The Normans in Ireland (3)

Eleanor Hull
The Normans in Ireland | start of chapter

The most significant of the submissions made to Henry was that of the Aird-rí of Ireland, Rory O’Conor, who took the oath of allegiance on the borders between his own province of Connacht and that of Meath, side by side with O’Brien, King of Thomond, his then ally.

This submission of the High King to the foreign sovereign was an act of the greatest importance. It can hardly be said to have been obtained by conquest or even by an overwhelming show of military force. The Irish kings had bowed to the inevitable, but they do not seem to have bowed unwillingly, for they believed that Henry alone could keep in check his marauding nobles. Rory by his submission recognized an authority in the kingdom superior to his own, a High Kingship to which even his own must look up. From this moment the office of High King of Ireland practically came to an end, for Rory had no successor; he was the last of the historic line. The office from henceforth was felt to have been transferred into the hands of the English King.

The relations for the moment were of the friendliest kind. The festival of Christmas 1171 saw these Irish princes gathered with their retainers to the Danish city of Dublin, then “a very thronged port, emulating our London in commerce,”[11] as the guests of the English King. They were entertained in so sumptuous a style that provisions threatened to run short and were sold at excessive prices, no cargo vessels having been able to cross on account of the severe tempests.

For the accommodation of the guests Henry had a palace of peeled osiers or wattle constructed “after the manner of the country” just outside the then narrow walls of Dublin on the rise of the Howe over the Stein, where St Andrew’s Church now stands, This was the site of the Danish Thing-mote, or national assembly, and was called in the tenth century Hoggen-green, from the Scandinavian word hoga or howe, a hill or tumulus. It is only within the last couple of centuries that this historic site has been levelled and its mould spread over the present Nassau Street. In Henry’s day it looked out over the ‘Green’ of the town, stretching down to the borders of the Liffey, which then flowed through open fields to the bay at Clontarf.

The ‘Stein,’ then the usual landing-place for Dublin, was so called from the long stone on which capital sentences were carried out under Norse rule, after decrees of death had been passed at the Thing-mote; it was only removed in the seventeenth century.

The novelty of Henry’s entertainment and the splendour with which it was carried out astonished his guests, who “learned to eat crane’s flesh, which they had hitherto disliked.” Meanwhile the Norman archers stationed at Finglas amused their leisure by wantonly cutting down and burning as firewood the old yews and ash-trees which had been planted in former days by Abbot Kenach round the cemetery.[12]

From Christmas to Lent Henry was busy visiting parts of his new dominions and settling the future administration of the country. He appointed Hugh de Lacy first Justiciar, and garrisoned the towns. He visited Lismore and Cashel, and in pursuance of the conditions laid down by the Pope he arranged for a synod at the latter place for the correction of morals and to introduce the payment of tithes. He was occupied in planning a new fort for Lismore when, the wind changing at last, he received at Wexford ill news of great importance. Two legates, commissioned by the Pope, had arrived in England to inquire into the murder of Archbishop Thomas à Becket and were threatening to lay the country under an interdict; at the same inauspicious moment he learned that his sons had risen in rebellion against him. Such tidings were too urgent to be ignored, and, breaking off his plans in Ireland, the King set sail from Wexford on Easter Day 1172, “after the celebration of Mass,”[13] landing in St David’s Bay at noon of the next day. “Thus,” say the Annals of Clonmacnois quaintly, “the King’s Majesty made a final end of an entire conquest of Ireland.”

When Henry left Ireland he had received hostages as overlord from Leinster, Meath, Munster, and the chiefs of Oriel and of Eastern Ulster,[14] besides the still more important submission of Rory of Connacht. Thus every province was represented in the formal acts of submission to the King of England. Such general offers of fealty had never been made in Ireland save to the acknowledged Aird-rí, and even then, as a rule, only when exacted by force. It is the more remarkable that they should have been obtained by Henry without the use of compulsion and that the whole country should have participated in making them.

This submission, however, did not include any acceptance of the rule of Henry’s Norman barons, whose advance was checked in a practical way by the heavy defeat of Strongbow at Thurles by Donal O’Brien and King Rory in 1174, two years after Henry’s departure, while in Meath the Irish demolished the forts which de Lacy was erecting to secure his new grants.

