HENRY II COMES TO IRELAND

BY GERALD OF WALES

Gerald continues the story of the invasion by giving a slightly different version of FitzStephen’s capture by the Irish (or the “traitors,” as he calls them) and Strongbow’s summons to Henry’s court in England. He goes on to recount Henry’s triumphal entry into Ireland and the homage paid the king both by the Irish kings and clergy.

There are also passages that reveal Henry (and Gerald’s) enthusiasm for falconry and descriptions of some foul Irish weather that kept the king on the island longer than he intended.

BUT MEANWHILE, SINCE FORTUNE rings the changes and continually mixes up prosperity with adversity, to the end that she may prove a trusty companion to no man and that there can be no such thing in this world as reliable and perfect happiness, the men of Wexford, along with those of Uí Chennselaig, about three thousand strong, heedless of the bond of their oath and pledge of loyalty, were subjecting FitzStephen to ceaseless attacks. He had been quite unprepared, had not feared an attack of this kind, and was surrounded, with only five knights and a few archers. But the Irish realized that they would get nowhere by the use of force, for these men, although very few in number, were nevertheless very alert in defending themselves, and in particular a knight, a certain William surnamed Not, who in this defence far outshone all the others in courage. And so they had recourse to their usual weapons of falsehood and lying deceit. They led up to the castle ditch two bishops, of Wexford and Kildare, and others whose habit proclaimed them to be churchmen. They brought along relics also, and then all joined in taking an oath, giving their persons as surety, and asserted under oath that Dublin had been taken, that the earl, Maurice and Raymond, together with all the English, were now dead, and that the united armies of Connacht and Leinster were at that moment hurrying towards Wexford. They claimed, moreover, that they had done all this for FitzStephen’s own good, in order that they could convey him safely to Wales with his followers before the arrival of a large force of men hostile to him. For, they said, he had shown himself a merciful and generous prince towards them. In the end FitzStephen believed their assertion and entrusted himself and his men to their pledged word. They immediately killed a number of his men, inflicted severe wounds on some and blows on others, put them in chains and incarcerated them. Almost immediately rumour, flying with swift wings, made known the true facts of the defeat at Dublin and the approach of the earl. At once the traitors themselves set fire to the whole city and sailed across to the island of Begeri, which lies at the mouth of the [Wexford] harbour, and which is also called Holy Island, taking with them all their possessions and all the prisoners ….

Meanwhile, as the earl was making his way to Wexford, the army of the men of Leinster advanced to engage him in the pass of Uí Dróna. The natural situation of this place made it narrow and impassable, but it had in addition been very much strengthened by artificial means, using felled trees. There a heavy engagement was fought, and at last, after a great number of the enemy had been killed, the earl escaped safely out on to the plains with all his men, excepting one youth who was killed. On this occasion Meiler, with his usual courage, outshone all the others ….

THE MEETING BETWEEN THE EARL
AND THE KING OF ENGLAND

Immediately after this, while they [the earl’s men] were coming down into the territory of Wexford, they were met by messengers, who told them what had happened to FitzStephen, how affairs stood, and how the city had been burned. Speaking for the traitors, they roundly asserted that if they should dare to approach, they would immediately send them the severed heads of all their people. When they heard this news, which filled them with great mental anguish, they wheeled their horses to the right and quickly made for Waterford. There they found Hervey, who had by now returned from the king of England, whither he had gone, and who by his letters and his words was urging the earl to make the same journey to England. So with the help of wind and sail he immediately crossed the sea, and at Newnham in Gloucestershire met the king, who was by now ready to cross to Ireland with a considerable force. There, after many arguments of varying outcome, and thanks to Hervey’s mediation and adroit tactics, the king’s anger towards the earl at last subsided. The result was that his bond of obedience was renewed, and he surrendered to the king the chief town of the kingdom, Dublin, along with the adjacent cantreds, and also the coastal cities and all castles. As for the rest of the land he had conquered, he and his heirs were to acknowledge that it was held of the king and his heirs. When matters had been settled in these terms, the king quickly took the coastal route towards St. David’s. He came into Pembroke and within a short time assembled a splendid fleet in the harbour of Milford Haven.

THE DEFEAT OF UA RUAIRC AT DUBLIN

But in the meantime Ua Ruairc, the one-eyed king of Meath, seized the opportunity of the absence of the earl and of Raymond, who had continued in Waterford, and came to Dublin with a large force about the kalends of September. And when he found that there were very few men in the city—but they were men—with a great onslaught and much shouting his men made a fierce attack on the walls and ditches. But since valour cannot be confined, and fire when it is compressed bursts into flame, Miles de Cogan and his men suddenly sallied forth and immediately began pursuing the enemy, inflicting such massive casualties that they routed them and killed Ua Ruairc’s son, an excellent young man, and countless others with him on that same occasion.

Meanwhile the English king began to storm at the magnates of south Wales and Pembroke with the direst threats because they had allowed earl Richard to cross to Ireland by that route. But in the end, on royal governors being assigned to their castles, this stormy bout of temper subsided into calm and his loud thunderings were not followed by the deadly blow of the thunderbolt.

