CHAPTER I. CIVIL WAR IN ENGLAND - ITS EFFECTS ON THE ANGLO-IRISH - THE KNIGHTS OF SAINT JOHN - GENERAL DESIRE OF THE ANGLO-IRISH TO NATURALIZE THEMSELVES AMONG THE NATIVE POPULATION - A POLICY OF NON-INTERCOURSE BETWEEN THE RACES RESOLVED ON IN ENGLAND.
The closing years of the reign of Edward II. of England were endangered by the same partiality for favourites which, had disturbed its beginning. The de Spensers, father and son, played at this period the part which Gaveston had performed twenty years earlier. The Barons, who undertook to rid their country of this pampered family, had, however, at their head Queen Isabella, sister of the King of France, who had separated from her husband under a pretended fear of violence at his hands, but in reality to enjoy more freely her criminal intercourse with her favourite, Mortimer. With the aid of French and Flemish mercenaries, they compelled the unhappy Edward to fly from London to Bristol, whence he was pursued, captured, and after being confined for several months in different fortresses, was secretly murdered in the autumn of 1327, by thrusting a red hot iron into his bowels. His son, Edward, a lad of fifteen years of age, afterwards the celebrated Edward III., was proclaimed King, though the substantial power remained for some years longer with Queen Isabella, and her paramour, now elevated to the rank of Earl of March. In the year 1330, however, their guilty prosperity was brought to a sudden close; Mortimer was seized by surprise, tried by his peers, and executed at Tyburn; Isabella was imprisoned for life, and the young King, at the age of eighteen, began in reality that reign, which, through half a century's continuance, proved so glorious and advantageous for England.
It will be apparent that during the last few years of the second, and under the minority of the third Edward, the Anglo-Irish Barons would be left to pursue undisturbed their own particular interests and enmities. The renewal of war with Scotland, on the death of King Robert Bruce, and the subsequent protracted wars with France, which occupied, with some intervals of truce, nearly thirty years of the third Edward's reign, left ample time for the growth of abuses of every description among the descendants of those who had invaded Ireland, under the pretext of its reformation, both in morals and government. The contribution of an auxiliary force to aid him in his foreign wars was all the warlike King expected from his lords of Ireland, and at so cheap a price they were well pleased to hold their possessions under his guarantee. At Halidon hill the Anglo-Irish, led by Sir John Darcy, distinguished themselves against the Scots in 1333; and at the siege of Calais, under the Earls of Kildare and Desmond, they acquired additional reputation in 1347. From this time forward it became a settled maxim of English policy to draft native troops out of Ireland for foreign service, and to send English soldiers into it in times of emergency.
In the very year when the tragedy of Edward the Second's deposition and death was enacted in England, a drama of a lighter kind was performed among his new made earls in Ireland. The Lord Arnold le Poer gave mortal offence to Maurice, first Earl of Desmond, by calling him "a Rhymer," a term synonymous with poetaster. To make good his reputation as a Bard, the Earl summoned his allies, the Butlers and Berminghams, while le Poer obtained the aid of his maternal relatives, the de Burghs, and several desperate conflicts took place between them. The Earl of Kildare, then deputy, summoned both parties to meet him at Kilkenny, but le Poer and William de Burgh fled into England, while the victors, instead of obeying the deputy's summons, enjoyed themselves in ravaging his estate. The following year (A.D. 1328), le Poer and de Burgh returned from England, and were reconciled with Desmond and Ormond by the mediation of the new deputy, Roger Outlaw, Prior of the Knights of the Hospital at Kilmainham. In honour of this reconciliation de Burgh gave a banquet at the castle, and Maurice of Desmond reciprocated by another the next day, in St. Patrick's Church, though it was then, as the Anglo-Irish Annalist remarks, the penitential season of Lent. A work of peace and reconciliation, calculated to spare the effusion of Christian blood, may have been thought some justification for this irreverent use of a consecrated edifice.