Of Hastings, their last pagan sea-kong, Dudo, the great admirer of Northmen and the sycophant of the first Norman dukes in France, has left the following terrible character, on reading which in full we scarcely know whether the poem was written in reproach or praise. We translate from the Latin
According to Dudo, he was—
"A wretch accursed and fierce of heart, Unmatched in dark iniquities; A scowling pest of deadly hate, He throve on savage cruelties.
Blood-thirsty, stained with every crime, An artful, cunning, deadly foe, Lawless, vaunting, rash, inconstant, True well-spring of unending woe!"
Hastings never yielded to the new religion, which he always hated and persecuted. But, even after their conversion to Christianity, his countrymen for a long time retained their inborn love of bloodshed and tyranny; they were in this respect, as in many others, the very reverse of the Irish.
Of Rollo, the first Christian Duke of Normandy, Adhemar, a contemporary writer, says:
"On becoming Christian, he caused many captives to be beheaded in his presence, in honor of the gods whom he had worshipped. And he also distributed a vast amount of money to the Christian churches in honor of the true God in whose name he had received baptism;" which would seem to imply that this transaction occurred on the very day of his baptism.
We may now compare the success which attended the arms of these terrible invaders throughout the rest of Europe with their complete failure in Ireland. It will be seen that the deep attachment of the Irish Celts for their religion, its altars, shrines, and monuments, was the real cause of their final victory. We shall behold a truly Christian people battling against paganism in its most revolting and audacious form.
But, first, how stood the case in England?
"It is not a little extraordinary," says a sagacious writer in the Dublin Review (vol. xxxii., p. 203), "that the three successive conquests of England by the Anglo-Saxons, Danes, and Normans, were in fact conquests made by the same people, and, in the last two instances, over those who were not only descended from the same stock, but who had immigrated from the very same localities. The Jutes, Angles, and Saxons, were for the most part Danes or of Danish origin. Their invasion of England commenced by plunder and ended by conquest. These were overthrown by the Danes and Norwegians in precisely the same manner.
"In the year 875, Roll or Rollo, having been expelled from Norway by Harold Harfager, adopted the profession of a sea-kong, and in the short space of sixteen years became Duke of Normandy and son-in-law of the French king, after having previously repudiated his wife. The sixth duke in succession from Rollo was William, illegitimate son of Robert le Diable and Herleva, a concubine. By the battle of Hastings, which William gained in 1066, over King Harold, who was slain in it, the former became sovereign of England, and instead of the appellation of 'the Bastard,' by which he had been hitherto known, he now obtained the surname of 'the Conqueror.'
"Thus both the Saxon and Danish invaders were subdued by their Norman brethren."
All the Scandinavian invasions of England were, therefore, successful, each in turn giving way before a new one; and it is not a little remarkable that the very year in which Brian Boru dealt a death-blow to the Danes at Clontarf witnessed the complete subjection of England by Canute.
The success of the Northmen in France is still more worthy of attention. Their invasions began soon after the death of Charlemagne. It is said that, before his demise, hearing of the appearance of one of their fleets not far from the mouth of the Rhine, he shed tears, and foretold the innumerable evils it portended. He saw, no doubt, that the long and oft-repeated efforts of his life to subdue and convert the northern Saxons would fail to obtain for his successors the peace he had hoped to win by his sword, and, knowing from the Saxons themselves the relentless ferocity, audacity, and frightful cruelty, inoculated in their Scandinavian blood, he could not but expect for his empire the fierce attacks which were preparing in the arctic seas. All his life had he been a conqueror, and under his sway the Franks, whom he had ever led to victory, acquired a name through Europe for military glory which, he dreaded, would no longer remain untarnished. His forebodings, however, could not be shared by any of those who surrounded him in his old age; his eagle eye alone discerned the coming misfortunes.
Seven times had the great emperor subdued the Saxons. He had crushed them effectually, since he could not otherwise prevent them from disturbing his empire. The Franks, who formed his army, were therefore the real conquerors of Western Europe. Starting from the banks of the Rhine, they subjugated the north as far as the Baltic Sea; they conquered Italy as far south as Beneventum, by their victories over the Lombards; by the subjugation of Aquitaine, they took possession of the whole of France; the only check they had ever received was in the valley of Roncevaux, whence a part of one of their armies was compelled to retreat, without, however, losing Catalonia, which they had won.
Nevertheless, we see them a few years after powerless and stricken with terror at the very name of the Northmen, as soon as Hastings and Rollo appeared. Those sea-rovers established themselves straightway in the very centre of the Frankish dominion; for it was at the mouth of the Rhine, in the island of Walcheren, that they formed their first camp. From Walcheren they swept both banks of the Rhine, and, after enriching themselves with the spoils of monasteries, cathedrals, and palaces, they thought of other countries. Then began the long series of spoliations which desolated the whole of France along the Seine, the Loire, and the Garonne.
Opposition they scarcely encountered. Paris alone, of all the great cities of France, sustained a long siege, and finally bought them off by tribute. The military power of the nation was annihilated all at once, and of all French history this period is undoubtedly the most humiliating to a native of the soil.
And now let us see how the Irish met the same piratical invasions.
We are already acquainted with the chief defect of their political system, namely, its want of centralization. The Ard- Righ was in fact but a nominal ruler, except in the small province which acknowledged his chieftainship only. Throughout the rest of Ireland the provincial kings were independent save in name. Not only were they often reluctant to obey the Ard-Righ, but they were not seldom at open war with him. Nor are we to suppose that, at least in the case of a serious attack from without, their patriotism overcame their private differences, and made them combine together to show a common front against a common foe. In a patriarchal state of government there is scarcely any other form of patriotism than that of the particular sept to which each individual belongs. All the ideas, customs, prejudices, are opposed to united action.
Yet an invasion so formidable as that of the Scandinavian tribes showed itself everywhere to be, would have required all the energies and resources of the whole country united under one powerful chief, particularly when it did not consist of one single fearful irruption.
During two centuries large fleets of dingy, hide-bound barks discharge on the shores of Erin their successive cargoes of human fiends, bent on rapine and carnage, and altogether proof against fear of even the most horrible death, since such death was to them the entry to the eternal realms of their Walhalla.
But, at the period of which we speak, the terrible evil of a want of centralization was greatly aggravated by a change occurring in the line which held the supreme power in the island.
The vigorous rule of a long succession of princes belonging to the northern Hy-Niall line gave way to the ascendency of the southern branch of this great family; and the much more limited patrimony and alliances of this new quasi-dynasty rendered its personal power very inferior to that of the northern branch, and consequently lessened the influence possessed by the ruling family in past times. In Ireland the connections, more or less numerous, by blood relationship with the great families, always exercised a powerful influence over the body of the nation in rendering it docile and amenable to the will of the Ard-Righ.
Mullingar, in West Meath, was the abode of the southern Hy- Nialls, and Malachy of the Shannon, the first Ard-Righ of this line, succeeded King Niall of Callan in 843. The Danes were already in the country and had committed depredations. Their first descent is mentioned by the Four Masters as taking place at Rathlin on the coast of Antrim in the year 790.
But the country was soon aroused; and religious feelings, always uppermost in the Irish heart, supplied the deficiencies of the constitution of the state and the particularly unfavorable circumstances of the period. The Danes, as usual, first attacked the monasteries and churches, and this alone was enough to kindle in the breasts of the people the spirit of resistance and retaliation. Iona was laid waste in 797, and again in 801 and 805. "To save from the rapacity of the Danes," says Montalembert in his Monks of the West, "a treasure which no pious liberality could replace, the body of S. Columba was carried to Ireland. And it is the unvarying tradition of Irish annals, that it was deposited finally at Down, in an episcopal monastery, not far from the eastern shore of the island, between the great monastery of Bangor in the North, and Dublin the future capital of Ireland, in the South."
Ireland was first assailed by the Danes on the north immediately after they had gained possession of the Hebrides; but the coasts of Germany, Belgium, and France had witnessed their attacks long before. Religion was the first to suffer; and as the Island of Saints was at the time of their descent covered with churches and monasteries, the Scandinavian barbarians found in these a rich harvest which induced them to return again and again. The first expedition consisted of only a few boats and a small body of men. Nevertheless, as their irruptions were unexpected, and the people were unprepared for resistance, many holy edifices suffered from these attacks, and a great number of priests and monks were murdered.
We read that Armagh with its cathedral and monasteries was plundered four times in one month, and in Bangor nine hundred monks were slaughtered in a single day. The majority of the inmates of those houses fled with their books and the relics of their saints at the approach of the invaders, but, returning to their desecrated homes after the departure of the pirates, gave cause for those successive plunderings.
But the Irish did not always fly in dismay, as was the case in England and France. A force was generally mustered in the neighborhood to meet and repel the attack, and in numerous instances the marauders were driven back with slaughter to their ships.
For the clans rallied to the defence of the Church. Though the chieftains and their clansmen might seem to have failed fully to imbibe the spirit of religion, though in their insane feuds they often turned a deaf ear to the remonstrances and reproaches of the bishops and monks, nevertheless Christianity reigned supreme in their inmost hearts. And when they beheld pagans landed on their shores, to insult their faith and destroy the monuments of their religion, to shed the blood of holy men, of consecrated virgins, and of innocent children, they turned that bravery which they had so often used against themselves and for the satisfaction of worthless contentions into a new and a more fitting channel—the defence of their altars and the punishment of sacrilegious outrage. The clan system was the very best adapted for this kind of warfare, so long as no large fleets came, and the pirates were too few in number and too sagacious in mind to think of venturing far inland. When but a small number of boats arrived, the invaders found in the neighborhood a clan ready to receive them. The clansmen speedily assembled, and, falling on the plundering crews, showed them how different were the free men of a Celtic coast, who were inspired by a genuine love for their faith, from the degenerate sons of the Gallo-Romans.
So the annals of the country tell us that the "foreigners" were destroyed in 812 by the men of Umhall in Mayo; by Corrach, lord of Killarney, in the same year; by the men of Ulidia and by Carbry with the men of Hy-Kinsella in 827; by the clansmen of Hy- Figeinte, near Limerick, in 834, and many more.
But the hydra had a thousand heads, and new expeditions were continually arriving. In the words of Mr. Worsaae, a Danish writer of this century:
"From time immemorial Ireland was celebrated in the Scandinavian north, for its charming situation, its mild climate, and its fertility and beauty. The Kongspell—mirror of Kings—which was compiled in Norway about the year 1200, says that Ireland is almost the best of the lands we are acquainted with although no vines grow there. The Scandinavian Vikings and emigrants, who often contented themselves with such poor countries as Greenland and the islands in the north Atlantic, must, therefore, have especially turned their attention to the 'Emerald Isle,' particularly as it bordered closely upon their colonies in England and Scotland. But to make conquests in Ireland, and to acquire by the sword alone permanent settlements there, was no easy task.... When we consider that neither the Romans nor the Anglo-Saxons ever obtained a footing in that country, although they had conquered England, the adjacent isle, and when we further reflect upon the immense power exerted by the English in later times in order to subdue the Celtic population of the island, we cannot help being surprised at the very considerable Scandinavian settlements which, as early as the ninth century, were formed in that country."
These are the words of a Dane. We shall see what the "very considerable Scandinavian settlements" amounted to; the quotation is worthy of note, as presenting in a few words the motives of those who at any time invaded Ireland, and the stubborn resistance which they met.
The Irish were not dismayed by the constant arrivals of those northern hordes. They met them one after another without considering their complexity and connection. They only saw a troop of fierce barbarians landed on their shores, chiefly intent upon plundering and burning the churches and holy houses which they had erected; they saw their island, hitherto protected by the ocean from foreign attack, and resting in the enjoyment of a constant round of Christian festivals and joyful feasts, now desecrated by the presence and the fury of ferocious pagans; they armed for the defence of all that is dear to man; and though, perhaps, at first beaten and driven back, they mustered in force at a distance to fall on the victors with a swoop of noble birds who fly to the defence of their young.
This kind of contest continued for two hundred years, with the exception of the periods of larger invasions, when a single clan no longer sufficed to avenge the cause of God and humanity, and the Ard-Righ was compelled to throw himself on the scene at the head of the whole collective force of the nation in order to oppose the vast fleets and large armies of the Danes.
The country suffered undoubtedly; the cattle were slain; the fields devastated; the churches and houses burned; the poets silenced or woke their song only to notes of woe; the harpers taught the national instrument the music of sadness; the numerous schools were scattered, though never destroyed; as centuries later, under the Saxon, the people took their books or writing materials to their miserable cottages or hid them in the mountain fastnesses, and thus, for the first time in their history, the hedge school succeeded those of the large monasteries. So the nation continued to live on, the energetic fire which burned in the hearts of the people could not be quenched. They rose and rose again, and often took a noble revenge, never disheartened by the most utter disaster.
On three different occasions this bloody strife assumed a yet more serious and dangerous aspect. It was not a few boats only which came to the shores of the devoted island; but the main power of Scandinavia seemed to combine in order to crush all opposition at a single blow.
When the knowledge of the richness, fertility, and beauty of the island had fully spread throughout Denmark and Norway, a large fleet gathered in the harbors of the Baltic and put to sea. The famous Turgesius or Turgeis—Thorgyl in the Norse—was the leader. The Edda and Sagas of Norway and Denmark have been examined with a view to elucidate this passage in Irish history, but thus far fruitlessly. It is known, however, that many Sagas have been lost which might have contained an account of it. The Irish annals are too unanimous on the subject to leave any possibility of doubt with regard to it; and, whatever may be the opinion of learned men on the early events in the history of Erin, the story of the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries rests entirely on historical ground, as surely as if the facts had happened a few hundred years ago.
Turgesius landed with his fleet on the northeast coast of the island, and straightway the scattered bands of Scandinavians already in the country acknowledged his leadership and flocked to his standard. McGeoghegan says that "he assumed in his own hands the sovereignty of all the foreigners that were then in Ireland."
From the north he marched southward; and, passing Armagh on his route, attacked and took it, and plundered its shrines, monasteries, and schools. There were then within its walls seven thousand students, according to an ancient roll which Keating says has been discovered at Oxford. These were slaughtered or dispersed, and the same fate attended the nine hundred monks residing in its monasteries.
Foraanan, the primate, fled; and the pagan sea-kong, entering the cathedral, seated himself on the primatial throne, and had himself proclaimed archbishop.—(O'Curry.) He had shortly before devastated Clonmacnoise and made his wife supreme head of that great ecclesiastical centre, celebrated for its many convents of holy women. The tendency to add insult to outrage, when the object of the outrage is the religion of Christ, is old in the blood of the northern barbarians; and Turgesius was merely setting the example, in his own rude and honest fashion, to the more polished but no less ridiculous assumption of ecclesiastical authority, which was to be witnessed in England, on the part of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth. The power of the invader was so superior to whatever forces the neighboring Irish clans could muster, that no opposition was even attempted at first by the indignant witnesses of those sacrileges. It is even said that at the very time when the Northmen were pillaging and burning in the northeast of the island, the men of Munster were similarly employed in Bregia; and Conor, the reigning monarch of Ireland, instead of defending the invaded territories, was himself hard at work plundering Leinster to the banks of the river Liffey—(Haverty.) But, doubtless, none of those deluded Irish princes had yet heard of the pagan devastations and insults to their religion, and thus it was easy for the great sea-kong to strengthen and extend his power. For the attainment of his object he employed two powerful agents which would have effectually crushed Ireland forever, if the springs of vitality in the nation had not been more than usually expansive and strong.
The political ability of the Danes began to show itself in Ireland, as it did about the same period (830) in England, and later on in France. Turgesius saw that, in order to subdue the nation, it was necessary to establish military stations in the interior and fortify cities on the coast, where he could receive reinforcements from Scandinavia. These plans he was prompt to put into practice.
His military stations would have been too easily destroyed by the bravery of the Irish, strengthened by the elasticity of their clan-system, if they were, planted on land. He, therefore, set them in the interior lakes which are so numerous in the island, where his navy could repel all the attacks of the natives, unused as they were to naval conflicts. He stationed a part of his fleet on Lough Lee in the upper Shannon, another in Lough Neagh, south of Antrim, a third in Lough Lughmagh or Dundalk bay. These various military positions were strongholds which secured the supremacy of the Scandinavians in the north of the island for a long time. In the south, Turgesius relied on the various cities which his troops were successively to build or enlarge, namely, Dublin, Limerick, Galway, Cork, Waterford, and Wexford. This first Scandinavian ruler could begin that policy only by establishing his countrymen in Dublin, which they seized in 836.
