II. The Northmen and Normans in England and Ireland

[Rambler, May and July 1859.]

§ 1.

{255} THE collection, under the author's revision, in one handsome volume, of the sermons, lectures, and speeches, delivered by the Cardinal Archbishop in the course of his late tour in Ireland, accompanied as it is with a connecting and illustrative narrative, is one of the most remarkable publications which has for some time issued from the press. It is the record of a visit which has a double claim upon our attention, both in its relation to the generous people who acted the part of hosts upon the occasion, and the distinguished personage who presented himself as their guest.

The facts of the case are these: the Cardinal, complying with the invitation of an Irish Prelate, who requested his presence at the opening of a new church, went at the appointed time, without expectation of any call upon him for more than such ordinary exertion of mind and body as the ostensible purpose involved; but, to his great astonishment, he found that his coming had struck a chord in the heart of a Catholic people, whose ecclesiastical sentiments are the more keen and delicate, because they are seldom brought into play. A Cardinal of Holy Church was to them the representative of the Vicar of Christ, and nothing else; his coming was all but the advent of the Holy Father; and he {256} suddenly found that he must respond, mostly out of his own extemporized resources, to the enthusiastic feelings and the acts of homage of the millions who were welcoming him. But he was equal to the occasion: meeting the run made upon him with a spirit and fertility of thought, which no other public man in England could have displayed. He was carried about, at the will of others, from one part of the island to another; he found himself surrounded in turn by high and low, educated and illiterate; by boys at school, or by the youth of towns; by religious communities, or by official and dignified persons. He was called to address each class or description of men in matter and manner suitable to its own standard of taste and thought; he had to appear in pulpits, in lecture-rooms, at dinner-tables, on railroad-stations, and always to say something new, apposite, and effective. How he met these unexpected and multifarious calls on him, the volume, to which we have referred, is, we repeat, the record; and, though nothing else remained of Cardinal Wiseman for the admiration of posterity, of the many things which he has spoken and written, there is enough here to justify the estimation in which his contemporaries have held the talents and the attainments of the first Archbishop of Westminster.

Insufficient record it certainly would be, after all, of the actual resources of one who can speak with readiness and point in half-a-dozen languages, without being detected at once for a foreigner in any of them; and who, at ten minutes' warning, can address a congregation from a French pulpit, or the select audience of an Italian Academy. Insufficient also for another reason, because it might be objected that the enthusiasm of a multitude is catching, and that, when a visitor is the {257} stimulating cause of such transports and the object of such open-hearted greeting, on the part of a vast population, his whole heart responds to the call made upon its affections, and his intellect, as if spontaneously grateful, expands and revels in the enjoyment of those festive scenes and high celebrations by which it is successively solicited.


It is not every guest who is invested with such pleasant associations, and elicits such joyous emotions in the Irish mind. It is not every stranger who is able to bask in the reverberation of those beams of light, which his own presence sheds over the Irish landscape. There is a visitor who rouses memories as dark, as the look and voice of a Cardinal are inspiring and consolatory. That visitor is the Saxon; and, if the Saxon happens to be a Catholic, he has in consequence a trial to sustain of his own, of which the continental tourist has no experience from Austrian police, or Russian douane, or Turkish quarantine. He has turned his eyes to a country bound to him by the ties of a common faith; and, when he lands at Cork or Kingstown, he breathes more freely from the thought that he has left a Protestant people behind him and is among his co-religionists. He has but this one imagination before his mind, that he is in the midst of those who will not despise him for his faith's sake, who name the same sacred names, and utter the same prayers, and use the same devotions, as he does himself; whose churches are the houses of his God, and whose numerous clergy are the physicians of his soul. He penetrates into the heart of the country; and he recognises an innocence in the young face, and a piety {258} and patience in the aged voice, which strikingly and sadly contrast with the habits of his own rural population. Scattered over these masses of peasantry, and peasants themselves, he hears of a number of lay persons who have dedicated themselves to a religious celibate, and who, by their superior knowledge as well as sanctity, are the natural and ready guides of their humble brethren. He finds the population as munificent as it is pious, and doing greater works for God out of their poverty, than the rich and noble elsewhere accomplish in their abundance. He finds them characterised by a love of kindred so tender and faithful, as to lead them, on their compulsory expatriation, to send back from their first earnings in another hemisphere incredible sums, with the purpose of bringing over to it those dear ones whom they have left in the old country. And he finds himself received with that warmth of hospitality which ever has been Ireland's boast; and, as far as he is personally concerned, his blood is forgotten in his baptism. How shall he not, under such circumstances, exult in his new friends, and feel words deficient to express both his deep reverence for their virtues, and his strong sympathy in their heavy trials?

But, alas, feelings which are so just and so natural in themselves, which are so congruous in the breast of Frenchman or Italian, are impertinent in him. He does not at first recollect, as he ought to recollect, that he comes among the Irish people as the representative of persons, and actions, and catastrophes, which it is not pleasant to any one to think about; that he is responsible for the deeds of his forefathers, and of his contemporary Parliaments and Executive; that he is one of a strong, unscrupulous, tyrannous race, standing upon {259} the soil of the injured. He does not bear in mind that it is as easy to forget injuring, as it is difficult to forget being injured. He does not admit, even in his imagination, the judgment and the sentence which the past history of Erin sternly pronounces upon him. He has to be recalled to himself, and to be taught by what he hears around him, that an Englishman has no right to open his heart, and indulge his honest affection towards the Irish race, as if nothing had happened between him and them. The voices, so full of blessings for their Maker and their own kindred, adopt a very different strain and cadence when the name of England is mentioned; and, even when he is most warmly and generously received by those whom he falls in with, he will be repudiated by those who are at a distance. Natural amiableness, religious principle, education, reading, knowledge of the world, and the charities of civilization, repress or eradicate these bitter feelings in the class in which he finds his friends; but, as to the population, one sentiment of hatred against the oppressor "manet altâ mente repôstum." The wrongs which England has inflicted are faithfully remembered; her services are viewed with incredulity or resentment; her name and fellowship are abominated; the news of her prosperity heard with disgust; the anticipation of her possible reverses nursed and cherished as the best of consolations. The success of France and Russia over her armies, of Yankee or Hindoo, is fervently desired, as the first instalment of a debt accumulated through seven centuries; and that, even though those armies are in so large a proportion recruited from the Irish soil. If he ventures at least to ask for prayers for England, he receives one answer—a prayer that she may receive her due. It is as if the air rang with the old Jewish words, "O {260} daughter of Babylon, blessed shall he be who shall repay thee as thou hast paid to us!"

