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IRELAND, 1315-1485


Robert Bruce followed up his victory at Bannockburn, not only by directing raids into the northern counties of England, but also by organising an invasion of Ireland under the leadership of his brother Edward. Ireland had formed an important recruiting ground for previous campaigns against Scotland, and a diversion there would hamper the English king and prevent him from obtaining further aid from that quarter. Moreover it is probable that Donnell O’Neill, King of Tirowen, was already in correspondence with Bruce and had promised him assistance, though the Remonstrance of the Irish to Pope John XXII, sometimes cited as proof of this correspondence, was not written until at least two years later.

On 26 May 1315 Edward Bruce landed at Larne Haven with about 6000 men. With him came Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, who had played a leading part at Bannockburn, and a number of knights. Having overcome the opposition of the local lords and left a force to besiege Carrickfergus, the Scots, accompanied by Donnell O’Neill, marched southward, plundering many a prosperous homestead on the way. On 29 June they reached Dundalk, where they took the town and plundered and burned the neighbouring country. About 22 July Edmund Butler, the justiciar, with the feudal host of Munster and Leinster, and Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster, with levies from Connaught, including an Irish force under Felim O’Conor, King of Connaught, assembled together in the plains of Louth. Bruce, however, avoided a regular battle and began to retreat northwards through Irish territories west of the earl’s domains. The earl, leaving the justiciar to guard Leinster, undertook to deal with Bruce, whom he followed northwards, but through his own territory east of Lough Neagh. Thus Bruce reached the district between the Bann and Lough Foyle and broke down the bridge at Coleraine before the earl arrived there. While the two armies were at opposite sides of the river Bann, Bruce secretly offered Felim undivided power in Connaught if he would desert the earl, and at the same time encouraged his rival, Rory O'Conor, to attack the English in Connaught. Felim accordingly withdrew with his forces, only to find himself supplanted in Connaught by his rival. The earl, seeing himself deserted by Felim, moved a little southwards towards his base at the town of Connor. Bruce then crossed the Bann in boats and surprised and completely routed the earl in a battle near Connor on 10 September. William de Burgh, the earl’s cousin, was taken prisoner, and the earl retreated to Connaught where sheer anarchy prevailed. This was Bruce’s first important victory. It left Ulster at his mercy, and it was the signal for risings of the Irish in Connaught and West Meath.

On 13 November Bruce, having received some reinforcements, marched south again into Meath. Here at Kells he defeated Roger Mortimer, lord of Trim, who had assembled a large but untrustworthy force. Bruce made no attempt against the strong castle of Trim, but burned Kells and many places in the western half of the lordship of Meath. Early in 1316 he passed through Irish Offaly to the Fitz Gerald districts about Rathangan and Kildare. Here about the upper waters of the Barrow in Clanmalier must have occurred the incident, misplaced by Archdeacon Barbour, when O'Dempsy, chieftain of that district, tried to drown Bruce’s army by turning the river into his camp. Bruce went south as far as Castledermot, plundering and destroying everything in his course, and meeting with little opposition until on 26 January, near Ardscull, he encountered a formidable force under Edmund Butler, John Fitz Thomas of Offaly, and Arnold le Poer, seneschal of Kilkenny. What happened is obscure. Discord, it is said, arose among the commanders and they dispersed in confusion leaving the field to the Scots. Thus the third attempt to defeat the invaders failed. There was no “unity of command.” A more formidable foe to the Scots was the widespread famine which prevailed owing to the failure of the harvest of 1315. In the third week of February 1316 Bruce led back his forces, thinned and weakened by hunger, to his camp in Ulster.

Some sporadic risings of the Leinster clans were suppressed by the justiciar, tad in Connaught Felim O’Conor, assisted by Richard de Bermingham of Athenry, succeeded in recovering his throne from his rival. Afterwards, however, he made a great combination of the Irish with the object of expelling the English from the province, but at Athenry on 10 August he was killed and his army cut to pieces by the English under William de Burgh (who had been released from Scotland) and Richard de Bermingham. The O’Conors never recovered their former power.

