The Templars, the Witch, and the Wild Irish by Maeve Brigid Callan by Maeve Brigid Callan - Read Online

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The Templars, the Witch, and the Wild Irish - Maeve Brigid Callan

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For Seth, Finnian, and Hunter

As you well know, heretics have never been found in Ireland; rather, it is customarily called the isle of saints. Now, however, some foreigner comes from England and says we are all heretics and excommunicants, claiming for himself some papal constitutions that we have never heard of before now. And since defamation of this land touches every one of us, you all ought to unite against this man.

—Arnold le Poer at the Dublin Parliament, May 1324




Chronology of Key Events



1. Heresy Hunting Begins in Ireland: The Trial of the Templars and the Case against Philip de Braybrook

2. The Dawn of the Devil-Worshipping Witch

3. The Churlish Tramp from England: Richard de Ledrede Tries the Alice Kyteler Case

4. Moments of Lucidity Dedicated to Malice: Ledrede’s Continuing Conflicts in the Colony

5. The Heresy of Being Irish: Adducc Dubh O’Toole and Two MacConmaras


Appendix A: The Articles against the Templars in Ireland

Appendix B: The Charges against Alice Kyteler and Associates




My debts are many and deep, matched only by my profound gratitude and appreciation for all who have helped with this fifteen-year project. Great thanks to the scholars who have shared their wisdom so generously, including Barbara Newman, Robert Lerner, Peter Schermerhorn, Helen Nicholson, Stuart Kinsella, Colleen Bos, David Collins, Matthew Slepin, Matthew Hussey, Michael Bailey, Michael Ryan, Shannon McSheffrey, Alan Forey, Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Theodore de Bruyn, Dermot Moran, Niav Gallagher, Ciarán Parker, Katharine Simms, Anne Neary Lawes, Bernadette Williams, the late James Lydon, and especially the late Philomena Connolly. Librarians throughout the world are my heroes; I am particularly grateful to those at the Bodleian Library, the British Library, the Representative Church Body Library (Ireland), the National Library of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, Northwestern University (especially Victoria Zahrobsky), and Simpson College (especially Kristen Graham). I have been blessed with outstanding teachers throughout my life, including Bob Turansky, Jennifer Rycenga, and the late Bill Whedbee; profound thanks to you all. The support I received at Northwestern University and the community I have found at Simpson College have been tremendous assets to my work and to me personally; my thanks to my colleagues, including Stephanie Neve, Jan Everhart, Mark Gammon, Steve Griffith, Daryl Sasser, Judy Walden, Shelly Priebe, Peg Pearson, and especially Nancy St. Clair, and to the students who continue to inspire me, particularly those who help cultivate greater interfaith understanding and engagement, such as Annie Fullas, Amanda Mackey, Madison Fiedler, and T. J. Hiatt.

Michael Larsen’s brilliant expertise greatly enhanced my photographs, and Lia Mills’s and Isaac and Millicent Warham’s company made the taking of them all the more entertaining and enjoyable. Great thanks to all who help care for medieval sites, especially those who facilitated my visits, like the Perceval family, Pierce McAuliffe, and Tommy Halton. My friends and family in North America and Europe have been invaluable to me in countless ways, not least in letting me talk about my beloved medieval heretics (or mystics or saints or …), so here’s to you, Anne, Hilary, Buzzy, Lisa, Jessica, Stu, Stryder, Nicole, Sophie, Michael, Virginia, Andrew, Collin, Fred, Alexis, Tiffany, Nathalie, Barbara, Trisha, Peggy, Jill, Hema, Katie, Michelle, Laura, Karen, Mike, Steve, Eric, Timm, Steve, Matthew, Liz, Jackie, David, Trudi, Simon, Bernadette, John, Danya, Róisín, Danielle, Robin, Alec, Donna, Clark, Adam, Jeff, Cris, Kitty, Christine (my legs in London), Phillip, Lenore, Mary Elizabeth, Jodi, Grainne, Norm, Eoin, Geneva, Colm, Julie, and above all my parents, Clair and Sean, whose love, support, and personal examples have made everything possible.

Sean Field read multiple drafts of my manuscript and gave invaluable advice, seasoned with his characteristic humor and perspicacity. Richard Kieckhefer has been instrumental at every stage of this book’s development; my debt to and gratitude for his guidance and friendship are inestimable. Peter Potter’s gifts as an editor, and the whole Cornell University Press team (including the anonymous readers), have vastly improved my work. My profound thanks to you all. For any errors that remain, my sincere apologies.

