Stephen HewerAug 17, 2022
Intersections of Ethnicity, Sex, and Society Under English Law in Medieval Ireland
Beyond Exclusion: Intersections of Ethnicity, Sex, and Society Under English Law in Medieval Ireland (Brepols, 2022) offers a fresh look at the legal status of minorities in English Ireland. Through a detailed analysis of case studies gleaned from medieval court rolls, Stephen Hewer challenges the prevailing narrative of wholesale ethnic discrimination and presents a nuanced picture of intersectional identities, strategies of negotiation, and evolving tensions between legal principle and practice.
The notion that all Gaelic peoples were immediately and ipso facto denied access to the English royal courts in Ireland, upon the advent of the English in 1167, has become so accepted in academic and popular histories of Ireland that it is no longer questioned. This book tackles this narrative of absolute ethnic discrimination in thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century English Ireland on the basis of a thorough re-examination of the Irish plea rolls. A forensic study of these records reveals a great deal of variation in how members of various ethnic groups and women who came before the royal courts in Ireland were treated. Specifically, it demonstrates the existence of a large, and hitherto scarcely noticed, population of Gaels with regular and unimpeded access to English law, identifiable as Gaelic either through explicit ethnic labelling in the records or implicitly through their naming practices.
Dr. Margaret Smith is a historian of medieval Ireland and Research Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities in the IRIS Center at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.