Front Page Titles (by Subject) FIRST EPOCH.: From 1169 to 1535. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1
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FIRST EPOCH.: From 1169 to 1535. - Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1 
Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W.C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). Vol. 1.
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From 1169 to 1535.
In 1156, a bull of Pope Adrian IV. bestowed the kingdom of Ireland on Henry II., King of England.*
This bull proves, that even at this epoch Henry II. had extended his views to Ireland, whose sovereignty he obtained from the power which then disposed of empires. Adrian IV. was an Englishman by birth, and, doubtless, he felt sympathies for his native land, of which Henry knew how to take advantage.
We read in Hanmer’s Chronicle, “Anno 1160, the king (Henry II.) cast in his minde to conquer Ireland; he sawe that it was commodious for him, considered that they were but a rude and savage people.”*
It was not until twelve years after that the Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland, and the Chronicles give us the following account of the occasion.
“Dermot, king of Leinster, having carried off the wife of O’Rourke, king of Meath, the latter complained to O’Connor, titular monarch of all Ireland, who instantly embraced the cause of the outraged monarch, and expelled the author of the wrong from his kingdom. Dermot, in his despair, went to seek aid from the English king. Henry II., gladly embracing the opportunity of accomplishing a design which he had long projected, promised to do Dermot justice.
“In a short time, Fitz-Stephen, and afterwards Strongbow Earl of Pembroke, landed in Ireland with a numerous suite of Norman knights.
“Nevertheless, scarcely had Dermot introduced the strangers into his country, when, perceiving that he would not be restored to the possession of his states, he endeavoured to persuade Fitz-Stephen to return. But Fitz-Stephen replied, ‘What is it you ask? We have abandoned our dear friends and our beloved country; we have burned our ships, we have no notion of flight; we have already periled our lives in fight, and, come what may, we are destined to live or die with you.’ ”*
Dermot did not recover his crown, and the English remained in Ireland.
They remained there, but not without encountering endless opposition; for if their invasion was singularly easy, the completion of the conquest was a work of extraordinary difficulty.
The first invasion took place in 1169, and, according to the most authentic accounts, we must go down to the reign of James I., in 1603, to find the completion of the conquest. Thus, during more than four centuries, the English only exercised disputed dominion over Ireland.
The spectacle afforded by the native Irish and the Anglo-Normans, struggling to preserve their country, the others to subdue it, must be interesting to all, but especially to Frenchmen.
These native Irish assailed, in their savage but haughty independence, all belonging to the same Celtic race, from which the Gauls, our ancestors, are descended.
And those Normans who invaded them left France in the preceding century. Their names are sufficient to reveal their origin—Raymond le Gros, Walter de Lacy, John de Courcy, Richard de Netterville, and a thousand others of the same sound.*
But the history of such distant times would exceed the limits of this introduction.
The author’s design, in the sketch he offers of this first epoch, (from 1169 to 1535,) is merely to give the reader some notions of the people invaded by the Normans; he is also anxious to point out the causes which rendered the invasion easy, and the conquest difficult.
It is not rare to find it alleged by English writers, that at the epoch of the conquest, Ireland contained a wretched, vile, and degraded population; an allegation probably inspired by the desire of imputing the misfortunes and corruption of this people to causes anterior to the English conquest. It is, however, certain that nothing in the cotemporary records justifies such an assertion.
“Such,” says Campion, “is the character of the Irish; they are religious, sincere, violent in love and anger, compassionate and full of energy in misfortune, vain and superstitious to excess; good horsemen, passionately fond of war, charitable and hospitable beyond expression . . . They have acute minds, are desirous of instruction, and learn easily what they wish to study; they are persevering in labour,”* &c.
“When Robert Fitz-Stephen and the brave knights of Britain invaded Ireland,” says Hanmer, “they did not find cowards, but valiant men, brave both as horse and foot.”†
“The bodies and minds of the people,” says Sir John Davis, at a late period, “are endowed with extraordinary abilities of nature.”‡
Now, how has it happened that this noble population has been surprised by a handful of adventurers? And how, thus invaded, has it for centuries resisted conquest,—too feeble to repulse its enemy, sufficiently strong in its reverses never to submit—equally incapable of enduring or shaking off the yoke—enduring the stranger in its territory without ever losing the hope of his expulsion? How did it happen that these two populations, the one conquering and the other conquered,—the latter sometimes subdued, sometimes in rebellion,—the former always superior without being master—have lived together in a state of warfare for centuries,—either in a state of fierce warfare without one annihilating the other, or in a state of peace without mutual union.
Three principal causes facilitated the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland; first, the social and political condition of Ireland in the twelfth century; second, the still recent fact of the Danish invasion; and third, the influence of the court of Rome.
Political Condition of Ireland in the twelfth century.
In the twelfth century the political organisation of Ireland was such that its social forces, infinitely divided, could be held together by no common bond. The four provinces, Leinster, Ulster, Munster, and Connaught, had each a separate king.* In truth, these four kings recognised one of their number as monarch of all Ireland, but his supremacy was more nominal than real; besides, none of the four provinces having the privilege of conferring on its monarch the power of ruling over the rest, violent quarrels arose at the death of every sovereign, each of the four equal kings claiming the vacant monarchy.* The same elements of discord and anarchy which incessantly divided the four provinces externally, were also to be found in their internal condition.
For, as beneath the same monarch were placed kings who were his equals, though subordinate to him, so beneath the king of each province was an infinity of secondary kings and princes, who were also as equal, as independent, and as divided as their immediate superiors.† This fractional division of the social forces did not stop there. After the petty principalities came a multitude of clans, tribes, and families, all separated from each other, not only independent among themselves, but held by the feeblest ties to the sovereignty within whose sphere they were comprised.‡ Besides the inherent weakness arising from this indefinite subdivision of public powers, there was in such a political state another source of exhaustion and ruin; to wit, the perpetual struggles which arose from this great number of equivocal sovereignties, of rights destitute of sanction, of authorities, rivals in fact, though nominally subordinate one to the other, and which incessantly produced opposing pretensions which could only be decided by war.* The chiefs of clans presented, within the narrow limits of their authority, the same spectacle of discord and anarchy as the petty princes above them, in less restricted bounds, and as the kings of the provinces in the wider circle of their power.
It may be easily conceived, that a country where the social forces were thus mutilated, and had no point of contact, save for mutual destruction, was of all countries the most favourable for the invasion of a conqueror. However powerful those forces might have been, collected in a mass, each of them was annihilated in isolation. Such was the state of Ireland at the epoch of the Anglo-Norman conquest.
The still recent Invasion of the Danes.
Ireland, which has suffered so cruelly from conquest, was the last of the European countries conquered. At the time when the savage nations of the north sought countries to invade, Ireland, separated from them by two seas and one large island, long escaped their notice; the Romans disdained it, the barbarians knew it not. Gaul and England had been each stained by three invasions, while the soil of Ireland remained intact. Still, about the middle of the ninth century, the Danes, a people issuing from the forests of Scandinavia, landed in Ireland; they occupied a part of it without much difficulty; but the opposition to them became vigorous and obstinate. After a series of sanguinary combats, and alternations of victory and defeat, these stern conquerors abandoned the hope of founding an empire in the heart of the country, and limited themselves to the occupation of some points on the south and east coast of Ireland.* Dublin, formerly Dyvelin, Wexford, and Waterford, are Danish cities.† Thus, the Irish, who had been sufficiently strong to check the Danes in their invasion, were too feeble to expel them completely; and at the moment when the Anglo-Normans came into Ireland, the Danes remained masters of all the east coast of Ireland, lived in a sort of tacit peace with the Irish, who were contented to see their conquerors confined to a narrow space, with the understood condition that they would not pass its limits.
However this may be, these struggles, maintained for three centuries, had exhausted the country, and increased the weakness of the body politic, already so great.*
The presence of the Danes on the Irish soil at this epoch diminished, for another reason, the strength of Ireland. The Anglo-Normans landed precisely in that portion of the country which was occupied by the Danes; consequently the Danes had to sustain the first shock of the Norman invasion. Now, it is impossible to imagine a more unfortunate circumstance for a country menaced by invaders. On one side the Danes, defending against the Normans a precarious and contested possession, could not display the zeal and devotion of a people summoned to the defence of their country.* On the other side, the Irish, seeing the Anglo-Normans engaged with the Danes, their first assailants, fluctuated between the terror which the new conquerors inspired, and the satisfaction with which they beheld the destruction of an enemy established in their territory.
All these circumstances united, sufficiently show how Ireland, both social and political, must have been weak in resisting the Anglo-Norman invasion.
Influence of the Court of Rome.
The third cause favourable to the invasion was, the influence, then all-powerful, of the court of Rome, which gave Ireland to the conquerors.
It was the time of the temporal and spiritual supremacy of the popes, the rivals of kings, the tribunes of the people in the middle ages; it was the time in which, when the most powerful prince resisted the court of Rome, the successor of St. Peter deposed him from his throne, and found the people submit to his decrees. At this time Ireland was eminent for its piety and sanctity amongst the most Christian nations. Its priests were at the head of political as well as religious society.* In this country, where the social powers were feeble, uncertain, and ill defined, there was no fixed and invariable rule but that of religion,—no undisputed authority common to all but that of the priest.† I find, in 1160, ten years before the Conquest, the Archbishop of Armagh regulating, as supreme arbiter, the quarrels of several Irish kings, between whom he alone could restore harmony.‡ Now, this clergy, supreme in Ireland, had for a quarter of a century been subject to the church of Rome.§
It was under such circumstances that Henry II. came to Ireland. He offered himself as a prince, the friend of peace and justice, who came not to strip the Irish of their rights, but to ensure their tranquil enjoyment of them; when he departs, he will leave their political power to the great, their domains to the proprietors, their spiritual authority to the priests, their country, their laws, and their institutions, to all. He only wants one thing, the title of Lord of Ireland, and he will only avail himself of it to promote religion and morality;* and he claims not this great mission as his own; he has received it from Pope Adrian IV. and Pope Alexander III.; he seizes Ireland, not to satisfy ambition, but to obey the papal bulls. Religious Ireland, which at this period recognised the authority of the Romish church, could not receive harshly a monarch who presented himself to her with so solemn a mandate as that of the sovereign pontiff. Thus, all the great dignitaries of the Catholic church in Ireland were seen to proclaim the rights of the king of England.† It may well be conceived how this moral assistance of the clergy, the most powerful that could be directed against Ireland, must have protected an invasion already favoured by so many other causes.
Thus the social and political condition of the Irish,—the presence of the Danes in the midst of them,—their very religion,—all these causes combine to explain the facility with which the Anglo-Normans gained a footing in Ireland.
We are now to inquire how, when the invasion was made without difficulty, the conquest could not be completed without perils continually renewed for centuries.
This fact is also explained by three principal reasons; the first equally derived from the political condition of the Irish; the second, from the relations between the Anglo-Normans and England; the third, from the condition to which the natives were reduced by the conquerors.
Political condition of the Irish an obstacle to the Conquest.
I have just said that the indefinite division of the social forces in a country singularly facilitate an invasion; I shall add, that nothing is more adverse than this fractional partition to the permanent establishment of the victor in the conquered country. That which is, in the first instance, a source of weakness for the invaded country, becomes, in the second, the principal cause of its strength. In the same proportion as it is difficult for the people resisting the invasion to unite suddenly all its divided elements of action; in the same proportion it is difficult for the conqueror to subdue, after invasion, this multitude of partial forces, spread here and there over a wide extent of territory, all of which bring to the struggle the same tribute of resistance, from the very fact of their being independent of each other.
It may be reasonably said, that a country in which the central power is strong, is at once the most difficult to invade, and that which after invasion presents the fewest difficulties to the conqueror. All the forces of the nation being assembled on a single point, offer a powerful condition of success, which once having failed, leaves the country without defence. It is just the contrary in a country where the national force is not concentrated; it is easy to invade, and difficult to conquer. This is distinctly seen in the first ages of our (French) history. The conquests of the men of the north, which so terribly succeeded each other, were only terminated when a power, feeble in its centre, but strong in its parts, was constituted in the land. Since the establishment of feudality in Europe, there have been several invasions, but there have been no conquests.
The Irish possessed very imperfect notions of the feudal system; but the division and dispersion of the public power over the country, which is one of the characters of that system, belonged equally to their social state. This is the reason why the Danes so easily landed in Ireland, and yet could never establish themselves in the heart of the country. On the arrival of the Anglo-Normans, the same cause produced the same effects.
I believe that this social condition of the Irish injured the Anglo-Normans in the conquest of the country more than it served them in the invasion. For reasons already explained, they easily conquered a part of Ireland, but for several centuries they made vain efforts to complete their conquest. Down to Elizabeth’s reign, the conquered part never exceeded a third of all Ireland, and was often less. It was called the Pale, on account of the palisades or fortifications with which its borders were sometimes surrounded. The Pale was composed of part of Leinster and the south of Munster: sometimes a victory gained over the Irish tribes, sometimes a clever treaty concluded with one of their princes, extended the bounds of the Pale, which, on the other hand, were narrowed after every reverse of the Anglo-Normans. The conquerors often endeavoured to aggrandize the Pale by invasions in Ulster and Connaught, but they were regularly repulsed during four centuries. Even in that part of the island which we call the Pale, their power did not cease to be contested during these four centuries, and history displays to us an uninterrupted series of Irish rebellions, bursting out sometimes at one point and sometimes at another, leaving to the conquerors not a single moment of repose or security.*
The Anglo-Normans were thus stopped short in their progress; the great interest of the Irish was to expel them from the space they occupied. But we shall soon see that the same cause which, after having aided the invasion of the Normans, checked their conquests, must have assisted them to preserve what they had acquired.
In fact, scarcely had they reached Ireland, when the Anglo-Normans established themselves as feudal lords in all the places of which they were masters.† The native Irish and the Anglo-Norman colony were then nearly balanced both in strength and weakness. When the Anglo-Normans wished to extend their conquests, they found scattered here and there among the native Irish an infinity of obstacles arising from their political condition; when, after having repulsed and discouraged their enemies, the Irish undertook to expel them from the countries forming the Pale, the weakness attached to the fractional character of their forces re-appeared; and having become in their turn invaders of their conquerors, they failed before the Anglo-Normans, who, besides the advantage of resisting aggression, feeble, because they were divided, opposed to the Irish the same dispersion of social strength which is so powerful to resist an invasion. Each of the parties was strong when it defended its own territories, and weak when it attacked those of its adversary.
