About

Welcome to the blog relating to my recent book, The Templars, the Witch, and the Wild Irish: Vengeance and Heresy in Medieval Ireland, published by Cornell University Press and Four Courts Press.

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I am an alumna of Trinity College Dublin, Pomona College, and Northwestern University, and a professor of Religion at Simpson College.  Ireland’s history and culture are lifelong fascinations for me, even apart from the incredibly intense drama discussed in my book.  I am also deeply fascinated by Christian heresy, which has a negative connotation for many, but simply refers to the wide spectrum of Christian beliefs that were/are rejected by certain Christian authorities.  Chances are, no matter what beliefs one Christian has, another Christian regards those views as heresy.

My book explores the ways in which religion was used to justify the English invasion and subsequent colonization of Ireland. It focuses on Ireland’s medieval heresy trials, which all occurred within the tumultuous fourteenth century, when the Anglo-Irish colony was under considerable strain. The first trial, of the Templars, was part of international proceedings in which the colonists were compelled to participate . The second occurred when the lone local inquisitor, the dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, tried the tactic in his ongoing feud with the canons of Holy Trinity Cathedral (Dublin is exceptional with its two cathedrals so close together, leading to bitter rivalry between them). The third, the sensational Alice Kyteler case in Kilkenny prosecuted by the aptly named Richard de Ledrede, marks the dawn of the devil-worshipping witch in medieval European trials. Inspired by such proceedings, the colonists then intensified the rhetoric that had justified the twelfth-century English invasion, claiming the Irish were heretics, executing an Irishman for heresy where Trinity College now stands, and trying to convince the papacy to call a crusade against the native Irish and those Anglo-Irish infected with their heresy—the heresy, that is, of being Irish, by culture if not blood. Fortunately for the Irish, the papacy was not persuaded. Some of the sites you’ll visit via my book include:

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I argue that none of these cases represents what scholars of heresy regard as “genuine” heresy—deviant doctrinal views that an individual maintains after repeated attempts at authoritative correction.  Allegations of heresy were also a handy way to discredit and attack your enemies.  The trial of the Templars resulted from the king of France’s desire to confiscate the order’s considerable wealth.  Similar motives caused the Kyteler case, but this time the greed was Alice’s step-children’s as well as Richard de Ledrede’s.  And the claims against the “wild” Irish were a fourteenth-century reprise of similar sentiments that had been used successfully in the twelfth century to take their land.  If you find heretical beliefs fascinating, as I do, a warning:  apart from the introduction, you won’t read much here about genuine doctrinal diversity.  These cases are less about the accused’s actual beliefs and practices than they are about their prosecutors’ vengeance and the political machinations that surrounded them all.

The Templars, the Witch, and the Wild Irish considers the ways in which Ireland was both on the margins of medieval Europe and a microcosm of developments in the transformation of Europe in the high and late Middle Ages. I use religious tolerance and persecution as a primary interpretive lens for exploring the history of an island that was among the first areas outside of the Roman Empire to convert to Christianity and became a celebrated center of Christian learning, but fell from the center to the periphery of European civilization and underwent a colonization which was presented as a crusade to return it to Christendom. I investigate why the claims of religious deviance which had been used as a pretext for the colonization of Ireland in the twelfth century were transformed into allegations of heresy against the native Irish only after the Kyteler case of 1324, whereas that case and the preceding trials were colonial affairs shaped by local and international politics. I explore the ways in which women were portrayed as the primary agents of heresy in the Kyteler case, contextualize this portrait with the role of and rhetoric about women in the fourteenth-century colony, and contrast it with the other trials, which involved only male defendants. I propose several possible reasons for apparent native Irish disinterest in heresy proceedings and for the concentration of the island’s certifiable heresy trials in such a short timespan. And I integrate these trials within their greater European context, particularly with regard to civil and ecclesiastical relations, tensions within the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and allegations against reputed heretics and witches. To read short summaries of the different sections of my book, please see the following links:

https://templarswitchwildirish.wordpress.com/2015/02/11/summary-intro/

https://templarswitchwildirish.wordpress.com/2015/02/12/summary-templars/

https://templarswitchwildirish.wordpress.com/2015/02/14/summary-witch/

https://templarswitchwildirish.wordpress.com/2015/02/14/summary-wild-irish/

https://templarswitchwildirish.wordpress.com/2015/02/14/summary-press/

For a handy guide to the various groups and individuals involved in the book (a bit like a cast of characters or dramatis personae), see Guide to Groups .

Buy the book here (http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=80140100398210 )  or here (http://www.fourcourtspress.ie/books/2015/templars-witch-wild-irish/ ), or at fine bookstores everywhere!

Stay at a luxury guest house overlooking the ruins of Templehouse, the only Templar preceptory in native Irish lands and the site featured on the cover of my book and the top of my blog:  http://www.templehouse.ie/ .