Irish Hagiographical Lives in the Twelfth Century: Church Reform before the Anglo-Norman Invasion
Radboud University Nijmegen History: Master’s Programme Roma Aeterna (2014)
The period between the end of the Viking dominance and the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland received relatively little scholarly attention. As a consequence, the twelfth century is long seen as a prologue to the conquest of the Anglo-Norman knights and the arrival of the Angevin King Henry II. The motives behind the invasion of Ireland are often sought in the fact that the Irish Church was regarded as the black sheep of the Christian community. Pope Adrian IV issued a papal bull, the Laudabiliter in 1155, which granted Henry II permission to invade Ireland. Although the legitimacy of the papal bull still is a topic of debate among modern scholars, in the years following the invasion the Laudabiliter was often brought forward as a justification of English rule in Ireland. In 1172, pope Alexander III confirmed the position of Henry as Lord of Ireland.
Not only was the bond between the English Crown and the papacy, which strengthened in the years after the invasion, of great importance to creating the image of Ireland as the apostate region of Christianity, but the influence of contemporary writers, such as William of Malmesbury and Gerald of Wales, had great effect as well. In the seventeenth century, Geoffrey Keating praised the Anglo-Normans and stated that they were doing ‘much good in Ireland by building churches and abbeys and giving church lands to clerics for their support […] and God gave them as a return for this that there are many descendants after them at this day in Ireland’. For centuries, this portrayal of Ireland was accepted as a reflection of reality; it could be argued that this is still for a large part the communis opinio.