Second obstacle to the completion of the Conquest: the relation of the Anglo-Norman conquerors to England, and of England to them.
The conquering population contained two very distinct elements; one party was composed of Norman lords, occupying a secondary situation in England, and who, arms in hand, came to seek in Ireland estates and higher rank; this was the feudal portion of the conquerors; it occupied the rural districts. In the train of the army came a crowd of adventurers of the lowest class, belonging to the British, Saxon, and Danish races, of which the latter had conquered the former, but all had been subdued by the Normans. These came to trade in Ireland, and settled in the cities. The first seized the ground, to live by the toils of the natives reduced to vassalage; the second hoped to enrich themselves in the cities by industrial pursuits. Now, there was one fact which, though favourable to the country of the colonists, was eternally adverse to their establishment in Ireland—I mean the vicinity of England.
For colonists, whether they possess land or ships, it is a great element of success that they should be sufficiently distant from their native soil as to adopt the conquered land for their new country; that they should not have the wish nor the means of leaving it to return to their birthplace; that it should be as difficult to leave it as to reach it; and that, on setting their foot on the invaded soil, they should feel it necessary to become its masters for the future, or to lose their lives in the struggle. Unluckily, such was not the situation of the Anglo-Normans who came from England to Ireland. These emigrants never quitted home without a design of returning. Ireland was never their adopted country: they have always taken it in some sort on trial, and on the condition of separating from it if they were dissatisfied; to them the experiment, if unlucky, was not fatal; they escaped to return to England, where they always had their main interest. Nearly all the Norman lords who obtained land in Ireland did not cease to be proprietors in England,* and with most of the merchants in the cities their Irish trade was only a branch of their commercial establishment in some English city. To the Norman lord, Ireland was a farm; to the British merchant merely an office; if both failed, they returned home without much loss. From this state of things it resulted, that a great number of the new inhabitants of Ireland had, at their arrival, an interest more or less great to quit it; and even when they remained, it was always with a resolution not to stay permanently; it was not an honest, definitive residence; when they gave themselves to Ireland, they did not cease to belong to England; hence the perpetual arrivals and departures from one country to another, which gave Ireland, not the appearance of an English colony, but of a place of pilgrimage; hence the absence of the proprietors of Irish lands, so often lamented, and against which the interests of the country and the English government struggled in vain;† hence came the passing population of colonists, succeeding each other with frightful rapidity, all bearing in their breasts the same dislike for the new country, the same sympathies for the country they abandoned.
It is a portentous starting point for a new colony, when those who take possession of the land are not bound to it by strong ties, and, as I may say, rooted to the soil. The absolute necessity of living on the conquered land gives the conqueror greater energy to subdue it, and gives birth to more prudence, more justice, and more humanity, in his relations to the vanquished.
If the Anglo-Normans never completely subdued the Irish, if they were unjust and cruel in their government, is it not especially because they did not look upon themselves as linked, without hope of return, to the destiny of the conquered country, and that, seeing England always near as a friendly land, a refuge in case of shipwreck, they were never excited nor restrained in their actions by feeling that success was necessary, and failure without remedy?
The starting point of the Anglo-Norman population established in Ireland has had a marked influence on the destiny of the country.
When the Normans had conquered England, all the great vassals, having to struggle against the authority of the crown, adopted two principal means of increasing their strength; they formed a strict union amongst themselves, and they mingled with the vanquished populations, in whom they found external support.
The Norman conquerors of Ireland had not a like interest to adopt the same course, because their king resided in England. Scarcely were they masters of a part of Ireland, when they divided amongst themselves, and commenced those deplorable struggles in which the interests of the country were absolutely sacrificed, and into which each of them merely carried views of personal aggrandisement. The strong castles which they constructed, both as residences and fortresses, became the theatre of private quarrels, in which the Normans exhausted against each other the forces which they should have reserved for the common enemy. Some possessed immense domains and great power; they lived almost like kings in the midst of their vassals; their fiefs were erected into palatinates; they created knights at their pleasure; and no authority had access to their domains, not even the officers of the king.* These great barons subdivided each of their possessions into an infinite number of sub-tenancies, making grants of land on the condition of military service, just as the king had done to them.* Placed at a distance from the only supreme power which could control them, the great vassals, jealous of each other, because they were nearly equal, aspired mutually to destroy each other, and during three centuries Ireland was covered with blood, shed in support of these sad rivalries. The history of the conquest is entirely filled with the quarrels of the Butlers and the Fitzgeralds, who during four hundred years divided the colony.† Thus Ireland had scarcely escaped the first violence of the conquest when she fell into all the evils of feudal anarchy;‡ and feudal anarchy was more disastrous in Ireland than anywhere else, because the Norman vassals, far from their sovereign lord, gave themselves up without restraint or reserve to all sorts of disorders and excesses.* It was a feudality without a king. Thus abandoned to the counsels of their own selfishness, the conquerors lost sight of the common interest; each consoled himself for seeing the power of all weakened, provided his own was augmented; and he who had extended his own domain cared little if the circle of English possession in Ireland was restricted. There was not a cause of increase for individuals which was not a cause of ruin for the mass. Strange situation! the vassals of the king of England were too distant to be restrained by his authority, and yet they were sufficiently near to demand assistance when it was required. Hence a sad consequence resulted; their tyranny, unrestricted by superior power, could be exercised with impunity over all the inhabitants of Ireland. They had a very feeble interest in rendering the population happy, whose aid against the king they did not absolutely require; and they could oppress that population without reserve, sure of royal aid to suppress any insurrection.
