Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – Henry II’s Irish Expedition by Frank Parker

Welcome back to Frank Parker for the continuation of his archive post series.  This week Henry II arrives in Waterford in 1171…another event in this historical city’s history (not least being the Cronin ancestral home).

Henry II’s Irish Expedition by Frank Parker

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 Lordship 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 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”.

Raymond le Gros: guilty of massacring Irish men and women

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.

©FrankParker 2015

About Frank Parker

I’m Frank Parker and I am a writer. I didn’t used to be. Like many people I always wanted to be. On several occasions during my career as an Engineer I produced stories that I submitted to publishers. I even had a writing job once. It involved talking to small and medium sized businesses and writing up profiles for a regional business magazine. To make any money you had to sell advertising to accompany the articles. Selling is not a skill that comes naturally to me so that job did not last long.

I returned to Engineering, working on chemical plants, refineries and power stations throughout the North and Midlands of England. In 1997 I joined a defence contractor as a project administrator, a job that saw me through until retirement in the autumn of 2006. I came to live in the Irish Midlands so as to be near my son and his family. And, now at last, I have the freedom to write.

So far I’ve self-published 4 novels and two collections of short stories. You can find out more about them here. My stories have also appeared in anthologies published independently in County Laois.


I have also pursued a lifelong interest in politics. Between 1985 and 1991 I served as a councilor in North East Lincolnshire. So you should not be surprised to find posts on my blog commenting on current affairs from a broadly Liberal point of view. The environment and the damage we are doing to it, from agri-chemicals and air and water pollution to climate change, has always been a matter of concern to me. As a councilor I argued the case for the local authority to purchase timber products only from sustainable sources.


Since 2013 I have been studying Irish history in an attempt to gain a fuller understanding of the turbulent relationship between that country and its near neighbour. It began when I discovered that among the leaders of the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century were a number of individuals with a prior connection to the county in which I was born and grew up, Herefordshire. That discovery lies behind my historical novel Strongbow’s Wife which describes the invasion and its aftermath from the point of the view of the woman who married one of the most powerful of those leaders. You will find articles about some of the people and places involved by clicking the Hereford and Ireland History tab above.

For the past year I have been researching the background to the period in Irish history usually referred to as The Great Irish Famine. This work was prompted by a friend and together we hope to produce a book on the subject.

Books by Frank Parker

The latest book by Frank Parker released on November 17th 2017.

About the book

A layman’s guide to the worst man made disaster to afflict Great Britain, it’s causes and lessons for the future.

Whilst the British elites were celebrating the achievements of Empire, a million people died from lack of food and housing elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Is it possible for humanity to achieve the Liberal ideal of the greatest good for the greatest number or are Malthus’s predictions about the relationship between population and food production about to come true?

A recent review for the book

Joseph Willson Our history is not always pretty.2 December 2017

I have always wondered about the story behind the cause and effect of the Irish potato famine. Never have I really come across anything at any time that could hold a candle to this in-depth chronology. The way that both government and church played a part in this ‘atrocity’ if one looks closely enough at the events. It begs the question, “Have we as a people truly learned anything from this considering the current state of the world?” Are there still not the exact same things happening all over the world if one just alters the context a little? Makes you wonder.

A well written and well researched work well worth the look for anyone interested in what I shall refer to as social injustices. Our history is not always pretty.

Read the reviews and buy the books:

And Amazon US:

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Connect to Frank


Thank you for dropping into today and  Frank will be with us again next week.