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During the Tudor re-conquest of Ireland (c.1540-1603), "surrender and regrant" was the legal mechanism by which Irish clans were to be converted from a power structure rooted in clan and kin loyalties, to a late-feudal system under the English legal system. The policy was an attempt to involve the clan chiefs within the English polity, and to guarantee their property under English common law, as distinct from the traditional Irish Brehon law system.



Surrender and Regrant was led by King Henry VIII (ruled 1509-47) in a bid to extend and secure his control over the island of Ireland. This policy was prompted by the Geraldine rebellion (1535-39) and his subsequent creation of the Kingdom of Ireland in 1541-42. Henry's problem was that many of the Irish clans remained autonomous and outside the control of his administration in Dublin.

Gaelic chiefs were actively encouraged to surrender their lands to the king, and then have them regranted (returned) under a royal charter if they swore loyalty to him. Those who surrendered were also expected to speak English, wear English-style dress, remain loyal to the Crown, pay a rent and follow English laws and customs. In return they would be protected from attack, could organise local courts and could enter the Irish parliament.

The initiative of "surrender and regrant" was launched in the 1540s under the new English Governor of Ireland, Anthony St. Leger. Essentially St. Leger's idea was to transform and assimilate the autonomous leaders of Gaelic Ireland into something akin to the political and constitutional system of England.

Families who surrendered and were regranted

Clans who partook in the process included the O'Neills of Tir Eoghain who were created the earls of Tyrone and as such sat in the Irish House of Lords from 1542. In 1543 the O'Briens of Thomond were created lords Inchiquin. The Mac Aonghusa / Magennis clan in county Down became knights, and the O'Byrnes of Wicklow, the Kavanaghs of Wicklow (lords Balyan), the O'Donnells of Donegal and the FitzPatricks of Ossory (lords Castletown) were others who accepted the system. The O'Donnell chief was created an earl briefly by King James I in 1603-07. The Clanricarde Burke took the title of earl in 1543. Theobald Burke, the heir of "Lower MacWilliam" Burke family in County Mayo, a son of Grace O'Malley, remained outside the system until 1593; he was knighted in 1603 and was created viscount Mayo in 1626.[1] Grace herself accepted the system in 1576, in respect of her own lands, though she managed her lands with a high degree of autonomy over the next two decades.[2]

Many of the regranted clan chiefs remained Roman Catholic, which, after the final split between England and Rome in 1570, meant that their new legal status was still rather tangential in the eyes of conformist officials.

Other clans such as the O'Mores of County Laois and the MacMahons of County Monaghan did not take part in the new system.

Conflict with Gaelic law

The Gaelic derbfine elective kingship method in Gaelic law clashed with surrender and regrant, as male relations as distantly related as great-grandsons of a former chief or king were eligible to be elected to succeed as chief. Often this meant that several dozen men were eligible to be elected clan chief. This inevitably led to problems, as under the new policy it was only possible for these individuals to become tenants of their chiefly cousin who had adopted surrender and regrant. Often the latter had an elected tánaiste, or deputy chief, who was pushed aside as the next chief by the son of the chief, under the system of primogeniture. This caused internal feuding, which was often exploited by English officials based in Dublin, seeking to limit a clan's power or to take some or all of its lands.

This was a major cause of the ultimate failure of the policy of Surrender and Regrant in Ireland. These tensions within clans, and also the new religious division between Catholics and Protestants from 1570, intrusion by royal officials and the lack of royal protection from continuing raids by other clans that had not accepted the new system, all made the policy frequently unworkable. Given the wars of 1595-1603, 1641-53 and 1689-91, few of the surviving clans emerged with their lands intact by 1700. By 2007 only the MacDonnell Earl of Antrim and the O'Brien Baron Inchiquin had retained much of their ancestral (pre-1500) lands.

Surrender and regrant, despite its initial success, ultimately failed in the long term because of religious differences; it had been a serious attempt to stabilize English rule by minimizing the cultural differences that had existed long before the 1500s.


  1. ^ Chambers, A. "Shadow Lord: Theobald Bourke, Tibbott-Ne-Long, 1567-1629: Son of the pirate queen Grace O'Malley" (Ashfield Press, Dublin 2007) p. 109; ISBN 978-1-901658-65-1
  2. ^ Chambers, Anne: Ireland's Pirate Queen: The True Story of Grace O'Malley, p 138. New York: MJF, 2003.


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