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[The True Origins of Irish Society Copyright © 2003 by Desmond Keenan
Hard copy of book available from and]

Chapter Sixteen


Summary. Describes conditions on the Continent and in Britain in the run-up to the Norman invasion.


General Characteristics

Political Events in the Twelfth Century




The Continent

General Characteristics      

            In the twelfth century Europe as it were suddenly sprang into life like a time of spring following a long winter. What is very surprising is the number and speed of the developments.  From a military point of view the people of Christendom, after being subjected for so long to intense raiding went over to the attack and indeed continued attacking until they had conquered most of the globe. The Crusades were the most important example of this warlike expansion. They showed that western Europe was now economically, militarily, and technologically recovered that it was possible to collect, finance, and send a large body of heavily equipped soldiers from western Europe to the Middle East and conquer objectives that even Byzantium had failed to conquer. It was estimated that a knight setting out for the crusades would need to save or borrow four times his annual income from his land.

            In place of the thatched halls of chiefs and thatched churches the country became dotted with castles or fortified manors, and abbeys. The knight on horseback and the feudal system dominated the military scene. Ships were no longer the Viking longships, but were larger, higher, and driven by sails. Land-holding had become concentrated in manors where the peasants held their land from their lord and were subject both to his protection and his control. Tillage became more important, and large open fields were cultivated with ploughs drawn by large teams of oxen, and the peasants held and tilled their fields in common. In most parts of the western half of Ireland, the climate made cereal production uncertain and cattle-rearing continued.

             The Romanesque architecture of the preceding century was being developed in an exuberant style as stone masons developed their skills. But under the guidance of orders like the Cistercians it was restrained and made more expressive of religious values. The Cistercians too sought out the best masters and most authentic manuscripts of Gregorian chant such as existed at the time to bring a rare and religious beauty to the divine services. Attempts were also made to find the best manuscripts of the bible and the most authentic copies of the Roman rituals and missals to purge out local abuses. The pattern of religious life was austere but not excessive with no extraordinary attempts at feats of asceticism such as appeared in the following century. The Latin language was again polished and rescued from barbarisms and the writings of Abelard and St Bernard stand comparison with the best in other ages. This was a living working language unlike the artificial revival of the archaic Ciceronian style in the High Renaissance when style seemed to take precedence over substance.


            Religious reform also took an immense step forward. But it was just a case of the rooting out of abuses though that is what it started with. Religion began to pervade and inspire all aspects of life, warfare, architecture, sheep farming, learning, and land reclamation. Religious orders were founded to defend the Holy Land, to drive back the Moors in Spain, and to minister to poor pilgrims going to the Holy Land The twelfth century was that of the Cistercians, and especially of St Bernard, the arbiter of Christendom. By the middle of the century a Cistercian monk had been elected Pope as Eugenius III in 1145. St Bernard wrote a treatise on the Church for his guidance. He sent an English cardinal, Nicholas Breakspear to help reform the Church in Scandinavia. He founded at Drontheim a new archiepiscopal see for Norway. Among the dioceses subject to this see were Sodor and Man. Nicholas was elected Pope as Hadrian IV shortly after his return to Rome. Henry II, when sending his clerk, John of Salisbury to congratulate him on his accession, asked for a bull allowing him to enter Ireland and reform the Church there. This was granted.

            The principal military orders were the Knights Templars (1119) and the Knights Hospitallers (1113) who fought the Muslims in the Near East, the Knights of Calatrava (1158) who fought them in Spain as part of the Reconquista and the Teutonic Knights (1189) who fought in Germany until finally the Lithuanians accepted Christianity in the fourteenth century. The Knights Hospitallers were founded originally to open and manage guesthouses where those who became ill while making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem could be nursed, but they found it necessary to defend these hospices by the use of arms.

            The Knights Templars developed from a small military band in Jerusalem when the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem was about twenty years old. They received the support of St Bernard, and at the Council of Troyes in 1128 a rule modelled on that of the Cistercians was approved for them. In 1185 the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Masters of the Templars and the Hospitallers came to England seeking assistance against Saladin in the Holy Land. Henry II and his son Richard took the cross as a pledge of their determination to go on a crusade. Henry died, and Richard I, immediately after becoming king, took steps to gather an army to assist the Templars.  We do not know the exact nature of the observance of the Rule in Molesme, but it was probably Cluniac in general character. Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, successfully defended the observances of his Order at the time and Benedictine (along with Augustinian) practices were to form the pattern for the future even among the Cistercians.

