The Medieval Review 16.04.01


Beglane, Fiona. Anglo-Norman Parks in Medieval Ireland. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2015. pp. ii, 227. $70.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978-1-84682-569-9 (hardback).



Reviewed by:


Danielle Joyner
Southern Methodist University
dbjoyner@gmail.com

In her study, Anglo-Norman Parks in Medieval Ireland, which focuses on the period from 1169-1350, Fiona Beglane asserts that the Anglo-Norman nobility did not simply import their manorial activities and corresponding landscaping traditions wholesale onto their new Irish holdings. Rather, differences in the Irish landscape, its historical monuments, and traditional Gaelic activities forced Anglo-Norman settlers to adapt their customs to suit conditions quite different from those in England. From the physical features of parks to how they were used, Beglane identifies important distinctions between Anglo-Norman parks in Ireland and their counterparts in England. Synthesizing archaeological, zooarchaeological, historical, art historical, literary, folkloric, and place name evidence in this study, Beglane explores pragmatic and ideological implications of the transformation of Anglo-Norman park design and land use in Ireland. This book contributes new material to garden and landscape studies, moreover, its methods, queries, and conclusions are relevant to medievalists across a number of disciplines. Medieval parks were not simply a by-product of a generic manorial system easily translated from one country to another, they resulted from localized landscape design, they fostered specific activities with flora and fauna, and, as Beglane argues, they offer insight on the habits and mores by which high and late medieval people conducted and defined themselves.

Beglane organizes her study in a series of short chapters that clearly articulate questions, evidence, analytical methods, and conclusions. With an eye to a broader audience, appendices and a glossary complement the helpful definitions and clarifications consistently written throughout the study. In her first chapter ("Introduction"), Beglane presents her multidisciplinary approach and explains that she is interested in "the form and function of medieval parks in Ireland, their occurrence and location in the Irish landscape, the status and identity of their owners and a comparison with parks elsewhere, particularly England" (1). A great deal is known about parks in high and late medieval England, and assumptions about land use in other European countries are often based on those well-researched customs. Yet, as Beglane notes, if the English manorial was transposed to Ireland with Anglo-Norman settlers, why were there significantly fewer and smaller parks recorded in Ireland from 1169 to 1350? Equally important, why were fallow deer relatively scarce in Ireland in comparison with England? These distinctions remain as strong themes throughout the study. In chapter 2 ("Place and people"), Beglane introduces the forty-six documented parks that are the focus of her research. After distinguishing parks from other carefully regulated lands such as forests, on which harvesting timber and hunting beasts were reserved for the king, Beglane denotes size as another important difference between parks in Ireland and England. Parks in Ireland were substantially smaller, ranging from 4 to 913 acres, whereas parks in England spanned from 30 up to an impressive 4,300 acres. Since historical documentation defines this corpus of parks, Beglane works through the sixty textual references to these plots of land and further organizes this material into helpful appendices at the end of the book. Following the documentary evidence are short summaries about the individual families, as well as bishops and monastic orders, who established and maintained the parks in Ireland. Beglane includes in this chapter a number of photographs of now-ruined castles that once belonged to the Anglo-Norman settlers, and at the end of her discussion a chart organizes the parks according to their chronology and the presence of deer on their lands.

Chapter 3 ("Parks for hunting") continues with the subject of deer and focuses on hunting, an activity that was both pragmatic and deeply ideological for the upper classes. Beglane describes differences between red deer (likely indigenous to Ireland) and fallow deer (introduced by Anglo-Normans), then explains various methods of hunting as they were recorded in the increasingly popular hunting manuals. Especially helpful in this chapter is Beglane's method of working through her source material, treating documentary evidence first, such as records of deer given as gifts, and then zooarchaeological evidence second, much of which she examined herself. In a section that considers "Gaelic concepts of hunting and parks," Beglane introduces several artistic representations of the hunt. While these are interesting and suggestive examples, they seem somewhat out of place and lack the depth of analysis that she applies to other documentary sources. At the chapter's conclusion, Beglane integrates this diverse evidence and concludes that the Anglo-Normans in Ireland "forged a new paradigm in which parks with fallow deer were a status symbol only of the premier tier of magnates, and not a realistic aspiration for a middle-ranking nobleman" (72).

