Irish military in Spain
This database project on the Irish military presence in the Spanish Armies from 1580 to 1818 was carried out by Dr Oscar Morales, based in the Centre for Irish-Scottish Studies, Trinity College Dublin, working under the supervision of Prof. Ciaran Brady, Dr. Declan Downey (University College Dublin) and Prof. David Dickson (CISCS), and with the support in Spain of Dr. Enrique García Hernán (CSIC-Madrid). It was funded by grants from the Irish Higher Education Authority’s PRTLI Cycle I and Cycle III initiatives.
The first aim was to search for archival evidence of an Irish presence in the different territories belonging to the Spanish Monarchy. Research was carried out in many European archives, notably in Spain, Italy and Belgium. The result provides a useful tool for researchers interested in the Irish diaspora to the Continent before the nineteenth century. We have particularly focused on Irishmen bound for Spanish Flanders, the Iberian Peninsula and the Italian territories under Spanish rule. But it also includes evidence from the Spanish territories in America and the Philippines. From the early seventeenth century Irish men in Spanish Lands were allowed into the Spanish colonies, and from the early eighteenth century the Irish regiments in Spanish service (Irlanda, Hibernia and Ultonia ) served in the overseas territories.
From the later Middle Ages a number of European regions that were relatively densely populated and/or economically backward had built up a tradition of providing soldiers for the growing armies of the stronger states: this was the case in the Swiss confederation and in the Italian Mezzogiorno. In the British Isles, two areas became sources for the supply of soldiers to the Continent, the Scottish Highlands and Ireland. In the Irish case, fighting men began to go out during the sixteenth century to the Continent, coming from a militarized society with weak central authority, and this greatly expanded at the end of the Nine Years War (1594-1603). The advantages of serving abroad at that point were considerable. In a military group, special relationships of group loyalty and solidarity – difficult to find in everyday life - were established, and for Irish military units abroad, these relationships were to be important. Moreover, this allowed men keep themselves in shape, trained, armed and ready to face any kind of circumstance, including the possibility of returning to Ireland. Irish soldiers developed an excellent professional reputation for bravery in Europe. From the beginning of seventeenth century Spain and France began to compete for Irish soldiers, and even the Republic of Venice heard of their qualities: ‘a rough land mirrored in a tough people’. When in 1598 Diego Brochero de Anaya wrote to the Spanish King about the lack of sailors in the Armada, he mentioned as a remedy that ‘every year Your Highness should order some Irish soldiers, who are people tough and strong, be recruited in Ireland as neither the cold weather nor bad food could kill them as easily as they would with the Spanish, as in their island, which is much colder than this one, they are almost naked, they sleep on the floor and eat oats bread, meat and water, without drinking any wine’. This reputation made it easy for the Irish to mingle in the vanguards with the Spanish, who were considered the most exclusive troops of the multinational Army of the Austrian Habsburgs. However not all assessments of the Irish were positive: Spanish military counselors sent to Ireland during the sixteenth century had warned about the Irish lack of military training. The experience of Kinsale debacle (1602) confirmed the Spanish military establishment in its disapproval of the type of guerilla warfare heretofore favoured by the Irish Gaelic lords. But then, with the Irish integration into the Army of Flanders it became obvious that, when trained, Irishmen could turn into excellent soldiers.
The Irish tercio in Flanders fluctuated in size according to the needs of war: it consisted in theory of around a thousand men. In the seventeenth century soldiers were accompanied by close members of their natural families – wives and sons – and sometimes other relatives, ‘vassals’ or collaterals within the kin group, moved to Flanders seeking protection. Gráinne Henry, in her work on the Irish community in those territories, has estimated a migration of around 10,000 Irishmen between 1586 and 1622, and the recruitment of some 6,300 soldiers into the Army of Flanders during the period. In the Peninsula, during the first years of seventeenth century Galicia alone supported nearly a thousand enlisted Irish.
The project was conducted in parallel to that carried on by Colm Ó Conaill on the Irish Regiments in France, 1716-1791 (also searchable on this site), and followed the approach adopted in the SSNE Database (on Scotland, Scandinavia & Northern Europe, 1580-1707) [http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/history/ssne/]. The intention of the project was not merely to analyze the Irish military presence in the Spanish Monarchy's territories, but to lay the basis for a more complete, complex and varied description of the Irish exile. That is why it was felt necessary to enrich the military information gathered with data on religious, students from the Irish colleges, women and tradesmen in the different ports of the Peninsula, and those Irish who lost their names and were labelled by the Spanish authorities as ‘poor’, ‘orphan’, ‘vagrant’ or ‘idle’. Until the eighteenth century the frontier between civilian and military was not entirely clear cut. During the Habsburg period many described as entretenidos and entretenidas were given a salary by the Council of War and associated with a military post (an entretenimiento was a monthly salary in exchange for the supply of services), and are included in the military database although they never actually served in the army.
Some differences between the Spanish and the French databases should be noted. The first is chronology: the French project focuses in the eighteenth century (1716-1791), whereas this project was not limited to the Bourbon period. The Irish emigration to Spain during the seventeenth century had reached remarkable levels, especially after the Battle of Kinsale (1602) and after the end of the Cromwellian campaign in Ireland (c.1653). From the beginning of the seventeenth century the Irish could count on ready access to the Irish tercio, and this unit anticipated the creation of the Irish Brigade or Brigada Irlandesa, set up in Spain itself at the beginning of the eighteenth century; it was composed of the regiments Irlanda, Hibernia and Ultonia, which remained on the active list until 1818.The second difference with the French project lies in the database fields themselves. It was impossible to use the same fields in the two databases as the information recorded in the Spanish and the French military archives was different. Thus, where in the French archives the place of origin is almost always mentioned precisely, this was unfortunately not the case in Spain: the authorities were satisfied with the adjective irlandés (‘Irishman’) or de nación irlandés (‘of Irish nation’) as a personal descriptor. It is only in the data relating to the eighteenth-century regiments (which are much more standardized than the seventeenth-century data) that place of origin appears, but not in every case and much of the time entered incorrectly. And the French information dealing with the physical features of the person (height, hair, eyes, physical attributes - smallpoxed, gaunt, lean, pale) is not available in Spanish records. But a field absent in the French records, that of ‘social origin, title’, which related to the class and social condition of the individual, is present and was regarded as extremely important information for the Spanish, as in both the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries the aristocracy held almost all officer posts in the army, identifying themselves with the traditional military class, the natural protectors of the Kingdom. Inherited nobility was a prerequisite for prospective Irish officers (and their descendants) in the Spanish armies.
Analysis of these results will allow the testing of some of the hypotheses about Irish emigration to Continental Europe prior to the modern mass migration, a topic which is much better understood. t is hoped that it may be possible to examine the relationships between the military class, the civil authorities and the host society, and the relationships between soldiers and other Irish communities in exile and the colleges. Issues such the periodisation of migration, the regional patterns of outflow and the family relationships of those who migrated are all areas inviting further study.
Learn more about the purpose and goals of the Irish in Europe Project.