Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
CHAPTER I. - 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
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.
[*]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.