Western Orientals? The Theme of the Tartar in the Elizabethan Discourse on Ireland

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This paper explores allusions to the ‘Tartar’ in descriptive and survey literatures on Ireland that were written during what has been described as the late 16th-century Elizabethan reconquest of the country. The paper analyzes the web of meanings onto which the term opened, paying close attention to the implications of the charge of nomadic pastoralism that was leveled at the natives. This led on to a highly gendered discourse, in which the Irish – who seemed to wander like beasts on the surface and have no stable ‘place’ – emerged as bad husbandmen that did not penetrate into the depths of the body of the land, thus neglecting her desire and fertility. Where the wealth of arable societies was fixed upon the ground, this implying an enclosed or at least a spatially organized landscape, the goods of the Irish seemed dangerously mobile to the Elizabethans, able to – as was often noted – ‘melt away’ and thereby evade regulation. Edmund Spenser, for one, argued that an important effect of the arable cultivation of Ireland would be to produce for the first time an ordered landscape, meaning one that was enclosed, spatially restricted and thus controllable. Moreover, the very material conditions of tartar-like pastoralism carried implications of paganism, given that only a society that cultivated grain had the symbolic means to participate in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEntangled Landscapes
Subtitle of host publicationExchange Between Early Modern China and Europe
EditorsAndrea Riemenschnitter, Yue Zhuang
PublisherNational University of Singapore Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9789814722582
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • colonial discourse
  • Ireland
  • early modern history
  • utopia
  • space
  • tartars

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