Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. III. —: Third obstacle to the Conquest; the condition imposed on the natives by the conquerors. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1
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Sect. III. —: Third obstacle to the Conquest; the condition imposed on the natives by the conquerors. - 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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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.*
From 1535 to 1690.
What four hundred years could not effect, we shall see accomplished in a century—the complete conquest of Ireland. Henry VIII. commenced the work, Elizabeth and Cromwell finished it. Three despots of such a stamp were not likely to wish the same thing without effecting it, and each of them desired ardently, though for different reasons, the conquest of Ireland. It is not the achievement itself that deserves our attention, so much as the causes which produced it, and the consequences which followed. Until then, Ireland had only been to England an object of secondary consideration; how did it suddenly become the principal object of English policy? Elizabeth expended on its conquest all the treasures of England: Cromwell displayed in its reduction all the resources of his valour and intense will; and when the great reliligious and political drama, which, during the seventeenth century, so fearfully agitated England and the entire world, came to a close, Ireland was the theatre of the combat; the problem of English liberty or servitude was solved on the banks of the Boyne.
Ireland was conquered—all the Irish insurrections stifled; henceforth there is but a single law in Ireland, that of England; there is no more a Pale, no more Irish provinces distinct from the colony; all becomes English Ireland, and every inhabitant is equally subject to the English sovereign. How does it happen that this contest, instead of preparing a union between the conquerors and conquered, establishes between them a new and larger separation, renders hereafter a compact union impossible, and plants in the breasts of both parties germs of mutual hatred, which have only been further developed by the course of years and ages!
The solution of these questions is found in a single fact, which is, as it were, the soul of this entire period, and the key of all Irish miseries; I mean the opposition which was then established between the religious creed of the conquerors and the vanquished.
[*]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.