Edward Bruce did not again in this year venture out of Ulster, where he was crowned King of Ireland early in May, but though some opposition was made to him there by the local lords, and it was not until September that the heroic defenders of Carrickfergus were starved out, no combined effort was made to expel him. About Christmas King Robert Bruce himself joined him with reinforcements, and about 13 February 1317 the two brothers appeared without warning at Slane in Meath. The Earl of Ulster tried unsuccessfully to cut off their rear-guard by an ambuscade, but his forces were dispersed and he fled to Dublin. The citizens, now thoroughly alarmed, imprisoned the earl whom they suspected (but seemingly without valid grounds) of complicity with Bruce, hastily strengthened their walls, and fired the suburbs. Bruce, seeing their determination and not being prepared for a lengthened siege, came no nearer than Castleknock, and the campaign, like that of the previous winter, resolved itself into an uninterrupted progress of devastation. The Scots marched through County Kildare and across County Kilkenny and the Butler territory in Ormond to the confines of Limerick, the English magnates hanging about their rear, but not staying their course. Presumably Bruce expected the Irish of the west to rise in his support, but the battle of Athenry had crushed the Gaelic clans. When about 11 April intelligence was received of the landing of Roger Mortimer with a force from England, the Scots, weakened once more by hunger and hardship, slipped back to Ulster, and on 22 May King Robert, seeing that nothing more could be done, returned to Scotland. These two winter campaigns, though they wrought incalculable damage to Ireland, so far from establishing Edward Bruce on his throne resulted for the Scots in the wasting of two armies. There was no Bannockburn in Ireland. Not a single important town or castle except in Ulster was taken and held, and the Irish, though they rose sporadically to plunder their neighbours, were only half-hearted in supporting Bruce. Finally, at the close of the year, Pope John XXII pronounced excommunication against the invaders and all who supported them.

Meanwhile Mortimer released the Earl of Ulster, outlawed the de Lacys who had assisted the invaders, and forced the border clans into submission, but made no attempt to recover Ulster. It was not, however, until October 1318 that Edward Bruce once more came south, with apparently a smaller Scottish force than before but attended by an unwieldy body of Irishry and some disaffected Englishry including the outlawed Lacys. He took up a position on the slopes of the hill of Faughard a little north of Dundalk, and here on 14 October he was opposed by John de Bermingham of Tethmoy at the head of a force composed of the local levies of the neighbouring counties and some of the townsmen of Drogheda. Disregarding the advice of his knights to await some expected reinforcements, and in spite of the frank warning of the Irish that they would not “stand in plane melle,” Bruce in his “outrageous succudry” determined to fight that day. The Scots, apart from their Irish followers, were probably outnumbered by their opponents and appear to have been overpowered by a rush of footmen. Edward Bruce and all who stood their ground were slain, while the remnant protected by the Irish fled. Thus ended the Scottish invasion to the general relief of both Anglo-Irish and Gael. “No better deed,” says the Irish annalist, “for he men of all Erin was performed since the beginning of the world than this deed, for theft and famine and destruction of men occurred throughout Erin during his time for the space of three years and a half.”

The Scottish invasion marks the beginning of the ebb of English influence in Ireland, but its immediate effects were a general impoverishment, a weakening of the moral fibre of the settlers, and a growing turbulence no longer confined to the Irish. Except in Thomond, where in May 1318 Richard de Clare was killed and English supremacy received its death blow, there was little immediate change in the relative positions of the two races, but both Irish chieftains and English lords were everywhere weakened and began to lose control over their subordinates. The conflicts of the period between the court and the baronial parties in England had also their echo in the feuds that arose in Ireland between the Geraldines, Butlers, and Berminghams on the one side, and le Poers and de Burghs on the other. As a means of keeping the peace it was ordained in 1324 that “every chieftain of great lineage should chastise the felons of his own family” and their adherents, and this inept plan was persisted in though the magnates always preferred to chastise each other’s felons. In the end, under the Mortimer regime, Arnold le Poer was left to die in prison (whither he was flung on a trumped up charge of heresy), while in 1328 Maurice FitzThomas was created Earl of Desmond and in the following year James Butler was made Earl of Ormonde.

An example of the lengths to which the spirit of insubordination led the Anglo-Irish may be seen in the murder of John de Bermingham, the victor at Faughard, who had been created Earl of Louth in recognition of his services. On 10 June 1329 he and a large number of his relatives and dependents were massacred by members of the oldest families in the county, and in the view of contemporaries their motive was their unwillingness “that he should reign over them”. But a more fateful snapping of the feudal tie was the murder of William de Burgh, the young Earl of Ulster. When Earl Richard died in 1326 his vast domains passed to his grandson, William, then in his fourteenth year. In 1331, when Edward III was for the first time his own master, he appointed Anthony de Lucy, already noted for his severity, as justiciar and the young Earl of Ulster as king’s lieutenant, and at the same time issued a mandate to the justiciar to resume all grants of lands and liberties made since the king’s accession. These were in fact grants made under the influence of the late Roger Mortimer, and the principal person affected would seem to have been the Earl of Desmond. The justiciar imprisoned Desmond and also William de Bermingham, brother of the late Earl of Louth. William was a turbulent baron and had assisted the Earl of Desmond in his feud against the Poers and de Burghs, and in July 1332 the justiciar caused him to be hanged. This unwonted act of severity caused a great stir, and in November De Lucy was superseded by John Darcy. Desmond was released on mainprise, and a milder regime was instituted. Meantime, in November 1331 the Earl of Ulster, in pursuance of the ordinance to chastise wrongdoers of his lineage, imprisoned his kinsman Walter, son of William de Burgh, who had acted in a very high-handed manner against Turlough O’Conor, King of Connaught, and, like his father before him, was said to have been aiming at the sovereignty there. In the course of the year 1332 he died in the earl’s prison, and vengeance for his death is said to have been the motive for the murder of the earl. Certain it is that on 6 June 1333 the earl was treacherously killed near Carrickfergus by some of his Ulster feudatories. He is described as a man subtilissimi ingenii, reipublicae et pacis amator, and he received the full confidence of the king, but it is clear that his attempt to control the aggressive action of his kinsmen in Connaught was deeply resented.

