Prince John in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XVIII

John was now preparing for his visit to Ireland, and his singularly unfelicitous attempt at royalty. It would appear that the Prince wished to decline the honour and the expedition; for, as he was on the eve of his departure, Eraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, arrived in England, to enjoin the fulfilment of the King's vow to undertake a crusade to Palestine. As Henry had got out of his difficulties, he declined to fulfil his solemn engagement, and refused permission to his son, John, who threw himself at his father's feet, and implored leave to be his substitute. Eraclius then poured forth his indignation upon Henry, with all the energetic freedom of the age. He informed him that God would punish his impieties—that he was worse than any Saracen; and hinted that he might have inherited his wickedness from his grandmother, the Countess of Anjou, who was reported to be a witch, and of whom it was said that she had flown through the window during the most solemn part of Mass, though four squires attempted to hold her.

John sailed from Milford Haven on the evening of Easter Wednesday, 1185. He landed with his troops at Waterford, at noon, on the following day. His retinue is described as of unusual splendour, and, no doubt, was specially appointed to impress the "barbarous" Irish. Gerald Barry, the famous Cambrensis, who had arrived in Ireland some little time before, was appointed his tutor, in conjunction with Ranulf de Glanville. The bitter prejudice of the former against Ireland and the Irish is a matter of history, as well as the indefatigable zeal of the latter in pursuit of his own interests at the expense of justice.

A retinue of profligate Normans completed the court, whom an English authority describes as "great quaffers, lourdens, proud, belly swains, fed with extortion and bribery." The Irish were looked upon by these worthies as a savage race, only created to be plundered and scoffed at. The Normans prided themselves on their style of dress, and, no doubt, the Irish costume surprised them. Common prudence, however, might have taught them, when the Leinster chieftains came to pay their respects to the young Prince, that they should not add insult to injury; for, not content with open ridicule, they proceeded to pull the beards of the chieftains, and to gibe their method of wearing their hair.