Gateway to the Classics: Our Island Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Island Story by  H. E. Marshall

Henry Plantagenet—The Story of the Conquest of Ireland

W HEN Henry heard of what had happened to Thomas à Becket, he was very sorry; but strangely enough he had no power to punish the four knights; their sin was a sin against the Church, and they could only be tried by a bishop's court. The bishop's court punished them by sending them on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. So Thomas à Becket, in quarrelling with the King, had protected his own murderers. But perhaps their punishment was very real, for they were forsaken and shunned by all their friends. No one would speak to them, nor eat with them, and at last they died in misery and loneliness.

All England was filled with horror at the dreadful deed. The people had loved Thomas when he was alive, now that he was dead they called him a saint. From far and near they came as pilgrims to his grave, over which a splendid shrine, glittering with gold and gems, was placed.

Nearly four years later the King himself came as a pilgrim to show his sorrow and repentance. He rode on horseback to Canterbury but, as soon as he came within sight of the cathedral, he got off his horse and walked barefoot, wearing only a shirt, and carrying a lighted candle in his hand, until he reached the shrine.

For a whole day and night, having nothing to eat or drink, he knelt in prayer before the grave. For a still greater punishment, he made the monks beat his bare back with knotted cords.

All this show of sorrow could not bring back the great archbishop, who had been murdered in consequence of a few words spoken in anger. But it pleased the Pope, who was very angry because Thomas à Becket had been killed. He blamed Henry, and would scarcely believe that he had not told the four knights to do the wicked deed. In those days the Pope was very powerful indeed. Even kings stood in awe of him, and Henry was glad to make peace with him by any means in his power.

Until now, in this book, we have spoken only of England, although England is but one of the countries which form the United Kingdom. Each of these countries has a history of its own, but it would be too difficult to tell all the stories in one book, so I shall tell only the story of each country after it has been joined to England.

There are four countries in the United Kingdom,—England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Of these, England and Ireland were the first to be joined together. This happened in the reign of Henry II., in 1172 A.D.

England, you remember, had at one time been divided into seven kingdoms, and in the same way Ireland was still divided into four, and the kings of these four divisions were always fighting with each other.

Now, one of these kings, who was called Dermot, came to Henry and asked for help against another of the Irish kings. Henry promised help if King Dermot would acknowledge him as "over-lord." This, King Dermot said he would do. Henry was very glad to fight with the Irish, because he knew it would please the Pope, and perhaps make him forget about the death of Thomas à Becket. The Pope was angry with the Irish, because they would not pay him some money to which he thought he had a right.

Henry first sent some Norman knights over to Ireland, and then went himself. There was a good deal of fighting, but in the end Ireland was added to England, and ever since, the kings of England have been lords of Ireland too, although many years passed before they could be said really to rule there.

Henry's great reign closed in sorrow. His sons did not love him, and they rebelled and fought against him. They were encouraged in this by their mother, who was not a good woman.

Two of Henry's sons died before him, both of them while fighting with their father. Two others called Richard and John were kings of England after him.

John was Henry's favourite son. He was the only one who had not rebelled against him. But when the King lay very ill the nobles came to tell him that John, too, had rebelled. This last sorrow broke Henry's heart. Crying out, "Ah, John, John, now I care no more for myself, nor for the world," he turned his face to the wall, and died.

Henry was a very rich king, for, besides being King of England and lord of Ireland, he was ruler over more than half of France. Later you will hear how one of his sons lost all these French possessions.

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