Though it does not appear that the De Burghs of Connaught were directly implicated in the earl’s death, they certainly took advantage of it for their own ends, but their action was neither so sudden nor so dramatic as generally represented by modem writers. The main facts seem to have been shortly as follows: The custody of the Connaught lands during the minority of the earl's daughter and heiress Elizabeth was given to Edmund de Burgh called ‘the earl’s son’ (i.e. son of Earl Richard), but differences soon arose between him and another Edmund de Burgh, called “Albanach,” brother of the late Walter de Burgh. For two generations this last-mentioned branch of the family had exercised virtual control in Connaught, and a state of war soon existed between the two Edmunds. Finally in 1338 Edmund “the earl’s son” was taken prisoner by Edmund Albanach, and while the Archbishop of Tuam was trying to reconcile the kinsmen, the earl’s son was drowned in Lough Mask by the Stauntons. Edmund Albanach could not hope to escape liability, and he fled to the Scottish Isles. The King of England, however, was too much engaged with his designs on the French crown to exert his authority in Connaught; so he granted Edmund and his brother Raymond “sufferance” for two years, and then on 10 April 1340, apparently as a reward for their obtaining troops for him against France, he pardoned them for the death of Earl Richard’s son. This practically amounted to the abandonment of the rights of his ward, and indeed resulted in the extinguishment of the authority (never very great) of the Crown in Connaught. There was, however, no renunciation by the De Burghs of their allegiance, nor any immediate adoption of Irish customs. After this the supremacy of Edmund Albanach was recognised by most of the English settlers in Mayo and Sligo, and from time to time he fought to establish his supremacy over Clanrickard (Galway) also. He was called by the Irish “Mac William,” and the patronymic became a title, but it was not until after his death in 1375 that there were two recognised Mac Williams, viz. the Mac William Lochtar (the Lower) in Mayo, held by his descendants, and the Mac William Uachtar (the Upper) in Clanrickard, held by the descendants of his brother William or Ulick, while the descendants of Edmund the earl’s son had to content themselves as lords of Clanwilliam in Counties Limerick and Tipperary.

In the earl’s domains in Eastern Ulster great changes also took place, but not immediately. There were dynastic disputes in Tyrone between the descendants of Donnell O’Neill, who died in 1325, and the descendants of Hugh Boy (Aedh Buidhe) O’Neill. The latter, called the Clannaboy O’Neills (Clann Aedha Buidhe), were eventually driven out of Tyrone and settled in the Irish districts east of Lough Neagh and the Upper Bann. In 1354 they were supported by the English against the O’Neills of Tyrone, but about the year 1360 they began to encroach upon the English, who were eventually confined to the littoral of Counties Down and Antrim.

In Leinster too the area of English rule was beginning to shrink. Lysagh O’More, who died in 1342, took Mortimer’s castle of Dunamase, and henceforth the O’Mores practically dominated the district of Leix up to the time of the Protector Somerset. The clans about the fringes of the Wicklow mountains became more turbulent and began to combine in their attacks on the Anglo-Irish of the plains. To meet these the plan was adopted of employing a Mac Murrough to control the rest. In the Great Roll of the Exchequer of Ireland for 1334 there is entry of a payment to Donnell son of Art Mac Murrough for his good service in fighting against O’Tooles and O’Bymes, rebels to the king, and from a subsequent entry for 1336 it appears that by an agreement with Roger Outlaw, deputy of John Darcy, an annual payment of 80 marks was to be paid to the said Donnell “for expediting certain business of the king.” This appears to be the earliest record of that annual payment to Mac Murrough which eventually became a “black rent” exacted under threats.

In 1341 the king, presumably attributing the decreased revenue of Ireland and the ill-success of the Irish government to the corruption and self-seeking of Anglo-Irish officials, ordered John Darcy, the justiciar, to remove “all officers beneficed, married, and estated in Ireland and having nothing in England,” and to substitute “other fit Englishmen having lands and benefices in England,” and at the same time ordained the resumption of all Crown grants made by himself or his father. The former measure was the beginning of that distinction between “English by blood” and “English by birth” which naturally incensed the older settlers, and both it and the high-handed resumption of Crown grants caused widespread disaffection amongst them. Consequently, when John Morris, Darcy’s deputy, summoned a parliament to meet at Dublin in October, the disaffected Anglo-Irish did not attend, but headed by the Earl of Desmond met at Kilkenny and drew up a long petition to the king in French under twenty-seven heads setting forth in moderate language the evil state of the country, the causes of the reduced revenue, and the grievances, including the said resumption of grants, under which the loyal inhabitants suffered. The king made conciliatory replies and, with reference to the resumed lands, ordered that they should be delivered to the owners on giving security to restore them to the king if the grants should be found on enquiry to be rightfully revocable. On the strength of this concession the king urged the Irish lords to bring him troops for his intended expedition to Brittany.

