Caught Red-Handed! Law and Order in Medieval England

Caught Red-Handed! Law and Order in Medieval England

In medieval societies , it was always quite important to preserve law and order, and to rightfully dispense justice. A just ruler secured himself an obedient populace, and often enough, justice was rough, tough, and brutal.

With the gradual shift from classical antiquity and the beginnings of the Middle Ages , plenty of things were changing in the social order and the law. People had to adapt their conduct or suffer the consequences. And when they failed to comply, they would do anything not to get caught, for punishments were merciless.

Today take a look into the intriguing world of early law and order in medieval English society, and the way crime was dealt with. How to preserve a monarch’s credibility? How to lower crime levels and maintain social castes? Crime and punishment awaits us – this time, in medieval England!

The Earliest Forms of Law and Order in Medieval England

The earliest attested law code in the history of England dates to quite early in the Anglo-Saxon period. It was a law code drawn up by King Æthelberht of Kent, the first English ruler to convert to Christianity and, by all accounts, the third Anglo-Saxon king. His conversion occurred in 597 AD, and the law code was issued shortly before it.

Most scholars today agree that this code was simply the first appearance of pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon laws assembled in written form . The first parts of it dealt with church affairs, but the rest is a pretty clear insight into the legal matters of Anglo-Saxon society.

The law code is also the first one ever written in a Germanic language and is a fantastic source of Old English. Considering its age and how early it was written, this law is remarkably detailed and well developed. Æthelberht’s code begins with a few laws related to the church, then goes through society from the king himself, to the nobles, the freemen, and ends with laws in regard to slaves.

King dictating the law. (British Library / )

This early English law code stands out with its peculiar clauses and exact compensations attributed to each offence. It also posed a good insight into the type of crimes that were considered in the period.

For example, in laws regarding stealing from free men, it is stated that the thief needed to repay three times the value of the stolen goods. Or, if one free man breaks the rib of another – he was required to pay 3 shillings. Interestingly, if an offender broke a free man’s front teeth, he would have to pay more than if breaking his molars.

Plenty of laws also deal with offending a citizen or smearing his honor. This included assaulting him, taking his woman, or sleeping with his female slaves. In such cases, offenders were punished financially – nobles had to pay 12 shillings, while free man only half of that sum – 6 shillings.

In total, the offences that smeared a free man’s honor, regardless of physical injury or not, were considerably greater than the punishments for murder. That’s just how much a man’s honor was highly regarded in Anglo-Saxon society.

Roughly a century later, another law code was issued. Known as the Law of Hloþhere and Eadric, it is another important Kentish legal code, significantly refined and focusing on the legal procedures, omitting the church affairs. It is the work of, as the name suggests, two Kentish kings – Hloþhere (died 685) and Eadric (died 686).

It consisted of a set of judgments, depending on the crime and the social caste, and among others included such offences as: compensation for the killing of a noble by a servant, fines for insults and disturbing the peace, how to deal with stolen property and those possessing it, acquisition of property in Lundenwic (London), hospitality and responsibility for the behavior of foreign guests, and others .

Medieval torture was used when someone broke the law. (Årvasbåo)

Again, there is a clear emphasis on honor in this code as well. Plenty of sentencing and trials relied on a system of oath taking – where the word of a free man was held in high regard. If failing to respect a given oath, a man would be fined significantly.

Immediately following the Law of Hloþhere and Eadric, and issued by their successor, was the Law of Wihtred. This Kentish king ruled from around 690 to 725, and in the early parts of his reign issued his legal code, with a focus on offences against the church, and dealing with thievery.

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The first page of the 12 th century manuscript known as the Textus Roffensis, which contains the oldest surviving copy of Wihtred's law code. (Deacon of Pndapetzim / )

Church related affairs had a great part in this code, with one of the first parts stating that the church was thereby exempt from paying any taxes to the king. Other laws seemingly placed a greater emphasis on Christian religious practices, stating that offerings to pagan gods would be punished, as well as meat consumption during a Christian fast.

Even slaves had religious rights, with nobles having to be punished if they forced their slaves to work on the Sabbath. Thieves that were caught in the act could be freely killed, without any repercussions.

Pass the Sentence – Crime in the Middle Ages

One aspect of general Anglo-Saxon law was granting the lords and ealdormen – the nobles – a privilege to execute summary justice (capital punishment), within the borders of their own lands, i.e. their fiefs. These privileges were known as infangene-þēof (Infangthief) and ūtfangene-þēof (Outfangthief) – or “a thief seized within” and “a thief seized without”.

The first dealt with thieves caught “red handed” and in possession of stolen goods – on the lord’s land. For the poor – this almost always meant a quick execution. But for thieves of rank, the captor was given an option of ransoming the thief. The outfangthief meant that even if a thief came from outside the boundaries of a lord’s fief, the said lord still had the full rights to execute justice of his own accord.

The breaking wheel was used during the Middle Ages as a form as execution. (Evrik / )

For the lords, these privileges were a great benefit. Summarily dealing with thievery not only helped them to keep law and order on their own land, but also helped them cement their authority. Show too much kindness, people won’t fear you. If they don’t fear you, they don’t obey you.

Up until the arrival of the Normans, several unique criminal cases were documented in Anglo-Saxon England. For any such cases that were “out of the norm”, the king himself had to summon a witan – a council of wise men – in order to successfully solve the crime. Plenty of cases were documented, all showcasing that honor and justice were held in the highest regard in the society.

