Pope Adrian’s Bull “Laudabiliter” and Note upon It

Eleanor Hull
Volume I, Appendix I

Adrian, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to his most dearly beloved son in Christ, the illustrious king of the English, greeting and apostolical blessing.[1]

“Laudably and profitably doth your Majesty consider how you may best extend the glory of your name on earth and lay up for yourself an eternal reward in heaven, when, as becomes a Catholic prince, you labour to extend the borders of the Church, to teach the truths of the Christian faith to a rude and unlettered people, and to root out the weeds of vice from the field of the Lord; and to accomplish your design more effectually you crave the advice and assistance of the Apostolic See, and in so doing we are persuaded that the higher are your aims, and the more discreet your proceedings, the greater, under God, will be your success; because, whatever has its origin in ardent faith and in love of religion, always has a prosperous end and issue. Certainly it is beyond a doubt, as your Highness acknowledgeth, that Ireland and all the other islands, on which the Gospel of Christ hath dawned and which have received the knowledge of the Christian faith, belong of right to St Peter and the holy Roman Church. Wherefore we are the more desirous to sow in them the acceptable seed of God’s word, because we know that it will be strictly required of us hereafter. You have signified to us, our well-beloved son in Christ, that you propose to enter the island of Ireland in order to subdue the people and make them obedient to laws, and to root out from among them the weeds of sin; and that you are willing to yield and pay yearly from every house the pension of one penny to St Peter, and to keep and preserve the rights of the churches in that land whole and inviolate.

“We, therefore, regarding your pious and laudable design with due favour, and graciously assenting to your petition, do hereby declare our will and pleasure, that, for the purpose of enlarging the borders of the Church, setting bounds to the progress of wickedness, reforming evil manners, planting virtue, and increasing the Christian religion, you do enter and take possession of that island, and execute therein whatsoever shall be for God’s honour and the welfare of the same.

“And, further, we do also strictly charge and require that the people of that land shall accept you with all honour, and dutifully obey you, as their liege lord, saving only the rights of the churches, which we will have inviolably preserved; and reserving to St Peter and the holy Roman Church the yearly pension of one penny from each house. If, therefore, you bring your purpose to good effect, let it be your study to improve the habits of that people, and take such orders by yourself, or by others whom you shall think fitting, for their lives, manners and conversation, that the Church there may be adorned by them, the Christian faith be planted and increased, and all that concerns the honour of God and the salvation of souls be ordered by you in like manner; so that you may receive at God’s hands the blessed reward of everlasting life, and may obtain on earth a glorious name in ages to come.”

Privilege of Pope Alexander III to Henry II, Confirming the Bull of Adrian, 1172[2]

“Alexander, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to our well-beloved son in Christ, the illustrious king of the English, health and apostolic benediction.

“Forasmuch as these grants of our predecessors which are known to have been made on reasonable grounds, are worthy to be confirmed by a permanent sanction; We, therefore, following in the footsteps of the late venerable Pope Adrian, and in expectation also of seeing the fruits of our own earnest wishes on this head, ratify and confirm the permission of the said Pope granted you in reference to the dominion of the kingdom of Ireland; (reserving to Blessed Peter and the holy Roman Church, as in England, so also in Ireland, the annual payment of one penny for every house;) to the end that the filthy practices of that land may be abolished, and the barbarous nation which is called by the Christian name, may through your clemency attain unto some decency of manners; and that when the Church of that country which has been hitherto in a disordered state, shall have been reduced to better order, that people may by your means possess for the future the reality as well as the name of the Christian profession.”

Note.—In recent years the authenticity of Adrian’s so-called “Bull” has been disputed by authorities like Cardinal Moran and Cardinal Gasquet. The latter has, in his Monastic Life in the Middle Ages (1922), republished an essay originally printed forty years ago in the Dublin Review for July 1883, without any alterations, although a number of its dates and statements have been challenged by later writers (cf. Miss Kate Norgate’s paper in the English Historical Review, vol. viii, pp. 18-52[3]). But none of these writers notices the important fact that through the whole of the Middle Ages and up to late times the Bull was accepted without question as genuine both by the Irish nation and by the Vatican. The Privilege of Pope Alexander III, Adrian’s successor, confirmed the Bull, and his letters to the King, to the clergy and bishops of Ireland, and to the nobles, enforced obedience to it. A copy existing in the Book of Leinster, on a fly-leaf (p. 342 of the facsimile), shows that in the thirteenth century, to which date this copy is ascribed, it was looked upon as part of the historical material belonging to that province.

