Richard II’s first expedition to Ireland

Richard II, King of England and Lord of Ireland

By the time Richard II became king, the Irish lordship was regularly requiring support from England to meet its critical military and financial needs.

Less warlike than either his father or grandfather, he sought to bring an end to the Hundred Years’ War that Edward III had started.

  • There was war in Connacht between the O’Connors, in 1384, and fierce hostility continued for years after between the families of the O’Connor Don (Brown) and the O’Connor Roe (Red)
    • In 1385, a council in Dublin asked for personal royal intervention – a desperate cry for help !
  • Sustainable recovery could not be effected by passing the burden to chief governors, whether the king conferred authority on them by military indenture or, as in 1385 with Robert de Vere, Marquess of Dublin, by the grant of extensive powers commonly reserved to the crown
    • Controversially, in 1386, Richard II created his favourite, Robert de Vere (and alleged lover) duke of Ireland

The 27-year-old de Vere was already earl of Oxford, but his landed inheritance was an inadequate and depleted holding in Essex, and he had no pre-existing connection with the country of which he was now not merely duke but also full palatine lord – most of the previous incumbents already held land and/or titles there, or their wives had Irish connections.

  • Whereas Edward Bruce was destroyed by his subjects, de Vere had virtually no contact at all with the Irish, and during his brief rule he governed entirely through his appointees to Dublin bureaucracy. Sadly, for de Vere, he ended his days as a forfeited traitor and exile in Louvain in 1392
    • The fall of Robert de Vere in 1388 marked the reversion to the conventional mechanisms of rule through the royal lieutenant, but the manner of the duke’s destruction left Richard with a lingering sense of bitterness against Ireland’s most powerful dynasty, the Mortimer family – hereditary earls of March and Ulster
    • Throughout the campaign of the lords appellant against Richard II, the Mortimer estates had been under the administration of a trust headed by the king’s most hated enemy, the earl of Arundel. The link-man between Arundel and the Mortimer connection in Wales + Ireland was Sir Thomas Mortimer, who, although an illegitimate cadet of the family, was its effective chief and steward of its productive, cash-rich estates.
      • In November 1387 the army raised by Arundel and his friends was almost certainly funded from the revenues of the Mortimer inheritance, as the payments of cash by Thomas Mortimer can be traced in the surviving household records
      • In 1390 Arundel strengthened his connections with the Mortimers through his marriage to Philippa, sister of the young Earl Roger. Although Richard made no immediate move to punish his enemies once he had regained power in 1389, it is undoubtedly the case that he did not forget the involvement of the Mortimers in his humiliation and in the destruction of his friends, especially de Vere

In these circumstances, amid fears of the lordship’s complete collapse, Richard’s first Irish expedition (1394-1395) was an extraordinary diplomatic success, achieved mostly via the threat of military force, as opposed to actual military success, i.e. defeating an enemy in battle. The Irish princes – realising they could not face Richard in open battle, mostly chose not to fight but to submit. This allowed them to keep their titles and lands, in addition to causing no collateral damage to their military strength or their property.

Ireland had now entered the international arena, and England was confronted in her foreign affairs, for the first time, by ” the Irish Question.” Richard II – vain, impulsive, and ambitious – had unwittingly become a candidate for the Imperial Crown of the ”Holy Roman Empire” by right of his wife. But the German electors and princes thought but little of the power of the English King; they needed a strong Emperor to meet the menace of the Turks, who were now in Europe; and they taunted Richard with the fact that he was unable to hold Ireland, a primitive backwater on the edge of Europe – over which he claimed dominion.

Richard II silver penny. Early Bust. Withers 1f. N1333b. London. VF, extremely rare

Richard II issued silver coinage in England but chose not to do so in Ireland. The Anglo-Normans and native Irish would have used the coinage of his forebears

Thus, Richard arrived in Ireland in October 1394 with a substantial force – approx. 7,000 men at arms. Although his primary objectives were military and political, but he also intended administrative and financial reforms, the presence of the king in Ireland provided an unprecedented opportunity to establish peace between the different interests in the country.

