Brotherhood of Saint George

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The Brotherhood of Saint George was a short-lived military guild founded in Dublin in 1474 for the defence of the crucial English-held territory of the Pale; for a time it was the only standing army maintained by English Crown in Ireland.[1] It was suppressed in 1494. It was not an order of knighthood as such, although some of its individual members were knights.


Main article: The Pale

Following the Norman Invasion of Ireland, which began in 1169, the English Crown gradually extended its control over about four-fifths of Ireland; but from the early fourteenth century onwards, the Crown's influence steadily diminished and its territories shrank. By the middle of the fifteenth century the only region of Ireland under secure English control was a part of Counties Dublin, Kildare, Meath and Louth. These lands were partially guarded by a fortified ditch or "Pale" (from the Latin palus), which gave its name to the territory itself. The citizens of the Pale were constantly troubled by raids by the Irish clans from adjoining territories, and defence of the Pale was a permanent preoccupation of the Dublin Government.

The Pale 1488

Foundation of the Brotherhood[edit]

In 1474 the Irish Parliament, apparently at the instigation of Thomas, 7th Earl of Kildare, then Lord Deputy of Ireland, chose thirteen men "of the most noble and worthy in the four shires" as the members, or companions of the Brotherhood.[2] They were ordered to assemble in Dublin every year on St George's Day to express their loyalty to the Crown.

Role of the Brotherhood[edit]

The members of the Brotherhood were charged with the defence of the Pale, and were assigned 120 archers, 40 other cavalry and 40 pages for that purpose.[3] They had the right to levy customs duties on all merchandise sold in Ireland outside Dublin and Drogheda :this seems to have been an early form of the cess tax for the defence of the Pale, which caused much ill feeling and political controversy in the next century. They also had the right to arrest malefactors, rebels and outlaws. The captain was to be chosen annually: the 7th Earl of Kildare was first captain. It has been said that the Brotherhood, with its 200 men, constituted for a time the "entire English standing army in Ireland".[4]

The choice of Saint George as the patron saint of the order suggests the personal involvement in the foundation of the Brotherhood by King Edward IV, who had a keen interest in the cult of that particular saint.

King Edward IV, patron of the Brotherhood of Saint George

The Companions of Saint George[edit]

List of members (incomplete):

It is notable that most of the known members of the Brotherhood were judges; while the office of Lord Chancellor of Ireland did not necessarily involve professional training as a lawyer, several other members of the Brotherhood held judicial offices which required the holder to be a qualified lawyer.

History of the Brotherhood[edit]

During its 20-year history surprisingly little is recorded about the Brotherhood. William Sherwood, Bishop of Meath, during his brief and rather unpopular tenure as Lord Deputy of Ireland (1475–77), abolished the Brotherhood, but it was reconstituted in 1479.[5] The 7th Earl of Kildare, who seems to have been the driving force behind it,[6] died in 1477 and several of the original brethren were dead by 1487 (although the order did have the right to fill vacancies in its membership).

Suppression of the Order[edit]

After the downfall of the House of York in 1485, the Anglo-Irish nobility, whose leaders made up the Brotherhood, remained strongly Yorkist in sympathy. Apart from Lord Howth, who had a connection by marriage to the new Tudor dynasty, almost all of the noblemen who were members of or associated with the Brotherhood supported the claims of the Yorkist pretender Lambert Simnel to the English Crown, and some of them followed him to his crushing defeat by Henry VII at the Battle of Stoke in 1487. Although the victorious Crown showed a remarkable degree of clemency towards the defeated rebels, and indeed to Simnel himself (he became a servant in the royal household), the guild's record of disloyalty to the new dynasty may well explain the decision of Henry VII, who was not a trustful man by nature, to dissolve the Brotherhood in 1494.[7]

King Henry VII


  1. ^ Otway-Ruuthven, A.J. History of Medieval Ireland Barnes and Noble reissue 1993 pp.395-6
  2. ^ Moore, Thomas Sturgis History of Ireland Paris 1840 Vol. II p.285
  3. ^ Moore p.285
  4. ^ Moore p.285
  5. ^ Otway-Ruthven p.399
  6. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol.1 p. 182
  7. ^ Rees, Abraham Cyclopedia London 1819 Vol. XIX