Lordship of Ireland

The Lordship of Ireland (1171-1541) was the nominally all-island Irish state created in the wake of the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169-71.


The authority of the Lordship of Ireland's government was seldom extended throughout the island of Ireland at any time during its existence but was restricted to the Pale around Dublin, and some provincial towns, including Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Wexford and their hinterlands. It owed its origins to the decision of a Leinster dynast, Diarmait Mac Murchada (Diarmuid MacMorrough), to bring in a Norman knight based in Wales, Richard de Clare (alias 'Strongbow'), to aid him in his battle to regain his throne, after being overthrown by a confederation led by the new Irish High King (the previous incumbent had protected MacMurrough). Henry II of England, who reigned over England and ruled over parts of France, invaded Ireland to control Strongbow, whom he feared was becoming a threat to the stability of his own kingdom on its western fringes (there had been earlier fears that Saxon refugees might use either Ireland or Flanders as a base for a counter-offensive after 1066); ironically, much of the later Plantagenet consolidation of South Wales was in furtherance of holding open routes to Ireland.

Laudabiliter 1155

Another reason King Henry invaded Ireland was because Pope Adrian IV, the only Englishman to have occupied the papal throne, had issued a papal bull Laudabiliter (1155) authorising the English monarch to take possession of Ireland. Religious practices in Ireland and organisation had evolved divergently from those of areas of Europe influenced more directly by the Holy See, although many of these differences had been eliminated or greatly lessened by the time the bull was issued in 1155. Further, the former Irish church had never sent its dues ('tithes') to Rome. Despite this, many historians argue that Henry's primary motivation for invading Ireland was to control Strongbow and other Norman lords. Civility and inclusion had a cost.

The pope asserted the right to grant sovereignty over islands to different monarchs on the basis of a document, later found to be a forgery, called the Donation of Constantine. Doubts were cast on Laudabiliter in the 19th century, but its effect was confirmed by Pope Alexander III and then by the Irish bishops at the Synod of Cashel in 1172. The papal bull gave the Norman-English kings the title 'Lord of Ireland'.

John, Lord in 1185-1199

Having captured a small part of Ireland on the east coast, Henry used the land to solve a dispute dividing his family. For while he had divided his territories between his sons, one son, nicknamed "John Lackland", was left without lands to rule, hence the nickname. Henry granted John his Irish lands, becoming Lord of Ireland (Dominus Hiberniae) in 1185, with the territory becoming the Lordship of Ireland.

Fate, however, intervened in the form of the deaths of John's older brothers. As a result, he became King John of England, and the Lordship of Ireland, instead of being a separate country governed separately by a junior Norman prince, became a territorial possession of the Norman-English Crown.

Progress and decline

The Lordship thrived in the 1200s, a time of warm climate and better harvests. The feudal system was introduced, and the Parliament of Ireland was started in 1297. Some counties were created by shiring, while walled towns and castles became a feature of the landscape. But little of this engagement with mainstream European life was of benefit to those the Normans called the 'mere Irish'. 'Mere' derived from the Latin merus, meaning pure.

The Norman élite and churchmen spoke Norman-French and Latin. Many poorer settlers spoke English, Welsh and Flemish. The Gaelic areas spoke Irish dialects. The Yola language of County Wexford was a survivor of the early English dialects.

The Lordship suffered invasion from Scotland by Edward Bruce in 1315-18 which destroyed much of the economy. The earldom of Ulster ended in 1333 and the Black Death of 1348-50 impacted more on the town-dwelling Normans than on the remaining Gaelic clans. In 1366 the Statute of Kilkenny tried to keep aspects of Gaelic culture out of the Norman-controlled areas, but in vain. Historians refer to a Gaelic revival between 1350 and 1500, by which time the area ruled for the Crown - 'the Pale' - had shrunk to a small area around Dublin.

Between 1500 and 1541 a mixed situation arose. Most clans remained loyal most of the time, using a Gaelic-style system of alliances centred around the Lord Deputy who was usually the Earl of Kildare. However a rebellion by the 9th Earl's heir Silken Thomas in 1535 led on to a less sympathetic system of rule by mainly English-born administrators. The rebellion and Henry VIII's seizure of the Irish monasteries around 1540 led on to his plan to create a new kingdom based on the existing parliament.

Lordship to Kingdom, 1541

English monarchs continued to use the title "Lord of Ireland" to refer to their position of conquered lands on the island of Ireland. The title was changed by the Crown of Ireland Act passed by the Irish Parliament in 1541, when on Henry VIII's demand, he was granted a new title, King of Ireland, with the state renamed the Kingdom of Ireland. Henry VIII changed his title because the Lordship of Ireland had been granted to the Norman monarchy by the Papacy; Henry had been excommunicated by the Catholic Church and worried that his title could be withdrawn by the Holy See. Henry VIII also wanted Ireland to be become a full kingdom to encourage a greater sense of loyalty amongst his Irish subjects, some of whom took part in his policy of Surrender and regrant.

Parliaments and great Councils 1318 - 1369

Government was based in Dublin, but the members of parliament could be summonsed to meet anywhere:

See also


  • Norman Davies, The Isles: A History (Palgrave-Macmillan, 1999) (ISBN 0-333-76370-X)
  • Robin Frame; English Lordship in Ireland 1318 - 1361 (Clarendon Press, 1982) ISBN 0-19-822673-X


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