A history of Ireland in 100 objects

Laudabiliter papal bull, 1155

Laudabiliter papal bull, 1155

“Laudabiliter et satis fructuose de glorioso nomine tuo propagando in terries”: “Quite laudably and profitably, your majesty considers how to extend the glory of your name on earth. . . ” Perhaps the most controversial object in Irish history is one that may not exist. Laudabiliter – the name of a bull issued by Pope Adrian IV to the English king Henry II in 1155 – granted Henry the right to claim lordship over Ireland. Or did it? In the bull, Adrian (the only English pope) praises Henry’s proposal to “reveal the truth of the Christian faith to peoples still untaught and barbarous and to root out the weeds of vice from the Lord’s field”. He then permits him to enter Ireland in pursuit of these good causes and expresses the wish that “the people of that land may receive you honourably and respect you as their lord”. The earliest source for the text of Laudabiliter is that seen here, in the Expugnatio Hibernica of the Norman propagandist Giraldus Cambrensis.

Giraldus came to Ireland in 1188 to see his relatives among the Norman invaders. He wrote his book to justify Henry’s claims and to further his own career in the church.

Henry did not refer to Laudabiliter when he landed near Waterford in 1171. It does not appear in the English or Vatican archives. It is not referred to in subsequent papal correspondence with Henry. Giraldus, moreover, was not averse to a spot of forgery: his book also contains a letter from Adrian’s successor as pope, Alexander III, that no one believes to be genuine.


It is almost certain that Adrian did write to Henry in relation to Ireland. Giraldus’s text may even be partly genuine. But Prof Anne Duggan has pointed out that this text fails to follow the format of every known papal declaration of the period. She suggests that Giraldus altered the order of the pope’s paragraphs to make the bull read like a much stronger endorsement of a putative conquest of Ireland than it actually was. He further omitted paragraphs that required Henry to seek the consent of the Irish bishops and rulers for his overlordship. Laudabiliter is a dodgy dossier.

Henry’s invasion of Ireland was pre-emptive. His fear was that Strongbow would establish himself as king of Leinster (through his marriage to Diarmait Mac Murchada’s daughter Aífe) or even of Ireland. Henry’s show of force, the thousands of troops who arrived with him in Waterford in October 1171, was aimed as much at his own Anglo-Norman vassals as it was at the native Irish.

Henry’s ships were loaded not just with arms but also with sealing wax, the material needed for royal edicts. Irish kings and chieftains were quick to declare their loyalty. The submissions of Diarmait Mac Carthaigh of Desmond and Domhnall Mór Ua Briain of Limerick were followed, on Henry’s progress northwards, by those of the kings of north Leinster, Bréifne, Airgialla and Ulster. The relative ease with which these local rulers agreed to be subject to a distant Anglo-Norman king was in sharp contrast to their unwillingness to submit to one of their own.

Where to see itNational Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin 2, 01-6030200, nli.ie

Fintan O'Toole

Fintan O'Toole

Fintan O'Toole, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly opinion column