The Normans in Ireland by Sarah Woodbury

Posted by on Dec 19, 2016 in Featured Book, Historical Tidbits | Comments Off on The Normans in Ireland by Sarah Woodbury

The Normans were conquerors. Even more, they conquered. It was what they did. It was only natural, then, that eventually one of them would set his sights on Ireland.  That someone, in this case, was Richard de Clare, otherwise known as Strongbow.

Now, Strongbow wasn’t entirely at fault for what came next. In fact, in 1169 he was invited into Ireland by the ousted king of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada. Murchada had been removed from power by the High King of Ireland, Rory O’Connor, and, naturally, he wanted his lands back. He knew about Norman military prowess and looked to south Wales, where Clare was the Earl of Pembroke, for assistance.

And what did Clare get out of it? Murchada had no male heir, so he promised Clare his daughter and the kingship of Leinster if they succeeded.

For Clare, that was quite a deal, especially since his position in Wales/England was somewhat tenuous, given the fact that he was often on the outs with King Henry. As it was, Clare had rebelled against the throne before during the nineteen year anarchy, and a foothold in Ireland would give him more power and land and make him a king in his own right.

What could be better?

Unfortunately for Clare, though he got the girl and the land, his rule lasted only two years before King Henry brought a massive invasion force–not to subdue the Irish per se, but to subdue Clare, whom King Henry thought was growing too powerful. Clare, being the good Norman that he was, did another deal, this time giving up the towns of Waterford, Wexford, and Dublin in exchange for keeping the throne of Leinster–and his head.

Thus, while Strongbow was the first Norman to gain a foothold in Ireland, by 1171, King Henry and his knights carved out huge sections of eastern and southern Ireland for themselves. Other knights marched north and established a northern bastion at Carrickfergus, which became the seat of the Earl of Ulster.

After this initial period, however, Anglo-Norman rule ebbed and flowed. In fact, as the centuries progressed, it ebbed more than flowed, such that by 1500, the descendants of the original conquerors were almost completely assimilated into the native Irish clans. It reached a point such that Henry VIII offered amnesty to all lords in Ireland regardless of ethnicity, provided they surrendered their lands to him (to receive them back immediately by royal charter).

Unfortunately for Ireland, after two hundred years of being mostly ignored by the English crown, the Tudors decided that the time had come to ‘pacify’ and ‘Anglicize’ the island to bring it under more direct English control. The country’s offenses were remaining Catholic while England had gone Protestant, and the continued existence of clans and kingdoms outside of the standardized English system. The “Old English” families, as the former Anglo-Norman families were called, were viewed as no better than the native Irish. All were stripped of power and forced off their lands by new rulers and imported settlers from England, Scotland, and Wales, who were, of course, Protestant as well.

From Wikipedia:

“The first and most important result of the conquest was the disarmament of the native Irish lordships and the establishment of central government control for the first time over the whole island; Irish culture, law and language were replaced; and many Irish lords lost their lands and hereditary authority. Thousands of English, Scottish and Welsh settlers were introduced into the country and the administration of justice was enforced according to English common law and statutes of the Parliament of Ireland.

As the 16th century progressed, the religious question grew in significance. Rebels such as James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald and Hugh O’Neill sought and received help from Catholic powers in Europe, justifying their actions on religious grounds . . . Under James I, Catholics were barred from all public office … the Gaelic Irish and Old English increasingly defined themselves as Catholic in opposition to the Protestant New English … By the end of the resulting Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in the 1650s, the “New English” Protestants dominated the country, and after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 their descendants went on to form the Protestant Ascendancy.”

Far more than the initial Norman conquest of Ireland, it is in the Cromwellian conquest where the roots of the deep resentment of the Irish people towards the English lie, as well as the source of the campaign for independence that marked the eighteenth through twentieth centuries.

My latest book, Outpost in Time, takes place in 1294, a hundred years after the initial Norman conquest and two hundred years before the Tudor conquest. David, the King of England and Lord of Ireland in my alternate universe, knows the history, and above all wants to avoid the next phase in the English conquest of Ireland. Unfortunately, his lords and barons are not quite as amenable to the idea of self-rule as he is …

Sarah Woodbury, December 19, 2016