It is most singular that Cardinal Gasquet should state that Pope John XXII was ignorant of the Bull of Adrian. In the Appeal sent by Donal O’Neill and the Irish princes to this Pope, at the time of the invasion of Edward Bruce, they distinctly appeal to this Bull as a reason for the Pope’s interference on their behalf. They say: “Adrian IV, your predecessor, an Englishman, more even by affection and prejudice than by birth, blinded by that affection and by the false suggestions of Henry II, King of England, … gave the dominion of this our island, by a certain form of words, to that same Henry II, whom he ought better to have stripped of his own, on account of the above crime” (i.e., the murder of St Thomas à Becket). In his reply, consequent on this Irish appeal, the Pope, writing from Avignon to King Edward II, in the second year of his pontificate, to recommend to him the advisability of dealing more leniently with his Irish subjects, himself refers to Adrian’s Bull as follows:[4]

“Know then, Son, that we have received a certain letter directed in the first instance from the Irish nobles and people to our sons Anselm, presbyter, of the title SS. Marcellinus and Peter, and Luke, deacon of St Mary’s in the Broadway, Cardinal Nuncios of the apostolic see, and by them enclosed to us in a letter of their own.[5] In which we see it stated, among other things, that whereas our predecessor Pope Adrian of happy memory, did, in a certain mode and form of grant, which was distinctly specified in his apostolic letters drawn up in that behalf, convey to your progenitor, Henry, King of England, of illustrious memory, the supreme dominion over Ireland, that king himself and the kings of England his successors, even to the present time failing to observe the mode and form so set forth, have in direct violation of them, for a long period past kept down that people in a state of intolerable bondage, accompanied with unheard-of hardships and grievances. Nor was there found during all that time, any person to redress the grievances they endured or be moved with a pitiful compassion for their distress; although recourse was had to you … and the loud cry of the oppressed fell, at times at least, upon your own ear. In consequence whereof, unable to support such a state of things any longer, they have been compelled to withdraw themselves from your jurisdiction and to invite another to come and be ruler over them,” etc.

It is clear that in the early fourteenth century both the Irish and the Popes believed the grant of Adrian to have been genuine. The appeal of O’Neill founds its complaint on the fact that the English kings had not fulfilled the conditions on which the grant was made: it does not dispute the grant. Moreover this epistle of the Pope, as also the Bull, are quoted in full by two of the greatest of Irish ecclesiastical authorities, David Rothe, Bishop of Ossory, in his Analecta Sacra (1616), when he was secretary at Rome to the Primate, Peter Lombard, and by the Primate himself in his book De Regno Hiberniæ (1632).[6] He was long resident in Rome and in close touch with the Papal Court, and his book is dedicated to Pope Urban VIII. Neither of these men had any doubt of the genuineness of the document. A later example of the Papal recognition of the Bull is found in the letter of instructions given by Pope Innocent X to the nuncio Rinuccini, when he was sent from Rome to Ireland during the Confederate Wars in 1645. It contains a brief summary of English dealings with Ireland in the past. In it occur the words:

“Henry, desiring to strengthen his empire, … wished to subdue the island of Ireland; and to compass this design, had recourse to Adrian, who, himself an Englishman, with a liberal hand granted all he coveted. The zeal manifested by Henry to convert all Ireland to the faith moved the soul of Adrian to invest him with the sovereignty of the island,” etc.[7]

It is clear that later Popes did not disavow Adrian’s act. Nor is the distinction attempted to be drawn by some modern writers between the “Donation” and the “Bull” visible in the writings of these authorities. The so-called Bull was an expression of approval and benediction of Henry’s action similar to that bestowed by an earlier Pope on Duke William when he proposed to add the crown of England to his dukedom of Normandy, or to the approval by another Pope of John’s visit to Ireland, symbolized by the gift of a crown of peacock’s feathers. Pope Alexander’s three epistles in 1172 declare that when he heard that Henry, “instigated by divine inspiration,” had subjected the Irish people to his dominion he had “returned thanks to Him who had conferred so great a victory.” He “has learned with joy” that the Irish kings have taken Henry as their sovereign and he exhorts them to fidelity.[8] His legate, Vivianus, at the synod of Dublin immediately afterward “made a public declaration of the right of the king of England to Ireland” and threatened excommunication against all “who presumed to forfeit their allegiance,” an attitude persevered in by the Papal See up to the reign of Elizabeth, when the Reformation introduced new considerations.

The gift of Adrian was partly a consequence of the fatherly concern felt by the Pope for the spiritual welfare of the Irish people, of the moral and spiritual condition of whom St Malachy and St Bernard had recently given a desponding report, and it was partly a move in that Weltpolitik which was gradually extending the power of the Roman curia over every part of Europe. At a far later date Pope Alexander VI put forth a similar claim in his division of the entire Western world between Spain and Portugal. These gifts, while extending the Papal support to the recipients in their ambitious projects, at the same time gave expression to the assumption of an authority which claimed to stand above kings and made them suppliants at the hands of the spiritual power.


[1] The original text of this Bull will be found in Dimock’s edition of the works of Giraldus Cambrensis, vol. v, pp. 317-319 (1867).

[2] For the original see ibid., pp. 318-319; and Ussher’s Sylloge, No. 47.

[3] See also G. H. Orpen, Ireland under the Normans (1911), i, 287-318.

[4] For the original see Theiner, Vet. Mon. Hib. et Scot., No. ccccxxii, p. 201.

[5] The two cardinals arrived in England in the summer of 1317, more than two years after the landing of Edward Bruce in Ireland.

[6] Pp. 245-260.

[7] Rinuccini, Embassy in Ireland, xxviii-xxix.

[8] Sweetman, Calendar, i, No. 38, pp. 6, 7; Black Book of the Exchequer, Q.R., fol. 8b, 9, 9b.