Henry II’s Irish Expedition

Henry II of England

Henry arrived in Waterford on the 17th or 18th of October 1171 with large fleet of ships loaded with men, horses and supplies.

The extent of the preparations made for the expedition leave us in no doubt that Henry took the whole enterprise extremely seriously. More than two years had elapsed since Strongbow’s arrival. The latter had firmly established his writ over Leinster and the Norse cities of Dublin, Wexford and Waterford and seemed intent on expanding into Meath. From Henry’s point of view this was far beyond the original remit of Strongbow’s own expedition to restore Dermot to the kingship of Leinster, threatening the possible establishment of a rival kingdom.

Henry had already issued an instruction to Strongbow and all those who had accompanied him to return and to all shipping to stop carrying supplies across the Irish Sea. Strongbow had remonstrated with the king, in person at a meeting in Newnham, Gloucestershire as well as in letters, surrendering all his “conquered lands” to the king.

Well supplied invasion force

It was too late. Preparations were already well under way. In his book The Lordsip of Ireland in the Middle Ages, James Lydon quotes at length from the English pipe rolls of the time describing the vast quantities of supplies that accompanied the king in some 400 ships:

“Enormous quantities of wheat and oats … with a supply of hand-mills for milling flour while on the move. Beans, salt, cheese and a vast amount of bacon … Cloth in large quantities was supplied for the troops … coarse grey woollen cloth suitable for the dampness of an Irish winter. But the king was expected to dress in better finery … 25 ells of scarlet cloth, 26 ells of green, 12 pieces of silk cloth, 2 skins of mountain cats and 5 otter skins.” There was also an “enormous quantity of timber and nails” as well as “axes spades and pickaxes … in great numbers.”

With the king came around 500 knights and 4,000 others, mostly archers. As things turned out not an arrow was fired. The size of the force was sufficient to intimidate the majority of Irish kings who submitted to Henry without a fight. Perhaps they trusted him to restrain Strongbow and leave them to look after their own affairs in his name. More probably they did what they had always done in their disputes with each other – made promises they had no intention of keeping.

Leading role for Herefordshire magnates

The man Henry chose to curb Strongbow’s power was Hugh de Lacy. De Lacy already had extensive land holdings in Herefordshire as did two other senior members of Henry’s party – the brothers Philip and William de Braose. By placing these men in charge of territories adjacent to Leinster Henry hoped to limit Strongbow’s scope for expansion.

But Henry had another motive for his expedition. In the aftermath of his long running dispute with Thomas Becket which had ended with the latter’s murder in Canterbury cathedral at the end of 1170 he needed something to placate an angry Pope. He knew that the Pope disapproved of the direction taken by the Church in Ireland and wanted it brought back into line with Roman tradition. The first place Henry visited after disembarking at Waterford was Lismore. This was the home of the Papal legate in Ireland and it is clear from subsequent events that the subject of Church reform was discussed at this meeting.

Dublin “take over” by Bristol

Henry remained in Ireland until Easter 1172. There is no record of how many of the 4500 men that accompanied him


Raymond le Gros: guilty of massacring Irish men and women

remained behind. Certainly he established garrisons in a number of places and he granted the citizens of Bristol the right to inhabit Dublin. The rolls for that city from the end of the twelfth century suggest that men from Bristol and elsewhere in England did so. Nevertheless it seems inevitable that the major part of the army assembled for this expedition returned to their English homes in the spring and summer of 1172.

Over the following year Strongbow and de Lacy consolidated their respective positions in Leinster and Meath, building castles and granting land to English tenants. Meanwhile Henry’s sons were in open rebellion back in Normandy and, in 1173, Strongbow, de Lacy and most of the garrison personnel were called to the King’s aid in response. Not surprisingly, the Irish took advantage of this weakening of the foreigners’ defences so that when they returned they found, according to Giraldus, “almost all the princes of that country in open revolt against the king”.

Strongbow had now gained the king’s favour and was made chief governor with Raymond fitz Gerald aka le Gros as his deputy. This is the man who had led the massacre of the citizens of Waterford in August 1170 and he now embarked on a vicious campaign of suppression.

2 thoughts on “Henry II’s Irish Expedition

  1. Dear Mr. Parker, I am a septuagenarrian also.

    Very interested in these events.
    Do you know anything about “three Hereford brothers” who were involved with arranging transport for Strongbow’s or Henry’s invasion of Ireland. I believe they were involved in the Norman settlement of Maynooth and Leixlip..Thank you.
    Richard Harris


    1. Dear Richard,
      Thanks for your interest. The short answer is ‘no’! I know that Giraldus mentions unnamed Herefordshire brothers. I know, too, that Philip and William DeBraose were brothers who came over with Henry II and had strong Herefordshire connections. Whether they have any connection with Maynooth and Leixlip, I honestly have no idea. You could try asking Finn Dwyer (http://irishhistorypodcast.ie/about-me/). Whether or not he can answer your specific question, I am sure you will find lots to interest you on his website.
      Best wishes,


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