And, sad to say, he feels that he is not the person to complain. What a writer in the Atlantis remarks of the behaviour of the English towards Joan of Arc, applies too truly to the case of others also who have resisted them and fallen into their hands. It was that vć victis, which they lately wreaked upon the natives of India; it was that passionate indignation at insurgent feebleness, which has made them in past times so cruel and unjust to the Irish. "From the moment of her capture," says the writer in question, "the English set their hearts upon obtaining possession of her. That deep pride of character, which was, perhaps, a large element in their success, had its darker expressions. It rendered them intolerant of the slightest defeat or check, and engendered towards any enemy who might inflict it upon them, a hatred stopping short at no calumny and no cruelty. Their hatred of Joan was something wholly indescribable, and from the beginning they had spread the most abominable slanders concerning her. In their proceedings, two circumstances curiously characteristic of the nation appear: first their accomplishing their purpose under the colour and in form of strict law; and secondly, their using as their instruments natives of the country whose subjugation they sought." [Note 1]


It is remarkable, that the Holy See, to whose initiative the union of the two countries is historically traceable, is in no respect made chargeable by the Irish people with the evils which have resulted to them {261} from it. And the fact itself is remarkable, that the Holy See really should be responsible for that initiative. There are other nations in the world illmatched, besides the English and Irish; there are other instances of the rule of strangers, and of the compulsory submission of the governed; but the Pope cannot be called to account for such political arrangements. The Pope did not give Greece to the Sublime Porte, or Warsaw to Russia, or Venice to Austria, or Belgium to Holland, or Norway to Sweden, or the cities of the Rhine to Prussia, or the Septinsular Republic to England; but, even had he done so, still in some of these instances he would have but united together members of one race—German to German, Fleming to Fleming, Slave to Slave. But it is certainly most remarkable that a power so authoritative, even when not divine, so sagacious even when not supernatural; whose acts are so literally the personal acts of the Pontiff who represents it for the time being, yet of such solemn force and such tremendous permanence; which, by appealing to its present prerogatives, involves itself in its past decisions; which "openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth and no man openeth,"—it does, we say, require some explanation, how an oracle so high and irrefragable should have given its religious sanction to a union apparently so unblest, and which at the end of seven centuries is as devoid of moral basis, or of effective accomplishment, as it was at the commencement. When German and Italian, Turk and Greek, shall be contented with each other; when "the lion and the sheep shall abide together;" and "the calf and the bear shall feed,"—then, it may be argued, will there be a good understanding between two nations so contradictory the one of the other—the one an old immemorial race, the other the composite of a hundred {262} stocks; the one possessed of an antique civilization, the other civilized by Christianity; the one glorying in its schools and its philosophy, the other in its works and institutions; the one subtle, acute, speculative, the other wise, patient, energetic; the one admiring and requiring the strong arm of despotic rule, the other spontaneously developing itself in methods of self-government and of individual competition. And yet, not once or twice only has the Holy See recognised in Ireland a territory of the English Crown. Adrian IV., indeed, the first Pope who countenanced the invasion of Henry II., was an Englishman; but not on his bull did Henry rely for the justification of his proceedings. He did not publish it in Ireland till he had received a confirmatory brief from Alexander III. Nor was Alexander the only Pope who distinctly recognised it; John XXII., a hundred and sixty years afterwards, refers to it in his brief addressed to Edward II. [Note 2]

Such have been the dealings of the Holy See in times past with Ireland; yet it has not thereby roused against itself any resentful feelings in the mind of its natives. Doubtless their good sense understands well, that, whatever be decided about the expedience of the act of annexation itself, its serious evils did not begin till the English monarchy was false to the Pope as well as to Ireland. Up to that date the settlers in the conquered soil became so attached and united to it and to its people, that, according to the proverb, they were Hibernis hiberniores. It is Protestantism which has been the tyrannical oppressor of the Irish; and we suppose that Protestantism neither asked nor needed letters apostolic or consecrated banner to encourage it in the war which it waged against Irish Catholicism. Neither Cromwell nor William of {263} Nassau waited for the Pope's leave, or sought his blessing, in his military operations against Ireland, any more than Queen Victoria appeals to the Pope's grant for her title of Defender of the Faith, though from the Pope it was originally derived. The Tudor, not the Plantagenet, introduced the iron age of Ireland.