It may be easily seen how many obstacles to the subjugation of Ireland arose from the situation of the conquerors relative to the native Irish. Other difficulties not less grave arose from their relation to England.
From the very first day of the invasion a violent collision was manifested between two interests widely distinct—the interest of the conquering Norman lords, and that of the king of England.
In order to attain their object, the complete subjugation of the invaded country, the Normans ought to occupy the land, reduce the natives to vassalage, and when once masters of the population, govern it with equity, mingle with it by slow degrees, and, in one word, preserve by peace and justice what had been obtained by all the violence and iniquity of war. It is only at this price that conquest, always founded on usurpation, can render itself legitimate in the course of time.
On the other hand, the English monarchs feared that if their Norman vassals formed too close a union with the Irish population, and were fused with them, a new people might arise from the mixture, sufficiently strong to assert its independence, and too close not to be formidable; they thought, on the contrary, that if the conquerors never ceased to be English, if they never united with the natives, but remained as intermediates between them and England,—if, in a word, they remained simple colonists under the protection of the mother-country, then conquered Ireland would cause no alarm to England, but would become a valuable possession.
The entire evil has originally risen from this opposition of interests; the result was, that Ireland had a mixed government, half feudal and half colonial; the king was too distant to have the feudality well regulated,—the vassals were too powerful to have the royal colony obedient. This conflict between the English kings and their vassals continued during four centuries with various fortunes: in consequence of these vicissitudes, Ireland was sometimes led by the Anglo-Norman feudality, which, in the midst of all its evil passions, often yielded to the interest of all conquerors—that is, to mingle with the conquerors,—sometimes by the royal power, which feared that its supremacy could not be retained, except by preventing the union of the victorious and the vanquished.
Scarcely did Henry II. learn the prosperous issue of the invasion of Fitz-Stephen, and subsequently of Strongbow, than in his quality of king he claimed the advantages; and wishing to ensure his rights, he recalled his victorious vassals to England, forbade them to pursue the conquest, and, in order to complete it himself, went in person to Ireland.
We may well be surprised that Henry II., so jealous of maintaining his royal superiority over his conquering subjects in Ireland, should first have founded for their profit that feudal power which at a later period became the rival of his own. All the power of the barons, in fact, arose from the large grants of land which he made, or permitted them to make; but Henry acted thus because he could not act otherwise.*
A conquest was not effected in the middle ages as in the present. In our days, the prince who subdues a country garrisons it with a paid and permanent army; and whether he aids his subjects to become colonists, or leaves the possession of the soil to the natives, he remains, by means of his soldiers, master of the conquered country.
Nothing like this could occur at a time when a king possessed neither a permanent army nor soldiers properly so called. His military forces did not belong to him personally, but were furnished by his vassals, who, in return for grants of land, paid a military service restricted within narrow limits. The feudal army could not be required by the king, save in determined cases. Compelled to support a defensive, it was not bound to an offensive, war. When a conquest was undertaken, all who accompanied the king submitted without doubt to feudal rule, but no one was bound to follow him; and when his vassals, in such a case, joined him, it was under the condition, expressed or understood, that the conquered country should be divided between all, according to the rank of each. Henry II. could not have conquered Ireland without his vassals; without them he could not preserve his conquests, and he could not pay their past services, nor ensure their future devotion, without bestowing lands; he granted them in all Ireland, with the exception of some royal reserves,* and on this condition he had an army.†
The difficulty was, to give them a power which he could not refuse, and at the same time preserve his own. Here we must repeat a fact which constantly presents itself in the history of Ireland, and which, however viewed, is always a misfortune or an embarrassment,—I mean the geographical position of Ireland with respect to England. When we examined the condition of the Anglo-Normans in Ireland, whether as land-owners or merchants, we found nothing more adverse to them than the extreme vicinity of England. If we now consider it in another point, that of the royal interest, we shall find that Ireland, instead of being too near, was too distant. In truth, from the mere absence of the king, the vassals found themselves independent, and beyond the reach of royal authority; and it was commonly said that the king’s subjects in Ireland were more Irish than the Irish themselves. (Ipsis Hybernis Hyberniores.)* We have seen above what a sad use they made of this independence, and how they pursued their selfish designs in despite of the royal power. They had only one common interest in which they could agree with the king; that was, when the existence of the English colony was so menaced, that the vassals ran the risk of losing their estates, and the king his lordship. But when the Anglo-Norman possession was secured, the quarrel was renewed between the Normans, who, no longer having need of the king, evaded his power, and the king, who, seeing the conquest secure, did not fear to weaken the conquerors.
