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Charter of Henry II: 1171-2.

Might This Small Ancient Manuscript Give Post-Brexit Bristolians Entry to Dublin?


Did you know that Bristolians are entitled to live in Dublin thanks to an 846-year-old charter written by King Henry II which has never been revoked? In other words, people from Bristol could remain EU citizens after Brexit…couldn’t they?

846-Year-Old Charter Could be a Free Ticket to Ireland for Many Bristolians

One of the earliest charters in Ireland that gives the men of Bristol the right to live in Dublin city, may be the key solution for all those Bristolians who voted against Brexit. The small piece of paper measures five inches by six and a half (12.7cm by 16.5cm), perhaps has more value now than ever before. Kept by the historians who work in the Dublin City Archives is the oldest and earliest document there and it declares triumphantly the right of the people of Bristol to live in Ireland’s capital.

The charter, which has never been revoked, was written by King Henry II and is 846 years old, dating back to the winter of 1171 and 1172 as the Bristol Post reports. Almost eight and a half centuries later, the charter could theoretically be used by Bristolians who voted against the Brexit and desire to remain European Union’s members.

King Henry II by unknown artist.

King Henry II by unknown artist. (Public Domain)

King Henry II in Ireland

King Henry's decision to invade Ireland during the late 1160’s, was influenced by several factors, including encouragement from Pope Alexander, who saw the opportunity to establish papal authority over the Irish church. The critical factor though appears to have been Henry's concern that his nobles in the Welsh Marches would acquire independent territories of their own in Ireland, beyond the reach of his authority. Henry's intervention was successful, and both the Irish and Anglo-Normans in the south and east of Ireland accepted his rule.

Although not built by Henry II, Malahide Castle near Dublin was granted to Richard Talbot, a knight who accompanied Henry II to Ireland in 1174.

Although not built by Henry II, Malahide Castle near Dublin was granted to Richard Talbot, a knight who accompanied Henry II to Ireland in 1174. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Henry undertook a wave of castle-building during his visit in 1171 to protect his new territories—the Anglo-Normans had superior military technologies to the Irish, and castles gave them a significant advantage. Henry hoped for a longer term political solution, however, similar to his approach in Wales and Scotland, and in 1175 he agreed to the Treaty of Windsor, under which Rory O'Connor would be recognized as the high king of Ireland, giving homage to Henry and maintaining stability on the ground on his behalf. This policy proved unsuccessful, as O'Connor was unable to exert sufficient influence and force in areas such as Munster: Henry instead intervened more directly, establishing a system of local fiefs of his own through a conference held in Oxford in 1177.

Tiny Fragile Document Miraculously Survived for More than 8 Centuries

The 846-year-old charter written by King Henry II, mentions among other things,

“Know ye that I have given and granted and by the present charter have confirmed to my men of Bristol my city of Dublin to inhabit.”

Dublin City Library and Archive kept the valuable document all these years when historians noticed that it has never been directly officially overturned. A spokesman for the archive said: “It is truly remarkable that such a small and fragile document has survived eight centuries of use. It is written right through, leaving no room for additions – a measure taken to prevent fraud,” the Bristol Post reports.

Could this small manuscript still carry weight?

Could this small manuscript still carry weight? (Courtesy of Dublin City Archives)

Additionally, an article on the Archives’ website also stated, “The most likely explanation is the charter’s evidential value in legal cases and the reverse is covered with annotations relating to cases where the charter was submitted to prove a point. It now resides in a purpose-made case in the Special Strongroom at Dublin City Library & Archive.” When the charter was written back in the 12 th Century, Bristol and Dublin had about the same population (around 10,000 residents) and only very few Bristolians took advantage of it at the time. However, with the current political situation in England after the Brexit, many Bristolians are showing interest to exercise their ancient right in order to keep their EU membership.

Whether this right, which after all was granted by an invading king, would still be considered to hold any weight, is yet to be established.

Bristol’s Citizens Could Take Advantage of the 1171 Charter’s Content

Andrew Lynch, a Bristol local and assistant business editor of the Sunday Times, has recently raised the topic, which gives hope to all the citizens of the city who voted against the Brexit and are looking for a way to keep their EU citizenship. Bristol’s Mayor Marvin Rees is one of the several mayors from the Core Cities – a self-selected and self-financed collaborative advocacy group of large regional cities in the United Kingdom and outside Greater London – that plan to meet chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier. He should also consider the possibility of meeting Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar and Dublin’s Lord Mayor Mícheál Mac Donncha, to re-establish Bristol’s charter over Dublin, the Bristol Post suggests.

Ultimately, at the moment anyone from Bristol can freely move and work in Dublin – as well as any other country/part of EU – due to the fact that Bristol’s still a city within the European Union, where free movement of people is allowed. However after Brexit, Dubliners will still be able to freely move, work and live anywhere in Britain thanks to rights granted as part of the Anglo-Irish Treaty that granted independence to Ireland in 1921, while Bristolians will not be able to do the same, unless it is possible to take advantage of their 1171 Charter’s rights.

Top image: Charter of Henry II: 1171-2. Source: Dublin City Council

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Theodoros Karasavvas's picture


Theodoros Karasavvas, J.D.-M.A. has a cum laude degree in Law from the University of Athens, a Masters Degree in Legal History from the University of Pisa, and a First Certificate in English from Cambridge University. When called upon to do... Read More

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