The Oxford Companion to Irish History

By S. J. Connolly | Go to book overview


faction and feuding between rival magnates seems almost synonymous with late medieval politics and administration. English local government was supervised and discharged by officials appointed by the crown, but in practice social cohesion, and thus effective government, rested chiefly on the network of *feudal ties between landlord and tenant, along with the less formal relationships (*bastard feudalism') that had developed between magnates and their followers whereby the lord upheld the interests of his dependants in return for their service and support. Thus the rule of the provinces was commonly divided between competing magnate affinities. And particularly in a turbulent *frontier society such as Ireland, a magnate's influence and protection was often far more effective than resort to law, since the king's courts were ineffective against violence and disorder from Gaelic Ireland.

Medieval historians have long debated whether bastard feudalism was a generally positive or negative influence on politics and society. The consensus is now that strong kings capable of controlling the magnates could use their bastard feudal connections as an informal alternative system of law enforcement while curbing undesirable features like maintenance (illegal outside interference in lawsuits) and intimidation. In Ireland, however, government was even more dependent on the nobles since the king was almost invariably absent, the Dublin administration's resources were far scantier, and border defence against Gaelic chiefs was a much more pressing priority. Thus faction and feuding were more pervasive and disruptive than in late medieval England.

Major factional conflict included the *Talbot- Ormond feud and the later dispute between * Ormond's Lancastrian son James Butler, 5th earl ( 1452-61), and York's retainer Thomas Fitzgerald, recognized as 7th earl of* Kildare in 1454. The original cause of the latter was possession of ancestral Fitzgerald manors in Co. Kildare, but the dispute soon became embroiled in the wider dynastic struggle between Lancaster and York (see WARS OF THE ROSES). Broadly, the Yorkists retained control of the lordship with the support of the two Fitzgerald earls of Desmond and Kildare until Henry Tudor's accession. The Butlers supported an unsuccessful Lancastrian invasion in 1462, but thereafter they were effectively leaderless until the 1490s, when another feud began between the 8th earl of Kildare ( 1478-1513) and James Ormond. Meanwhile factional opposition to Kildare focused on the Meath gentry led by Philip Bermingham and Bishop William Sherwood of Meath; but one reason for Kildare's strong rule after 1496 was the success of Henry VII's settlement in curbing factionalism. The lordship remained peaceful until the accession of a resident Butler earl after 1515 prompted a recurrence of the Geraldine- Butler feud.

The continued existence of Geraldine and Butler networks dents the notion that early 16th-century Ireland was divided into two separate ethnic zones. Factionalism, originating in the pragmatic principle of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend', was sustained by marriage and *fosterage and underpinned by *coyne and livery in such a way as to unite Gaelic Irish and Anglo-Irish aristocrats into a single political system. The pervasiveness of factionalism is revealed in the allegiance of the MacDonnell *gahowglasses to pro-Geraldine families whereas the * MacSweeneys always served the Butler interest.

The system's continued importance is exemplified by its perpetuation even after the defeat of the *Kildare rebellion. Gaelic Irish lords from both factions united in the *Geraldine League. They hoped to re-establish the status quo ante after Manus *O'Donnell, from a traditionally pro-Butler lordship, gained control of young Gerald, 11th earl of Kildare. Lord Leonard *Grey, the boy's uncle, defeated this coalition but found that he could not rule effectively without the system. He attempted to rehabilitate earlier Geraldine leaders only to fall foul of the Butlers. *St Leger attempted to rule regardless of faction by promoting constitutional relationships with the crown


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The Oxford Companion to Irish History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Editorial Advisers ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Maps vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Contributors xiii
  • Note to the Reader xvii
  • A 1
  • B 33
  • C 66
  • D 133
  • E 167
  • F 183
  • G 212
  • H 233
  • I 254
  • K 282
  • L 292
  • M 333
  • N 377
  • O 397
  • P 424
  • Q 469
  • R 471
  • S 495
  • T 532
  • U 557
  • V 577
  • W 582
  • Y 601
  • Z 603
  • Maps 605
  • Subject Index 613


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