In the year 1154 Henry II became King of England, and an Englishman, Nicholas Breakspear, became Pope Hadrian IV. A year later Henry sent John of Salisbury to Rome with a subtle message: Ireland was in a state of political chaos, literary decline, moral debasement, religious independence and decay; would not the Pope permit Henry to take possession of the individualistic isle and restore it to social order and papal obedience? If we may believe Giraldus Cambrensis, the Pope agreed, and by the bullLaudabilitergranted Ireland to Henry on condition of restoring orderly government there, bringing the Irish clergy into better co-operation with Rome, and arranging that a penny (83¢) should be paid yearly to the See of Peter for every house in Ireland.52 Henry was too busy at the time to take advantage of this nihil obstat; but he remained in a receptive mood.

In 1166 Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster, was defeated in war by Tiernan O’Rourke, King of Brefni, whose wife he had seduced. Expelled by his subjects, he fled with his beautiful daughter Eva to England and France, and secured from Henry II a letter assuring royal good will to any of his subjects who should help Dermot to regain the Leinster throne. At Bristol Dermot received from Richard FitzGilbert, Earl of Pembroke in Wales, known as “Strongbow,” a pledge of military support in return for Eva’s hand in marriage, and the succession to Dermot’s kingdom. In 1169 Richard led a small force of Welshmen into Ireland, restored Dermot with the help of the Leinster clergy, and, on Dermot’s death (1171) inherited the kingdom. Rory O’Connor, then High King of Ireland, led an army against the Welsh invaders, and bottled them up in Dublin. The besieged made an heroic sortie, and the ill-trained and poorly equipped Irish fled. Summoned by Henry II, Strongbow crossed to Wales, met the King, and agreed to surrender to him Dublin and other Irish ports, and to hold the rest of Leinster in fief from the English crown. Henry landed near Waterford (1171) with 4000 men, won the support of the Irish clergy, and received the allegiance of all Ireland except Connaught and Ulster; the Welsh conquest was turned into a Norman-English conquest without a battle. A synod of Irish prelates declared their full submission to the Pope, and decreed that thereafter the ritual of the Irish Church should conform to that of England and Rome. Most of the Irish kings were allowed to keep their thrones, on condition of feudal fealty and annual tribute to the king of England.

Henry had accomplished his purpose with economy and skill, but he erred in thinking that the forces which he left behind him could sustain order and peace. His appointees fought one another for the spoils, and their aides and troops plundered the country with a minimum of restraint. The conquerors did their best to reduce the Irish to serfdom. The Irish resisted with guerrilla warfare, and the result was a century of turmoil and destruction. In 1315 some Irish chieftains offered Ireland to Scotland, where Robert Bruce had just defeated the English at Bannockburn. Robert’s brother Edward landed in Ireland with 6000 men; Pope John XXII pronounced excommunication upon all who should aid the Scots; but nearly all Irishmen rose at Edward’s call, and in 1316 they crowned him King. Two years later he was defeated and slain near Dundalk, and the revolt collapsed in poverty and despair.

The Scots, said Ranulf Higden, a fourteenth-century Briton, “be light of heart, strong and wild enough; but by mixing with Englishmen, they be much amended. They be cruel upon their enemies, and hate bondage most of anything, and hold it foul sloth if any man dieth in bed, and great worship if he die in the field.”53

Ireland remained Irish but lost its liberty; Scotland became British, but remained free. Angles, Saxons, and Normans multiplied in the lowlands, and reorganized agricultural life on a feudal plan. Malcolm III (1058–93) was a warrior who repeatedly invaded England; but his Queen Margaret was an Anglo-Saxon princess who, converted the Scottish court to the English language, brought in English-speaking clergy, and reared her sons in English ways. The last and strongest of them, David I (1124–53), made the Church his chosen instrument of rule, founded English-speaking monasteries at Kelso, Dryburgh, Melrose, and Holyrood, levied tithes (for the first time in Scotland) for the support of the Church, and gave so lavishly to bishops and abbots that people mistook him for a saint. Under David I Scotland, in all but its highlands, became an English state.54

But it was not the less independent. The English immigrants were transformed into patriotic Scots; from their number came the Stuarts and the Bruces. David I invaded and captured Northumberland; Malcolm IV (1153–65) lost it; William the Lion (1165–1214), trying to regain it, was taken prisoner by Henry II, and was freed only on pledging homage to the king of England for the Scottish crown (1174). Fifteen years later he bought release from this pledge by helping to finance Richard I in the Third Crusade, but the English kings continued to claim feudal suzerainty over Scotland. Alexander III (1249–86) recovered the Hebrides from Norway, maintained friendly relations with England, and gave Scotland a golden age of prosperity and peace.

