Saturday, 12 November 2011

Anglo Norman Conquest in Ireland

The Anglo Norman Conquest - Impact on Ireland

Initially looking at the Norman Conquest in Ireland, this may seem that I am moving away from Irish History, but to get Irish history in proper context, it is important to understand what was happening in England and in particular between England and Normandy.

Normandy is a region in Northern France, and in the years leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066, was subject to a Viking resettlement, especially along its coastline.  The French ruler at the time Charles the Simple, allowed the Vikings to settle there, providing they offered protection against any other Viking attacks which were the plague of France at that time.  The Vikings who settled there became known as Northmen from which Normandy took its name.

In 1002, King Ethelred II of England married Emma, the sister of Richard II, who was the Duke of Normandy.  They had a son called Edward the Confessor, who spent many years in exile in Normandy before eventually succeeding to the English throne in 1042.

Edward then brought in many Norman courtiers, soldiers and clerics appointing them to powerful positions, especially within the Church.  Edward the Confessor remained childless and did not indicate a natural successor.  He also was also involved in conflict with a formidable opponent Godwin, Earl of Essex and as such he may have encouraged Duke William of Normandy to take a special interest in the English throne.

During the Norman Conquest, and upon Edward’s death in 1066 several people laid claim to the vacant English throne however the Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinson was made King.  Duke William of Normandy stated that Edward had promised him the throne.

Harald III of Norway also laid claim to the throne based on a previous agreement from the King before Edward.  It was a time of confusion with several people believing they had a legitimate claim to the vacant throne.

Harold the new King had an exiled brother called Tostig and he raided England with a fleet he had recruited at Flanders.  He was defeated and Tostig then went to Scotland to try and gather new forces.



King Harald of Norway then invaded England with 300 ships and 15,000 men who then got more support from Tostig.  Harold then defeated and killed both Harald and Tostig at the “Battle of Stamford Bridge” however it left Harold’s army greatly weakened and battered.

William, Duke of Normandy then made his move and gathered a large army from all over France and landed in England on 28th September where they erected a wooden castle at Hastings.

William defeated Harold’s army and assumed he would be king but instead a man called Edgar Atheling was made king.  William then marched on London and after a victorious battle he was crowned King of England in 1066 in Westminster Abbey.

There continued to be much English resistance to William but he continued to put these down and take more control of the country.  He also awarded land in England to those Normans who had supported him in battle and slowly but surely extinguished many forms of opposition and ruled England, though he spent much of his time in France defending his own country.

William systematically dispossessed the English landowners and conferred their property on his continental followers.  The old English aristocracy was to all measures removed from the country and positions of importance in government and churches were all in the hands of the Normans. This was a highly significant shift during this Norman Conquest.

The Norman Conquest took place in 1066 and religious centres began a path of reform, and those Irish men who were there, naturally took these reforms back to Ireland. In 1074 the Ostmen of Dublin chose as their bishop Gilla Patraic who was made a bishop by Archbishop Lanfranc and swore obedience to him.

For the first time the archbishop of Canterbury was the superior of the bishop of Dublin. The inhabitants of Ostman towns had the support of the kings in Ireland when looking to Canterbury for leadership. The reason for this was that church law insisted that bishops be consecrated by qualified superiors and as there were none in Ireland theses were done in Canterbury. That meant there was a call for reform and this was led by Muirchertach O Briain with the first major synod taking place in Cashel in 1101.

This synod included sweeping reforms such as no longer being able to purchase ecclesiastical office, revising the marriage laws, on being celibate and freedom for the church from taxation.

The actual provision of a diocesan structure was not agreed until the synod of Raith in 1111. Two ecclesiastical provinces were established, one in Armagh and the other in Cashel and each having twelve dioceses, with Armagh being the primacy.

Later on at the synod of Kells-Melifont in 1152, there were two more added, one in Dublin and the other in Tuam. A Cardinal then conferred pallia on the new archbishops of Armagh, Cashel, Dublin and Tuam. The Norman Conquest in Ireland is not talked about much in Irish history but is in fact a significant turning point.
I would now recommend reading about  the Kings of Ireland.