In the early 1000’s there was a documented trial against a free man, named Thorkel, and his wife. They had murdered their son. In the mid-11 th century, a cleric was branded and three men executed, because they robbed the Abbey Church of Waltham Holy Cross.

But perhaps the most notable series of crimes, trials, and exiles is connected with the infamous Earl Sweyn Godwinson. This was the eldest son of Earl Godwin of Wessex and the brother of Harald Godwinson , who would fall in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Earl Sweyn was a particularly restless man, and a string of his crimes and “misdemeanors” survived in writing.

At first he quarreled with his own mother, seemingly over the true identity of his father. It seems he had some doubts and claimed that his true father was Cnut the Great . This grew into a feud and his mother insisted that his claim was false, presenting several well respected witnesses to vouch for her.

His next escapade was an abduction. The earl abducted an abbess of Leominster Abbey, named Eadgyfu, hoping to marry her and thus claim the rich estates of the abbey. The king himself intervened and naughty Earl Sweyn earned himself an exile to Flanders.

From there he traveled to Denmark, from which he was also exiled for an offence. He returned to England and begged for forgiveness, seemingly receiving it.

Back in England, Earl Sweyn messed up once again. While under a flag of truce, he murdered his own cousin, Earl Beorn. This was the last straw and a great outrage – the king and his council formally declared Sweyn as a niðing – a man without honor.

This declaration made him an outcast in the entire realm and northern world, and he was forced into permanent exile. His story again shows us that a man’s honor was the very fabric that held the Anglo-Saxon society together.

The Anglo-Saxon law received its strongest foundations during the rule of the famous Alfred the Great . He established the system of ealdormen and reeves. An ealdorman was the chief ruler and official of a shire.

A shire’s modern equivalent is a county. In essence a lord, an ealdorman’s role was to preside over the shire’s court, recruit its soldiers, take a third of the profits, and generally rule the region.

Below him and in his service, was a reeve. A reeve was a senior official and an overseer of a particular estate. In the manorial system, a reeve was an overseer of the peasants and the workers and reported to the steward and the earl. But they all, in the end, had to report to the king himself.

The Lord’s Law – the Norman Feudal System

The face of Anglo-Saxon law disintegrated with the arrival of William and the Normans. Everything changed in the decades following the defeat at the Battle of Hastings, and the Normans gradually established a continental European law system – bringing a strong, centralized government and the iconic Norman Feudalism.

With Anglo-Saxon earls subdued, their lands were taken. William quickly gave lands to his trusted followers – some 180 of them. This brought on the rule of the Norman aristocracy and a feudal system. This meant that powerful feudal lords held tenements directly from the crown.

William’s Norman system was both good and bad, depending on who’s examining it. But in essence, the feudal system and the rule of powerful lords meant stricter and harsher laws, and thus more peace and obedience. On the other hand, the feudal system greatly oppressed the poor, almost entirely erasing the previous Anglo-Saxon aspect of free men.

But William also focused on further developing the justice system in his new kingdom. An interesting addition was that of the jury. To confirm the accused person of guilt, a sort of a “primitive” jury was assembled. It was made up from local middle class men and consisted of four Normans and four Anglo-Saxons.

Trial by jury was implemented in the middle ages. (Merchbow~commonswiki)

In most other aspects, the Normans simply retained the previous, Anglo-Saxon law, only expanding it where necessary. Additions related to poaching and the forbidding of hunting in the king’s forests. Also to trial by combat, and sworn testimonies.

The core of medieval English law occurred during the rule of Henry II. He established the so-called common law , which greatly differed from the feudal justice system. It was common for all men in any part of the country.

The jury system was refined and became the standard, a centralized royal court was established, and professional judges presided over cases. This common law reached its height with the famous “ Magna Carta ” – the Great Charter of English liberty, which was implemented in 1215 by King John Lackland .

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A romanticized 19th-century recreation of King John signing Magna Carta. (Jappalang / )

His predecessor, Henry II , laid out the foundations of common law, forming a centralized monarchy that made it possible for the legal system to be redefined. He integrated all the minor local courts into a single judicial structure that presided over the entire country. He also created a centralized royal court which, among other things, presided over civil cases and disputes.

Court officials were sent on official visits all over the country, where they observed the law and presided on cases. And last but not least, the courts were required to keep written records of their work. By establishing all these and other rules, Henry II laid out a clear path for the formation of a strong common law for medieval England.

Traveling law and order, trial before the city court. (Lewenstein)

The Final Sentence

Law and the concept of justice had a long road of development. From the classical Roman law, to the strongly honorable warrior based traditions of Anglo-Saxons, down to the Christian church’s goofy trials by ordeal , and all the way to the Norman feudal system, and the refined English common law – the path of law was refined by generations of rulers.

But one thing remained. Thieves and murderers, criminals and rivals, all were judged strictly and without much mercy. A head could be lost for the simplest of trespasses, and the executioner’s sword was the swiftest bringer of justice.

Sumptuary law

Sumptuary laws (from Latin sumptuāriae lēgēs) are laws that try to regulate consumption. Black's Law Dictionary defines them as "Laws made for the purpose of restraining luxury or extravagance, particularly against inordinate expenditures for apparel, food, furniture, etc." [1] Historically, they were intended to regulate and reinforce social hierarchies and morals through restrictions on clothing, food, and luxury expenditures, often depending on a person's social rank.