We are led, by the course of thought into which we have fallen, to attempt to investigate the policy of the Holy See in the twelfth century, in annexing Ireland to the English crown; and, in order to keep our eyes in the right direction in doing so, there are two points which it is necessary that we should steadily bear in mind:—the one is, that we ought to have at least some general notion of what really is the object of a spiritual power in political transactions of any kind; and the other, that we ought to be careful to distinguish between the simple object, which in a given case such a power may set before itself, and the circumstances under which that object is actually carried out,—circumstances which grievous though they be in themselves and contrary to its intention, it may, after all, think very light nevertheless in comparison of the importance and the solid advantages of the object itself. Thus, for instance, as regards England, the tyranny of the Conqueror might involve the English nation in terrible sufferings; and yet the Holy See, in its calm wisdom, might deliberately take upon itself the responsibility, not of William's gratuitous tyranny, which it abhorred, but of his conquest notwithstanding, considering the vast spiritual benefits to the English which that conquest reasonably promised. Thus the object which the Holy See pursued in this case would be a religious one, and the circumstantial evils in which it had no real part were temporal. {264}

The last sentence will suggest the point of view from which we mean to consider the question before us, and the sort of answer which we shall give to it. We say then, first, that the providential position and antecedents of England and Ireland respectively, whether ecclesiastical or civil, had been so parallel, as to constitute a sort of apology for the conduct of the Roman Pontiff, should he be found to have pursued the same line of policy towards the two islands: and secondly, that, in matter of fact, the policy which he pursued towards Ireland at the date in question, and which seems at first sight so unfair, is precisely that which he had adopted towards England a century earlier, except that its concomitants in the case of England were far more penal, in severity at least, if not in duration. In other words, looking at the course of events as a whole, we see that, in spite of the striking contrast in national characteristics which exists between the English and the Irish, in spite of their mutual jealousies and repulsions, in spite of the injuries which the one people has inflicted, and the other, according to its opportunities, has retaliated,—nevertheless their relation towards the rest of the world, and their circumstances, through the greater part of their Christian period, have been one and the same; one and the same in their geographical, ecclesiastical, and political aspect, one and the same in their conversion, in their missionary labours, in their sufferings from northern pirates and Norman knights, in their religious molestation from the Welsh Tudors, and even now in their colonization of the whole earth external to the continent of Europe. They have seemed to the Pope as one, and as one he has treated them.


In entering upon this historical parallel, we have no {265} need to do more than refer to its earlier points; they are so well known, and have been so often enlarged on. We are all familiar with the circumstances of the admission of the two people into the Christian fold, their first fervour, and their opportune custody of sacred and secular knowledge. Rome was the missionary centre, from which each of them in turn received the revealed doctrine; from Rome Patrick first, and then Augustine, received both their mission and their tradition; and the grace and merits of those two apostles so wrought in the countries which they respectively converted, that those countries became rivals of each other in sanctity, learning and zealous works. The Irish saints are said to be more than can be counted; the English are remarkable for being clustered into families, and those of royal lineage. More than eighty princes are considered to have a place in the glorious catalogue of England, and above thirty rulers gave up their temporal power for pilgrimage or the cloister. We should not give utterance to so familiar a tale except for its bearing upon our main point,—that countries which resembled each other in such great points, were likely to be associated together by foreigners as one in their ecclesiastical, nay in their secular and political destinies. They were called "the Islands of the Saints;" and sanctity implies unity. The Pope could wish for nothing better than that what was thus bound together in heaven should be bound on earth also.

There were other striking points of a like character in two countries, which would forcibly affect the imagination of the Continent. They had been both the refuge of Christianity, for a time almost exterminated in Christendom, and the centres of its propagation in countries still heathen. Secluded from the rest of Europe by the stormy waters in which they lay, they were converted {266} just in time to be put in charge with the sacred treasures of Revelation and of the learning of the old world, in that dreary time which intervened between Gregory and Charlemagne. They formed schools, collected libraries, and supplied the Continent with preachers and teachers. While the English Boniface and his followers formed churches in Germany and towards the north, under the immediate sanction of the Holy See, the Irish Columbanus, the representative of an earlier age, became the rival of St. Benedict in France and Lombardy.

All human matters tend to decay and dissolution: it was not to be supposed that what these two islands did for a season, they would do for ever. The time came when their special mission ended. In the first two centuries of English Christianity we may reckon up one hundred and fifty saints; then they fall off. In the ninth century a superficial survey of history will furnish us with sixteen; in the tenth with eight; in the eleventh with ten. As to Ireland, a vision is said to have been granted to St. Patrick, in which he first saw the whole of Ireland brilliantly lit up; then the mountains only; then only a few lamps twinkling in the valleys. The same decline of sanctity is intimated in the account of this vision given in Ussher's ancient catalogue. "The first order of saints is sanctissimus, the next sanctior, the third sanctus. The first flames as the sun, the second as the moon, the third as the stars." [Note 3] A darkness was then to follow. Here we are led on to a further point in the historical parallel which the two Islands furnish. The darkness was not simply the inward decay of sanctity, which had already showed itself; it was the in-rushing of troubles from without;—or if a further decay, it was the decay which follows upon temporal tumult and disorder. {267} Most necessary and pertinent is the prayer, Da pacem in diebus nostris; for war is the destruction of religion,—first by cutting off the saints by the sword, secondly by hindering the opportunities of their reproduction. Such was the visitation coming on England and Ireland; it was the dark presence of the pirates of the North.

There was a fitness in the course of things, that the two people, who had rejoiced in one prosperity, should drink together the same cup of suffering: Amabiles et decori in vitâ suâ, in morte non divisi. They made what may be called their will at about the same date, and bequeathed their special schools, religious and secular, and professors to conduct them, to Charlemagne and the University of Paris. Hardly had they done so, when the countrymen of Ragnar Lodbrog appeared off their coasts. Alcuin went to Paris in A.D. 782; and the Northmen first landed in England in 787, and first landed in Ireland in 797.


