Earldom of Ulster

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XIX

In 1205 the Earldom of Ulster was granted to Hugh de Lacy. The grant is inscribed on the charter roll of the seventh year of King John, and is the earliest record now extant of the creation of an Anglo-Norman dignity in Ireland. England was placed under an interdict in 1207, in consequence of the violence and wickedness of its sovereign. He procured the election of John de Grey to the see of Canterbury, a royal favourite, and, if only for this reason, unworthy of the office. Another party who had a share in the election chose Reginald, the Sub-Prior of the monks of Canterbury. But when the choice was submitted to Pope Innocent III., he rejected both candidates, and fixed on an English Cardinal, Stephen Langton, who was at once elected, and received consecration from the Pope himself. John was highly indignant, as might be expected. He swore his favourite oath, "by God's teeth," that he would cut off the noses and pluck out the eyes of any priest who attempted to carry the Pope's decrees against him into England. But some of the bishops, true to their God and the Church, promulgated the interdict, and then fled to France to escape the royal vengeance. It was well for them they did so; for Geoffrey, Archdeacon of Norwich, was seized, and enveloped, by the royal order, in a sacerdotal vestment of massive lead, and thus thrown into prison, where he was starved to death beneath the crushing weight.

We sometimes hear of the cruelties of the Inquisition, of the barbarity of the Irish, of the tyranny of priestcraft; but such cruelties, barbarities, and tyrannies, however highly painted, pale before the savage vengeance which English kings have exercised, on the slightest provocation, towards their unfortunate subjects. But we have not yet heard all the refinements of cruelty which this same monarch exercised. Soon after, John was excommunicated personally. When he found that Philip of France was prepared to seize his kingdom, and that his crimes had so alienated him from his own people that he could hope for little help from them, he cringed with the craven fear so usually found in cruel men, and made the most abject submission. In the interval between the proclamation of the interdict and the fulmination of the sentence of excommunication (A.D. 1210), John visited Ireland. It may be supposed his arrival could not excite much pleasure in the hearts of his Irish subjects, though, no doubt, he thought it a mark of disloyalty that he should not be welcomed with acclamations. A quarter of a century had elapsed since he first set his foot on Irish ground. He had grown grey in profligacy, but he had not grown wiser or better with advancing years.