1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ulster, Earls of

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ULSTER, EARLS OF. The earldom of Ulster was the first title of honour in Ireland of English creation, and for more than a century was the only one. By many authorities John de Courci (q.v.), the conqueror of Ulster, is held to have been the first earl of Ulster; “it is, however, certain,” says J.H. Round, “that this title was the invention of a late chronicler, and that it first appears in the Book of Howth, where we read of “Sir John Courcey, earl and president of Ulster.” The confusion probably arose from the words of a charter, dated the 29th of May 1205, by which King John confirmed to Hugh de Lacy, whom he then created earl of Ulster, a grant of Ulster “as John de Courci held it on the day when Hugh conquered and took him prisoner in the field”; these words referring not to the earldom but to the lands held by de Courci, and possibly also to the authority which he had exercised in the king’s name. The earldom therefore dates from this grant to de Lacy in 1205.

Hugh de Lacy, 1st Earl of Ulster (d. 1242 ?), was descended from Walter de Lacy (d. 1085), who fought for William the Conqueror at Hastings. The family came from Lassy in Normandy, and after the Conquest Walter de Lacy obtained extensive grants of land on the Welsh marches. He was the first baron Lacy by tenure, and was probably a brother, certainly a kinsman, of Ilbert de Lacy, from whom were descended Roger de Lacy, justiciar in the reign of King John, and the earls of Lincoln (q.v.) of the de Lacy family. Although Walter had three sons, one of whom founded Llanthony Abbey, none of them left heirs; but his daughter’s son Gilbert took the name of de Lacy and became the fourth baron. Gilbert's son Hugh de Lacy (d. 1186) was one of the barons who accompanied Henry II. to Ireland in 1171; he obtained a grant of Meath, and governed Ireland as vicegerent for the king. By his wife Rose of Monmouth Hugh was father of Walter de Lacy (d. 1241), who succeeded his father as lord of Meath and took a leading part in the conflict of his family with John de Courci in Ireland, and also of Hugh de Lacy, 1st earl of Ulster. The latter was for a time a coadjutor of de Courci in Leinster and Munster, but after 1200 the rivalry between the two developed into war, and in 1203 de Lacy drove de Courci out of Down, and in the following year took him prisoner. He was rewarded by the king with grants of land in Ulster and Connaught, which were confirmed by the charter of the 29th of May 1205, when Hugh was created earl. He returned to Ireland with quasi-viceregal authority, and endeavoured without much success to reduce the O’Neill of Tyrone to submission. In 1207 war broke out between the earl of Ulster and FitzHenry, the justiciar. This brought King John in person to Ireland, where he expelled the earl’s brother, Walter de Lacy, from Meath, and compelled the earl himself to fly from Carrickfergus to Scotland. For several years Ulster took part in the wars in France, and he did not return to Ireland till 1221, when he allied himself with O’Neill against the English. In 1226 his lands in Ulster were handed over to his brother Walter, but were restored to him in the following year, after which date he appears to have loyally served the king, being more than once summoned to England to give advice about Irish affairs. He died at Carrickfergus in 1242 or 1243. He left no surviving legitimate children, and on his death the earldom of Ulster reverted to the Crown.

In 1254 the lordship of Ireland was granted by Henry III. to Prince Edward (afterwards Edward I.), who about 1255 transferred “the county of Ulster” to Walter de Burgh, lord of Connaught, in exchange for the rich domain of Kilsilan. De Burgh was henceforth, or at all events within a short time afterwards, styled earl of Ulster, to which title he may have advanced some hereditary claim of a loose order through his mother Egidia, daughter of Walter de Lacy, the first earl of Ulster’s brother. The earldom remained in the family of De Burgh until the death of William, 3rd earl of this line, in 1333, when it passed to his daughter Elizabeth, who married Lionel Plantagenet, son of Edward III. Lionel, having inherited in right of his wife the great estates of the family of de Clare as well as those of de Burgh, was created duke of Clarence in 1362. Leaving no male heirs, Lionel was succeeded in the earldom of Ulster by his daughter Philippa, who married Edmund Mortimer, earl of March. The third Mortimer, earl of Ulster, died unmarried in 1425, when his titles were inherited by his sister’s son, Richard Plantagenet, duke of York, whose son Edward ascended the throne as Edward IV. in 1461.

Since that date the earldom of Ulster, which then merged in the Crown, has only been held by members of the royal family. It was granted in 1659 to James, duke of York, second son of Charles I., on whose accession as James II. it again merged in the Crown. The next prince to bear the title (1716) was Ernest Augustus, duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, son of the elector of Hanover, and youngest brother of George I. The title became extinct at his death without heirs in 1728. It was next conferred on Edward Augustus, brother of George III., in 1760, again becoming extinct at his death seven years later. In 1784 Prince Frederick, second son of George III., was created earl of Ulster, and died leaving no children in 1827. Each of these last four earls of Ulster, all being of separate creations, held the title in conjunction with the dukedoms of York and Albany. On the next occasion of its revival it was united with the dukedom of Edinburgh, Prince Alfred Ernest Albert, second son of Queen Victoria, being created duke of Edinburgh, earl of Kent and earl of Ulster in 1866. On the death of the duke of Edinburgh in 1900 the earldom became extinct.

See, for the de Lacy and de Burgh earls of Ulster, The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester, edited by T. Forester (London, 1854); Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters, edited by J. O’Donovan (7 vols., Dublin, 1851); The Annals of Loch Ce, edited by W. M. Hennessy, "Rolls Series" (2 vols., London, 1871); Calendar of Documents Relating to Ireland, edited by H. S. Sweetman (5 vols., London, 1875- ; W. W. Shirley, Royal and Historical Letters, of the Reign of Henry III., "Rolls Series" (2 vols., London, 1862-1866); Sir J. T. Gilbert, History of the Viceroys of Ireland (Dublin, 1865). For the later history of the earldom see G. E. C., Complete Peerage, vol. viii. (London, 1898).  (R. J. M.)