During the Wars of the Roses (1413-1485)

Patrick Weston Joyce

290. Henry V., who ascended the throne in 1418, was so engrossed with France that he gave hardly any attention to Ireland; so that there was little or no change in Irish affairs during his reign; and there was strife everywhere.

Matters at last looked so serious that in 1414 the king sent over an able and active military rnan as lord lieutenant, Sir John Talbot Lord Furnival, subsequently earl of Shrewsbury, who became greatly distinguished in the French wars. He made a vigorous circuit round the Pale, and reduced O'Moore, Mac Mahon, O'Hanlon, and O'Neill. But this brought the Palesmen more evil than good; for the relief was only temporary; and when the brilliant exploits were all over he subjected them, in violation of the Statute of Kilkenny, to coyne and livery, having no other way of paying his soldiers. No sooner had he left than the Irish resumed their attacks, and for years incessantly harried and worried the miserable Pales-men, except indeed when kept quiet in some small degree by the payment of black rent.

291. The accession of Henry VI, in 1422, made no improvement in the country, which continued to be everywhere torn by strife. Ireland was now indeed, and for generations before and after, in a far worse condition than at any time under native management, even during the anarchical period after the battle of Clontarf.

The people of the Pale probably fared neither better nor worse than those of the rest of the country. But to add to their misfortunes, there arose, about the time of the king's accession, a deadly quarrel between the Butlers, headed by the carl of Ormond, and the Talbots, headed by Richard Talbot archbishop of Dublin and his brother Lord Furnival, who came twice again to Ireland as lord lieutenant. This feud was so violent that it put a stop to almost all government business for many years.

292. Meantime in 1423 the Irish of Ulster made a terrible raid on Louth and Meath, defeated the army sent against them, and carried off great booty; till at last the inhabitants had to buy peace by agreeing to pay black rent.

In 1449 Richard Plantagenet duke of York, a prince of the royal blood and heir to the throne of England, was appointed lord lieutenant for ten years. He won the affections of the Irish both of native and English descent, treating them with fairness and consideration.

293. In an act of parliament of this time we have a frightful picture of the condition of the colonists of the Pale. In time of harvest companies of the soldiers were in the habit of going with their wives, children, servants, and friends, sometimes to the number of a hundred, to the farmers' houses, eating and drinking, and paying for nothing. They robbed and sometimes killed the tenants and husbandmen; and their horses were turned out to graze in the meadows and in the ripe corn, ruining all the harvest.

294. The parliament held by the duke in 1449, asserted for the first time the independence of the Irish legislature: that they had a right to a separate coinage, and that they were absolutely free from all laws except those passed by the lords and commons of Ireland.

295. The duke had not been in Ireland for more than a year when Jack Cade's rebellion broke out; on which he went to England in 1451 to look after his own interests.

296. For the past century and a half the English kings had been so taken up with wars in France, Scotland, and Wales, that they had little leisure to attend to Ireland. Accordingly we have seen the Irish encroaching, the Pale growing smaller, and the people of the settlement more oppressed and more miserable year by year.

But now about this time—1454—began in England the tremendous struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster, commonly known as the Wars of the Roses, which lasted for about thirty years, and during which the colony fared worse than ever. The Geraldines sided with the house of York, and the Butlers with the house of Lancaster; and they went to England with many others of the Anglo-Irish to take part in the battles. Then the Irish rose up everywhere, overran the lands of the settlers, and took back whole districts. The Pale became smaller than ever, till it included only the county Louth and about half those of Dublin Meath and Kildare. At one time not more than 200 men could be got together to defend it.

The duke of York was at last defeated at the battle of Wakefield in 1460, where fell a great part of the Anglo-Irish nobility and gentry; and he himself was taken and beheaded on the battlefield. The very next year, however—1461—witnessed the triumph of the Yorkists; and the duke's eldest son was proclaimed king of England as Edward IV., the first king of the house of York.

297. The Geraldines, both of Desmond and Kildare, were now in high favour, while the Butlers were in disgrace. These two factions enacted a sort of miniature of the Wars of the Roses in Ireland. In 1462 they fought a battle at Pilltown in Kilkenny, where the Butlers were defeated and 400 or 500 of their men killed. As a curious illustration of how completely these Anglo-Irish families had adopted the Irish language and customs, it is worthy of mention that the ransom of Mac Richard Butler, who had been taken prisoner in the battle, was two Irish manuscripts, the Psalter of Cashel and the Book of Carrick. A fragment of the Psalter of Cashel is still preserved in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and in one of its pages is written a record of this transaction.

298. Thomas the eighth earl of Desmond—the Great Earl as he was called—was appointed lord deputy, in 1463, under his godson the young duke of Clarence, the king's brother, who though appointed lord lieutenant, never came to Ireland. Desmond was well received by the Irish of both races. His love for learning is shown by the fact that he founded the college of Youghal, which was richly endowed by him and his successors; also a university in Drogheda; but this latter project fell to the ground for want of funds.

299. The Irish parliament passed an act in 1465 that every Irishman dwelling in the Pale was to dress and shave like the English, and take an English surname:—from some town as Trim, Sutton, Cork; or of a color as Black, Brown; or of some calling, as Smith, Carpenter, etc., on pain of forfeiture of his goods. Another and more mischievous measure forbade ships from fishing in the seas of Irish countries, because the dues went to make the Irish people prosperous and strong. But the worst enactment of all was one providing that it was lawful to decapitate thieves found robbing "or going or coming anywhere" unless they had an Englishman in their company. And whoever did so, on bringing the head to the mayor of the nearest town, was licensed to levy a good sum off the barony.

This put it in the power of any evil-minded person to kill the first Irishman he met, pretending he was a thief, and to raise money on his head. This indeed was not the intention of the legislators; the act was merely a desperate attempt to keep down marauders who swarmed at this time all through the Pale.

300. With all the earl of Desmond's popularity he was unable to restore tranquillity to the distracted country. He was defeated in open fight in 1466 by his own brother-in-law O'Conor of Offaly, who took him prisoner and confined him in Carbury castle in Kildare; from which however he was rescued in a few days by the people of Dublin. Neither was he able to prevent the septs from ravaging the Pale.

301. The Great Earl was struck down in the midst of his career by an act of base treachery under the guise of law. He was first replaced in 1467 by John Tiptoft earl of Worcester—"the Butcher" as he was called from his cruelty—who came determined to ruin him. Acting on the secret instructions of the queen, he caused the earls of Desmond and Kildare to be arrested; and had them attainted for exacting coyne and livery, and for making alliance with the Irish, contrary to the Statute of Kilkenny. Desmond was at once executed; Kildare was pardoned; and "the Butcher" returned to England, where he was himself executed soon after.