This week, with a general election looming in Britain, and my daughter studying for an Irish history exam it seemed I couldn’t escape the word tory. So please excuse the politics, but I promise the word has a surprising history.
The word tory is one the Irish gave to the English language. The Irish verb tóir means to pursue or chase. The word toraidhe (which does sound pretty like tory) comes from that verb and is a noun for an outlaw or bandit, one who is pursued. Like many placenames around Ireland, the word toraidhe was anglised into a more English-style spelling as tory and was a term for any Irish robber or outlaw in the late 1500s.
Tory was then applied to Irish Catholics who had been dispossessed of their land during the plantations (when land was taken from Catholic chieftains and granted to settlers deemed to be loyal to the crown). During the 1600s, some of these Irish tories turned to robbery from the English and Scottish settlers on what had been their land originally.
Then in 1679 tory took a new turn. It was used to describe the supporters of the Catholic Duke of York (later King James II) in his claim to the English throne. After 1689, Tory was the name of a British political party originally formed by these Yorkist Tories. It was also applied to the supporters of the exiled King James II, who were also known as Jacobites.
In North American history, colonists who remained loyal to the British crown after 1769 were called tories. During the American War of Independence a tory was loyal to Britain and in the American Civil War they were southern unionists.
By the early 1800s, the term Tory had been overtaken by Conservative to describe politicians of the right wing party in Britain but it is still used as a casual term for the party, so Boris Johnson is following in the footsteps of American loyalists, supporters of Catholic king for Britain, and originally Irish guerilla fighters. It’s a complex lineage for any political party.
Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,
NaNoWriMo 2019 Update – It’s day 25 of writing and I have 47,084 words of my latest book drafted. Hurrah!