But some of “the old English” were not conciliated. This was apparent when Ralph d’Ufford arrived as justiciar on 13 July 1344, accompanied by his wife, Maud of Lancaster, widow of the murdered Earl of Ulster. In the following February the Earl of Desmond tried to convene another irregular assembly of the notables at Callan in County Kilkenny. This was prohibited and failed, but when the justiciar summoned a parliament in July, the earl held aloof. Thereupon the justiciar marched into Munster, took Desmond’s castles at Askeaton and Castle-Island, hanged after trial three of his knights who defended them, and confiscated his lands and those of some of his former mainpernors. He also entrapped and imprisoned the Earl of Kildare. Ralph d’Ufford is given a black character by the Anglo-Irish annalists, but he died in office on 9 April 1346, and a milder regime followed. Kildare was released, and in May 1347 he joined the king with a contingent at the siege of Calais. Desmond also went to England under the king’s protection and was eventually restored to favour.

In the winter of 1348-9 the Black Death reached Ireland and many fell victims to it. As in England it resulted in a great scarcity of labour, decay of learning, and a further relaxation of the bonds of society. The Statute of Labourers, already passed in England, was ordered to be enforced in Ireland. Its objects were to compel labourers to work at the rate of wages accustomed in 1346 and to secure that victuals should be sold at reasonable prices. But economic laws cannot be permanently evaded by legislative devices, and in spite of the statute labourers were not forthcoming except at wages which rendered landlord cultivation no longer profitable. Owing, too, to the frequent raids and consequent insecurity, many freeholders gave up the struggle and migrated to England, and the great agricultural prosperity which had followed the introduction of the manorial system into Ireland was at an end.

In 1358 the situation in Leinster became alarming. Art, son of Murtough Kavanagh, who, it appears, had been “recently created Mac Murrough by the justiciar and Council,” and had been in receipt of payment for service against the rebels of Leinster1, now turned against the king and headed the rebels. Subsidies were hastily raised and defensive measures taken, and in the summer of 1359 expeditions were made under James, second Earl of Ormonde, against Mac Murrough and “Obryn”. (This was seemingly the occasion of the capture by the O’Byrnes of Henry Cristall, who in 1395 gave to Froissart an account of the expedition of Richard II in that year.) About this time the castle of Fems was finally lost and with it all English control over the northern part of County Wexford. In March 1361 the king announced that he was sending his son Lionel to Ireland, where he declared his dominions were in danger of being totally lost if his subjects there were not immediately succoured.

Lionel, who had been created Earl of Ulster and given in marriage Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of the last earl, landed at Dublin on 15 September with a goodly retinue. Actual records concerning his military achievements are few. Art Mac Murrough, King of Leinster, and Donnell Reagh, his expectant successor, were captured by him—it is said by treachery—and died in prison. He had in his pay some of the Kavanaghs and even Sheeda (Siodd) Mac Conmara of Thomond. Niall O’Neill also submitted to him. There appears to have been a comparative respite from Irish raids in his time, and it was thought safe to transfer the sittings of the Exchequer and Common Pleas to Carlow.

But the viceroyalty of Lionel, now Duke of Clarence, is chiefly remembered for the Statute of Kilkenny passed in 1366. This act has been much misrepresented. Its aims were two-fold: (1) to preserve the allegiance of the dwindling number of loyal subjects of the Crown in Ireland and keep them from falling, as others of English descent had already done, into the turbulent ways of the Irish and their lower plane of civilisation; (2) to remove as far as seemed possible the occasions of conflict between the two races and of dissension among the English themselves. The clause which has especially been stigmatised prohibited all alliances by marriage, gossipred, fostering of children, etc. between English and Irish. This provision was not new. A similar clause appears in an act of 1351 and again in an ordinance of 1358, where the reason is given that through such alliances, “by warnings and espials on both sides of the Marches, infinite destructions and other evils have hitherto happened’’ and expeditions in war and peace have been impeded. There were other provisions with the same object: such as enjoining in English districts the use of the English language, and prohibiting, as between Englishmen, the adoption of the Brehon law and the making of any difference between English born in Ireland and those born in England. Such attempts to preserve the loyal remnant from becoming merged among the wild Irishry were indeed a poor substitute for the bolder policy of enforcing order and even-handed justice over the whole of Ireland, but they were presumably all that the statesmen of the period were prepared to undertake. These clauses were moreover welcomed by the loyal inhabitants, were often reenacted, and probably did help to keep in being some of the higher culture, the political organisation, and the wider outlook which had been inherited from England.

In the twenty-eight years that elapsed from the departure of the Duke of Clarence to the arrival of King Richard II in person there were twenty-four changes in the office of chief governor. It was difficult to get anyone to accept the thankless task of trying without adequate resources to defend the sorely harassed land. The king chafed at being called upon to pay for defending territories in Ireland, from which on the contrary he sought subsidies for his foreign wars, while on the other hand the Anglo-Irish pleaded inability to grant subsidies for either purpose. Recourse was again had to paying pensions to Irish chieftains to induce them to keep the peace. Thus in the last year of the reign of Edward III Art, son of Dermot Mac Murrough, of Okinselagh (North Wexford) undertook for himself and his following that they would fight on the king’s side against the insurgent Irish of Leinster, he receiving 40 marks for the ensuing year, and about the same time “Art Kavanagh [i.e. Art Og, son of the Art executed by Lionel], who pretended to be chief of the Irish of Leinster,” claimed 80 marks a year from the king as his fee, and having assembled a great number of Irishmen committed divers outrages in Leinster and would not come to peace unless paid that sum. Whereupon the justiciar, James, second Earl of Ormonde, was authorised to retain Art for one year at that rate. But ‘buying off the Goths’ has always proved a policy of the worst example, and in the following year Murrough O’Brien of Thomond came into Leinster with a great force threatening devastation, and a parliament at Castledermot was obliged to raise a subsidy of 100 marks to stay his hand. This was somewhat exceptional, but this Art Kavanagh, commonly called “Mac Murrough,” during his long chieftainship of forty-two years, broke out again and again, probably because his retaining fee was not regularly paid, and in his time the greater part of the County Carlow, which had been dominated by Raymond le Gros and his feudatories and successors since the twelfth century, was lost to the English. Other border Irish chiefs, too, soon followed Art’s example.

There were moments when the tide of the Irish resurgence was stayed. In May 1380 Edmund Mortimer, who had married Philippa, daughter and heiress of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, landed in Ireland as King’s Lieutenant. “The nobles of the Gael,” we are told, “came into his house headed by [Niall Og] the heir of the King of Ireland, Niall O’Neill,” but when Mortimer took prisoner Art McGuiness (who had defeated the English and slain their ally O’Hanlon earlier in the year, and had slain Mortimers seneschal, James de la Hyde, in 1375) the Gael held aloof from him. He rebuilt the bridge at Coleraine and advanced far into Tyrone. He also recovered and fortified the castle of Athlone, and during his brief term of office Ireland enjoyed comparative peace, but he died unexpectedly at Cork on 26 December 1381. After Mortimer’s death the Irish again became aggressive. O’Brien was attempting to make “a general conquest” of the south-west, and O’Neill was plundering and burning English towns in the north-east, while in Connaught the insecurity that followed on the decay of English government reduced both English and Irish to nearly the same level of disorder and consequent poverty. In 1385 the Sil Murray clans became permanently divided into two bodies under O’Conor Donn and O’Conor Roe respectively, and were often at variance with one another, while the English, already grouped under the two Mac Williams, often joined in the fray and in general on opposite sides. In this year the Irish parliament besought the king to visit Ireland in person to save the land which was in peril of being in great part lost, but the young king had too many troubles to contend with both at home and abroad to think of complying at the time, and though John Stanley in 1390 obtained the submission of O’Neill, there was no marked improvement in the state of Ireland until at length, on 2 October 1394, the English king landed at Waterford with a large army.

Richard II met with no serious opposition except at first from Art Mac Murrough, as he is now usually called. This formidable chieftain, who claimed to be King of Leinster, had a new grievance. In 1391 the lands of his wife, Elizabeth Calf, heiress of Sir Robert Calf of Norragh in County Kildare, were forfeited, not because (as often stated) she had married an Irishman, but because her husband “was one of the principal enemies of the king.” According to the Four Masters in 1394, but probably before the king’s arrival, Art burned New Ross which had been the most prosperous town in Leinster, “and carried away from it gold silver and hostages.” Richard’s army attacked Art in his woody fastnesses called Garryhill (Garbh-Choill near Myshall) and Leverock (Leamhrach near Clonegall) and burned his fortresses, but failed to capture him. Afterwards he submitted and was admitted to the king’s peace on the terms of an indenture (still extant) made between him and Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham, and dated 7 January 1395: viz. that he would faithfully serve the king and obey his orders, and would surrender all lands of which he or his followers “had recently taken possession in Leinster” (que nuper occupata fuerunt);while the king would treat Mac Murrough as his liegeman, and on performance of the terms would provide him and his heirs with 80 marks a year and his wife’s inheritance in Norragh, and that all his armed warriors should leave Leinster and go with him and receive the king’s pay for warring against the king’s rebels elsewhere, and should hold of the king all lands which they might so acquire. These terms having been approved by the king, Mac Murrough and his urriaghs on 16 February and following days did homage and swore to observe the covenants in the said indenture, and in default to pay large sums to the Papal Chamber. To understand this arrangement it must be remembered that the present County Wicklow formed no part of the fief of Leinster, as granted to Strongbow, and that even in Leinster so understood it was only from the “recently occupied districts” that the fighting men were to clear out. Presumably the various enclaves which the Irish had always been allowed to retain in parts of Okinselagh, Leix, and Offaly were not to be disturbed, and certainly no great clearance of the native population was contemplated. To the king the arrangement must have seemed a pacific and even a generous way of procuring the disbandment of the rebel armies as such, but he little understood the Irish mentality if he thought they would willingly carry it out. As the Four Masters observe, although Mac Murrough had gone into the king’s house he did not afterwards keep faith with him.

