John’s 2nd Expedition in Ireland (as King of England, 1210)


Throughout John’s lordship, he attempted to stabilize the government in Ireland – which was no easy task given the treacherous Irish geo-political situation. England’s claim to Ireland started in 1154 with the Bull Laudabiliter, in which Pope Adrian IV gave a land grant to Henry II of England.

  • The Pope gave Henry II this land grant with the agreement that the English would bring the Irish Church into accordance with the Latin Church.
  • However, Ireland was not under English control until the Treaty of Windsor in 1175 that officially set up the Irish lordship.
    • The treaty specified the areas of Ireland that Henry II would directly rule and those that remained under the jurisdiction of the high king of Ireland.
    • Henry II’s territory included “Meath, Leinster, and those parts around Dublin, Wexford, and Waterford.”
    • The main trouble with the enforcement of the treaty was Henry’s inability to restrain his settlers in Ireland.
      • These Anglo-Normans claimed land that was not part of Henry II’s territories.

Because of these problems, by 1177, Henry II abrogated the tenets of the Treaty of Windsor by creating land grants outside his regions of Ireland, thereby taking land from Irish kings without their consent.

  • The same year Henry II made John, lord of Ireland.

Because Henry ignored the conditions in the treaty, Irish lords rebelled against the extension of feudalism into Gaelic Ireland. Meanwhile, the Anglo-Norman settlers felt entitled to fulfill their land grants.

  • John’s first expedition to Ireland, in April 1185, when he landed at Waterford with around 300 knights and numerous foot soldiers and archers was an embarrassing failure.
    • In a series of unsuccessful engagements with the Irish he lost almost his entire army, including some of his most valiant knights
    • And, several of the newly erected castles were sacked by the native princes
    • Most importantly, John went to Ireland to assume the lordship of Ireland in person, but retreated after a nine-month period, having failed to assert control over the English settlers there.
  • He fled back to England but set about maintained his power in Ireland via the building of Dublin Castle, beginning in 1204. He left John de Courcy in charge in the office of justiciar (Lord Deputy).

The public view of King John is that he was a cruel tyrant, the oppressor of his subjects’ liberty and a bit of a bumbling idiot when it came to matters of war. This view is, perhaps, based upon multiple versions of Robin Hood and other modern movie scripts.

Whatever about his first (disastrous) visit to Ireland as an 18 year old, by the time he made his second trip to Ireland in 1210, he definitely knew a thing or two about running a military campaign.

John remained Lord of Ireland throughout his reign. He drew on the country for resources to fight his war with Philip on the continent. Conflict continued in Ireland between the Anglo-Norman settlers and the indigenous Irish chieftains, with John manipulating both groups to expand his wealth and power in the country.

  • During Richard’s rule, John had successfully increased the size of his lands in Ireland, and he continued this policy as king. As before, he ordered the minting of silver coins in Ireland so that he could draw this money out of Ireland to pay for his wars in France.
    • He issued three coinages as Lord of Ireland and, as King of England, he ordered another!
    • This “REX” coinage, like its predecessors, was issued in order to drain all of the silver in Ireland into John’s coffers – to pay for his unpopular wars in France
      • Thus, John’s coins are more commonly found in England
      • Finds are scarce in Ireland
John REX 001 John. As King, 1199-1216. AR Penny Third (Rex Triangle) coinage. Dublin mint, Roberd

John REX 001 John. As King, Silver Penny (Rex Triangle) coinage. Dublin mint, Roberd

The accepted view (by historians) is that despite the bad impressions he made in 1185, John ‘mended fences’ with the Irish to such an extent that he recovered all the ground lost earlier, so that his return to Ireland in 1210 was an unqualified success.

  • In 1185, John had sailed to Ireland with a fleet of 60 ships, carrying 300 knights, and a large body of cavalry, archers, and men-at-arms. This time, in 1210, he brought a much larger expedition force – over 7,000 knights, archers and infantry – and requiring 700 vessels to transport it there.
    • This was the largest army ever seen in Ireland – the Anglo-Normans could not resist it, while the native Irish wisely chose not to engage with it.
  • He achieved all of his main political and military goals, plus left a swathe of newly built or re-fortified castles in his wake.
    • He is now viewed as an innovative king who paid meticulous attention to the day-to-day workings of his civil service
    • He also acquired a reputation for administrative innovation

Why did John come to Ireland a second time?

