Election of Kings, Princes, and Chiefs

Under the laws of “Tanistry,” the Crown was hereditary in the family, but not exclusively in primogeniture: the kings, princes, lords, and chiefs, were elective; and it appears that the elective system, and government by chiefs and clans, prevailed amongst all the Celtic nations, as the GauIs, Britons, Irish, etc., while the principle of hereditary succession and law of primogeniture prevailed amongst the Teutonic nations, as the Germans, Franks, Saxons, Scandinavians, etc.; and, on the death of their kings and nobles, the eldest son or heir generally succeeded: and thus preserving the crown and honours of nobility, in one direct line, gave greater permanence to their institutions. Some of the Slavonic nations, as, for instance, the Poles, adopted, like the Celts, the elective principle, in the choice of their kings, which led to ruinous contests for the crown on the death of each sovereign, and ultimately caused the downfall of Poland.

Ireland was divided into five kingdoms, and each of the kings of this Pentarchy was considered eligible for the crown, and to become Ardrigh or Monarch; but on the elective principle, many were the fierce contests for the monarchy which prevailed amongst the provincial kings, even long after the English invasion. On he death of a king, prince, or chief, his son oftentimes succeeded, provided he was of age, for minors were not eligible; but, in general, a brother, uncle, or some other senior head of the family or clan, or sometimes a nephew of the deceased was chosen; the legitimate successor was often set aside by other competitors, and the candidate who had most influence, popularity, or military force to support him, carried his election by strong hand, and assumed authority by right of the sword.

The law of alternate succession amongst the different chiefs of a clan was often adopted, each taking the lordship in turn; but, when this peaceable compact was not fulfilled, the country was laid waste by contending princes and chiefs: and two rulers were often elected in opposition to each other by the Irish themselves; and a rival candidate was frequently set up and sustained by the influence of the English. These circumstances led to endless anarchy, confusion, and conflicts, throughout the country; and the kings, princes, and chiefs, being thus almost always in contention with each other as to their election, the entire country presented a scene of incessant discord. The election and inauguration of kings, princes, and chiefs, took place in the open air, on hills, raths, and remarkable localities, at great assemblies, attended by the chiefs, clans, clergy, bards, and brehons. The senior and worthiest candidate, when there was no contest, was generally preferred: and the Tanist or Roydamna peaceably succeeded, unless disqualified by age, infirmity, or some moral or physical defect. In the choice of their kings the Irish were very exact; for the candidate, if lame, blind of an eye, or labouring under any other physical defect, was rejected.