CHAPTER XI. RETROSPECT OF THE NORMAN PERIOD IN IRELAND - A GLANCE AT THE MILITARY TACTICS OF THE TIMES - NO CONQUEST OF THE COUNTRY IN THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY.
Though the victorious and protracted career of Richard de Burgh, the "Red Earl" of Ulster, might, without overstraining, be included in the Norman period, yet, as introductory to the memorable advent and election of King Edward Bruce, we must leave it for the succeeding book. Having brought down the narrative, as regards all the provinces, to the end of the first century, from the invasion, we must now cast a backward glance on the events of that hundred years before passing into the presence of other times and new combinations.
"There were," says Giraldus Cambriensis, "three sundry sorts of servitors which served in the realm of Ireland, Normans, Englishmen, and the Cambrians, which were the first conquerors of the land: the first were in most credit and estimation, the second next, but the last were not accounted or regarded of." "The Normans," adds the author, "were very fine in their apparel, and delicate in their diets; they could not feed but upon dainties, neither could their meat digest without wine at each meal; yet would they not serve in the marches or any remote place against the enemy, neither would they lie in garrison to keep any remote castle or fort, but, would be still about their lord's side to serve and guard his person; they would be where they might be full and have plenty; they could talk and brag, swear, and stare, and, standing in their own reputation, disdain all others." This is rather the language of a partizan than of an historian; of one who felt and spoke for those, his own kinsmen many of them, who, he complains, although the first to enter on the conquest, were yet held in contempt and disdain, "and only new-comers called to council."
The Normans were certainly the captains in every campaign from Robert Fitzstephen to Stephen de Longespay. They made the war, and they maintained it. In the rank and file, and even among the knighthood, men of pure Welsh, English, and Flemish and Danish blood, may be singled out, but each host was marshalled by Norman skill, and every defeat was borne with Norman fortitude. It may seem strange, then, that these greatest masters of the art of war, as waged in the middle ages, invincible in England, France, Italy, and the East, should, after a hundred years, be no nearer to the conquest of Ireland than they were at the end of the tenth year.
The main causes of the fluctuations of the war were, no doubt, the divided military command, and the frequent change of their civil authorities. They had never marched or colonized before without their Duke or King at their head, and in their midst. One supreme chief was necessary to keep to any common purpose the minds of so many proud, intractable nobles. The feuds of the de Lacys with the Marshals, of the Geraldines with the de Burghs, broke out periodically during the thirteenth century, and were naturally seized upon, by the Irish as opportunities for attacking either or both. The secondary nobles and all the adventurers understood their danger and its cause, when they petitioned Henry II. and Henry III. so often and so urgently as they did, that a member of the royal family might reside permanently in Ireland, to exercise the supreme authority, military and civil.
The civil administration of the colonists passing into different hands every three or four years, suffered from the absence of permanent authority. The law of the marches was, of necessity, the law of the strong hand, and no other. But Cambrensis, whose personal prejudices are not involved in this fact, describes the walled towns as filled with litigation in his time. "There was," he says, "such lawing and vexation, that the veteran was more troubled in lawing within the town than he was in peril at large with the enemy." This being the case, we must take with great caution the bold assertions so often made of the zeal with which the natives petitioned the Henrys and Edwards that the law of England might be extended to them. Certain Celts whose lands lay within or upon the marches, others who compounded with their Norman invaders, a chief or prince, hard pressed by domestic enemies, may have wished to be in a position to quote Norman law against Norman spoilers, but the popular petitions which went to England, beseeching the extension of its laws to Ireland, went only from the townsmen of Dublin, and the new settlers in Leinster or Meath, harassed and impoverished by the arbitrary jurisdiction of manorial courts, from which they had no appeal. The great mass of the Irish remained as warmly attached to their Brehon code down to the seventeenth century as they were before the invasion of Norman or Dane. It may sound barbarous to our ears that, according to that code, murder should be compounded by an eric, or fine; that putting out the eyes should be the usual punishment of treason; that maiming should be judiciously inflicted for sundry offences; and that the land of a whole clan should be equally shared between the free members of that clan. We are not yet in a position to form an intelligent opinion upon the primitive jurisprudence of our ancestors, but the system itself could not have been very vicious which nourished in the governed such a thirst for justice, that, according to one of their earliest English law reformers, they were anxious for its execution, even against themselves.