            The next was that of Citeaux, called the Cistercians. The monastery of Citeaux was founded in 1098 by St Robert of Molesme with some monks of the monastery of Molesme in Burgundy who wished to observe the Rule of St Benedict just as he wrote it, neither adding to it or subtracting from it. The Cistercians were determined to sustain themselves by the labour of their hands, as St Benedict said the early monks and the apostles did. They therefore eschewed all rents and dues attached to their lands or the services of serfs. The fewer and simpler their needs the easier it would be to do this. To avoid the cost of the expensive black dye they wove their habits from undyed wool that was of a grey colour.

             Their fortunes were transformed with the arrival in 1113 of a young Burgundian nobleman known to history as St Bernard of Clairvaux. He was professed a monk according to the Rule after a year's noviciate, and in 1115 was sent with twelve companions to found a new monastery at Clairvaux. His fame spread and Clairvaux, and to a lesser extent other Cistercian monasteries, were flooded with postulants. It is to St Bernard that the wave of enthusiasm for the Cistercian way of life swept over Europe is due. By the time of his death in 1153 there were 300 Cistercian monasteries spread over Europe, 68 of which were founded directly from Clairvaux. Mellifont in Ireland (1142) was one of these. It seemed that every local lord in Europe wanted a Cistercian monastery in his domain.

            One particular aspect of the Cistercian reform was their insistence that every monk should engage in manual labour, supporting himself by the work of his hands. The older monasteries in the West, even those founded by St. Benedict himself, had relied on hired labour or serfs. The Cistercians developed the system of laybrothers who were mostly illiterate and unable either to sing the offices in church or devote their time to reading. They also accepted grants of lands in places ‘remote from the haunts of men’ and thereby by definition unreclaimed wastelands. In most of North Western Europe this meant that the land had to be drained. Some lands too were so infertile that they could support only sheep, so sheep were put on them. Both these factors contributed immensely to land reclamation and to the development of the woollen industry. It also brought intelligent minds to bear on the problems of husbandry.

            Finally, St Norbert at Premontre in 1120 drew up an austere rule for regular canons, that is for priests who wished to observe a rule while continuing to act as priests. This Rule too was very influential, for in the coming centuries most Orders instituted for men took it for granted that most of them would be priests exercising priestly functions. He was very impressed by the Cistercian manner of life, and followed it as far as was compatible with pastoral care. He adopted a white habit like that of the Cistercians. His Rule was therefore stricter than that of Arrouaise. 

‘From 1050 to 1350 more stone was quarried in France alone than in the whole history of ancient Egypt--enough to build 80 cathedrals, 500 large churches, and tens of thousands of parish churches’ (Encyc. Britannica) The twelfth and thirteenth centuries was the great epoch of the Gothic cathedral. This, as it were, frenzy for building had enormous economic consequences. The first fully Gothic building is considered to be the abbey of St. Denys outside Paris constructed by Abbot Suger around 1140. This was followed by Notre Dame in Paris in 1163. Stained glass in the windows began to be widely used. Again St. Denys was an important centre.

It was rather interesting that an Augustinian writer, Jordan of Saxony, in a treatise he wrote about 1350 devotes two quite long paragraphs to the sarabaites and gyrovagues. It is not obvious if these classes of monks were still a problem in the thirteenth century or whether Jordan was including them as part of a sermon. There are various references in the early Middle Ages to the goliards who were described as wandering students and minor clerics noted for their satirical and bawdy songs. The Carmina Burana is a famous later collection of the type of disreputable song. These developed into the more respectable trouveres, troubadours, and minnesingers in the twelfth century, but also continued as the disreputable goliards. Latin songs from the seventh century are still found, but the music that accompanied them can no longer be identified.


            Learning too made great progress. There had always been schools of sorts attached to cathedrals and monasteries, but the Dark Ages were not noted for their learning. Now new schools were founded in which philosophy and rational theology were the most important subjects. Medicine and law were also studied and these four subjects formed the degree courses in universities. A command of written and spoken Latin was an essential requirement before commencing study for all the lectures and disputations were in that language.

            One of the first famous teachers was William of Champeaux who taught in the cathedral school in Paris and the abbey of St. Victor. Bernard of Chartres taught in the cathedral school of Chartres. The philosophy of Aristotle and Plato was now back in fashion in these schools. Roscelin taught at a school in Besancon in Burgundy where Peter Abelard studied under him. Peter Abelard was famous for his method of stating the arguments for and against an opinion. Later opposing masters would hold a debate (disputatio) on particular points, and this became the favourite method of deciding doubtful points. The two great learned works of the century were the Sentences of Peter Lombard, c. 1150, (Peter the Lombard 1100-1160, bishop of Paris) and Gratian's Decretum or Concordia Canonum. (1140; Gratian died before 1159.)