Meanwhile the king went to Dublin which he reached on 6 November, and at Drogheda on 16 March Niall Og O’Neill, captain of his nation, submitted to the king in person and undertook to restore all lands which he had unjustly seized together with the buannacht (military service) of the Irish of Ulster. The submissions of Turlough O’Conor Roe of Connaught, Brian O’Brien of Thomond, Teig MacCarthy of Desmond, and of some fifty of the lesser chieftains, and also of some rebels of English descent, followed during the course of the king’s stay in Ireland1. Froissart recounts how a certain squire of England named Henry Cristall, who had been for seven years (probably 1359-65) in captivity with a chieftain named “Bryn Costerec” (probably O’Byrne “the victorious,” Coscorach) and had learned the Irish language, was employed by the king to teach the four “moste puyssaunt” Irish kings, namely O’Neill, O’Brien, Mac Murrough, and O’Conor, the usages and customs of England preparatory to receiving the order of knighthood. This he did to the best of his power, though they were “ryght rude and of grose engyn,” and on Lady Day in March in the cathedral of Dublin they were made knights “with great solempnyte.”

Having thus won over the Irish chieftains to his “obeysaunce,” Richard made a peaceful progress through Leinster, holding pleas and receiving submissions at various places. He was at Kilkenny for most of April and reached Waterford on the 28th of that month. Here on board the king’s ship O’Conor Donn submitted and was knighted. He had previously written to warn the king against his rival O’Conor Roe, who, “though base-born, sought to appropriate to himself the title of O’Conor,” and in fact was one of the four chief kings already knighted. At the same time the king knighted William de Burgh, the Mac William of Clanrickard, and Walter de Bermingham of Athenry. On 11 May he was back in Dublin, whence he left for England on tide 15th, having been upwards of eight months in Ireland. Whatever we may think of the wisdom of taking Irish submissions at their face-value, Richard II among English sovereigns deserves special credit for his personal efforts to pacify Ireland.

Roger Mortimer, Earl of March and Ulster, grandson through his mother of Lionel Duke of Clarence and heir presumptive to the throne, was left behind as King’s Lieutenant. But the royal army once gone, it soon became manifest that the Irish had no intention of observing the terms of their submissions. In 1396 and again in 1398 the O’Tooles and O’Bymes broke out, and on 20 July in the latter year Roger Mortimer was slain by them at Kellistown in County Carlow. To avenge this disaster and punish Mac Murrough and his urriaghs was the object of King Richard’s second expedition to Ireland. On 1 June 1399 he landed, as before, at Waterford. We have a circumstantial account of this expedition from an eye-witness, a Frenchman named Jean Creton. After waiting a fortnight at Kilkenny for succour that never came, the king on 23 June set out against Mac Murrough. His route seems to have been across the County Carlow and by the woody valley of Shillelagh to Arklow. The Irish feared the English arrows and did not oppose the main force, but they harassed the vanguard and cut off stragglers. Mac Murrough’s uncle came with a halter round his neck and sued for mercy, but Mac Murrough himself scorned to follow his example. He knew that the English could get no provisions, and in fact they suffered great privations until three ships with supplies came from Dublin to a port close by (presumably Arklow). But now Mac Murrough craved an interview to treat for peace. The young Earl of Gloucester met him, each at opposite sides of a stream between two wooded hills some distance from the sea (presumably in the vale of Ovoca). The interview, graphically described by Creton, was abortive. The earl charged Mac Murrough with the breach of his sworn fealty and the killing of Mortimer, but Mac Murrough insisted on pardon without any penalty without surrendering his possessions in Leinster). When Richard heard this, he swore that he would not leave Ireland until he had Mac Murrough, alive or dead, in his power. But the army had to be fed, and they went on to Dublin. Three companies were made ready to go in quest of MacMurrough, but when about the middle of July tidings came from England, “the redeless king” learnt that he had a more formidable foe to meet in the person of Henry of Lancaster, and with the departure of Richard II the prospect of a pacified Ireland became more visionary than ever.

