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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Enactment of Poyning’s Law

poynings-law-enactedPoynings’ Law, also known as the Statute of Drogheda, an Act of the Parliament of Ireland which provides that the parliament cannot meet until its proposed legislation has been approved by both Ireland’s Lord Deputy and Privy Council and by England’s monarch and Privy Council, is enacted on December 1, 1494.

Poynings’ Parliament is called by Sir Edward Poynings in his capacity as Lord Deputy of Ireland, appointed by King Henry VII of England in his capacity as Lord of Ireland. Coming in the aftermath of the divisive Wars of the Roses, Poynings’ intention is to make Ireland once again obedient to the English monarchy. Assembling the Parliament on December 1, 1494, he declares that the Parliament of Ireland is thereafter to be placed under the authority of the Parliament of England. This marks the beginning of Tudor direct rule in Ireland, although Henry VII is still forced to rely on Old English nobles (such as Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, despite his support for Lambert Simnel) as his deputies in Ireland through the intervening years.

The working of Poynings’ Law takes place in several steps. The first step is for the lieutenant governor and the Irish council, or Irish executive, to decide that a parliament is needed, usually for the purpose of raising funds. At this point the council and lieutenant write drafts of legislation to be proposed to the king and his council. After this has been completed, the lieutenant and council, according to the act, are required to certify the request for parliament “under the great seal of that land [Ireland],” and then forward it to England for approval. Once the request arrives in England, it is reviewed by the King and his council, and a formal licence approving the request for parliament and the draft bills are returned to Ireland. Once the licence is received in Ireland, the governor summons parliament and the bills are passed.

The two important aspects of the procedure presented by Poynings’ Law are transmission and certification. Both of these requirements place limits on various parties within the law making process in Ireland. The combination of these processes create a situation where bills can be sent, along with the request for parliament, and the king can amend and remove such bills as he wishes, however he cannot add new bills himself.

Furthermore, the two processes make it impossible for the Irish to add more bills or amendments to a request, after the initial licence request has been granted. This means that any additional bills or amendments that they wish to pass in parliament have to be re-sent along with an entirely new request for parliament. Clearly this creates severe inefficiencies in the legislative process, and thus gives the executive in Ireland as well as the Crown an interest in relaxing procedure.

Poynings’ Law is a major rallying point for later groups seeking self-government for Ireland, particularly the Confederate Catholics in the 1640s and Henry Grattan‘s Patriot Party in the late 18th century, who consistently seek a repeal of Poynings’ Law. The Act remains in place until the Constitution of 1782 gives the Irish parliament legislative independence. The Acts of Union 1800 render most of the Constitution of 1782 and Poynings’ Law moot. Poynings’ Law is formally repealed as obsolete by the Statute Law Revision (Ireland) Act 1878.


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Gearóid Mór FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, Arrested

coat-of-arms-sir-gerard-fitzgeraldThe personal rule of Gearóid Mór FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, is brought to an end on February 27, 1495, when he is arrested in Dublin by the Lord deputy Sir Edward Poynings and sent to the Tower of London to await trial for treason.

FitzGerald is Ireland’s premier peer and serves as Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1477 to 1494 and again from 1496 to 1513. His power is so great that he is called “the uncrowned King of Ireland.”

Gerald FitzGerald is appointed Lord Deputy in 1477, but is replaced by Lord Grey of Codnor on the supposition that an Englishman can do a better job. The Lords of the Pale set up a breakaway Parliament in protest, and Edward IV is forced to re-install FitzGerald. He inherits the title of Earl of Kildare in 1478.

FitzGerald manages to keep his position after the York dynasty in England is toppled and Henry VII becomes king, but FitzGerald blatantly disobeys King Henry on several occasions. He supports the pretender to the throne of England and the Lordship of Ireland, Lambert Simnel. However, Henry needs FitzGerald to rule in Ireland but, at the same time, he cannot control him. Simnel’s attempt to seize the throne ends in disaster at the Battle of Stoke Field and many of his supporters are killed. Henry, now secure on his throne, can afford to be merciful and pardons both Simnel and Kildare. Kildare is shrewd enough not to commit himself to the cause of the later pretender, Perkin Warbeck, despite Henry’s caustic comment that the Irish nobility would crown an ape to secure power for themselves.

FitzGerald presides over a period of near independence from English rule between 1477 and 1494. This independence is brought to an end on February 27, 1495 when his enemies in Ireland seize power and Lord deputy Sir Edward Poynings has him sent to London as a traitor. With FitzGerald’s absence, the way is cleared to end the independence of the Irish Parliament. Poynings directs the Irish Parliament, which is sitting in the town of Drogheda, to pass legislation making it subordinate to the English Parliament in Westminster. This marks the end of medieval Ireland and the commencement of the period of Tudor rule.

FitzGerald suffers another blow when his wife Alison dies soon after his arrest. He is tried in 1496, and uses the trial to convince Henry VII that the ruling factions in Ireland are “false knaves.” Henry immediately appoints him as Lord Deputy of Ireland and allows him to marry Elizabeth St. John, a distant cousin of the King. FitzGerald returns to Ireland in triumph.

He rules Ireland with an iron fist. He suppresses a rebellion in the city of Cork in 1500 by hanging the city’s mayor. He raises up an army against rebels in Connacht in 1504, defeating them at the Battle of Knockdoe. In 1512, after entering O’Neill of Clandeboye’s territory, capturing him and taking the castle of Belfast, FitzGerald proceeds through to utterly ravage the Bissett family’s lordship of the coastal Glens of Antrim.

The following year, while on an expedition against the O’Carrolls, he is mortally wounded while watering his horse in Kilkea. He is conveyed back to Kildare where he dies on or around September 3, 1513.