The Medieval Lordship of Ireland

In 1155, Henry II was given the Papal banner by Adrian IV to invade Ireland. This Papal Bull, Laudabiliter , gave the English King permission to invade Ireland on the grounds that he would promote ecclesiastical reform as the Irish Church retained many Celtic characteristics unsavoury to Rome. Adrian IV, the only Englishman to become pope, knew the success of the spread of Roman Catholicism in Ireland depended on the dual force of appointing reforming bishops who would be backed by a powerful and sympathetic king. Henry II was the obvious candidate. However, when he finally invaded in 1171 it was to prevent his vassal - since 1166 - Richard de Clare (nicknamed 'The Strongbow') from establishing an independent kingdom of Ireland after inheriting Leinster * and defeating Rory O'Connor, high king of Ireland.

* [One of the four historical provinces of Ireland, the others being Connaught, Munster and Ulster]

Henry II's 1171 expedition was a major campaign in which the King established his rights over the island and the Irish people. These included Anglo-Normans who had been creating extensive independent lordships for themselves. Henry II bound these Anglo- Normans and most of the Irish kings, or lords, in a dependent "feudal" relationship to the English crown. A large royal demesne * was reserved, which included the 'Scandinavian Ports' (i.e. the prosperous tenth century Viking coastal settlements of Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Wexford and Waterford). Henry II also issued charters to Dublin and many religious corporations, leaving behind the nucleus of an administration to safeguard his rights in the future.

* [In the feudal system, "demesne" was the personal domain of the ruler of a fiefdom]

This new lordship of Ireland developed quickly with Dublin as its capital and centre of the administration (an Exchequer Chancery and "civil service") that presided over a system of local government. English law was introduced with courts and justices and legal system to enforce it. A new social order was spreading through Ireland with the English networks of manors, boroughs and parishes. The Church was strengthened and new monastic foundations sprang up to help define the English character of settlement. Much of Gaelic Ireland was affected by the English incursion - local lords were dispossessed or had their lordships partitioned, and intermarriage between noble settlers and native Gaelic dynasties spread. The image of this new order came with the new English cathedrals, churches and castles, which by the thirteenth century were a feature of the Irish landscape. The Irish economy was transformed by the settlers as agricultural export flourished, and the English crown received revenues from his new lordship.

By the end of the thirteenth century Ireland appeared to be on course to developing into a lordship firmly attached to the English crown with almost complete Anglicisation, stability and prosperity and its own Parliament (which first met in 1265). However by Richard II's reign a century later the lordship was once again weak after invasion by the Scots under Robert the Bruce in 1315 after victory over the English at Bannockburn, and several years of war and famine. Robert the Bruce won the support of the Gaelic Irish and in 1316 was crowned king of Ireland. However the Scots failed to take Dublin and in 1318 Roger Mortimer led the English to victory (with Robert the Bruce being killed). Edward II, however, failed to follow up the victory by re-imposing centralised English rule, essential to repair the damage of the Bruce invasion to English lordship in Ireland.

After forging peace with the French and Scots, Richard II was forced to lead two expeditions to Ireland to salvage royal power and challenge rebellious Gaelic chieftains. Both failed, the second in 1399 because of Bolingbroke's English rising against the King. By the fifteenth century the Gaelic lords had won effective independence that would last until the Tudors. Dublin had begun to lose control of Ireland as crown revenues sharply declined in the early fourteenth century and the English taxpayer had to subsidise the English presence in Ireland. Settlers had adapted themselves to declining English power by dealing with the Irish themselves. The new Anglo-Irish families (e.g. Butlers, Geraldines, Berminghams, Powers) were often left to defend themselves in this increasingly hostile world. The Church began to become divided into English and Irish loyalties (the Irish of course had a different religious heritage to England, which had come from Rome). Ireland descended into economic decline and was devastated by the Black Death.

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