To my husband, Seth, my travel partner, muse, sounding board, and at long last index assistant, whose support in countless ways (not least those fabulous Indian feasts!) has helped make these years so rewarding; to my son Finnian, who was the greatest internal motivation a woman could have when this work was a dissertation and whose penetrating insights and wry perspective have been integrated into it; and to my son Hunter, whose love of life embraces all he encounters and whose enthusiasm for the book, even when it kept me from playing with him, buoyed my own: you inspire and delight me, and my love for you knows no bounds. I am deeply grateful for your patience and the entertainment and joy you provide every day. I dedicate this book to you.



Late medieval Ireland. Adapted from Sean Duffy, ed., Atlas of Irish History, 2nd ed. (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 2000), 47.


In the early Middle Ages Ireland was better known as a sanctuary of saints and scholars than a haven of heathens and heretics. The Irish practiced a form of Christianity distinctly different from the Roman, which won them both the admiration and the suspicion of those outside of Ireland. By the twelfth century, however, suspicion had begun to eclipse admiration as an array of internal and external forces worked to bring Ireland into closer conformity with the rest of Western Christendom. The turning point came around the year 1170, with the invasion of Henry II’s Anglo-Norman forces. Henry came with the blessing of Rome, which had sanctioned invasion as a means to return Ireland to orthodoxy, in keeping with a common contemporary opinion that the Irish were, in the words of Bernard of Clairvaux, Christians in name, pagans in fact.¹

Yet specific allegations of heresy or Irish apostasy did not surface during the Anglo-Norman conquest, and they are largely absent from the historical record until much later. Indeed, it isn’t until the fourteenth century, a time of great upheaval, that reliable records attest to heresy trials in Ireland. Only one of these trials has received any significant scholarly attention: the sensational case of Alice Kyteler and her associates, prosecuted in 1324 by Richard de Ledrede, bishop of Ossory. Remembered today for its brazen accusations of heretical devil-worshipping witches, the Kyteler trial is regularly referenced by historians of European witchcraft, but due to its isolation in time and place (the witch hunts of Europe began in the fifteenth century, with few trials occurring in Ireland), they rarely offer it more than cursory consideration. Historians of Ireland, meanwhile, have been wary of placing much emphasis on the Kyteler case, as it seems so exceptional and did not provide a paradigm for witchcraft prosecutions in Ireland. Yet the trial stands at the center of several heresy trials on the island, all of which occurred within a fifty-year period in the fourteenth century. Two trials occurred in 1310, one involving the Templars and the other a canon of Holy Trinity Cathedral. Four heresy proceedings followed in the five years after the Kyteler case, three of them also initiated by Bishop Ledrede. The fourth, prosecuted against Adducc Dubh O’Toole for a heresy that amounted to systematic denial of the Catholic faith, was ultimately a tool used by colonists to try to persuade the pope to call a crusade against the native Irish, in their hopes of completing the conquest begun in the twelfth century. Despite this plea, and despite three successive popes’ repeated instructions that the investigation of heretics Ledrede claimed to have discovered in Dublin and Ossory be continued, no more trials occurred in Ireland until 1353, and then in the diocese of Killaloe against two men of the MacConmaras (MacNamaras), tried like Adducc Dubh by colonists who had recently defeated them in war.

This book returns the celebrated Kyteler case to its original context of late medieval Ireland by considering it in relation to the island’s other verifiable medieval heresy trials during the fourteenth century. It is my contention that exploring these trials together in one study brings significant issues to the forefront, such as the relations between the three nations—the English, the Irish, and the Anglo-Irish—and the role of the church in these relations; tensions within the ecclesiastical hierarchy and between secular and spiritual authority; Ireland’s position within its European context; and the political and cultural aspects of the heresies. Gender also played a crucial role as revealed most notably in the Narrative of the Proceedings against Dame Alice Kyteler, which is heavily biased in Ledrede’s favor and was probably written by him. Because the Kyteler case has been studied primarily in terms of its relevance to the Continent, its differences from and influence on Ireland’s other heresy trials have not yet been sufficiently examined, nor have the trials been used as a means for approaching fourteenth-century Irish religious and gender history or for exploring the impact of heresy and witchcraft prosecution on a land that previously had little experience of either.

