Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fitzhenry, Meiler

FITZHENRY, MEILER (d. 1220), Justiciar of Ireland, was the son of Henry, the bastard son of King Henry I, by Nesta, the wife of Gerald of Windsor, and the daughter of Rhys ab Tewdwr, king of South Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis, Itinerarium Kambriae, in Opera, vi. 130, Rolls Ser.; cf. Annales Cambriæ, p. 47, and Brut y Tywysogion, p. 189). He was thus the first cousin of Henry II, and related to the noblest Norman and native families of South Wales. Robert Fitzstephen [q.v.], Maurice Fitzgerald (d. 1176) [q.v.], and David II [q.v.], bishop of St. David's, were his half-brothers. Raymond le Gros [see Fitzgerald, Raymond] and Giraldus Cambrensis were among his cousins.

In 1157 his father Henry was slain during Henry II's campaign in Wales, when Robert Fitzstephen so narrowly escaped (Giraldus, Opera, vi. 130). Meiler, then quite young, now succeeded to his father's possessions of Narberth and Pebidiog, the central and north-eastern (ib. i. 59) parts of the modern Pembrokeshire. In 1169 he accompanied his uncle Fitzstephen on his first expedition to Ireland. He first distinguished himself in the invasion of Ossory along with his cousin Robert de Barry, brother of Giraldus (Giraldus, Expugnatio Hibernica, in Opera, v. 234-5). The French poet (Regan, p. 37) fully corroborates as regards Meiler. If the partial testimony of their kinsman is to be credited, Robert and Meiler were always first in every daring exploit.

In 1173 the return of Strongbow to England threw all Ireland into revolt. Meiler was then in garrison at Waterford, and made a rash sortie against the Irish. He pursued them into their impenetrable woods anc was surrounded. But he cut a way through them with his sword, and arrived safely at Waterford with three Irish axes in his horse and two on his shield (ib. pp. 309-10). In 1174 ie returned with Raymond to Wales, but when Strongbow brought Raymond back Meiler came with him and received as a reward the 'more distant cantred' of Offaly (Carbury barony, Co. Kildare) (ib. p. 314, and Mr. Dimock's note). In October 1175 he accompanied Raymond in his expedition against Limerick, was second to swim over the Shannon, and with his cousin David stood the attack of the whole Irish host until the rest of the army had crossed over (cf. Exp. Hib. and Regan, p. 162 sq.)

He was one of the brilliant band of Geraldines who under Raymond met the new governor, William Fitzaldhelm [q.v.] at Waterford, and at once incurred his jealous hatred (Exp. Hib. p. 335). Hugh de Lacy, the next Justiciar, took away Meiler's Kildare estate, but gave him Leix in exchange. This was in a still wilder, and therefore, as Giraldus thought, a more appropriate district than even the march of Offaly for so thorough border chieftain (ib. pp. 355-6). In 1182 Lacy again became Justiciar and built a castle on Meiler's Leix estate at 'Tahmeho' (Timahoe) and gave him his niece as a wife. It seems probable that Meiler had already been married, but he hitherto had no legitimate children (ib. p. 345). This childlessness was, in Giraldus's opinion, God's punishment to him for the want of respect to the church.

Giraldus gives us a vivid picture of his cousin in his youth. He was a dark man with black, stern eyes and keen face. In stature he was somewhat short, but he was very strong, with a square chest, thin flanks, bony arms and legs, and a sinewy, rather than fleshy body. He was high-spirited, proud, and brave to rashness. He was always anxious to excel, but more anxious to seem brave than really to be so. His only serious defect was his want of reverence to the church (ib. pp. 235, 324-5).

In June 1200 Meiler was in attendance on King John in Normandy (Chart. 2 John, m. 29, summarised in Sweetman, Cal. Doc. Ireland, 1171-1251, No. 122), and on 28 Oct. of that year received a grant of two cantreds in Kerry, and one in Cork (Chart. 2 John, m. 22, Cal. No. 124). About the same time he was appointed to 'the care and custody of all Ireland' as Chief Justiciar, the King reserving to himself pleas touching the crown, the mint, and the exchange (Chart. 2 John, m. 28 dors., Cal. No. 133). During his six years' government Meiler had to contend against very great difficulties, including the factiousness of the Norman nobles. John de Courci [q. v.], the conqueror of Ulster, was a constant source of trouble to him (Pat. 6 John, m. 9, Cat. No. 524). The establishment of Hugh de Lacy as Earl of Ulster (29 May 1205) was a great triumph for Fitzhenry. Before long, however, war broke out between Lacy and Fitzhenry (Four Masters, iii. 155).

