Burgh, Walter de, called Earl of Ulster d. 1271, was the second son of Richard de Burgh (d. 1243), perhaps by his wife, Egidia, daughter of Walter de Laci, second lord of Meath (Sweetman, Cal. of Irish Doc. i. Nos. 2700, 3012; Roberts, Fine Rolls, 128). He succeeded to the lordship of Connaught on the death of his brother Richard about 1248 (Sweetman, 2865, 3062; Annals of Loch Cé, 383 sub hoc anno). According to later genealogists he was the grandson of Henry II's Irish justiciar, William FitzAldelm, who, in his turn, is said to have been brother or cousin of Hubert de Burgh; but there does not seem to be any contemporary evidence to support either of these statements. It is, however, certain that his father, Richard de Burgh, was nephew to his great English namesake Hubert [qv.], who was himself justiciar of Ireland in 1232; and that his grandfather, William, is surnamed De Burgh in documents of 4 Henry III. and 7 Ed. I. (Pat. Rolls, ap. Book of Howth, 422-3; Sweetman, i. 954, ii. 1548). This William, who is reported to have died in 1205 (Loch Cé, i. 235; Bodley MS. Laud 613, p. 65) was Lord of Connaught; and his son, Richard de Burgh, was confirmed in the seignory of the same province by more than one charter of John and Henry III (Sweetman, 653, 1518, &c.).
In November 1249 all the Irish lands of De Burgh were committed to the custody of Peter de Bermingham. Next year, however, the young heir was permitted to pay a fine of three hundred marks apparently for the right of immediate possession. This payment was to be made by half-yearly instalments, and De Burgh had to give security that he would not marry without the king's consent (Fine Rolls, 44, 78). He does not, however, seem to have come of age before 1253, in which year (6 April) part of his lands were still in the king's hands. A month earlier he had been excused his father's debt of 600l. due to the Dublin exchequer for a fine of 11— marks of gold (Sweetman, ii. Nos. 157, 175). From the year 1255 he was engaged in constant expeditions against the natives of Connaught. The chief king of Connaught at this time was Felim O'Conor, whose father, Cathal Crobdherg, had been established on the throne mainly by the aid of De Burgh's grandfather William, to the detriment of Cathal Carrach, who represented the elder branch of the descendants of Roderic O'Conor (Loch Cé, sub anno 1202). Both William and Richard de Burgh had had large possessions in Connaught. The latter in especial held the forfeited lands of Oethus, late king of Connaught, for a yearly payment of 500 marks, and the service of ten or twenty knights to the king of England (Sweetman, i. Nos. 954, 1518; Cal. Pat. Rolls, 16 b). These estates, and perhaps something of the regal claim involved in such a title, descended to De Burgh, and help to explain his constant interference in Irish matters.
In 1255 De Burgh made a short-lived treaty with Aedh, the son of Felim O'Conor, and the favourable terms accorded to the Irish prince on this occasion may have been partly due to the effects of the embassy that Felim had sent earlier in the same year to Henry III (Loch Cé, 407-8). Next year he led a host of twenty thousand men to ravage Connaught, having for his allies on this occasion the sept of Muinter-Raighilligh (the O'Reillys of Breigne-O'Reilly); and afterwards plundered parts of the same province. A second peace followed (Athlone, 1257). This again may have been due to Henry III's influence, as we read that in this year the king of the Saxons gave Felim O'Conor a charter for the king's five cantreds, probably the five cantreds near Athlone, which were specially excluded from the early grants of Connaught to the De Burghs (cf. Sweetman, i. 2217-19). In 1260 De Burgh plundered Roscommon, and in 1262 took part in the great English expedition, when a site was marked out for the castle at the same place. Peace was again concluded, and Aedh O'Conor chivalrously trusted his person to the English, and as a mark of his confidence slept in the same bed with De Burgh. This year also saw an expedition against the Macarthys of Desmond. Similar friendly meetings or hostile expeditions characterised the years 1263, 1264, 1266, 1267, and 1270. In the last year a general war broke out between the English and the Irish of Connaught, owing to the dissensions of De Burgh and Aedh O'Conor, who had succeeded his father in 1265. On this occasion De Burgh, who was then styled Earl of Ulster, was induced to give his brother William as a hostage to O'Conor. On his retreat he slew Turlough O'Brian with his own hands, in return for which the king of Connaught put William de Burgh to death (ib.). Next year (1271) De Burgh died in his castle of Galway, after a week's illness (ib. 479; cf. Sweetman, ii. 929).