Societies have used sumptuary laws for a variety of purposes. They were used to try to regulate the balance of trade by limiting the market for expensive imported goods. They made it easy to identify social rank and privilege, and as such could be used for social discrimination. [2]

The laws often prevented commoners from imitating the appearance of aristocrats, and could be used to stigmatize disfavored groups. In Late medieval cities, sumptuary laws were instituted as a way for the nobility to limit the conspicuous consumption of the prosperous bourgeoisie. If bourgeois subjects appeared to be as wealthy as or wealthier than the ruling nobility, it could undermine the nobility's presentation of themselves as powerful, legitimate rulers. This could call into question their ability to control and defend their fief, and inspire traitors and rebels. Such laws continued to be used for these purposes well into the 17th century. [2]

Origin: In the 18th century, it was common to get your portrait done--but not all portraits were equal in price. Paintings without certain limbs showing were less expensive having visible limbs cost more.

Meaning: To get information indirectly

The first telegraph stations in the U.S. had twisting, bundling wires that often draped in random patterns around the station. Both operators and bystanders thought the tangled webs looked like grapevines, giving rise to the common expression. It was then commemorated in the famous song by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, "Heard It Through the Grapevine."

3. Arrest, imprisonment and the seizure of goods

In instances of treason, rebellion or homicide, the lands and possessions of the individual would normally have been seized by the crown by the time a second writ of capias had been issued. In other cases, a new writ of capias utlagatum could be issued out of the courts of King&rsquos Bench and Common Pleas, ordering the sheriff to apprehend the outlaw for not appearing, to keep him in custody until the day of return and then produce him in court. A special writ of capias utlagatum could also command the sheriff to seize possessions.

Many debt-related actions did not proceed to outlawry. A writ was obtained from Chancery ordering the sheriff to make an inquisition into the possessions of a defaulting debtor. Having returned this &lsquoextent&rsquo (C 131 and C 239), a further writ was issued allowing the creditor to recover the sum owed. Once a case had resulted in outlawry, an inquisition was officially appointed to inquire what lands, goods and chattels the outlaw possessed. Some inquisitions can be found amongst Chancery: inquisitions miscellaneous (C 145). Accounts of outlaws&rsquo goods can sometimes be found amongst the Sheriffs&rsquo accounts (E 199) and Sheriffs&rsquo accounts of seizures (E 379). For the 17 th century they are recorded in outlawry books (E 172 and E 173). The results of the inquisition were then returned to the Exchequer. These can be traced amongst Exchequer extents and inquisitions (E 143) and in the &lsquorecorda&rsquo section of the memoranda rolls (E 159 and E 368).

Lands which were forfeited escheated back to the crown and were consequently accounted for by escheators in each county. These are found on the Escheators&rsquo enrolled accounts (E 357). The extents, inquisitions and valors of forfeited lands (E 142) includes documents from the early 13 th to the mid 15 th centuries, including documents relating to the Knights&rsquo Templar and the &lsquocontrariants&rsquo.

Some isolated accounts of forfeited goods and lands of outlaws have also survived amongst King&rsquos remembrancer: accounts various (E 101), enrolled foreign accounts (E 364) and ministers&rsquo and receivers&rsquo accounts (SC 6).

Caught Red-Handed! Law and Order in Medieval England - History

Crime and Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England

There are three important trends to remember:

1. The power and influence of the king over crime and punishment grew- the king decided penalties rather than local communities.

2. The Christian Church had greater influence over people’s lives- it gave those who had committed crime an opportunity to save their soul.

3. The use of punishments, particularly the death penalty, increased. This showed the power of the king.

Anglo-Saxons believed that:

· The role of the local community in policing the behaviour of others was very important.

· God was the final judge of innocence or guilt.

· The status and position of different groups should be clear in the law.

In Anglo Saxon England the whole community was expected to play a part in delivering justice. Therefore, all men aged over 12, were divided into a tithing. This was responsible for the behaviour of all others in that tithing. Their role was to prevent crime, particularly cattle theft, in their communities.

Anyone who witnessed a crime could raise a ‘hue and cry’- shouting for help. Everyone who heard it was expected to help chase and capture the criminal.

Trial by Ordeal - in circumstances where there was not enough evidence to prove a person’s guilt, the accused would be subject to a trial by ordeal. This was a way of testing whether the accused was innocent or guilty in the eyes of God. There were a number of different trials including by hot iron, hot water or cold water.

Wergild - a punishment for murder. This was a fine paid to the victim’s family and seen as compensation for the loss of life. The fine payable was decided by social status- your class judged how much your life was worth.

Capital Punishments - this is the death penalty. Crimes such as treason or arson which were viewed seriously as they damaged the land and property of the ruling classes were punished by execution, usually hanging.

Corporal Punishments - This was meant to act as a deterrent to stop others from committing the same crime. This was usually done through mutilation- the removal of a body part. These individuals then stood as a visual reminder to others in a community of what would happen if they committed the same crime.

Stocks and pillory- this was a public punishment which combined physical pain and discomfort and public humiliation. It was used for crimes like public disorder or drunkenness. Those receiving the punishment would be made to stay in the stocks outdoors for several days, exposed to bad weather and members of the public shouting abuse or throwing rubbish at them.

A rson- This is the act of deliberately setting fire to property. Arson was treated as a serious crime in the medieval period. Buildings were mostly made of wood and fire could spread easily. It was a crime that had the potential to impact the whole community if it got out of control.