Up to that time the Irish had scarcely any city worthy of the name. A patriarchal people, they followed the mode of life of the old Eastern patriarchs, who abhorred dwelling in large towns. Until the invasion of the Danes, the island was covered with farm-houses placed at some distance from each other. Here and there large duns or raths, as they were called, formed the dwellings of their chieftains, and became places of refuge for the clansmen in time of danger. Churches and monasteries arose in great numbers from the time of St. Patrick, which were first built in the woods, but soon grew into centres of population, corresponding in many respects to the idea of towns as generally understood.
The Northmen brought with them into Ireland the ideas of cities, commerce, and municipal life, hitherto unknown. The introduction of these supposed a total change necessary in the customs of the natives, and stringent regulations to which the people could not but be radically opposed. And strange was their manner of introduction by these northern hordes. Keating tells us how Turgesius understood them. They were far worse than the imaginary laws of the Athenians as recorded in the "Birds" of Aristophanes. No more stringent rules could be devised, whether for municipal, rural, or social regulations; and, as the Northmen are known to have been of a systematic mind, no stronger proof of this fact could be given.
Keating deplores in the following terms the fierce tyranny of the Danish sea-kong:
"The result of the heavy oppression of this thraldom of the Gaels under the foreigner was, that great weariness thereof came upon the men of Ireland, and the few of the clergy that survived had fled for safety to the forests and wildernesses, where they lived in misery, but passed their time piously and devoutly, and now the same clergy prayed fervently to God to deliver them from that tyranny of Turgesius, and, moreover, they fasted against that tyrant, and they commanded every layman among the faithful, that still remained obedient to their voice, to fast against him likewise. And God then heard their supplications in as far as the delivering of Turgesius into the hands of the Gaels."
Thus in the ninth century the subsequent events of the sixteenth and seventeenth were foreshadowed. The judicious editor of Keating, however, justly remarks, that this description, taken mainly from Cambrensis, is not supported in its entirety by the contemporaneous annals of the island; that the power of the Danes never was as universal and oppressive as is here supposed; and that though each of the facts mentioned may have actually taken place in some part of the country, at some period of the Danish invasion, yet the whole, as representing the actual state of the entire island at the time, is exaggerated and of too sweeping a nature.
It is clear, nevertheless, that the domination of the Northmen could not have been completely established in Ireland, together with their notions of superiority of race, trade on a large scale, and a consequent agglomeration of men in large cities, without the total destruction of the existing social state of the Irish, and consequently something of the frightful tyranny just described.
But the people were too brave, too buoyant, and too ardent in their nature, to bear so readily a yoke so heavy. They were too much attached to their religion, not to sacrifice their lives, if necessary, in order to put an end to the sacrilegious usurpations of a pagan king, profaning, by his audacious assumptions, the noblest, highest, purest, and most sacred dignities of holy Church. A man, stained with the blood of so many prelates and priests, seated on the primatial throne of the country in sheer derision of their most profound feelings; his pagan wife ruling over the city which the virgins of Bridget, the spouses of Christ, had honored and sanctified so long; their religion insulted by those who tried to destroy it—how could such a state of things be endured by the whole race, not yet reduced to the condition to which so many centuries of oppression subsequently brought it down!
Hence Keating could write directly after the passage just quoted: "When the nobles of Ireland saw that Turgesius had brought confusion upon their country, and that he was assuming supreme authority over themselves, and reducing them to thraldom and vassalage, they became inspired with a fortitude of mind, and a loftiness of spirit, and a hardihood and firmness of purpose, that urged them to work in right earnest, and to toil zealously in battle against him and his murdering hordes."
And hereupon the faithful historian gives a long list of engagements in which the Irish were successful, ending with the victory of Malachi at Glas Linni, where we know from the Four Masters that Turgesius himself was taken prisoner and afterward drowned in Lough Uair or Owell in West Meath, by order of the Irish king.
This prince, then monarch of the whole island, atoned for the apathy and the want of patriotism of his predecessors, Conor and the Nialls. He was in truth a saviour of his country, and the death of the oppressor was the signal for a general onslaught upon the "foreigners" in every part of the island. "The people rose simultaneously, and either massacred them in their towns, or defeated them in the fields, so that, with the exception of a few strongholds, like Dublin, the whole of Ireland was free from the Northmen. Wherever they could escape, they took refuge in their ships, but only to return in more numerous swarms than before." - (M. Haverty.)
It is evident that their deep sense of religion was the chief source of the energy which the Irish then displayed. They had not yet been driven into a fierce resistance by being forcibly deprived of their lands; although the Danes, when they carried their vexatious tyranny into all the details of private life - not allowing lords and ladies of the Irish race to wear rich dresses and appear in a manner befitting their rank - when they went so far as to refuse a bowl of milk to an infant, that a rude soldier might quench his thirst with it - could have scarcely permitted the apparently conquered people to enjoy all the advantages accruing to the owner from the possession of land. Yet in none of the chronicles of the time which we have seen is any mention made of open confiscation, and of the survey and division of the territory among the greedy followers of the sea- kong. We do not yet witness what happened shortly after in Normandy under Rollo, and what was to happen four hundred years later in Ireland. The Scandinavians had not yet attained that degree of civilization which makes men attach a paramount importance to the possession of a fixed part of any territory, and call in surveys, title-deeds, charters, and all the written documents necessitated by a captious and over-scrupulous legislation. The Irish, consequently, did not perceive that their broad acres were passing into the control of a foreign race, and were being taken piecemeal from them, thus bringing them gradually down to the condition of mere serfs and dependants.
What they did see, beyond the possibility of mistake or deception, was their religion outraged, their spiritual rulers, not merely no longer at liberty to practise the duties of their sacred ministry, but hunted down and slaughtered or driven to the mountains and the woods. They saw that pagans were actually ruling their holy isle, and changing a paradise of sanctity into a pandemonium of brutal passion, presided over by a superstitious and cruel idolatry. For surely, although the Irish chronicles fail to speak of it, the minstrels and historians being too full of their own misery to think of looking at the pagan rites of their enemies - those enemies worshipped Thor and Odin and Frigga, and as surely did they detest the Church which they were on a fair way to destroy utterly. This it was which gave the Irish the courage of despair. For this cause chiefly did the whole island fly to arms, fall on their foes and bring down on their heads a fearful retribution. This it was, doubtless, which breathed into the new monarch the energy which he displayed on the field of Glas Linni; and when he ordered the barbarian, now a prisoner in his hands, to be drowned, it was principally as a sign that he detested in him the blasphemer and the persecutor of God's church.
Thus did the first national misfortunes of this Celtic people become the means of enkindling in their hearts a greater love for their religion, and a greater zeal for its preservation in their midst.
Ireland was again free; and, although we have no details concerning the short period of prosperity which followed the overthrow of the tyranny we have touched upon, we have small doubt that the first object of the care of those who, under God, had worked their own deliverance, was to repair the ruins of the desecrated sanctuaries and restore to religion the honor of which it had been stripped.
The Danes themselves came to see that they had acted rashly in striving to deprive the Irish of a religion which was so dear to their hearts; they resolved on a change of policy, as they were still bent on taking possession of the island, which Mr. Worsaae has told us they considered the best country in existence.
They resolved, therefore, to act with more prudence, and to make use of trade and the material blessings which it confers, in order to entice the Irish to their destruction, by allowing the Northmen to carry on business transactions with them and so gradually to dwell among them again. Father Keating tells the story in his quaint and graphic style:
"The plan adopted by them on this occasion was to equip three captains, sprung from the noblest blood of Norway, and to send them with a fleet to Ireland, for the object of obtaining some station for purpose of trade. And with them they accordingly embarked many tempting wares, and many valuable jewels — with the design of presenting them to the men of Ireland, in the hope of thus securing their friendship; for they believed that they might thus succeed in surreptitiously fixing a grasp upon the Irish soil, and might be enabled to oppress the Irish people again . . . . The three captains, therefore, coming from the ports of Norway, landed in Ireland with their followers, as if for the purpose of demanding peace, and under the pretext of establishing a trade; and there, with the consent of the Irish, who were given to peace, they took possession of some sea-board places, and built three cities thereon, to wit: Waterford, Dublin, and Limerick."