In his anxiety to bring certain of his more troublesome Anglo–Norman barons to heel, King John showed `marked favour’ to the native Irish kings, found, as a result, `a general readiness among the Irish to accept him’, and went on to develop `close relations with their leaders’. Unlike his previous visit in 1185, John’s negotiations with the Irish kings in the summer of 1210 were concluded successfully in his favour and he left Ireland on good terms with them.

There were several barons causing him some concern, i.e. they had thrown off all authority and made themselves, to all intents and purposes, independent princes, like John de Courcy had done just a short time beforehand.

  • William de Braose4th Lord of Bramber – a long time court favourite – rapidly fell out of favour, allegedly due to his wife’s insistence that John had killed his elder brother Arthur in order to acquire the throne of England.
    • John chased him out of England, Wales and Ireland (he escaped dressed as a beggar) before allowing his wife and son to die in captivity.
    • This confirmed his capacity for cruelty, aroused suspicion amongst the barons and probably led to the Baronial Wars later.
      • At the peak of his power, de Braose was also Lord of Gower,Abergavenny, Brecknock, Builth, Radnor, Kington, Limerick, Glamorgan, Skenfrith, Briouze (in Normandy), Grosmont, and White Castle.
  • Hugh de Lacy (the younger) inherited a huge midlands earldom from his father which included heavily fortified and well defended land stretching from Meath in Leinster to west of the Shannon into Connacht.
    • Prince John, during his first expedition to Ireland in 1185, suspected his father (also named Hugh de Lacy) of using his influence to prevent the Irish chieftains from coming in to offer due submission.
    • Hugh the younger became Lord Deputy of Ireland in place of John de Courcy after he had successfully waged war against the hitherto irrepressible de Courcy, Lord of Ulster and Lord of Connacht.
  • Walter de Lacy was the elder brother of Hugh de Lacy. During the revolt of Prince John Lackland, Lord of Ireland, against his brother, King Richard the Lionheart, in 1193-94, Walter joined with John de Courcy to support Richard. Walter apprehended some knights loyal to John along with Peter Pipard, John’s justiciar in Ireland. Walter did homage to Richard for his lands in Ireland in 1194, receiving his lordship of Meath.
    • In 1206-07, Walter became involved in a conflict with Meiler Fitzhenry, King John’s Justiciar of Ireland
      • King John summoned Walter to appear before him in England in April, 1207
      • Hugh de Lacy took Meiler FitzHenry prisoner and forced John into giving Walter a new charter for his lands in Meath
    • Later in 1207, John had begun his infamous persecution of Walter’s father-in-law, de Braose, who fled to Ireland
      • The two de Lacy brothers had made King John their implacable enemy.
  • William Marshal was, arguably, the greatest knight of the age and acted as head of the royal household for both Henry II and Richard I but he fell out with John after the loss of Normandy in 1203. At the age of 43, the Marshal married the 17-year-old daughter of Richard de Clare (Strongbow) and became the 1st Earl of Pembroke.
    • Though he left for Leinster in 1207 William was recalled and humiliated at court in the autumn of 1208
    • While at court, John’s justiciar in Ireland Meiler FitzHenry invaded his lands, burning the town of New Ross
      • Meilyr’s defeat by Countess Isabel led to her husband’s return to Leinster
      • He was once again in conflict with King John in his war with the de Braose and de Lacy families in 1210
William the Marshal, one of John's most senior military leaders, by Matthew Paris

William the Marshal, one of John’s most senior military leaders, by Matthew Paris

In addition to the problems caused by these turbulent but militarily very powerful barons, John had another Irish problem to settle. After the death of the last undisputed High King of Ireland (Donal Mór O’Brien) in 1194, Ireland fell into a downward spiral of internecine warfare, squabbling amongst the senior Gaelic families for control of the petty kingdoms, and raiding by the smaller clans.

On Easter Monday, 1209, the dispossessed O’Byrnes and O’Tooles fell upon the citizens at Cullenswood (Ranelagh) near the city of Dublin and killed 300 of them; from which Easter Monday was for many ages afterwards called Black Monday.