Poaching- This is the act of hunting game or fish on land that is not owned by the individual. Peasants could only hunt on common land, to hunt elsewhere required a royal licence. The punishment for poaching included hanging, castration, blinding, or being sewn into a deer skin and then hunted down by ferocious dogs.

Petty Theft- Perhaps the most common of crimes in the Middle Ages. This is the theft of low value goods from an individual. This was often punished by a form of public humiliation or mutilation.

Treason- This is the act of disloyalty to the crown, including attempts to murder the monarch or act against the monarch. In 1351, to be hung, drawn and quartered became a statutory penalty for treason.

Attacking Royal Officials- This offence was clearly demonstrated during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 where many royal officials were attacked and killed, including the Lord Chancellor. The rebel leaders were tracked down and executed. At least 1500 rebels were killed in the suppression of the revolt.

Murder- This is the act of unlawfully killing another person. Often it led to further crimes in vengeance of the initial murder. The punishment was death, however women accused of murder were strangled and then burnt.

Protest- Protests often occurred as a result of injustices suffered by the poor. The rebels would never direct their anger at the king but rather at his advisors. Revolts rarely led to positive change for peasants, the rebel leaders would be executed and laws may be tightened to stop further protests happening.

Stealing Crops- Stealing another person’s crops was taken very seriously in Medieval Britain considering the effort it took to produce food. Crops were often stolen from lords who owned large amounts of land. However, like petty theft, the thief could face having a hand cut off as punishment. Food was so valuable that in some cases mice were publicly tried for stealing part of the harvest!

Rebellion- Rebellion was the most extreme form of protest in the Middle Ages. It was the ultimate show of anger against injustice and an attack on authority. Rebellions could start over taxation or changes to laws over common land. Often they would spread to many parts of the country and be difficult to put down.

The Norman Conquest

As a result of the Norman Conquest in 1066, England had a new king, William the Conqueror. This led to great changes in society and in crime and punishment.

· His rule marked an increase in the influence of the king over crime and punishment. Punishment and law enforcement became more centralised with less decisions taken by local communities.

· Punishments also became harsher with an increase in the use of execution. This was to demonstrate the power of the new king across his newly conquered land.

· This can be seen in Williams response to rebellions. There were great rebellions in the north in York and East Anglia. William responded brutally, executing rebels and destroying farmland and animals- it is estimated that 100,000 people died of starvation from the food shortages.

· His power could also be seen in his castle building programme. Castles were designed to keep watch over communities and look intimidating- another great show of power and royal authority from the new king.

If a Norman was murdered by an Anglo-Saxon and the murderer was not captured and executed a special penalty known as a murdrum fine was levied.

This was a large sum of money to be paid by the community where the body was found.

This does show some continuity from the Anglo-Saxon period as the murdrum fine was a collective responsibility of a community like a tithing or paying financial compensation for murder like the wergild.

William declared huge amounts of land in the English countryside to be royal forests. Land that had previously been ‘common land’ and for the use of peasants and communities was now strictly controlled by the king. Hunting animals in the royal forests was now a crime called poaching.

People resented the forest laws and many continued to break the law. However, anyone caught faced harsh punishments, from hanging to castration or blinding. They were so harsh as they were meant to deter others from committing the same offence.

Caught red-handed

: : : : : I was told by a teacher that the phrase "caught red-handed" came from medieval times when the king own all the land and nobody was allowed to hunt animals. The king's men could not prove that you had killed the animal unless you had its blood on your hands. Is there any truth to this?

: : : : 'I was told' usually isn't a promising start to a query. The last 'I was told' that I was mailed before this one (which didn't get through the daftness filter) was an ('absolutely definitely true') account that the word 'pissed' originated because poor peasants couldn't afford alcohol and had to buy and drink the piss of those who could, at a penny a gallon (which also explained 'spend a penny' you understand).

: : : : Back to sanity. 'Red-handed' does appear to derive from suspects of crime having blood on their hands. I don't know about the requirement that a suspect had to have bloody hands in order to be proven guilty - that seems fanciful.

: : : Although the King (or 'The Crown') did - and indeed still does - own all land in the United Kingdom, there has never been a time when there has been a blanket ban on hunting.

: : : It has been (and still is) seriously restricted in many places, but has had a continuous (I believe) history.

: : That was a thoroughly stupid idea of your teacher's. Can you imagine the manorial court, faced with a serf in whose cottage an illegally-killed hare or deer had been found hung up ready to be cooked, letting him go unpunished because there was no blood on his hands? Really imagine it? But, DFG, for most of the Middle Ages there *was* a blanket ban in England on anyone but the king or noblemen to whom he had given permission hunting in the (extensive) royal forests peasants were forbidden to own dogs capable of hunting (their dogs had by law to be maimed by the removal of several claws). And well into the 19th century, men owning less than a fixed minimum of land were forbidden to shoot game - even on their own property! (VSD)

: There was a ban on hunting im Royal forests, certainly. There still is. This is not the same, to my mind, as a 'blanket ban':

Up untill I checked out Google, I was confident that the expression came from a story (the Bible? Aesop?) because (and the first part of my memory is vague) . there was a thief who got caught because a donkey's tail was dyed red. Hence he was caught "red handed". Has anyone heard of this? My teacher was very confident. (Why the thief was pulling the donkey's tale, I can't say, but it made sense at the time). Pamela

Phrase: “Break the ice”

Meaning: To break the ice means to start a conversation, initiate friendship, or prevent an awkward interaction. It’s a phrase you might hear after you’ve enrolled in classes. On the first day, students often begin introducing themselves to get to know one another during icebreaker activities.

