During the half century which comprised the reigns of Edward I. and II. in England (A.D. 1272 to 1327), Scotland saw the last of her first race of Kings, and the elevation of the family of Bruce, under whose brilliant star Ireland was, for a season, drawn into the mid-current of Scottish politics. Before relating the incidents of that revolution of short duration but long enduring consequences, we must note the rise to greatness of the one great Norman name, which in that era mainly represented the English interest and influence in Ireland.
Richard de Burgh, called from his ruddy complexion "the Red Earl" of Ulster, nobly bred in the court of Henry III. of England, had attained man's age about the period when the de Lacys, the Geraldines, de Clares, and other great Anglo-Irish, families, either through the fortune of war or failure of issue, were deprived of most of their natural leaders. Uniting in his own person the blood of the O'Conors, de Lacys, and de Burghs, his authority was great from the beginning in Meath and Connaught. In his inroads on West-Meath he seems to have been abetted by the junior branches of the de Lacys, who were with his host in the year 1286, when he besieged Theobald de Verdon in Athlone, and advanced his banner as far eastward as the strong town of Trim, upon the Boyne. Laying claim to the possessions of the Lord of Meath, which touched the Kildare Geraldines at so many points, he inevitably came into contact with that powerful family. In 1288, in alliance with Manus O'Conor, they compelled him to retreat from Roscommon into Clanrickarde, in Mayo. De Verdon, his competitor for West-Meath, naturally entered into alliance with the Kildare Geraldine, and in the year 1294, after many lesser conflicts, they took the Red Earl and his brother William prisoners, and carried them in fetters to the Castle of Lea, in Offally. This happened on the 6th day of December; a Parliament assembled at Kilkenny on the 12th of March following, ordered their release; and a peace was made between these powerful houses. De Burgh gave his two sons as hostages to Fitzgerald, and the latter surrendered the Castle of Sligo to de Burgh. From the period of this peace the power of the last named nobleman outgrew anything that had been known since the Invasion. In the year 1291, he banished the O'Donnell out of his territory, and set up another of his own choosing; he deposed one O'Neil and raised up another; he so straitened O'Conor in his patrimony of Roscommon, that that Prince also entered his camp at Meelick, and gave him hostages. He was thus the first and only man of his race who had ever had in his hand the hostages both of Ulster and Connaught. When the King of England sent writs into Ireland, he usually addressed the Red Earl, before the Lord Justice or Lord Deputy--a compliment which, in that ceremonious age, could not be otherwise than flattering to the pride of de Burgh. Such was the order of summons, in which, in the year 1296, he was required by Edward I. to attend him into Scotland, which was then experiencing some of the worst consequences of a disputed succession. As Ireland's interest in this struggle becomes in the sequel second only to that of Scotland, we must make brief mention of its origin and progress.
By the accidental death of Alexander III., in 1286, the McAlpine, or Scoto-Irish dynasty, was suddenly terminated. Alexander's only surviving child, Margaret, called from her mother's country, "the Maid of Norway," soon followed her father; and no less than eight competitors, all claiming collateral descent from the former Kings, appeared at the head of as many factions to contest the succession. This number was, however, soon reduced to two men--John Baliol and Robert Bruce--the former the grandson of the eldest, the latter the son of the second daughter of King David I. After many bickerings these powerful rivals were induced to refer their claims to the decision of Edward I. of England, who, in a Great Court held at Berwick in the year 1292, decided in favour of Baliol, not in the character of an indifferent arbitrator, but as lord paramount of Scotland. As such, Baliol there and then rendered him feudal homage, and became, in the language of the age, "his man." This sub-sovereignty could not but be galling to the proud and warlike nobles of Scotland, and accordingly, finding Edward embroiled about his French possessions, three years after the decision, they caused Baliol to enter into an alliance, offensive and defensive, with Philip IV. of France, against his English suzerain. The nearer danger compelled Edward to march with 40,000 men, which he had raised for the war in France, towards the Scottish border, whither he summoned the Earl of Ulster, the Geraldines, Butlers, de Verdons, de Genvilles, Berminghams, Poers, Purcells, de Cogans, de Barrys, de Lacys, d'Exeters, and other minor nobles, to come to him in his camp early in March, 1296. The Norman-Irish obeyed the call, but the pride of de Burgh would not permit him to embark in the train of the Lord Justice Wogan, who had been also summoned; he sailed with his own forces in a separate fleet, having conferred the honour of knighthood on thirty of his younger followers before embarking at Dublin. Whether these forces arrived in time to take part in the bloody siege of Berwick, and the panic-route at Dunbar, does not appear; they were in time, however, to see the strongest places in Scotland yielded up, and John Baliol a prisoner on his way to the Tower of London. They were sumptuously entertained by the conqueror in the Castle of Roxburgh, and returned to their western homes deeply impressed with the power of England, and the puissance of her warrior-king.
