British Museum blog

English perspectives on Ireland

Shakespeare’s Restless World is currently being broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Today’s episode Ireland: Failures in the Present looks at the great military crisis of the Elizabethan regime.

The woodcut Rorie Oge in the Forest from Derricke's Image of Ireland, 1581. © Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Department


Andrew Hadfield, University of Sussex

The situation in Ireland represented two things; one is positive, as the English see it, a great opportunity to govern a nation and to make huge amounts of money through people going over and winning land confiscated from the Irish who have rebelled.

But the other side of this situation is England’s worst nightmare. The Irish are predominately Catholic, they are always threatening to unite with the Spanish and that is really what people are particularly afraid of; the fear of Irish savagery uniting with Spanish Catholicism to overthrow all civilised Protestant English values.

If Ireland was lost, there was a genuine fear that England, as an isolated Protestant country in predominantly Catholic Europe, would be destroyed and the Reformation would be still born. English independence would be engulfed by foreign powers. It is a terrifying prospect that is apocalyptic in the way that it is represented by many people.

A modern day comparison might be Cuba and the Cuban Missile Crisis. During the crisis you had the fear that there would actually be a destructive war that would engulf civilisation and you had the idea of Russian forces on America’s shores. I think that is exactly how the English felt about Ireland and the Spanish, that this was a back door into England that could result in the destruction of everything they had tried to build up over the years.

I think the comparison also holds because the Cuban crisis recedes relatively quickly. What’s so strange about history in this period is that after 1601 and the defeat of the Irish forces, Spanish power seems to collapse at the same time. By the time you get to 1607, 1608, things look very, very different and even the gunpowder plot doesn’t make the impact that it would have done a few years earlier.

Shakespeare’s Restless World is on BBC Radio 4
from 16 April to 11 May, at 13.45 and 19.45 weekdays.

Listen to today’s programme Ireland: Failures in the Present

Filed under: Shakespeare's Restless World, What's on, ,

2 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. Helen Hales says:

    Nice entry – your comparisons with Cuba make the scenario much more comprehensible and encourage us not to just look back with the advantage of historical hindsight at what DIDN’T happen (the Irish and the Spanish? What nonsense!), but instead to imagine ourselves in their shoes and appreciate the political and religious tensions of the time.

    Like

  2. Flora Greenan says:

    How nice and clear, especially for an American.

    Like

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 13,013 other followers

Categories

Follow @britishmuseum on Twitter

British Museum on Instagram

Writer and women's rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft was born #onthisday in 1759.
#history #art #portrait The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was born #onthisday in AD 121.

Marcus Aurelius (AD 161-80), who appears on the coin set in this ring, is best known for his philosophical work, The Meditations. Although he was the most powerful man in the Roman Empire, he dwelt on the emptiness of glory: 'Shall mere fame distract you? Look at the speed of total oblivion of all and the void of endless time on either side of us and the hollowness of applause... For the whole earth is but a point, and of this what a tiny corner is our dwelling-place, and how few and paltry are those who will praise you.' It is ironic that such sentiments as these have preserved his fame to this day.
#ancientRome #emperor #history #museum #BritishMuseum Good luck to all in the #LondonMarathon today! Be inspired by this Spartan running girl from 520-500 BC, which features in our exhibition #DefiningBeauty It’s World #PenguinDay! This handsome King Penguin on display in the Enlightenment Gallery is on loan from the @natural_history_museum
#penguin #museum #BritishMuseum Born #onthisday in 1599: Oliver Cromwell. Here’s a terracotta portrait bust from around 1759
#history #Cromwell #art #bust Greece lightning: this exquisite bronze depicts Zeus, chief of the Greek gods #FridayFigure

In ancient Greece, powerful, shape-shifting gods provided compelling subjects for artists. The famous sculptor Phidias created a gold and ivory statue of Zeus, ruler of the gods, that was over 13 metres high for his temple at Olympia. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it symbolised the awesome presence of the god at his sanctuary site. There was also drama to be found in the gods’ ability to change their form as a means of disguise. Zeus, ruler of the Olympian gods, could take animal form – he seduced Leda as a swan, carried away Europa as a bull and Ganymede as an eagle.

This bronze statuette splendidly represents the majesty of Zeus, ruler of the gods on Mount Olympus and lord of the sky. Zeus holds a sceptre and a thunderbolt, showing his control over gods and mortals, and his destructive power. Although just over 20cm high, this exquisite work appears to be a copy of a much grander statue that does not survive.

You can see this figure in our exhibition #DefiningBeauty, until 5 July 2015.
Bronze statuette of Zeus. Roman period, 1st–2nd century AD, said to be from Hungary.
#art #museum #exhibition #ancientGreece #Zeus #gods
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 13,013 other followers

%d bloggers like this: