Irish Princes and Henry II.

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XVII

MacCarthy of Desmond was the first Irish prince who paid homage to the English King. At Cashel, Donnell O'Brien, King of Thomond, swore fealty, and surrendered the city of Limerick. Other princes followed their example. The "pomp and circumstance" of the royal court, attracted the admiration of a people naturally deferential to authority; the condescension and apparent disinterestedness of the monarch, won the hearts of an impulsive and affectionate race. They had been accustomed to an Ard-Righ, a chief monarch, who, in name at least, ruled all the lesser potentates: why should not Henry be such to them? and why should they suppose that he would exercise a tyranny as yet unknown in the island?

The northern princes still held aloof; but Roderic had received Henry's ambassadors personally, and paid the usual deference which one king owed to another who was considered more powerful. Henry determined to spend his Christmas in Dublin, and resolved on a special display of royal state. It is to be presumed that he wished to make up for deficiency in stateliness of person by stateliness of presence; for, like most of the descendants of Duke Robert "the Devil" and the daughter of the Falaise tanner, his appearance was not calculated to inspire respect. His grey bloodshot eyes and tremulous voice, were neither knightly nor kingly qualifications; his savage and ungovernable temper, made him appear at times rather like a demon than a man. He was charged with having violated the most solemn oaths when it suited his convenience. A cardinal had pronounced him an audacious liar. Count Thiebault of Champagne had warned an archbishop not to rely on any of his promises, however sacredly made. He and his sons spent their time quarrelling with each other, when not occupied in quarrelling with their subjects. His eldest son, Richard, thus graphically sketched the family characteristics:—"The custom in our family is that the son shall hate the father; our destiny is to detest each other; from the devil we came, to the devil we shall go." And the head of this family had now come to reform the Irish, and to improve their condition—social, secular, and ecclesiastical!