During the reigns of the three successive kings of the house of Lancaster, in spite of some active viceroys, the condition of Ireland went in general from bad to worse. Henry IV was too much engrossed in securing his own position against revolts and conspiracies of his English subjects, Scottish raids, and Welsh guerrilla warfare, to pay adequate attention to the unhappy state of Ireland. Henry V wasted his energies in splendid but futile victories in France, which only left a heritage of woe to his successor; and when at last the claim to France was abandoned by Henry VI, the long struggle between the Houses of York and Lancaster forbade all unity of action. Again and again border Irish chieftains entered into agreements to be liege subjects henceforth and even to war against the king’s enemies, but these agreements had at best only a temporary effect. Thus in April 1400 Art Mac Murrough was again admitted to peace, his annuity and his wife's lands restored to him, but he more than once plundered the English of Carlow and Wexford and attacked their walled towns before his death in 1417. In 1401 when the king's son, Thomas of Lancaster, was lieutenant, Mac Mahon, O'Reilly, and O'Byrne entered into similar agreements. Between 1414 and 1420 John Talbot, Lord Furnival, afterwards famous as leader in the wars with France, brought tall the border Irish into temporary submission, and actually “caused in many places every Irish enemie to serve upon the others.” But Talbot had to create and maintain his forces, and being supplied with insufficient funds was unable to pay for the victuals which he commandeered from the impoverished liege people. They were therefore faced with the alternative of being either plundered by their enemies or despoiled by their defenders. In 1421, when the fourth Earl of Ormonde was justiciar, articles of complaint were drawn up and sent to the king, and these show the pitiable state of the loyal English owing to “unceasing wars” on them and the “hateful coignes” levied by some lieutenants and the great men of the land.

During the whole period from 1414 to 1449 the chief power in the government continued, with some exceptions, to oscillate between the Talbots (Sir John and especially his brother Richard, the Archbishop of Dublin) and the Butlers, and there was much enmity between the two families. Both the fourth Earl of Ormonde and Sir John Talbot, however, did their best to resist the encroachments of the border clans and to bring them to submission. Thus in 1425 Talbot induced Calvagh O'Conor Faly to free all English lands from “black-rent” and to make many promises of redress and of good behaviour in future, and later in the same year Ormonde caused Owen O’Neill to enter into an elaborate indenture acknowledging the rights of the young Duke of York to whom, as heir to Roger Mortimer, the earldom of Ulster had descended, and to make similar pacific promises. But in 1430 and following years Owen burned Dundalk and exacted tribute, and with O’Conor Faly plundered West Meath, and afterwards he expelled Mac Quillin from the Route in County Antrim, while Donough Mac Murrough, recently released from captivity, raided County Kildare. These and other outbreaks caused the Irish council in 1435 to write to the king that “Ireland was well nigh destroyed,” so that “in the nether parts of Counties Dublin, Meath, Louth, and Kildare, there were scarcely 30 miles in length and 20 in breadth where a man may safely go to answer the king’s writs.”

At this time indeed the fortunes of the few remaining English in Ireland were nearly at their lowest ebb, and just when England was about to lose her last possessions in France she seemed to be on the point of losing her last hold on Ireland also. English statesmen at the time paid little heed to Ireland, but that some in England with clearer vision saw how vital it was for her to control the neighbouring isle appears from the Libelle of Englyshe Polycye published in 1436. In a passage which deserved to be remembered the writer says:

Nowe here be ware and hertly take entente,

As ye wolle answere at the laste jugemente,

To kepe Yrelond, that it be not loste;

ffor it is a boterasse and a poste

Undre England, and Wales another.

God forbede but eche were othere brothere

Of one ligeaunce dewe unto the Kinge.”

The extreme weakness of the loyal Anglo-Irish in the fifteenth century was no doubt a consequence of the long-continued failure of the government to perform its primary functions of keeping order and dispensing equal justice, and thereby gradually winning the confidence—no easy matter—of the Gaelic clans. The loyalists, always a small minority, had become fewer in number and economically weakened. Many had migrated to England and others had become Hibernicised. The Irish in military efficiency were no longer their inferiors. All the great chieftains had strengthened themselves with regular bodies of Galloglasses or professional soldiers, originally imported from the isles and of the race of “Mighty Somerled,” such as the the Mac Donalds, the Mac Dugalls, the Mac Sweeneys, and the Mac Sheehys. They had learned the importance of discipline and there was no great disparity of weapons. What saved the remnant of the old English settlers and the semblance of English organisation was the lack of unity, nay the utter discord, that prevailed over Gaelic Ireland. Not only were neighbouring clans frequently warring against each other, but the ruling families of the old clan-groups were splitting up into rival factions. This was particularly the case with the O’Conors and the O’Neills, but others showed the same tendency. Even the Leinster clans, since the days of Art Kavanagh, never united all their forces. Each preferred to plunder the English for his own hand. The spirit which caused this fissiparous tendency, whether we regard it as love of independence or mere jealousy and self-seeking, prevented Gaelic Ireland from combining under any one chief to expel “the foreigners.”

