MARY ANGLAND continues her series on famous battles that helped shape the country


By the beginning of the 16th century, the Tudor dynasty in England was powerful and secure and becoming increasingly ambitious to conquer Ireland. No longer content with controlling the Pale – an area stretching from Dundalk to Dalkey – where English law, customs and language held sway, the Tudors wanted the whole of Ireland to be directly under the control of the Crown.

At this point, most of Ireland was controlled by independent Gaelic Chieftains and Norman Lords. If England were to succeed in bringing all of the country under control, the power of these independent chieftains had to be broken for good.

Outside the Pale, the authority of the Dublin government was weak; the Gaelic Chieftains mostly remained outside English jurisdiction, holding onto their own language, social system, customs, and laws.

The Hiberno-Norman lords, who originally came from England and Wales after 1169, had succeeded in carving out territories for themselves but they did not settle English tenants in their areas. Instead powerful families like the Fitzgeralds, the Burkes and the Butlers, built their own private armies, adopted Gaelic customs and language and enforced their own law.

Henry Vlll ascended to the throne in 1509. By the early 1530s, there began in Ireland a series of events which forced Henry to pay a great deal of attention to the country. In 1534, the powerful Gearóid Óg Fitzgerald, Lord Deputy, was summoned to London by Henry to explain some decisions Henry disagreed with. Before leaving, he chose his twenty one year old son, Thomas, to deputise for him as Lord Deputy, while he was away.

On his arrival in London, Henry had Gearóid Óg arrested and thrown into the Tower. Enemies of the Fitzgeralds in the Pale saw this as an excellent opportunity to provoke the young and naive Thomas, known as Silken Thomas because of the gloriously coloured clothes he favoured. Therefore, they spread the rumour that Gearóid Óg had been beheaded, the ruse worked as the inexperienced and grieving Thomas fell into the trap and rebelled against the crown.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own