Hitherto the barbarian inroads had been but the migration of restless populations from the East to the West. Across the table-lands of Asia, or the vast plains of Europe, the mighty host moved on, with the speed of horsemen, or the slow pace of flocks and herds, or with temporary halts or long settlements here or there, as the case might be, according to their own pleasure, or compulsion of an enemy in their rear. Before them the land was open and presented no obstacle, and they had only to move in order to go forward. The distant Atlantic was the only term of their wanderings and of their conquests. Thus the two islands of the West were safe from this invasion, which lasted for centuries. It was {268} otherwise with the fierce northern tribes, who afterwards appear upon the scene of history. What the horse was to the Hun, such was the light bark to the Norwegian or Dane [Note 4]. If the Hun was never on foot, the Northman never needed land. The sea, instead of being a barrier, was the very element and condition of his victories, and it carried him upon its bosom up and down with an ease and expedition which even in an open plain country was impracticable.

We must enlarge on these Northmen, from the course which their history takes in the sequel. Their chiefs, then, called the sea-kings, were the younger sons of the petty princes of Scandinavia, sent out to seek their fortunes and to win glory upon the wide ocean, with the outfit of a vessel and its equipments [Note 5]. They ravaged far and wide at will, and no retaliation on them was possible; for these pirates, unlike their more civilized brethren of Algiers or of Greece, had not a yard of territory, a town, or a fort, no property besides their vessels, no subjects but their crews. They were not allowed either to inherit or transmit the booty which these piratical expeditions collected. Such personal possessions, even to the gold and silver, were buried with the plunderer. Never to sleep under a smoke-burnished roof, never to fill the cup over the cheerful hearth, was their boast and their principle. If they drank, it was not for indulgence or for good company; but, by a degrading extravagance, to rival the beasts of prey and blood in their wild brutality. Their berserkirs, half madmen, half magicians, studied to imitate dogs, or wolves, or bears, in their methods of attack, tearing off their clothes, howling, gnawing their armour, till they collapsed from the violence of their preternatural ferocity. {269}

Though the sea was their element, they were equally prepared to avail themselves of the land, and equally at home upon it. They seemed to have a ubiquitous presence. As the lightning, the hurricane, or the plague sweeps through its inevitable circuit, or hurries along its capricious zigzag path, so these marauders were at one time lurking in the deep creek, and darting out upon the unsuspecting voyager, at another hurrying along the coast, making their sudden descent and as suddenly re-embarking; and at another, landing, leaving their vessels, and running up the country. They had come and gone, and done their terrible work, before they could be encountered. Now they were on the German Sea, now in the Bay of Biscay, now in the Mediterranean. They were at Rouen, at Amiens, at Paris, on the Loire, in Burgundy [Note 6]. They were in Brittany, in Aquitaine, at Bordeaux. They landed on the coast near Cadiz, and faced the Moorish monarch in three battles. Then, again, they were in Holland, on Walcheren, at Cambray, at Hainault, at Louvain, and other parts of Belgium. They set fire to the villages and to the crops; they massacred the peasantry; they crucified, they impaled; they spitted infants on their lances; cruelty was one of the glories of their warfare.

But England and Ireland, as first meeting them in their descent to the south, bore the brunt of their fury. The two islands could not escape the common lot; ruin had overtaken the Continent in the earlier centuries, and now their turn was come. It is scarcely necessary to trace out the particulars of that awful visitation, under which two nations, who had been rivals in saintly memories, became rivals also in the depth of a spiritual degradation; a degradation which made them reckless {270} and desperate, and ungrateful to the record of God's past mercies and their fathers' noble deeds. England for two hundred and fifty years, and Ireland for an additional hundred, were the prey, the victims, the bond-slaves of these savage Northmen. What happened to one country, happened on the whole to the other; and what we have already said of their foe in his descent upon other countries, might enable us to compose a history of his dealings with these, though no chronicle remain to tell it. The Northman pillaged the great monastery of Banchor, and slaughtered or scattered its inmates; he burned Armagh and its Cathedral; he burned Ferns, and Kildare, with its famous church; he sacked Cork; he wasted the whole of Connaught. He cast his anchors in the Boyne and Liffey, and then spread his devastations inland over the plains through which those rivers flow, plundering churches, monasteries, villages, and carrying off the flocks and herds as booty. In the long course of years no part of the island escaped; bishops were put to death, sacred vessels profaned and carried off, libraries destroyed. When at length the miserable population submitted from mere exhaustion, and when war seemed at an end, for resistance was impossible, and provisions were consumed, then the invading tribes quarrelled with each other, and a new course of conflicts and devastations followed.

As to England, who does not know the terrible epic, so it may be called, of the eighth and ninth centuries? How Ragnar Lodbrog, in opposition to his wife Aslauga's counsel, built two large ships in his pride, which were useless in the hour of defeat, when swiftness of flight was as necessary to him as vigour in attack; and how these clumsy vessels were wrecked on the Northumbrian {271} coast, and Ragnar taken prisoner; and lastly, how the barbarous Ella, the prince of the district, doomed his fallen enemy to die in prison by the stings of venomous snakes? His Quida, or death-song, as he was supposed to sing it in his dungeon, is preserved [Note 7], and traces out the history of those savage exploits which were his sole comfort when he was giving up his soul to his Maker. Fifty-one times, as he recounts, had he rallied his people around his uplifted lance; and he died in the joyful thought that his sons would avenge him. He was not wrong in that belief. Alfred was a youth of nineteen in his brother's court, when the news came that eight kings and twenty earls, all relations or friends of Ragnar, headed by three of his sons, of whom the cruel Ingwar and Hubba were two, had landed on the east coast. They moved to York, gained possession of Ella, split him into the form of a spread eagle, and rubbed salt into his wounds. Next they got possession of Nottingham. Then they were back again into Lincolnshire, desolating and destroying the whole face of the country. They burned the famous abbeys Bardeney and Croyland, and tortured and murdered the monks. Then they went to Peterborough and to Ely, where the nuns, according to the well-known history, mutilated their faces to preserve their honour. Then they fought, defeated, captured, tortured, and martyred St. Edmund. Next they got possession of Reading. We mention these familiar facts not for their own sake, but to illustrate that fearful celerity and almost caprice of locomotion, with which they rushed to and fro about the country. At Reading they were met by Alfred, who shortly after succeeded to the throne of Wessex, and who in the first year of his royal power fought eight pitched battles with {272} them. Such is our introduction to the romantic history of that celebrated king.