King John’s Expedition to Ireland

He landed at Crook near Waterford, on 20th June 1210, with a formidable army. In the presence of this great force the country at once became quiet. John was joined by his Justiciar, John de Gray, bishop of Norwich and a body of Irish troops. Surprisingly, John de Courcy (former Lord of Ulster) seems to have ingratiated himself to John since he was among his knights.

  • From Waterford, he marched to Thomastown, Kilkenny, and Naas, and on the 28th June arrived at Dublin.
    • He only stayed in Dublin for two days; and then proceeded north to Trim and Kells. Reinforced by O’Brien of Thomond, and Cathal O’Conor, King of Connaught, he marched against Hugh de Lacy.
  • They pursued De Lacy northwards and were at Dundalk on the 8th July, where they were joined by 400 soldiers who had deserted De Lacy
  • John’s army destroyed and set fire to De Lacy castles
    • De Lacy fled to Carrickfergus.

King John then met up with King Cathal Crobhderg O’Conner of Connacht near Ardbraccan, Co Meath. King Cathal recognised him as his Lord in return for being re-assured as the recognised & rightful King of Connacht.

  • The two kings then proceeded northwards (passing through Carlingford, and Downpatrick, he arrived at Carrickfergus.) where they besieged the powerful fortress of Carrickfergus
    • They took the De Lacy castle at Carlingford on the way

De Lacy appears to have came south to Dundrum Castle then known as the Castle of Rath, when John’s army approached he fearing having his retreat path cut returned to Carrickfergus (his strongest castle), De Lacy did not await John’s arrival and took boat to Scotland.

  • Carrickfergus Castle surrendered and thirty Knights were taken prisoner. The king stayed in Carrickfergus from the 19th to 28th July
    • The two de Lacy brothers (Hugh and Walter) fled to France
    • William de Braose also escaped

On the 29th July King John turned southwards, marched through Drogheda and Kells, and reached Dublin again on 18th August. There he delayed about a week, occupied with public affairs. The Anglo-Norman lords were compelled to swear obedience to the laws of England; he divided the territories under his sway into twelve counties — Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Uriel (or Louth), Catherlagh (or Carlow), Kilkenny, Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Kerry, and Tipperary, and arrangements were made for the government of the country.

  • He directed that in all these counties the English laws should be administered.
    • Why did he create these 12 new shires?
    • Simple answer – he would be able to claim taxes and fees from them
      • His barons that held them would either pay the taxes or lose their grants
      • The native Irish kings that held on to their lands would also pay taxes
      • If they didn’t pay, they worried that John would be back with 7,000 troops
      • Either way, John got paid !

But it must be always borne in mind that these arrangements, including the administration of the law, were for the settlers only, not for the natives, who were then and long afterwards outside the pale of the law, hence the term ‘beyond the pale’.

The king returned to England in August 1210, leaving John de Gray as lord justice, to whom he committed the task of carrying out his arrangements. During the remainder of his reign, Ireland was comparatively quiet.

  1. He had smashed the power of the De Lacy’s
  2. He secured the city of Limerick
  3. He reformed the government of Dublin and the eastern counties
  4. John even managed to bring William Marshal of Leinster, the greatest Knight of the age, to heel

He did not, however, bring the Kings of Connacht and Tir Eoghan under his control, as these Irish Kings quite rightly did not trust any English ruler after the constant infractions of the earlier Treaty of Windsor.

  • This said, bringing the Irish kings under control was not his primary objective
    • In theory, he had enough men to defeat any Irish king in open battle
      • But the Irish wisely steered clear of him
    • John may have intended to go after them but, when the Irish withdrew all cattle herds from the land between them and John, it became obvious to John that there was insufficient food to scavenge, so he did not follow the Irish into their lands
      • The sight of an army that size must have been scary
      • The Irish did not face John’s forces in open battle but they must have realised that they could not have resisted him if he decided to go after them on an individual basis
        • This is probably why all of the Irish kings (eventually) paid taxes / fees

The final and horrible chapter to this attempt to punish his Anglo-Norman opponents was the fate of Maud De Braose and her infant son William de Braose. Captured in Scotland they were conveyed in chains to King John who had them imprisoned in Windsor Castle.

  • They were locked up together but only given food and no water on the first day of their incarceration. Thereafter nothing.
  • When the jailors opened the door to their cell 11 days later, they found their emaciated corpses.

This expedition was the last by a serving King of England for 184 years – until King Richard II, another unloved Monarch – arrived in the year 1394.



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