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Richard II in Ireland

Richard II in Ireland

Richard II, the only king of England to visit Ireland between 1210 and 1689, did so in order to retain his lordship there in the face of two threats: a mounting Gaelic recovery, particularly in Leinster under Art MacMur-rough, and a dangerous depopulation of the English colony, caused partly by plague and by the flight of colonists before the Irish advance. Richard used the opportunity of peace with France and Scotland in 1394 to lead an expedition in person, as had long been called for by the Anglo-Irish. Having proclaimed that all men of Irish birth should return there, he assembled a fleet of perhaps 500 ships and set sail from Haverfordwest in late September. When joined by Anglo-Irish troops upon his arrival, he had an army of 8,000 to 10,000 men, the largest that had ever been sent to Ireland.

Richard landed at Waterford on 2 October, but he waited until the end of the month before marching against MacMurrough, having first established a ring of garrisons around his territory. MacMurrough was attacked by force and eventually compelled to submit, as did his vassal kings, O'Byrne, O'Toole, and O'Nolan. In the following months, amid heavy fighting in some areas, negotiations ensued with the other Irish kings, most of whom, seeing the ease of Richard's success in Leinster, decided to submit on terms. Some did so voluntarily, hoping that by becoming his subjects he would shield them from colonial aggression, and Richard too seems to have arrived at a greater understanding of Irish grievances, and was intent on a more conciliatory approach.

The problem was that Richard's policy involved strengthening the colony by resettlement of land held by absentee lords, whose interests were in direct conflict with the Irish. The earldom of Ulster, for instance, was now the possession of Richard's heir, Roger Mortimer, and when Richard left Ireland after having appointed him as lieutenant, a clash with O'Neill was inevitable, since the latter had overrun much of the territory of the earldom. The settlement that Richard had imposed was therefore fragile and superficial, and it had collapsed by the time Mortimer was killed in 1398. When Richard made a second expedition to Ireland in 1399, it was with vengeance in mind, however his weaker force met with hardened Irish resistance, and was probably doomed even before news arrived from England of the coup by his cousin, the future Henry IV, which ended both his reign and his life.

SEE ALSO English Government in Medieval Ireland; Gaelic Recovery; Gaelic Society in the Late Middle Ages; Norman Invasion and Gaelic Resurgence; Primary Documents: King Richard II in Ireland (1395)


Curtis, Edmund. Richard II in Ireland, 1394–1395, and Submissions of the Irish Chiefs. 1927.

Johnston, Dorothy. "Richard II and the Submissions of Gaelic Ireland." Irish Historical Studies 22 (1980): 1–20.

Johnston, Dorothy. "The Interim Years: Richard II and Ireland, 1395–1399." In England and Ireland in the Later Middle Ages, edited by James Francis Lydon. 1981.

Lydon, James Francis. "Richard II's Expedition to Ireland." Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 93 (1963): 135–149.

Seán Duffy

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