John's first expedition to Ireland

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John's First Expedition to Ireland
Part of Norman invasion of Ireland
John of England.png
17th century painting of John as King of England.
Date25 April 1185-December 1185
Result John returns to England. Hugh de Lacy falls out of royal favour.

Coat of arms of the Lordship of Ireland.svg Lordship of Ireland

Arms of William the Conqueror (1066-1087).svg Kingdom of England

Lacy arms.svg Lordship of Meath

Sword of Nuada.png Kingdom of Thomond
Commanders and leaders

Arms of William the Conqueror (1066-1087).svg John Plantagenet
Butler arms.svg Theobald Walter

De Burgh arms.svg William de Burgh

Lacy arms.svg Hugh de Lacy

Sword of Nuada.png Domhnall Mór Ó Briain

John's First Expedition to Ireland refers to a visit to the Island of Ireland by John Plantagenet as part of a campaign to secure the influence of the House of Plantaganet and the Crown of England, who planned to set up a Kingdom of Ireland within the Angevin Empire. John was himself a future King of England, the son of Henry II of England and had been declared Lord of Ireland by his father at the Council of Oxford in 1177. Despite his own ambitions for the Kingdom of Jerusalem, John Lackland was sent west to Ireland by his father and landed at Waterford in April 1185.

John, King of England 13th-century King of England and grantor of Magna Carta

John, also known as John Lackland, was King of England from 1199 until his death in 1216. John lost the Duchy of Normandy and most of his other French lands to King Philip II of France, resulting in the collapse of the Angevin Empire and contributing to the subsequent growth in power of the French Capetian dynasty during the 13th century. The baronial revolt at the end of John's reign led to the sealing of Magna Carta, a document sometimes considered an early step in the evolution of the constitution of the United Kingdom.

Angevin Empire Medieval dynastic union of states in present-day UK and France

The Angevin Empire describes the possessions of the Angevin kings of England who held lands in England and France during the 12th and 13th centuries. Its rulers were Henry II, Richard I, and John. The Angevin Empire is an early example of a composite state.


The inexperienced young prince managed to offend the customs of the Irish Gaels who had met him diplomatically. John (who struggled to pay his own men) attempted to promise knights who traveled with him with Gaelic lands, which further irritated the natives. Aside from these concerns, he grew an intense dislike of the powerful Viceroy of Ireland, Hugh de Lacy, who held the Lordship of Meath, following his conquest of the Gaelic Kingdom of Meath. Following the Norman invasion of Ireland, the Plantagenets were repeatedly concerned with Norman barons, nominally loyal to them, becoming too powerful in Ireland and this was the case with the successful (militarily and diplomatically) de Lacys.

Hugh de Lacy, Lord of Meath, 4th Baron Lacy, was an Anglo-Norman landowner and royal office-holder. He had substantial land holdings in Herefordshire and Shropshire, England. Following his participation in the Norman Invasion of Ireland, he was granted, in 1172, the lands of the Kingdom of Meath by the Anglo-Norman King Henry II, but he had to gain control of them. The Lordship of Meath was then the most extensive liberty in Ireland.

The Lordship of Meath was an extensive seigniorial liberty in medieval Ireland that was awarded to Hugh de Lacy by King Henry II of England by the service of fifty knights and with almost royal authority. The Lordship was roughly co-extensive with the medieval kingdom of Meath. At its greatest extent, it included all of the modern counties of Fingal, Meath, Westmeath as well as parts of counties Cavan, Kildare, Longford, Louth and Offaly. The Lordship or fiefdom was imbued with privileges enjoyed in no other Irish liberty, including the four royal pleas of arson, forestalling, rape, and treasure trove.

Kingdom of Meath Former kingdom in Ireland, from centre to eastern coast

Meath was a kingdom in Ireland for over 1000 years. Its name means "middle," denoting its location in the middle of the island.

John returned to England in December 1185 and complained bitterly to his father about the influence of de Lacy in Ireland. Much to the relief of the Plantaganets, the following year, de Lacy himself was assassinated at Durrow by an Irishman, Giolla Gan Mathiar Ó Maidhaigh. Plans were made for John to return to Ireland and the new Pope Urban III was more favourable than his predecessors to granting him the title King of Ireland. However, this was cancelled due to the death of John's brother Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany. John would later return to Ireland for a second time in 1210 while King of England, as part of a campaign to crush a rebellion by a section of Norman lords; this time he was far more successful.

Durrow, County Offaly Town in Leinster, Ireland

Durrow is a small rural village in County Offaly, Ireland. Durrow is located on the N52 off the N6 road between Kilbeggan and Tullamore.

Pope Urban III 12th-century Catholic pope

Pope Urban III, born Uberto Crivelli, reigned from 25 November 1185 to his death in 1187.

Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany 12th-century Duke of Brittany and son of King Henry II of England

Geoffrey II was Duke of Brittany and 3rd Earl of Richmond between 1181 and 1186, through his marriage with the heiress Constance. Geoffrey was the fourth of five sons of Henry II, King of England and Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine.