            It is not easy to define a university, or to say how exactly it differs from a cathedral or monastic school for the subjects taught, the manner of teaching and the students taught were to some extent the same. However a secular school of medicine was established at Salerno in southern Italy, and a school of law in Bologna in northern Italy. In Salerno translations of Arabic works on medicine were used. It remained only a medical school. At Bologna, civil and canon law was taught, and it is sometimes considered to be Europe’ first university. The trivium and quadrivium, in whole or in part, were also taught. In the course of the twelfth century bishops reserved to themselves the right to determine the qualifications of teachers in these schools. A charter however was granted to the masters to form a self-governing body about 1150 and similar charters were then granted to other schools. The courses on offer were generally arts, particularly philosophy, divinity, medicine, and law.

Music and Literature

            The troubadours developed both music and literature. They were the first to use a vernacular language to express their feelings, the Langue d'Oc or Provencal French. They also developed the idea of courtly love and also the idea of chivalry or the noble knight who protects the weak especially women.

            In the use of Latin literary stylists like Saint Bernard of Clairvaux once again gave a contemporary literary polish to the language. Latin still continued as the language of the Church, of civil administration, of the schools and universities, and also of literature. Even the Carmina Burana were composed in Latin. Poetry was powerfully influenced by the hymnody of the Church. Stress not vowel quantity prevailed. Verses had a fixed number of syllables, and ended in rhymes. From these rhyme was introduced into various European languages.

            Architecture too developed. At first the Romanesque style was brought to a great perfection, and then, by using a pointed arch rather than a round one it was developed into what came to be called Gothic. The first Gothic building was the abbey of Saint Denis outside Paris, rebuilt in 1137. The point in using pointed arches rather than round ones was that was that it was easy to use intersecting arches to cover rectangular areas other than the perfect square

The Economy, Cities and Trade 

            Trade developed extensively especially in Italy. The windmill was introduced and gradually became common. Also the fulling mill was developed. This was one of the first applications of machinery to an industrial process. Fulling or washing of cloth was one of the most laborious of industrial processes at the time as wet cloth is very heavy and difficult to work. Other developments were the sternpost rudder and the mariners' compass.

            Trading too developed in northern Europe and developments there had a more direct effect on Ireland. The greatest and most famous example of this development was the formation of the Hansa, later the Hanseatic League. Various trading towns grew up, mostly along the southern shore of the Baltic from Hamburg on the Elbe to Reval in Estonia. The first hansa was established in 1161. The German merchants maintained offices in London, Bruges, and Novgorod. In the course of the Middle Ages they developed trade in the Baltic and North Seas to rival that in the Mediterranean.

            Trade was gradually developing in England. London was a great centre, but Bristol too from the 10 century onwards was a growing port.  It had close connections with Ireland, dealing mainly in wool, and it was to Bristol that Dermot MacMurrough took ship when he was seeking foreign assistance. The other great port trading with Ireland was Chester. Only when the port silted up was it replaced by Liverpool.

            The increasing surpluses allowed the population to increase. It also allowed specialisation in crop-production. It became possible to specialise in wool-production for example, or cereal-production. Craftsmen like leather-workers, weavers, metalworkers, stonecutters, traders and merchants could all be supported on the sales of the superfluous production. The king in his wars could tax in money and pay for trained and reliable soldiers who did not feel it essential to return home for the harvest, and also purchase supplies from the cheapest or most convenient source. [Top]

Political Events in the Twelfth Century

            At the beginning of the twelfth century the political shape of Europe as we know it today was beginning to emerge.  Despite the loss of a large piece of territory in Anatolia to the Seljuq Turks and important possessions in southern Italy to the Normans, the Byzantine Empire was still quite strong. The Holy Roman Empire, under the Salian Franks from 1024 to 1137 and under the Hohenstaufens from Swabia after that, was strong and united and extended down into Italy almost as far as Naples. The Capetian kings in France were gradually gaining control over the great lords, though it must be remembered that no medieval monarch ever got absolute control over the great lords, or not for long. In England there was a relatively strong centralised monarchy which also included the original lands in Normandy. Two strong kingdoms had emerged in Spain at the beginning of the century, and by the end of the century more than half of Spain was reconquered

            The First Crusade (1095-1100) was successful largely because of divisions among the Seljuq Turks. The knights established various small states along the eastern Mediterranean, the kingdom of Jerusalem, the county of Edessa on the Euphrates and the principalities of Antioch and Tripoli. Various equally fragmented emirates faced them. The crusaders brought the art of fortification to new heights, and those who returned constructed ever-greater stone castles in Europe that survived until the introduction of gunpowder. The capture of Edessa by the Turks in 1145 resulted in the Second Crusade that was led by the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III and the Capetian king Louis VII. The German Army did not reach Jerusalem, though a much-reduced French army did. An attack on Damascus failed so the French returned home. The only crusade in this century that had much affect on Ireland was the Third Crusade that was launched following the capture of Jerusalem by the Kurdish Muslim Saladin who ruled in Syria. In 1187 he captured Jerusalem, and in 1189 the western kings led the Third Crusade against him. Among the king's who went was Richard I Lionheart, king of England, who left his younger brother Prince John in charge in his absence.

