• Wilde Irishe

A John Derricke Drawing: Hidden in Plain Sight?

Updated: Jan 25, 2020

John Derricke’s 1581 Image of Ireland is probably the best known visual source for Tudor Ireland. It is only matched by the series of images generated by the levy of 700 Irish kern sent into England in 1544 for Henry VIII’s wars of Scotland and France, which were later copied by Lucas DeHeere. Those we will deal with later.

Cover and page spread, Derricke's Image of Ireland
Blackstaff Press edition of 1985, and right, Scholar's Facsimiles edition of 1998.

The 12 woodcut illustrations are what Derricke’s Image is known for, though the book is worth having in its entirety. The cuts were extremely popular in their day, and were torn out and exhibited on walls, etc., so that only the Edinburgh copy survives intact. But the influence of the Image of Ireland, including its rather pedestrian text, was far-ranging. It signifies a decisive hardening of attitudes in the Tudor administration towards the native Irish. Scholars cite its influence on the equally sanguinary Edmund Spencer, and Hiram Morgan even argues that Velázquez's Surrender of Breda owes a compositional debt to Derricke’s cut of Sir Henry Sidney receiving a note from “Donolle O’Breane, the messenger.” Indeed, music historians regard composer William Byrd’s Battell Suite as a musical realization of Derricke’s series of woodcuts. Written down in 1590, but probably composed a decade earlier, the Battell’s 9 pieces include an Irishe marche and the Bagpipe and the drone, both of which fit the compass of the 9-note war pipe, incidentally.


Often referred to as an “engraver,” Derricke himself seems to indicate that he was in fact the artist. The images themselves were cut in the shop of London printer John Day, whose name accounts for the initials “I.D.” often assumed to mean John Derricke. Day’s press produced the finest Elizabethan woodcuts, with his cuts for Derricke second only to his Book of Martyrs—both reflecting a strongly Protestant viewpoint.


The woodcut process was no different as late as 1864, when a gang of cutters for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper took drawings made in the field by Alfred Waud and skillfully transferred them to a series of wood blocks, the edges of which had to match up line for line when the work of the individual cutters was reassembled for printing.


Alfred Waud sketch and woodcut, 1864
Alfred Waud sketch, and woodcut version, omitting the clown shoes.

We’ll quickly note that Derricke was definitely in Ireland. Internal evidence from the cuts of Sidney leaving Dublin Castle and later reentering the city via Dame’s Gate reflect a familiarity with the city’s topography. A John Derricke was appointed in 1569 to collect duties on wine imports at the port of Drogheda. The next we hear of him is his dedication of his book to Sir Henry Sidney, written at Dublin in 1578, two years after the events described in the book. The book was printed three years later in London. It is sometimes suggested that he was the “Dericke to make the new Great Seal for Ireland” recorded in 1557. This may in fact have been Dericke Anthony, engraver at the London Mint, who engraved the English Great Seal of Mary.


It has been regretted that we do not have Derricke’s presumed original drawings, as they would have greater immediacy. The surviving contemporary drawings by John White of Native Americans were made into copperplate engravings for publication by the famous Theodor de Bry. De Bry’s rendering serves author Thomas Harriot’s purpose of attracting settlers for the New World by portraying the Americans in an idealized manner, with Europeanized faces and imposed classical posture. Derricke’s purpose is quite different, serving to justify conquest by programmatically depicting the Irish in a negative light. His six signed woodcuts are of superior quality and portray Sidney and the activities of the English administration. The six unsigned cuts depicting the Irish and their manners are cruder, with jumbled compositions meant to reflect the allegedly twisted values of Gaelic Irish society.


John White sketch and de Bry engraving of Americans
Left, John White’s drawing of 1585, and Right, de Bry’s engraving for Harriot’s True Report . . .of Virginia 1590

While Derricke cannot be confirmed to have made the new “Great Seal for Ireland,” he clearly had drawing talent that might have been used in an official capacity. The 1583 Charter of the City of Dublin contains an image of an Irish galloglass, possibly a “Queen’s galloglass” of the Leinster MacDonnels. Drawn just two years after publication of Image of Ireland, the style is quiet similar to Derricke’s. Might it be an original drawing by his hand? I would suggest so.

John Derricke Irish kern, and galloglass from Charter of City of Dublin.
Left, Derricke's kern 1581, Right, Dublin Charter galloglass 1583.

Note the Charter’s treatment of the beard and long (but not quite shoulder length, as in de Heere) hair, in keeping with Derricke’s Irish kern. And both the blunt-toed brogues, and especially the particular form of straight-bladed Peterson Type M axe are very close. Also, the sword is that shown by Derricke for his Irish horsemen, with a Kinsale sword type of hilt with solid disc pommel and curled quillons, rather than the earlier (?) Gaelic ring-hilt.


Ian Heath drawing of galloglass, and galloglass from John Derricke.
Left, Ian Heath's impression of Derricke's galloglass, seen at Right in his battle woodcut.

Finally, there is the armour consisting of a knee-length hauberk with long, or rather, 3/4 length sleeves and without the pisane collar or sgabal seen earlier in the century. This is the same armour seen on Derricke’s Irish horsemen. And it answers well to the description in Beware the Cat, reviewed in our last blog entry, of a “corselet of mail made like a shirt, and his skull covered over with gilt leather and crested with otter skin.” Like Derricke’s galloglass, the Charter galloglass is wearing a plain skull helmet, but with a crest of brown fur, quite possibly otter skin as indicated in Baldwin’s Beware the Cat.

Derricke's Irish horseman, with skull, mail shirt, and sword hilt much like the Charter galloglass.
Kinsale Sword
"Kinsale Sword" with hilt comparable to Derricke's horseman and the Charter galloglass.

Finally, it is of interest to note that the Charter galloglass’s “goose turd green” trews match well with the clothing provided for Lord Deputy Fitzwilliam’s personal galloglass in 1590, who received: “2 1/2 yards greene Carsey to make him Trowses, 6s 6d; 1 pr brogues, 12d; a band and towards the buying of a shirt, 2s 6d; strings for shirt bands, 5d.”


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