Norman invasion of Ireland

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The Norman invasion of Ireland or Anglo-Norman invasion refers to the intervention of mainly English or Anglo-Norman troops in Ireland in the last quarter of the twelfth century. Although popularly dated to 1169, the first mercenaries arrived in Ireland in 1167 at the request of Diarmait Mac Murchada, the ousted King of Leinster, who had sought their help in regaining his kingdom. On October 18, 1171, Henry II landed a much bigger army in Waterford to ensure his continuing control over the men recruited from his realm. In the process he took Dublin and had accepted the fealty of several Gaelic kings and bishops by 1172, so creating the Lordship of Ireland that formed part of his Angevin Empire.

In contemporary or near contemporary sources, the incoming warriors recruited by Mac Murchada are overwhelmingly described as English.[1] For example, Expugnatio Hibernica almost always describes them as English; so too does the Song of Dermot and the Earl, a source which uses the term "English" about eighty times, whilst using "French", "Flemings", and "Normans" in only one particular line.[2] Despite the modern employment of terms such as "Normans", "Anglo-Normans"[3] (itself an eighteenth-century construct),[4] and "Cambro-Normans", contemporary sources virtually never use "Norman" in an Irish context.[3] Irish sources usually describe the men as "foreigners" and "grey foreigners", or else as Saxain ("Saxons" or "English").[5] In consequence, it is apparent that contemporaries regarded the incomers as English.[6] In the nineteenth century, however, during a period of intense and sensitive political debate, the term was dropped by historians and replaced with ahistorical terms.[7] Even amongst modern historians there is still a reluctance to use "English".[8]


In 1155, Pope Adrian IV, the only English pope, supposedly issued a papal bull (known as Laudabiliter) that gave Henry II permission to invade Ireland as a means of strengthening the Papacy's control over the Irish Church.[9] The Laudabiliter enforced Papal suzerainty not only over Ireland but of all islands off the European coast, including Britain, in virtue of the Constantinian Donation. References to Laudabiliter become more frequent in the later Tudor period when the researches of the Renaissance humanist scholars cast doubt on the historicity of the Donation. But even if the Donation was spurious, other documents such as Dictatus papae (1075–87) show that by the 12th century the Papacy felt it had political powers superior to all kings and local rulers.

The English conquest of Ireland thus had the backing of the Papacy. Pope Alexander III, who was Pope at the time of the advent of the English, ratified the Laudabiliter and gave Henry dominion over the "barbarous nation" of Ireland so that its "filthy practices" may be abolished, its Church brought into line, and that the Irish pay their tax to Rome.[10]

Diarmait's allies of 1169[edit]

Original landing site for the invasion –
Bannow Bay

After losing the protection of Muirchertach Mac Lochlainn, High King of Ireland, who died in 1166, Diarmait Mac Murchada was forcibly exiled by a confederation of Irish forces under the new High King, Rory O'Connor. Mac Murchada fled first to Bristol and then to Aquitaine.[11] He sought and obtained permission from Henry II of England to hire mercenaries within Henry's dominions to regain his kingdom.

By 1167 Mac Murchada had obtained the services of Maurice Fitz Gerald and later persuaded Fitz Gerald's cousin, Rhys ap Gruffydd Prince of Deheubarth, to release another cousin, Fitz Gerald's half-brother Robert Fitz-Stephen, from captivity to take part in the expedition. Most importantly Mac Murchada obtained the support of Richard fitz Gilbert, Earl of Pembroke Richard de Clare, who is now commonly known as Strongbow (a later invention, contemporaries called him 'count of Strigoil').