We see, then, the Scandinavians abandoning their first project of conquering the North to fall on the South and confining themselves to a small number of fortified sea-ports.
The first result of this policy was a firmer hold than ever on Dublin, once already occupied by them in 836. "Amlaf, or Olaf, or Olaus, came from Norway to Ireland in 851, so that all the foreign tribes in the island submitted to him, and they extracted rent from the Gaels." - (Four Masters.)
From that time to the twelfth century Dublin became the chief stronghold of the Scandinavians, and no fewer than thirty-five Ostmen, or Danish kings, governed it. They made it an important emporium, and such it continued even after the Scandinavian invasion had ceased. McFirbis says that in his time - 1650 - most of the merchants of Dublin were the descendants of the Norwegian Irish king, Olaf Kwaran; and, to give a stronger impulse to commerce, they were the first to coin money in the country.
The new Scandinavian policy carried out by Amlaf, who tried to establish in Dublin the seat of a kingdom which was to extend over the whole island, resulted therefore only in the establishment of five or six petty principalities, wherein the Northmen, for some time masters, were gradually reduced to a secondary position, and finally confined themselves to the operations of commerce.
Since the attempt of Turgesius to subvert the religion of the country, they never showed the slightest inclination to repeat it; hence they were left in quiet possession of the places which they occupied on the sea-board, and gradually came to embrace Christianity themselves.
Little is known of the circumstances which attended this change of religion on their part; and it is certain that it did not take place till late in the tenth century. Some pretend that Christianity was brought to them from their own country, where it had already been planted by several missionaries and bishops. But it is known that St. Ancharius, the first apostle of Denmark, could not establish himself permanently in that country, and had to direct a few missionaries from Hamburgh, where he fixed his see. It is known, moreover, that Denmark was only truly converted by Canute in the eleventh century, after his conquest of England. As to Norway, the first attempt at its conversion by King Haquin, who had become a Christian at the court of Athelstan in England, was a failure; and although his successor, Harold, appeared to succeed better for a time, paganism was again reestablished, and flourished as late as 995. It was, in fact, Olaf the Holy who, coming from England, in 1017, with the priests Sigefried, Budolf, and Bernard, succeeded in introducing Christianity permanently into Norway, and he made more use of the sword than of the word in his mission.
With regard to the conversion of the Danes in Ireland, it seems that, after all, it was the ever-present spectacle of the workings of Christianity among the Irish which gradually opened their eyes and ears. They came to love the country and the people when they knew them thoroughly; they respected them for their bravery, which they had proved a thousand times; they felt attracted toward them on account of their geniality of temperament and their warm social feelings; even their defects of character and their impulsive nature were pleasing to them. They soon sought their company and relationship; they began to intermarry with them; and from this there was but a step to embracing their religion.
The Danes of Waterford, Cork, and Limerick were, however, the last to abandon paganism, and they seem not to have done so until after Clontarf.
It is very remarkable that, during all those conflicts of the Irish with the Danes, when the Northmen strewed the island with dead and ruins; when they seemed to be planting their domination in the Orkneys, the Hebrides, and even the Isle of Man, on a firm footing; when the seas around England and Ireland swarmed with pirates, and new expeditions started almost every spring from the numerous harbors of the Baltic—the Irish colony of Dal Riada in Scotland, which was literally surrounded by the invaders, succeeded in wresting North Britain from the Picts, drove them into the Lowlands, and so completely rooted them out, that history never more speaks of them, so that to this day the historical problem stands unsolved— What became of the Picts?— various as are the explanations given of their disappearance. And, what is more remarkable still, is, that the Dal Riada colony received constant help from their brothers in Erin, and the first of the dynasty of Scottish kings, in the person of Kenneth McAlpine, was actually set on the throne of Scotland by the arms of the Irish warriors, who, not satisfied apparently with their constant conflicts with the Danes on their own soil, passed over the Eastern Sea to the neighboring coast of Great Britain.
During the last forty years of the tenth century the Danes lived in Ireland as though they belonged to the soil. If they waged war against some provincial king, they became the allies of others. When clan fought clan, Danes were often found on both sides, or if on one only, they soon joined the other. They had been brought to embrace the manners of the natives, and to adopt many of their customs and habits. Yet there always remained a lurking distrust, more or less marked, between the two races; and it was clear that Ireland could never be said to have escaped the danger of subjugation until the Scandinavian element should be rendered powerless.
This antipathy on both sides existed very early even in Church affairs, the Christian natives being looked upon with a jealous eye by the Christian Danes; so that, toward the middle of the tenth century, the Danes of Dublin having succeeded in obtaining a bishop of their own nation, they sent him to England to be consecrated by Lanfranc, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and for a long time the see of Dublin was placed under the jurisdiction of Lanfranc's successors.
This grew into a serious difficulty for Ireland, as the capital of Leinster began to be looked upon as depending, at least spiritually, on England; and later on, at the time of the invasion under Strongbow, the establishment of the English Pale was considerably facilitated by such an arrangement, to which Rome had consented only for the spiritual advantage of her Scandinavian children in Ireland. And the Irish were right in distrusting every thing foreign on the soil, for, even after becoming Christians, the Danes could not resist the temptation of making a last effort for the subjugation of the country.
Hence arose their last general effort, which resulted in their final overthrow at Clontarf. It does not enter into our purpose to give the story of that great event, known in all its details to the student of Irish history. It is not for us to trace the various steps by which Brian Boru mounted to supreme power, and superseded Malachi, to relate the many partial victories he had already gained over the Northmen, nor to allude to his splendid administration of the government, and the happiness of the Irish under his sway.
But it is our duty to point out the persevering attempts of the Scandinavian race, not only to keep its footing on Irish soil, but to try anew to conquer what it had so often failed to conquer. For, in describing their preparations for this last attempt on a great scale, we but add another proof of that Irish steadfastness which we have already had so many occasions to admire.
In the chronicle of Adhemar, quoted by Lanigan from Labbe (Nova Bibl., MSS., Tom. 2, p.177), it is said that "the Northmen came at that time to Ireland, with an immense fleet, conveying even their wives and children, with a view of extirpating the Irish and occupying in their stead that very wealthy country in which there were twelve cities, with extensive bishopries and a king."
Labbe thinks the Chronicle was written before the year 1031, so that in his opinion the writer was a contemporary of the facts he relates.
The Irish Annals state, on their side, that "the foreigners were gathered from all the west of Europe, envoys having been despatched into Norway, the Orkneys, the Baltic islands, so that a great number of Vikings came from all parts of Scandinavia, with their families, for the purpose of a permanent settlement."
Similar efforts were made about the same time by the Danes for the lasting conquest of England, which succeeded, Sweyn having been proclaimed king in 1013, and Canute the Great becoming its undisputed ruler in 1017.
It is well known how the attempt failed in Erin, an army of twenty-one thousand freebooters being completely defeated near Dublin by Brian and his sons.
From that time the existence of the Scandinavian race on the Irish soil was a precarious one; they were merely permitted to occupy the sea-ports for the purpose of trade, and soon Irish chieftains replaced their kings in Dublin, Limerick, Waterford, and Cork.
