worse off than the south. Some thoughtful men saw clearly the danger of leaving Ireland to be seized by the first chance comer, and the Libel of English Policy, written about 1436, contains a long and interesting passage declaring England’s interests in protecting Ireland as “a boterasse and a poste” of her own power. Sir John Talbot, immortalized by Shakespeare, was several times viceroy; he was almost uniformly successful in the field, but feeble in council. He held a parliament at Trim which made one law against men of English race wearing moustaches, lest they should be mistaken for Irishmen, and another obliging the sons of agricultural labourers to follow their father’s vocation under pain of fine and imprisonment. The earls of Shrewsbury are still earls of Waterford, and retain the right to carry the white staff as hereditary stewards, but the palatinate jurisdiction over Wexford was taken away by Henry VIII. The Ulster annalists give a very different estimate of the great Talbot from that of Shakespeare: “A son of curses for his venom and a devil for his evils; and the learned say of him that there came not from the time of Herod, by whom Christ was crucified, any one so wicked in evil deeds” (O’Donovan’s Four Masters).
In 1449 Richard, duke of York, right heir by blood to the throne of Edward III., was forced to yield the regency of France to his rival Somerset, and to accept the Irish viceroyalty. He landed at Howth with his wife Cicely Richard of York in Ireland. Neville, and Margaret of Anjou hoped thus to get rid of one who was too great for a subject. The Irish government was given to him for ten years on unusually liberal terms. He ingratiated himself with both races, taking care to avoid identification with any particular family. At the baptism of his son George—“false, fleeting, perjured Clarence”—who was born in Dublin Castle, Desmond and Ormonde stood sponsors together. In legislation Richard fared no better than others. The rebellion of Jack Cade, claiming to be a Mortimer and cousin to the duke of York, took place at this time. This adventurer, at once ludicrous and formidable, was a native of Ireland, and was thought to be put forward by Richard to test the popularity of the Yorkist cause. Returning suddenly to England in 1450, Richard left the government to James, earl of Ormonde and Wiltshire, who later married Eleanor, daughter of Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset, and was deeply engaged on the Lancastrian side. This earl began the deadly feud with the house of Kildare, which lasted for generations. After Blore Heath Richard was attainted by the Lancastrian parliament, and returned to Dublin, where the colonial parliament acknowledged him and assumed virtual independence. A separate coinage was established, and the authority of the English parliament was repudiated. William Overy, a bold squire of Ormonde’s, offered to arrest Richard as an attainted traitor, but was seized, tried before the man whom he had come to take, and hanged, drawn and quartered. The duke only maintained his separate kingdom about a year. His party triumphed in England, but he himself fell at Wakefield.
Among the few prisoners taken on the bloody field of Towton was Ormonde, whose head long adorned London Bridge. He and his brothers were attainted in England and by the Yorkist parliament in Ireland, but the importance Edward IV. (1461-1483). of the family was hardly diminished by this. For the first six years of Edward’s reign the two Geraldine earls engrossed official power. The influence of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, whom Desmond had offended, then made itself felt. Tiptoft, earl of Worcester, became deputy. He was an accomplished Oxonian, who made a speech at Rome in such good Latin as to draw tears from the eyes of that great patron of letters Pope Pius II. (Aeneas Sylvius). But his Latinity did not soften his manners, and he was thought cruel even in that age. Desmond was beheaded, ostensibly for using Irish exactions, really, as the partisans of his family hold, to please Elizabeth. The remarkable lawlessness of this reign was increased by the practice of coining. Several mints had been established since Richard of York’s time; the standards varied and imitation was easy.
During Richard III.’s short reign the earl of Kildare, head
of the Irish Yorkists, was the strongest man in Ireland. He
espoused the cause of Lambert Simnel (1487), whom
the Irish in general seem always to have thought a
Henry VII. (1485-1509). true Plantagenet. The Italian primate, Octavian de Palatio, knew better, and incurred the wrath of Kildare by refusing to officiate at the impostor’s coronation. The local magnates and several distinguished visitors attended, and Lambert was shown to the people borne aloft on “great D’Arcy of Platten’s” shoulders. His enterprise ended in the battle of Stoke, near Newark, where the flower of the Anglo-Irish soldiery fell. “The Irish,” says Bacon, “did not fail in courage or fierceness, but, being almost naked men, only armed with darts and skeins, it was rather an execution than a fight upon them.” Conspicuous among Henry VII.’s adherents in Ireland were the citizens of Waterford, who, with the men of Clonmel, Callan, Fethard and the Butler connexion generally, were prepared to take the field in his favour. Waterford was equally conspicuous some years later in resisting Perkin Warbeck, who besieged it unsuccessfully, and was chased by the citizens, who fitted out a fleet at their own charge. The king conferred honour and rewards on the loyal city, to which he gave the proud title of urbs intacta. Other events of this reign were the parliament of Drogheda, held by Sir Edward Poynings, which gave the control of Irish legislation to the English council (“Poynings’s Act”—the great bone of contention in the later days of Flood and Grattan), and the battle of Knockdoe, in which the earl of Kildare used the viceregal authority to avenge a private quarrel.
Occupied in pleasure or foreign enterprise, Henry VIII. at first paid little attention to Ireland. The royal power was practically confined to what in the previous century had become known as the “Pale,” that is Dublin, Henry VIII. (1509-1547). Louth, Kildare and a part of Meath, and within this narrow limit the earls of Kildare were really more powerful than the crown. Waterford, Drogheda, Dundalk, Cork, Limerick and Galway were not Irish, but rather free cities than an integral part of the kingdom; and many inland towns were in the same position. The house of Ormonde had created a sort of small Pale about Kilkenny, and part of Wexford had been colonized by men of English race. The Desmonds were Irish in all but pride of blood. The Barretts, Condons, Courcies, Savages, Arundels, Carews and others had disappeared or were merged in the Celtic mass. Anglo-Norman nobles became chiefs of pseudo-tribes, which acknowledged only the Brehon law, and paid dues and services in kind. These pseudo-tribes were often called “nations,” and a vast number of exactions were practised by the chiefs. “Coyne and livery”—the right of free-quarters for man and beast—arose among the Anglo-Normans, and became more oppressive than any native custom. When Henry took to business, he laid the foundation of reconquest. The house of Kildare, which had actually besieged Dublin (1534), was overthrown, and the Pale saved from a standing danger (see Fitzgerald). But the Pale scarcely extended 20 m. from Dublin, a march of uncertain width intervening between it and the Irish districts. Elsewhere, says an elaborate report, all the English folk were of “Irish language and Irish condition,” except in the cities and walled towns. Down and Louth paid black rent to O’Neill, Meath and Kildare to O’Connor, Wexford to the Kavanaghs, Kilkenny and Tipperary to O’Carroll, Limerick to the O’Briens, and Cork to the MacCarthies. MacMurrough Kavanagh, in Irish eyes the representative of King Dermod, received an annual pension from the exchequer. Henry set steadily to work to reassert the royal title. He assumed the style of king of Ireland, so as to get rid of the notion that he held the island of the pope. The Irish chiefs acknowledged his authority and his ecclesiastical supremacy, abjuring at the same time that of the Holy See. The lands of the earl of Shrewsbury and other absentees, who had performed no duties, were resumed; and both Celtic and feudal nobles were encouraged to come to court. Here begins the long line of official deputies, often men of moderate birth and fortune.