Let not the reader suppose that we are referring to this history for its own sake, forgetful of the argument which we are pursuing. We have now arrived at a fresh point in the parallelism which exists in the fortunes of the two islands; for strange to say, Ireland had its Alfred also,—that is, its champion of its own people against the Northmen, as brave and as wise, as successful in his own time, as unsuccessful in the ultimate result. This was the great king of Munster, Brian Boroimhe.

Alfred crowded the exploits of his life in the short space of fifty-one years. He is known in history from his boyhood, when he was sent to Rome; and he succeeded to his brother's throne and to the conduct of the Northmen war at the age of twenty-two. Brian too succeeded to his brother in the government of Munster; but he was not elevated to the royal prerogatives of king of Ireland till he was in his seventy-sixth year. Maelseachlainn, or Malachi, in whose line the royal power was hereditary, had in the former time of his life defeated the Northmen in three great battles, in one of which he had taken from their chief's neck the famous collar of gold, which is said still to be preserved in Dublin; but the time came when he seemed to have lost the energy which he once displayed, and to be unequal to the emergency. At length he was forced to surrender his sovereignty to Brian, and Brian was installed in his place at Tara; and now, at the advanced age which we have mentioned, Brian's historical existence begins.

Brian was the choice of the great men of the country, but he got possession of the royal power by his own act; {273} and his mode of substituting himself for Malachi was characterized by a picturesque chivalrousness which reminds us of the era of the Crusades. He came up against the king with a large force, to compel his resignation. Nothing was left to the weaker but to submit, and Malachi came to his rival's camp for the purpose. Brian received him with all courtesy, condoled with him on the fickleness of his friends, declined to accept his resignation at once, and gave him a year to recover his broken fortunes. He accompanied this respite with the present of two hundred and forty fine horses, though not in that spirit of mockery which accompanied a like offer made of old by an Assyrian monarch to a Jewish king, and with other presents of great value to the king's attendants. At the end of the year Malachi quietly gave in.

Brian was not possessed of the literary attainments and general cultivation of mind which were so conspicuous in Alfred; but he equalled him in his patriotism, in his patronage of letters, and in his devotion. As soon as he was king, he confirmed the chieftains in their ancient privileges, and attached them to him by presents. He revised the genealogies of families and distributed them into houses, and regulated the precedence of the nobility. He reformed the laws, and enforced their observance; and we have the pleasing and well known legend, in illustration of the peaceful condition of the country, that in his days a young and beautiful lady, arrayed in the most costly apparel, with all her jewels on, and a wand in her hand surmounted by a precious ring, traversed the island from sea to sea without attendant and without mischance. As to the pirates of the North, he took the best means of preventing their inroads by building a fleet. He erected forts in various parts of the country. {274} He repaired the high roads, and cast bridges over the rivers. Nor was religion a secondary concern with him. He addressed himself to the rebuilding of churches and monasteries, which had been destroyed; he restored the public schools, and multiplied them; he did his best to collect new libraries. Such was the energy of this wonderful old man.

These were the great works of twelve years; and at length the time came, though long delayed, when he was to end a glorious reign with a more glorious death, as a sort of victim for the people he had so largely benefited. In the great battle of Clontarf, fought in 1014, he engaged the united forces of Scandinavians and Scots, Britons from Wales and Cornwall, Danes settled in the country, and insurgents of Leinster. The day of battle was Good Friday, which in that year fell as late as St. George's Day, April 23rd. With the crucifix in his left hand, and the sword in his right, he rode with his son and heir Morogh through the ranks of his army, exhorting them gladly to shed their blood for the Church, as the Lord of the Church had shed His precious blood for them. He gained the victory with the slaughter of 16,000 of the enemy; but it was at the price of his own and of his son's life. He was slain in his eighty-eighth year, and his son in his sixty-third. An historian of the day says, he received his death-blow "manibus et mente ad Deum intentus." [Note 8] Morogh had time to make confession and receive the Viaticum [Note 9]. This was a hundred years and more after Alfred's death.

In spite of these two great monarchs, it is not to be supposed that centuries of civil disorder should not have had the most grievous results in the spiritual condition of both countries; nor need we feel any surprise, {275} considering the difficulty with which religion is built up, and the ease with which it is pulled down, if the Northmen could demolish, but the zeal of pious monarchs and the labours of saints could not restore. As to England, Englishmen freely confess it. The passage of Alfred is well known: "Very few are the clergy on this side the Humber who could understand their daily prayers in English, or translate any thing from the Latin. I think there were not many beyond the Humber. They were so few, that I cannot recollect one single instance on the south of the Thames, when I took the kingdom." In his reign, and the century which followed it, the absence of invaders, his own exertions, and the reforms of St. Dunstan, availed in a great measure to reverse this lamentable condition of things; but the evil had struck too deeply into the heart of the social fabric to admit of eradication. The last state of the nation became worse than the first. The tradition of piety seemed almost extinct; peace, instead of inspiring thankfulness and devotion, caused a reaction into open licence and neglect of religion. Then the Northmen came again; and the people was again consigned to the sensuality, the intellectual sloth, and the national impotence, from which Alfred had laboured to rescue it: "Many years before the Conquest," says William of Malmesbury, "both sacred and secular studies had come to an end. The clergy, content with a slovenly knowledge, scarcely managed to pronounce the formal words of the sacraments, and thought it a thing prodigious and miraculous if one of themselves knew grammar. The monks, by their delicate clothing, and their free use of whatever food came to them, made their rule a mockery. The nobles, given to gluttony and debauchery, instead of coming to Church of a morning, as Christians should, heard a hasty mass and matins, {276} if it could be called hearing, they and their wives, ere they had risen from their beds. The common people were the defenceless prey of the powerful. Unnatural as was such conduct, it was often the fact, that heads of families, after seducing the women of their household, either sold them to other men, or to houses of bad repute. Drinking was a common vice, and was continued day and night." [Note 10]

They are said to have learned drinking from the Danes [Note 11]. The most startling evidence of depravity was their selling their own children. They were exported to Ireland. Bristol seems to have been the slave-market, for it is one of the good deeds of St. Wolstan, shortly before the Conquest, that he was able, as the lesson for his Feast tells us, to "bring the citizens of Bristol to a better mind, who, in spite of king and Pope, had persisted in their nefarious practice of selling their own people into slavery."