But in the following year, after consultation, Rory O’Conor and Donal O’Brien were ready to renew their allegiance to the King of England in the most formal and solemn manner at the Council of Windsor (October 6, 1175), in the presence of the King, barons, and bishops of England. As his representatives at this council Rory sent three of the highest ecclesiastics in Ireland: the distinguished Laurence (or Lorcan) O’Toole, traveller, scholar, and statesman, who had been transferred from his abbey at Glendalough, in Wicklow, to the posts of Archbishop of Dublin and Chancellor; the Archbishop of Tuam (Co. Galway); and the Abbot of St Brendan. Through them, with every circumstance of solemnity, the Aird-rí ratified his former treaty, promising “to hold his lands well and peaceably of the English King as his liege lord,” and in token of this to pay an annual tribute of a tenth of all choice skins of animals slain in Ireland, to be approved by dealers, and of birds (of the chase), and wolfhounds. The Danish cities of Dublin and Waterford, with the adjacent lands as far as Dungarvan, and the whole province of Leinster, pledged by Dermot MacMorrogh to Strongbow, were reserved to be held of the King directly. Apart from these reserved lands, Rory was to hold sway over the lesser chieftains and to receive their tributes as of old, King Henry’s tribute being added as an additional claim.[15]

In case any of the chiefs should rebel against the King or against Rory or refuse to pay tribute, the King of Connacht was authorized to judge them, and if necessary to remove them from their possessions, to be helped therein by the King’s Constable of Ireland. Two years later, in 1177, a council was convened at Waterford, and the solemn compact of Windsor was renewed in the presence of the Papal legate, Cardinal Vivianus, “who openly showed the King’s right to Ireland” and enforced it by a threat of Papal excommunication against all who should refuse obedience to Henry’s authority. Thus in a series of explicit steps the office of overlord was confirmed to the King of England. Into the hands of the new overlord Rory and his successors placed their hostages in token of homage and fidelity, as formerly they had been committed to the Aird-rí. Rory’s own hostage was his son, and it was while conducting him to Normandy in November 1180, to place him in Henry’s keeping, that Archbishop O’Toole fell ill in the monastery of Eu and died there.[16] When exhorted by the monks of Eu to make his will, “God knows,” he said, “out of all my revenues I have not a coin to bequeath.”

It was at the Council of Waterford that the much-disputed and misnamed “Bull” of Pope Adrian was first brought forward, conferring on Henry II the papal approval of his expedition to Ireland, and the right of dominion over the island. It was given in accordance with the general claim made by the Popes over all islands, which it was believed were under the special protection of the Papal See, and was conditional on his promise to endeavour to reduce the country to social and ecclesiastical order.

Pope Adrian, who was an Englishman, bade the King of England go forth to the conquest “for the enlargement of the Church’s borders, for the restraint of vice, the correction of morals and the planting of virtue, the increase of the Christian religion, and whatsoever may tend to God’s glory and the well-being of that land.”

Shortly before, Pope Alexander II had given his approval in a similar manner to William I on his Norman conquest of England. In September 1172 the then Pope, Alexander III, also had given his benediction to the enterprise in Ireland in three letters, couched in very similar terms, to the King himself, to the Legate of the Apostolic See in Ireland with the archbishops and bishops, and to the kings and princes of Ireland, exhorting obedience to the sovereign, and saying that “he has learned with joy that they have taken Henry as their king.” He commanded the prelates “to assist Henry in his government of Ireland, and to smite with ecclesiastical censures any of its kings, princes, and people who shall dare to violate the oath of fidelity they have sworn.”[17]

Thus, supported by Papal authority, the Synod of Cashel met some time in 1172, soon after the departure of Henry, under the presidency of Christian O’Conarchy, Bishop of Lismore and Papal Legate; Gelasius (Gilla MacLiag), the Primate, being too far advanced in age to be present, though he later travelled to Dublin to express his approval of the measures passed. These chiefly made for Church discipline and for the contract and observance of lawful marriages; and the prelates took their first step in the Anglicizing Church policy afterward pursued by ordering that all divine offices should be celebrated according to the forms of the Anglican Church, “for it is right and just that as Ireland has received her lord and king from England she should accept reformation from the same source.” Though several Irish bishops were present no voice was raised in dissent, and thus, approved and supported by ecclesiastical as well as secular authority, began the rule of England over Ireland.[18]

It must be allowed that the claim of the English kings to govern Ireland was at least as good as that by which any European monarch held his throne. The excuse provided by the invitation of Dermot to Henry made it even stronger than most of these others. It was better than that by which the Normans held England, which was purely the right of conquest, and in which no general submission of those in power had ever been obtained.

