18.09.06, Brown, Hugh of Lacy

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Linda Doran

The Medieval Review 18.09.06

Brown, Daniel. Hugh de Lacy, First Earl of Ulster: Rising and Falling in Angevin Ireland . Irish Historical Monographs. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2017. pp. xviii, 309. ISBN: 978-1-78327-134-4 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Linda Doran
University College Dublin

In his conclusion to this book Daniel Brown notes that the legacy of Hugh de Lacy has suffered in comparison with that of predecessor as lord of Ulster, John de Courcy, his own father and brothers. TheAnnals of Clonmacnoise recording the death of Hugh's brother, William Gorm, say he had "the hardest and strongest hand of any Englishman from the Nicene seas to this place." The same annal notes his brother Walter at his death as "the bountifullest Englishman for horses, cloaths, mony and goold that ever came before his tyme." The annalist did not see fit to mention the death of Hugh. It is recorded in another set of annals, those of Loch Cé, with the simple "Hugo de Laci, earl of Uladh, mortuus est." Even then the annalist feels the need to point out "He was not the first Hugo, whome Gilla-gan inathair killed at Durmhagh-Choluim-Chille, but the last Hugo." Making the distinction, presumably, between the career of Hugh, Earl of Ulster, and his more famous father and namesake. Considering the achievements of Hugh, Earl of Ulster outlined in this volume, the manner in which he is recalled by contemporary sources is all the more remarkable. This book, however, more than addresses that oversight and puts Hugh de Lacy, Earl of Ulster, firmly in the forefront, not only of the Angevin world, but in the wider context of International politics, both religious and secular.

Hugh de Lacy, was the younger son of Hugh de Lacy, lord of Meath; despite, or perhaps because of this, he was created an earl of King John on 29 May 1205. This was the first earldom created in Angevin Ireland. Brown notes that usually those created earls were great men. Before 1205, Hugh was not even chief among the colonist for wealth, land and influence. The reasons for his elevation, as outline so clearly here, were many and linked to the need felt by John to balance power between his magnets. It is not accidental that Hugh's rise coincided with the temporary fall in fortunes of William Marshal, the only other earl in the Irish colony and a central figure in Angevin politics. In addition, unlike his brother Walter, lord of Meath, Hugh had no lands in other parts of the empire and was, therefore confined to the Irish colony thus the seigneurial balance of power in England was unaffected.

The chapter on Hugh's first period of Earl of Ulster captures both the pragmatism, which was a feature of Hugh's entire career, and his consciousness of the significance of his title. The publishing of theActa of Hugh in the appendices are particularly useful here. Brown makes the point that Hugh was alert to his title and its dignity in theacta associated with his first lordship and that there was a change in the tone in the Acta of his restoration. The availability of the Acta here allow the reader to see that for herself. Although Brown notes the importance of not over-reading meaning into the charters. There is also in the appendices a very convenient index of person mentioned in the charter text. Since often the number of people involved, many times sharing the same first and last names, can be deeply confusing--not the author's fault--this is a great addition. The interaction of Hugh as earl of Ulster with the church is well cover, both in the chapter dealing with his lordship and that with his restoration. The contrast between Hugh's initial approach to the church and that of his processor, John de Courcy is well outlined, as is the difference between his relationship with the church during his first and second lordship.

Hugh, having lost his lordship in 1210 begins an exile that lasted, in reality, for seventeen years. Part of this time is spent in the south of France as part of the Albigensian crusade, which was called against the Cathar heretics and their supporters among the southern French mobility in March 2008. The section of the chapter on this part of Hugh's exile is an apt illustration of the inter-connectedness of the various territories in the Angevin empire and the cross play of internal politics with that of wider European affairs. A recent volume From Carrickfergus to Carcassone: The Epic Deeds of Hugh de Lacy during the Albigensian Crusade edited by Paul Duffy, Tadhg O'Keeffe, and Jean-Michel Picard also covers this period. The volume includes papers dealing with the architectural influence on later castles modified and constructed in Ireland, particular in Ulster, by Hugh's career as a lord in France. It is hard to believe that this was not the case not given the understanding by Hugh of the importance of the strategic use of fortification. Brown notes an incident of Hugh advising his patron Simeon de Montfort on the wisdom of not being trapped in Carcassonne; drawing, no doubt, on his recent experience of the risks attached to the exploitation of a strong castle like Carrickfergus in Co. Antrim in his campaign to hold his Ulster lordship. A nice detail here is that de Lacy's administers bought arms and cloth from the Ostmen of Dublin. Underlining Dublin's continuing place as the premier trading centre in Ireland but also the presence in de Lacy's retinue of men who had followed him from Ireland into exile.

Women receive better attention in this book than in many volumes on this period. The role of women as conduits of power through marriage is well highlighted, as is the ambiguity in the way these marriages are noted in the sources. The choice of many widows, such as Rose de Verdun, not to remarry is important to note. The fact that it is not clear from the wording of the documents if Rose de Lacy was "taken away" (208) willing by Alan of Galloway or wither it was by force is chilling. One gets a sense from the book of the narrative of these women, although as part of the background. The vulnerability of women married to powerful men is illustrated here by the fate of Lesceline Verdun, first wife of Hugh, who was left behind in Carrickfergus Castle when Hugh went in exile "because her husband had detested her" (113). More appalling is the death from starvation of Matilda de Braose and her eldest son while in royal custody in 1210. Her husband, William, was accused of treason and that indictment could extend to those adding or consenting to it. Matilda and her son had fled from Ulster with Hugh de Lacy. That this fate was seen at the time as extreme is illustrated by the description of the deaths as "the pitiless vengeance of the hardest heart in Christendom" (90). William died the following year at Corbeil in France was buried at the Abbey of St. Victor in Paris by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury and an implacable opponent of King John.

The importance of the Irish Sea region is inter-woven throughout this book. Not only Galloway, but Man and Norway had a role in the holding of Ulster. After 2010, as De Lacy lost his earldom, the maritime lords in the Irish Sea received generous grants from John. It was intended that they would cover Ulster's entire coastline in their scope. The king of Man, who held land in the highly strategic Carlingford peninsula, home to the Viking fleet of Dublin in earlier times, was tasked with guarding the southern approaches. Lords from Galloway also held land--Thomas, earl of Atholl was given three knight's fees in the north-west, with Ua Néill's part of Tír Eógain. Tullyhogue, which contained the inauguration place of the Uí Néill, was exempted.

This book has a great introduction, something lacking in many medieval studies, which helps a reader not overly familiar with the region or the period to find a footing. Some of Brown's general remarks about period, such as that the importance of primogeniture cannot in reality be assumed until the thirteenth century, are well made. It is clearly written, with a nice descriptive style that helps where the detail could be confusing. There is a very good discussion of identity: as De Lacy's life illustrates this could be a fluid attribute. I feel, however, the description of de Lacy acting in the manner of a "marauding Irish king" (207) is unfair to his Irish dynastic opponents. Maps are not always present in what are largely biographical studies and it is welcome that there are two maps at the start of this book. It would be clearer, in particular for people not familiar with the landscape of Ireland and southern France, to have an additional location map with the area superimposed on a country map. There is space for this below both of the maps. This is in many ways a complimentary volume to Colin Veach's book Lordship in Four Realms: The Lacy Family 1166–1241. Both have a similarly broad approach; however, Brown sees personal ambition as triumphing over any fraternal bond between Walter and his younger brother Hugh. This seems to have been particularly the case in the later part of his life. This is a fascinating portrait of one of the most important figure in the second generation of colonists in Ireland.

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