The reader may be curious to learn, in conclusion, what signs the Danes left of their long sojourn on the island. If we listen to mere popular rumor, the country is still full of the ruins of buildings occupied by them. The common people, in pointing out to strangers the remains of edifices, fortifications, raths, duns, even round-towers and churches, either more ancient or more recent than the period of the Norse invasion, ascribe them to the Danes. It is clear that two hundred years of devastations, burnings, and horrors, have left a deep impression on the mind of the Irish; and, as they cannot suppose that such powerful enemies could have remained so long in their midst without leaving wonderful traces of their passage, they often attribute to them the construction of the very edifices which they destroyed. The general accuracy of their traditions seems here at fault. For there is no nation on earth so exact as the Irish in keeping the true remembrance of facts of their past history. Not long ago all Irish peasants were perfectly acquainted with the whole history of their neighborhood; they could tell what clans had succeeded each other, the exact spots where such a party had been overthrown and such another victorious; every village had its sure traditions printed on the minds of its inhabitants, and, by consulting the annals of the nation, the coincidence was often remarkable. How is it, therefore, that they were so universally at fault with respect to the Danes? A partial explanation has been given which is in itself a proof of the tenacity of Irish memory. It is known that the Tuatha de Danaan were not only skilful in medicine, in the working of metals and in magic, but many buildings are generally attributed to them by the best antiquarians; among others, the great mound of New Grange, on the banks of the Boyne, which is still in perfect preservation, although opened and pillaged by the Danes— a work reminding the beholder of some Egyptian monument. The coincidence of the name of the Tuatha de Danaan with that of the Danes may have induced many of the illiterate Irish to adopt the universal error into which they fell long ago, of attributing most of the ancient monuments of their country to the Danes.
The fact is, that the ruins of a few unimportant castles and churches are all the landmarks that remain of the Danish domination in Ireland; and even these must have been the product of the latter part of it.
But a more curious proof of the extirpation of every thing Danish in the island is afforded by Mr. Worsaae, whose object in writing his account of the Danes and Norwegians in England, Scotland, and Ireland, was to glorify his own country, Denmark.
He made a special study of the names of places and things, which can be traced to the Scandinavians respectively in the three great divisions of the British Isles; and certainly the language of a conquering people always shows itself in many words of the conquered country, where the subjugation has been of sufficient duration.
In England, chiefly in the northern half of the kingdom, a very great number of Danish names appear and are still preserved in the geography of the country. In Mr. Worsaae's book there is a tabular view of 1,373 Danish and Norwegian names of places in England, and also a list of 100 Danish words, selected from the vulgar tongue, still in use among the people who dwell north of Watling Street.
In Scotland, likewise—in the Highlands and even in the Lowlands- -a considerable number of names, or at least of terminations, are still to be met in the geography of the country.
Three or four names of places around Dublin, and the terminations of the names of the cities of Waterford, Wexford, Longford, and a few others, are all that Mr. Worsaae could find in Ireland. So that the language of the Irish, not to speak of their government and laws, remained proof against the long and persevering efforts made by a great and warlike Northern race to invade the country, and substitute its social life for that of the natives.
As a whole, the Scandinavian irruptions were a complete failure. They did not succeed in impressing their own nationality or individuality on any thing in the island, as they did in England, Holland, and the north of France. The few drops of blood which they left in the country have been long ago absorbed in the healthful current of the pure Celtic stream; even the language of the people was not affected by them.
As for the social character of the nation, it was not touched by this fearful aggression. The customs of Scandinavia with respect to government, society, domestic affairs, could not influence the Irish; they refused to admit the systematic thraldom which the sternness of the Northmen would engraft upon their character, and preserved their free manners in spite of all adverse attempts. In this country, Turgesius, Amlaf, Sitrick, and their compeers, failed as signally as other Scandinavian chieftains succeeded in Britain and Normandy.
The municipal system, which has won so much praise, was scornfully abandoned by the Irish to the Danes of the sea port towns, and they continued the agricultural life adapted to their tastes. Towns and cities were not built in the interior till much later by the English.
The clan territories continued to be governed as before. The "Book of Rights" extended its enactments even to the Danish Pale; and the Danes tried to convert it to their own advantage by introducing into it false chapters. How the poem of the Gaels of Ath Cliath first found a place in the "Book of Rights" is still unknown to the best Irish antiquarians. John O'Donovan concludes from a verse in it that it was composed in the tenth century, after the conversion of the Danes of Dublin to Christianity. It proves certainly that the Scandinavians in Ireland, like the English of the Pale later on, had become attached to Erin and Erin's customs—had, in fact, become. Irishmen, to all intents and purposes. Not succeeding in making Northmen of the Irish, they succumbed to the gentle influence of Irish manners and religion.
As for the commercial spirit, the Irish could not be caught by it, even when confronted by the spectacle of the wealth it conferred on the "foreigners." It is stated openly in the annals of the race that their greatest kings, both Malachi and Brian Boru, did not utterly expel the Danes from the country, in order that they might profit by the Scandinavian traders, and receive through them the wines, silks, and other commodities, which the latter imported from the continent of Europe.
The same is true of the sea-faring life. The Irish could never be induced to adopt it as a profession, whatever may have been their fondness for short voyages in their curraghs.
The only baneful effects which the Norse invasion exercised on the Irish were: 1. The interruption of studies on the large, even universal, scale on which, they had previously been conducted; 2. The breaking up of the former constitution of the monarchy, by compelling the several clans which were attacked by the "foreigners" to act independently of the Ard-Righ, so that from that time irresponsible power was divided among a much greater number of chieftains.
But these unfortunate effects of the Norse irruptions affected in no wise the Irish character, language, or institutions, which, in fact, finally triumphed over the character, language, and institutions of the pirates established among them for upward of two centuries.
THE IRISH FREE CLANS AND ANGLO-NORMAN FEUDALISM.
The Danes were subdued, and the Irish at liberty to go on weaving the threads of their history—though, in consequence of the local wars, they had lost the concentrating power of the Ard- Righ—when treachery in their own ranks opened up the way for a far more serious attack from another branch of the great Scandinavian family—the Anglo-Norman.
The manners of the people had been left unchanged; the clan system had not been altered in the least; it had stood the test of previous revolutions; now it was to be confronted by a new system which had just conquered Europe, and spread itself round about the apparently doomed island. Of all places it had taken deep root in England, where it was destined to survive its destruction elsewhere in the convulsions of our modern history. That system, then in full vigor, was feudalism.
In order rightly to understand and form a correct judgment on the question, and its mighty issues, we must state briefly what the chief characteristics of feudalism were in those countries where it flourished.
The feudal system proceeded on the principle that landed property was all derived from the king, as the captain of a conquering army; that it had been distributed by him among his followers on certain conditions, and that it was liable to be forfeited if those conditions were not fulfilled.
The feudal system, moreover, politically considered, supposed the principle that all civil and political rights were derived from the possession of land; that those who possessed no land could possess neither civil nor political rights—were, in fact, not men, but villeins.
Consequently, it reduced nations to a small number of landowners, enjoying all the privileges of citizenship; the masses, deprived of all rights, having no share in the government, no opportunity of rising in the social scale, were forever condemned to villeinage or serfdom.
Feudalism, in our opinion, came first from Scandinavia. The majority of writers derive it from Germany. The question of its origin is too extensive to be included within our present limits, and indeed is unnecessary, as we deal principally with the fact and not with its history.
When the sea-rover had conquered the boat of an enemy, or destroyed a village, he distributed the spoils among his crew. Every thing was handed over to his followers in the form of a gift, and in return these latter were bound to serve him with the greatest ardor and devotedness. In course of time the idea of settling down on some territory which they had devastated and depopulated, presented itself to the minds of the rovers. The sea-kong did by the land what he had been accustomed to do by the plunder: he parcelled it out among his faithful followers— fideles—giving to each his share of the territory. This was called feoh by the Anglo-Saxons, who were the first to carry out the system on British soil, as Dr. Lingard shows. Thus the word fief was coined, which in due time took its place in all the languages of Europe.
The giver was considered the absolute owner of whatever he gave, as is the commander of a vessel at sea. It was a beneficium conferred by him, to which certain indispensable conditions were attached. Military duty was the first, but not the only one of these. Writers on feudalism mention a great number, the nonfulfilment of which incurred what was called forfeiture.
In countries where the pirates succeeded in establishing themselves, all the native population was either destroyed by them, as Dudo tells us was the case in Normandy, or, as more frequently happened, the sword being unable to carry destruction so far, the inhabitants who survived were reduced to serfdom, and compelled to till the soil for the conquerors; they were thenceforth called villeins or ascripti glebae. It is clear that such only as possessed land could claim civil and political rights in the new states thus called into existence. Hence the owning of land under feudal tenure was the great and only essential characteristic of mediaeval feudalism.
