The English conquest of Ireland began in 1169 and was completed under the late Tudors with an intense colonisation dedicated to converting Ireland to England and Catholicism to Protestantism. The process was primarily destructive and coercive and concluded with military victory and a united Ireland under the crown became a reality.
Territorial control was easy the rest remained impossible. Cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious conversion never happened. Ireland in the context of a completely conquered and controlled colony remained elusive throughout sixteenth and seventeenth century and remains so to present times.
Ireland After Kildare.
Following the destruction of the house of Kildare the reliance on Anglo-Irish magnate control in Ireland had changed. Henry VIII had little or no time for powerful subjects in his empire and the heads of those who thought themselves powerful ended in baskets. The so called house of Kildare had to be replaced and this was a problem for English rulers for over a century.
Ireland was perceived as having two populations, loyal subjects and rebels. The 1541 kingship act was of little help in resolving these problems. The act committed the English government to reform in Ireland but how could these reforms take place without loyalist control on Irish soil? A chief governor was appointed but he question remained if he could successful administer control.
There were three complicating factors to be considered and the first was finance. Ireland proffered little revenue to the Tudors and the cost of the suppression of rebellion was phenomenal. Any English governor needed the backing of an army because without the sword, persuasion was impossible. Where was this money to come from, who pays and why?
Another complication was Ireland’s geopolitical location in relation to the ‘new world’. What was once a remote European outpost had now become the gateway to America and its riches. There had always been European interest in Ireland. Irish had fought in France and Spain in the middle ages and had earned a reputation for ruthlessness. There had been for ages religious and commercial intercourse between European countries and Ireland but, perhaps one its greatest assets of appeal to France and Spain, was its aggressive male population who made excellent soldiers.
The efforts of Gerald FitzGerald in raising French and Spanish sympathy at the plight of Ireland at the hands of merciless Tudors were a source of concern for England. Such a coalition of Spain, France and Ireland could overwhelm the British Empire and so, British withdrawal from Ireland was impossible because it was tantamount to handing the land over to France and Spain. Both countries were aggressively catholic and any such alliance could herald the end of Protestantism in its infancy.
Henry VIII marital problems in the 1530s led him to repudiate the pope and to establish himself as supreme head of the Church of England and in 1536, church of Ireland. There was little impact in Ireland to the changes as Irish monasteries had become secularised and their loss was perceived as ‘good riddance’. Monastery properties were sold off to ‘old English’ settlers while Gaelic Irish were excluded.
It was not until the arrival of Elizabeth as queen (1558) and soon after as supreme governor of Church of England (1560) that hostilities towards Protestantism in Ireland began. By the 1570s ‘loyal’ and ‘disloyal’ had become equated with catholic (the former) and protestant (the latter), a division that would persist for five centuries. The dispensation of church and state was resolutely resisted and the cause of this remains a source of historical discussion. Catholics wanted innate fidelity to Rome while Protestants saw Catholicism as superstition. Pre Christian attitudes still prevailed and catholic teachings were profound and widespread while Protestantism lacked influence for many reasons but mostly because of its lack of interest in Ireland and consequently little action in educational endeavours.
In short, Ireland posed a huge problem to Catholics and Protestants reformers whether Calvinists or Jesuits and the eventual outcome of catholic people in a protestant state could never have been foreseen.
As Catholicism prospered in protestant Ireland in the 1490s it was unhindered by Protestantism, because the Tudor apparatus was weak on Irish soil, the reformation , religious and secular, was seen as an English import and that was why both were firmly resisted.