Laudabiliter, literally "it is praiseworthy", is the name given to a papal bull written by Pope Adrian IV, addressed to Henry II the king of England, authorising the latter to conquer and take power in Ireland. As such it provided the justification for the English claim to dominion over Ireland.
Now one of the features of medieval geo-politics was that the Papacy, relying on the authority of the undoubtedly forged Donation of Constantine, claimed temporal sovereignty over all islands. As Laudabiliter itself states;
There is indeed no doubt... that Ireland and all the islands ... which have accepted the doctrines of the Christian faith, belong to the ...Holy Roman Church
What is important to realise, is that as far as the Pope was concerned, although Ireland had been granted to Henry II and his successors as kings of England as fief, for which they paid tribute, that ultimately Ireland belonged to the Church. So that when, for example, in the sixteenth century, the Irish contemplated offering the crown of Ireland to the rulers of Spain, the Papacy admonished the Spanish with the following words;
His Holiness was astonished that anything of the kind should be attempted without his authority since it was easy to remember that the kingdom of Ireland belonged to the dominion of the Church, was held as a fief under it, and could not therefore, unless by the Pope, be subjected to any new ruler.
All of which explains why the Papacy considered that Ireland was it's to give away.
This document has also created a certain amount of controversy over the years. By the nineteenth century the political position of the Roman Catholic Church had changed somewhat and was now sympathetic to the claims for Irish independence from a staunchly Protestant Britain.
It therefore became fashionable to claim that Laudabiliter was a forgery, and such claims appeared to be strengthened by the fact that no original record or copy of the document was present in the Vatican archives, and by the suggestion that Adrian, born Nicholas Breakspear, the first and only English pope, night have been a little biased.
However the text of the letter appears in the Expugnatio Hibernica by Giraldus Cambrensis written around 1188, and there are contemporary references to the granting of sovereignty over Ireland to Henry II in the Metalogicus of John of Salisbury.
What is more, Pope Alexander III Adrian's, successor unquestionably issued a total of three letters that effectively re-stating the nature and contents of Laudabiliter and which amongst other things, confirmed Henry II as ‘Lord of Ireland’.
The consensus is therefore that Laudabiliter is completely genuine, its contents bring entirely consistent with Papal policy of the time; the Roman Catholic Church was not interested in notions of nationalism as such, but was merely concerned with bringing the Irish Church into full conformity with Roman practice, in particular in ensuring that they received their dues in the form of Peter's Pence.
Adrian, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to our well beloved son in Christ, the illustrious King of the English, greeting and Apostolic Benediction. Laudably and profitably does your Majesty contemplate spreading the glory of your name on earth and laying up for yourself the reward of eternal happiness in heaven, in that as becomes a Catholic Prince, you propose to enlarge the boundaries of the Church, to proclaim the truths of the Christian religion to a rude and ignorant people, to root out the growth of vice from the field of the Lord; and the better to accomplish this purpose, you seek the counsel and goodwill of the Apostolic See. In pursuing your object, the loftier your aim and the greater your discretion, the more prosperous we are assured with God’s assistance will be the progresss you will make: for undertakings commenced in the zeal of faith and the love of religion are ever wont to attain to a good end and issue.
There is indeed no doubt, as your Highness does acknowledge, that Ireland, and all the islands on which Christ the sun of righteousness has shone, and which have accepted the doctrines of the Christian faith, belong to the blessed Peter and the Holy Roman Church, wherefore the more pleased are we to plant in them the seed of faith acceptable to God, inasmuch as our conscience warns us that in their case a stricter account will hereafter be required of us.
Whereas, then well beloved son in Christ, you have expressed to us your desire to enter the island of Ireland in order to subject its people to law and to root out from them the weeds of vice and your willingness to pay an annual tribute to the blessed Peter of one penny from every house, and to maintain the rights of the Churches of that land whole and inviolate. We therefore, meeting your pious and laudable desire with due favour; and according a gracious assent to your petition, do hereby declare our will and pleasure, that with a view to enlarging the boundaries of the Church, restraining the downward course of vice, correcting evil customs and planting virtue and for the increase of the Christian religion you shall enter that island and execute whatsoever may tend to the honor of God, and the welfare of the land; and also that the people shall receive you with honor and revere you as their Lord, provided always that the rights of the Church remain whole and inviolate and saving to the blessed Peter and the Holy Roman Church the annual tribute of one penny for every house. If then you should carry your project into effect, let it be to your care to instruct that people in good ways of life, that the Church there may be adorned, that the Christian religion may take root and grow, that you may deserve at God’s hands the fullness of an everlasting reward and may obtain on earth a name renowned throughout the ages.
NOTE ON SOURCES
The Avalon Project at Yale Law School quotes the originating source of its translation as
Henderson, Ernest F. Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages (George Bell and Sons, London 1896) see http://it.geocities.com/agape3it/irish_historical_documents.html accessed 27/11/2002. This translation is however rather archaically Victorian and the above is therefore taken from http://www.acts1711.com/ireland.htm except that I have changed the first line of the second paragraph above from "Verily, as your excellency doth acknowledge, there is no doubt that Ireland," to "There is indeed no doubt, as your Highness does acknowledge, that Ireland", as the original language seemed curiously archaic when compared to the rest of the text.
Other Sources used;
A Unique Englishman: Pope Adrian IV at http://homepage.ntlworld.com/jaygee9/index.htm
The Catholic Encyclopedia at www.newadvent.org/cathen/01156c.htm
Ireland Was Conquered For Papal Profit; from the Connolly Asscoiation website at http://www.midnet.ie/connolly/irishdem/anonnisanalljulaug1998.html