It is fair to say that most medieval English kings had little interest in Ireland except as a source of revenue. (The same was probably true about England and Wales but it seems too cynical to say it, and at least they did live there.)
Prior to the Bruce invasion, Ireland yielded between £5000 and £20,000 a year to the Exchequer. Even the lower figure was a useful sum in medieval terms, bearing in mind that the “qualification” for an earldom at this point was about £666. So in a bad year, Ireland gave the king the equivalent of more than seven earldoms, after expenses.
By the 1350s the net revenue was down to between £1,000 and £2,000, while by the start of Richard II’s reign Ireland was running a deficit. Given the general state of the Exchequer this was a Very Bad Thing and Something Had To Be Done. (1)
Of course, simply pulling out of Ireland and making a saving was unthinkable. Instead various half-hearted measures were tried, and various people lined up to take the place in hand, ranging from Robert de Vere (created Duke of Ireland!) to Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, the King’s uncle. The matter was evidently seen as (relatively) a low priority, and in view of the state of England at this time, this is quite understandable.
Eventually, in 1394, Richard II himself, personally, set out for the Emerald Isle with a well-equipped army 7000-8000 men. By the standards of English military expeditions in Ireland it was extraordinarily successful and well-executed. Not that Richard II gets much credit for it. By January 1395 the various Irish chiefs had begun to submit to Richard and by early Spring the capitulation was complete.
Richard, writing to his Council in England, stated that rebellion arose from past failures of government and that unless mercy was shown his opponent would ally with the “wild Irish”. He therefore proposed to take them under his protection until their offences had been purged or excused. (2)
This conciliatory policy towards the Irish speaks strongly in Richard’s favour. He intended that from now on there should be “liege Irish” as well as “liege English” and he tried to settle some of the many grievances (mainly about land) between the two groups. Of course this was a major task, and probably could never have been completed to everyone’s satisfaction even if Richard had remained in Ireland for ten years. However, it was a settlement of sort.
Unfortunately Richard was forced to cut his visit short due to issues in England, leaving the young Earl of March behind as Lieutenant. March was of course also Earl of Ulster, and in that capacity had land issues of his own., particularly with the O’Neill family. By 1396 March was leading major raids into O’Neill territory, and the short period of peace was under extreme strain. By 1397 Leinster was also in a state very close to war.
In 1398, not long after extending March’s term of office, Richard II decided to replace him with the Duke of Surrey, Thomas Holland. Surrey, Richard’s nephew of the half-blood, was another young and inexperienced man, with the added disadvantage that he had no hereditary lands in Ireland at all. He required, therefore, heavy subsidy from the Exchequer. Before the change could be completed, March had been killed in the fighting, as was his son in 1425.
King Richard now decided on a second personal visit to Ireland. This was a strange decision, given that he had just annexed the lands of Bolingbroke and Mowbray, and that Bolingbroke was in France, poised to invade England. However, we have the benefit of hindsight. Richard had no reason to suspect that the French, his supposed allies, would allow any such thing – and but for a temporary shift in power at the French court, they would not have done.
Richard’s second visit to Ireland was less successful. In a parley between Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester and Art Macmurrough – who styled himself King of Leinster – the latter made it clear he was unwilling to submit. Before much more could be done Richard was forced to leave Ireland to confront Bolingbroke, and Ireland was once again left more or less to its own devices.
It is remarkable that any remnant of English lordship survived Henry IV’s reign, given the state of Henry’s Exchequer and the low priority given to Ireland by a king who was fighting on several fronts, including internal battles against his opponents. But the fact is that somehow, it did. Indeed Irish-based ships co-operated with Henry in the re-conquest of Anglesey.
Henry V and Henry VI were also unable (or unwilling) to give great priority to Ireland. Ralph A. Griffiths states “The isolated administration entrenched in Dublin and its ‘pale’ was more often than not subject to the rough dictates of Anglo-Irish magnates like Desmond and Ormond, and for some time past it had been assailed by a Celtic resurgence among the native Irish themselves that was cultural and social as well as military in character.” (3)
The attitude of the Anglo-Irish peers was to remain key, because unless and until the English government was willing and able to finance significant military intervention in Ireland, their power made them the most effective players on the island. Of course, the rivalries between them meant that the Crown was often able to play one family off against another.