In the remainder of this introduction I set the context for my accounts of these heresy trials by providing some necessary background. First, I give an overview of Ireland’s distinctive Christianity and cultural codes, considering how these differences became increasingly divisive after the Gregorian Reform and the Norman Conquest of England. I discuss issues of ethnic identity among and between the native Irish, the English, and those who would come to be known as the Anglo-Irish. I then consider heresy prosecution in medieval Europe more generally, highlighting Ireland’s similarities with and contrasts from its broader European context.

Returning Ireland to Christendom

Ireland earned the epithet isle of saints through the devotion to Christian faith and learning exemplified by the Irish both at home and abroad.² By the seventh century, however, questions were repeatedly raised about Irish orthodoxy, primarily concerning the date of Easter, for which Irish and Roman calculation differed. The Irish eventually conformed to the Roman observance of Easter, but they continued to practice a form of Christianity that varied significantly from the Roman, as Ireland had never been part of the Roman Empire. Before the turn of the millennium, the Irish church was more monastic than diocesan in organization, and bishops could be subject to abbots in administrative matters. Monastic discipline varied from house to house, a diversity generally accepted and even promoted by the Irish. Neither religious nor secular power was centralized in Ireland but was spread throughout a network of ruling families. The monasteries that dominated Irish religious life were often dominated in turn by these families; kinship to provincial kings was a virtual requirement for many abbots and abbesses, and abbacies frequently passed from father to son. The Viking raids, which began at the end of the eighth century, increased monastic dependence upon secular power and further isolated Ireland from the Continent; eventually what had been tolerated as differences became regarded as dangerous divisions.³ Abrupt changes came in the twelfth century as the Gregorian Reform movement took hold and Ireland was swept up in a broader effort to centralize and standardize the church throughout Western Christendom. Irish reformers, in concert with the English and Rome, worked to reshape Ireland in the mold of England and the Continent; in so doing, they initiated the history of heresy in Ireland.⁴

The Gregorian Reform, named after Pope Gregory VII (1073–85) but extending beyond his reign, was abruptly introduced to Ireland by Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury (1070–89). He claimed his primacy included Ireland as well as Britain, a claim that speaks volumes about the changing fortunes of the two islands in the eleventh century. The Ostmen, the Hiberno-Norse who had established the cities of Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, and Limerick, accepted his claim, as did the O’Brien kings, who believed that a centralized church would help their faltering kingship, established earlier in the century by Brian Boru. Lanfranc lambasted the Irish church for its clerical abuses and the immorality and unspecified pagan offenses it tolerated among the laity, accusations continued by his successor Anselm and that thereafter remained the general impression of the Irish among English and Continental Christians.⁵ Indigenous Irish religious not initially associated with Canterbury, such as Saints Malachy (Máel-máedóc Ó Morgair) and Laurence O’Toole (Lorcán Ó Tuathail), also worked to bring their church into closer alignment with the Roman ideal. The twelfth century began with a reforming synod, the Synod of Cashel in 1101, and several more synods followed in the ensuing decades as the Irish voluntarily restructured their church according to the diocesan system, adopted foreign religious orders, and vowed to purge their church of secular influence and immoral practices.

Despite these reforming efforts, Ireland’s reputation did not fare well during the twelfth century, thanks in part to a French Cistercian monk who had never been to Ireland, Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard’s influential work The Life of St. Malachy is heavily biased against the Irish, maintaining, among other things, that they brought in paganism under the label of Christianity.⁶ Much of his information probably came from the reformer Malachy himself, whom he met in 1140 at Clairvaux. The two were briefly reunited again eight years later, also at Clairvaux, where Malachy died, and Bernard composed Malachy’s Life shortly thereafter. Bernard portrays the Irish as an ignorant and lawless race who claim the Christian name but whose lives, with notable exceptions, mock and offend the Christian faith. Yet he tells us only of one instance of heresy, that of a cleric of Lismore, good in his character but not in his faith.⁷ The cleric held views concerning the eucharist similar to Berengar of Tours, maintaining that it did not contain Christ’s body.⁸ According to Bernard, Malachy repeatedly tried to correct him in private, but the cleric was obstinate. Consequently Malachy convened two assemblies of clerics; both times the erring cleric was condemned but impenitent, and at the end of the second he was publicly declared a heretic.⁹ Shortly after he left the second assembly, the cleric was overcome by a paralyzing illness; he returned to Malachy with the aid of a madman, repented of his heresy, was absolved, and then died. This occurred around 1130, making it Ireland’s first known heresy trial and the only one prosecuted against an Irishman by Irishmen. It is also the only trial free from clear political motivations, although Bernard may not have been adequately aware of its dynamics. Given that a hagiographic work written far from Ireland and with a pronounced anti-Irish bias provides the only evidence of the trial, however, it cannot be counted among Ireland’s reliably recorded heresy trials.