History: In olden days, port cities in cold climates relied on ships called icebreakers to help commercial ships navigate through icy waters to get into and out of the city.

10. Pull someone’s leg

Meaning: To trick or fool someone.

Origin: This phrase stems from a method used by street thieves in 18th and 19th century London. Often working in pairs, one thief, known as a “tripper up,” was tasked with tripping up an unsuspecting victim using a cane, rope or piece of wire. The other thief robs the victim as he lay on the ground. Pulling your leg originally referred to the way the “tripper up” tried to make someone stumble. Today it only refers to tripping someone figuratively.


The Red Hand is rooted in Gaelic culture and, although its origin and meaning is unknown, it is believed to date back to pagan times.

The Red Hand is first documented in surviving records in the 13th century, where it was used by the Hiberno-Norman de Burgh earls of Ulster. [2] It was Walter de Burgh who became first Earl of Ulster in 1243 who combined the de Burgh cross with the Red Hand to create a flag that represented the Earldom of Ulster and later became the modern Flag of Ulster.

It was afterwards adopted by the O'Neills (Uí Néill) when they assumed the ancient kingship of Ulster (Ulaid), inventing the title Rex Ultonie (king of Ulster) for themselves in 1317 and then claiming it unopposed from 1345 onwards. [3] [4] [5] An early Irish heraldic use in Ireland of the open right hand can be seen in the seal of Aodh Reamhar Ó Néill, king of the Irish of Ulster, 1344–1364. [6]

An early-15th-century poem by Mael Ó hÚigínn is named Lámh dhearg Éireann í Eachach, [7] [8] the first line of which is a variation of the title: "Lamh dhearg Éiriond Ibh Eathoch", [8] translated as "The Úí Eachach are the 'red hand' of Ireland". [9] The Uí Eachach were one of the Cruthin tribes (known as the Dál nAraidi after 773 [10] ) that made up the ancient kingdom of Ulaid. [11] [12]

The Red Hand symbol is believed to have been used by the O'Neills during its Nine Years' War (1594–1603) against English rule in Ireland, and the war cry lámh dearg Éireann abú! ("the Red Hand of Ireland to victory") was also associated with them. [13] An English writer of the time noted "The Ancient Red Hand of Ulster, the bloody Red Hand, a terrible cognizance! And in allusion to that terrible cognizance—the battle cry of Lamh dearg abu!" [5]

The Order of Baronets was instituted by letters patent dated 10 May 1612, which state that "the Baronets and their descendants shall and may bear, either in a canton in their coat of arms, or in an inescutcheon, at their election, the arms of Ulster, that is, in a field argent, a hand gules, or a bloody hand." [14] The oldest baronets used a dexter (right) hand just like the O'Neills however, it later became a sinister (left) hand. [14]

Dispute over ownership Edit

The exclusive rights to the use of the Red Hand symbol has proved a matter of debate over the centuries, primarily whether it belonged to the O'Neills (Uí Néill) or the Magennises (Méig Aonghasa). The O'Neills became the chief dynasty of the Cenél nEógain of the Northern Uí Néill and later the kings of Ulster, whilst the Magennises were the ruling dynasty of the Uí Eachach Cobo, the chief dynasty of the Cruthin of Ulaid, [12] and also head of the Clanna Rudraige. [15] A 16th-century poem noted disagreement between the "Síol Rúraí" (an alias for Clanna Rudraige) and the Northern Uí Néill.

A dispute, dated to 1689, arose between several Irish poets about whose claim to the Red Hand was the most legitimate. [2] [16] [17]

    , one of the last fully trained Irish bardic poets, [18] admonishes the claim of the O'Neills to the Red Hand, arguing that it rightly belongs to the Magennises, who should be allowed to keep it. [16] He supports his statement citing several medieval texts attributing it to Conall Cernach, the legendary ancestor of the Uí Eachach Cobo. [16] refutes the Clanna Róigh (Clanna Rudraige) right to the symbol. [16] He cites a story based on the Lebor Gabála Érenn claiming that it belongs to the descendants of Érimón, from whom Conn of the Hundred Battles and thus the O'Neills are said to descend. [16]
  • Niall Mac Muireadhaigh dismisses both these claims and states that the symbol belongs to the Clann Domhnaill (descended from the Three Collas, the legendary ancestors of the Airgíalla). [16] Mac Muireadhaigh derides Ó Donnghaile as a fool and finds it deplorable that he is an author. [16]

Further poetic quatrains in the dispute were written by Mac an Baird, Ó Donnghaile, as well as by Mac an Bhaird's son Eoghain. [16] The Mac an Bhairds appear to deride Ó Donnghaile as not having come from a hereditary bardic family and that he is of very low rank without honour, as well as hinting at his family's genealogical link to the O'Neills. [16]

Writing in 1908, the then head of the O'Neill clan says of the Red Hand: "History teaches us that already in pagan days it was adopted by the O'Neills from the Macgennis, who were princes in the north of Ireland region inhabited by them". [19]

Possible origins Edit

Those involved in the bardic dispute of 1689 claimed that the Red Hand symbol came from a legendary ancestor who put his bloodstained hand on a banner after victory in battle:

  • Diarmaid Mac an Bhaird claimed that Conall Cernach (a mythical Ulaid hero from the Ulster Cycle) put his bloodied hand on a banner as he avenged the death of Cú Chulainn (another mythical Ulaid hero), and it has belonged to the descendants of Conall since then. [16] This he says is backed up by medieval texts such as the Scéla Mucce Meie Da Thó ("The Tale of Mac Da Thó's Pig"), the Leabhar Ultach (also known as the Senchas Ulad and Senchas Síl Ír), and Ó hÚigínn's poem beginning Lámh Éireann í Eachach. [16]
  • Eoghan Ó Donnghaile, basing his tale on the Lebor Gabála Érenn, claimed that after the Milesians defeated the Tuatha Dé Danann, they are granted three precious objects, amongst them a banner bearing the red hand. [16] This banner eventually ended up without contest in the hands of the descendants of Míl's son Érimón, from whom Conn of the Hundred Battles and thus the O'Neills are said to descend. [16] The surviving texts of the Lebor Gabála Érenn mention four treasures but not a banner. [16]
  • Niall Mac Muireadhaigh claimed that when the Three Collas defeated the Ulaid, that one of the Collas placed their bloodied hand on a banner taken from them. [16] He then states the Clann Domhnaill have used the symbol within his own time, and accepts the poem Lámh Éireann í Eachach. [16] However, according to historian Gordon Ó Riain, Mac Muireadhaigh has mistaken the í Eachach element to mean the descendants of Echu Doimlén, father of the Collas, when in fact it is in reference to Echu Coba, legendary ancestor of the Magennises. [16]

Historian Francis J. Bigger notes the use of a right hand by the O'Neills around 1335, and surmises that it may have been for them a symbol signifying divine assistance and strength, whilst also suggesting that the ancient Phoenicians may have brought the symbol to Ireland. [20]

In medieval Irish literature, several real and legendary kings were given the byname 'red hand' or 'red handed' to signify that they were great warriors. [21] One is the mythical High King of Ireland, Lugaid Lámderg (Lugaid the red handed), who, according to Eugene O'Curry, is cited in one Irish legend as being king of the Cruthin of Ulaid during the reign of the mythical Conchobar Mac Nessa. [22] [23] The O'Neills believed in the Middle Ages that a messianic 'red handed' king called Aodh Eangach would come to lead them and drive the English out of Ireland. [21] In a 1901 edition of the All Ireland Review, a writer called "M.M." suggests that the Red Hand is named after the founder of the Clanna Rudraige, Rudraige mac Sithrigi, [24] and that Rudraige's name may mean "red wrist". [24] In another edition a "Y.M." suggests likewise, arguing that Rudraige's name means "red arm". [25] They also suggest that the Cróeb Ruad (Red Branch) of ancient Ulaid may actually come from crob and ruadh (red hand). [25]

In another legend which has become widespread, the first man to lay his hand on the province of Ulster would have claim to it. [26] As a result the warriors rushed towards land with one chopping off his hand and throwing it over his comrades and thus winning the land. [26] In some versions of the tale, the person who cuts off his hand belongs to the O'Neills, or is Niall of the Nine Hostages himself. [ citation needed ] In other versions, the person is the mythical Érimón. [27]

'Red Hand' as a byname Edit

In medieval Irish literature, several real and legendary kings were given the byname 'red hand' or 'red-handed' (lámhdhearg or crobhdhearg). It signified that they were a great warrior, their hand being red with the blood of their enemies. [21]

  • The ancient Irish god Nuada Airgetlám (Nuada the silver-handed) was also known by the alias Nuada Derg Lamh, the red-handed, amongst other aliases. [28] Nuada is stated in the Book of Lecan as being the ancestor of the Eoganachta and Dál gCais of Munster. [28] is a legendary figure who appears in the Book of Leinster and the "chaotic past" of the descent of the Dál gCais. [29][30] His epithet meaning "red hand", was transferred to Lugaid Meann around the start of the Irish historic period. [29]
  • Labraid Lámderg (red hand Labraid) is a character in the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology. [1][31]
  • The Annals of the Four Masters mentions "Reachta Righdhearg" (Rechtaid Rígderg) as a High King of Ireland. [32] He gained the name "Righdhearg" according to Geoffrey Keating as he had an arm that was "exceeding Red". [32] Reachta is listed as the great-grandson of "Lughaigdh Lamdhearg" (Lugaid Lámderg). [32] , otherwise known as "Cathal the Red-Handed O'Conor", was a king of Connacht in the early 13th century. [33] There is a poem that is attributed as having been composed between 1213 and Cathal's death in 1224, which makes frequent reference to Cathal's red hand. [34]
  • A Dermott Lamhdearg is cited by Meredith Hanmer in his "Chronicles of Ireland" (first published in 1633), as being a king of Leinster who fought a battle around the start of the 5th century against an army of marauders at Knocknigen near Dublin. [35]
  • The Kavanaghs of Borris, County Carlow, descend from Dermot Kavanagh Lamhdearg, lord of St Mullin's, the second son of Gerald Kavanagh, Lord of Ferns in 1431. [36] Gerald was descended from Domhnall Caomhánach, a son of Diarmait Mac Murchada, king of Leinster. [36]
  • The Cavenaghs of Kildare that became part of the Protestant Ascendancy are kin of the Kavanagh's of Borris and according to their own traditions claim descent from a Cathair Rua Caomhánach who was said to descend the Lámhdhearg (Red Hand) branch of the Caomhánach clan. [37]
  • Quatran 78 of the classical Irish poem Carn Fraoich Soitheach na Saorchlann, makes mention of the "inghean ríogh lámhdhearg Laighean", translated as "a descendant (lit. daughter) of the red-handed kings of Leinster". [38] This poem, as well as the related poem Osnach Carad i gCluain Fraoch, mention a Carn Lámha, the burial place of Fraoch's hand. [39]
  • Gleoir Lamhderg, or Gleoir the red-handed, was a king of the Lamraighe and allegedly the step-father Fionn mac Cumhaill from the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology. [40] The Lamraighe are claimed as descending from Lamha, a son of Conchobar mac Nessa, a legendary king of Ulster. [40]