In 1437 the author of The Libelle of Englysche Polycye expressed concern about the state of royal government in Ireland, suggesting the country could become a base for French, Scottish and even Spanish enemies, with whom hostile elements in Ireland could form an alliance. This fear of encirclement explains much of English/British policy towards Ireland over the next several hundred years, although in the short term very little was done about it, not least because England simply did not have the resources. (Such resources as were available were being thoroughly over-stretched in France.)
By this time the Irish revenues were failing to maintain the cost of government there, and even its most senior officers struggled to obtain their salaries. In 1441 it was reported that the charges of the Justiciar of Ireland and his underlings exceeded revenue by £1,456. (4)
In December 1447, Richard, Duke of York took on the role of Lieutenant of Ireland, with a salary of 4000 marks for the first year and £2000 in each of the following years of a supposed ten year appointment. York, who was very much at odds with Suffolk and Somerset at home, was effectively ‘promoted’ to a backwater. Those responsible doubtless thought that it would keep him quiet (and busy) for a long time. He was, of course, Earl of Ulster, and therefore had very significant landed interest in the country.
Not until summer 1449 did York actually set out – from Beaumaris. Even then he did so only because the King pressed him to go. He was received ‘ with great honour, and the earls of Ireland went into his house, as did also the Irish adjacent to Meath, and gave him as many beeves for the use of his kitchen as it pleased him to demand.’ (5)
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 to 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 quickly summoned a great council at Dublin which ensured the protection of certain hard-pressed castles and towns and also sought to address some of the more extravagant abuses of the Irish government.
His problem was that the money he had been promised largely failed to appear. He received less than half of what he should have in the first two years, and that was in tallies. After December 1449 he received nothing at all. (6)
This helps explain why York eventually threw in his hand and returned to England.
However, after the debacle at Ludford Bridge, York was sufficiently confident of his welcome to return to Ireland (with his second son, Rutland) and was able to use it as a secure base to plot the overthrow of Henry VI’s government.
York 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.
Thereafter Ireland became strongly Yorkist – even into early “Tudor” times. It may be that York’s almost accidental policy of granting autonomy was the answer to the Question. In May 1487, a young boy was crowned at Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral (right) as “Edward VI”. He may actually have been the ill-fated Earl of Warwick by that name but is traditionally named as “Lambert Simnel”, who was taken to work in Henry VII’s kitchen after the battle of Stoke Bridge ended his insurrection the following month. In his identification of the boy (7), Ashdown-Hill uses historical, numismatic and physical evidence cogently, as ever, eliminating the other possibilities.
As a result of “Lambert”‘s coronation, Henry VII’s regime decided to control Ireland more closely. The “Statute of Drogheda” (left) (“An Act that no Parliament be holden in this Land until the Acts be certified into England”) was passed in early or mid-1494 and is described as 10 Hen.7 c4 or 10 Hen.7 c9. It is also known by the name of the newly appointed Lord Deputy at the time: Sir Edward Poynings (1459-1521) and specified that no Irish Parliament could meet until its proposed legislation had been approved by the Lord Deputy, his Privy Council, the English monarch and his Parliament. Ireland was thus legislatively subjugated and its status changed again under the “Crown in Ireland Act” in 1542, becoming a kingdom (“An Act that the King of England, his Heirs and Successors, be Kings of Ireland”) under the same monarch as England, in place of a lordship. Curiously, this was in the same year that Wales was subsumed by the Kingdom of England (Laws in Wales Acts). As the sands of the “Tudor” era ran out, the Earl of Essex was sent to suppress another Ulster rebellion but ignored his orders and returned home to aim for the crown. James VI/I’s subsequent plantations filled the power vacuum left by the O’Neills.
Consequently, the “English Civil War” is also known as the “War of the Three Kingdoms”, each of which had a different religious settlement as Charles I’s reign began. Similarly, legend has it that George I expressed to plant St. James’ Park with turnips and asked an aide the price: “Only three crowns, Sire”. Poynings’ Law is still in force in Northern Ireland, whilst it was fully repealed in the Republic as late as 2007.
(1) All figures are from Richard II, Nigel Saul, page 273
(2) For more detail see Saul, p 281.
(3) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 411.
(4) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 412.
(5) Irish chronicle quoted in The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 421.
(6) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 421.
(7) The Dublin King, John Ashdown-Hill particularly chapters 1-5.