Bernard of Clairvaux, the archbishops of Canterbury, and Irish reformers themselves laid the groundwork for the Norman invasion of Ireland. In 1155 Pope Adrian IV, the first and only English pope, issued the bull Laudabiliter in which he encouraged Henry II to invade Ireland in order to expand the boundaries of the church, declare the truth of the Christian faith to an ignorant and barbarian people, and weed out the new growth of vices from the field of the Lord.¹⁰ Henry did not act on this support until fifteen years later, and then he did so out of greater concern for the threat his subject Strongbow’s power might pose than for the state of the faith in Ireland. In 1172, Pope Alexander III reaffirmed Laudabiliter, echoing St. Bernard’s opinion that the Irish were Christians in name only who had renounced their faith for monstrous abuses.¹¹ Yet, despite heresy’s increasing prominence on the Continent, Alexander and his successors did not identify heresy as one of the Irish vices, at least not until the pontificate of Benedict XII in the fourteenth century, and then it was the Anglo-Irish the pope had in mind.

Laudabiliter and the ensuing English invasion of Ireland point to one of the most fundamental ideological shifts in the history of the British Isles, in which the Celtic cultures of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales were identified as barbarous and in need of civilizing by the Normans and their heirs.¹² This same attitude served as part of the justification for the Norman invasion of England in 1066, which was done with the pope’s blessing and banner and with the aim of reforming the English church to bring it into closer conformity with Rome.¹³ Not two centuries before, the Normans themselves had been the hated heathen Norse, the Vikings, but after settling in France they converted not only to the religion of the Franks but to virtually every facet of their society, playing a dominant role in developments such as feudalism and the Gregorian Reform. They became more French than the French, a trend that would also be noted of their descendants in Ireland centuries later.¹⁴ The Norman victory in England was near total, but the following century the French-speaking, Norman-blooded conquerors of England identified themselves as English and even acknowledged the Anglo-Saxon past as their own, thus marking the beginnings of English imperialism.¹⁵ The same pride with which they embraced their Englishness translated into scorn and contempt when they considered their Celtic neighbors, which incited and justified acts of aggression against them, including the invasion of Ireland, its first major foreign attack since the Viking age.

The origins of the English invasion of Ireland are complex and occasionally obscure. With reason, warring Irish kings, and in particular Diar-maid MacMurrough, king of Leinster, who enlisted the aid of English lords against other Irish kings, are often held responsible; the English, however, were independently considering invading the island before Diarmaid proffered his daughter’s hand in marriage and his kingdom as her dowry to the earl of Pembroke, Richard de Clare, better known as Strongbow. Within a year of becoming king, Henry II discussed such an attack with his advisors. The bishops and clergy argued in favor of the idea, perhaps influenced by Pope Eugenius III’s recent rejection of Canterbury’s claims of lordship over the Irish church, but Henry followed the counsel of his mother and decided against it.¹⁶ The proposal did not end with Henry’s decision, however, for John of Salisbury, chief advisor of the archbishop of Canterbury and close friend of Bernard of Clairvaux as well as of Nicholas Breakspear, then Pope Adrian IV, soon won papal support for the project. According to John, he convinced Adrian to grant Ireland to Henry as a hereditary fief, on the grounds that all islands of Christendom belonged to the pope by right of the Donation of Constantine.¹⁷ This text, an eighth-century forgery then generally regarded as genuine, purported to be a grant from the Roman emperor Constantine to Pope Sylvester of various properties and authority in his domain, yet Ireland was never part of the Roman Empire; thus, even if the Donation had been legitimate, Adrian’s subsequent granting of Ireland on such a basis would not be.¹⁸