It is remarkable that the Synod of Armagh, after Henry's invasion, touchingly confesses this sin of slave-dealing as having brought upon the Irish the yoke of foreigners, and decrees that all the English slaves throughout the country should be emancipated [Note 12]. That they were the purchasers, and the Anglo-Saxons the purchased, shows us that in the eleventh and twelfth centuries there were classes of society in Ireland higher in the grade of civilization than the whole English nation; for it is inconceivable that such a merchandise could be possible, unless all ranks were degraded, and the ruling power utterly feeble. Indeed, the purchase and possession of English slaves was eventually Henry's pretext for his expedition against the Irish. Nor, indeed, are we without proofs to convince us that, in spite {277} of the Northmen, Ireland had much of its ancient force of character, nay of learning and virtue, left among its people. The very aberrations of such men as Erigena are a proof at least of mental culture; for heresies do not commonly break out among the ignorant, and are often even united with strictness or severity of life. Still, after all due allowances on this head, we cannot follow M'Geoghegan and others in considering that Brian restored the state of things to what it had been before the Northmen came. He did not, could not do in Ireland, what Alfred failed to do in England:—this we shall now show.


The authors, then, in question point to the Saints who flourished between Brian and Henry II., to the learned Irishmen in foreign countries, to the Bishops who attended foreign synods, and to the monarchs who gave up the world for the cloister. Lanigan observes [Note 13] that "there were excellent Bishops in the country, such as Gelasius of Armagh, and Christian of Lismore; and that the Irish Church was not then in so degenerate a state as to require any foreign intervention." M'Geoghegan speaks at greater length, and observes that "it must be allowed that for nearly two centuries the Northern pirates had never ceased committing devastations on the island, pillaging and burning her churches and religious houses. The public schools were interrupted; ignorance spread its influence widely, and religion suffered much in its practice; without, however, becoming entirely extinct. After the complete overthrow of those barbarians, in 1014, in the battle of Clontarf, the inhabitants began to rebuild their churches and public schools, and to restore religion to its primitive splendour." [Note 14] {278} He adds, "From the battle of Clontarf to the reign of Henry II., about a century and a half elapsed, during which time all ranks were emulous in their endeavours to re-establish good order in the government and discipline in the churches."

Accordingly he refers to saintly prelates, such as St. Celsus, St. Malachi, St. Lawrence, St. Imar, Gilbert, Malchus, and others. Such, moreover, were Ernulph and Buo, who preached the gospel in Iceland. Doubtless these are names in which any country might reasonably glory; but are they sufficient to prove his point? for we have to go back to the previous question. Is a Christian country in a satisfactory religious condition simply because there are saints in it? The state of things at the same period on this side the Channel shall be our answer. We have been giving evidence above of the degraded state of the English population, from the coming of the Northmen down to the Conquest; yet it is quite notorious that no mean saints were found among them both before and after Alfred. Such are the glorious martyrs whom the Danes sent to heaven, Edmund, Humbert, and Elphege; such are the Bishops Ethelwold, Elphege, and Brinstan of Winchester, Odo and Dunstan of Canterbury, Oswald of York, and Wolstan of Worcester. Some of them too were missionaries, and that to the very tribes who were laying England waste,—a lesson to the ill-treated to return good for evil;—as St. Sigfrid, the apostle of Sweden. Then, again, there was the royal saint, St. Edward; and, on the other hand, St. Walstan [Note 15], a layman, who, without embracing the monastic state, gave away his patrimony at the age of twelve, and made himself a mere farm-servant in an obscure village for the love of God, fasting, praying, and working miracles, as {279} peaceful and serenely as if trouble and sin were not in the country. William of Malmesbury adds, at the end of the very passage which we have quoted above, in disparagement of the Anglo-Saxons, "I know many clerks at that time were walking in simplicity the path of sanctity; I know that many of the laity, of every kind and condition in that nation, were in God's favour; but, as in a time of peace His clemency doth cherish the bad with the good, so in the time of captivity His severity sometimes involves the good with the bad." [Note 16] Such was the case with England; it had saints in the midst of its degeneracy: and in like manner Ireland, though it had its saints, might still be degenerate in the very presence of its sanctity.

Still less is the flourishing state of the schools of Ireland an index of the intelligence, education, order, or religion, then existing in the mass of her people. The country indeed was still a great centre of learning; and under all circumstances this fact is very remarkable. Loss and suffering, disappointment and hopelessness, could not quench that activity of intellect and zeal for knowledge which had been the characteristic of her children from the earliest times. We read of schools at Kells, Kildare, Killaloe, and other places, especially at Armagh, which, even down to the time of the Conqueror, was frequented by British youths. Sulger, afterwards Bishop of St. David's, spent from ten to thirteen years in Ireland in the study of Holy Scripture, and a portion in Armagh even went by the name of the Saxon quarter. It is not the least striking circumstance in those dreary times, that, in an age when even kings and great men often could not read, professors in the Irish colleges were sometimes men of noble birth. St. Malachi's father, {280} though a member of a family of distinction, as St. Bernard tells us, was a celebrated professor at Armagh. History records the names of others similarly eminent, both by their descent and by their learning. It is impossible not to admire and venerate a race which displayed such inextinguishable love of science and letters; but at the same time, not even numerous instances of this noble trait of character in individuals are sufficient to prove any thing as to the point immediately before us, viz. the actual condition of the people in general, contemporaneous with them. There is in most countries a strongly marked line dividing the educated and illiterate classes, which not even the closest proximity tends to obliterate. Science is a sort of disciplina arcani, whether we will or no; and the presence of a learned man has no tendency whatever to make others learned with whom he is in habits of familiarity.

