Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Richard Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, and the Battle of the Curragh

Richard Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, and the Battle of the Curragh

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien

Richard Marshal, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, was born in 1191 as the second son of William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke. His father, William Marshal, rose from humble origins to serve four kings of England (Henry I, Richard I, John and Henry III) and act as regent of England for the young Henry III. William Marshal was the most celebrated knight in Europe and was known the world over as “The Marshal”. His defeat of the French forces at the Battle of Lincoln was one of the most important battles in medieval Europe.

Richard Marshal succeeded his brother William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, as Earl of Pembroke and Lord Marshal of England upon the latter's death on 6th April 1231. Richard Marshal inherited lands in Longueville, France, in Wales and also in Ireland. But the French connection caused problems.

Shortly after the death of the 2nd Earl of Pembroke, Henry III seized his lands. In a letter to the archbishops, bishops, earls, barons, knights and other subjects in Ireland on 31st May 1231 Henry III said he so seized the lands not “in order to injure Richard Marshal” but to follow the precedent of his predecessors Kings of England. Such precedence was to seize the land of those who held directly from the king until the heir came to do homage.

Pembroke Castle in south Wales

King Henry told his Irish subjects that as Richard Marshal was a liege man of the King of France, the king’s chief enemy, a clear act of homage was needed before the lands would be released to the new Earl of Pembroke. Knowing how this action by King Henry was ill-received by many of Marshal’s Irish tenants, the chief people of Ireland were to give aid to Richard de Burgh, justiciar of Ireland, to defend the king’s rights and preserve the tranquillity of the country.[1]

While the king awaited the homage of Richard Marshal, events elsewhere were to impact the relationship between the knight and his king. In June 1231 Henry III issued a letter to Richard de Burgh, Justiciar of Ireland, to offer any soldier of Ireland free land in Wales if they come and fight Llewellyn the Great.[2] Llewellyn was attacking the English areas of Wales causing much destruction. The Marshal Earldom of Pembroke in south Wales was impacted by the war against Llewellyn. Years before in 1223, Richard’s brother, William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, had crossed over from Ireland to fight Llewellyn and successively captured a number of castles.[3] In September 1231 the justiciar of Ireland was to send further troops and as much money as possible to the English exchequer to aid the war against the Welsh. In December a ban on merchants exporting to Wales was imposed.[4] At first the war was seen as an action against a foreign power but later Richard Marshal would see Llewellyn as a defender of the English island against foreigners from the Continent.  

Richard Marshal had come to the fore as the leader of the baronial party in England. The chief conflict between Richard Marshal and Henry III went back several years, and centred particularly on the Earl's discontent with the influence that certain foreigners held over the king. Chief among the foreign friends of King Henry III was the Poitevins, Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester and Peter de Rivaux.

Yet, even with these differences, in August 1231 Richard Marshal did homage before Henry III. A letter was issued to the justiciary of Ireland to give Richard Marshal seisin of all his castles and lands.[5] Between August 1231 and June 1232 Richard Marshal travelled to Ireland to review his property. His estates there comprised much of the modern counties of Wexford, Kilkenny, Carlow, Kildare and Laois. On his return to England, Richard Marshal met Henry III at Worcester. There they discussed the affairs of state and more personal matters.

In 1224 William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, had married Eleanor of Leicester, daughter of King John and sister of King Henry III as his second wife. Following the Earl’s death, Countess Eleanor was entitled to receive one third of her husband’s property for her maintenance. The meeting at Worcester was to work out what lands Countess Eleanor would receive from Richard Marshal in Ireland. Richard Marshal offered castles and land in Counties Kildare, Laois and Wexford. Henry III sent three men to Ireland to survey the lands. Shortly after one of these officials, Walter de Brackley was elected Bishop of Ossory, in the heart of the Marshal lordship.[6] What property the three officials saw may have pleased them but Richard Marshal was too willing to part with a third of his property that fast. 

Meanwhile in June 1232 Hubert de Burgh, Justiciar of England was granted the office of Justiciar of Ireland for life while still retaining his English job.[7] It seemed that the baronial party was gaining ground against the King’s foreigners but not for long. In July 1232 a bitter enemy of Richard Marshal was confirmed with numerous positions in England and Ireland. Peter de Rivall was conferred the offices of treasurer and chancellor of Ireland along with all the King’s ports and the three royal castles in Connacht with the castle at Limerick and numerous other financially rewarding positions.[8]