If John were referring to Laudabiliter, he seriously misrepresented its nature, as Adrian does not offer Ireland to Henry as a hereditary possession but merely sanctions Henry’s intention of adding Ireland to his domains, though here too it is claimed that all the islands of Christendom belong to papal jurisdiction.¹⁹ Yet even this claim is immediately called into question, as Laudabiliter portrays the Irish as barbarians who are no longer Christian, which would thus make the island no longer part of Christendom. This image of the Irish, found also in Bernard of Clairvaux’s Life of St. Malachy and frequently repeated in the text that provides the earliest copy of Laudabiliter, Gerald of Wales’s Conquest of Ireland, as well as his History and Topography of Ireland, reflects a return to a fifth-century understanding of the term barbarian, exemplified by the anonymous author of the Opus Imperfectum’s characterization of the newly converted German peoples as barbarian[s]… who have the name of Christians but the manners of pagans.²⁰

Yet in the twelfth century, the Irish had been Christian for centuries; they had served as missionaries and beacons of the faith in Britain and on the Continent; they had taken to the Latin and Greek languages and learning with great fervor, though they had not abandoned their own traditions and culture; and their libraries had preserved a considerable number of classical works that would have otherwise been lost. As the title of one popular book has overstated it, the Irish could be said to have saved Western Christian civilization. That they could be portrayed as non-Christians, as barbarian and ignorant, reflects more on the increasing conformity and centralization on the Continent and its most recent outpost, England, as well as on Ireland’s ambiguous and fairly powerless position in the new Europe than on the state of the faith and learning in Ireland.²¹

Twelfth-century Ireland may have paled in comparison with the island’s golden age in the fifth through eighth centuries, but it was also a time of renewed commitment to the religious life, as attested by the indigenous reform movement and the spread of new religious orders and houses. Moreover, virtually any area of Europe at this time would suffer from close scrutiny. Ireland was hardly the only country in which divorce and remarriage, clerical marriage, and battles between religious occurred. Henry II, whom Alexander III hailed in 1172 as Ireland’s conquering Christian hero, is a case in point: in addition to his arguably adulterous marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, the former wife of the still living Louis VII of France, and further acts of adultery with the many women whom he used to warm his bed after Eleanor had fallen from his favor, he was responsible for the murder of the archbishop of Canterbury, St. Thomas Becket, less than two years before. For this act, the Remonstrance of Irish Princes proclaimed in 1317, Henry should have been deprived of his kingdom.²² Instead Alexander presented Henry’s conquest of Ireland as part of his penance, evidence of his profound Christian devotion, and the product of divine inspiration.²³

The bitter irony that the Irish should be perceived as needing to be restored to the faith by men such as Henry was not lost on the Irish at the time, as Gerald of Wales himself reports. At a Dublin synod in 1186, the Irish Cistercian abbot of Baltinglass, Ailbe Ua Máel Muaid, berated the Welsh and English clergy who had come over in the wake of the invasion for bringing all sorts of abuses, including clerical marriage, a guilt that was immediately substantiated, and claimed that they had infected the Irish church with their abuses.²⁴ Gerald replied with a sermon that recognized that Irish religious were exemplary, particularly with regard to reading, praying, abstinence, and asceticism, but he also criticized them for acting too much like monastics and failing in their clerical duties, especially correcting the laity, and he denounced the Irish generally for their rudeness and for failing to produce martyrs. Archbishop Muirges O’Heney of Cashel responded that Gerald spoke truly, for the Irish were a rude and ignorant people, yet they had ever honored the church, the religious, and the saints; though they had not yet produced martyrs, Muirges continued, now a people has come to the kingdom which knows how, and is accustomed, to make martyrs. From now on Ireland will have its martyrs, just as other countries.²⁵ Gerald’s rather convoluted criticism sets up Muirges’s condemnation of the English for killing their own clergy (as they did Becket) and to lament the imminent martyrdom of the Irish at their hands as well. Gerald’s inclusion of this exchange in a work that strives to discredit, mock, and condemn the Irish is curious, but its opposition to his overall message enhances its authenticity and provides us with a rare Irish response to the propaganda against them. Clearly Irish clerics such as Ailbe Ua Máel Muaid and Muirges O’Heney thought little of the claim that the invaders came as reformers who would restore Christianity to Ireland; rather, they celebrated the state of the faith among the indigenous Irish and bemoaned their fate in the hands of morally depraved martyr-makers.²⁶

