The Incorrigibility of the Conquered: A Historiography Regarding the Failure of the Protestant Reformation in Early Modern Ireland

Student Author(s)

Cullen Smith

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Janis Gibbs

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Throughout the centuries following the Protestant Reformation in Ireland, historians have sought to develop a general consensus regarding the impact of the Protestant Reformation upon Irish history. Though much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a gradually emerging notion among early modern Irish historians addressed the Irish Reformation as a failure. My research focuses on the historiography of the Protestant Reformation in Ireland during the last quarter of the twentieth century, when analysis of the Protestant failure in Ireland was reformulated by Dr. Brendan Bradshaw and debate reinvigorated by his critic Dr. Nicolas Canny, both challenging the degree to which the Protestant Reformation in Ireland failed. These two scholars represented polar opposite spheres of thought on the matter: Bradshaw asserting that the Reformation was a complete failure due to inconsistent application of ecclesiastical punishment and internal educational reform during Elizabeth’s reign in the mid- to late-sixteenth century, and Canny maintaining that the Reformation’s failure could not have been conclusive until the emergence of the “Second Reformation” in the early nineteenth century. Subsequent debate amongst scholars such as Karl S. Bottigheimer and Alan Ford reconsidered Bradshaw’s points, mostly agreeing with his conclusions while attempting to synthesize the two schools of thought. By the twenty-first century, modern interpretations from scholars like Samantha Meigs shifted back towards narrow contextual explanations and broad socio-cultural interactions, making historical synthesis of past views wholly apparent. By examining the breadth of these views, this research on the historiography of the Protestant Reformation in Ireland attempts to explain how the Protestant Reformation in Ireland came to be regarded as a failure, and how the conquered Irish remained “incorrigible” to its effects.

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