Hadrian IV (1154-1159) and the “bull” Laudabiliter: a historiographical review
By Sebastian Lidbetter
Master’s Thesis, Wilfrid Laurier University, 2019
Abstract: This work represents an exploration into the historiography of a hotly debated historical document known as Laudabiliter. In 1155 Pope Hadrian IV (most often styled Adrian and sometimes Adrien) issued Laudabiliter to King Henry II of England. Laudabiliter states that King Henry could invade Ireland to root out the weeds of vice amongst the Irish people, who had supposedly steered away from the Catholic faith, and rule Ireland as its lord. Hadrian IV claimed the right to do this because the Donation of Constantine granted successors of St. Peter, i.e. the pope, dominion over any and all islands.
Any normal letter from the pope would be accepted as real and authentic, but, to our current knowledge, no such copy of this document exists within papal archives. The text of the Laudabiliter comes from Gerald of Wales who, in the Conquest of Ireland, provided a transcription of the document. The other source is John of Salisbury, who, as he himself claims, met with Pope Hadrian IV as a friend and received the document Laudabiliter and brought it back to England.
Naturally, the document became tied up with national identity of both Irish and British scholars alike who generally contested Laudabiliter’s inauthenticity or authenticity, respectively. The debate began during the 1600s when England began to send plantations of Protestants to Ireland. The debate over the document grew during the 1800s as more scholars added their arguments against the document’s authenticity. The cause for the increase in the debate likely stems from the gradual Catholic Emancipation reforms and the desire among the Irish to govern themselves. Underlying the national identity sits also a confessional bias. Irish Catholics refute Laudabiliter’s authenticity and English Catholics and Protestants alike endorse its authenticity. The arguments for its inauthenticity vary as the scholars argue against the Donation of Constantine, label both Gerald and John’s works as forgeries, discount relevant papal bulls from Hadrian’s successors, and question why Henry waited so long to invade Ireland when he held an endorsement from the pope himself.
Top Image: Pope Adrian IV Cameo, photographed at Notre-Dame de Paris, by PHGCOM / Wikimedia Commons