Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. II.—: Second obstacle to the completion of the Conquest: the relation of the Anglo-Norman conquerors to England, and of England to them. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1
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Sect. II.—: Second obstacle to the completion of the Conquest: the relation of the Anglo-Norman conquerors to England, and of England to them. - 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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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.
[*]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.