42 English Justice and The Irish Invasion

Henry's far sighted reform of justice; and Richard Strongbow and Norman invasion of Ireland

So here are two completely unconnected subjects then! Henry is responsible for reforms to the process of English justice that had a long lasting impact on English Justice – including the development of Common law and the Jury system. OK, so he wasn't thinking about the long term futuire, all he wanted to do was to bring more royal revenue in, and more quickly; but none the less, a long term impact he had. The events of his reign would also have a long term impact on Irish politics and society. in 1169. Richard  'Strongbow'  FitzGilbert arrived on the coast of Ireland with the Gaelic king of Leinster, and the Anglo Norman invasion was on.

42 English Justice and Norman Ireland

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The Norman Invasion of Ireland

Map of Irish kingdoms

The Irish political structure in the early 12th Century was composed of a number of Kingdoms. Kingship was based on the Celtic tribal tradition of fealty, and the kings competed for the political supremacy in the form of the High King. Added to that were the areas that had been invaded and ruled by the Norweigians, which now consisted of 5 towns, including Dublin. 

In addition to the secular authority of the crown, Irish society was governed by the Brehon, who interpreted a complex system of customary law, and the the church – in the form of the Abbots of the major monasteries. The Papacy strongly disapproved of the Irish church, whose custom and practice were  not in line with the Gregorian reforms. 

In the mid 11th Century, a struggle for supremacy arose between Rory O'Connor of Connaught and Dermot MacMurroch of Leinster and their respective allies. When Dermot lost out, he sought out Henry in Aquitaine in 1166 and asked for help. Henry didn't have the time – but he allowed Dermot to look for men in England to help him. 

Dermot found Richard FitzGilbert, Earl of Pembroke and Striguil, head of the De Clare family. He would be known to history as Richard Strongbow. In 1170, Strongbow landed near Wexford, and together they re-captured Dublin by 1171 and defeated the High King Rory O'Connor. At which point Henry arrived to make sure the English king wasn't cut out of the deal. 

At the treaty of Windsor in 1175, the basic structure was set; Rory O'Connor was to rule Munster, Connaught, and Ulster, giving fealty to Henry. The English crown was to rule Leinster, the towns and Meath directly through a Justiciar. It sounded logical but was soon blown apart by Norman aggression in 1177 in Munster and East Ulster that set up further Anglo Irish lordships.  Henry had no intention of creating a new empire in Ireland; but the effect of his reign was to set up a partition of Ireland and struggle for control that would have an impact for many centuries. 

The Development of English Justice

 Henry's reforms had a massive impact on Justice. It's true to say that one of his main motivations was to increase the profits the crown made from justice, but he also believed in greater efficiency and consistency. The biggest impact of the great assizes of Clarendon (1166) and Northampton (1176) were:

  • The implementation of a system of Royal Justices in Eyre. These itinerant justices saw the rapid development of English common law, and the move away from Baronial justice of variable quality to a centralised system of royal justice
  • The development of the Jury 
  • A faster, cheaper more effective system of royal writs that drove specific legal processes

 If you want to see the text of the Assize of Clarendon just click here 


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