Death of Henry II.

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900


IT is a singular fact—one which no historian can avoid particularly noticing—that every one of the principal actors on the English side in this eventful episode of the first Anglo-Norman invasion, ended life violently, or under most painful circumstances.

M'Murrogh the traitor died, as we have already seen, of a mysterious disease, by which his body became putrid while yet he lingered between life and death.

Strongbow died under somewhat similar circumstances; an ulcer in his foot spread upward, and so eat away his body that it almost fell to pieces.

Strongbow's son was slain by the father's hand.

The death-bed of King Henry the Second was a scene of horror. He died cursing with the most fearful maledictions his own sons!

In vain the bishops and ecclesiastics surrounding his couch, horror-stricken, sought to prevail upon him to revoke these awful imprecations on his own offspring!

“Accursed be the day on which I was born; and accursed of God be the sons that I leave after me,” were his last words.[1]

Far different is the spectacle presented to us in the death-scene of the hapless Irish monarch Roderick.

Misfortunes in every shape had indeed overwhelmed him, and in his last hours sorrows were multiplied to him.

“Near the junction of Lough Corrib with Lough Mask, on the boundary line between Mayo and Galway, stand the ruins of the once populous monastery and village of Cong. The first Christian kings of Connaught had founded the monastery, or enabled St. Fechin to do so by their generous donations. The father of Roderick had enriched its shrine by the gift of a particle of the true cross, reverently enshrined in a reliquary, the workmanship of which still excites the admiration of antiquaries. Here Roderick retired in the seventieth year of his age, and for twelve years thereafter—until the 29th day of November, 1198—here he wept and prayed and withered away. Dead to the world, as the world to him, the opening of a new grave in the royal corner at Clonmacnoise was the last incident connected with his name which reminded Connaught that it had lost its once prosperous prince, and Ireland that she had seen her last Ard-Ri, according to the ancient Milesian constitution. Powerful princes of his own and other houses the land was destined to know for many generations, before its sovereignity was merged in that of England, but none fully entitled to claim the high-sounding but often fallacious title of Monarch of all Ireland.”

One other deathbed scene, described to us by the same historian, one more picture from the Irish side, and we shall take our leave of this eventful chapter of Irish history, and the actors who moved in it.

The last hours of Roderick's ambassador, the illustrious archbishop of Dublin, are thus described:

“From Rome he returned with legatine powers which he used with great energy during the year 1180. In the autumn of that year he was intrusted with the delivery to Henry the Second of the son of Roderick O'Connor, as a pledge for the fulfillment of the treaty of Windsor, and with other diplomatic functions. On reaching England he found the king had gone to France, and following him thither, he was seized with illness as he approached the monastery of Eu, and with a prophetic foretaste of death, he exclaimed as he came in sight of the towers of the convent, ‘Here shall I make my resting place.’ The Abbot Osbert and the monks of the order of St. Victor received him tenderly and watched his couch for the few days he yet lingered. Anxious to fulfill his mission, he dispatched David, tutor of the son of Roderick, with messages to Henry, and waited his return with anxiety. David brought him a satisfactory response from the English king, and the last anxiety only remained. In death, as in life, his thoughts were with his country. ‘Ah, foolish and insensible people,’ he exclaimed in his latest hours, ‘what will become of you? Who will relieve your miseries? Who will heal you?’ When recommended to make his last will, he answered with apostolic simplicity: ‘God knows out of all my revenues I have not a single coin to bequeath.’

And thus on the 11th of November, 1180, in the forty-eighth year of his age, under the shelter of a Norman roof, surrounded by Norman mourners, the Gaelic statesman-saint departed out of this life, bequeathing one more canonized memory to Ireland and to Rome.”


[1] “Mandit soit le jour ou je suis né; et mandits de Dieu soient les fils qui je laisse.”