Ironically, Henry’s conquest is one of the most peaceful moments in twelfth-century Irish history and saw less bloodshed in Ireland than the so-called Bloodless Revolution of 1688–89. He arrived in 1171, in part to escape temporarily the repercussions of Becket’s murder, in part to restrain his subjects who had begun the invasion before him, lest they set up a rival kingdom in Ireland. With few exceptions the Irish kings soon peacefully submitted to him as their overlord, including those whose lands had not been immediately threatened by the invaders, and the bishops followed suit at the Second Synod of Cashel in 1172. Various theories have been proposed to explain the Irish kings’ prompt and peaceful acceptance of Henry as their overking, from Irish reverence for Roman emperors and Henry’s epithet fitz Empress to terror induced by the brutality of the invaders and the hope that Henry could control them.²⁷ The most convincing explanations stem from the ambiguous concept of the ard rí (high king), whose power was quite limited over his subkings and subjects, which undoubtedly shaped the manner in which the Irish kings regarded their submission.²⁸ Regardless of what they ultimately wanted or expected from this arrangement, however, they did not get it and warfare resumed following Henry’s departure.

Pope Alexander wrote three letters following this bloodless coup, one to Henry himself, one to the religious leaders of Ireland, and one to its secular rulers. More clearly than Adrian’s bull fifteen years earlier, Alexander’s letters acknowledged Ireland’s Christianity but asserted that it had become diseased or that, in some cases, it had been renounced. The symptoms of this infection or apostasy were not heterodox understandings of Christianity, however, but lax mores, primarily marital and sexual mores, which in Ireland, as in much of pre-Gregorian Europe, were considered more of a secular than an ecclesiastical concern. The only examples of religious misconduct among the Irish provided in Alexander’s three letters are that they occasionally eat meat during Lent and do not pay tithes or offer those in religious orders the respect they deserve, exceptionally weak grounds for the holy war Alexander’s predecessor had sanctioned against the Irish and for which he had commended Henry II. If such were the most severe sins against Christianity of which the Irish could be found guilty, virtually anywhere in Europe could be similarly targeted, although other Western Christian lands did not occupy such an ambiguous and peripheral position, geographically, politically, and culturally. Moreover, the conduct of colonists even when considered solely in the religious sphere evinced a barbarism that makes a mockery of any claim that [they] came as reformers, including severe beatings and attempted assassinations of clergy, clerical marriage and ecclesiastical hereditary succession, and other offenses that make meat eating in Lent seem pious by comparison.²⁹ Even the invaders’ primary propagandist ultimately realized the hollowness of the pretense of reform: Gerald of Wales reports that he rejected an offer of an Irish bishopric because he did not trust the intentions of John, named lord of Ireland by his father, Henry II, toward the Irish church, having seen for himself that the state of Ireland was every day the worse for [John’s] coming.³⁰ Similarly, the monk William of Canterbury, a witness to Becket’s martyrdom, thought that English casualties in Ireland deserved what they got, as there was no reason for the disquieting of a neighbouring nation, who, however uncivilised and barbarous, were remarkable and noteworthy practisers of the Christian religion.³¹

The perspective of Laudabiliter and its like was apparently convenient cant rather than an actual concern of the church. For example, although all four archbishops and half of the bishops of Ireland attended Lateran IV in 1215, a council deeply concerned with matters of heresy, such issues seem to have had nothing to do with the matters the bishops brought with them or the letters they brought back.³² While many of the abuses condemned in the canons of the council were found in Ireland along with the rest of Europe, Irish lawlessness and pagan Christianity, so frequently decried just a few decades previously, do not seem to have been mentioned either by the pope or the bishops, one-quarter of whom were Anglo-Norman. Indeed, the only canons that seem thoroughly alien to the Irish context are those that deal with heresy.³³

