Monday, 5 April 2010

Richard, Duke of York in Ireland

I am no expert on Ireland in the Middle Ages, but I am doing my best here. Essentially there were three main groups: 1. The English - these people were new or relatively new immigrants, thought of themselves as English and tended to live in the area round Dublin (the Pale) where the English government had some sort of control. 2. The Anglo-Irish - this group included some very powerful families who controlled large chunks of Ireland. They were of English (or Norman) descent but did not necessarily have much regard for the English government. Some of the families were in a state of semi-permanent feud with one another. 3. The Gaelic or 'Old' Irish. Mainly descended from the indigenous population they generally had no regard for the English government at all, except when under duress. Warriors had particularly high status among this group and they often fought among themselves, as well as with the other sectors.

Elements of all these groups formed temporary alliances with one another as it suited them, and the hold of the English government was actually quite tenuous. Few English kings showed any interest in Ireland - Richard II was a very rare exception - and it was no longer even a source of net revenue.

That Richard, Duke of York, was a successful Lieutenant of Ireland is in some ways surprising. He was an aristocrat to his finger tips, and not generally noted for his people skills. If he had strengths they lay in his relative honesty and relative efficiency as an administrator and soldier. York failed miserably the unite the English nobility behind him, and yet he seems to have been well-regarded in Ireland. (In contrast to John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who was positively hated in the same role.)

York had spent several years in Ireland, and it seems his political skills came to the fore, particularly in his relationships with the great Anglo-Irish families, without whom it was impossible for him to function effectively as Lieutenant. He was also generally successful in the field against the Gaelic Irish, which strengthened his position, and after his flight from England he encouraged or allowed the Irish Parliament to pass legislation which left the country almost, but not quite independent, Henry VI's sovereignty being reduced to little more than a cipher. It was even declared that the introduction of English Privy Seal Letters into Ireland was a breach of the country's liberties. In return the Parliament voted York men and money, and rejected Henry VI's attempts to remove York from office. The duke was not quite King of Ireland, but he was something very close.

In March 1460 Warwick left Calais with a fleet of twenty-six ships and sailed to Waterford to consult with his party leader. The conference quickly moved to Dublin, where an attempt was made to produce a strategy for the invasion of England. The intention was for the landings to be co-ordinated, Warwick in Kent, York in the north. However, for whatever reason, York was delayed, and by the time he arrived home the fighting was over - for the time being.

The next post will deal with Warwick's successful campaign.


Caroline said...

Thanks, Brian, for another informative post. Being of partly Irish descent myself, I found it especially interesting to read something about what happened in Ireland during the 15th century- since late medieval English history is my current interest (My husband says obsession, given the number of books I've been borrowing from the library and ordering from Amazon) - and that many books that I've read specifically about Irish history don't go into that period in much detail.

Brian said...

Caroline, a couple of books on medieval Ireland that might be of interest to you.

Richard II in Ireland, E. C. Curtis

A history of medieval Ireland from 1086 to 1513 - also E. C. Curtis.

These are both pretty old but you may be able to get through the library system or second hand.

Caroline said...

Thanks again, Brian for the book recommendations!

Ragged Staff said...

Brian, I'm really enjoying your blog. I've recently started writing a book about the Nevills, pretty much as a direct result of my extreme annoyance at one novel in particular, though it's something I've had in the back of my mind for decades. Your blog is certainly helping me remember that other people did exist at the time! Anyway, it's prompting me to follow up some stuff that I've kind of let lapse and it's much more scholarly and refrained than my small bloggy contributions. I'm looking forward to the next post very much.

Brian said...

Karen, I'm glad you're enjoying the blog. And glad that you're interested in the Nevilles, who seem to me to have a raw deal at the hands of most authors.