  • A combination of diplomacy and ‘a show’ of overwhelming military force, won the submission of Gaelic Ireland
    • Correspondence from the rebel Irish lords records their willingness to accept the English crown and their desire that Richard arbitrate in their disputes with the English of Ireland
      • At Drogheda O’Neill, O’Donnell and other northern chiefs came to meet him (having refused to come as far as Dublin) and paid him the usual formal homage
      • In February of next year Mac Murrough Kavanagh met Richard’s ambassador— the Earl of Nottingham, Earl Marshal of England—at Ballygorry near Carlow, and vowed allegiance on condition of getting his ” black rent ” and his wife’s lands
      • A number of the Irish chiefs visited Richard in Dublin, and seventy-five of them are said to have paid homage to him, while O’Neill, O’Brien, O’Connor of Connacht, and Mac Murrough were knighted by the King’s hand
        • Mac Murrough, however, was imprisoned for a short time on a charge made by the Earl of Ormonde, but was released upon giving hostages in return for safe conduct
    • However, it did not all go Richard’s way – the Battle of Ros Mhic Thriúin took place in 1394 near New Ross, Co Wexford, where the forces of Leinster were led by Art Mac Murrough Kavanagh, and they defeated an Anglo-Norman force. Mac Murrough later sacked the strong walled town of New Ross
Art Mór Mac Murchadha Caomhánach riding to meet the earl of Gloucester, as depicted in an illustration to Jean Creton's Histoire du roy d'Angleterre Richard II

Art Mór Mac Murchadha Caomhánach riding to meet the earl of Gloucester, as depicted in an illustration to Jean Creton’s Histoire du roy d’Angleterre Richard II

  • Richard accepted this diplomatic approach as the basis for a common approach to all the submitting Irish
    • Rather than focus on their punishment for past rebellion, he welcomed the Irish lords as his lieges, requiring them to make oaths of allegiance that effectively recognized their status as his subjects. Special sensitivities within some areas called for additional arrangements
      • In Leinster, an area of particular difficulty because of Mac Murchada’s authority and the lordship’s vulnerability, he attempted to revitalize the English interest, requiring the Irish to yield lands they had seized and making grants to English knights
      • In Ulster, however, there had been no resolution of the differences between O’Neill and Roger Mortimer, earl of Ulster, when Richard left Ireland in April 1395

Although little evidence survives about the Anglo-Norman Lordship of Ireland’s government and administration in the 1390s, occasional references show that in the following years Richard attempted, for a time, to maintain his expeditionary settlement.

  • By the early 1390s the vacuum of English royal authority was such that Art Mac Murrough, king of Leinster, had free rein to pursue his quarrels, and especially to erode the lordship of the young earl of Ulster, who had only recently come of age.
    • It was from the start under great pressure, protected by a greatly reduced military capacity.
    • The collapse of the fragile peace was hastened by many factors.
      • These included the unresolved difficulties between Gaelic Ireland and the lordship, the ambitions of local lords, the crown’s dependence on the hated Mortimer as lieutenant, various conflicts within the Irish administration, and the financial + political problems in England that demanded Richard’s attention.

A major consequence of Richard’s intervention in Ireland was to marginalise the royal lieutenant, Roger Mortimer, who was doubtless counting on royal help to recover some of his family’s authority in Ulster.

  • When Richard II set sail for England in May 1395, he left behind his friend Sir William Scrope as justiciar
    • It would seem that this was as much for the surveillance of Mortimer as for the upholding of the agreements with the Irish princes – and, with the Anglo-Normans failing to return land to Art Mac Murrough Kavanagh, the peace didn’t hold out for long.
    • Richard II would have to invade Ireland again … next time, with a very much different result !

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