We have already described the limits to which "the Pale" was circumscribed at the beginning of the fourteenth century. The fortunes of that inconsiderable settlement during the following century hardly rise to the level of historical importance, nor would the recital of them be at all readable but for the ultimate consequences which ensued from the preservation of those last remains of foreign power in the island. On that account, however, we have to consult the barren annals of "the Pale" through the intermediate period, that we may make clear the accidents by which it was preserved from destruction, and enabled to play a part in after-times, undreamt of and inconceivable, to those who tolerated its existence in the ages of which we speak.
On the northern coasts of Ireland the co-operation of the friendly Scots with the native Irish had long been a source of anxiety to the Palesmen. In the year 1404, Dongan, Bishop of Derry, and Sir Jenico d'Artois, were appointed Commissioners by Henry IV., to conclude a permanent peace with McDonald, Lord of the Isles, but, notwithstanding that form was then gone through during the reigns of all the Lancasterian Kings, evidence of the Hiberno-Scotch alliance being still in existence, constantly recurs. In the year 1430 an address or petition of the Dublin Council to the King sets forth "that the enemies and rebels, aided by the Scots, had conquered or rendered tributary almost every part of the country, except the county of Dublin." The presence of Henry V. in Ireland had been urgently solicited by his lieges in that kingdom, but without effect. The hero of Agincourt having set his heart upon the conquest of France, left Ireland to his lieutenants and their deputies. Nor could his attention be aroused to the English interest in that country, even by the formal declaration of the Speaker of the English Parliament, that "the greater part of the lordship of Ireland" had been "conquered" by the natives.
The comparatively new family of Talbot, sustained by the influence of the great Earl of Shrewsbury, now Seneschal of France, had risen to the highest pitch of influence. When on the accession of Henry VI., Edward Mortimer, Earl of March, was appointed Lord Lieutenant, and Dantsey, Bishop of Meath, his deputy, Talbot, Archbishop of Dublin, and Lord Chancellor, refused to acknowledge Dantsey's pretensions because his commission was given under the private seal of Lord Mortimer. Having effected his object in this instance, the Archbishop directed his subsequent attacks against the House of Ormond, the chief favourites of the King, or rather of the Council, in that reign. In 1441, at a Dublin Parliament, messengers were appointed to convey certain articles to the King, the purport of which was to prevent the Earl of Ormond from being made Lord Lieutenant, alleging against him many misdemeanours in his former administration, and praying that some "mighty lord of England" might be named to that office to execute the laws more effectually "than any Irishman ever did or ever will do."
This attempt to destroy the influence of Ormond led to an alliance between that Earl and Sir James, afterwards seventh Earl of Desmond. Sir James was son of Gerald, fourth Earl (distinguished as "the Rhymer," or Magician), by the lady Eleanor Butler, daughter of the second Earl of Ormond. He stood, therefore, in the relation of cousin to the cotemporary head of the Butler family. When his nephew Thomas openly violated the Statute of Kilkenny, by marrying the beautiful Catherine McCormac, the ambitious and intriguing Sir James, anxious to enforce that statute, found a ready seconder in Ormond. Earl Thomas, forced to quit the country, died an exile at Rouen, in France, and Sir James, after many intrigues and negotiations, obtained the title and estates. For once the necessities of Desmond and Ormond united these houses, but the money of the English Archbishop of Dublin, backed by the influence of his illustrious brother, proved equal to them both. In the first twenty-five years of the reign of Henry VI.