DAVIES, Sir John


DAVIES, Sir John A Discovery of the True Causes why Ireland was never entirely Subdued

London, John Jaggard, 1612


4to, pp. (iv) 287 (i). lacking first blank except for signature. Roman letter, text within double-ruled border, printed side notes, errata on verso of last. Armorial woodcuts to t-p, woodcut borders and ornament to next. Large historiated initial. Contemporary autograph of ‘Nico. Atkinson’ (not otherwise known) at head of t-p. Mostly marginal age-yellowing, a good wide copy in contemp. calf, rebacked.

FIRST EDITION of the major historical work of Sir John Davies (1569-1626), poet, politician and Attorney General for Ireland, who was responsible for framing the terms of the Plantation of Ulster, a model which served the British Crown as it extended its colonial reach in North America and elsewhere. A favourite of Elizabeth I, to whom he dedicated his Hymns of Astraea (1599), Davies was later part of the deputation sent to bring James VI of Scotland to London. The new James I was also an admirer of Davies’ poetry, and rewarded him with a knighthood and appointments as Solicitor-General, and later Attorney-General of Ireland. (Long neglected as a poet, Davies was later championed by T. S. Eliot.) Davies arrived in Ireland in 1603, just six months after the submission of the rebellious Earl of Tyrone, Hugh O’Neill. He set about constructing a system whereby English control might be extended and consolidated, placing particular importance on religious reform and ‘plantation’ with English and Scottish settlers. It was at around this time that he wrote the present work, which bemoans Ireland’s long history of inefficient and ineffective conquest and government by external powers (as far back as the Romans), and outlines the means by which this might be rectified. Davies’ Plantation of Ulster became in many ways the victim of its own success, leading to the Partition of Ireland in 1921, and political troubles which continue to the present day.

Davies saw Ireland as a stepping-stone towards major political office in England, but his chances were hurt by the death of his patron, Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, and his absence from court. In 1617 he failed to win the position of English Solicitor General, and resigned as Attorney-General in Ireland, returning to England. He was a founder member of the Society of Antiquaries, and in 1621 served as a member of the English parliament, where he occasionally spoke on Irish matters. In 1626, Davies (always corpulent) died in his bed of apoplexy brought on after a supper party. He had just been appointed lord chief justice, but never took his place.

STC 6348; Lowndes II, 599-600.

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