At long last – it will soon be legal for Irish people to criticize Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn!

The portrait of Henry VIII from Petworth House, once the residence of the O'Briens, Marquesses of Thomond, who also lived in Rostellan Castle, a few miles south of Midleton.

The portrait of Henry VIII from Petworth House, once the residence of the O’Briens, Marquesses of Thomond, who also lived in Rostellan Castle, a few miles south of Midleton.

When Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn in 1533, he had an order issued in Ireland to ensure that nobody could criticize the marriage. Now this wasn’t a law to stop jealous women bitching about the Boleyn girl’s manipulation of the king. Rather it was to ensure that nobody dared commit the crime of lèse majesté against the new queen.

An Elizabethan copy of a lost 1530s portrait of Anne Boleyn, who married Henry VIII in 1533. The fate for criticizing her marriage was the headsman's axe. Anne's head was removed neatly by a French swordsman.

An Elizabethan copy of a lost 1530s portrait of Anne Boleyn, who married Henry VIII in 1533. The fate for criticizing her marriage was the headsman’s axe. Anne’s head was removed neatly by a French swordsman.

Technically this has been the law in Ireland since then, but, fortunately, nobody has been punished for moaning about the marriage for a long time. The good news is that a bill was passed last week by the Dail and Seanad to remove this and other obsolete laws, and has now been scheduled to go to President Higgins for signature. This would make it a law and from then on we can bitch about the Boleyn girl – ESPECIALLY if your name is Butler!

The double tomb of Piers Rua Butler and his wife Margaret FitzGerald of Kildare. Piers contended with Thomas Boleyn to be Earl of Ormond. It should be noted that Margaret FitzGerald wore the trousers in this particular marriage.

The double tomb of Piers Rua Butler and his wife Margaret FitzGerald of Kildare in St Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. Piers contended with Thomas Boleyn to be Earl of Ormond. It should be noted that Margaret FitzGerald wore the trousers in this particular marriage.

It was because of Anne’s relationship with the king that Piers Rua Butler was stopped from claiming the title of Earl of Ormond. He had to settle for the less impressive title of Earl of Carrick, which somehow didn’t carry the same weight in Ireland. Anne Boleyn’s father was made Earl of Ormond, a title he claimed through his mother. Following Anne’s execution, her father, Thomas, lost his offices, and as a final indignity, his title Earl of Ormond was restored to Piers Rua Butler, although it wasn’t actually stripped from Thomas Boleyn!

The Statute Law Revision Bill 2015 sweeps away some 6,000 obsolete laws and orders over the centuries. It is now legally permissible for the upper orders of society to eat potatoes and oatmeal once again, which in 1817 were reserved only for the lower orders of society due to the food shortage brought on by the ‘Year without a Summer.’ Oh, and a single woman will not be sanctioned for running a public house!  Previous removals of such obsolete laws included the prohibition on trade with Denmark and the outlawing of Shane O’Neill of Ulster, the proclamation of Henry VIII and his successors as King of Ireland, and more! .

These removals of obsolete laws has been going on for some years now in Ireland, but it has unintended benefits for historians. Since each Act has to list the laws and orders rescinded, effectively our historians have been granted a catalogue of these laws and orders made over the centuries. Thus current and future historians of Ireland can examine the contents of these Acts to see what laws and orders were made, and when. Given that there are usually thousands of laws and orders listed in each Act – you can see exactly how historians can benefit, even local historians, since many of these items refer to specific estate settlements or local issues like land enclosures. One example is the Midleton Estate Act of  1850 (13&14 Victoria), which was abolished in 2012. Thus far the removal or abolition of these laws and orders has had no discernible legal consequences, except to make life easier for lawyers! Basically it is the same as retuning your computer – but this affects the mass of obsolete and unused laws in Ireland.

So, Butlers of Ireland, feel free to vent your frustrations on Anne Boleyn and her marriage to Henry VIII. but it might just be advisable to wait until the President signs the Bill into law first…..or you might lose your head!

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