Sir Edward Poynings, Tudor statesman


   Edward Poynings was born in 1459 into a family with a tradition of turning against its Yorkist Kings: his father had been a sword-bearer to Jack Cade during his rising in Kent. Edward himself took part in a rising against Richard III in 1483 - his rising in Kent was planned to distract the King while the Duke of Buckingham did the work.

   After the failure of the rising, Edward was forced to flee to the Continent after Richard read his name in a proclamation. Hardly surprisingly, he chose to flee to the court of Henry Tudor, who was lying in France waiting to strike a fatal blow to the rotten heart of Richard's government. After the Battle of Bosworth, in which Henry won the crown from Richard, ending the War of the Roses, Edward was made a knight and sworn into the Privy Council (the highest Council in the land). Henry was not known for his zeal in handing out patronage, and so it is likely that he felt Poynings was a valuable ally.

His years in Ireland

   Sir Poynings' most famous years were the ones he spent in Ireland. Ireland was a traditional Yorkist stronghold, and a possible place where rebels to the new King's rule could hide out. Although the Battle of Stoke in 1487 was the last Henry had to fight against his own subjects, there was always the chance that the Earl of Kildare (who ruled Ireland de facto) would antagonize matters and maybe help rebels field an army against the King. Indeed, in the 1487 battle, Irish troops had fought against the English crown. Although the battle frenzy of the half-naked "Wild Irish" alienated Englishmen from joining their side, they were a force to be reckoned with.

   In 1491, when Perkin Warbeck arrived in Ireland looking for Irish support, the Earl of Kildare decided not to get involved this time - Henry had only been lenient to him after Stoke because he had a weak grip on the English crown and could not be hassled with this remote colony. However, this time, Kildare's lack of action was enough to implicate him - after he failed to exert himself to put down Warbeck and Henry was forced to send an army himself to do it, he was dismissed from office by Henry. Henry tried to get two local magnates to rule, but this attempt was disastrous, and when it was revealed Warbeck planned to return to Ireland, Sir Edward Poynings was sent in (it was 1494 by this point).

   Sir Poynings was appointed Deputy, with Henry VII's son Henry (later Henry VIII) as viceroy. Sir Poynings arrived with 1000 men and set about crushing Irish resistance and filling offices with Englishmen. The Earl of Kildare was arrested on an obscure charge of treason in Ulster and sent to the Tower of London. But Sir Poynings most remarkable action was the calling of one of the most famous parliament's in Irish history: the Parliament of Drogheda. On December 1, 1494, Poynings passed numerous laws which ate away at Irish autonomy: they could no longer pass a law without the King of England approving it, no parliament could be called without likewise approval, and marriage between English colonialists and the Irish was forbidden. This was known as Poynings' Law and was lamented by the Irish until the twentieth century.

   However, despite Sir Poynings' successes in defeating the Irish and ensuring Yorkist rebels would no longer find sanctuary in Ireland, Henry eventually realized that no Englishmen could achieve as much there as a local noble. He decided that

"If all of Ireland cannot rule the Earl of Kildare, he is fit to rule all of Ireland."

   Sir Poynings returned to England in December 1495, leaving a colony with much more centralized Crown control. The Earl of Kildare was henceforth entirely loyal to the Crown, and the English could extract moneys from it with greater ease. When Henry died in 1509 there was no 'Irish problem.'

Outside of Ireland

   Apart from these years in Ireland and before his death in 1521, Sir Poynings achieved various other accolades and helped in other aspects of government. He escorted Catherine of Aragon to London in 1501, was ambassador to the Pope in 1515 and took part in negotiations between Henry VIII and Francis I at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.

   Henry VII did not often elevate men to the peerage, and Sir Poynings received no such accolade. Rather, he was made a Knight of the Order of the Garter in 1491 (37 men received this reward during Henry's reign.) This is typical of how Henry rewarded men that had been loyal to him, especially before Bosworth - a less prudent King might have been quick to have raised his allies into the peerage, but Henry preferred to limit the number of magnates and hence face less chance of rebellion from over-powerful Lords. Sir Poynings was one of an emerging breed of gentry with real influence and power - power which before had rested with the nobility, but was being stripped away from them.

   Sir Poynings died at Kent in 1521. Henry VIII had likewise not raised him into the nobility.


The Tudor Years, Edited by John Lotherington (Hodder & Stoughton, 1994)
England and Wales under the Tudors by Sinclair Atkins (Hodder & Stoughton, 1975)
Henry VII by Caroline Rogers (Hodder & Stoughton, 1991)
Government and Community: England 1450-1509 by J. R. Lander (Edward Arnold, 1980)

Lord Deputy of Ireland
Born 1459 Died 1521

Sir Edward Poynings was the only son of Robert Poynings, second son of the 4th Baron Poynings (*). His mother was a daughter of Sir William Paston, and some of her correspondence is to be found in the Paston Letters. Robert Poynings was implicated in Jack Cade's rebellion, and Edward was himself concerned in a Kentish rising against Richard III, which compelled him to escape to the Continent. He attached himself to Henry, Earl of Richmond, afterwards King Henry VII, with whom he returned to England in 1485. By Henry VII. Poynings was employed in the wars on the Continent, and in 1493 he was made governor of Calais. In the following year he went to Ireland as lord deputy under the vice-royalty of Prince Henry, afterwards King Henry VIII.

Poynings immediately set about Anglicizing the government of Ireland, which he thoroughly accomplished, after inflicting punishment on the powerful Irish clans who supported the imposture of Perkin Warbeck. He then summoned the celebrated parliament of Drogheda, which met in December 1494, and enacted the 'Statutes of Drogheda,' famous in Irish history as 'Poynings's law' (see Statute: Ireland), which made the Irish legislature subordinate to, and completely dependent on, that of England, till its repeal in 1782. After defeating Perkin Warbeck at Waterford and driving him out of Ireland, Poynings returned to England in 1496, and was appointed warden of the Cinque Ports. He was employed both in military commands and in diplomatic missions abroad by Henry VII., and later by Henry VIII, his most important achievement being the successful negotiation of the 'holy league' between England, Spain, the emperor, and the pope, in 1513. In 1520 he was present at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, in the arrangement of which he had taken an active part. He died in 1521.

By his wife, Elizabeth Scot, Poynings left no surviving issue, and his estates passed through a collateral female line to the Earl of Northumberland. He had several illegitimate children, one of whom, Thomas Poynings, was created Baron Poynings in 1545, but died in the same year without heirs.

See Sir Francis Bacon, The History of the Reign of King Henry VII. (London, 1641); Richard Bagwell, Ireland under the Tudors (2 vols., London, 1885); J. T. Gilbert, History of the Viceroys of Ireland (Dublin, 1865); J. A. Froude, The English in Ireland (3 vols., London, 1872-1874); Wilhelm Busch, England under the Tudors, ed. by James Gairdner (London, 1895).

(* Editor: The original text says the 5th Baron; this has been corrected to read the 4th Baron, see Baron Poynings)

Being the entry for POYNINGS, SIR EDWARD in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.

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