"Laudabiliter" was a papal bull issued in 1155 by the English Pope Adrian IV purporting to give the Angevin King Henry II of England lordship over Ireland.


The bull purported to grant Henry, who requested it from English Pope Adrian, the right to invade Ireland in order to "reform" Church practices in Ireland, which up until that point had not been fully aligned with Rome in some matters, for example with regard to liturgy and clergy.

The incipit of the bull, "Laudabiliter", means literally "laudably', "in a praiseworthy manner"; it is the opening word of the Latin text, referring to Henry's "laudable" intention "to extend the borders of the Church, to teach the truths of the Christian faith to a rude and unlettered people, and to root out the weeds of vice from the field of the Lord; ..."

The actual wording which was asserted as giving authority to Henry to take possession of Ireland is as follows:cquote|You have signified to us, our well-beloved son in Christ, that you propose to enter the island of Ireland in order to subdue the people and make them obedient to laws, and to root out from among them the weeds of sin; and that you are willing to yield and pay yearly from every house the pension of one penny to St Peter, and to keep and preserve the rights of the churches in that land whole and inviolate.

We, therefore, regarding your pious and laudable design with due favour, and graciously assenting to your petition, do hereby declare our will and pleasure, that, for the purpose of enlarging the borders of the Church, setting bounds to the progress of wickedness, reforming evil manners, planting virtue, and increasing the Christian religion, you do enter and take possession of that island, and execute therein whatsoever shall be for God's honour and the welfare of the same.

And, further, we do also strictly charge and require that the people of that land shall accept you with all honour, and dutifully obey you, as their liege lord, saving only the rights of the churches, which we will have inviolably preserved; ...

Norman invasion 1167-72

A Norman invasion of Ireland took place in 1167, with the main body of nobles arriving in 1169. The incursion was in theory in aid of, and at the personal request of, an Irish provincial king, Diarmait Mac Murchada, King of Leinster, and led by Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke ("Strongbow"), a Cambro-Norman knight assisted by Welsh and Flemish forces. The invaders took control of large areas, though by no means all of, the country.

Henry II followed in 1171, fearing that the Cambro-Norman warlords would seize control in his absence and, using the papal bull, claimed sovereignty over the whole island. He arrived with a large army, took Dublin by storm, and then gave hospitality to, and accepted fealty from, the Gaelic kings in the feudal manner. The Treaty of Windsor followed in 1175, with the Irish High King, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, keeping lands outside of Leinster, which had passed through Strongbow to Henry on the unexpected death of both Diarmait and Strongbow, Waterford, the beachhead for the invasion, and Meath, the mediaeval seat of Ireland, and lordship over all Gaelic Irish. Leinster and Meath then comprised two of Ireland's five provinces.

Ruaidrí lost authority in his three provinces by 1186, and the old title of High King of Ireland became ineffective. Claiming to want to avoid anarchy, Henry purported to award all of Ireland to his younger son John with the title "Dominus Hiberniae" ("Lord of Ireland") in 1185. When John unexpectedly succeeded his brother as King of England, the Lordship of Ireland fell directly under the English Crown, the titles of "Lord of Ireland" and "King of England" falling into personal union.

Henry's invasion was met with jubilation in Rome, and Pope Alexander III declared that when he heard that Henry, "instigated by divine inspiration," had successfully brought the Irish people within the control of the Roman Church, he had "returned thanks to [God] who had conferred so great a victory." Alexander's legate, Vivianus, at the synod of Dublin in 1172 "made a public declaration of the right of the king of England to Ireland" and threatened excommunication against all "who presumed to forfeit their allegiance."

Papal letter of 1311 and the Bruce kingship 1315-1318

However within a century-and-a-half, Norman misrule in Ireland became so apparent that "Laudabiliter" was to be invoked again, this time in aid of the rights of the Gaelic Irish clans. In 1315-18, in alliance with the Scottish (and the Welsh), who were also fighting the Normans, they proclaimed Edward Bruce as King of Ireland. Pope John XXII writing to Edward II of England in 1311 had reminded him of the responsibility that "Laudabiliter" put upon England to execute government in Ireland for the welfare of the Irish. He warned Edward II that:

The Crown of Ireland Act 1542

The Bruce invasion failed, and Ireland remained in English control, in part using the authority claimed to derive from "Laudabiliter", until 1542, when Henry VIII's split from the Catholic Church (1529–1535) had, incidentally, put England's authority in Ireland, insofar as it was based on "Laudabiliter", in legal jeopardy. To rectify this King Henry's English Parliament, using authority delegated to it in 1494 by the Irish Parliament (Poyning's Law), passed the Crown of Ireland Act, which declared that the proper title of "Lord of Ireland" should really be that of "King of Ireland", owing to the authority it commanded in Ireland being as great as that of a king:

Thus the Henrician Parliament had established the principle that the Crown of Ireland was in personal union with the Crown of England. Though this declaration was not recognised by the Papacy nor by the Catholic countries of Europe, it transpired that Henry's Catholic daughter, Mary, would become Queen of England in 1553, thus becoming Queen of Ireland in both English and Irish law. In response to this development, at Mary's request, Pope Paul IV issued a papal bull in 1555 declaring Mary and her consort, Philip, Prince of the Asturias (who was shortly to become King Philip II of Spain), to be the joint monarchs of Ireland. [ [ Documents on Ireland, Heraldica website] ]

Philip made no claim to the Crown of Ireland on Mary's death in November 1558. Between 1559 and 1561 the New Parliament of the new Protestant Queen of England, Elizabeth I, repealed all English and Irish legislation that had restored the ecclesiastical union with Rome and re-established the Churches of England and of Ireland with Queen Elizabeth as their "Supreme Governor". The English Parliament ignored then and has ever since continued to ignore as irrelevant all Papal acts, bulls or other decrees since the English Reformation had begun.

