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Welsh History Review


Vol. 11, nos. 1-4 1982-83

Late medieval Ireland, 1370-1541 (the helicon history of Ireland) : Book review.

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understanding of English Ireland so elusive. That understanding has been
impeded by the artificial segregation of those intellectual constructs we
call 'English history' and 'Irish history.' That is why it is part of Dr.
Frame's avowed aim to narrow a little 'the regrettable gap that separates
historians of Ireland and of England'-and, one may add, of Wales-
'in the later middle ages'.
The historian of England and of Wales may indeed learn a great deal
from Dr. Frame's book. Nowhere, for example, will the 'English' historian
find a finer study of the political skills of Edward III at work than in
Dr. Frame's account of the 1340s and 1350s. Nowhere likewise will the
'Welsh' historian find more useful grist for his comparative mill than in
the survey of 'aristocratic society and royal government' with which the
book opens. But the real value of the volume rests not so much in what
we can add to the corpus of our information but in its insights into the
understanding of a past society which may persuade us to examine our
assumptions and reconsider our evidence and our categories, whatever
our field of study. The volume, it is true, is not without its shortcomings.
Thus, a more vivid characterization of some of the leading figures of the
lordship (notably the first earl of Desmond) and of the world in which
they lived could well have taken the place of some of the tedious bureau-
cratic wrangling which eats up many a page of text as it does membranes
of parchment. Likewise Dr. Frame seems to stand some of the 'actualities'
which he so eloquently proclaims on their head by keeping the native
Irish firmly off-stage throughout the book. But none can doubt that this
is a monograph of cardinal importance for the study of late-medieval
society in general. To praise it-and thereby, in effect, to dismiss it-as
a major work of 'Irish history' would be to do it the greatest disservice.
Aberystwyth R. R. davies
LATE MEDIEVAL IRELAND, 1370-1541 (The Helicon History of Ireland).
By Art Cosgrove. Dublin: Helicon Limited, 1981. Pp. vii, 134. £ 6.45.
In this slim but elegant volume on the later middle ages, Art Cosgrove
launches the 'Helicon History of Ireland', a new series under his own
editorship aiming 'to make available to a wider readership the fruits of
the most recent researches'. Taking up his burden in the last third of the
fourteenth century, he leads the reader gently and surefootedly through to
the middle of the sixteenth century, following for the most part the
well-worn but still treacherous path of Anglo-Irish politics, but pausing
wherever the track requires a digression into other fields or allows a rare
glimpse into the largely uncharted world of Gaelic Ireland. His themes
are largely familiar-the retreat of royal authority and the erosion of the
English colony, on the one hand, and the rise of aristocratic power and the
resurgence of Gaelic influence, on the other-but he develops them with
a subtle regard for their complex interrelation and a felicitous choice of
illustrative detail.
He begins by outlining the factors undermining the viability of the
English lordship of Ireland in the fourteenth century. The Black Death
seems to have hit the Anglo-Irish towns harder than the Gaelic country-
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