Ireland 1518: Archduke Ferdinand’s visit to Kinsale & the Dürer Connection

‘History is not only an artform that is useful but should be pleasing in which ever way it is portrayed’ (Pliny)

On the 6th of June 1518 Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg arrived in Kinsale after his fleet was forced to land in Ireland because of stormy weather.

The prince’s remarkable four day visit has long been neglected because the original account was in Old French. It was written by a member of his household, Laurent Vital. Full of curiosity and good humour and, unlike contemporary English accounts, not hostile towards the Irish, this is an important addition to our knowledge. Vital gives a detailed description of Irish dress (something that we don’t have elsewhere for the early 16th century) paying close attention to the colour and shape of the clothes people wear and to their hairstyles. He was very taken by the revealing dress of Irish women and a good case can be made for his description of Irish men and soldiers influencing the famous drawing done three years later by the Habsburg connected- artist, Albrecht Dürer.

Whilst enjoying the hospitality of the Irish, Vital also heard high mass sung Irish-style in the church at Kinsale, witnessed a clandestine do-it-yourself marriage in its grounds and listened to his landlady tell the tale of her pilgrimage to St Patrick’s Purgatory at Lough Derg in Donegal. He observed a formal meeting between the town council and the young prince and saw a servant of the local lord (probably the earl of Desmond) entertain the future Emperor with singing, harp music and a swimming display.

Hiram Morgan has here written about the background to this visit and an interpretation of the account, Dorothy Convery has provided an engaging translation of Vital’s Old French text and, to further enliven the source material, the renowned Irish artist Hector McDonnell has made a set of original drawings.