Jacob’s Island formed by a loop in the River Neckinger c1860. Formerly known as Folly Ditch. Watercolour J L Stewart 1829-1911
Here is a link to a very interesting article on London’s lost and forgotten rivers with details of some interesting finds including, my favourites , a 12th century triple toilet seat, a Roman bracket cast in the shape of a thumb, Bronze Age and medieval swords and a dogs collar finally engraved with ‘Gray Hound’
12th century triple toilet seat..
As The London Museum curator Kate Sumnall succinctly puts it “They are still there, and they’re flowing. Some off them you can still see, others are beneath our feet, but the little clues around London survive. Once you start paying attention to them the rivers jump out at you and you realise that you know far more about them than you think’.
The River Fleet shown on the ‘Copperplate’ map of London c 1553.
The Fleet rose on Hampstead Heath, flowed beneath Fleet Bridge , now the site of Ludgate Circus, and Holborn Bridge past Bridewell Palace, built by Henry VIII and into the Thames.
Bridewell Palace and Blackfriars Monastery at the entrance to the River Fleet. From a model by John B Thorp
Archaeologists still argue about the exact route of the River Tyburn but it is agreed that it flowed from the Hampstead Hills, across Regents Park to form an eyot which was called Thorney Island whereupon stood Westminster Abbey and the old Palace of Westminster.
Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster once stood on the eyot formed from the River Tyburn known as Thorney Island..
The eyot known as Thorney Island
The River Walbrook, short, but as it was the only watercourse to flow through the City it was both an important source of water as well as a conduit to remove sewerage. It may have come by its names because it flowed through London Wall. The source of the Walbrook is still argued over but one plausible suggestion is that it begun its life near St Leonards Church, Shoreditch, meandering down and under what is now The Bank of England and entering the Thames close to where Cannon Street Station now stands. As time passed it was vaulted over, paved and made level to the streets and lanes and thus built over …alas.
Map of London c.1300 with the River Walbrook shown
The River Walbrook, as it now flows beneath the Bank of England. Photograph taken by Steve Duncan 2007
The River Wandle, one of the longest of London’s rivers, passed through the boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Merton, Wandsworth and Lambeth to join the Thames on the tideway. It flowed through the grounds of Croydon Old Palace, sometime residence of Margaret Beaufort and where the young widowed Katherine of Aragon lived for a time, when that place was but a quiet village and at one time renowned for its fish, particularly trout. However eventually becoming an open sewer leading to outbreaks of cholera and typhoid , it too was culverted over in the 19th century.
Croydon Church with the River Wandle flowing past …
The Neckinger is believed to have risen close to where the Imperial War Museum now stands, crossed the New Kent Road and flowed either past or through Bermondsey Abbey, where disgraced Queens were sent to languish and die. A loop in the Neckinger became known as Jacob’s Island. The Neckinger met the Thames via St Saviours Dock which was created by the Cluniac monks of the Abbey in the 13th century who named it after their patron saint and built a watermill there.
Are there any South Londoners out there? You have your very own river..the Effra. Now culverted it once flowed, roughly, from the hills of Norwood, once part of the Great North Wood, Upper Norwood, Dulwich, Brixton and Kennington until it met the River Thames at Vauxhall.
I have only touched upon the copious amount of information that is readily available on London’s lost rivers. Its amazing to think that these historic rivers survive beneath the feet of thousands of Londoners as, totally unaware, they go about their business…
For anyone interested to find out more about London’s rivers, there is an exhibition ‘Secret Rivers’ at The London Museum from 24 May to 27 October 2019 covering the histories of the Rivers Effra, Fleet, Neckinger, Lea, Wandle, Tyburn and Walbrook.
Having for the past few days been concerned with the course (in the 14th century) of the old Walbrook, one of London’s “lost” rivers, I was pleased to come upon this article which indicates that the lost river is being acknowledged once again. Well, naturally, it hasn’t been mislaid at all, but was covered over centuries ago and now forms part of the capital’s sewer system.
The article referred to above is not new, but was to me. For once, the dreaded modern sculpture seems to be excellent. Something novel that is visually explanatory and really does bring back to life a river that has been hidden away for years.
Now all I need to know is where it actually meandered in the 14th century. It seems it was apt to change its course from time to time….
