established in Munster and Connaught, where provincial governorships were also created to help introduce English-style government and law.

By 1579, leading Anglo-Irish magnates and native Irish rulers had been alienated by these policies. In particular, the use of martial law to suppress possible dissent generated considerable resentment. This resulted in the Earl of Desmond's rebellion. Although the authorities had little trouble in containing the situation, they treated defeated rebels with brutal severity.


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Atrocities in Munster


'A Generalle Description of Ulster'

The most serious rebellion in Ireland began in 1594 and became known as the Nine Years' War. Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, Ulster's most powerful magnate, had been alarmed at the government's tightening grip on the province and the increasing pace of anglicization through plantationGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window schemes and encroachments by English officials. This was vicious war conducted mainly in the woods and bogs of Ulster. Nevertheless, the professional army that Tyrone managed to create for himself enabled him to achieve some notable victories over the English, especially the defeat of Marshal Bagenal at Yellow Ford in August 1598. However, the arrival of a new deputy, Lord Mountjoy, saw events turn in the government's favour. Finally, on 30 March 1603, six days after the accession of James I, Tyrone submitted to the new king.

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Detail from Horseman. By permission of The Board of Trinity College Dublin.
Detail from Horseman. By permission of The Board of Trinity College Dublin.