This system, which was first introduced into Britain by the Anglo-Saxons, was brought to a fixed and permanent state by the Normans—followers of William the Conqueror; and, when the time came for treachery to summon the Norman knights to Irish soil, the devoted island found herself face to face with an iron system which at that period crushed and weighed down all Europe.
The Normans had now been settled in England for a hundred years; all the castles in the country were occupied by Norman lords; all bishopries filled by Norman bishops; all monasteries ruled by Norman abbots. At the head of the state stood the king, at that time Henry II. Here, more than in any other country in Europe, was the king the key-stone to the feudal masonry. Not an inch of ground in England was owned save under his authority, as enjoying the supremum dominium. All the land had been granted by his predecessors as fiefs, with the right of reversion to the crown by forfeiture in case of the violation of feudal obligations. Here was no allodial property, no censitive hereditary domain, as in the rest of, otherwise, feudal Europe. All English lawyers were unanimous in the doctrine that the king alone was the true master of the territory; that tenure under him carried with it all the conditions of feudal tenure, and that any deed or grant proceeding from his authority ought to be so understood.
The south-western portion of Wales was occupied by Norman lords, Flemings for the most part. Two of these, Robert Fitzstephens and Maurice Fitzgerald, sailed to the aid of the Irish King of Leinster. They were the first to land, arriving a full year before Strongbow.
Strongbow came at last. The conditions agreed on beforehand between himself and the Leinster king were fulfilled. He was married to the daughter of Dermod McMurrough, chief of Leinster, acknowledged Righ Dahma, that is, successor to the crown, while the Irish, accustomed for ages to admire valor and bow submissively to the law of conquest, admitted the claim. The English adventurer they looked upon as one of themselves by marriage. Election in such a case was unnecessary, or rather, understood, and Strongbow took the place which was his in their eyes by right of his wife, of head under McMurrough of all the clans of Leinster.
When, a little later, came Henry II. to be acknowledged by Strongbow as his suzerain, and to receive the homage of the presumptive heir of Leinster, submission to him was, in the eyes of the Irish, merely a consequence of their own clan system. They understood the homage rendered to him in a very different sense from that attached to it by feudal nations; and had they had an inkling of the real intentions of the new comers, not one of them would have consented to live under and bow the neck to such a yoke.
In fact, on the small territory where those great events were enacted, two worlds, utterly different from each other, stood face to face. Cambrensis tells us that the English were struck with wonder at what they saw. The imperialism of Rome had never touched Ireland. The Danes, opposed so strenuously from the outset, and finally overcome, had never been able to introduce there their restrictive measures of oppression. The English found the natives in exactly the same state as that in which Julius Caesar found the Gauls twelve hundred years before, except as to religion—the race governed patriarchally by chieftains allied to their subordinates by blood relationship; no unity in the government, no common flag, no private and hereditary property, nothing to bind the tribes together except religion. It was not a nation properly, but rather an agglomeration of small nations often at war each with each, yet all strongly attached to Erin— a mere name, including, nevertherless, the dear idea of country —the chieftains elective, bold, enterprising; the subordinates free, attached to the chief as to a common father, throwing themselves with ardor into all his quarrels, ready to die for him at any moment. Around chief and clansmen circled a large number of brehons, shanachies, poets, bards, and harpers—poetry, music, and war strangely blended together. The religion of Christ spread over all a halo of purity and holiness; large monasteries filled with pious monks, and convents of devout and pure virgins abounded; bishops and priests in the churches chanting psalms, each accompanying himself with a many-stringed harp, gave forth sweet harmony, unheard at the time in any other part of the world.
A most important feature to be considered is their understanding of property. Hereditary right of land with respect to individuals, and the transmission of property of any kind by right of primogeniture, were unknown among them. If a specified amount of territory was assigned to the chieftain, a smaller portion to the bishop, the shanachy, head poet, and other civil officers each in his degree, such property was attached to the office and not to the man who filled it, but passed to his elected successor and not to his own children; while the great bulk of the territory belonged to the clan in common. No one possessed the right to alienate a single rood of it, and, if at times a portion was granted to exiles, to strangers, to a contiguous clan, the whole tribe was consulted on the subject. Over the common land large herds of cattle roamed—the property of individuals who could own nothing, except of a movable nature, beyond their small wooden houses.
This state of things had existed, according to their annals, for several thousand years. Their ancestors had lived happily under such social conditions, which they wished to abide in and hand down to their posterity.
Foreign trade was distasteful to them; in fact, they had no inclination for commerce. Lucre they despised, scarcely knowing the use of money, which had been lately introduced among them. Yet, being refined in their tastes, fond of ornament, of wine at their feasts, loving to adorn the persons of their wives and daughters with silk and gems, they had allowed the Danes to dwell in their seaports, to trade in those commodities, and to import for their use what the land did not produce.
Those seaport towns had been fortified by the Northmen on their first victories when they took possession of them. Throughout the rest of the island, a fortress or a large town was not to be seen. The people, being all agriculturists or graziers, loved to dwell in the country; their houses were built of wattle and clay, yet comfortable and orderly.
The mansions of the chieftains were neither large architectural piles, nor frowning fortresses. They bore the name of raths when used for dwellings; of duns when constructed with a view to resisting an attack. In both cases, they were, in part under ground, in part above; the whole circular in form, built sometimes of large stones, oftener of walls of sodded clay.
Instead of covering their limbs with coats of mail, like the warriors of mediaeval Europe, they wore woollen garments even in war, and for ornaments chains or plates of precious metal. The Norman invaders, clad in heavy mail, were surprised, therefore, to find themselves face to face with men in their estimation unprotected and naked. More astonished were they still at the natural boldness and readiness of the Irish in speaking before their chieftains and princes, not understanding that all were of the same blood and cognizant of the fact.
Still less could they understand the freedom and familiarity existing between the Irish nobility and the poorest of their kinsmen, so different from the haughty bearing of an aristocracy of foreign extraction to the serfs and villeins of a people they had conquered.
The two nations now confronting each other had, therefore, nothing in common, unless, perhaps, an excessive pertinacity of purpose. The new comers belonged to a stern, unyielding, systematic stock, which was destined to give to Europe that great character so superior in our times to that of southern or eastern nations. The natives possessed that strong attachment to their time-honored customs, so peculiar to patriarchal tribes, in whose nature traditions and social habits are so strongly intermingled, that they are ineradicable save by the utter extirpation of the people. And now the characteristics of both races were to be brought out in strong contrast by the great question of property in the soil, which was at the bottom of the struggle between clanship and feudalism. The Irish, as we have seen, knew nothing of individual property in land, nor of tenure, nor of rent, much less of forfeiture. They were often called upon by their chieftains to contribute to their support in ways not seldom oppressive enough, but the contributions were always in kind.
A new and very different system was to be attempted, to which the Irish at first appeared to consent, because they did not understand it, attaching, as they did, their own ideas to words, which, in the mouths of the invaders, had a very different meaning.
With the Irish "to do homage" meant to acknowledge the superiority of another, either on account of his lawful authority or his success in war; and the consequences of this act were, either the fulfilment of the enactments contained in the "Book of Rights," or submission to temporary conditions guaranteed by hostages. But that the person doing homage became by that act the liegeman of the suzerain for life and hereditarily in his posterity, subject to be deprived of all privileges of citizenship, as well as to the possibility of seeing all his lands forfeited, besides many minor penalties enjoined by the feudal code which often resolved itself into mere might—such a meaning of the word homage could by no possibility enter the mind of an Irishman at that period.
Hence, when, after the atrocities committed by the first invaders, who respected neither treaties nor the dictates of humanity, not even the sanctuary and the sacredness of religious houses, Henry II. came with an army, large and powerful for that time, the Irish people and their chieftains, hoping that he would put an end to the crying tyranny of the Fitzstephens, Fitzgeralds, De Lacys, and others, went to meet him and acknowledge his authority as head chieftain of Leinster through Strongbow, and, perhaps, as the monarch who should restore peace and happiness to the whole island. McCarthy, king of Desmond, was the first Irish prince to pay homage to Henry.