At that time the king wished to amuse himself by flying birds in that locality. When he chanced to notice a fine falcon perched on a crag, he approached it by coming round at one side, and launched against it a Norwegian hawk which he was carrying on his left hand, a large bird of noble pedigree. But although the falcon was slower to begin with, nevertheless, having climbed with some difficulty high up in the sky, it turned the tables and, filled with anger and a desire for revenge, from being the prey it became the predator. It plunged violently down to earth from aloft, dealing out retaliation with the powerful impact of its breast squared to meet the shock and the superior armament of its talons, and, transfixing the hawk, laid it at the king’s feet. So from that time on, each year about nesting time the king used to send for the falcons of that area, which are hatched on those sea cliffs. And in all his realm he found none more noble or more excellent than these ….

After this the king stayed for some considerable time at St. David’s, making the preparations necessary for an enterprise so noble and on such a large scale, and repaired to the shrine of St. David, honouring the saint with devout prayer. He then took advantage of a suitable moment and favouring winds and weather, and entrusted himself to wind and sail. This courageous monarch crossed the intervening sea and put in at Waterford around the kalends of November, on St. Luke’s day (18th October) [1172], with about five hundred knights and many mounted and foot archers ….

FITZSTEPHEN BROUGHT BEFORE THE KING IN CHAINS

While the king was staying for a few days at Waterford, the citizens of Wexford brought FitzStephen into his presence, a captive and in chains. They did this under the pretext of rendering obedient service to Henry, on the grounds that FitzStephen was the first to enter Ireland without Henry’s consent, and presented others with an opportunity for wrong-doing. The king first of all reproached him severely for undertaking something so grandiose and so rash as the conquest of Ireland, displaying extreme rage and making many threats. At last he consigned him to Raghnall’s tower for safe keeping, firmly fettered and chained to another man. Just after this, king Diarmait of Cork arrived. He was drawn forthwith into a firm alliance with Henry by the bond of homage, the oath of fealty, and the giving of hostages; an annual tribute was assessed on his kingdom and he voluntarily submitted to the authority of the king of England. The king moved his army from there and went first of all to Lismore, where he stayed for two days, and from there continued to Cashel. There, on the next day, Domnall king of Limerick met him by the river Suir. He obtained the privilege of the king’s peace, tribute was assessed on his kingdom in the same way as on Diarmait’s, and he too displayed his loyalty to the king by entering into the very strongest bonds of submission.

FITZSTEPHEN RECONCILED TO THE KING

So royal governors and officials were put in charge of Cork and Limerick. All the princes of southern Ireland made a voluntary submission, both those mentioned above, and also two others, who, although they were not of such cardinal importance, were nevertheless influential and had real authority among their people, namely Domnall of Osraige and Maelsechnaill Ua Faeláin. Each of them returned to their own territory with honour, taking with them the presents given them by the king. He then returned to Waterford by way of Tibberaghny. There FitzStephen was led into his presence for a second time. When the king saw before him a man who had so often and to such a degree been exposed to the hazards of Fortune, his heart was moved to pity, and the hardships suffered by a man of such heroic stature aroused his compassion. When, moreover, certain influential men interceded for FitzStephen, he allowed all his former feelings of anger to abate, and fully restored to him his former freedom, only depriving him of Wexford and the adjacent territory ….

THE COUNCIL OF CASHEL

In the year of Our Lord’s Incarnation 1172, in the first year in which the illustrious king of the English and conqueror of the Irish gained possession of that island, Christian bishop of Lismore and legate of the apostolic see, Donat archbishop of Cashel, Laurence archbishop of Dublin, and Catholicus archbishop of Tuam, with their suffragans and fellow bishops, abbots, archdeacons, priors and deans, and many other prelates of the Irish church, met in the city of Cashel at that same conqueror’s command and held a council there, which was concerned with measures beneficial to the church and with the amelioration of the existing condition of that church ….

Thus in all parts of the Irish church all matters relating to religion are to be conducted hereafter on the pattern of Holy Church, and in line with the observances of the English church. For it is proper and most fitting that, just as by God’s grace Ireland has received her lord and king from England, so too she should receive a better pattern of living from that same quarter ….

STORMS

Then Aeolus burst asunder the bars of his prison and the heaving billows of the sea were churned up. The storms raged so unceasingly and with such persistence that throughout that whole winter scarcely a single ship had succeeded in making the crossing to the island, and no one could get any news whatsoever from other lands. So severe were they that all men thought that they were being collectively threatened by God’s wrath because of their sins. At that same time, due to the unusual force of the gale, the sandy shores of south Wales were laid bare of sand down as far as the subsoil, and the surface of a land that had been covered many centuries earlier appeared, and also the trunks of trees standing upright which reached down (the shore) into the sea itself. These had everywhere been felled, and the marks of the axes were visible as if they had been made only yesterday. The soil was very black and the wood of the tree trunks was like ebony. By an amazing transformation in the natural order of things, a shipping lane now became impassable to ships, and the shore no longer appeared as a shore but as a forest, which—either from the time of the flood, or perhaps from a much later period, but at any rate a period in the distant past—had been cut down and gradually engulfed and absorbed by the violent motions of the sea, which is continually flooding and eroding the land to an ever greater extent.

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