But the independence of Scotland was not to be trodden out in a single campaign. During Edward's absence in France, William Wallace and other guerilla chiefs arose, to whom were soon united certain patriot nobles and bishops. The English deputy de Warrane fought two unsuccessful campaigns against these leaders, until his royal master, having concluded peace with France, summoned his Parliament to meet him at York, and his Norman-Irish lieges to join him in his northern camp, with all their forces, on the 1st of March, 1299. In June the English King found himself at Roxburgh, at the head of 8,000 horse, and 80,000 foot, "chiefly Irish and Welsh." With this immense force he routed Wallace at Falkirk on the 22nd of July, and reduced him to his original rank of a guerilla chief, wandering with his bands of partizans from one fastness to another. The Scottish cause gained in Pope Boniface VII. a powerful advocate soon after, and the unsubdued districts continued to obey a Regency composed of the Bishop of St. Andrews, Robert Bruce, and John Comyn. These regents exercised their authority in the name of Baliol, carried on negotiations with France and Rome, convoked a Parliament, and, among other military operations, captured Stirling Castle. In the documentary remains of this great controversy, it is curious to find Edward claiming the entire island of Britain in virtue of the legend of Brute the Trojan, and the Scots rejecting it with scorn, and displaying their true descent and origin from Scota, the fabled first mother of the Milesian Irish. There is ample evidence that the claims of kindred were at this period keenly felt by the Gael of Ireland, for the people of Scotland, and men of our race are mentioned among the companions of Wallace and the allies of Brace. But the Norman-Irish were naturally drawn to the English banner, and when, in 1303, it was again displayed north of the Tweed, the usual noble names are found among its followers. In 1307 Scotland lost her most formidable foe, by the death of Edward, and at the same time began to recognize her appointed deliverer in the person of Robert Bruce. But we must return to "the Red Earl," the central figure in our own annals during this half century.
The new King, Edward II., compelled by his English barons to banish his minion, Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, had created him his lieutenant of Ireland, endowed him with a grant of the royalties of the whole island, to the prejudice of the Earl and other noblemen. The sojourn of this brilliant parasite in Ireland lasted but a year--from June, 1308, till the June following. He displayed both vigour and munificence, and acquired friends. But the Red Earl, sharing to the full the antipathy of the great barons of England, kept apart from his court, maintained a rival state at Trim, as Commander-in-Chief, conferring knighthood, levying men, and imposing taxes at his own discretion. A challenge of battle is said to have passed between him and the Lieutenant, when the latter was recalled into England by the King, where he was three years later put to death by the barons, into whose hands he had fallen. Sir John Wogan and Sir Edmund Butler succeeded him in the Irish administration; but the real power long remained with Richard de Burgh. He was appointed plenipotentiary to treat with Robert Brace, on behalf of the King of England, "upon which occasion the Scottish deputies waited on him in Ireland." In the year 1302 Brace had married his daughter, the Lady Ellen, while of his other daughters one was Countess of Desmond, and another became Countess of Kildare in 1312. A thousand marks--the same sum at which the town and castle of Sligo were then valued-was allowed by the Earl for the marriage portion of his last-mentioned daughter. His power and reputation, about the period of her marriage, were at the full. He had long held the title of Commander of the Irish forces, "in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Gascony;" he had successfully resisted Gaveston in the meridian of his court favour; the father-in-law of a King, and of Earls of almost royal power, lord paramount of half the island-such a subject England had not seen on Irish ground since the Invasion. This prodigious power he retained, not less by his energy than his munificence. He erected castles at Carlingford, at Sligo, on the upper Shannon, and on Lough Foyle. He was a generous patron of the Carmelite Order, for whom he built the Convent of Loughrea. He was famed as a princely entertainer, and before retiring from public affairs, characteristically closed his career with a magnificent banquet at Kilkenny, where the whole Parliament were his guests. Having reached an age bordering upon fourscore he retired to the Monastery of Athassil, and there expired within sight of his family vault, after half a century of such sway as was rarely enjoyed in that age, even by Kings. But before that peaceful close he was destined to confront a storm the like of which had not blown over Ireland during the long period since he first began to perform his part in the affairs of that kingdom.