Cambrensis' Account

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XVII

The winter had been so stormy that there was little communication with England; but early in spring the King received the portentous intelligence of the arrival of Papal Legates in Normandy, and learned that they threatened to place his dominions under an interdict, if he did not appear immediately to answer for his crime. Queen Eleanor and his sons were also plotting against him, and there were many who boldly declared that the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury would yet be fearfully avenged. Henry determined at once to submit to the Holy See, and to avert his doom by a real or pretended penitence. He therefore sailed for England from Wexford Harbour, on Easter Monday, the 17th of April, 1172, and arrived the same day at Port Finnen, in Wales.

We give the testimony of Cambrensis, no friend to Ireland, to prove that neither clergy nor laity benefited by the royal visit. He thus describes the inauguration of that selfish system of plunder and devastation, to which Ireland has been subjected for centuries—a system which prefers the interests of the few to the rights of the many, and then scoffs bitterly at the misery it has created: "The clergy are reduced to beggary in the island; the cathedral churches mourn, having been deprived, by the aforesaid persons [the leading adventurers], and others along with them, or who came over after them, of the lands and ample estates which had been formerly granted to them faithfully and devoutly. And thus the exalting of the Church has been changed into the despoiling or plundering of the Church." Nor is his account of the temporal state of the kingdom any better. He informs us that Dermod Mac Murrough, the originator of all those evils, "oppressed his nobles, exalted upstarts, was a calamity to his countrymen, hated by the strangers, and, in a word, at war with the world." Of the Anglo-Norman nobles, who, it will be remembered, were his own relatives, and of their work, he writes thus: "This new and bloody conquest was defiled by an enormous effusion of blood, and the slaughter of a Christian people." And again: "The lands even of the Irish who stood faithful to our cause, from the first descent of FitzStephen and the Earl, you have, in violation of a treaty, made over to your friends."[7] His character of Henry is, that he was more given to "hunting than to holiness."

The English monarch, however, could assume an appearance of most profound humility and the deepest piety, when it suited his convenience. He excelled himself in this department by his submission to the Holy See, when he found that submission alone could save his crown.


[7] Friends.—Hib. Expug. lib. ii. c. 38.