John's first expedition to Ireland

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In 1185, Henry II of England's son John, then Lord of Ireland and future King of England, travelled from England to Ireland to consolidate the Anglo-Norman colonisation of Ireland.


The subject of John going to Ireland first came into question under the reign of his father, Henry II, specifically with the Council of Oxford in 1177. This council agreed to have John made King of Ireland. This would appear to have been a strategy of his father's to divide his Angevin possessions between his four sons. The approval of Pope Alexander III was sought to have John crowned King of Ireland. Disagreements with first Alexander III and then his successor Pope Lucius III caused this to be delayed and instead John went as only Lord of Ireland.

In 1184 arrangements were made for John's departure with the sending of John Cumin and Philip of Worcester to prepare the ground for John's arrival. John arrived in Ireland in April 1185, landing at Waterford with around 300 knights and numerous foot soldiers and archers.


Upon his arrival in Ireland, John and his retinue were greeted by numerous unnamed Gaelic Irish leaders. It is said that upon seeing these strange long bearded Kings, John and his retinue laughed and pulled them about by their beards. Gerald of Wales said that the Irish then complained to their overlords — men such as Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair — of how John was "an ill-mannered child… from whom no good could be hoped". Aside from upsetting these rulers, John also at this time engaged in a vigorous program of extending land grants to trusted royal administrators such as Theobald Walter, William de Burgh, Gilbert Pipard and Bertram de Verdun as well as other minor land grants to lesser figures. Their Hiberno-Norman descendants, such as Walter's Butler dynasty, would long remain influential.

During his stay in Ireland, John largely followed the route his father Henry II had taken in 1171–72, landing in Waterford and ending up in Dublin. John's expedition founded several castles along the way, especially in Western Waterford and Southern Tipperary, and also established the foundations of administration and law which he later expanded upon in his second expedition in 1210.


John left Ireland in December 1185 and returned to England. Scholars have largely agreed that this was most likely to do with the presence of Hugh de Lacy but it is also likely that John ran out of money. It has been suggested that his departure was a setback in much broader plan to set up administrative structures in Ireland in order to control the unruly Barons via loyal, royalist forces such as Walter, De Burgh and De Verdon and that when De Lacy began to threaten his position, he escaped back to the safety of England. What is generally perceived, both contemporarily and in modern scholarship as a feckless attitude has given him a bad reputation and caused his first expedition to be viewed unfairly.[neutrality is disputed]

Upon his departure, his father Henry granted the office of justiciar to the Baron John de Courcy, who had massive influence in Ulster. In 1186 Hugh De Lacy was assassinated by an Irishman and plans were made to send John back to Ireland. However, the death of his brother, Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany, in France cancelled these plans and John did not return to Ireland until his second expedition in 1210.


The expedition has attracted much historical debate due to the lack of government records available and the subsequent reliance on sources such as the Irish Annals and the writings of Gerald.


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