In 1570 relations between England, Ireland and the Catholic Church were in turmoil following the publication on 25 February of Pope Pius V’s Bull ‘Regnans in Excelsis’. This Bull had declared Queen Elizabeth to be illegitimate and a usurper and thus incapable of having legitimately inherited her English crown. It also proclaimed her to be a heretic, declared her deposed and strictly forbade all Catholics anywhere to obey her or her laws or to acknowledge, respect or obey any persons in authority appointed by her. It made no mention at all of her “pretending” to the Throne of Ireland, which significant omission appeared to infer that the Bull of 1555 had, in accordance with "Laudabiliter", granted the Crown of Ireland only to Queen Mary and her legitimate heirs and it thus appeared to endorse the English view that Philip of Spain’s mention in the Bull of 1555 had been merely as a mention of his then status as Queen Mary’s Consort and not as an intentional conferral of the status of King of Ireland in his own right.

The Irish Archbishop of Cashel acted as envoy for some Irish nobles who proposed to rectify this omission by offering the Kingship of Ireland to King Philip directly. The project was communicated to Pope Pius V through Cardinal Francesco Alciati (who enjoyed the curious status of "Protector of Spain and Ireland before the Holy See"), who wrote to the Archbishop of Cashel (9 June, 1570): “His Holiness was astonished that anything of the kind should be attempted without his authority since it was easy to remember that the Kingdom of Ireland belonged to the dominion of the Church, was held as a fief under it, and could not therefore, unless by the Pope, be subjected to any new ruler. And the Pope, that the right of the Church may be preserved as it should be, says he will not give the letters you ask for the King of Spain. But if the King of Spain himself were to ask for the fief of that Kingdom in my opinion the Pope would not refuse.” (Spicil. Ossor., ed. Card. Moran, I, 69).

No further official reference to the Bull of 1555 nor to "Laudabiliter" was ever made again — neither by the Papacy nor by the Governments of England, Ireland nor Spain. It must be presumed that the low-level Papal diplomatic recognition of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1914 and the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Irish Free State in 1922 both entailed the implicit final consignment of "Laudabiliter" to the dusty archives.

Authenticity debate

Evidence for the bull came from John of Salisbury, who was sent to Rome as an envoy to request it ["ad preces mea" writes John in "Metalogicus", noted by Kate Norgate, "The Bull Laudabiliter", "The English Historical Review" 8.29 (January 1893, pp. 18-52) p. 29.] and by Geraldus Cambrensis ["Expugnatio Hibernica" (1188), also noted by Norgate 1898:18.] , a Cambro-Norman chronicler, and the authenticity of its text became the subject of academic dispute in the nineteenth century. [With the publication in 1849 of an "Apologia pro Hibernia adversus Cambri calumnias" written about 1615 by an otherwise unknown Jesuit, Steven White. John Lynch, writing as "Gratianus Lucius", followed up the argument with "Cambrensis Eversus". The nineteenth-century scholars who followed these leads were refuted in detail by Norgate.] As with many Church documents, the original document is no longer in existence. [Compare "Unam sanctam".] When Cardinal Baronius published it as "ex codice Vaticano" the codex in question was a transcription of the chronicle of Matthew Paris, [Augustin Theiner, "Vetera Monumenta Hibernorum Historiae", noted in Norgate 1898:20.] an English chronicler, and it is noted that "in form and wording it differs from other papal bulls of the time." [Henderson, 1896] But there is no record that the bull's authenticity was questioned at the time.

Adrian's successor, Pope Alexander III, in any case reconfirmed the "grant" of Ireland to Henry in 1172, and the Irish bishops at the Synod of Cashel, in the same year, accepted that bull, though at no time in that period was the "grant" accepted by the Irish High King or the collective provincial kings and lords.

In 1317 the remaining Gaelic kings were driven to remonstrate to Pope John XXII that "Laudabiliter" should be revoked, following decades of English misrule [ [ Text of 1317 Remonstrance] ] .



* "Selected Documents in Irish History", edited by Josef Lewis Altholz, M.E. Sharpe, Inc. 2000
* [ Lyttleton, "Life of Henry II.," vol. v p. 371] : text of "Laudabiliter" asa reprinted in Ernest F. Henderson, "Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages" (London : George Bell and Sons) 1896 with Henderson's note: "That a papal bull was dispatched to England about this time and concerning this matter is certain. That this was the actual bull sent is doubted by many".
* [ "Pope Adrians's bull "Laudabiliter" and note upon it"] from Eleanor Hull, 1931, "A History of Ireland", Volume One, Appendix I

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