The Dextera Dei, or "Right Hand of God", is a symbol that appears on only three high crosses in Ireland: the Cross of Muiredach at Monasterboice the Cross of King Flann (also known as the Cross of the Scriptures) at Clonmacnoise and the Cross in the Street of Kells. [20] The former two have the full hand with fingers extended similar to the Red Hand. [20] The form and position of the Kells Dextera Dei is of a pattern usually found on the Continent, whereas that used at Monasterboice and Clonmacnoise appears to unique within Christendom. [20]

The Dextera Dei is suggested by Francis J. Bigger as representing the old-world figurative expression of signifying strength and power, and such hand symbols can be found in ancient civilisations including amongst others the Assyrians, Babylonians, Carthaginians, Chaldeans and Phoenicians. [20] It is also used by Jews, Muslims, and can be found in use in Palestine and Morocco. [20] Aboriginal Australians revered the hands of their deceased chieftains. [20] Another historian, F. J. Elworthy, according to Bigger, conclusively proved the ancient character and widespread usage of the symbol amongst early pagan civilisations. [20]

According to Charles Vallancey in 1788, a red hand pointing upwards was the armorial symbol of the kings of Ireland, and that it was still in use by the O'Brien family, whose motto was Lamh laidir an uachdar, meaning "the strong hand up" or "the strong hand will prevail". [41] Hands feature prominently in Dermot O'Connor's 18th-century publication "Blazons and Irish Heraldic Terminology", with the Ó Fearghail sept bearing the motto Lámh dhearg air chlogad lúptha. [42]

The form in common use is an open right (dexter) hand coloured red, with the fingers pointing upwards, the thumb held parallel to the fingers, and the palm facing forward.

Coats of arms used by those whose surnames are of Uí Néill descent—Ó Donnghaile, Ó Catháin, Mac Aodha, Ó Dálaigh, Ó Maéilsheachlainn and Ó Ceatharnaigh, to name just a few—all feature the Red Hand in some form. On the Ó Néill and Donnelly coat of arms featuring the Red Hand, the motto is Lámh Dhearg Éireann (Red Hand of Ireland). [43] The arms of the chiefs of the Scottish Clan MacNeil (of Barra) contain the Red Hand the clan has traditionally claimed descent from Niall of the Nine Hostages. Many other families have used the Red Hand to highlight an Ulster ancestry. The head of the Guinness family, the Earl of Iveagh, has three Red Hands on his arms granted as recently as 1891. [44]

The Red Hand is present in the arms of a number of Ulster's counties, such as Antrim, Cavan, Londonderry, Monaghan and Tyrone. It also appears in the Ulster Banner, and is used by many other official and non-official organisations throughout the province.

The arms of The Irish Society that carried out the Plantation of Ulster feature the Red Hand. [45]

The Red Hand can be regarded as one of the very few cross-community symbols used in Northern Ireland (which makes up six of Ulster's nine counties) crossing the sectarian political divide. Due to its roots as a Gaelic Irish symbol, nationalist/republican groups have used (and continue to use) it—for example, the republican Irish Citizen Army, the republican National Graves Association, Belfast, the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, and GAA clubs in Ulster. Other organisations within the nine counties of Ulster and also supported within the political sectarian divide, use it happily in the six Ulster counties within Northern Ireland, such as the Ulster Hockey Union, these are supported from both sides of the community—nationalist and unionist. As the most identifiable symbol of Ulster, at the start of the 20th century it has also been used by Northern Ireland's unionists and loyalists, such as its use in the Ulster Covenant (1912) and in the arms of the Government of Northern Ireland (from 1922 and now abolished), the Ulster Banner (the former flag of the Northern Ireland government), the Ulster Volunteers and loyalist paramilitary groups based only within Northern Ireland such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association among others.

Baronets Edit

A left (sinister) Red Hand is an option for baronets to add to their arms to indicate their rank. The College of Arms formally allowed this in 1835, ruling that the baronets of England, Ireland, Great Britain or the United Kingdom may "bear either a canton in their coat of arms, or in an escutcheon, at their pleasure, the arms of Ulster (to wit) a Hand Gules or a Bloody Hand in a Field Argent." [47] It is blazoned as follows: A hand sinister couped at the wrist extended in pale gules. [48]

King James I of England established the hereditary Order of Baronets in England on 22 May 1611, in the words of Collins (1741): "for the plantation and protection of the whole Kingdom of Ireland, but more especially for the defence and security of the Province of Ulster, and therefore for their distinction those of this order and their descendants may bear (the Red Hand of Ulster) in their coats of arms either in a canton or an escutcheon at their election". [48] Such baronets may also display the Red Hand of Ulster on its own as a badge, suspended by a ribbon below the shield of arms. [49] Baronets of Nova Scotia, unlike other baronets, do not use the Red Hand of Ulster, but have their own badge showing the Royal Arms of Scotland on a shield over the Saltire of St Andrew. [47] The left-hand version has also been used by the Irish National Foresters, the Irish Citizen Army and the Federated Workers' Union of Ireland.