Doubtless the king would have triumphed in the struggle, if he had been able, if not to reside permanently in Ireland, at least often visit it, to show his power. But we must remark, that from the time of the conquest to Elizabeth, that is to say, during the whole period embraced by our first epoch, the kings of England had not a single moment of political leisure, domestic or foreign. The domestic feuds of the Plantagenets, the wars with Scotland, France, and the barons, and, finally, the murderous contests of the houses of York and Lancaster, spent the blood and wasted the strength of England. None of the monarchs who succeeded each other during this terrible drama could, for the sake of his power in Ireland, leave England, where his life was not less menaced than his crown.*
Placed in the absolute impossibility of governing the Anglo-Irish colony themselves, the kings of England were forced to delegate their power to a deputy; but it was a further misfortune that they could never procure good delegates. Their representative, called sometimes viceroy, sometimes lord deputy, lord justice, or lord lieutenant, was, in general, either too weak or too strong. If they selected one of the great vassals in Ireland, they did not find in him a willing instrument for the repression of the Norman lords. A great feudatory himself, he made common cause with his fellows, and turned against the king the arms with which he had been supplied to combat feudality.* If, to escape such a peril, the king chose a less considerable personage for his lieutenant, such as a simple knight, whose worth was merely personal, then this deputy, possessing only the royal confidence and his own merit, had no influence over the great vassals with whose government he was charged.†
Henry II., John, (when a prince,) and Richard II., are the only kings of England, who, during the four centuries succeeding the invasion, showed themselves in Ireland; and they only appeared there, being always called home by some interest superior to the peace of Ireland. “In 1395,” says an Irish historian, with great candour, “Ireland would have been assuredly conquered by Richard II., had he not been called home to resist the Duke of Lancaster.”*
It is now evident that numberless obstacles, arising both from the relations of the Anglo-Normans to England, and from those of the English kings to the feudality established in Ireland, impeded the conquest of that country.
Third obstacle to the Conquest; the condition imposed on the natives by the conquerors.
The great interest of the Anglo-Normans was, as I have already said, to unite as rapidly as possible with the natives, and to form with them a single community, completed by sentiments, ideas, and interests. Victory physically unites the conquerors and the conquered, but a moral alliance between them can alone give permanence to the conquest.
Now the first means that presents itself to conquerors for sowing among the vanquished the seeds of union and mutual sympathy, is to give the latter a share in the social and political advantages of the established government, and at once place them under the rule of a common equity. But, whether through pride, selfishness, or weakness, the Anglo-Normans, during four centuries, adopted a contrary course of proceeding towards the native Irish.
No sooner were the Anglo-Normans established in Ireland, than they at once came into possession of the privileges and liberties peculiar to feudal society, which the kings of England had probably no inclination to dispute, even if they possessed the power. They had recognised rights, guarantees formally stipulated, and institutions as free in principles as those of England. Trial by jury was established in Ireland; laws were made in Irish parliaments, composed of Lords and Commons; and shortly after Magna Charta was proclaimed in England, its empire was recognised in Ireland. But when the Anglo-Normans received such liberties, they kept them to themselves, and did not extend their benefits to the Irish population subject to their sway.
The vanquished population, amongst whom the national spirit was deeply rooted, naturally felt no disposition to take the new law of the conqueror; it clung to its ancient traditions and old customs, and perhaps it would have taxed the utmost efforts of the conquerors to obtain the adoption of their laws. But instead of labouring to give such laws, the Anglo-Normans, or rather the kings of England, whom they were forced to obey, were absolutely opposed to the introduction of English law.*
We have seen already the interest which the English king had in preventing the union of the Anglo-Normans with the native Irish, which he feared to see become too strong, and the division of whom was weakness.
The Norman barons, on their side, who committed the greatest disorders, and severely oppressed the native population, were interested in preventing the sufferers from appealing to English law for protection against their outrages.†
Thus, after the first chaos of invasion, the Anglo-Norman population and the native Irish, instead of displaying a tendency to unite, ceased not to form two separate communities, having each its distinct government and its own laws.*
This separation established by law in political society was introduced into the cities by municipal regulations.
Immediately after the conquest, Anglo-Norman populations were established in the Irish towns: these settlers came for the purposes of commerce and industry, and they failed not to procure for themselves the monopoly of both. These towns successively obtained charters which granted them certain privileges, and constituted them municipal corporations.
As the exclusive interest of a town composed of merchants is a commercial interest, it may be easily understood that the municipal corporations of Ireland were commercial corporations. Now, these corporations followed the inclination natural to all privileged bodies, which is an exclusive tendency.
