ON THE “SURRENDER AND REGRANT” AGREEMENT OF 1541

 

 

This is an official agreement or contract made between the Gaelic chieftain MacGilpatrick (the English version of the Irish name “MacGiolla Padraig”, meaning the son of the servant of St Patrick) and the new English government. The chieftain was not able to write, signing with his “mark”.

To keep his social position as chief of the clan, MacGilpatrick has to give up his lands to the King, and receive them back as a gift from him under English law. Under Gaelic law, the chieftain administered the lands for his people, but did not own them and could not sell them. Now the land becomes his private property; the clan members lose their rights: the administrators have one person to deal with, not hundreds.

Not only is the system of land ownership to be radically changed: MacGilpatrick must give up his very identity. He must abandon his name and accept whatever name the King decides to give him. This meant a breach with his family tradition, with an ancient religious association in the family genealogy and a setting apart from the rest of his relatives.

He must undertake to abandon the Irish language, to adopt English, English dress, English customs, English education. He must also use his land as the administrators desire, and must accept the validity of English law, thereby renouncing Gaelic custom and law. That law was soon to require all Irish subjects to become Protestants if they wanted to retain their property.

The identity to be adopted is that of the English gentleman. The change of name is symbolic, indicating a switch of loyalties, just as it did for women who on marriage gave up their birth names to document that they had moved from being under the authority of their fathers to being subject to that of their husbands. For similar reasons, slaves in America were not allowed to retain their African names, but were called after the master whose property they were. In the 19th century, the British government spent a lot of money creating detailed maps of Ireland in which all place names were anglicised. Giving new names can be a form of taking possession.

This remarkable document illustrates the sophisticated methods employed by the English administration to colonize and pacify Ireland: a combination of force and persuasion, of threats and bribes. It shows an understanding of the psychological aspects involved, and of the importance of establishing cultural supremacy. The administrators began by trying to win over and to control the people at the top of the old order, hoping that these would then control the people. That generally did not happen.