The subject of John going to Ireland first came into question under the reign of his father, Henry II, specifically with the Council of Oxford in 1177. This council dismissed William FitzAldelm as Lord of Ireland agreed to have John made King of Ireland. This would appear to have been a strategy of his father's to divide his Angevin possessions between his four sons. The approval of Pope Alexander III was sought to have John crowned King of Ireland. Disagreements with first Alexander III and then his successor Pope Lucius III caused this to be delayed and instead John went as only Lord of Ireland.

Henry II of England 12th-century King of England, Duke of Aquitaine, and ruler of other European lands

Henry II, also known as Henry Curtmantle, Henry FitzEmpress or Henry Plantagenet, ruled as King of England, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou, Maine, and Nantes, and Lord of Ireland; at various times, he also partially controlled Scotland, Wales and the Duchy of Brittany. Before he was 40 he controlled England, large parts of Wales, the eastern half of Ireland and the western half of France—an area that would later come to be called the Angevin Empire.

The Council of Oxford is a historical council where Henry II of England grants Cork and Limerick to English barons, provides for the administration of Leinster and makes his son, John, Lord of Ireland. It was established in the 1170s and lasted until when the Oxford Parliament (1258) known as "Mad Parliament" ended it during the reign of Henry III of England.

William FitzAldelm, FitzAdelm, FitzAldhelm, or FitzAudelin was a Norman noble from Suffolk or North Yorkshire. He was the son of Adelm de Burgate. He was an important as a courtier and took part in the Norman invasion of Ireland.

In 1184 arrangements were made for John's departure with the sending of John Cumin and Philip of Worcester to prepare the ground for John's arrival. John arrived in Ireland in April 1185, landing at Waterford with around 300 knights and numerous foot soldiers and archers.

John Comyn, born in England, was Archbishop of Dublin, Ireland.

Waterford City in Munster, Ireland

Waterford is a city in Ireland. It is in County Waterford in the south east of Ireland and is part of the province of Munster. The city is situated at the head of Waterford Harbour. It is the oldest and the fifth most populous city in the Republic of Ireland. It is the eighth most populous city on the island of Ireland. Waterford City and County Council is the local government authority for the city. According to the 2016 Census, 53,504 people live in the city, with a wider metropolitan population of 82,963.


Upon his arrival in Ireland, John and his retinue were greeted by numerous unnamed Gaelic Irish leaders. It is said that upon seeing these strange long bearded Kings, John and his retinue laughed and pulled them about by their beards. Gerald of Wales said that the Irish then complained to their overlords — men such as Domhnall Mór Ó Briain — of how John was "an ill-mannered child… from whom no good could be hoped". Aside from upsetting these rulers, John also at this time engaged in a vigorous program of extending land grants to trusted royal administrators such as Theobald Walter, William de Burgh, Gilbert Pipard and Bertram de Verdun as well as other minor land grants to lesser figures. Their Hiberno-Norman descendants, such as Walter's Butler dynasty, would long remain influential.

Gerald of Wales 12th and 13th-century Welsh clergyman, writer, and historian

Gerald of Wales was a Cambro-Norman archdeacon of Brecon and historian. As a royal clerk to the king and two archbishops, he travelled widely and wrote extensively. He both studied and taught in France and visited Rome several times, meeting the Pope. He was nominated for several bishoprics but turned them down in the hope of becoming bishop of St Davids, but was unsuccessful despite considerable support. His final post was as archdeacon of Brecon, from which he retired to academic study for the remainder of his life. Much of his writing survives.

William de Burgh Irish noble

William de Burgh was the founder of the de Burgh/Burke/Bourke dynasty in Ireland.

Bertram de Verdun set of people

Bertram de Verdun was the name of several members of the Norman family of Verdun, native of Avranchin.

During his stay in Ireland, John largely followed the route his father Henry II had taken in 1171–72, landing in Waterford and ending up in Dublin. John's expedition founded several castles along the way, especially in Western Waterford and Southern Tipperary, and also established the foundations of administration and law which he later expanded upon in his second expedition in 1210.


John left Ireland in December 1185 and returned to England. Scholars have largely agreed that this was most likely to do with the presence of Hugh de Lacy but it is also likely that John ran out of money. It has been suggested that his departure was a setback in much broader plan to set up administrative structures in Ireland in order to control the unruly Barons via loyal, royalist forces such as Walter, De Burgh and De Verdon and that when De Lacy began to threaten his position, he escaped back to the safety of England. What is generally perceived, both contemporarily and in modern scholarship as a feckless attitude has given him a bad reputation and caused his first expedition to be viewed unfairly.[ neutrality is disputed ]

Upon his departure, his father Henry granted the office of justiciar to the Baron John de Courcy, who had massive influence in Ulster. In 1186 Hugh De Lacy was assassinated by an Irishman and plans were made to send John back to Ireland. However, the death of his brother, Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany, in France cancelled these plans and John did not return to Ireland until his second expedition in 1210.


The expedition has attracted much historical debate due to the lack of government records available and the subsequent reliance on sources such as the Irish Annals and the writings of Gerald.

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