Norman Conquest

The struggle between internal dynasties within Ireland led to the political conditions in which King Henry II intervened and exercised his claim to a feudal Lordship.  The King of Leinster exiled in 1166 and his direct appeal to Henry II for help, led to the royal licensing of an expeditionary force from Wales and the arrival of Henry II with a great army in 1171.  The Irish kings and prelates submitted and invading feudal lords followed.

The Treaty of Windsor in 1175, so-called, was concluded between King Henry the II and the high king of Ireland, establishing a new relationship between the feudal monarchy and the Irish kingship. Henry II became Lord of Ireland by conquest, treaty and by papal grant, granted by Adrian IV referred to as the Papal Bull ‘Laudabiliter.’

Constitutional Status of Ireland

The mediaeval Lordship of Ireland was attached to the English crown and covered the whole island.  When King John became king in 1200 the Lordship of Ireland was united with the crown. This constitutional position pertained from the Norman invasion up to 1541 when Ireland became a kingdom.

In practice, the actual degree of control on the part of the Crown in this period diverged from this formal legal position.  Ireland is under the control through most of this period of different Irish and Anglo-Irish magnates and their families.

Two languages were spoken in the Lordship, Irish and English. Norman French was used to some extent as the language of government but was already in decline. The Irish and English groups lived mainly apart.  By the end of this period, many of the Norman settlers had become assimilated to Irish culture outside of the Pale area.

The Justiciar

From early times the chief governors were Norman-Irish magnates. By the later part of the 14th century, it became customary to appoint the chief governor for a term of years and not just during the crown’s pleasure.  The chief justice would be either lieutenants or Justiciars and had powers to appoint deputies in their absence.

By the beginning of the 13th century, King John authorised his justiciar in Ireland to issue the important writs. A Kings Council was held in Dublin in 1210, which the magnate of the Lordship and native rulers submitted and swore allegiance to English law. A charter issued,  referred to as King John’s charter.  The great charter Magna Carta issued in 1215 and sent to Ireland in 1217.

In the 13th and 14th century, Justiciars had normally remained in Ireland unless summoned to England. Later, many 15th century lieutenants were English magnates who  remained in England and largely governed through deputies who are usually Anglo-Irish magnates. At the beginning of the 15th century the Earl of Ormond was appointed deputy governor  and shortly thereafter his successor as 4th Earl was appointed deputy governor.

Irish Council

The chief governor was assisted by a council composed of barons.  During the 13th century, the Justiciars’ council developed being the king’s council in Ireland.  It became an official body. The council with chief governor as its president supervised day to day business of government comprised magnates and predominantly officials who carried out business.

By the end of the 14th century, the chief justice, chief baron of the exchequer, chancellor, treasurer and other judges and other officials were members of the council by right of office.

It appears to have been a matter for the chief governor’s discretion as to who should be summoned to a particular meeting to deal with a particular matter.  Very occasionally the whole council was required.  From time to time the official council was reinforced by magnates that they would not usually be involved in official business.

The chief justice and council were subject to the overriding control of the King.  Reports in writing were sent to the King through emissaries.  The Justiciars were summoned to England from time to time to certify the state of Ireland.

On some occasions, the chief governor might appoint a deputy to deal with specific matters.  In some cases, the deputies were appointed for specific districts particularly in times of war and breakdown of order. The deputy appointed many offices in some cases with the advice of others.

In 1232, the English Chancellor was conferred with the title “Chancellor of Ireland” and the Irish Chancellery was presided over by a deputy chancellor.  In 1244, an Irish chancellor was appointed.  The chancellor was principally in the administration and ranked  behind the treasurer.


The chief governor / lord lieutenant summoned parliaments and council.  One of the  principal functions of parliament was to raise money. Without the free consent of commons in parliament, levies, subsidies and measures were not accepted as lawful.

Parliaments were held at various locations.  They were not in any sense the formal modern parliament of later times. They were effectively assemblies of representatives of  the commons giving their consent to taxation levies. It was accepted that the consent of the representative bound their community.

The summons of the commons involved the Seneschal of the liberty, mayor and bailiffs of the town who  caused sufficient men  of the community to be elected to attend parliament.  They were generally  for their reasonable expenses.  They had power to treat and advise and do what was required in parliament.  They eventually had the full delegated powers of their electors.

The summons of parliament effectively required the members to come with authority to bind their communities. Very few writs of parliamentary summons survived. There is very little information on writs, returns, elections, expenses and so on


Legislation was extended to Ireland by the authority of the King.  It would not necessarily require confirmation by an  Irish parliament.  The Irish parliament protested from time to time that they should not be bound by statutes made by parliaments in which they were not represented.

The major new statutes of the 13th century were applied to Ireland and the traditional common laws were reiterated to the writ system. In the 13th Century, the basis of the application of English statutes in Ireland was contested.  One view was that English legislation applied in Ireland in automatically principle.  Only one native major piece of legislation, Statute of Merchants 1285 expressly applied to Ireland.   The major statutes appear to have applied directly by simply being giving to the justiciar for implementation and enforcement.



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