The Lordship of Ireland (Irish: Tiarnas na hÉireann), sometimes referred to retroactively as Norman Ireland, was a period of feudal rule in Ireland between 1177 and 1542 under the King of England, styled as Lord of Ireland. The lordship was created as a Papal possession following the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169–71. As the lord of Ireland was also the king of England, he was represented locally by a governor, styled between 1660–1922 as the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
Ostensibly, the lordship extended throughout all of Ireland. However, in reality, the king's rule only ever extended to parts of the island. Areas under English rule expanded and retreated over time. Many areas remained separate and outside English rule until the 16th century.
The fluid political situation and feudal system allowed a significant amount of practical autonomy for the Hiberno-Norman nobility, who carved earldoms out for themselves and had almost as much authority as some of the native Gaelic kings. The period was brought to a close by the creation of the Kingdom of Ireland in 1542.
The authority of the Lordship of Ireland's government was seldom extended throughout the island of Ireland at any time during its existence but was restricted to the Pale around Dublin, and some provincial towns, including Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Wexford and their hinterlands. It owed its origins to the decision of a Leinster dynast, Diarmait Mac Murchada (Diarmuid MacMorrough), to bring in a Norman knight based in Wales, Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (alias 'Strongbow'), to aid him in his battle to regain his throne, after being overthrown by a confederation led by the new Irish High King (the previous incumbent had protected MacMurrough). Henry II of England invaded Ireland to control Strongbow, who he feared was becoming a threat to the stability of his own kingdom on its western fringes (there had been earlier fears that Saxon refugees might use either Ireland or Flanders as a base for a counter-offensive after 1066); much of the later Plantagenet consolidation of South Wales was in furtherance of holding open routes to Ireland.
From 1155 Henry claimed that Pope Adrian IV had given him authorisation to reform the Irish church by assuming control of Ireland, but Anne Duggan, professor emeritus of history at King's College, London considers the Laudabiliter to be a falsification of an existing letter and that was not in fact Adrian's intention. Religious practices and ecclesiastical organisation in Ireland had evolved divergently from those in areas of Europe influenced more directly by the Holy See, although many of these differences had been eliminated or greatly lessened by the time the bull was issued in 1155. Further, the former Irish church had never sent its dues ("tithes") to Rome. Henry's primary motivation for invading Ireland 1171 was to control Strongbow and other Norman lords. In the process he accepted the fealty of the Gaelic kings at Dublin in November 1171, and he summoned the Synod of Cashel in 1172, which brought the Irish Church into conformity with English and European norms.
In 1175 the Treaty of Windsor was agreed by Henry and Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, High King of Ireland.
The popes asserted the right to grant sovereignty over islands to different monarchs on the basis of the Donation of Constantine (said to be a forgery). Doubts were cast by eminent scholars on Laudabiliter itself in the 19th century, but it was confirmed by the letters of Pope Alexander III. The Papal power to grant also fell within the remit of Dictatus papae (1075–87). While Laudabiliter had referred to the "kingdom" of Ireland, the Papacy was ambiguous about continuing to describe it as a kingdom as early as 1185.
Having captured a small part of Ireland on the east coast, Henry used the land to solve a dispute dividing his family. For he had divided his territories between his sons, with the youngest being nicknamed Johan sanz Terre (in English, "John Lackland") as he was left without lands to rule. At the Oxford parliament in May 1177, Henry replaced William FitzAldelm and granted John his Irish lands, so becoming Lord of Ireland (Dominus Hiberniae) in 1177 when he was 10 years old, with the territory being known in English as the Lordship of Ireland.
Henry had wanted John to be crowned King of Ireland on his first visit in 1185, but Pope Lucius III specifically refused permission. "Dominus" was the usual title of a king who had not yet been crowned, suggesting that it was Henry's intention. Lucius then died while John was in Ireland, and Henry obtained consent from Pope Urban III and ordered a crown of gold and peacock feathers for John. In late 1185 the crown was ready, but John's visit had by then proved a complete failure, so Henry cancelled the coronation.
