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16.12.08, Browne and Ó Clabaigh, eds., Soldiers of Christ

The Medieval Review

16.12.08, Browne and Ó Clabaigh, eds., Soldiers of Christ

This volume represents the proceedings of the Third Glenstal History Conference, which took place in Glenstal Abbey September 19-21, 2014. It includes a Foreword by Fra' Matthew Festing, Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereigh Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta. The book contains twelve essays, in addition to the introductory essay provided by the editors of the volume. It begins with Helen J. Nicholson's "A long way from Jerusalem: The Templars and Hospitallers in Ireland, c. 1172-1348." Nicholson's essay provides essential introductory information for the military orders in Ireland, contextualizing the history of the orders and preparing the reader for the subsequent articles in the collection. She begins with their arrival in the 1170s, their early patrons, and their emergence in the service of the English king from 1220. She draws attention to differences in the orders' administrative structures, and membership of the officials of the order. The heavily fortified Hospitaller priory at Kilmainham is a reminder that the Hospitallers were a military order, and were engaged in military activity against the Irish, as well as involved in the "just war" between the Irish and the Anglo-Irish. She then discusses the parish churches held by the orders, and acknowledges that very little is known about their charitable activities in Ireland.

The next three articles in the collection focus on the political roles of the Hospitaller priors in the late middles ages. Gregory O'Malley's "Authority and autonomy: Relations between Clerkenwell, Kilmainham and the Hospitaller central convent after the Black Death" examines England's claim, based on conventual authority, to appoint the prior of Ireland, which was countered by the Irish-born brethren with the privilege of Aix (1408), providing them the right to elect their own priors throughout most of the fifteenth century. The struggle for control over the priory was complicated in the fifteenth century with the annulment of the Aix privilege by the general chapter in 1440, the appointment in 1461 of the first Irish-born prior of Ireland, and then the Parliamentary decree of 1494 excluding an Irish man from the position of prior. O'Malley contextualizes the struggle within the larger political framework of alliances and loyalties to the English king and the pope.

Brendan Scott's "The Knights Hospitaller in Tudor Ireland: Their dissolution and attempted revival" revolves around the last two priors of Ireland, whose self-interest and unsuitability for the job, respectively, exacerbated the decline of the order in Ireland. The tenacious John Rawson, prior of Ireland (1514-1538) and close ally of the king at the time of the Dissolution, alienated the estates of the order into secular hands in the years before 1540, and then retired from Kilmainham peacefully in return for the title of Viscount Clontarf. Mary Tudor, meanwhile, later confirmed Oswald Massingberd as Prior of Ireland (1554-1559) during the brief reinstatement of Roman Catholicism in England, likely because he was the last remaining English knight in Ireland. Infamous for his questionable morals and penchant for violence and insubordination, he was later threatened with high treason for plotting to overthrow the regime of Elizabeth I.

In "Continuity, legitimacy and strategy: The titular priors of Ireland--Romegas, González, Wyse and Brochero--and their relations with the Spanish monarch, 1576-1625", Declan M. Downey's essay picks up where Brendan Scott's ends. He examines the political connections between Ireland and Hapsburg Spain in the wake of the Reformation, and the need for continuity of tradition through the use of titular dignities if Roman Catholicism were to be reestablished in England. The revival of the title of Prior of Ireland in Romegas, a Gascon nobleman of the langue of Provence with no connection to Ireland, but who was a heroic figure from the siege of Malta in 1565, reflects the fame and prestige the victory over the Ottoman Turks elicited in Western Europe.

The focus of the collection then shifts to the architecture of the military orders. Understanding the layout of the estates is no easy task due to the near absence of evidence, or their ruinous state. Nevertheless, the authors are able to draw some tentative conclusions about the built environment of Templar and Hospitaller estates. Tadhg O'Keeffe and Pat Grogan's "Building a frontier? The architecture of the military orders in medieval Ireland" discusses the architecture of the military orders within the Turnerian model of Ireland as a "frontier." Cross-cultural movements between western Christendom and the Levant in the twelfth century suggest a common conceptual architectural footprint, and the authors argue that similarities in architecture must be understood within a common frontier ideology or experience. Eamon Cotter's "The archaeology of the Irish Hospitaller preceptories of Mourneabbey and Hospital in Context" broadens the archaeological survey to include a comparison with Hospitaller estates in Ireland, Britain, and Normandy. Based on archaeological investigations, documentary and cartographic evidence, as well as aerial photography, Cotter suggests that, with some local variations, the fundamental physical elements of Hospitaller preceptories were common. Many of his conclusions, drawn in particular from the evidence at Mourneabbey and Hospital, are the same as those drawn by O'Keeffe and Grogan, particularly with regard to an enclosed precinct, a church in physical isolation from the residential buildings, a hall, and conventual buildings, along with the usual manorial accouterments.

