Richard de Burgo

DIED A. D. 1243.

From The Irish Nation: Its History and Its Biography

By James and Freeman Wills

AMONGST the greater names by which the annals of this period are illustrated, few are more entitled to our notice than Richard De Burgo. He was the son of Fitz-Adelm, of whom we have already given a sketch, by Isabella, natural daughter to Richard I., and widow of Llewellyn, prince of Wales. He succeeded by the death of his father in 1204, to the greater part of the province of Connaught, the grant of which was confirmed to him by king John, for the yearly rent of 300 marks; and again by Henry III. for a fine of 3000 marks. This grant was afterwards enlarged by a subsequent transaction in the year 1225, when the lord justice Marshall was directed to seize the whole of Connaught, forfeited by O'Connor, and to deliver it up to Richard de Burgo, at the rent of 300 marks for five years, and afterwards of 500 yearly. From this was excepted a tract, amounting to five cantreds, reserved for the maintenance of a garrison in Athlone. These grants appear to have been slowly carried into effect; in the first instance, they were no more than reversions on the death of Cathal O'Connor, who had still continued to hold a doubtful and difficult state in his paternal realm. His restless and turbulent spirit soon afforded the pretext, if it did not impose the necessity, of proceeding to more violent extremities; but his death in 1223 made the claim of De Burgo unconditional.

This, nevertheless, did not deter the native chiefs from proceeding in pursuance of custom, to the election of a successor; and Tirlogh O'Connor, brother to Cathal, was invested with the royal name and pretensions. This nomination drew forth the interference of the government, at the time in the hands of De Marisco. But the hostilities of this governor were rather directed against the disaffected Irish prince, than in support of the already too powerful settlement. De Marisco having led a powerful force into Connaught, expelled Tirlogh, and set Aedh a son of Cathal in his place. Aedh, however, availed himself of the power thus acquired, for the purpose of resisting the power by which he was set up; and a contention ensued, in the result of which he met his death in some tumultuary affair between his people and those of De Marisco. Tirlogh re-assumed his claims; but Richard de Burgo had by this time succeeded De Marisco in the government of the country, and was thus armed with the power to right his own cause effectually. He deposed Tirlogh: but instead of directly asserting his claim to a paramount jurisdiction, he thought it more consistent with his ambition to act under the shadow of a nominal kingly authority, and accordingly placed Feidlim O'Connor, another son of Cathal, on the throne. His expectations were, however, disappointed by the spirit and sagacity of his nominee: Feidlim resisted his exactions, and refused to lend himself to his plans of usurpation and encroachment. De Burgo, indignant at this return for a seeming but selfish kindness, and stung by disappointment, avenged himself by the appointment of a rival prince of the same line, and marching to support his nomination, he contrived to make Feidlim his prisoner. Feidlim escaped, and collecting his friends and adherents, he defeated and slew the rival prince.

At this time Hubert de Burgo, uncle to Richard, fell into disgrace. He had for a long period, by the favour of these successive monarchs, been one of the greatest subjects in the kingdom--perhaps in Europe. He was chief justice of England, and had also been created earl of Connaught, and lord justice of Ireland for life. He was now displaced from his offices, and as Richard had been appointed in Ireland by his nomination and as his deputy,[1] he was involved in the consequences of his dismissal, and Maurice Fitz-Gerald appointed lord justice of Ireland.

The power and authority of Richard de Burgo were probably not seriously affected by the change: but the complaints of Feidlim O'Connor, representing his own wrongs and also the dangers to English authority which were likely to arise from the uninterrupted machinations of so turbulent and powerful a baron, had the effect of alarming the fears of Henry III. In consequence, a letter was written to Maurice Fitz-Gerald, of which the consequences will hereafter be more fully detailed. De Burgo was placed in a state of hostility with the English government; and king Feidlim his enemy, by a commission of the king, appointed to act against him.

Such a state of things under the general system of modern governments, when the relative position of king and subject are guarded by a proportionate difference of powers and means, must have terminated in the speedy ruin of the subject thus circumstanced. On the growing fortunes of De Burgo it had no effect. His uncle too returned into power, and shortly after we find Richard acting under his commission against earl Marshall, as already described.

On the return of his uncle to power, the king had been content to remonstrate with De Burgo, on his alleged disloyalty. He received him into favour, and gently intimated his advice, that for the time to come he should be found careful to observe such orders as he might receive, and in guarding against even the suspicion of disloyalty.

De Burgo seems to have been little influenced by this remonstrance. He contrived to gain the lord justice to his side; and easily finding some of those lawful excuses, which never yet have been found wanting for any occasion, they joined in the invasion on king Feidlim. The pretence was the suppression of insurrections; and under this pretence, they contrived to seize on large tracts of territory. Feidlim repeated his complaints, and the king sent an order for his redress to Maurice Fitz-Gerald; but a war with Scotland having commenced, and the king having ordered the attendance of Fitz-Gerald and the Irish chiefs, English and native--grounds for delay arose, and the storm was averted from De Burgo. He thus went on in the improvement of his circumstances, already grown beyond the limits of a subject. In 1232, we find an account of his having built the castle of Galway; and still growing in power and territorial possession, in 1236, he built that of Lough Rea. He now affected the state of a provincial king, and kept a train of barons, knights, and gentlemen, in his service, and about his person.

In 1242, he went, accompanied by a splendid suite, to meet king Henry in Bourdeaux, but died in France in 1243.[2]

He was married to Hodierna, daughter to Robert de Gernon, and by her mother grand-daughter to Odo, son of Cathal O'Connor, known by the appellation of Crovderg, king of Connaught. By her he left Walter de Burgo, his successor, and two daughters, of whom one was married to Theobald Butler, ancestor to the Ormonde family; the other to Henry Netterville, ancestor to Lord Netterville.[3]


[1] Cox p. 60.

[2] Lodge, i. 119

[3] Lodge.