Following the deaths of John's older brothers he became King of England in 1199, and so the Lordship of Ireland, instead of being a separate country ruled by a junior Norman prince, came under the direct rule of the Angevin crown.
The Lordship thrived in the 13th century during the Medieval Warm Period, a time of warm climate and better harvests. The feudal system was introduced, and the Parliament of Ireland first sat in 1297. Some counties were created by shiring, while walled towns and castles became a feature of the landscape. But little of this engagement with mainstream European life was of benefit to those the Normans called the "mere Irish". "Mere" derived from the Latin merus, meaning pure. Environmental decay and deforestation continued unabated throughout this period, being greatly exacerbated by the English newcomers and an increase in population.
The Norman élite and churchmen spoke Norman French and Latin. Many poorer settlers spoke English, Welsh and Flemish. The Gaelic areas spoke Irish dialects. The Yola language of County Wexford was a survivor of the early English dialects.
The Lordship suffered invasion from Scotland by Edward Bruce in 1315–18, which destroyed much of the economy and coincided with the great famine of 1315–17. The earldom of Ulster ended in 1333, and the Black Death of 1348–50 impacted more on the town-dwelling Normans than on the remaining Gaelic clans. The Norman and English colonists exhibited a tendency to adopt much of the native culture and language, becoming "Gaelicized" or in the words of some More Irish than the Irish themselves. In 1366 the Statute of Kilkenny tried to keep aspects of Gaelic culture out of the Norman-controlled areas, but in vain. As the Norman lordships became increasingly Gaelicized and made alliances with native chiefs, whose power steadily increased, crown control slowly eroded. Additionally, the Plantagenet government increasingly alienated the Irish chiefs and people on whom they often relied for their military strength. It had been a common practice for the Norman lordships as well as government forces to recruit the native Irish who were allied to them or living in English controlled areas (i.e. Meath, Leinster, Ossory, Munster and Connacht). This was easy to do as the native Irish had no great sense of national identity at that time and were prone to mercenarism and shifting alliances. But the Irish chiefs became increasingly alienated by the oppressive measures of the English government, and began openly rebelling against the crown. Some of the more notable among those clans who had formerly cooperated with the English but became increasingly alienated until turning openly anti-Norman and a thorn in the side of the Dublin administration were the O'Connor Falys, the MacMurrough-Kavanagh dynasty, the Byrnes and the O'Mores of Leix. These clans were able to successfully defend their territories against English attack for a very long time through a use of asymmetrical guerrilla warfare and devastating raids into the lands held by the colonists. Additionally, the power of native chiefs who had never come under English domination such as the O'Neills and the O'Donnells increased steadily until these became once again major power players on the scene of Irish politics. Historians refer to a Gaelic revival or resurgence as occurring between 1350 and 1500, by which time the area ruled for the Crown — "the Pale" — had shrunk to a small area around Dublin.
Between 1500 and 1542 a mixed situation arose. Most clans remained loyal to the Lord most of the time, using a Gaelic-style system of alliances centred on the Lord Deputy who was usually the current Earl of Kildare. However a rebellion by the 9th Earl's heir Silken Thomas in 1535 led on to a less sympathetic system of rule by mainly English-born administrators. The rebellion and Henry VIII's seizure of the Irish monasteries around 1540 led on to his plan to create a new kingdom based on the existing parliament.
English monarchs continued to use the title "Lord of Ireland" to refer to their position of conquered lands on the island of Ireland. The title was changed by the Crown of Ireland Act passed by the Irish Parliament in 1542 when, on Henry VIII's demand, he was granted a new title, King of Ireland, with the state renamed the Kingdom of Ireland. Henry VIII changed his title because the Lordship of Ireland had been granted to the Norman monarchy by the Papacy; Henry had been excommunicated by the Catholic Church and worried that his title could be withdrawn by the Holy See. Henry VIII also wanted Ireland to be become a full kingdom to encourage a greater sense of loyalty amongst his Irish subjects, some of whom took part in his policy of surrender and regrant.
The government was based in Dublin, but the members of Parliament could be summonsed to meet anywhere: