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Manorial organisation in early thirteenth-century Tipperary

Manorial organisation in early thirteenth-century Tipperary

By Mark Hennessy

Irish Geography, Vo.l 29:2 (1996)

Abstract: Research in Ireland on medieval manors has tended to focus on the fourteenth century. This paper examines the evidence for manorial organisation in Tipperary in the early thirteenth century with the aim of outlining the process whereby manors were established in the early years of colonisation. The great lordships, de Burgo, de Worcester, and Butler, are examined and it is shown how their fortunes waxed and waned during this period. Their exercise of lordship was fundamentally compromised by a combination of royal interference, minorities and absenteeism. The reconstruction of manorial organisation for this period suffers from the lack of documentary evidence. Documents newly translated by the author are used to present a discussion of manorial structures and the organisation of agriculture.

Introduction: Studies of manors in medieval Ireland have concentrated on the fourteenth century, partly because of the comparative wealth of manorial records from the first quarter of that century. Early fourteenth-century manorial records, however, give a snapshot of the Anglo-Norman colony in Ireland at or just after its apogee. This paper focuses on the evidence relating to manorial organisation in the early thirteenth century in Tipperary, which was separated as a county from the Honour of Limerick only around 1254, as revealed by an examination of newly translated documentary evidence. The aim is to trace the process of establishing manors in Tipperary in the foundation phase of colonisation.

Following military conquest the creation of a manorial organisation was the single most important objective of the Anglo-Norman aristocratic class in their strategy of colonisation in Ireland. It was within the framework of manors that their military subjugation of Ireland could be made profitable and secure through economic and social transformation. Manors were essential to the creation of a socially and economically stratified colony in Ireland. Without manors the colonising Anglo-Normans would either have remained a conquering elite, insecurely ruling over a culturally hostile native population, or, as happened in the west of Ireland, they would have been culturally absorbed into their Gaelic environment. As colonisers the Anglo- Norman military elite in Ireland were also entrepreneurs and modernisers. They wanted to introduce the most advanced agricultural techniques to their estates in order to maximise their income. Giraldus Cambrensis reveals that the Anglo-Normans regarded the land of Ireland as fertile but under-exploited:

“They use the fields generally as pasture, but pasture in poor condition. Little is cultivated and even less sown. The fields cultivated are so few because of the neglect of those who should cultivate them. But many of them are naturally very fertile and productive.”

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