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30 July 2014
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Wars and Conflict - The Plantation of Ulster

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English and Scottish Planters
 

Women and the Plantation

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Image of Thomas Raven's map of the Drapers' Company lands

Thomas Raven's map of the Drapers' Company lands ©

It is difficult to calculate the ratio of men to women in the new Plantation. Most of the surviving surveys were intended to count the number of British adult men and provide little statistical information on women. Impressionistic evidence suggests that many men travelled initially to Ulster on their own, often to assess the prospects that a life on the Plantation lands offered with the intention of returning later with their families. The arrival of the latter was uneven and as late as 1622 undertakers and tenants were recorded as not yet having brought over their wives or children.

On the City of London lands, English women were in a minority in the early years of the Plantation as most of the English men on the Cityís lands had been sent to Ireland as workmen and left their families behind in England. One worker on the Drapersí Company land arranged for his wife to be given an allowance from his wages while he worked in Ireland; and there were probably others who provided for their families in a similar fashion. By the 1620s, some of the workmen had opted to stay in Ireland and sent for their wives to join them. Others mixed freely with local women and there were many complaints concerning the raucous and drunken behaviour of the workmen on the Companyís lands.

Among the Scottish tenants, women appear to have been more in evidence from the beginning as closely-knit family groups formed an important part of the settlement pattern in that community. The close proximity of Scotland also made it logistically feasible for single Scottish men to return home to choose a suitable marriage partner.

Image of Map showing the proximity of Scotland to Ulster

Map showing the proximity of Scotland to Ulster

In the early years of the Plantation, therefore, the sex ratio was uneven and in many areas, particularly those controlled by the City of London, men must have outnumbered women. It was probably not until the 1620s that the sex ratio became more evenly balanced.

Legally, the women on the Plantation were bound by English common law. The English legal code was restrictive for women but it offered them more protection than they had under the Gaelic system. Single women and widows had the same legal status as men under English common law although married women were legally represented by their husbands. Unlike in Gaelic law, women could inherit family land, in the absence of male heirs; and widows were given greater economic security as they were entitled to a third of their husbandís property for life. By 1622, there were a number of widows living on Plantation estates, enjoying a life interest on part of their late husbands' lands.

Economically, it could also be argued that the Plantation offered women new economic opportunities as towns were developed and women began to operate in the market place and develop the commercial possibilities of their domestic skills such as sewing and food preparation. It was not, however, until the 18th century that womenís work as spinners of linen yarn became central to the Ulster as well as the Irish economy.
 

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Image of Dr. Mary O'Dowd Women planters were encouraged to read but not write.
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Dr. Mary O'Dowd, Senior Lecturer in Modern History, Queen's University, Belfast
Image of Dr. Mary O'Dowd The English builders were accused of immoral behaviour.
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Dr. Mary O'Dowd, Senior Lecturer in Modern History, Queen's University, Belfast
Image of Dr. Mary O'Dowd Women gained more rights under English common law.
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Dr. Mary O'Dowd, Senior Lecturer in Modern History, Queen's University, Belfast
Image of Dr. Mary O'Dowd Gaelic women stole fashionable clothes from women planters.
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Dr. Mary O'Dowd, Senior Lecturer in Modern History, Queen's University, Belfast
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