Celtic Geographies: Landscapes, Culture and Identity by David Harvey

By David Harvey

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The Law of Breteuil once again provides some important evidence of how this happened, but because of the nature of the written evidence it is necessary first to examine the exclusionary capacity of urban laws in the context of an English town located in the Welsh borders, and then turn to see how the AngloNormans used this model in order to define geographies of difference in Wales and Ireland. We can see this in the way that William fitz Osbern introduced the Law of Breteuil to towns in England in the 1060s, and granted it selectively to people living in Hereford.

Even if Hunter was intending ‘crofter’ to be inclusive (something he never makes wholly clear), this was ill advised. The term masks real gradations, and both differing ambitions and conflict between these groups within crofting society, as the following section will demonstrate. For Withers (1995), the land issue in both the Highlands of Scotland and rural Ireland was perhaps the most significant part of a series of shared motivations to protest. Withers (1995: 172) believes that the Land Wars in both areas were ‘rooted in earlier structural and economic changes’, and that class conflict was a significant cause of protest in both.

Once the Anglo-Normans had established themselves as lords in Ireland in the last quarter of the twelfth century, there too the Law of Breteuil was adopted in the chartering of towns. The de Lacy family, to whom Henry II had granted lands in Meath, established a new town on the River Boyne called Drogheda (see Bradley 1985). Just as Brecon had been a hundred years before, Drogheda was granted Breteuil customs in its first charter. For the same reasons that the law was used by the (Anglo-)Normans to colonise Wales, it was carried by their successors into Ireland, initially by a group of renegade lords whose interest in Ireland had been roused by an offer from the King of Leinster of lands there if they supported him in his bid to gain the control of the island (see Orpen 1911).

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