Military Matters

            What advantages did the Normans have? Firstly we must banish the idea of heavily mailed Norman knights such as fought at Agincourt in 1415 charging down lightly armed and clad Gaelic soldiers like the 'kernes' of later centuries. Warfare in Ireland was never very different from warfare on the Continent. Since Clontarf all armies had adopted cavalry. Yet warfare in Ireland still followed age-old patterns, consisting mostly of glorified cattle raids. Defence still consisted principally of retreating and dispersing. The Normans came from a far harder school. The fortifications built by the Normans for defensive purposes were simple and effective, being constructed simply of earth and wood. Once again the archers were crucial, for it was their job to keep the attackers at a distance. By placing the wooden stockade on the top of an earthen bank it made it difficult to set fire to, or even to place ladders against the stockade even if the Gaelic armies had them. The light armour or chainmail afforded some protection but probably very little against a battleaxe. Suits of mail were expensive and probably the principal reason they were not used by the Gaelic forces was that they could not afford them. The profits from improved farming were all important. The Norman knights also dismounted and fought on foot if that was more appropriate.  Cavalry tactics were rudimentary, but the horsemen fought together in small contingents well used to co-operating with each other and with other contingents. Yet there is no reason to believe that the Norman cavalry was ultimately decisive. Conditions in Ireland were no more suitable for the cavalry charge than for the chariot charge. Horsemen had many auxiliary uses but the charge of mailed knights against infantry in broken, boggy, or wooded country was not one of them. Yet there were occasions where the cavalry were clearly decisive. When the Norse attacked Dublin in 1171 and were driving back Miles de Cogan's men, a charge of a troop of cavalry against their rear caused them to flee. Next, the sudden sally of three troops of horse totalling fewer than a hundred caught the great Gaelic army relaxed and off-guard, and resulted in the classical panic. But normal Gaelic warfare involved attacking across bogs and through woods along paths defended as they had been for millennia by palisades and plashed woods.

            But it was soon obvious that small bodies of Normans could not defeat large bodies of Gaelic warriors in the field, nor did the Normans attempt to defend indefensible positions. It is also difficult to determine how many actually fought in any given battle. The figures for the Norman knights, bowmen, and men-at-arms may be accurate, but they were probably always accompanied by a body of Gaelic soldiers. On the other hand the inflated style of the Gaelic narratives of the period probably vastly overstate the numbers who fought in the Gaelic armies. One is struck with the small numbers the crown felt necessary to maintain for the defence of its interests in Ireland even if in practice contingents equally large came from the greater lords. If Hugh de Lacy was to provide a hundred mounted knights from the whole of Meath his total contribution of knights, archers, and men-at-arms probably did not come to more than 500. If one adds in petty Gaelic chiefs and their followers he could rely on we probably come to a total of 1000 for the whole of Meath.

                            For over a hundred years the Normans had a well-deserved reputation in Europe as fighting men, and their participation in the Crusades honed their fighting skills. Horses suitable for cavalry warfare were bred, and rudimentary cavalry tactics were developed. But archery too was developed, and from this period onwards missile warfare was to play an increasingly important role. But he bulk of any army was formed by the foot soldiers. To win the battle the foot soldiers had to be beaten. The king or chief stood among the foot soldiers and formed the centre of the line of battle. Mounted soldiers and archers were specialists. The role of the archers was to discomfit and try to break the composure of the infantry. Rarely were the archers effective against a cavalry charge, so increasingly spearmen were interspersed among the archers for their protection. [Top]


            In England, the country prospered under the strong monarch Henry I (1100-35), the fourth son of William the Conqueror, who wrested the throne from his elder brother Robert, Duke of Normandy after the accidental death of William II Rufus) Henry had a dispute over investiture with St Anselm, but they arrived at a workable compromise that left the king more or less free to do what he wanted so long as he respected what Anselm could not sanction. He established peace in the land, and prevented private wars. He restored the coinage and prohibited false weights and measures. He carried on a long war in Normandy against his brother and in doing so united the English and Normans in England against the Normans of Normandy. He also established a semi-permanent court, presided over by himself, or in his absence by a justiciar, to try cases when the full court was not in session. This court was largely limited to giving judgements, and was to develop into the court of the King's Bench. He also sent out itinerant justices with powers to try cases in the various counties, which was to develop into the royal assizes. The duty of the justices was at first chiefly to enforce royal rights. The Court of the Exchequer, consisting of the justiciar and the permanent officers of the king’s court, was appointed to deal with the collection of the royal revenues. The officers of the two courts were also the ordinary offices of the royal court, and the two kinds of cases they heard were not rigidly distinguished from each other. There might be reasons for hearing a case in one court rather than the other. The Exchequer Court for example dealt primarily with financial matters and debts owed to the king, but any other case might have a financial element to it and consequently a debt to the king. Or a refusal to pay money could be regarded as a rebellion against the king. The Lord Chancellor, who dealt with royal correspondence, could send out royal letters or writs. So too could the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Court) whose primary duty was to act as a judge. An early exchequer roll that survived showed that the royal income was £66,000 a year. The great point to be noted was that the administration of England, already well-centralised before the Conquest, was made more centralised and efficient.

