16th Century Ireland saw the introduction of the Crown of Ireland Act 1542 and during the reign of Henry VIII, the Catholic Church, and the people of Ireland, native and settler alike, remained strongly attached to Rome.
English rule in Ireland at this time, was dominant only in that small area around Dublin known as the Pale, but even here Irish customs and language was becoming ever stronger.
Outside of the Pale, the rest of Ireland continued to follow the old tribal and clan systems of the Gael.
Powerful families of Ireland
Most of the old Anglo-Norman families had long intermarried with the native Gaelic families, so long as they retained a semblance of Englishness, maintained the law and paid their feudal taxes to the Crown, they were largely left to their own devices.
The most influential of these families were the Butlers, the Earls of Ormond, the FitzGeralds of Leinster, Earls of Kildare and the FitzGeralds of Munster, Earls of Desmond.
The FitzGeralds of Munster had become Gaelicised and the Butlers were frequently in conflict with the native families who were trying to regain the lands held by the Earls of Ormond.
The FitzGeralds of Leinster were by far the most powerful, the Earl, Garrett Mór FitzGerald, not only held vast estates in that province but also by being the Kings governor in Ireland, he was the de facto ruler of Ireland.
Garrett Mór had been appointed to his governorship by Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland, despite the fact that he had participated in 1487 in an attempt to place Lambert Simnel, a youthful Yorkist pretender, on the throne. Henry VII pardoned the earl and retained him as the royal governor.
Later in 1594 Garrett Óg was replaced by Sir Edward Poynings who had him taken to London on a charge of treason. Garrett Mór was able to prove his innocence and Henry VII and it is said that the Bishop of Munster had said of the self-confident FitzGerald
“You see the sort of man he is; all Ireland cannot rule him”. To which the King is said to have replied, “then he must be the man to rule Ireland”.
Whereas Poyning’s attempts to maintain the King’s peace within Ireland were financed by the treasury, FitzGerald was able to pay for this from his own considerable wealth and by enforcing the policy of coyne and delivery, thus allowing the King’s army to be withdrawn from Ireland.
When Henry VIII came to the throne in 1503, he was content to maintain the status quo in Ireland. Garrett Mór died in 1513 and was replaced by Garrett Óg FitzGerald who went on to become by far the richest and most powerful man in Ireland.
The death of Garrett Óg
Eventually, in 1534 because of his excesses, Garrett Óg was called to London to answer complaints made to the king.
Whilst in London Garrett died of a bullet wound that he had received fighting with the Irish in Leinster. His son Thomas (also known as Silken Thomas), now the 10th Earl of Leinster, believing that his father had been executed in the Tower of London, went into open rebellion.
It was a rebellion that took nearly a year to put down and at the end of it, Thomas and five of his uncles received a traitor’s death.
Resistance against Henry VIII
Henry VIII made his break with Rome, declaring himself as head of the Church in England. The parliament in Dublin, in May 1536 declared him to be head of the Church in Ireland and a royal commission ordered the shutting of Irish monasteries. This horrified the Anglo-Irish and the Gaelic Irish alike.
The resistance of the Anglo-Irish and the Gaelic Irish to the Protestant religion unnerved the king. He probably feared that the refusal of Ireland to accept his new church could be an asset to Catholic Spain and so he set about imposing a military solution to the situation.
The military solution proved too costly and so he switched tactics by offering the Gaelic Irish Lords to surrender their titles to him, swear loyalty to him and he would re-grant them back their titles under English feudal law. This had a high success rate to the extent that Henry was able, with the Irish Parliament, to establish an act that would make the King of England, His Heirs and Successors, be Kings of Ireland.
“The King’s highness, his heyres and successours, kings of England, be alwayes kings of Ireland and that his majestie, his heyres and successours, have the name, stile title and honour of the King of Ireland with all maner honours, preheminences, preogratives, dignities, and other things whatsoever they be to the estate and majestie of a King imperiall”.
This enactment, the creation of the Kingdom of Ireland, was to change the character of the relationship that existed between Ireland and England. It would introduce a much more bloody future and it laid the foundation of the sectarian hatreds which would bedevil Ireland to the present day.
• Crown of Ireland Act 1542. legislation.gov.uk
• A History of Ireland in 250 Episodes by Jonathan Bardon. Gill & Macmillam. Dublin. 2009.
• Ireland, A History by Thomas Bartlett. Cambridge University Press UK. 2010
Last updated August 6, 2019.