Henry or his successors would undoubtedly have attempted the conquest of Ireland at some time; the island lay too close at hand for a people who had conquered large parts of Western Europe to remain indifferent to it, and we have seen that to acquire Ireland had been long projected in Henry’s mind. The circumstances under which the new relations began were auspicious; but the retirement of the King placed the centre of authority at a distance, and the English monarchs were forced to leave the actual power in the hands of the ambitious Norman nobles who ruled in their name on the spot. To them the acquisition of lands and authority was the only object aimed at; and the quarrels of these foreigners among themselves for position and property were not less fierce and persistent than those they carried on with the Irish whose lands they coveted.

The Crown could only step in at intervals, and its authority gradually faded into the distance before the always present domination of the barons, which soon developed into semi-independence; it became a matter of individual choice with them whether they became Irish and renounced their allegiance to the English Crown or whether they remained English and strangers in their adopted country. Thus a sense of division which no length of time has healed, sprang up from the beginning; neither good rule nor bad rule served to lessen it in the eyes of a considerable section of the people; to the native Irish the English remained a foreign nation, whose right was disputed, and whose rule was accepted only through necessity. They continued to be looked upon as interlopers.

A permanent result of the visit of Henry II to Dublin was the giving of a charter conferring that city on the inhabitants of Bristol, the town which had most cordially aided the King and Dermot MacMorrogh in raising troops for the Irish undertaking. This remarkable charter, the oldest municipal document relating to any Irish town, is the first of seven original extant charters of dates between 1172 and 1320 concerning Dublin issued by English kings. It was designed to bring to an end the Norse authority over the Irish capital, and to transfer the city definitely under English control. Up to this time the Norse rulers still looked upon it as the capital of their Irish dominions; though for some time back this assumption of authority had been challenged by the Irish princes of Leinster who had never abandoned their claims on Dublin as part of their possessions, so that we find both Irish and Norse governors styled kings of Dublin.

Up to the arrival of the Normans all the larger towns were occupied chiefly by Danes or Norse, and had Danish or Norse governors. We have seen that when Miles de Cogan entered the city the governor of the capital was Asgall, or Asculf, son of Ragnall mac Torcaill, and that he fled away by sea. He is sometimes called king, but Ragnall, his father, is styled Mór Maer, or High Steward of Dublin, the latter title being probably a more correct designation; Asgall was taken and beheaded by the English in 1171, after a battle fought “on the green of Dublin” between de Cogan and Tiernan O’Rorke accompanied by the men of Meath and the Danish troops.[19]

Henry, when making his grants to his barons, expressly retained in his own hands the Danish towns with some part of the surrounding districts. He designed to attach them directly to the Crown, and to make them centres of English influence, which, in fact, they remained through centuries.

By the Bristol charter,[20] which gave to Bristol men settling in Dublin all the privileges possessed by them at home, he encouraged merchants of that city, doubtless old traders between the two towns, to come over and establish themselves in Ireland; the charter was enlarged in 1174, and gave to the burgesses of the capital liberty to transact business throughout the entire land of England, Normandy, Wales, and Ireland, free of any toll or customs whatever, and these privileges were confirmed more than once in the reign of King John.

The giving of the Bristol charter was followed by a large influx of merchants from all parts of England, Scotland, South Wales, and even from Flanders, Brabant, and France. An old list of names of citizens shows that towns as far separated from each other as Edinburgh, Lincoln, Cardiff, and Cirencester, contributed their quota to the inhabitants of Dublin as tailors, mercers, spicers, goldsmiths, and followers of many other occupations. They formed themselves into merchant guilds, and carried on an active trade during the thirteenth century in corn,[21] cattle, and derivative products; live stock, fish, and skins; silk and cloth of gold; English and Irish and foreign cloth, worsted, linen, and the thick Irish mantle or ‘falaing,’ as well as iron, brass, steel, glass, lead, and timber. Irish products were on sale in England and abroad in 1207; a ‘tymbre’ of forty Irish marten-skins was ordained by Philippe Auguste to be furnished by merchants coming from Ireland to the port of Rouen; and both peltry and silk from Ireland paid tolls in Paris in the thirteenth century; while droguet, or drugget, is said to have taken its name from Drogheda.[22]