             Upper class society was now divided largely into earls, barons, and knights. There were only two grades of nobility, earls and barons. Earls were equated with counts on the Continent, and the wife of an earl is still called a countess. A baron was originally not different from a knight for both had the connotation of man or servant as in king's man or count's man, or paid soldier. The term was then restricted to the king's barons, and then to the greater barons who were summoned to the King's Great Council or later summoned by writ to Parliament. Knights were originally mounted horsemen, but the term was increasingly applied to those who held land by the tenure of mounted military service. It was also used of young members of the nobility who were created or dubbed knights at the start of their careers. Their distinctive title was Sir.    Besides defending his territories in France, Henry gathered the Flemings who had settled in England and settled them on lands in Pembrokeshire to hold against the Welsh.   He presented the district of Cardiganshire to Gilbert de Clare who conquered the district in 1111. In 1114 Henry led an army against North Wales. He was at peace with Scotland where three of his wife's brothers reigned in succession. His wife was Matilda, daughter of Malcolm Canmore III, king of Scotland. The future of England changed in 1120 when Henry's only legitimate son was drowned in the Blanch Nef or White Ship when crossing the Channel. Henry's daughter Matilda had been married off to the German Emperor Henry V. On his death Henry summoned her back to England and made his barons swear to recognise her as his successor. He then married her to Geoffrey Plantagenet, son of the count of Anjou. Their son was called Henry, called Fitzempress or son of the empress, who later as Henry of Anjou became Henry II. There were thus no Norman rulers of Ireland, only Angevins.

            On the death of Henry I the English barons chose Stephen of Blois, son of Henry I's sister Adela as their king which led to prolonged civil wars with the followers of Matilda. Though Stephen was eventually victorious he had no children and agreed that his successor should be Henry Fitzempress.

            Stephen died in 1154 when Henry was twenty-one, and Henry arrived in England by Christmas to be crowned. Henry II ruled over England, Wales, and most of France right down to the Mediterranean. His successors were unable to hold it and progressively lost territory to the king of France. The last town, Calais, was lost in 1558. The temporary conquest had an important side effect. The wine-growing region around Bordeaux, one of the most important in France, came under English rule, and the clear wine of the region called claret became very popular in England.

            The archbishop of Canterbury at the time was called Theobald d. 1161. He was a Benedictine monk, abbot of Bec in Normandy, a scholar and reformer, a supporter of the Pope, known personally the St Bernard, and to Pope Eugenius III. He was an expert in canon law and also introduced the teaching of civil law into England. He was appointed archbishop by Stephen in 1138, and worked to procure the succession of Henry of Anjou. As Ireland had no archbishops he supported the belief that the archbishop of Canterbury must consecrate Irish bishops. Rome however preferred to appoint archbishops in Ireland, and this was done in 1152

            It was his clerk, John of Salisbury, who carried the congratulations of Henry II to the new Pope Hadrian IV in 1155. It would seem that the request for permission to invade Ireland came from Henry. Though granted, in the so-called Hadrian’s Bull, the king's mother, the Empress Matilda, opposed any expedition to Ireland. According to Camden, Henry was influenced by the state of near anarchy in Ireland. This was before Murtagh MacLoughlin restored some kind of authority and order (cited in Roche 42). Henry had spent part of his youth, roughly from the age of nine to the age of thirteen (1142-47) in Bristol, a town which had close trading links with southeast Ireland. The provost or portreeve of Bristol, Robert Fitzharding knew Henry personally. Fitzharding probably did not know MacMurrough personally before his arrival in Bristol, but rendered him assistance. As Dolley notes, Henry would have found it a useful fief for the financial support one of his brothers (Dolley 45).

            Henry became involved in a bitter dispute with Theobald's successor as archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas a Becket. Thomas had been one of Theobald's clerks, and was made Lord Chancellor of England, i.e. the king's principal secretary and had charge of the king's seals. Thomas, while chancellor strongly supported Henry, but when appointed to Canterbury, strongly supported the claims of the Holy See. Henry summoned him to sitting (assize) of his court at Clarendon, near Salisbury, which session is known to history as the Assize of Clarendon. Henry there set out what he regarded as equitable in the Constitutions of Clarendon. These were only partially approved by the Pope.