The Anglo-Norman towns had doubtless an interest in trading with the natives, but they had from the beginning a double interest to exclude the Irish from their walls; first, because this exclusion was ordained by statute, and they could not with impunity break the law; secondly, because to admit a new citizen within their precincts was generally to admit a new commercial rival. So that though they were compelled to form commercial relations with the natives, they took care that they should not share in their commercial privileges.
Still such is the irresistible sympathy which leads the best separated populations to unite, that in spite of all these obstacles, the Irish and the conquerors made several efforts to approximate; and as the English law did not permit the Irishman to become an Anglo-Norman, the Anglo-Norman became an Irishman: the vanquished being unable to receive the laws of the victor, the conqueror took those of the conquered.
* It was attempted to check this tendency by the Statute of Kilkenny, (ad 1366, Edward III.,) an act memorable in the dark annals of Irish legislation. This law provided that marriage, fosterage,† or gossipred‡ with the Irish, or submission to the Irish law, should be considered and punished as high treason. It declared that if any man of English descent should use an Irish name, speak the Irish language, or observe Irish customs, he should forfeit his estate, until security was given for his conformity to English manners! It was also declared penal to present a mere Irishman (that is, one not of the five bloods,* or who had not purchased a charter of denization) to any benefice, or receive him into any monastery. And finally, it was strictly forbidden to entertain any native bard, minstrel, or story-teller; or to admit an Irish horse to graze on the pasture of a liege subject.
These proscriptions were not idle menaces; in the reign of Edward IV., Fitzgerald Earl of Desmond, one of the greatest of the Anglo-Norman barons, was condemned to death, and executed, for having married a wife of Irish blood.†
Thus the link destined to unite the conquerors and the vanquished was broken so soon as it was formed.
The policy of England opposed equally to the Irish becoming English, and to the English mingling with the Irish, compelled the vanquished to become enemies. They remained such, and after a thousand submissions, simulated or sincere, they incessantly renewed their struggles, which, though inadequate to establishing their freedom, rendered the triumph of the conquerors singularly precarious and insecure.
Two facts prove, better than the most laboured reasoning, the sad effects of the plan adopted by the English for the government of Ireland.
In 1406, three hundred years after the invasion, the Irish made war at the gates of Dublin, and ravaged with impunity the suburbs of that city: in the middle of the reign of Henry VIII., when that prince was at the height of his power, the extent of the Pale was limited to a radius of about twenty miles.*
[*]Mac Geoghegan, vol. i. p. 460; Sir R. Musgrave’s Irish Rebellion, p. 3; Thierry’s Norman Conquest, vol. iii. p. 12.
[*]Hanmer’s Chronicle, p. 215; Ancient Irish Histories, vol. ii.
[*]Hanmer’s Chron., vol. ii. p. 230.
[*]Mac Geoghegan, vol. ii. pp. 3—6; Hardiman’s Galway, pp. 9—11.
[*]Campion, p. 20.
[†]Hanmer’s Chron., vol. ii. p. 228.
[‡]Sir John Davis’s Discovery of Causes, &c., p. 2.
[*]There was a fifth king in Meath.—Tr.
[*]Leland, vol. i. The two great families which disputed the supremacy, at the time of the contest, were the O’Connors and Hy Nials, or O’Neills. Dermot was a partisan of the latter, and hence Roderic O’Connor eagerly seized the first pretext for his expulsion.—Tr.
[†]Leland, vol. i. p. 11.
[‡]Gordon’s History of Ireland, vol. i. p. 31.
[*]In the list of one hundred and seventy-eight monarchs of the Milesian line, enumerated by Irish historians, only forty-seven died natural deaths;—seventy-one were slain in battle, and sixty murdered.—Tr.
[*]Under Zurgesius, the Danes for a brief space established their authority over the whole of Ireland.—Tr.
[†]A little before the Anglo-Norman invasion, the Danes these cities declined the jurisdiction of the Irish prelates, and placed themselves under the see of Canterbury.
[*]So weak were the Irish, that the king of the Isle of Man attempted the conquest of their country.—Tr.
[*]The Danes were at first disposed to receive the Normans as fellow-countrymen, but the conduct of Fitz-Stephen in Wexford drove them to resistance.—Tr.
[*]Mac Geoghegan, vol. i. p. 464.
[†]Gordon, vol. i. p. 105.
[‡]Mac Geoghegan, vol. i. p. 462.
[§]The papal authority was for the first time formally recognised at the synod of Kells, ad 1152.—Tr.
[*]Lingard, vol. ii. p. 205.
[†]The sovereignty of Ireland was solemnly granted Henry II. at the council of Cashel, over which the papal legate, Christian bishop of Lismore, presided. The only Irish prelate absent was Gelasius, Archbishop of Armagh, but he subsequently came to Dublin, and publicly gave his full assent to the proceedings of his brethren.—Tr.
[*]Geoghegan, vol. ii. p. 74—232.
[†]Ibid., vol. ii. p. 26.
[*]Mac Geoghegan, vol. ii. p. 70.