Yet the portrayal of the high and late medieval Irish as pagans has received some support from one of the foremost scholars of the period. Katharine Simms argues that a pagan resurgence occurred in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, citing bardic poetry and Gerald of Wales’s portrait of Ireland.³⁴ Bardic poets often invoked Ireland’s pre-Christian past and pagan sources of prophecy, such as druids, the Lia Fáil (the sacred stone at Tara that cries out at the touch of the rightful king), and nature itself, in keeping with larger Christian tradition that recognized the Hebrew Prophets, the Greek Sibyl, and other non-Christian soothsayers as legitimate prophets. Arguably more than any other literary mode, bardic poetry draws intently from myth and legend.³⁵ Yet, as Francis John Byrne has noted, claims that medieval Irish poets and brehons (judges) were crypto-pagans are wrong; their offices required them to transmit the senchas (traditional teachings and law), which included aspects of earlier Irish culture, but no evidence suggests they shared the pagan beliefs or practices of their predecessors.³⁶ Ireland’s poets used the heroic pagan past to proclaim the immediate and inherently Christian future, celebrating contemporary native kings’ opposition to the English and predicting their imminent success. As for Gerald, his clear biases against the Irish and his ardent support for the island’s invasion by his own kin render his testimony suspect. The specific claims made by Gerald that Simms cites in support of her theory, a ritual in which a horse is raped, sacrificed, and eaten, and an encounter with some Connachtmen who had never heard of Christ or Christianity and took back bread and cheese as a wonder, are perhaps more accurately read as blatant propaganda… in justification of the English conquest of Ireland.³⁷

Similarly, Simms’s final source for a purported pagan revival, which has been read as referring not only to paganism but also to heresy, derives from a hostile witness. In 1256, Maol Pádraig O’Scannell, Dominican bishop of Raphoe, complained to Alexander IV about idol worshippers in his diocese who practiced incest, plotted episcopal assassinations, and infected the faithful with their errors. The pope’s reply refers to the offenders as the messengers and ministers of the antichrist and authorizes O’Scannell to use the secular arm against them, but it identifies them neither as pagans, as Simms suggests, nor as grotesque heretics, as MacInerny labels them.³⁸ Clearly considerable tension existed between the bishop and denizens of his diocese, but its precise nature cannot be discerned, particularly as the pope’s letter is the only extant account of the troubles.³⁹ Thus, I find little to support Simms’s notion of revived or continued paganism in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Ireland. Since its inception Irish Christianity synthesized the indigenous culture with the new religion, sometimes to an extent that alarmed others, both Irish and otherwise, cultivating a faith that in ways diverged from the dominant Roman form. As the Irish came to terms with the invaders in the twelfth century and onward, they may have looked more fondly to and identified more deeply with their pre-Christian past and its heroes, but that does not mean they returned to their pre-Christian religion, and no solid evidence suggests otherwise; moreover, none of the heresy trials indicates paganism was a component of the alleged heresies.

The other slander against the Irish, that they were ignorant, has a touch more truth to it. While they still retained a vibrant scholarly culture, as indicated by their own contributions and the variety of works translated into Irish, university culture never took root in medieval Ireland.⁴⁰ The twelfth and thirteenth centuries saw the rise of both the university and the city in Britain and on the Continent, but later medieval Ireland’s cities were mainly colonial. Various efforts were made by colonists, most notably Alexander de Bicknor, to found a university in medieval Ireland, but all ultimately failed, and education in Ireland remained essentially as it had in the sixth century, in monastic schools and secular apprenticeships.⁴¹ Native Irish and Anglo-Irish also traveled outside of the country to attend universities such as those at Oxford and Montpellier. The absence of an enduring university exacerbated Ireland’s differences from the rest of Europe as well as the opinion and perhaps the reality of their ignorance, but it also helped to spare Ireland the type of atmosphere in which conventional ‘heresy’ could have arisen.⁴² In addition, the lack of cities, an urban elite, and centralization associated with universities proved to be critical for the survival of the Irish and their culture, for there was no one king to conquer, no cities to capture that would ensure their defeat. Gerald of Wales derides what he portrays as their stunted development, their primitive habits of pastoral living.⁴³ Though the Irish did have larger settlements, their comparative lack of urbanization facilitated their retreat to bogs, forests, and mountains, whence they could continue their attacks on the colonial settlements and win back their land, little by little.

Attitudes toward ethnic identity such as those espoused by Gerald played a critical role in the English invasion of Ireland, colonial policies, and the heresy trials that are the subject of this study. The image of the Irish painted by outsiders in the twelfth century portrayed them as almost irredeemably other, and colonial legislation continued to pronounce them as such. The Irish apparently returned the favor,