            The assize of Clarendon was important for other developments in English law. Henry II built on the strong foundation of Henry I, though the system had been sorely tested during the near anarchy of Stephen’s reign. It established a uniform system of justice in the entire country and removed all local exemptions. It extended the system of enquiry by a local jury, and exempted nobody from the duty of jury service. (He had already abolished the ordeal of battle and substituted the decision, in disputes regarding the ownership of land, to a jury of twelve local knights who were sworn to state truly whom they thought the land belonged.) It established local customary law, which developed into common law, as the law of the land, not Roman law. It gave a right to any freeholder deprived of his land without the judgement of a court the right to appeal directly to the king for redress. That was the development of the custom of sending out justices in eyre, or itinerant judges five in number, who would travel round circuits of the various county capitals and hold assizes of justice in the king's name. This practice, which originated in Charlemagne's court, had the purpose of checking on the almost absolute power of the sheriff to dispense royal justice in his county. The justices were organised into six circuits in 1196. Another change he introduced was to allow his tenants to pay a sum of money called scutage in lieu of actual military service. The payment of cash meant that the king could employ professional soldiers, and not have to depend on such tenants as were unsuited to warfare. It was this excellent system of maintaining the law that so attracted the Irish clerical reformers.

             When these reforms were also applied to lords who were members of the clergy he was strongly opposed by Archbishop Thomas who had promoted them when he was Chancellor.  Four knights in the king’s service murdered Thomas, the archbishop of Canterbury, on the 29 December 1170. 

            In Scotland, Edgar was followed by Alexander (1107-24), fourth son of Malcolm Canmore, who maintained peace with Henry I of England. In 1124, David I (1124-53) the youngest son of Malcolm and Margaret succeeded to the throne and he reigned until 1153. Edgar had made him earl of Cumbria, and he set about abolishing the ancient Celtic customs that still survived in that region. Cumbria was now confined to south western Scotland, and it would seem that the language of the ordinary people was still British or Welsh He claimed that the many wars and invasions had reduced men to a character more resembling heathens than Christians, and that it was his duty to reform the Church in the region which was largely the see of Glasgow which had been founded by St. Kentigern. He secured the appointment of his tutor to the see, and built a cathedral in Glasgow in 1136. He enriched the see with extra revenues. He founded a monastery of Benedictines at Selkirk (later removed to Kelso, and a monastery of Augustinan canons at Jedburgh. He became king of Scotland in 1124. The archbishop of York claimed jurisdiction over the see of Saint Andrews so a synod presided over by a papal legate, Cardinal John of Crema was held at Roxburgh to try unsuccessfully to decide the matter. Thurstan, archbishop of York agreed to consecrate a new bishop of St. Andrews while leaving the issue undecided. There were already many Norman knights in the region and David introduced a thorough feudalisation of customs,

            On the death of Stephen, David, who was also an English baron, supported Matilda and invaded England. Stephen heavily defeated the Scottish forces at the battle of the Standard in 1138. As a result, David had to give up all claims to Northumberland and the Anglo-Scottish border became fixed. The mail-clad Norman soldiers out-fought the Scottish warriors who charged in the traditional fashion.

             After another defeat in 1149 he returned to Scotland to extend his reforms to the rest of his kingdom. He organised the bishops of Scotland into a hierarchy independent of York. At the beginning of the twelfth century there was only one bishopric in Scotland, that of St Andrews. Alexander added Dunkeld and Moray. David, as earl of Cumbria, had restored the see of Glasgow, and now added several more. The Scottish islands were either under the Norse bishops of Orkney or Man. This was the first systematic territorial division of Scotland, though primitive forms of counties corresponding to lands held by the great lords began to appear about this time. David also saw to the introduction of reformed religious orders, and leading lords did likewise. Most of these were Cistercian or Augustinian. The lands of the older 'Celtic' monasteries were used to endow diocesan chapters formed from canons regular.

            He also introduced Norman feudal law into the whole of Scotland. In 1149 he knighted at Carlisle the youthful Henry of Anjou his grandnephew who was on a visit to England. He also introduced the charters of towns, modelling Scottish charters on those of Newcastle. The royal household was reorganised after the fashion in England, and a justiciar who supervised itinerant justices was also appointed. The first Scottish chancellor was appointed in charge of the royal correspondence. Though he never became the head of a judicial department, his judicial writs had a powerful influence on Scottish law. Inquest juries to enquire into the ownership of land were also introduced. Sheriffs were introduced into the nascent counties though the great lords retained most of their powers.