In early medieval times, ‘the staple’ meant England’s staple export: wool. But it was inconvenient and inefficient for the king’s men to collect the customs duties that were payable on the exported wool from every one of the hundreds of little English ports all around the country. London, Bristol, Ipswich and Sandwich were major ports but little ships could sail from any small harbour or river estuary. Therefore, since wherever the ships had sailed from, they were all taking their cargo of wool to Flanders (modern day Belgium and north-east France), it was easier to collect the customs when they arrived at their destination. In 1313, Edward II ordained that all merchants had to land their ‘staple’ at a port he would designate. During the Hundred Years War, England acquired Calais from the French and from the mid-fifteenth century until 1558 this port became the convenient Calais Staple, where customs duties were collected on all English wool exports.
From “A Year in the Life of Medieval England” by Toni Mount.
The image is Old bird’s-eye view plan of Calais by Braun & Hogenberg 1597
Queek/queak is a strange word, with at least three very different meanings of which I am aware.
Since the early 18th century, queak has meant a high-pitched squeak or screech, such as the call of a bird or squeal of a pig.
On the other hand, Queek Headtaker is “the legendary and much-feared Lord of the City of Pillars, Great Warlord of Clan Mors and the personal right-claw of Warlord Gnawdwell, the one and true Grand Ruler of Clan Mors.” This is from Warhammer, the wargame.
Thirdly, however, queek is a board game that was popular in the 14th century. It involved two players and a black-and-white chequered board like a chess or draughts/drafts. There was enthusiastic betting on this game, in which pebbles were thrown carefully on to the board, and money was laid upon whether it would land on black or white. It should have been straightforward. But, as always with the human race, things were rigged. There was a case from 1381 when an embroiderer from the Ropery district of London was indicted for corrupting a queek board, in which all the white squares were imperceptibly sunken, “so that all those who played the said board…were maliciously and deceitfully deprived of their property”.
Naughty embroiderer. But it just goes to prove that when it comes to betting, you can never trust anyone!
The above case is taken from London: a Travel Guide Through Time, by Dr Matthew Green. The image was found on Pinterest.
We all know that medieval London was surrounded by great city walls, a lot of which dated from Roman times, and that there was a wide ditch outside the wall, to add to the capital’s defences. It gradually became silted up, and although it was dredged and cleared several times, it was encroached upon by building and eventually disappeared altogether.
In 2015 the ditch was investigated in the area of the street still called Minories, a name received from the Franciscan Abbey of St Clare, where the Minoresses were to be found. The abbey was the resort of many a highborn lady who wished, for various reasons, to retreat from the world. It was not a bare living, by any means, for many of them were in luxury, with their ladies-in-waiting and other necessities. And an occasional man was to live there as well, for instance the abbey’s Great House was the residence of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, who was murdered in Calais in 1397.
The abbey was outside Aldgate, amid a few houses and a lot of farms and fields, and was separated from the city wall by the great ditch. It is here that the archaeological digging and excavations went on. To learn more, go here
Finding the original town plans of London, before the Great Fire of 1666, is always intriguing, and very rewarding indeed for those of us who love all things medieval. So, in this respect, I welcome the Tudors. I already have books of London maps, published by the London Topographical Society, of our capital in the Elizabethan, Georgian and Regency periods, and very detailed and rewarding they are.
But now I find that the British Historic Towns Atlas, in association with the London Topographical Society, publishes foldable maps, in the same form as Ordnance Survey Landranger maps, and so on. Intrigued, I purchased the Tudor map of London, which reveals the city in about 1520, which is much closer in time to the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII. It is a very beautiful thing, and led me to browse the streets just for the sake of it.
If you go to their website you will find their range of maps, but most, if not all, are later than Tudor. Mostly 19th century, in fact, as York, which dates from 1850. Bristol is a series of detailed chronicological articles available on line. You will have to delve through the website in the hope of finding what you want.
But the 1520 map of “Tudor” London is excellent. I recommend it.
When it comes to medieval history, London and its environs always figure prominently. Well, it’s inevitable, since the king and Parliament were usually there. Not always, I grant you.
Anyway, I have come upon a very interesting and informative site about Southwark. A little ramble around it will certainly unearth something of interest to you.
For instance, the wall in the photograph above is all that remains of the notorious Marshalsea Prison. It is to the side of the John Harvard Library.