But the time was at last come for a vigorous attempt on the part of England to introduce order into this chaos of turbulence and misrule. To Henry the Eighth the policy which had been pursued by his father, of ruling Ireland through the great Irish lords, was utterly hateful. His purpose was to rule in Ireland as thoroughly and effectively as he ruled in England, and during the latter half of his reign he bent his whole energies to accomplish this aim. From the first hours of his accession, indeed, the Irish lords felt the heavier hand of a master. The Geral-dines, who had been suffered under the preceding reign to govern Ireland in the name of the Crown, were quick to discover that the Crown would no longer stoop to be their tool. Their head, the Karl of Kildare, was called to England and thrown into the Tower. The great house resolved to frighten England again into a conviction of its helplessness; and a rising of Lord Thomas Fitzgerald followed the usual fashion of Irish revolts. A murder of the Archbishop of Dublin, a capture of the city, a repulse before its castle, a harrying of the Pale, ended in a sudden disappearance of the rebels among the bogs and forests of the border on the advance of the English forces.
It had been usual to meet such an onset as this by a raid of the same character, by a corresponding failure before the castle of the rebellious noble, and a retreat like his own, which served as a preliminary to negotiations and a compromise. Unluckily for the Geraldines, Henry had resolved to take Ireland seriously in hand, and he had Cromwell to execute his will. Skeffington, a new Lord Deputy, brought with him a train of artillery, which worked a startling change in the political aspect of the island. The castles which had hitherto sheltered rebellion were battered into ruins. Maynooth, a stronghold from which the Geraldines threatened Dublin and ruled the Pale at their will, was beaten down in a fortnight. So crushing and unforeseen was the blow that resistance was at once at an end. Not only was the power of the great Norman house which had towered over Ireland utterly broken, but only a single boy was left to preserve its name.
With the fall of the Fitzgeralds Ireland felt itself in a master's grasp. "Irishmen," wrote one of the Lord Justices to Cromwell,"were never in such fear as now. The King's sessions are being kept in five shires more than formerly." Not only were the Englishmen of the Pale at Henry's feet, but the kernes of Wicklow and Wexford sent in their submission; and for the first time in men's memory an English army appeared in Munster and reduced the south to obedience. A castle of the O'Briens, which guarded the passage of the Shannon, was carried by assault, and its fall carried with it the submission of Clare. The capture of Athlone brought about the reduction of Connaught, and assured the loyalty of the great Norman house of the De Burghs or Bourkes, who had assumed an almost royal authority in the west. The resistance of the tribes of the north was broken in the victory of Bellahoe. In seven years, partly through the vigour of Skeffmgton's successor, Lord Leonard Grey, and still more through the resolute will of Henry and Cromwell, the power of the Crown, which had been limited to the walls of Dublin, was acknowledged over the length and breadth of Ireland. But submission was far from being all that Henry desired.
His aim was to civilize the people whom he had conquered - to rule not by force but by law. But the only conception of law which the King or his ministers could frame was that of English law. The customary law which prevailed without the Pale, the native system of clan government and common tenure of land by the tribe, as well as the poetry and literature which threw their lustre over the Irish tongue, were either unknown to the English statesmen, or despised by them as barbarous. The one mode of civilizing Ireland and redressing its chaotic misrule which presented itself to their minds, was that of destroying the whole Celtic tradition of the Irish people - that of "making Ireland English" in manners, in law, and in tongue. The Deputy, Parliament, Judges, Sheriffs, which already existed within the Pale, furnished a faint copy of English institutions; and these, it was hoped, might be gradually extended over the whole island. The English language and mode of life would follow, it was believed, the English law.
The one effectual way of bringing about such a change as this lay in a complete conquest of the island, and in its colonization by English settlers; but from this course, pressed on him as it was by his own lieutenants and by the settlers of the Pale, even the iron will of Cromwell shrank. It was at once too bloody and too expensive. To win over the chiefs, to turn them by policy and a patient generosity into English nobles, to use the traditional devotion of their tribal dependents as a means of diffusing the new civilization of their chiefs, to trust to time and steady government for the gradual reformation of the country, was a policy safer, cheaper, more humane, and more statesmanlike. It was this system which, even before the fall of the Geraldines, Henry had resolved to adopt; and it was this which he pressed on Ireland when the conquest laid it at his feet. The chiefs were to be persuaded of the advantage of justice and legal rule. Their fear of any purpose to "expel them from their lands and dominions lawfully possessed "was to be dispelled by a promise " to conserve them as their own." Even their remonstrances against the introduction of English law were to be regarded, and the course of justice to be enforced or mitigated according to the circumstances of the country.
In the resumption of lands or rights which clearly belonged to the Crown " sober ways, politic shifts, and amiable persuasions" were to be preferred to rigorous dealing. It was this system of conciliation which was in the main carried out by the English Government under Henry and his two successors. Chieftain after chieftain was won over to the acceptance of the indenture which guaranteed him in the possession of his lands, and left his authority over his tribesmen untouched, on condition of a pledge of loyalty, of abstinence from illegal wars and exactions on his fellow-subjects, and of rendering a fixed tribute and service in war-time to the Crown.