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Uniting the Kingdoms? 1066-1603



A Colony in Retreat, 1350-1541

By the middle of the fourteenth century, English power in Ireland was coming under increasing pressure from resurgent Irish rulers. Although England claimed overlordship of the whole island, the area subject to effective English rule was now largely restricted to the 'Pale'. This consisted of the coastal region from Dundalk to Dalkey, plus portions of the counties of Dublin, Meath, Louth and Kildare.

By the fifteenth century the Pale had been fortified by an earthen bank and ditch. Areas like Connaught were abandoned to GaelicGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window lords. Many Anglo-Norman families who remained in these regions, like the de Burghs, gradually adopted Gaelic customs, habits and modes of dress as well as intermarrying frequently with Irish families. Over the course of time the de Burgh surname was in some cases modified to Burke.


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The meeting of the Earl of Gloucester and Art MacMurrough, 1399

After King John's expedition in 1210, the only English monarch to visit Ireland before the accession of James I was Richard II. During his brief campaign in 1399 he received many submissions from Irish rulers, but peace talks with Art MacMurrough, his chief opponent, failed to produce a lasting result.

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For most of the time, however, the deputy-lieutenants were left to their own devices and had to find other means to defend the colony. Where possible, they negotiated agreements, especially with anglicized dynasties like the O'Briens of Thomond. At other times, English power was more visibly displayed in the form of a stately progress or military campaign, such as the tour of the Earl of Kildare in 1496. The twin policies of agreement or submission remained the hallmark of the English government's attempt to defend the colony until the mid-sixteenth century.

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Detail from Horseman. By permission of The Board of Trinity College Dublin.
Detail from Horseman. By permission of The Board of Trinity College Dublin.