King Henry II.

Henry II., King of England, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, was born at Mantes in 1133, and succeeded King Stephen in 1154.

He early harboured designs for the conquest of Ireland.

In 1156 he obtained a grant of the island from Pope Adrian IV., confirmed by Adrian’s successor, Alexander III.

Unable immediately to undertake the enterprise, he laid by the bulls until opportunity should arise.

In 1168 Dermot MacMurrough came before him in Aquitaine, “represented the malice of his neighbours, and the treachery of his pretended friends, and the rebellion of his subjects, in proper and lively expressions; he suggested that kings were then most like gods when they exercised themselves in succouring the distressed, and that the fame of King Henry’s magnificence and generosity had induced him to that address for his Majesty’s protection and assistance.”[170]

The King, unable to respond to this appeal immediately, gave Dermot a patent, declaring he had taken him into his protection, grace, and favour, and assuring all who were willing to aid him of “our favour and licence in that behalf.”

Dermot’s return to Ireland, and its invasion by FitzStephen, Strongbow, and other lords, will be found related under their several names.

The success of the Anglo-Norman arms in all parts of the island rendered Henry desirous to assert his supremacy as soon as possible, and in the autumn of 1171 he collected a fleet of some 400 vessels at Milford Haven.

He himself, having gathered an army of horse and foot, numbering about 500 knights and 4,000 soldiers, came to the same place to meet his ships, and with his army embarked on 18th October [339a] or 16th November 1171, and on the next day landed at Crook, near Waterford.

To meet the expenses of the expedition, a special feudal exaction known as scutage was levied out of knights’ fees in the counties of England.

The returns of the stores got together for the expedition, as given in Mr. Sweetman’s Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, 1171–1251, are very interesting. They comprise hogs, wheat, oats, beans, cheese, and other provisions; the hire of ships; pay of masters, seamen, and artificers; payments for horses and their passage; supplies of axes, hand-mills, wooden towers, bridges, spades, pick-axes, nails. There are some curious payments on his own account—garments for 163 cottagers in his service in Ireland, robes for Murtough MacMurrough and burgesses of Wexford, £10 14s. 11d.; expenses of eight ships to carry over twenty knights and five attendants “who went with Adam the Archbishop into Ireland.”

We are also given abstracts of letters from Pope Alexander III., admonishing the Archbishops of Ireland to aid the King in governing it, and exhorting the kings and princes to persevere in their fealty to Henry.

The King was attended in the expedition by Strongbow, William FitzAdelm (De Burgh), Humphrey de Bohun, Hugh de Lacy, Robert FitzBarnard, and many other lords.

To impede the entrance of the fleet, the Irish had stretched three massive iron chains across Waterford harbour. A landing having been effected, however, Reginald MacGillemory and his adherents were seized and hanged, and all the Norse and native inhabitants of Waterford were expelled, except Gerald MacGillemory and his people, who allied themselves to the Anglo-Normans.

From Waterford Henry proceeded to Lismore, where he ordered the erection of a castle.

He then returned to Waterford, and marched through Leinster to Dublin—many of the chieftains giving in their adhesion on the way, while Roderic O’Conor and the more distant ones boldly held out against them.

Henry’s gorgeous pavilions, hung with tapestry, were pitched on Hoggin (now College) green, and there he held court during the ensuing Christmas. His courtesy and tact conciliated all comers.

The Irish chiefs were astonished at the magnificent entertainments given by him, and the splendour of the dress and armour of his barons and troops.

There were jousts and tournaments in the Norman fashion, mimes and music, and their fame spread far and wide.

Mr. Supple writes:

“King Henry presided at his feast in great majesty, and in his royal robes. This monarch, gifted with great natural abilities, and with an amount of learning wonderful in a layman of his time, is described, now in his thirty-eighth year, by a contemporary, as a man courteous, cheerful, and eloquent; of the middle size, with a high complexion, his head large and round, his eyes fiery and stern, his voice tremulous, his neck short; broad-breasted, strong-armed, but big-bellied—though to keep down this deformity he was very abstemious and exercised over much—often from daybreak until night, hunting or hawking; in disposition he was parsimonious at home, but most liberal abroad.”

A synod of the Irish clergy assembled at Cashel early in the spring, and a number of canons were passed tending to break down the independence of the old Irish church, and assimilate it to the English.

A parliament was also convened at Lismore, which a number of the Irish chiefs were induced to attend. The most important statute passed was that entitled the “Statute of Henry FitzEmpress,” which empowered the Irish barons to elect a temporary Viceroy in the event of the vacation of the office by death or otherwise.

Henry does not appear to have penetrated farther than Dublin, nor does he seem to have taken the style either of King or Lord of Ireland.

He divided almost the whole country amongst the most powerful barons, expecting that they would make as quick and complete a conquest of the island as their ancestors had of England.

Strongbow received large possessions in Leinster; De Lacy in Meath; FitzGeralds, FitzStephen, and De Cogan in Munster; and De Courcy in Ulster.

The seaport towns he kept principally under his immediate control, while Dublin he conferred on the citizens of Bristol.

Hugh de Lacy, appointed Constable and to the command of Dublin Castle, is generally regarded as the first regularly constituted Viceroy.

Richard FitzGislebert he appointed Lord-Marshal; Bertram de Verdun, Seneschal; Theobald Walter, Chief-Butler; and De Wellesley, Royal Standard Bearer.

These arrangements were carefully made with the view of counteracting the hitherto overwhelming influence of Strongbow in the affairs of the island.

The easterly winds in spring brought Henry bad news from England, he went to Wexford to await the first favourable opportunity for crossing, and on Easter Monday, 17th of April 1172, the wind being fair, he embarked at sunrise and landed at Port Finnen in Wales about noon same day.

Henry did not again visit Ireland. He died at Chinon, near Tours, 6th July 1189, and was buried at Fontevraud, in Anjou.

Note from Addenda:

Henry II.—Mr. Richey, in his Lectures on Irish History, shows that Henry’s policy towards the Irish chiefs was at first one of conciliation and respect, their lands being confirmed, “to hold the same in peace, so long as they shall observe their fealty to the King of England, and fully and faithfully render him tribute and his other rights, which they owe to him, by the hand of the King of Connaught.” The only early departure from this policy was the grant of Meath to De Lacy; but Meath may have been considered the appanage of the Monarch of Ireland, whose position Henry assumed. This course was, however, entirely abandoned by Henry after his return to England, and the rights neither of princes nor of people were regarded. Doubtless the pressure from barons desirous of obtaining lands in the new dominion was more than he could withstand. In the confiscations that ensued, Henry was careful to make grants to fresh adventurers, rather than add to the domains of the earlier invaders.[174]


5. Anglo-Normans, History of the Invasion of Ireland by the: Gerald H. Supple. Dublin, 1856.

148. Giraldus Cambrensis: Topography, and History of the Conquest in Ireland: Forester and Wright. London, 1863.

170. Ireland, History of: Richard Cox. London, 1689.

174. Ireland, History of, Lectures on the: Alexander G. Richey. 2 vols. Dublin, 1869–’70.

311. State Papers relating to Ireland, Calendar 1171–1610. 6 vols. London, 1860-’75.

335. Viceroys of Ireland, History: John T. Gilbert. Dublin, 1865.