            The Cistercian abbot, St. Aelred of Rievaulx, chronicled this reform of the Church and State of Scotland. It is a classic example of what the Hildebrandine reformers wanted to see: a reforming king who would institute a strong central monarchy, a reformed Church with a proper hierarchy, and the purging, by royal and papal authority working together of all the evils in the land. It was recognised that most evils derived from the incessant warfare between petty chiefs  After his death David was succeeded by his grandson, Malcolm IV (1153-65) a minor aged eleven, which occasion led to a widespread revolt of the local lords in the Gaelic and Norse parts led by Somerled of Argyll who was claiming what he called the Lordship of the Isles. The event was perhaps not of any great importance in itself, for he soon came to terms with the king. But he was probably the first of the chiefs of the later Scottish 'clans'. Unlike in Ireland and Wales, these do not trace their ancestry to before the twelfth century. From Somerled of the Isles came Clan Donald, or MacDondalds. Some famous Scottish families were descended from those who had come to Scotland with Queen Margaret, the Lindsey, Wallace, Maxwell’s, Bisects, Ramjets, Preston’s etc. (Pine 31). Scottish kings at this stage usually held lands by feudal tenure in England for which they had to do homage. But the exact homage as kings of Scotland was not clear even if it were conceded.

            His brother William I the Lion (1165-1214) succeeded Malcolm in 1165. He did homage to Henry II for the honour of Huntingdon but his claim to the earldom of Northumberland was refused. As his vassal he accompanied Henry to France. He quarrelled with Henry, returned home and made an alliance with Louis VII of France beginning the relationship that came over the centuries to be called the 'Auld Alliance'. In 1173, when Henry's sons revolted against them William assisted them, hoping to get the earldom of Northumberland. William was captured and sent a prisoner to Falaise in Normandy. To obtain his own release he had to do homage for his Scottish lands to Henry and to his son. The Treaty of Falaise in 1175 set out clearly the feudal subordination of Scotland. The Treaty of Windsor did the same for Ireland in the same year, following a similar revolt against Henry in Ireland. The clergy of Scotland were engaged to take a similar oath. He had to agree that the Church of Scotland was subordinate to the Church of England. The Scottish bishops would only accept the submission customary under Henry's predecessors, and submitted to neither York nor Canterbury. In this Pope Alexander III backed them. There was no archbishop in Scotland. (St Andrews was not made an archbishopric until 1472. Glasgow became an archbishopric in 1492.)

            William was the chief founder of burghs in Scotland. This indicates a great increase in Scottish trade, and William came to depend on the towns for the bulk of his revenue. Though he continued to press his claim to the three northern counties of England, the English kings refused to accept them.

            The example of Scotland is important for that is the example Henry II had before him when the new situation in Ireland developed. If the Normans took service under an Irish king in return for grants of land he would have another powerful king like William the Lion to deal with. [Top] 


            Developments in Wales were to have a more direct influence on Ireland. By the year 1100 the Norman Marcher lords controlled most of Wales, but though they built their castles they were unable to hold the land. They were and remained much stronger in the south than the north. Rebellions were led in 1094 by the Welsh chiefs of Gwynedd, Powys in the north, and Deheubarth in the south, but William Rufus and the barons, though initially driven back, stemmed the Welsh advance. The Welsh was aided by the fact that Rufus was in the north trying to subdue the earl of Northumberland. A key to the king's defence was Pembroke castle that was defended by one Gerald of Windsor. By 1097 most of the south was again held by the Normans.  In the south, Rhys ap Tewdwr the king of Deheubarth died in 1093. His daughter Nesta about 1095 married Gerald of Windsor, the constable of Pembroke. In 1106 her cousin Owain of Powys abducted her. She was also at other times the mistress of Stephen, constable of Cardigan and of Henry I of England. From these came the Fitzgeralds, Fitzstephens, and Fitzhenrys, the 'brood of Nesta' famous in Irish history. Her daughter Angharad married William de Barri and became the mother of Gerald Barry, or Giraldus Cambrensis, and Philip and Robert de Barri ancestors of the Barrys.

            Early in the twelfth century the Norman barons controlled most of the fertile lands in Wales, leaving the mountains to the Welsh chiefs. Henry then placed the colony of Flemings in south Wales, and they too had their place in Irish history. Gruffydd ap Rhys ap Tewdwr, Nesta's brother, fled to Ireland but returned to try to get some of his father's lands restored by Henry I. When he failed he gathered young men about him and began raiding the Norman and Welsh settlements. He failed to capture the castles and most of the Welsh leaders supported the king. He had some successes however and became reconciled to Henry who granted him part of his lands. Not until the civil war in England in the time of Stephen was he successful in recovering most of them.