[†]Absenteeism was made the subject of complaint in the reign of Edward I., was taxed by Richard II., and threatened to be punished with forfeiture by Henry VIII.—Tr.
[*]The Geraldines, in the reign of Henry III., seized and imprisoned a lord deputy for opposing their exactions; and it was not without difficulty that they were persuaded to set him at liberty.—Tr.
[*]Hence the criminal calendars in the disturbed Irish county exhibit the names which in England would be deemed most aristocratic—Fitzgerald, Burke, Lacy, Grace, Butler, &c.—Tr.
[†]The Butlers supported the house of Lancaster, the Fitzgeralds that of York; but they cared more about their own rivalry than the disputed succession. In one of their contests, the old Earl of Desmond, desperately wounded, was made prisoner, and borne on a litter from the field. When tauntingly asked by the conquerors, “Where now is the great Earl of Desmond?” he spiritedly replied, “Where he ought to be,—on the necks of the Butlers.”—Tr.
[‡]The exaction of “coyne and livery,” or food and pay for their retainers, was one of the most ruinous oppressions to which the cultivators of the soil were subject. Baron Finglas, chief justice of Ireland under Henry VIII., declared, “it would destroy hell, if used in the same.”—Tr.
[*]In a curious remonstrance of Fedhlim O’Connor to King Henry III., we find, among other claims for the cruelties and robberies of De Burgho, a charge of three thousand marks for the burning of churches and the massacre of the clergy.—Tr.
[*]Henry II. had formed wise plans for extending and securing his conquests, when he was recalled to England by the alarming intelligence of the rebellion of his ungrateful sons, and the arrival of two papal legates to inquire into the circumstances of Becket’s murder. He never afterwards had leisure to return to Ireland.—Tr.
[*]Mac Geoghegan, vol. ii. p. 139, gives an interesting account of the levying a feudal army by Edward III.
[†]Plowden, vol. i. p. 36.
[*]Some of the Norman barons actually abandoned English law, manners, and name, to assume the character of Irish petty princes. Thus two of the De Burghos, having usurped the lands of their nephew, took the titles of Mac William Oughter and Mac William Eighter (the farther and nether Mac William.)—Tr.
[*]Richard’s absence in Ireland afforded Henry IV. an opportunity of usurping the crown.—Tr.
[*]This was particularly the case with the Geraldines, whose family connexions were very extensive.
[†]To this cause must be ascribed the failure of Sir Thomas Rokeby to tranquillise Ireland. (ad 1053.) He was one of the most enlightened governors Ireland ever possessed, but he wanted power to accomplish his designs.—Tr.
[*]Mac Geoghegan, vol. ii. p. 161.
[*]Mr. Beaumont is not quite justified in ascribing the opposition to the introduction of English law either to the Irish people or the English monarchs; both frequently evinced much anxiety for such a consummation, but they were baffled by the local ascendency. In the reign of Edward I., the Irish princes contiguous to the English settlements offered to the king, through his deputy, a subsidy of eight thousand marks, on condition of being admitted to the rights of British subjects. Edward earnestly recommended their petition to the Anglo-Norman parliament, but it was rejected by that body with every mark of indignation.—Tr.
[†]Five Irish septs or families, called the five bloods, were admitted to the benefit of British law by Henry II. In the roll of pleas, 28 Edward III., is the following curious proof that the exclusion of the rest of the natives amounted to a total denial of justice.
[*]Hardiman says, “No fact is better authenticated than that, for many centuries, the native Irish continued to enact laws in their own districts to prevent any intercourse whatever with the English settlers, whose rapacity and want of principle, say the native historians, were so notorious, that they became proverbial.
[*]In the translation of this passage, a slight liberty is taken with the text; Mr. de Beaumont took his account of the Statute of Kilkenny from Sir J. Davis, who only quotes the parts which bear on a particular point; it has been deemed better to turn to the act itself.—Tr.
[†]The custom of placing the children of the chief to be nursed by the wife of a favourite tenant is not yet banished from remote districts in Ireland. The fraternal link was not more binding than that between the foster-children, and the nurse was scarcely less respected than the mother. In spite of the law, the custom was adopted by the English and their descendants to a very late period: the Irish customs and excise are full of records connected with provision made for persons connected by fosterage.—Tr.
[‡]In the Irish church, before its union with Rome, the relation of sponsor to god-child was deemed more sacred than it ever has been in the Latin or English church, and traces of the feeling are still discernible.—Tr.
[*]See note, page 36.
[†]Desmond was put to death, without the formality of a trial, by the Lord Deputy, Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, who procured an act of attainder against both him and Kildare, for “alliance fostering and alterage with the king’s enemies.” His real crime was ridiculing the king’s marriage with Lady Elizabeth Grey. He had been previously a royal favourite on account of his services against the Butlers, who were partisans of the house of Lancaster.—Tr.
[*]Mac Geoghegan, vol. ii. pp. 167 and 300.