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Lordship of Ireland

The Lordship of Ireland (1171-1541) was the nominal first all-island Irish state created, due to the Norman invasion of the east coast of Ireland, an area that became known in the later middle ages as the 'pale' or 'Pale of Dublin' from its defences in imitation of the earlier-named 'Pale of Calais'. This invasion was to be topped up over the centuries and eventually merged into an English presence. (The gaelic society on the island was not structured on an all-island of Ireland basis but existed in the form of many small localised kingdoms, with their own monarchs. At its apex was a 'High King', but the Irish High King was in no sense a 'king of Ireland', merely the most senior of the kingly class with an authority, except in the cases of exceptional High Kings, that was more symbolic than real; by analogy with other Celtic practices, any kingship would have been primarily 'of the Irish' and only incidentally 'of Ireland'.)

It owed its origins to the decision of a minor Irish king, Diarmuid MacMorrough, to bring in a Norman knight based in Wales, Richard de Clare (alias 'Strongbow'), to aid him in his battle to regain his throne, after a battle with another minor king. Henry II of England, who reigned over England and ruled over parts of France, invaded Ireland to control de Clare, whom he feared was becoming a threat to the stability of his own kingdom on its western fringes (there had been earlier fears that Saxon refugees might use either Ireland or Flanders as a base for a counter-offensive after 1066); ironically, much of the later Plantagenet consolidation of South Wales was in furtherance of holding open routes to Ireland. Having captured a small part of Ireland on the east coast, Henry used the land to solve a dispute dividing his family. For while he had divided his territories between his sons, one son, nicknamed 'John Landless' (or 'Jean Landless' as Henry and his family regarded themselves as French and spoke the language), was left without territory, hence the nickname. Henry granted John/Jean his captured Irish lands, becoming Lord of Ireland (Dominus Hibernia), with the territory becoming the Lordship of Ireland.

Fate however intervened in the form of the deaths of John/Jean's older brothers. As a result, he became King John of England, and the Lordship of Ireland, instead of being a separate area governed by a minor English prince, became a territorial possession of the English Crown.

English monarchs continued to use the title 'Lord of Ireland' to refer to their conquered lands on the island of Ireland. The title was changed by an Act of the Irish Parliament governing these lands in 1541, when on Henry VIII's demand, he was granted a new title, King of Ireland, with the state renamed the Kingdom of Ireland.

For Additional Reading

Norman Davies, The Isles: A History (Palgrave-Macmillan, 1999) (ISBN 033376370X)


No preceding all Irish state in English or Irish Constitutional Theory Irish States (1171-present) Succeeded by:
Kingdom of Ireland



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