Dublin Castle

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXI

The royal cities held charters direct from the crown of England. These cities were Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, and Cork. Some idea has already been given of the streets and the size of Dublin. The Castle was the most important building, at least to the civil portion of the community. It contained within its walls a chapel, a jail, and a mill—characteristic of the age. The mill was styled the "King's Mill." The chaplains had each an annual salary of fifty shillings—not an insufficient provision, if we calculate that the penny then was nearly the same value as the shilling now; moreover, they had two shillings each for wax, and probably fees besides. The chapel was under the patronage of St. Thomas of Canterbury, who, when he had been martyred, sent to heaven, and could give no more inconvenient reproofs, stood very high in royal favour. The Castle was partly encompassed by a moat, called the "Castlegripe;" the walls were fortified with bastions, and had various gates, towers, and narrow entrances, which were defended by strong doors and portcullises. The chief communication with the city was by a drawbridge on the southern side of Castle-street. Rolls of the fourteenth century exhibit disbursements for repairs, ropes, bolts, and rings, from which we gather that everything was kept ready for immediate service.

The hostages which were exacted from the Anglo-Norman lords, as well as from the Irish chieftains, were kept in the Castle at their own expense. They can hardly have found their position very pleasant, as at any moment they might be called on to submit to the operation of having their eyes put out, or to be hanged. The judges and other officials held their courts in the Castle. In the Court of Exchequer the primitive method of using counters for calculating [8] was still continued. These were laid in rows upon the "chequered" cloth which covered the table. Square hazel rods, notched [9] in a particular manner, styled tallies and counter-tallies, were employed as vouchers.

The Red Book of the Exchequer contains a curious sketch of "the Exchequer of the King of England in Dublin." Six officers of the court are at the top; to the left, three judges ;to the right, three suitors; a sheriff is seated at the bottom. The crier is in the act of adjourning the court, exclaiming "à demain," showing that even in Ireland Norman-French was still the language of law, and probably of courtesy. The officer to the left, supposed to be the Second Remembrancer, holds a parchment containing the words, "Preceptum fuit Vice-comiti, per breve hujus Scaccarii." The Chief Remembrancer occupies himself with a pen and an Exchequer roll, commencing "Memorandum quod X° die Maij," &c.; while the Clerk of the Pipe prepares a writ, placed on his left knee, his foot resting on the table. The Marshal of the Exchequer addresses the usher, and holds a document inscribed, "Exiit breve Vice-comiti. " One of the judges exclaims, "Soient forfez;" another, "Voyr dire." On the chequered-covered table, before the judges, are the Red Book, a bag with rolls, the counters used for computation, and a document commencing with the words, "Ceo vous, " &c. The sheriff sits at the bottom, wearing the leathern cap used by such officers when their accounts were under examination in the Exchequer. Three suitors stand at the right side of the picture. One, with uplifted hand, says, "Oz de brie ;" another, extending his arm, cries, "Chalange;" the third, with sword at his side, laced boots, and ample sleeves, holds the thumb of his left hand between the fore and middle finger of his right, and exclaims, "Soite oughte." Thus affording us an interesting and truthful picture of a law court in the fourteenth century.

The crown revenues and customs were frequently pawned out to associations of Italian money-lenders; and the "Ricardi" of Lucca, and "Frescobaldi" of Florence, had agents in the principal towns in Ireland. The royal treasure was deposited in the Castle, in a coffer with three locks. The keys were confided to different persons, and no payment could be made unless the three were present ;still, as might be expected from men, the sole object of whose lives appears to have been to enrich themselves at the expense of others, the accounts were not always satisfactory. Even the Viceroys were accused of conniving at and sharing in frauds, notwithstanding the salary of £500 per annum and their other emoluments, with the permission to levy provisions of all kinds for "the king's price," which was far below the current value.

The Castle garrison consisted of archers and halberdiers; the Constable, Warders, and Guardian of Works and Supplies, being the principal officers. The Constable was generally a nobleman of high rank, and received an annual salary [1] of £18 5s.


[8] Calculating.—We derived the word from calculus, a white stone, the Romans having used small white stones for arithmetical purposes. Probably they taught this custom to the aboriginal English, whose descendants retained it long after.

[9] Notched.—Quite as primitive an arrangement as the quipus, and yet used in a condition of society called civilized.

[1] Salary.—The value may he estimated by the current price of provisions; cows from 5s. to 13s. 4d. each; heifers, 3s. 4d. to 5s.; sheep, 8d. to 1s.; ordinary horses, 13s. 4d. to 40s.; pigs, 1s. 6d. to 2s.; salmon, 6d. each; wheat, corn, and malt varied with the produce of the season. Most of the details given above have been taken from Mr. Gilbert's Viceroys.