It is otherwise with sanctity; a saint will influence by his conversation, and preaches by his life: and yet even saints, as we have been showing, are no necessary guarantee of the sanctity of their people. Much less has a school, or college, or seminary, any power to communicate its own attainments or refinement to the neighbourhood in which it is placed. There is a story of a practical joke executed by a famous wit of Oxford some fifty years ago, on occasion of the visit of some foreign potentate to the University, which it may be allowed us perhaps to introduce here. When the great person changed horses at Benson, the stage before coming to Oxford, he found the landlord, waiters, ostlers, stable-boys, and postillions arrayed in the black gowns and cassocks, and red hoods and large bands, proper to doctors of divinity, and shouting one to another as they brought out the fresh horses and harnessed them to the travelling {281} carriages in classical Latin, in the style of the Heus Rogere, fer caballos, of the Wykehamist song. On his asking the meaning of this, he was gravely informed by one of the masquerading undergraduates, that the influence of the University penetrated the peasantry for ten miles on every side, and that no farm-labourer or hodman was to be found in that circuit who had not taken his degrees, and could not support a thesis against Bellarmine or Socinus. It was a ponderous pleasantry to act, but it is an apposite illustration to adduce in our present argument. A University does great things; but this is just one of the things it does not do; it does not intellectualize its neighbourhood. No Oxford scout, by serving a score of undergraduate masters, ever caught the trick of construing Horace, or reducing a Bramantip. And, in like manner, while we do not doubt that there were far more Irish than English scholars in the eleventh century, we cannot fairly deduce from that superiority that the country priests or peasants of Meath or Leinster had more knowledge of the canons or of the Decalogue than had the clergy and laity of Wessex.

And, in fact, there seems to have been little sympathy between the two classes in question. How came it to pass else, that during those centuries of confusion, so many Irish scholars, greges philosophorum, as they are called in the trite passage in Eric, crossed over to the Continent? Their convents and colleges, indeed, were in flames or in ruins; but their country remained. Why did they not betake themselves to the bosom, and share the hospitality and privations, of either rich or poor within the four seas of Ireland? Is it not the true solution of this phenomenon, that, as soon as they set foot beyond their own homestead, they came at once upon almost a foreign soil? We cannot refer it to any want {282} of patriotism or Christian charity in their own breasts, that St. Donatus or St. Andrew found a domicile in Italy in the ninth century, Mark and Marcellus in Switzerland, others who might be named in the West of England, and others in the calm monastic dwellings of Cologne or Ratisbon; but if these holy men were not, and could not be, indifferent to their countrymen, was not the state of the case really this, that their countrymen were indifferent to them?

And St. Bernard seems to answer our question in the affirmative. We are far indeed from taking to the letter all that he says of the Irish. We believe that, as in other passages of his history, his ardent temper carried him beyond the truth. We believe that the statements contained in his well-known Life of St. Malachi are exaggerations; still, it must not be forgotten that he was a personal friend of St. Malachi, who had visited him at Clairvaux on his way to and from Rome, whither he repaired expressly on the ecclesiastical affairs of Ireland. Now St. Bernard, who thus had his information at first hand, and from the most venerable authority, says, in his Life of him, "Our Malachi, born in Ireland, of a barbarous people, was there brought up, was there taught letters. However, from the barbarousness of his birthplace he contracted nothing, no more than the fish of the sea taste of their maternal salt. He who brought honey out of the rock, and oil out of the hard stone, it was He who did this." [Note 17] It must be recollected, that we are saying nothing of the Irish people which we do not in another respect impute to our own. Both nations had {283} lost their first fervour; they had not fallen away in the same direction, but neither of them was fitted any longer for the high mission which they had fulfilled in earlier and happier times. The declension was deplorable, and what was to be the end of it?


In one respect England had been the more favourably circumstanced of the two; but the ultimate result was the same. Alfred has been able to do for his country, what, from the circumstances of the case, was impossible to Brian. Brian was not in the line of the old kings of Ireland. He was but the representative of a Munster dynasty which had been successfully insurgent against them; and he was unable to secure the throne for his descendants. One thing he could do, and did: he so effectually destroyed the prestige and power of the old monarchy, that though Malachi regained his former dignity, still, on his death, for many years there was no king of all Ireland at all. It follows, that though Brian delivered his country from her external foe, he actually threw her back as regards the prospect of internal consolidation. This great misfortune Lanigan remarks upon. "The anciently established system of succession to the throne of the whole kingdom," he says, "was overturned; and there remained no paramount power authorized to control the provincial kings or minor chieftains. The Irish," he continues, "were during a great part of the eleventh century engaged here and there in wars among themselves; and we find now and then one or other party of them assisted by the Danes settled in Dublin or elsewhere." [Note 18] {284}

