Godred II Olafsson - John De Courcy, Affreca, and The Norman Invasion of Ireland

John De Courcy, Affreca, and The Norman Invasion of Ireland

In the last half of the 12th century, Cambro-Normans, or Anglo-Normans, began settling and conquering large swathes of territory in Ireland. Godred is known to have assisted the Dubliners and their Irish allies early on against these invaders. For example, according to chronicler Gerald of Wales, the High King of Ireland, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, and the Archbishop of Dublin, Lorcán Ua Tuathail, sent letters to Godred and other men in the Isles, asking them to blockade Dublin, which had been seized by the Normans. However, Godred later formed an alliance with one of the most powerful of the early Anglo-Normans lords in Ireland—John de Courcy.

John de Courcy's parental-ancestry is uncertain, although he was very likely a member of the de Courcy family, lords of Stoke Courcy (what is today Stogursey, Somerset). de Courcy bound himself to the Crovan dynasty by marrying Godred's daughter, Affreca. According to the Dublin Annals of Inisfallen, their marriage took place in 1180, although scholars consider this an unreliable source. Nothing is known about the early life of de Courcy. He arrived in Ireland in 1176, with Henry II, King of England's deputy in Ireland, William fitz Audelin, and was a member of the English garrison of Dublin. According to the Gerald of Wales, in 1177 de Courcy led an invasion of Ulaid, an area roughly encompassing what is today County Antrim and County Down). He reached Down (modern day Downpatrick), drove off Ruaidrí Mac Duinn Sléibe, King of Ulaid, and consolidated his conquest of the area with the erection of a castle. Following Cardinal Vivian's visit to Mann, where he solemnised Godred and Fingola's marriage, Vivian unsuccessfully attempted to mediate between de Courcy and Ruaidrí. Thereafter, De Courcy ruled his lands with a certain amount of independence for about a quarter of a century.

In the early 13th century, long after Godred's 1187 death, de Courcy came into conflict with Hugh de Lacy (d. 1242), who was encouraged by John, King of England to oust de Courcy from Ulster, and later rewarded for his success with the newly-created Earldom of Ulster, in 1205. De Courcy later fled to his brother-in-law, Godred's son and successor, Ragnvald Godredsson, King of the Isles (d. 1229). Reinforced by Ragnvald's massive fleet, de Courcy attempted an invasion of Ulster. However, the attempt ended in failure with an unsuccessful attack on what is thought to be Dundrum Castle, and he never regained his Ulster-lands. De Courcy then took refuge in Tír nEógain (modern day County Tyrone), before returning to England in 1207. De Courcy last appears on record in 1210, when he took part in John's overthrow of Hugh de Lacy.

In 1213, the justiciar was ordered to provide lands for de Courcy's wife, Affreca, and seven years later the justiciar was further ordered to secure Affreca's dower-lands. Both records are thought to show that de Courcy had recently died. De Courcy is known to have been a great benefactor of the Church, and to have founded numerous abbeys and priories. Affreca herself founded Grey Abbey in 1193, and made it a Cistercian daughter-house of Holm Cultram Abbey. Affreca is thought to have died in, or sometime after 1219. According to the Chronicle of Mann, she was buried in Grey Abbey. The couple are not known to have had any children.

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