In July 1449 Richard, Duke of York, came to Ireland as King’s Lieutenant, to which office, “as to an honourable retirement,” he had been relegated for ten years in December 1447. He was well received not only by the Anglo-Irish, but also by the Irish chieftains of Leinster and Ulster, towards whom he adopted a conciliatory policy resulting in many indentures of peace. He held parliaments in 1449 and 1450, but early in September in the latter year he returned to England determined to claim at least his rightful share in the councils of the kingdom. The contest now brewing between the Houses of Lancaster and York had its pale counterpart in Ireland, where it soon embittered the longstanding jealousy between the Butlers and the Geraldines. James, the fourth Earl of Ormonde, was, however, trusted by the Duke of York as well as by the Lancastrian kings, and the duke appears to have left him (and not, as stated by many writers, his son, the Earl of Wiltshire) as deputy when he departed for England. Ormonde held two parliaments as the duke’s deputy and made a successful martial circuit through the border territories before he died in August 14521. Edward FitzEustace, a Yorkist, was then appointed the duke’s deputy, probably by the Irish council. On 12 May 1453, however, the new Earl of Ormonde and Wiltshire, who had thrown in his lot with the Lancastrians, was appointed lieutenant by the king, thus superseding the Duke of York; but this appointment led to great disturbances and was not accepted in Ireland, which was predominantly Yorkist, and FitzEustace appears to have acted up to his death in October 1454, when Thomas FitzMaurice, seventh Earl of Kildare, was appointed by the council, and afterwards, as the duke’s deputy, held parliaments up to 1459.

After the dispersal of his followers at the Rout of Ludford on 12 October of that year the Duke of York fled for refuge to Ireland. In England he was attainted as a traitor, but he was well received in Ireland, “for he had exceedingly tyed unto him the hearts of the noblemen and gentlemen of that land.” In a parliament held before him in 1460 he sought by several enactments to protect himself against his opponents in England and to gain favour in Ireland, but the contest, which had now become a dynastic one, could only be settled in England, and the duke accompanied by several Anglo-Irish lords and their retainers left about September to join the victorious Earl of Warwick and claim the crown. When he seemed on the eve of success he fell in the fight at Wakefield on 30 December. But the triumph of the Yorkists was only deferred, and on 4 March 1461 the duke’s son was enthroned at Westminster as Edward IV.

The new king confirmed the Earl of Kildare in his office and rewarded the Barnwalls, FitzEustaces, Prestons, and others for their services to the Yorkist cause. The Earl of Ormonde and Wiltshire had been beheaded after the battle of Towton, but his kinsmen still caused disturbances in Ireland. They were, however, defeated by the forces of the Earl of Desmond in 1462, and in the following year, in reward apparently for this service, Thomas, Earl of Desmond, was appointed deputy, while Kildare was made lord chancellor. Desmond had the characteristics of an Irish chieftain and relied greatly on the support given to him by the Irish and the “degenerate” English, but was regarded with distrust by the English lords of Meath and Fingal. They accused him of “extorting coigne and livery, and of being advised, ruled, and governed by the king’s traitors and rebels.” At the time he was supported by the king, but his rule ended in disaster. In 1466 he was taken prisoner along with some Meath lords by O’Conor of Offaly, and though the prisoners were afterwards rescued, marauding parties devastated Meath unchecked. More ominous still, O’Brien of Thomond led a host—“the greatest since Brian Borumha was conquering Ireland”—into Desmond, and was only bought off from Leinster by the earl “making sure to him” the territory of Clanwilliam in County Limerick (which did not belong to the earl) and a tribute of 60 marks from that city.

Next year Desmond was superseded by John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, and by the parliament held before him on 4 February 1468 both Desmond and Kildare were attainted of treason in respect of “alliance fosterage and alterage with the Irish enemies, and in giving them horses and harness and arms and supporting them against the King’s faithful servants.” Desmond was beheaded on 14 February, but Kildare was pardoned and restored in the following July. The Gaels of Ireland lamented the death of the Earl of Desmond, whom they regarded almost as one of themselves, and contemporary evidence indicates that he was suspected of using his influence with them to further his own ambitions and against the interests of the loyal English. The unwonted severity of his punishment, however, may be ascribed to the character of the Earl of Worcester, who earned the name of the “grim butcher” for his ruthless executions of those who intrigued against the king. It was at any rate bad policy, and it led to the complete estrangement and ultimate ruin of the house of Desmond.

During the brief restoration of Henry VI in the winter of 1470-71 Tiptoft—“the wreck of the maledictions of the men of Ireland”—was himself beheaded. The Irish council now again appointed the Earl of Kildare as justiciar, and he was continued as deputy under the Duke of Clarence. In short, he and his successors in the earldom, the eighth and ninth earls, gradually made themselves indispensable to the government, and whoever was named King’s Lieutenant, an Earl of Kildare for the next sixty-four years, with brief exceptions, was the real governor and source of power in Ireland.




SCOTLAND, 1328-1488