On 20th August 1232 Hubert de Burgh was ordered to leave England within fifteen days.[9] In September 1232 Maurice Fitzgerald was made Justiciar of Ireland.[10] Richard de Burgh, nephew of Hubert de Burgh, was ordered to deliver the royal castles to Maurice Fitzgerald. De Burgh refused to act. Three royal orders were sent to Richard de Burgh to surrender the castles. Richard de Burgh sent a delegation to King Henry on why he should retain the castles. The king listened to the delegation and then sent another order to surrender the castles to Maurice Fitzgerald and Peter de Rivall.[11] Legal proceedings were brought against Richard de Burgh in February 1233 but de Burgh still held some castles in May 1233.[12]

Meanwhile Richard Marshal was conducting his own obstruction to the desires of Henry III. The Kings sister, Countess Eleanor, had still not received her dower lands in Ireland and South Wales. Richard Marshal offered her £400 per year while he retained all his inherited lands. King Henry accepted the offer but the Earl’s lands in England would be seized for non-payment if the Earl of Pembroke defaulted.[13]

But relations between Richard Marshal and the foreign advisers of Henry III did not improve and Richard felt that he would get no peace from Henry III while these advisers had the king’s ear. In August 1233 Henry III summoned Richard Marshal to a meeting at Gloucester. Fearing their treachery, Richard refused to go and King Henry declared him a traitor.

In March 1234, a truce was reached between the king and Richard Marshal, the condition of which was the removal of Peter des Roches from court. In the meanwhile, however, conflict had broken out in Ireland between Marshal's brothers and some of the king's supporters. These included Maurice FitzGerald, justiciar of Ireland, Walter de Lacy, Lord of Meath and Hugh de Lacy, Earl of Ulster. Hostilities followed, and Richard made an alliance with the Welsh leader, Llewellyn the Great.

Richard Marshal crossed to Ireland to assist his brothers, where he met with the king’s men at the Curragh on 1st April 1234. The Battle of the Curragh (Irish: Cath an Churraigh) was fought on the Curragh plain in County Kildare, Ireland. The adversaries were men loyal to King Henry III of England on one side, and on the other side Richard Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and Lord of Leinster, with his small band of followers. The battle was a small affair in the number of knights involved, but was still significant because it ended the career of the popular Richard Marshal.

Richard Marshal was taken captive to his castle at Kilkenny, where he died from his injuries on 16th April. The doctor sent to cure his injuries was said to be in the pay of the king and the foreigners and caused Richard’s death. He was buried at Kilkenny and was succeeded by his brother Gilbert Marshal. Richard Marshal had married Gervaise de Dinan, daughter of Alan de Dinan, Baron de Dinan, but the couple had no children. Indeed the five sons of William Marshal each became Earl of Pembroke but none left any children to inherit. Thus when the last brother died in 1247 the Marshal lands in England, France and Ireland were divided equally among the five daughters of William Marshal.

Kilkenny Castle 

Richard Marshal had become highly popular in England because of his fight against foreign influence at court, and for this reason the accounts of the battle were idealised and not necessarily reliable. According to contemporary accounts, he was tricked into meeting his enemies at the Curragh, and then deserted by his own forces. Rather than flee, he remained to fight against the odds, allegedly with only fifteen knights against 140. Marshal's popularity also meant that his death was mourned in England, where the Poitevins – who were rumoured to have instigated the Irish war – fell further into disregard. Henry III nevertheless rewarded Marshal's Irish opponents richly.

The Battle of the Curragh did not totally end the war although a declaration of peace was made shortly afterwards. A number of breaches of the peace were made. It was reported that the ship of William de Cumpton, a tenant of the new Earl of Pembroke, Gilbert Marshal, was seized at Ross after the declaration of peace. On 27th April 1235 the justiciar of Ireland was asked to investigate. Elsewhere, as late as May 1237, bands of former Marshal soldiers pillaged the lands of the king’s supporters.[14]

The Irish supporters of Richard Marshal

In 1235 the sheriff of Limerick, Hugh de Barry, wrote in his account for that year a long list of thirty-three persons who were fined for taking part in the army of Richard Marshal and another list of two hundred people who did not come to the king’s army when summoned.[15] Unfortunately the original account was lost in the destruction of the public record office in 1922 and so the names of these people are lost to history. Yet we do know a few of these people through the notes of former historians.

