This book examines the rise and fall of the aristocratic Lacy family in England, Ireland, Wales and Normandy. As one of the first truly transnational studies of individual medieval aristocrats, it provides a fresh look at lordship and the interplay between aristocracy and crown from 1166 to 1241. Hugh de Lacy (†1186), traded on his military usefulness to King Henry II of England in Wales and Normandy to gain a speculative grant of the ancient Irish kingdom of Mide (Meath). Hugh was remarkably successful in Ireland, where he was able to thwart the juvenile ambitions of the future King John to increase his powers there. Hugh was hailed by native commentators as ‘lord of the foreigners of Ireland’ and even ‘king of Ireland’. In this study his near-legendary life is firmly grounded in the realities of Anglo-Irish politics. The political career of Hugh’s less famous son and heir, Walter de Lacy (†1241), is in turn illuminated by surviving royal records and his own acta. Walter was one of the major actors in the Irish Sea province under Kings Richard I, John and Henry III, and his relationship with each king provides a unique insight into the nature of their reigns. Over the course of fifty-two years, Walter helped to shape the course of Anglo-Irish history. That history is recast in light of the transnational perspective of its chief participants. This book is a major contribution to current debates over the structure of medieval European society.
This chapter charts how Gilbert de Lacy divided the Lacy inheritance in England, Normandy and Wales amongst his three sons, Robert, Hugh, and Amaury, before Hugh reunited the major components under his own rule. The territorial extent of the Lacy holdings is explored using evidence from contemporary charters and the cartae baronum returns of 1166. As a result, a previously unknown Evreux subtenancy at Claville (Eure) has been uncovered, which descended through Amaury but nevertheless had a major impact upon Hugh and his sons. The chapter then examines Henry II’s speculative grant of the lordship of Meath to Hugh during the English invasion of Ireland, as well as the grant’s implications for the major resident powers in Ireland, including Strongbow, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair and Tigernán Ua Ruairc. For all of his later successes in Ireland, at this early stage Hugh de Lacy’s main priorities lay in Normandy. Consequently, this chapter relates how he defended the town of Verneuil against King Philip Augustus during the rebellion of 1173-4, and purchased the Norman honor of Le Pin-au Haras from Count Robert of Meulan in the conflict’s aftermath.
At the Council of Oxford in 1177, King Henry II expressed his desire that his youngest son, John, should be made king of Ireland, and also divided colonial Ireland into three divisions to be administered from Dublin, Wexford and Waterford. Hugh de Lacy was placed at the head of the Dublin administration, and given authority over the northern third. This chapter explores how Hugh used his royal commission as well as a pragmatic blend of war and diplomacy to cut an impressive figure for himself on the Irish scene. Hugh’s marriage to the daughter of the Irish high king, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair led to whispers of royal ambitions at the Henry II’s court, yet Hugh was too useful to the colony to be permanently replaced. The chapter analyses Hugh de Lacy’s conduct in office, including during the future King John’s ill-fated 1185 Irish expedition (after which he was merely dominus Hiberniae ‘lord of Ireland’). When John returned home, both he and the native Irish commentators blamed Hugh for his expedition’s failure. Hugh’s spectacular assassination in 1186 while constructing a castle at Durrow in western Meath was noted by English chroniclers, who report that Henry II rejoiced at the news.
This chapter pieces together the early career of Hugh’s son and heir, Walter de Lacy (†1241). Through an analysis of surviving royal and seigniorial charters, the testimony of contemporary English and Irish chroniclers, and a previously unnoticed letter by John, lord of Ireland (dominus Hiberniae), this chapter produces a revised account of Walter’s entry into the Lacy inheritance in England, Ireland, Wales and Normandy. Walter initially received all of his inheritance in 1189, yet found his rights in Ireland ignored by John as soon as King Richard I (the Lionheart) left on Crusade in 1191. King Richard set things right upon his return in 1194, forcing John to make peace with Walter. This account has implications reaching far beyond Lacy family history, for it provides new insight into the constitutional position of colonial Ireland within the Plantagenet Empire. The chapter then illustrates the interconnectedness of the Anglo-Norman realm, as King Richard sequestrated both the English and Norman components of the Lacy inheritance for Walter’s failure to pay a fine pertaining to Normandy. The fact that Walter’s Irish lands remained untouched further highlights Ireland’s separate political character under King Richard and John.
