Curia Regis at Lismore

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XVII

When the Christmas festivities had passed, Henry turned his attention to business, if, indeed, the same festivities had not also been a part of his diplomatic plans, for he was not deficient in kingcraft. In a synod at Cashel he attempted to settle ecclesiastical affairs. In a Curia Regis, held at Lismore, he imagined he had arranged temporal affairs. These are subjects which demand our best consideration. It is an historical fact, that the Popes claimed and exercised great temporal power in the middle ages; it is admitted also that they used this power in the main for the general good;[2] and that, as monks and friars were the preservers of literature, so popes and bishops were the protectors of the rights of nations, as far as was possible in such turbulent times. It does not belong to our present subject to theorize on the origin or the grounds [3] of this power; it is sufficient to say that it had been exercised repeatedly both before and after Adrian granted the famous Bull, by which he conferred the kingdom of Ireland on Henry II. The Merovingian dynasty was changed on the decision of Pope Zachary. Pope Adrian threatened Frederick I., that if he did not renounce all pretensions to ecclesiastical property in Lombardy, he should forfeit the crown, "received from himself and through his unction."

When Pope Innocent III. pronounced sentence of deposition against Lackland in 1211, and conferred the kingdom of England on Philip Augustus, the latter instantly prepared to assert his claim, though he had no manner of title, except the Papal grant.[4] In fact, at the very moment when Henry was claiming the Irish crown in right of Adrian's Bull, given some years previously, he was in no small trepidation at the possible prospect of losing his English dominions, as an excommunication and an interdict were even then hanging over his head. Political and polemical writers have taken strangely perverted views of the whole transaction. One writer,[5] with apparently the most genuine impartiality, accuses the Pope, the King, and the Irish prelates of the most scandalous hypocrisy. A cursory examination of the question might have served to prove the groundlessness of this assertion. The Irish clergy, he asserts—and his assertion is all the proof he gives—betrayed their country for the sake of tithes. But tithes had already been enacted, and the Irish clergy were very far from conceding Henry's claims in the manner which some historians are pleased to imagine.


[2] Good.—Even the infidel Voltaire admitted that the Popes restrained princes, and protected the people. The Bull In Coena Domini contained an excommunication against those who should levy new taxes upon their estates, or should increase those already existing beyond the bounds of right. For further information on this subject, see Balmez, European Civilization, passim. M. Guizot says: "She [the Church] alone resisted the system of castes; she alone maintained the principle of equality of competition; she alone called all legitimate superiors to the possession of power."—Hist. Gen. de la Civilization en Europe, Lect. 5.

[3] Grounds.—De Maistre and Fénélon both agree in grounding this power on constitutional right; but the former also admitted a divine right.—De Maistre, Du Pope, lib. ii. p. 387.

[4] Grant.—See M. Gosselin's Power of the Popes during the Middle Ages, for further information on this subject.

[5] Writer.—Ireland, Historical and Statistical.