While the king was spending the Christmas festivities in Dublin, many other chieftains arrived; among them O'Carrol of Oriel and O'Rourke of Breffny. Roderic O'Connor of Connaught, till then acknowledged by many as monarch of Ireland, thought at first of fighting, but, as was his custom, he ended by a treaty, wherein, it is said, he acknowledged Henry as his suzerain, and thus placed Ireland at his feet. Ulster alone had not seen the invaders; but, as its inhabitants did not protest with arms in their hands, the Normans pretended that from that moment they were the rightful owners of the island.
Without a moment's delay they began to feudalize the country by dividing the land and building castles. These two operations, which we now turn to, opened the eyes of the Irish to the deception which had been practised upon them, and were the real origin of the momentous struggle which is still being waged today.
Sir John Davies, the English attorney-general of James I., has stated the whole case in a sentence: "All Ireland was by Henry II. cantonized among ten of the English nation; and, though they had not gained possession of one-third of the kingdom, yet in title they were owners and lords of all, so as nothing was left to be granted to the natives."
McCarthy, king of Desmond, had been the first to acknowledge the authority of Henry II., yet McCarthy's lands were among the first, if not the first, bestowed by Henry on his minions. The grant may be seen in Ware, and it is worthy of perusal as a sample of the many grants which followed it, whereby Henry attempted a total revolution in the tenure of land. The charter giving Meath to De Lacy was the only one which by a clause seemed to preserve the old customs of the country as to territory; and yet it was in Meath that the greatest atrocities were committed.
Yet one difficulty presented itself to the invaders: their rights were only on paper, whereas the Irish were still in possession of the greatest part of the island, and once the real purpose of the Normans showed itself, they were no longer disposed to submit to Henry or to any of his appointed lords. The territory had to be wrested from them by force of arms.
The English claimed the whole island as their own. They were, in fact, masters only of the portion occupied by their troops; the remainder was, therefore, to be conquered. And if in Desmond, where the whole strength of the English first fell, they possessed only a little more than one-fourth of the soil, what was the case in the rest of the island, the most of which had not yet seen them?
Long years of war would evidently be required to subdue it, and the systematic mind of the conquerors immediately set about devising the best means for the attainment of their purpose. The lessons gathered from their continental experience suggested these means immediately; they saw that by covering the country with feudal castles they could in the end conquer the most stubborn nation. A thorough revolution was intended. The two systems were so entirely antagonistic to each other that the success of the Norman project involved a change of land tenure, laws, customs, dress—every thing. Even the music of the bards was to be silenced, the poetry of the files to be abolished, the pedigrees of families to be discontinued, the very games of the people to be interrupted and forbidden. A vast number of castles was necessary. The project was a fearful one, cruel, barbarous, worthy of pagan antiquity. It was undertaken with a kind of ferocious alacrity, and in a short time it appeared near realization. But in the long run it failed, and four hundred years later, under the eighth Henry, it was as far from completion as the day on which the second Henry left the island in 1171.
To show the importance which the invaders attached to their system, and the ardor with which they set about putting it in practice, we have only to extract a few passages from the old annals of the islands; they are wonderfully expressive in their simplicity:
"A.D. 1176. The English were driven from Limerick by Donnall O'Brian. An English castle was in process of erection at Kells."- -(Four Masters.)
"A.D. 1178. The English built and fortified a castle at Kenlis, the key of those parts of Meath, against the incursions of the Ulster men."—(Ware's Antiquities.)
"A.D. 1180. Hugh De Lacy planted several colonies in Meath, and fortified the country with many castles, for the defence and security of the English."—(Ibid.)
Such enumerations might be prolonged indefinitely; we conclude with the following entry taken from the Four Masters:
"A.D. 1186. Hugh De Lacy, the profaner and destroyer of many churches, Lord of the English of Meath (the Irish cannot call him their lord), Breffni, and Oirghialla, he who had conquered the greater part of Ireland for the English, and of whose English castles all Meath, from the Shannon to the sea, was full, after having finished the castle of Der Magh, set out accompanied by three Englishmen to visit it . . . . One of the men of Tebtha, a youth named O'Miadhaigh, approached him, and with an axe severed his head from his body."
So wide-reaching and comprehensive was the plan of the invaders from the beginning that they felt confident of holding possession of Ireland forever; and to effect this they must certainly have intended to destroy or drive out the native race, or at best to make slaves of as many of them as they chose to keep. Thus they had prophecies manufactured for the purpose, and Cambrensis, in his second book, chapter xxxiii., says confidently: "Prophecies promise a full victory to the English people. . . . and that the island of Hibernia shall be subjected and fortified with castles—literally incastellated, incastellatam—throughout from sea to sea."
Meanwhile, together with the building of castles, the partition of the territory was being carried out. The ten great lords, among whom, according to Sir John Davies, Henry II. had cantonized Ireland, saw the necessity of giving a part of their large estates to their followers that so they might occupy the whole. McGeohegan compiles from Ware the best view of this very interesting and comparatively unexplored subject. Curious details are found there, showing that, with the exception of Ulster, not only the geography, but even the most minute topography of the country, had been well studied by those feudal chieftains. Their characteristic love for system runs all through these transactions.
But the Irish had now seen enough. The whole country was in a blaze. That kind of guerilla war peculiar to the Celtic clans began. The newly built castles were attacked and often captured and destroyed. Strongbow was shut up and besieged in Water- ford, which fell into the hands of the Danes. The latter sided everywhere with the Irish. Limerick changed hands several times, until Donnall O'Brian, who was left in possession, set fire to it rather than see it fall again into the hands of the invaders.
In Meath, where the numerous castles of De Lacy were situated, a war to the knife was being waged. O'Melachlin first tried persuasion, but in conference with De Lacy he dared inveigh loudly against the King of England, and, as his words must have expressed the feelings of the great majority of the people, we give them:
"Notwithstanding his promise of supporting me in the possession of my wealth and dignities, he has sent robbers to invade my patrimony. Avaricious and sparing of his own possessions, he is lavish of those of others, and thus enriches libertines and profligates who have consumed the patrimony of their fathers in debauchery."
This manly protest was answered by the stroke of a dagger from the hand of Raymond Legros, and, after being beheaded, 0'Melachlin was buried feet upward as a rebel.
The monarch himself, Roderic O'Connor, finally appeared on the scene, beat the English at Thurles, and, marching into Meath, laid the country waste.
Henry at last saw the necessity of adopting a milder policy, and O'Connor dispatching to England Catholicus O'Duffy, Archbishop of Tuam, Lawrence O'Toole, of Dublin, and Concors, Abbot of St. Brendan, the Treaty of Windsor was concluded, which was really a compromise, and yet remained the true law of the land for four hundred years. It may be seen in Rymer's "Foedera."
Sir John Davies justly remarks that by the treaty "the Irish lords only promised to become tributaries to King Henry II.; and such as pay only tribute, though they are placed by Bodin in the first degree of subjection, yet are not properly subjects, but sovereigns; for though they be less and inferior to the princes to whom they pay tribute, yet they hold all other points of sovereignty.
"And, therefore, though King Henry had the title of Sovereign Lord over the Irish, yet did he not put those things in execution, which are the true marks of sovereignty.
"For to give laws unto a people, to institute magistrates and officers over them, to punish or pardon malefactors, to have the sole authority of making war or peace, are the true marks of sovereignty, which King Henry II. had not in Ireland, but the Irish lords did still retain all those prerogatives to themselves. For they governed their people by the Brehon law; they appointed their own magistrates and officers; . . . . they made war and peace one with another, without control; and this they did not only during the reign of Henry II., but afterward in all times, even until the reign of Queen Elizabeth."
By an article of the treaty the Irish were allowed to live in the Pale if they chose; and even there they could enjoy their customs in peace, as far as the letter of the law went. Many acts of Irish parliaments, it is true, were passed for the purpose of depriving them of that right, but without success.
Edmund Spenser, himself living in the Pale in the reign of Elizabeth, speaks as an eye-witness of "having seen their meeton their ancient accustomed hills, where they debated and settled matters according to the Brehon laws, between family and family, township and township, assembling in large numbers, and going, according to their custom, all armed."
Stanihurst also, a contemporary of Spenser, had witnessed the breaking up of those meetings, and seen "the crowds in long lines, coming down the hills in the wake of each chieftain, he the proudest that could bring the largest company home to his evening supper."