Kieran O'Conor and Paul Naessens' "Temple House: From Templar castle to new English mansion" provides a detailed study of Temple House Castle, Co. Sligo, from its thirteenth-century foundation, through the suppression of the Templars in 1312, up to the seventeenth century. They argue that the castle was likely granted to the Templars from one of the de Burgh lords of Connacht after the late 1230s, and that the Templars were expected to play a military role in thirteenth-century Connacht. They trace the architectural remains to three principal phases, and include a discussion of the original Hall house built by the Templars in the thirteenth century. Paul Caffrey's "Visual culture of Hospitaller Knights of the Priory of Ireland" brings the architectural section of the book to a close, and provides a discussion of artistic and symbolic representations found on grave-slabs, effigies, and sculpted figurines at various locations in Ireland, including the carved figures on the piers of the chancel arch at Kilteel (Co. Kildare) that date to the late twelfth century--the only surviving chancel archway in Ireland that contains a narrative scheme of figurative sculpture. Caffrey also includes an analysis of the symbolism in seventeenth-century portraits of Priors Thomas Dowcra and Andrew Wyse, and how the portraits reflect the images of knighthood, nobility and religious identity that helped to define Hospitaller identity.

The next three essays deal with the military orders as landholders and involvement in litigation concerning their landed estate and spiritual privileges. Margaret Murphy's "From swords to ploughshares: Evidence for Templar agriculture in medieval Ireland" examines the history of the Templars in Ireland from an economic point of view, with particular regard to their agricultural activities. She argues, based on the surveys of the properties of the Templars taken by local sheriffs in 1308, that the Templars' Irish estates possessed significant wealth, with produce and rents well over £1,000. The wealth was based firmly in agriculture, which she refers to as "sheep-corn husbandry," although she acknowledges that their activities differed very little from the manorial agricultural practices elsewhere in Ireland. Murphy provides a detailed analysis of the grains and livestock found on the estates, complete with charts recording numbers and values of animals by property. Edward Coleman's "'Powerful adversaries': The Knights Templar, landholding and litigation in the lordship of Ireland" provides an introduction to the Templars' estates in Ireland, and outlines the various property disputes in which they engaged in the thirteenth century, paying particular attention to a property dispute with the Cistercian abbey at Dunbrody. He notes the ability of the Templars to sustain protracted legal disputes to wear down their opponents financially. Paolo Virtuani's "Unforgivable trespasses: The Irish Hospitallers and the defense of their rights in the mid-thirteenth century" examines the documentary evidence for a series of clashes in the 1250s and 1260s between the Hospitallers and the citizens of Dublin. What Virtuani dubs as the "temporal" challenge revolves around disputes concerning the fishing rights in the River Liffey. The "spiritual" challenge between the Hospitallers and the Archbishop of Dublin is of more concern to Virtuani, which pertains to a dispute over the archbishop's visitation rights at the Hospitaller church of Stachfythenan. Virtuani draws attention to an armed conflict between the clerks of the archbishop and the members of the Hospitallers at Stachfythenan in 1262, and the first reference to the Hospitallers in Ireland wearing their habit (201). Papal intervention ensued, and the Hospitallers were victorious in protecting their privileges against episcopal interference.

The final essay in the collection is Colmán Ó Clabaigh's examination of Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 405. His aim is to round off the volume with insight into the religious and devotional concerns of the military orders at Kilbarry, Co. Waterford. He provides a history and codicological description of the manuscript, which contains a fascinating array of legal, papal, royal, liturgical, and literary texts. He stresses the importance of approaching compilations such as this as purposeful, rather than as a miscellany, in order to fully understand its significance and use. Ó Clabaigh utilizes the codex to illustrate the personal religiosity of the preceptory's members, their intellectual interests, and that they participated in the vibrant literary culture that was a feature of the Anglo-Norman community in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.

The volume works very well as a cohesive whole. Although it does not have any formal sections, the essays are organized thematically into roughly four different areas (political, architectural, legal, liturgical), with occasional overlapping between them. Many of the articles contain useful maps, charts, photos and illustrations, as well as ten beautiful color plates. The essays are scholarly, well-written, represent the latest scholarship on the military orders in Ireland, and all complement each other very well. It is an invaluable contribution to the history of the military orders.