From Gaelic lordships to English counties: the Tudor transition in Leix and Offaly, c.1547-1603
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This study evaluates whether or not successive Tudor regimes effectively transformed the Gaelic lordships of Leix and Offaly into English counties and as a direct consequence, administered these territories through the normal mechanisms of English local government and the overall principle of ‘self-government at the king’s command’ during the period of 1547-1603. Through an analysis of the primary material of the period, manuscripts, calendars and the like, this dissertation suggests that instead of fully fledged English counties, unique, highly militarised shires were created in the region with martial settler societies, primed for defence and the preservation and consolidation of the administration’s position there. It was argued that successive Tudor rulers gradually introduced English local government and administrative structures to Leix and Offaly by 1603 but did not administer these territories through the overall principle of ‘self-government at the king’s command’, found in lowland England. Instead, the Tudor administration established what could be referred to as a distinct and hybrid form of English local government that merged traditional structures with martial. The Leix-Offaly model was composed of elements of the Scottish, Welsh and Louth models but crucially fit into none of these frameworks. As a result, although the midlands shires were technically absorbed within the confines of the English Pale by 1566, at least in the government’s eyes, they did not match the traditional archetype and were noticeably distinguishable from the newly created shires of Ireland post 1569. This dissertation also found that this unconventional form of English county government was firmly in place by the conclusion of the period under review dominated by a small but determined group of county gentry. Such a study highlights an often-overlooked perspective of early modern Irish history and the establishment of English administrative structures in less prominent Gaelic dominated territories.
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