The Talbots and Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXIII

The feuds of the Earl of Ormonde and the Talbots in Ireland, proved nearly as great a calamity to that nation as the disputes about the English succession. A Parliament was held in Dublin in 1441, in which Richard Talbot, the English Archbishop of Dublin, proceeded to lay various requests before the King, the great object of which was the overthrow of the Earl, who, by the intermarrying of his kinsmen with the Irish, possessed great influence among the native septs contiguous to his own territory. The petitioners pray that the government may be committed to some "mighty English lord;" and they moderately request that the said "mighty lord " may be permitted to create temporal peers. They hint at the Earl's age as an objection to his administration of justice, and assert that "the Lieutenant should be a mighty, courageous, and laborious man, to keep the field and make resistance against the enemy." But the great crime alleged against him, is that "he hath ordained and made Irishmen, and grooms and pages of his household, knights of the shire."

These representations, however, had but little weight in the quarter to which they were addressed, for Ormonde was a stout Lancastrian; and if he had sinned more than his predecessors, his guilt was covered by the ample cloak of royal partiality. However, some appearance of justice was observed. Sir Giles Thornton was sent over to Ireland to make a report, which was so very general that it charged no one in particular, but simply intimated that there was no justice to be had for any party, and that discord and division prevailed amongst all the King's officers. The system of appointing deputies for different offices was very properly condemned; and the rather startling announcement made, that the annual expenses of the Viceroy and his officers exceeded all the revenues of Ireland for that year by £4,456. In fact, it could not be otherwise; for every official, lay and ecclesiastical, English and Anglo-Irish, appear to have combined in one vast system of peculation, and, when it was possible, of wholesale robbery. Even the loyal burghers of Limerick, Cork, and Galway had refused to pay their debts to the crown, and the representatives of royalty were not in a position to enforce payment.

The Talbot party seems to have shared the blame quite equally with the Ormondes, and the churchmen in power were just as rapacious as the seculars. After having ruined the "mere Irish," the plunderers themselves were on the verge of ruin; and the Privy Council declared that unless an immediate remedy was applied, the law courts should be closed, and the royal castles abandoned. Further complaints were made in 1444; and Robert Maxwell, a groom of the royal chamber, was despatched to Ireland with a summons to Ormonde, commanding him to appear before the King and Council.

The Earl at once collected his followers and adherents in Drogheda, where they declared, in the presence of the King's messenger, as in duty bound, that their lord had never been guilty of the treasons and extortions with which he was charged, and that they were all thankful for "his good and gracious government:" furthermore, they hint that he had expended his means in defending the King's possessions. However, the Earl was obliged to clear himself personally of these charges in London, where he was acquitted with honour by his royal master.[4]

His enemy, Sir John Talbot, known better in English history as the Earl of Shrewsbury, succeeded him, in 1446. This nobleman had been justly famous for his valour in the wars with France, and it is said that even mothers frightened their children with his name. His success in Ireland was not at all commensurate with his fame in foreign warfare, for he only succeeded so far with the native princes as to compel O'Connor Faly to make peace with the English Government, to ransom his sons, and to supply some beeves for the King's kitchen. Talbot held a Parliament at Trim, in which, for the first time, an enactment was made about personal appearance, which widened the fatal breach still more between England and Ireland. This law declared that every man who did not shave [5] his upper lip, should be treated as an "Irish enemy;" and the said shaving was to be performed once, at least, in every two weeks.


[4] Master.—Gilbert's Viceroys, p. S47.

[5] Shave.—There are no monumental effigies of Henry VI. His remains were removed several times by Richard III., who was annoyed at the popular belief that he worked miracles; but the costume of the period may be studied in an engraving by Strutt, from a scene depicted in the Royal M. S., 15e 6, which represents Talbot in the act of presenting a volume of romances to the King and Queen. Henry was notoriously plain in his dress, but his example was not followed by his court. Fairholt says: "It would appear as if the English nobility and gentry sought relief in the invention of all that was absurd in apparel, as a counter-excitement to the feverish spirit engendered by civil war."—History of Costume, p. 146.