             Similarly in Gwynedd Owain Gwynedd (1137-1169) re-established Welsh power in North Wales. Owain received praise from Giraldus Cambrensis among others, but he was in many ways typical of the chiefs at the time. He had many children by different women and the Church regarded few of them as legitimate. He was also considered extremely bloodthirsty and cruel, with many murders and mutilations attributed to him. In 1144 Owain’s brother Cadwaladr, after quarrelling with him, fled to Dublin and hired the fleet of the Dublin Vikings. So Dermot MacMurrough’s search for allies across the water thirty years later was not unique

             In the south, in Deheubarth, in 1147 Bernard, the bishop of St David's tried to get archiepiscopal rank for his see, and the rejection of the claims of Canterbury but died before the case was heard. Theobald the archbishop of Canterbury consecrated his successor, David Fitzgerald (son of Nesta) only after exacting an oath from him that he would not revive the claim.

             This situation continued until Henry II came to the throne in 1154 and set about re-establishing the royal authority that had been largely disregarded during the anarchy of Stephen’s reign. Owain Gwynedd’s brother Cadwaladr supported Henry. Though Welsh princes were allowed to stay they had to give up all claim to independent kingship and accept the conditions of feudal vassals. The term king was no longer used in Wales. The Welsh chiefs were called lord, except in Gwynedd where the title Prince was allowed

            In Deheubarth Rhys ap Gruffydd (1155-97) the son of Gruffydd ap Rhys ap Tewdwr and nephew of Nesta, now called Lord Rhys, had succeeded in extending his power as Henry II was occupied elsewhere. In 1163 he did homage to Henry at Woodstock but rebelled again the following year. In 1171 when Henry was passing through South Wales on his way to Ireland he got Henry to recognise his possessions in return for a substantial tribute. He remained a turbulent vassal until the end of his days and also defeated an attempt to depose him in favour of his sons. He too had numerous sons by many women.

            In south Wales the ‘brood of Nesta’ were a peculiar bunch. They were nor Norman marcher lords, but half Norman and half Welsh, seeking land where they could find it. Robert Fitzstephen, son of Nesta and Stephen the Constable followed the king and like his father became constable of Cardigan. He was captured by Lord Rhys and kept in captivity for three years, being released in order to assist Dermot MacMurrough in Ireland. He founded the Cistercian monastery of Strata Florida. When he went to Ireland he was accompanied by Maurice Fitzgerald, the son of Nesta and Gerald of Windsor, by Meiler Fitzhenry the son of his half-brother Henry Fitzhenry, by his nephews Philip and Robert de Barri, sons of his sister Angharad, and by Raymond Fitzgerald son of his half-brother William. He apparently supported the Normans but little is known of him until he voluntarily joined his half-brother Robert Fitzstephen in his expedition to Ireland, being attracted by the promise of land. Meiler Fitzhenry, grandson of Nesta and Henry I had extensive lands in Pembrokeshire and went to Ireland with Fitzstephen. Raymond Fitzgerald le Gros, son of William the eldest son of Nesta and Gerald of Windsor, seems to have been a knight or a vassal of Richard de Clare, earl of Pembroke, who sent him ahead into Ireland. Henry gave him no grant of land, perhaps because he was just a knight. 

            In south Wales too were the genuine Norman marchers lords, who had been granted lands in order to defend the borders of England, the marches. Richard de Clare, called Strongbow, second earl of Pembroke and Striguil was the son of Gilbert de Clare or Gilbert Strongbow whom Stephen created earl in 1138. Henry II abolished many of Stephen's creations, but not apparently that of Pembroke. Giraldus says however that he had lost his title. He was therefore open to an offer of land by Dermot MacMurrough. Hervey de Monte Marisco, uncle of Strongbow, was a knight with little or no property who had fought in France.

            Besides these were the Norman lords loyal to the king who were not involved in Strongbow. These were to become more numerous as the king tried to prevent a situation like the Scottish one developing in Ireland.

Hugh de Lacy (Lassy in Normandy) was the son of Gilbert de Lacy who had supported first Matilda and then Stephen. He managed to retain the favour of Henry and got the lands in the west of England of his uncle Hugh de Lacy who had died without male heirs restored to him. Then Gilbert joined the Knights Templars, gave some of his lands to them, and went to the Holy Land. He son, Hugh held the lands valued at fifty eight and three-quarters knight's fees and nine tenants without knights’ service. He accompanied the king to Ireland in 1171. It is not known who John de Courci's parents were, but he came from the de Courci family that had lands in Oxfordshire and Somersetshire, being originally from Normandy. According to Giraldus he was one of the three knights sent to Ireland by Henry on hearing of the death of Strongbow. William Fitzaldhelm was steward of Henry II, but his parentage is unknown. He was sent on ahead of Henry to Ireland to act as his representative until the king could come himself. Philip de Braose (from Braose in Normandy) was a younger son of the lord of Bramber in Sussex. He appears to have crossed to Ireland with Henry and was one of those left in charge of Wexford when the king returned.



Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.