If Anglo-Norman parks in Ireland were not used primarily for hunting deer, as were their English counterparts, what was their purpose? Chapter 4 ("Parks as economic units") posits answers to this question by turning to archival sources documenting parks being used as pasture for grazing animals and as sources for harvesting timber from mature trees and smaller wood pieces from woodlands. Only rarely do the archives mention agricultural uses of the parks. The issue of management also arises in this chapter, and Beglane addresses evidence regarding the appointment of individual parkers or constables to oversee these lands and their resources.

Chapter 5 ("Morphology and features") summarizes evidence from Beglane's field work and focuses on six parks as case studies. These are: Earlspark, Co. Galway; Maynooth, Co. Kildare; Dunamase, Co. Laois; Carrick, Co. Wexford; Nenagh, Co. Tipperary; and Glencree, Co. Wicklow. The size of the parks, their shapes, the types of landscape features they included, and also the presence of pre-existing and historically important structures within their perimeters are all features that come to light in this chapter. With a combination of photographs, topographic maps, and her own analyses, Beglane demonstrates how the landscape itself can reveal evidence just as compelling as text-based archives. Although this is the most technical portion of her analysis, and indeed Beglane's education as an archaeologist and zooarchaeologist are evident, her lucid prose and helpful imagery render this material as informative and useful for medievalists not trained in archaeological or surveying methods. Ultimately, Anglo-Norman parks in Ireland varied in size and shape depending on their function, their location, and their owners' status.

Much of the argument and thematic direction of Beglane's study attains its fulfillment in chapter 6 ("Parks as symbolic landscapes"). Having already determined that Anglo-Norman parks in Ireland were less frequently used to keep or hunt deer and more often groomed as sources for timber and wood and for pasturing animals, Beglane turns to other queries about these spaces. How are parks situated so as to construct particular views to or from the manor? How did parks, especially those that enclosed historical landmarks significant in local Gaelic histories, exert a sense of Anglo-Norman control over the land? Finally, how do these parks define and project an Anglo-Norman identity onto the landscape and its people? This chapter is especially strong when Beglane incorporates Irish histories and legends of local monuments into her analysis of Anglo-Norman responses to an already-occupied landscape.

Just as a work of art may take on a life of its own in the centuries between its creation and present times, the landscapes associated with Anglo-Norman parks undergo a variety of changes; some are abandoned and overgrown, some are subsumed by agriculture, and others are obliterated by successive buildings in later times. Chapter 7 ("Demise and reinvention") considers the after-life of medieval parks as a point of interest and as another means of assessing evidence that remains on and in the ground.

Medieval landscapes were carefully designed and managed, and Beglane's study introduces to current scholarship a new region for consideration. With her archaeological expertise, Beglane persuasively demonstrates how particularities of the Irish landscape, with its lower population, important historical places and structures, and different ideas about hunting, created new challenges and opportunities for Anglo-Norman settlers. Beglane presents a clear and thoughtful argument in this book, furthermore, her admirable synthesis of diverse sources of evidence makes this study applicable to a number of topics and disciplines. Scholars and students interested in elite preoccupations and past-times, in colonial enterprises, and in the agency of physical landscapes can all find something of use and value in this study. Similarly, scholars and students interested in literary and artistic representations of the nobility, in the formation of identity, and in the history of Ireland in the high and late Middle Ages will learn a great deal from Beglane's work. In conclusion, Beglane's multidisciplinary approach is a commendable model for medievalists from all disciplines and her study persuasively establishes just how much medieval parks can reveal about the people who made and used them.



Copyright (c) 2016 Danielle Joyner



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