Here would be the proper place to speak of the Brehon law, which remained thus in antagonism to feudal customs for several centuries. Up to recently, however, only vague notions could be given of that code. But at this moment antiquarians are revising and studying it preparatory to publishing the "Senchus Mor" in which the Irish law is contained. It is known that it existed previous to the conversion of Ireland to Christianity, and that the laws of tanistry and of gavelkind, the customs of gossipred and of fostering, were of pagan origin. Patrick revised the code and corrected what could not coincide with the Christian religion. He also introduced into the island many principles of the Roman civil and canon law, which, without destroying the peculiarities natural to the Irish character, invested their code with a more modern and Christian aspect.
Edmund Campian, who afterward died a martyr under Elizabeth, says, in his "Account of Ireland," written in May, 1571: "They (the Irish) speak Latin like a vulgar language, learned in their common schools of leechcraft and law, whereat they begin children, and hold on sixteen or twenty years, conning by rote the aphorisms of Hippocrates, and the Civil Institutes, and a few other parings of these two faculties. I have seen them where they kept school, ten in some one chamber, grovelling upon couches of straw, their books at their noses, themselves lying prostrate, and so to chant out their lessons by piecemeal, being the most part lusty fellows of twenty-five years and upward."
It was then after studies of from sixteen to twenty years that the Brehon judge—the great one of a whole sept, or the inferior one of a single noble family—sat at certain appointed times, in the open air, on a hill generally, having for his seat clods of earth, to decide on the various subjects of difference among neighbors.
Sir James Ware remarks that they were not acquainted with the laws of England. He might have better said, they preferred their own, as not coming from cold and pagan Scandinavia, but from the warm south, the greatest of human law-givers, the jurisconsults of Old Rome, and the holy expounders of the laws of Christian Rome.
What were those laws of England of which Ware speaks? There is no question here of the common law which came into use in times posterior to Henry II., and which the English derived chiefly from the Christian civil and canon law; but of those feudal enactments, which the Anglo-Normans endeavored to introduce into Ireland, for the purpose of supplanting the old law and customs of the natives.
There was, first, the law of territory, if we may so call it, by which the supreme ruler became really owner of the integral soil, which he distributed among his great vassals, to be redistributed by them among inferior vassals.
There was the law of primogeniture, which even to this day obtains in England, and has brought about in that country since the days of William the Conqueror, and in Ireland since the English "plantations" of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the state of things now so well known to Europe.
There was also the long list of feudal conditions to be observed, by the fulfilment of which the great barons and their followers held their lands. For their tenure was liable to homage and fealty, as understood in the feudal sense, to wardships and impediments to marriage, to fines for alienations, to what English legists call primer seizins, rents, reliefs, escheats, and, finally, forfeitures; this last was at all times more strictly observed in England than in any other feudal country, and by its enactments so many noble families have, in the course of ages, been reduced to beggary, and their chiefs often brought to the block. English history is filled with such cases.
The law of wardship, by which no minor, heir, or heiress could have other guardian than the suzerain, and could not marry without his consent, was at all times a great source of wealth to the royal exchequer, and a correspondingly heavy tribute laid on the vassal. So profitable did the English kings find this law, that they speedily introduced it into Church affairs, every bishop's see or monastery being considered, at the death of the incumbent, as a minor, a ward, to be taken care of by the sovereign, who enjoyed the revenues without bothering himself particularly with the charges.
There were, finally, the hunting laws, which forbade any man to hunt or hawk even on his own estate.
Such were the laws of England, which Sir James Ware complains the Irish did not know.
In signing the treaty of Windsor, the English king had apparently recognized in the person of Roderic O'Connor, and in the Irish through him, the chief rights of sovereignty over the whole island, except Leinster and, perhaps, Meath. But, at the same time, a passage or two in the treaty concealed a meaning certainly unperceived by the Irish, but fraught with mischief and misfortune to their country.
First, Roderic O'Connor acknowledged himself and his successors as liegemen of the kings of England; in a second place, the privileges conceded to the Irish were to continue only so long as they remained faithful to their oath of allegiance. We see here the same confusion of ideas, which we remarked on the meaning given to the word homage by either party. The natives of the island understood to be liegemen and under oath in a sense conformable to their usual ideas of subordination; the English invested those words with the feudal meaning.
All the calamities of the four following centuries, and, consequently, all the horrors of the times subsequent to the Protestant Reformation, were to be the penalty of that misunderstanding.
Let us picture to ourselves two races of men so different as the Milesian Celts on the one side, and the Scandinavian Norman French on the other, having concluded such a treaty as that of Windsor, each side resolved to push its own interpretation to the bitter end.
The English are in possession of a territory clearly enough defined, but they are ever on the alert to seize any opportunity of a real or pretended violation of it, in order to extend their limits and subjugate the whole island. Yet they are bound to allow the Brehon Irish to live in their midst, governed by their own customs and laws. Moreover, they acknowledge that the former great Irish lords of the very country which they occupy are not mere Irish, but of noble blood; for, from the beginning, the English recognized five families of the country, known as the "five bloods," as pure and noble, in theory at least. The Irish without the Pale are acknowledged as perfectly independent, completely beyond English control, with their own magistrates and laws, even that of war; subject only to tribute. But, at the same time, this independence is rendered absolutely insecure by the imposition of conditions, whose meaning is well known and perfectly understood in all the countries conquered by the Scandinavians, but utterly beyond the comprehension of the Irish.
The consequence is clear: war began with the conclusion of the treaty—a war which raged for four centuries, until a new and more powerful incentive to slaughter and desolation showed itself in the Reformation, ushered in by Henry VIII.
First came a general rebellion. This is the word used by Ware, when John, a boy of twelve years of age, was dispatched by his father Henry, with the title of Lord of Ireland, to receive the submission of various Irish lords at Waterford, where he landed. "The young English gentlemen," says Cambrensis, who was a witness of the scene, "used the Irish chieftains with scorn, because," as he says, "their demeanor was rude and barbarous." The Irish naturally resented this treatment from a lad, as they would have resented it from his father; and they retired in wrath to take up arms and raise the whole land to "rebellion."
This solemn protest was not without effect in Europe. At the beginning of the reign of Richard I., Clement III., on appointing, by the king's request, William de Longchamps, Bishop of Ely, as his legate in England, Wales, and Ireland, took good care to limit the authority of this prelate to those parts of Ireland which lay under the jurisdiction of the Earl of Moreton— that is, of John, brother to Richard. He had power to exercise his jurisdiction "in Anglia,, Wallia, et illis Hiberniae partibus in quibus Joannes Moretonii Comes potestatem habet et dominium."—(Matth. Paris.) It would seem, then, that Clement III. knew nothing of the bull of Adrian IV.
The war, as we said, was incessant. England finally so despaired of conquering the country, that some lords of the court of Henry VI. caused him to write letters to some of his "Irish enemies," urging the latter to effect the conquest of the island in the king's name. This was assuredly a last resource, which history has never recorded of any other nation warring on a rival. But even in this England failed. Those lords—the "Irish enemies" of King Henry VI.—sent his letters to the Duke of York, then Lord- Lieutenant, "and published to the world the shame of England."— (Sir John Davies.)
The result was that, at the end of the reign of Henry VI., the Irish, in the words of the same author, "became victorious over all, without blood or sweat; only that little canton of land, called the English Pale, containing four small shires; maintained yet a bordering war with the Irish, and retained the form of English government."
Feudalism was thus reduced in Ireland to the small territory lying between the Boyne and the Liffey, subject to the constant annoyance of the O'Moores, O'Byrnes, and O'Cavanaghs. And this state of affairs continued until the period of the so-called Reformation in England.
Ireland proved itself then the only spot in Western Europe where feudal laws and feudal customs could take no root. Through all other nations of the Continent those laws spread by degrees, from the countries invaded by the Northmen, into the most distant parts, modified and mitigated in some instances by the innate power of resistance left by former institutions. In this small island alone, where clanship still held its own, feudalism proved a complete failure. We merely record a fact, suggestive, indeed, of thought, which proves, if no more, at least that the Celtic nature is far more persevering and steady of purpose than is generally supposed.