At Alexander’s death Robert Bruce and John Balliol, descendants of David I, contested the succession. Edward I of England seized the opportunity; by his support Balliol was made King, but acknowledged the overlordship of England (1292). When, however, Edward ordered Balliol to raise troops to fight for England in France, the Scotch nobles and bishops rebelled, and bade Balliol make alliance with France against England (1295). Edward defeated the Scots at Dunbar (1296), received the submission of the aristocracy, dethroned Balliol, appointed three Englishmen to rule Scotland for him, and returned to England.

Many Scotch nobles owned land in England, and were thereby mortgaged to obedience. But the older Gaelic Scots strongly resented the surrender. One of them, Sir William Wallace, organized an “army of the commons of Scotland,” routed the English garrison, and for a year ruled Scotland as regent for Balliol. Edward returned, and defeated Wallace at Falkirk (1298). In 1305 he captured Wallace and had him disemboweled and quartered according to the English law of treason.

A year later another defender was forced into the field. Robert Bruce, grandson of the Bruce who had claimed the throne in 1286, quarreled with John Comyn, a leading representative of Edward I in Scotland, and killed him. Thereby committed to rebellion, Bruce had himself crowned King, though only a small group of nobles supported him, and the pope excommunicated him for his crime. Edward once more marched north, but died on the way (1307). Edward II’s incompetence was a blessing for Bruce; the nobles and clergy of Scotland rallied to the outlaw’s banner; his reinforced armies, bravely led by his brother Edward and Sir James Douglas, captured Edinburgh, invaded Northumberland, and seized Durham. In 1314 Edward II led into Scotland the largest army that the land had ever seen, and met the Scots at Bannockburn. Bruce had had his men dig and conceal pits before his position; many of the English, charging, fell into the morass, and the English army was almost totally destroyed. In 1328 the regents for Edward III, involved in war with France, signed the Treaty of Northampton, making Scotland once more free.

Meanwhile a like struggle had come to other issue in Wales. William I claimed suzerainty over it as part of the realm of the defeated Harold. He had no time to add it to his conquests, but he set up three earldoms on its eastern frontier, and encouraged their lords to expand them into Wales. South Wales was meanwhile overrun by Norman buccaneers, who left the prefix Fitz (fils, son) on some Welsh names. In 1094 Cadwgan ap Bledyn subdued these Normans; in 1165 the Welsh defeated the English at Corwen; and Henry II, busy with Becket, acknowledged the independence of South Wales under its enlightened King Rhys ap Gruffydd (1171). Llywelyn the Great, by his ability in both war and statesmanship, extended his rule over nearly all the country. His sons quarreled and disordered the land, but his grandson Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (d. 1282) restored unity, made peace with Henry III, and created for himself the title of Prince of Wales. Edward I, intent on uniting Wales and Scotland with England, invaded Wales with an immense army and fleet (1282); Llywelyn died in a chance encounter with a small border force; his brother David was captured by Edward, and his severed head, with Llywelyn’s, was suspended from the Tower of London and left to bleach in the sun, wind, and rain. Wales was made a part of England (1284), and Edward in 1301 gave the title of Prince of Wales to the heir to the English throne.

Through these exaltations and depressions the Welsh kept their own language and their old customs, tilled their rough soil with obstinate courage, and solaced their days and nights with legend, poetry, music, and song. Their bards now gave form to the tales of the Mabinogion, enriching literature with a mystic melodious tenderness uniquely Welsh. Annually the bards and minstrels assembled in a national eisteddfod (from eistedd, to sit), which can be traced back to 1176; contests were held in oratory, poetry, singing, and the playing of musical instruments. The Welsh could fight bravely, but not long; they were soon eager to return and protect at first hand their women, children, and homes; and one of their proverbs wished that “every ray of the sun were a poniard to pierce the friends of war.”55

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