As to England, on the contrary, both Alfred and the Danes, in different ways, had tended to her political progress. They played as it were into each other's hands; and, while the Danes broke up the Heptarchy, Alfred developed the monarchical power. England was not illegally seized, but fell into his hands. Before the resistless energy of Ingwar and Hubba, down went Northumbria, East Anglia, and Mercia, almost at a blow, till Alfred was left the sole representative of Anglo-Saxon royalty in the island. Brian had to conquer for himself; but the Danes conquered for Alfred. If ever there was a king who attained to wide sovereignty by the force of events, and without any violent acts of his own, his was that unusual blessing; and he had another still more unusual, that of being supremely happy in his immediate descendants. Charlemagne, a century before, had done his own work on a larger scale; but it came to naught for want of those who could carry it on. But Edward and Ethelfleda, the children of Alfred, and Athelstan his grandson, were, in their place and day, as great as he had been in his. Alfred had been the first king of the English, and Athelstan was the first king of England [Note 19]. He brought under the Danes, and extended his sovereignty to the furthest point of the north, and became nominal lord even of Wales and Scotland. Thus suaviter et fortiter, with the vigour yet the deliberateness of some natural growth, was the English monarchy brought into existence. What has been so gradually and carefully accomplished, has never broken into parts again.

It was not the will of Heaven that such a blessing should be accorded to the sister island. That state in which the Northmen found England, is the state in {285} which they left Ireland. Moore reminds us of this in the words with which he introduces to us their incursions. "In the one small kingdom of Northumbria," he says, "we find represented upon a smaller scale almost a counterpart of those scenes of discord and misrule which form the main action of Irish history in those times; the same rapid succession and violent deaths of most of the reigning chieftains, and the same recklessness of the public weal, which in general mark their career." [Note 20] So it had been before the time of Brian, and so it was after him. They even joined the Northmen in their quarrels, whether with Irish or Northmen, and they imitated them in their reckless and sacrilegious deeds. "Several of the Irish princes and chieftains," says Lanigan, "had imbibed the spirit of the Danes, sparing neither churches, nor monasteries, nor ecclesiastics, according as it suited their views; a system which was held in abhorrence by their ancestors, and which had often excited them to unite in defence of their altars against the Scandinavian robbers." [Note 21] In the previous sentences he had given some instances of their devastations; such as their burning and pillaging the church of Ardbraccan with a number of people in it in 1109; of their plundering and destroying the monastery if Clonmacnois in 1111; of their killing the Abbot of Kells on a Sunday in 1117; of their burning Cashel and Lismore in 1121; of their plundering Emly in 1123; and of their burning the steeple of Trim, with the people in it, in 1127. He expressly tells us that these outrages arose in consequence of the want of a central and sovereign authority in the country. It was "one of the sad effects," he says, "of the contests between various powerful families aspiring to the {286} sovereignty of Ireland, and again between diverse members of said families quarrelling among themselves for precedency."

Brian, then, was raised up to accomplish for his country great works of a material kind. His arms broke the power of the Northmen; he rebuilt the fabrics of religion; but, as to moral and social matters, he left behind him the bad and the good which were before him. He did not reverse the national degradation. There had been literature among the Irish all along, and civil war all along: he found both, and he left both. Schools had still endured when the Northmen were victorious; slaughter and sacrilege were still rife when they had been chastised. So too was it with the ecclesiastics: the well known disorders in the church of Armagh, which continued up to the time of St. Malachi, are a clear evidence of it.


Here we must pause in our subject, ere we turn from the contemplation of the religious declension of the two islands, to a review of the means which the Holy See adopted to meet the evil. It was surely incumbent on that power, which had converted them, to interfere when they were lapsing back to barbarism. Every one has a love and a care for his own work; and if children are not always fond of their parents, at least the parents, as the great philosopher says, commonly yearn in affection over the children. Rome had had a great success in English and Irish zeal; it had no wish that that success should be reversed. But at this time the people of England were sunk in sloth, luxury, and depravity; and Ireland was convulsed with feuds and conflicts, their scholars having as little {287} power to restore order, ecclesiastical or civil, as faith is able to ensure charity, or knowledge is the guarantee of virtue.

What should the Pope do? He took time to deliberate on the course to be pursued, and then he acted boldly. He applied one and the same remedy to both. He gave commission to a foreign power to take possession of both islands. He did not set one island to convert the other; he did not send the debased English to heal the quarrels of the Irish; he did not send those who sold their own children to the Irish, to lord it over the Irish who bought them. He sent against each of them in its turn the soldiers of a young and ambitious people, first to reform them, secondly to unite them together;—and strange to say, the warlike host he sent was an offshoot of the very race which had brought them both to ruin. The Northmen had been their bane; and, in the intention of the Pope, the Normans were to be the antidote.


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1. Atlantis, vol. i. p. 272.
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2. Lanigan, vol. iv. pp. 165-6.
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3. Usser. Eccl. Brit. Antiq. p. 474.
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4. Flanagan, English Church Hist. vol i. p. 180.
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5. Turner, vol. i. p. 424.
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6. Vid. Palgrave's Normandy, vol. i. p. 418. etc. (1872.)
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7. Turner, Anglo-Saxons, vol. i. p. 464.
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8. Marianus Scotus.
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9. Lanigan, vol. iii. p. 424.
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10. Reg. Angl. p. 57.
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11. Turner, vol. ii. p. 270 n.
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12. Lanigan, vol iv. p. 196.
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13. Vol. iv. p. 159.
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14. O'Kelly's Translation, p. 243.
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15. Vid. Dr. Husenbeth's Life of him, and Alban Butler, May 30.
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16. Page 58.
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17. Vit. c. i. Vid. also what he says on Malachi being made his bishop's vicar: "Seminare semen sanctum in gente non sanctâ, et dare rudi populo et sine lege viventi legem vitć et disciplinć," c. iii.
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18. Vol. iii. p. 427.
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19. Turner, Anglo-Saxons, ii. p. 187.
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20. Vol. ii. p. 6.
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21. Vol. iv. p. 55.
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