Kilkenny City & Environs

The 1366 Statutes of Kilkenny

The notorious  Statutes of Kilkenny were 35 legislative enactments approved by the peripatetic Irish Parliament here in 1366, when it was feared that the old Anglo-Norman families were becoming “more Irish than the Irish themselves“.

The introduction to the text of the statutes claim,

… now many English of the said land, forsaking the English language, manners, mode of riding, laws and usages, live and govern themselves according to the manners, fashion, and language of the Irish enemies; and also have made divers marriages and alliances between themselves and the Irish enemies aforesaid; whereby the said land, and the liege people thereof, the English language, the allagiance due to our lord the king, and the English laws there, are put in subjection and decayed…

The statutes tried to prevent this “middle nation”, which was neither true English nor Irish, by reasserting English culture among the English settlers.

The session was chaired personally King Edward III‘s third son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, in his capacity of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, while a member of the powerful Butler family interpreted speeches from Irish into English. In keeping with legislative custom at the time, the statutes themselves were written in Anglo-Norman French.

(Image from interesting website about Anglo-Norman linguistic impact on Ireland)

According to this writer’s recollection, the Statutes forbade any English settler to speak Irish, use an Irish name, or wear Irish apparel, and marriage between a male settler and an Irish woman was classified as High Treason, while men of Irish blood were prohibited from living within walled towns. One delightful clause (possibly in another piece of legislation) provided that any man “wearing a beard upon his upper lip” could be treated as an Irishman “and ransomed accordingly.”

The following is from Wikipedia:

By the middle decades of the 13th century, the Hiberno-Norman presence in Ireland was perceived to be under threat, mostly due to the dissolution of English laws and customs among English settlers. These English settlers were described as “more Irish than the Irish themselves”, referring to them taking up Irish law, custom, costume and language.

There were also military threats to the Norman presence, such as the failed invasion by Robert Bruce in 1315, which was defended by the Irish chief Domhnall Ó Néill in his Remonstrance to Pope John XXII, complaining that “For the English inhabiting our land … are so different in character from the English of England … that with the greatest propriety they may be called a nation not of middle medium, but of utmost, perfidy”. Further, there was the de Burgh or Burke Civil War of 1333-38, which led to the disintegration of the estate of the Earldom of Ulster into three separate lordships, two of which were in outright rebellion against the crown.

The prime author of the statutes was Lionel of Antwerp, better known as the Duke of Clarence, who was also the Earl of Ulster. In 1361, he had been sent as viceroy to Ireland by Edward III in order to recover his own lands in Ulster if possible and to turn back the advancing tide of the Irish. The statutes were enacted by a parliament that he summoned in 1366. The following year, he left Ireland.

The Legislation

The statutes begin by recognising that the English settlers had been influenced by Irish culture and customs, as quoted above. They forbade the intermarriage between the native Irish and the native English, the English fostering of Irish children, the English adoption of Irish children and use of Irish names and dress. Those English colonists who did not know how to speak English were required to learn the language (on pain of losing their land and belongings), along with many other English customs. The Irish pastimes of “horling” and “coiting” were to be dropped and pursuits such as archery and lancing to be taken up, so that the English colonists would be more able to defend against Irish aggression, using English military tactics.

Other statutes required that the English in Ireland be governed by English common law, instead of the Irish March law or Brehon law and ensured the separation of the Irish and English churches by requiring that “no Irishman of the nations of the Irish be admitted into any cathedral or collegiate church … amongst the English of the land”.

The mistrust the English had of the Irish is demonstrated by Statute XV, which forbade Irish minstrels or storytellers to come to English areas, guarding against “the Irish agents who come amongst the English, spy out the secrets, plans, and policies of the English, whereby great evils have often resulted”.

Failure of the Statutes

While the Statutes were sweeping in scope and aim, the English never had the resources to fully implement them. Clarence was forced to leave Ireland the following year, and Hiberno-Norman Ireland continued to gain a primarily Irish cultural identity. Only at the beginning of the 17th century would another attempt to colonise Ireland begin to make appreciable gains.