The first English knight to land in Ireland was Richard fitz Godbert de Roche in 1167, but it was not until 1169 that the main body of English, Welsh and Flemish forces landed in Wexford. Within a short time Leinster was retaken, Waterford and Dublin were under Diarmait's control. Earl Richard married Diarmait's daughter, Aoife, and was named as heir to the Kingdom of Leinster. After Diarmait died in early 1171, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair refused to accept earl Richard as the new lord of Leinster, and attacked Dublin. Richard defeated him and sent his forces fleeing. Earl Richard's defeat of the 'high king of Ireland' caused some concern for Henry II, and the latter visited Ireland to assert his authority over the earl and any other Englishmen with grand desires.

Arrival of Henry II in 1171[edit]

Henry landed with a large fleet at Waterford in 1171, becoming the first King of England to set foot on Irish soil. This would mark the beginning of English and later British rule in Ireland. Both Waterford and Dublin were proclaimed royal demesne. In November Henry accepted the submission of some Gaelic and Ostmen kings in Dublin. In 1172 Henry arranged for the Irish bishops to attend the Synod of Cashel and to run the Irish Church in the same manner as the Church in England. Adrian's successor, Pope Alexander III, then ratified the grant of Ireland to Henry, "... following in the footsteps of the late venerable Pope Adrian, and in expectation also of seeing the fruits of our own earnest wishes on this head, ratify and confirm the permission of the said Pope granted you in reference to the dominion of the kingdom of Ireland."

Henry was happily acknowledged by some of the Irish Kings, who saw in him a chance to curb the expansion of both Leinster and the English adventurers. He then had to leave for England to deal with papal legates investigating the death of Thomas Becket in 1170, and then for France to suppress the Revolt of 1173–1174. His next involvement with Ireland was the Treaty of Windsor in 1175 with Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair.[12]

However, with both Diarmait and Strongbow dead (in 1171 and 1176 respectively) and Henry back in England, within two years this treaty was unenforcible. John de Courcy invaded and gained much of east Ulster in 1177, Raymond FitzGerald (known as Raymond le Gros) had already captured Limerick and much of the Kingdom of Thomond (also known as North Munster), while the other English families such as Prendergast, fitz-Stephen, fitz-Gerald, fitz-Henry and le Poer were actively carving out petty kingdoms for themselves.

In 1185 Henry awarded his Irish territories to his 18-year-old youngest son, John, with the title Dominus Hiberniae ("Lord of Ireland"), and planned to establish it as a kingdom for him. When John unexpectedly succeeded his brother Richard as king in 1199, the "Lordship" title was transferred to the English Crown.

Subsequent assaults[edit]

While the main English conquest concentrated on Leinster, with submissions made to Henry II by the other provincial kings, the situation on the ground outside Leinster remained unchanged. However, individual groups of knights invaded:

These conquests can be called 'invasions'.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bartlett (2010) p. 34; Flanagan (2005) pp. 17–18; Gillingham (2000) pp. 151–153.
  2. ^ Gillingham (2000) pp. 151–154.
  3. ^ a b Bartlett (2010) p. 34; Flanagan (2005) pp. 17–18; Gillingham (2000) pp. 151–155, 152 n. 36.
  4. ^ Bartlett (2010) p. 34; Gillingham (2000) p. vx.
  5. ^ Bartlett (2010) p. 34; Flanagan (2005) pp. 17–18; Gillingham (2000) pp. 152–153.
  6. ^ Flanagan (2005) pp. 17–18; Gillingham (2000) pp. 152–153.
  7. ^ Bartlett (2010) p. 34; Gillingham (2000) p. 153.
  8. ^ Gillingham (2000) pp. 153 n. 45, 157–158, 157 n. 62.
  9. ^ Austin Lane Poole. From Domesday book to Magna Carta, 1087–1216. Oxford University Press 1993. pp. 303-304.
  10. ^ Hull, Eleanor. "POPE ADRIAN'S BULL "LAUDABILITER" AND NOTE UPON IT", from A History of Ireland and Her People (1931).
  11. ^ M. Therese-Flanagan, Irish Society, p.76
  12. ^ A. M. Sullivan, Atlas and Cyclopedia of Ireland (1900), chapter 20.