These names included Geoffrey de Marisco and his son William (fined 3,000 marks), three of Geoffrey’s nephews, viz. William son of Jordan de Marisco (£200), Richard de Marisco (£100) and John Travers (£200), along with David Fitzgerald, Baron of Naas (300 marks) and others fined between £10 and 400 marks.[16] Most of these men were taken prisoner after the Battle of the Curragh and kept in custody for many weeks.[17]  

The 1235 account of Maurice de Pontu, sheriff of County Waterford, records a fine on Griffin, Bishop of Lismore, for supporting Richard Marshal.[18] Elsewhere the names of other Irish supporters of Richard Marshal appear. These included Roger de la Hyde (his seneschal), Hugh Purcell, David Basset, Matthew Fitz Griffin, Miles de Rocheford, Stephen de Hereford, Geoffrey de Norragh, Robert de Grendon, Robert Whittey, Maurice de Londres, John le Canutus and Henry Walsh.[19] Some of these men were taken into prison while others had all their property seized by the government. The release and restoration of these people was sometimes a slow process. The property of Henry Walsh was still denied him as late of October 1237.[20]

Other people got caught up in the punishment meted out to the Marshal’s supporters. The lands of Ernisius de Dunhevet were seized by the king’s agents because his lord, Geoffrey de Marisco, had supported Richard Marshal. It is not clear on what side Ernisius de Dunhevet was in the war. On 3rd August 1235 his property was restored at the same time that Geoffrey de Marisco was pardoned and restored to his property. Other landowners who were clearly not rebels had their property seized. The lands of William de Rughedon in Carlow were seized by the Irish government even though William was with the king’s army in England.[21]

The Fitz Anthony heirs and Richard Marshal

The war between King Henry III and Richard Marshal, Earl of Pembroke in 1234 had a major impact upon the lands in County Waterford formerly held by Thomas Fitz Anthony. It was recorded previously [http://celtic2realms-medievalnews.blogspot.ie/2013/09/thomas-fitz-anthony-thirteenth-century.html] that Thomas Fitz Anthony left five daughters as his heirs following the death of his only son, Hamo Fitz Thomas. These five daughters and their husbands were Dionysia married to William de Canteloup; Helen married to Gerald de Rupe; Isabella married to Geoffrey de Norragh; Margery married to John Fitz Thomas Fitzgerald and Desiderata married to Stephen Archdeacon.[22]
Geoffrey de Norragh sided with Richard Marshal and was taken prisoner with his lands seized. In January 1235 he was released to Gilbert Marshal, the new Earl of Pembroke, on the understanding that he would pay a fine to the Earl.[23] The other sons-in-law of Thomas Fitz Anthony had also supported the Marshal as much of their property was located in the lordship of Leinster. John Fitzgerald, on the other hand, had his main estates in Limerick and Kerry from where he proclaimed his support for the king. As a result Henry III seized some of the lands of Geoffrey de Norragh and Gerald de Rupe in Waterford and gave them to John Fitzgerald. The Fitzgerald lordship in County Waterford was thus much expanded. Most of the expanded estate remained with the descendants of John Fitzgerald until the early twentieth century.


End of post


[1] Sweetman, H.S. (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland (5 vols. London, 1875, reprint Liechtenstein, 1974), vol. 1 (1171-1251), no. 1892
[2] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland, vol. 1 (1171-1251), no. 1894
[4] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland, vol. 1 (1171-1251), nos. 1913, 1917, 1930
[5] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland, vol. 1 (1171-1251), no. 1894
[6] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland, vol. 1 (1171-1251), nos. 1950, 1953
[7] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland, vol. 1 (1171-1251), no. 1957
[8] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland, vol. 1 (1171-1251), no. 1969
[9] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland, vol. 1 (1171-1251), no. 1974
[10] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland, vol. 1 (1171-1251), no. 1977
[11] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland, vol. 1 (1171-1251), nos. 2003, 2008, 2009
[12] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland, vol. 1 (1171-1251), nos. 2014, 2036
[13] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland, vol. 1 (1171-1251), no. 2041
[14] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland, vol. 1 (1171-1251), nos. 2260, 2390
[15] The thirty-fifth report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland (Dublin, 1903), p. 35
[16] Orpen, G.H., Ireland under the Normans 1169-1333 (Dublin, 2005), vol. 3, p. 71
[17] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland, vol. 1 (1171-1251), no. 2119
[18] The thirty-fifth report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland, p. 36
[19] Orpen, Ireland under the Normans 1169-1333, vol. 3, p. 71; Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland, vol. 1 (1171-1251), nos. 2129, 2139, 2201, 2224, 2236, 2345-6, 2362, 2418
[20] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland, vol. 1 (1171-1251), no. 2418
[21] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland, vol. 1 (1171-1251), nos. 2140, 2279, 2280
[22] Brooks, E. St. John, Knight’s fees in Counties Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny, 13th-15th century (Dublin, 1950), p. 48
[23] Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of documents relating to Ireland, vol. 1 (1171-1251), no. 2236

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