Besides his vast possessions in Connaught, De Burgh seems to have had other estates in Ireland. His father had received a grant of Desmond manor in 11 Henry III (ap. Book of Howth), and from a document dated 3 Aug. 1253 we learn that the same Richard had held lands of Maurice Fitzgerald (Sweetman, ii. 282). It was probably from some dispute as to these estates that the quarrel between De Burgh and the latter noble arose in 1264, on which occasion the Earl of Ulster seized all Fitzgerald's castles in Connaught, and the major part of Erin was destroyed between them (Loch Cé, 449; cf. Sweetman, 776). Peace seems to have been restored by 10 June 1265, if we may trust the terms of a letter of Henry III, exhorting De Burgh not to lend assistance to the rebellion of Prince Edward (ib.).
In the latter years of his life De Burgh appears to have been styled Earl of Ulster (Loch Cé, 449; Sweetman, ii. 929). According to the generally accepted account, he inherited this earldom in right of his wife, Maud, who is said to have been daughter and heiress of Hugh de Laci, earl of Ulster, who died in 1242 (Matt. Paris, iv. 232). There does not seem to be any evidence in support of this theory, which makes its first appearance in certain Fragmenta Historiæ Hibernicæ, preserved in a fifteenth-century manuscript (Bodley MS. Laud 526, ap. Gilbert, Chartularies of St. Mary's, Dublin, ii.), further back than which date no allusion to this Maud de Laci can be traced. Her name is not to be found in contemporary documents, which show that Walter de Burgh's wife—the mother of Richard, his son and successor in the earldom of Ulster—was Avelina or Amelina, third sister and coheiress of Richard FitzJohn (Cal. Geneal. ii. 540-1, 563; Sweetman, iv. 638, 950, &c.). It is possible that he may have put forward some vague claim in virtue of his maternal descent from Walter de Laci, who held Ulster for a few years by the gift of King Henry (ib. i. 1371-2). But it is more likely that this dignity, which had passed through so many hands in the course of fifty years, lapsed to the crown on the death of Hugh de Laci in 1242 or 1243; for there is abundance of evidence to prove that in the reign of Henry III Prince Edward, whom his father had created lord of Ireland in 1254, enfeoffed De Burgh with the county of Ulster, in exchange for the manor of Kilsilau. This event is expressly said to have occurred when William de Rochelle was justiciar, ie. between the years 1254 and 1256 (Sweetman, ii. 860, 1520; Cal. Geneal. 288). It is this enfeoffment probably that Lodge refers to 1264; and it is to this direct grant of Prince Edward that we must trace the foundation of the De Burgh Ulster earldom rather than to a marriage with a fictitious daughter of Hugh de Laci.
De Burgh is said to have been buried in Athassel Abbey, the favourite foundation of his race (Lodge). He was succeeded by his son Richard, a minor. According to Lodge, his other children were Theobald (d. 1303), William, and Thomas (d. 1315), to whom some add Hubert and Gibbon. To these may be added Egidia, who married James Stuart of Scotland (Stevenson, Documents, ii. 102).
Lodge's Peerage of Ireland (ed. Archdall) and Dugdale's Baronage are full of uncritical assertions, and all their statements require to be checked by constant reference to contemporary documents. Calendar of Irish Documents (ed. Sweetman), vols. i. ii.
Calendar of Patent Rolls (Record Office)
Fine Rolls (ed. Roberts)
Calendarium Genealogicum, i. ii.
Annals of Loch Cé (ed. Hennessey, Rolls Series)
Matthew Paris (ed. Luard)
Matthew of Westminster (ed. 1601)
Gilbert's Viceroys of Ireland and Chartularies of St. Mary's, Dublin (Rolls Series). The Book of Howth (ed. Brewer and Butler) and Bodley MS. Laud 613 contain a large collection of copies of documents relating to the history of Ireland in the thirteenth century.
Contributor: T. A. A. [Thomas Andrew Archer]