Of these merchants a fair proportion came from Bristol, several of them becoming free citizens between 1225 and 1250, and holding posts of distinction such as those of Provost and Mayor of Dublin. As time went on, the old Scandinavian inhabitants were pushed out, and they settled on the north side of the Liffey in a suburb which became known as Villa Ostmannorum (later corrupted into Oxmantown),[23] similar settlements being made in Cork, Waterford, and Limerick, as the English colony increased in number in these cities. Though they are seldom named in charters, they kept a firm hold over trade, and they were associated by King John in an inquiry held in Dublin in 1215.

One Richard Olaf was Keeper of the Exchange of the King of England in the reign of Edward I. In Waterford, a charter of denization was granted by Henry II, and later confirmed by Edward I, to certain old Ostman inhabitants of the town, and Ostman jurors served on inquisitions in all the old Danish cities.

In Limerick, which long continued to be mainly a Danish town, twelve English and an equal number of Ostmen and Irish jurors took part in an inquisition as to the property of the See of Limerick, taken by William de Burgh in 1202. The cantred of the Ostmen in that town lay on both sides of the Shannon, and under its first charter the Provost was a Syward.

In 1200 the King still retained in his own hands “the cantred of the Ostmen and the Holy Isle,” when he granted the custody of the city to William de Braose. In these civic communities the Irish had no legal part unless they became Anglicized, though the fact that they acted as jurors in equal numbers with English and Danes in Limerick shows that they took more part in civic affairs than is generally supposed. There was constant traffic between them and the English settlers in the towns, as the list of native commodities proves; but the frequent changes of name at this time make attempts at identification impossible. Numbers of the sons of Irish chiefs were called by Norse names, Olaf, Sitric, Magnus, etc.; even Dermot MacMorrogh called his son Cnut. The Irish no doubt found it more convenient to trade with the newcomers under Norman or English names.

An example of this is furnished by the deed of Anglicization of an Irish-born merchant of Dublin who called himself Robert de Bree. He only secured his charter of Anglicization in the reign of Edward I, but he held considerable properties in the city, and his descendants intermarried with leading citizens. There must have been many similar cases.

The privileges of Dublin were enlarged both under Prince John and Henry III, and were extended to other towns. Traders who were not citizens might not tarry in Dublin beyond forty days, nor buy corn, wool, and hides except from citizens. They could not sell cloth by retail, nor keep wineshops except on shipboard.[24] The import of wine was very large and brought in a good revenue to the kings.

In pre-Norman days the principal drink seems still to have been mead or ale, though there had been a trade in French wines from the earliest times. When Kincora was burned down in 1107 it is recorded that sixty keeves, or vats, of mead and ale (‘brogoid’ or ‘bragget’) were destroyed. Later on, wine became more common, and we learn that when the army of Edward Bruce entered Dundalk in 1315 the abundance of wine found there made it difficult for him to keep his men in hand.

English weights and measures were introduced into Ireland early in the thirteenth century, though the old Irish ‘crannock,’ or wicker basket, was still used as a measure; and strong walls and forts and good bridges were proceeded with, special aids of money being subscribed by the townsmen of Dublin and Drogheda for the purpose. The Dublin mayoralty was established in 1229. Annual fairs were permitted in all the chief cities for eight days each, and the afterward notorious Donnybrook Fair became the chief annual market for Dublin.

Merchants of Lucca seem to have been specially active in the Irish trade. They are frequently mentioned. In 1291 a petition was sent in by the company of Richardi of Lucca, praying for relief. They complained that they had been unlawfully seized by the King’s Treasurer and his agents at Ross, Waterford, Limerick, Kilkenny, Youghal, and Cork, and imprisoned with confiscation of their goods. These Lucca merchants were money-lenders on a large scale.[25] But the forced prisages as loans taken from merchants became very oppressive, and in 1220 it was complained that the cities had become so impoverished by them that merchants hesitated to bring their merchandise thither. Dublin had become “odious to traders.”