The accession of King John marks a turning point in the history of the Lacy family. In this period, Ireland was brought under the direct lordship of the king of England, and Normandy was lost. The balance of the king’s administration and attention (if not his ambition) was shifted westwards, and he sought to exploit his insular realms for resources to retrieve his continental inheritance. This chapter explores how Walter sought to thrive in this new environment. His marriage to Margery, daughter of the transnational aristocrat, William de Briouze (Braose), initiated a fascinating administrative arrangement whereby Walter looked after the Briouze honor of Limerick in Ireland, while William oversaw the Lacy lands in England and Normandy. This chapter also clearly shows how King John set his barons to counterbalance each other, as he used Walter to proceed against William de Burgh in Munster and Connacht, and against John de Courcy in Ulster. The Lacys reaped the benefits of John’s policy as Walter’s brother, Hugh, replaced John de Courcy, eventually being belted earl of Ulster in 1205.
The loss of Normandy in 1204 drove John to seek increasing funds to bankroll the reconquest of his continental inheritance. His abuse of royal lordship ultimately led to the English barons’ rebellion and Magna Carta in 1215. However, a well-regulated royal administration was useful to the relatively peaceful, and increasingly litigious, society in England. The English baronial reformers merely sought to standardise its application. The socially and politically fragmented realm of Ireland was a different matter. King John’s attempts to replicate English royal lordship in Ireland ignored the realities of frontier life, and set his Irish justiciar, Meiler fitz Henry, against the colony’s most powerful lords: William de Briouze, Walter de Lacy and William Marshal. The resultant Irish crisis of 1207 began in Munster, but soon enveloped the entire colony. This baronial revolt was successful, forcing King John to compromise with the Irish magnates who attended him in England. Only William de Briouze refused, and his 1208 destruction must be seen in this context. Two years later, King John’s 1210 Irish expedition was John’s revenge for 1207. The Lacy brothers, who were in negotiations with King Philip Augustus of France, were cut down and expelled from the Plantagenet Empire.
Once the Magna Carta civil war was won, Walter de Lacy’s entrenched position as sheriff of Herefordshire made him the dominant force in the region, forcing the new minority government of Henry III to negotiate with him in order to obtain any action in his shire. This chapter explores an intriguing episode involving the English justiciar, Hubert de Burgh’s, attempts to secure seisin of the so-called Three Castles in Wales: Grosmont, Skenfrith and Llantilio (Whitecastle). It illustrates Hubert’s rising star, the crown’s persistent weakness in the localities, and the incessant negotiations which dogged royal initiatives. More particularly, it also brings to the fore the longstanding rivalry between the families of Burgh, Briouze and Lacy, and shows how, during the minority, baronial factionalism could shape (and hamper) royal initiatives. A weak royal government was detrimental to Walter’s position in Ireland, where the Irish justiciar, Geoffrey de Marisco, behaved much as Walter did in Herefordshire. In this chapter, Geoffrey’s power and corruption are brought to the fore as never before. Once Walter journeyed to Ireland to set things right in 1220, he also established his half-brother, William Gorm de Lacy, in Bréifne (as he had previously secured Ulster for his brother Hugh).
This chapter illustrates how the overlapping and ever fluctuating alignments of power in the western British Isles matched the Lacys with the Marshals in struggles for dominance of the Irish Sea during the factionalist rebellions of Hugh de Lacy, earl of Ulster (1223-4) and Richard Marshal, earl of Pembroke (1233-4). The case is less clear in 1233-4 than it had been in 1223-4, but in both instances Henry III and his council backed one faction over another. This chapter also charts Walter de Lacy’s decreasing political importance. No longer conspicuous on the battlefield, his lengthy quarrel with the Knights Hospitaller at the papal curia (one initiated by his wife, Margery) is an impressive display of the strength of his brand of aristocratic lordship, but it also cost Walter dearly. Burdened with his great debts to the crown and Jewish moneylenders, Walter was an invalid by 1237, blind shortly thereafter, and dead by 1241. The great Lacy inheritance, which once extended across four realms of the Plantagenet Empire, and had found its strength in the territorial integrity of its honors, was then carved up between his two granddaughters.
Hugh and Walter de Lacy had a number of ways by which to control their surroundings, both intensively (through tenure and the control of courts) and by tribute (receiving acknowledgements of superior status from their neighbours); all of these can be characterised as dimensions of ‘lordship’. The methods used depended on the pre-existing social structures within each realm. As aristocrats, one of the Lacys’ means to enforce lordship was war. Whether as captains in royal armies, or through the conquest and defence of their own territories along the frontier, their military acumen was a key determinant of their wider success or failure. The growth of seigniorial households and affinities was in part a result of the increasing demands of medieval warfare, made more necessary for the Lacys by the collateral administration of their transmarine interests. The necessary personnel was supplied by the emerging knightly class whose members were also courted by the king of England. This chapter includes a focused look at the competition between royal and aristocratic lordship for support from knightly communities. The Lacys often turned to each other for security, and the place of the family in lordship, including marriage alliances, filial piety and inheritance rounds off this study.