The Surprising Origins of 21 Common Phrases

Human language is an ever-evolving form of communication. Have you ever heard a phrase or saying and wondered where it came from or what it originally meant? Check out this list of the origins of 21 Common Phrases and Sayings.

1. Bite the Bullet

Meaning: to accept something difficult, the unpleasant truth of a situation.

Origin: In times before anesthesia, soldiers were told by surgeons to bite down on a bullet to help deal with the pain during surgery and amputations.

2. Caught Red Handed

Meaning: to be caught in the act of doing something wrong.

Origin: In an old law, if a person was accused of butchering another man’s animal, they had to be caught with the blood of that animal still on their hands.

3. Butter Someone Up

Meaning: Flatter someone, play to their ego.

Origin: Ancient Indian custom of throwing butter at statues of Gods to seek favor.

4. Jaywalker

Meaning: Crossing the street recklessly, not using crosswalks or waiting on signals.

Origin: Jay birds that travel out of forests and into cities often become confused and walk around the streets erratically.

5. Kick the Bucket

Meaning: to die.

Origin: A bucket was placed under a cow at the slaughterhouse before it was killed, and sometimes it would knock it over in its death throes.

6. Cat's Got Your Tongue

Meaning: Said when someone doesn’t know what to say.

Origin: In medieval times, liars and blasphemes would have their tongues ripped out and fed to cats.

7. Spill the Beans

Meaning: To reveal a secret.

Origin: In ancient Greek organizations, they would vote by dropping beans into a can. White beans were often used for approval, and black or brown for disapproval. Occasionally a clumsy voter would knock the cans over, thus spoiling the secret of the votes cast.

8. No Spring Chicken

Meaning: someone past their prime, or no longer "young".

Origin: New England chicken farmers sold their chickens in spring when they were in their prime. If a chicken wasn’t sold then it was considered “no spring chicken.”

9. Rub the Wrong Way

Meaning: To irritate or agitate someone.

Origin: Referring to colonial woodworkers who would dry-rub the oak against the grain.

10. Blood is Thicker than Water

Meaning: Family ties are the strongest bond.

Origin: The correct meaning of this phrase is different than the popular / current day one. The original phrase was "the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb" essentially meaning the blood shed in battle bonds soldiers more closely than simple genetics or relation.

11. Sleep Tight

Meaning: Have a good night's sleep / Sleep well.

Origin: In Shakespearean times, mattresses were connected to the frames with rope and to make the bed more firm you had to tighten the rope.

12. The Whole Nine Yards

Meaning: To give it your all, to try your best.

Origin: The bullets for the machine guns used in American combat planes of WW2 were in chains twenty-seven feet in length. Thus if a pilot was able to fire all his bullets off he was said to have given the enemy 'the whole nine yards'.

13. Pleased as Punch

Meaning: to be very happy, pleased with yourself.

Origin: A 17th century puppet show for children called Punch and Judy featured a puppet named Punch who would kill people, then feel very pleased with himself afterwards.

14. Go Cold Turkey

Meaning: to quit or give something up abruptly.

Origin: Refers to drug addicts having pale skin with goosebumps during withdrawals, like the skin of a turkey.

15 . Saved by the Bell

Meaning: to be rescued from an unwanted situation.

Origin: Before the advancements of modern medicine, they would accidentally bury people who weren't actually dead. To combat this they connected a bell with a string from the coffin leading to the surface so a buried victim could alert gravediggers of the mistake.

16. More than You Can Shake a Stick At

Meaning: a large amount or quantity of something.

Origin: Farmers herded sheep by waving sticks. When they had more sheep than they could control, the phrase was born.

17. Breaking the Ice

Meaning: To initiate a conversation, or interaction with someone new.

Origin: In old port cities before trains or cars, large cargo ships would break through the ice during winter to allow smaller trade vessels passage.

18. Giving the Cold Shoulder

Meaning: To ignore someone or brush them off.

Origin: In medieval England, it was actually a polite way to signal to guests that it was time to leave. The host would serve a cold piece of meat from the shoulder of beef or mutton.

19. Show Your True Colors

Meaning: To reveal your true self, intentions, or similar.

Origin: Warships flew multiple flags to confuse enemies, but rules of warfare state that they must show their country’s colors before firing.

20. Rule of Thumb

Meaning: a broadly accurate guide or principle, based on experience or practice rather than theory.

Origin: 17th Century Judge Sir Francis Buller, ruled it legal to beat a wife if the stick was no thicker than his thumb.

21. Woke Up on the Wrong Side of the Bed

Meaning: Waking up grumpy or unpleasant.

Origin: In Roman times it was considered bad luck to get out of bed on the left side. Therefore, if you got out of bed on the ‘wrong’ side (the left side), it was thought that you would have a very bad day.

Watch the video: Crooked Clerks. Caught Red Handed. CRH (January 2022).