Humanism’s priorities and empire’s prerogatives: Polydore Vergil’s description of Ireland
Haywood, Eric (University College Dublin)
Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 109C, 195–237 (2009)
The description of Ireland in the Anglica historia by Polydore Vergil (c. 1470–1555), is possibly one of its most original passages, yet nowadays it is little known or studied. This article seeks to remedy that deficiency by (a) providing an edition of the original Latin text, together with a modern English translation, and (b) explaining how the description came to be constructed. It argues that Vergil, writing as an Ital- ian, aimed on the one hand to abide by humanist precedent and respect the (nascent) rules regarding historiography and chorography, and on the other to satisfy the impe- rialising demands of his patrons, the Tudors. As a result, the work is anything but ‘modern’, as some critics have suggested. On the contrary it is very much of its time, recording deeds done (in war) for the sake of deeds-to-be-done, and thus portraying the Irish as inevitable losers.