Another lawless Norman noble was William de Burgh [see under Fitzaldhelm, William], who was now engaged in the conquest of Connaught. But while De Burgh was devastating that region, Fitzhenry and his assessor, Walter de Lacy, led a host into De Burgh's Munster estates (1203, Annals of Loch Ce, i. 229, 231). De Burgh lost his estates, though on appeal to King John he ultimately recovered them all, except those in Connaught (Pat. 6 John, m. 8, Cal. No. 230). Fitzhenry had similar troubles with Richard Tirel (Pat. 5 John, m. 4, Cal. No. 196) and other nobles. Walter de Lacy, at one time his chief colleague, quarrelled with him in 1206 about the baronies of Limerick (Pat. 8 John, m. 2, Cal. No. 315). In 1204 he was directed by the king to build a castle in Dublin to serve as a court of justice, as well as a means of defence. He was also to compel the citizens of Dublin to fortify the city itself (Close, 6 John, m. 18, Cal. No. 226). Fitzhenry continued to hold the Justiciarship until 1208. The last writ addressed to him in that capacity is dated 19 June 1208 (Pat. 10 John, m. 5). Mr. Gilbert (Viceroys, p. 59) says that he was superseded between 1203 and 1205 by Hugh de Lacy, but many writs are addressed to him as Justiciar during these years (Cal. Doc. Ireland, pp. 31-44 passim). On several occasions assessors or counsellors were associated with him in his work, and he was directed to do nothing of exceptional importance without their advice (e.g. Hugh de Lacy in 1205, Close, 5 John, m. 22, Cal. No. 268).

Fitzhenry remained one of the most powerful of Irish barons, even after he ceased to be Justiciar. About 1212 his name appears immediately after that of William Marshall in the spirited protest of the Irish barons against the threatened deposition of John by the Pope, and the declaration of their willingness to live and die for the king (Cal. Doc. Ireland, No. 448). Several gifts from the king marked John's appreciation of his administration of Ireland (ib. No. 398). But it was not till August 1219 that all the expenses incurred during his viceroyalty were defrayed from the exchequer (ib. No. 887). He must by that date have been a very old man. Already in 1216 it was thought likely that he would die, or at least retire from the world into a monastery (ib. No. 691).

There is no reference to his acts after 1219, and he died in 1220 (Clyn, Ann. Hib. p. 8). He had long ago atoned for his early want of piety by the foundation in 1202 ('Annals of Ireland' in Chart. St. Mary's, ii. 308; Dugdale, Monasticon, vi. 1138) of the abbey of Connall in County Kildare, which he handed over to the Austin canons of Llanthony, near Gloucester. This he endowed with large estates, with all the churches and benefices in his Irish lands, with a tenth of his household expenses, rents, and produce (Chart. 7 John, m. 7, Cal. No. 273). He was buried in the chapter-house at Connall (Ann. Ireland, ii. 314). He had, by the niece of Hugh de Lacy, a son named Meiler, who in 1206 was old enough to dispossess William de Braose of Limerick (Close, 8 John, m. 3, Cal. No. 310), and whose forays into Tyrconnell had already spread devastation among the Irish (Annals of Loch Cé, i. 231). The brother of the elder Meiler, Robert Fitzhenry, died about 1180 (Exp. Hib. p. 354).

[Giraldus Cambrensis, Expugnatio Hibernica, in Opera, vol. v. (Rolls Ser.); The Anglo-Norman Poem on the Conquest of Ireland, wrongly attributed to Regan, ed. Michel; the Patent, Close, Charter, Liberate, and other Rolls for the reign of John, printed by the Record Commissioners, and summarised, not always with quite the necessary precision, in Sweetman's Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, 1171-1251; Chartularies, &c., of St. Mary's Abbey, Dublin (Rolls Ser.); Gilbert's Viceroys of Ireland is not in this part always quite accurate; Annals of Loch Cé, vol. i. (Rolls Ser.)]

T. F. T.