Ireland in the Age of the Tudors

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In the sixteenth century, many parts of Ireland were controlled by different Gaelic chiefs and their families, known as clans. In parts of Munster and Leinster, including an area stretching north and south of Dublin, known as the Pale, there were many groups who were loyal to the king of England and who followed English laws and customs. The Gaelic or Irish parts of these regions had their own laws, customs and language.  

Loyalty to King Henry VIII

In 1541, the king of England, Henry VIII, from a family called the Tudors, took the title “King of Ireland”. Some of the Gaelic chiefs, including Conn O’Neill, gained titles from King Henry in exchange for promising loyalty to him. In exchange for their loyalty and obeying to keep English laws, King Henry promised them that their direct family line would remain in power. By the time Henry died in 1547, about forty Gaelic lords had promised their loyalty to him and had been given English titles. Two of these clans were O’Neill and O’Donnell of Ulster, both of whom had became Earls.

In times of peace this arrangement worked, however if the Gaelic lords rebelled against the king, all their lands were confiscated according to English law. The reason the Gaelic chieftains sometimes rebelled was due to the greater demands the Tudor monarchs made on them.

Many Gaelic chieftains strongly resisted Henry and the other Tudor monarchs. Some chieftains also attacked people who were loyal to Henry. Many clans who were loyal to the English monarch lived in the Pale. The Pale was an area around Dublin, including parts of Kildare, Meath and Louth, which was under the direct conrtrol of the English government.

English Settlers to Ireland

Two of Henry VIII's children, Queen Mary and her half-sister Queen Elizabeth, decided that the English monarch needed to have more power in Ireland. One way of doing this involved sending more loyal subjects to Ireland and giving them confiscated lands. These lands became known as plantation land as the people were known as having been ‘planted’ on it. Queen Mary ruled between 1553 and 1558 and Queen Elizabeth ruled between 1558 and 1603.