Burgh, Richard de (c.1259–1326), 2nd earl of Ulster, lord of Connacht, was the son of Walter de Burgh (qv) (d. 1271), 1st earl of Ulster, and Avelina de Burgh, daughter of John FitzGeoffrey (qv). On his mother's death in 1274 he was brought to the king in England and spent the rest of his minority at the royal court. He probably accompanied Edward on his Welsh campaign in 1277 and on 5 January 1281 was granted his inheritance, becoming 2nd earl of Ulster. He crossed to Ireland early in 1281, where he intervened in the fighting between Thomas de Clare (qv) and Toirrdelbach O'Brien (qv). In October, with the aid of the Mandevilles, he raided the lands of William fitz Warin, the king's nominee as seneschal of Ulster during Richard's minority. Despite injunctions by the administration in Dublin on fitz Warin's behalf, the dispute continued until 1282, when the seneschal agreed to submit to judgment in the earl's court. Styled valettus regis, de Burgh was at Rhuddlan in Wales in August 1282 and during Christmas 1283 he was knighted there by the king. He remained in Edward's service as part of the royal entourage in Wales. He was the recipient of royal favour in June 1281, when he was granted the Ulster lands of Emmelina de Lacy, and before returning to Ireland in July 1285 he received the valuable manor of Ratoath from the queen and was pardoned some of his father's substantial debts to the Irish exchequer.
Much of the earl's power in Ulster depended on the quasi-feudal relationship he had with the leading Irish dynasties of the province. However, the succession of Domhnall O'Neill (qv) against Richard's wishes after the death of Áed Buide O'Neill (qv) led to an expedition against the Irish king in 1286, though it took two further expeditions in 1291 successfully to impose his own candidate, Áed's son, Brian O'Neill (qv) (d. 1296), in the kingship. After the death of Maurice fitz Maurice FitzGerald (qv) in 1286, Richard made his first foray into Connacht, where he was successful in extracting tribute and a large number of hostages. Owing to his actions there he was frequently at odds with the administration, though because of his power and the relative independence of his earldom he was never censured. In 1288 he invaded the king's cantreds and put down all resistance to his authority, whether Anglo-Norman or Irish. The same year, claiming descent through his paternal grandmother to the Lacy inheritance of Meath, he unsuccessfully besieged Theobald de Verdon (qv) at Athlone. The justiciar, John of Sandford (qv), was forced to take an army into Connacht and leading magnates were appointed to keep the peace in the marches. Richard came to an accommodation with the new justiciar, William de Vescy (qv), in July 1290, and in 1291 he supported a royal army acting in Meath and south Ulster. In England in June 1290 he surrendered custody of the Isle of Man to the king and in exchange was granted lands in Tipperary. He marched into Tír Conaill in 1291 to deal with the recalcitrant Toirrdelbach O'Donnell (qv), plundered the country, and then moved on to campaign in Connacht against Magnus O'Connor, though it took another expedition in 1292 before Magnus made his peace.
Richard's campaigns in Connacht rekindled the old Geraldine–de Burgh feud. John fitz Thomas FitzGerald (qv), the heir to Geraldine interests in Leinster and Connacht, had tacitly supported O'Connor's attacks against the earl's interests, and after the Irish king's death in 1293 de Burgh and fitz Thomas supported rival claimants to the O'Connor kingship. On 9 December 1294, after de Burgh's forces destroyed the Geraldine castle at Sligo, fitz Thomas captured the earl, and imprisoned him in Lea castle. As a consequence, according to the annals, ‘all Erin was thrown into a state of disturbance’. Apart from warfare in Connacht, fighting also broke out in Tyrone and Tír Conaill, and Kildare castle was also taken. King Edward was forced to take action, and so arranged it that, at a parliament at Kilkenny on 12 March 1294, Richard's release was secured. The new justiciar, John Wogan (qv), began arbitration and the king promised that justice would be done to both parties. Fitz Thomas and de Burgh both took part in the Scottish expedition in 1296; Richard's large contingent joined the king at Roxborough on 13 May and accompanied him to Stirling in June. He returned home on 24 August and was pardoned the various transgressions he had committed in Ireland against royal authority. The quarrel with fitz Thomas was still unresolved when, in 1297, both were summoned to serve in Flanders. Intent on securing a high price for his support, Richard entered into negotiations with the king, but his terms were too exacting to be acceptable. Fitz Thomas, however, did go. Finally, on 22 October 1298 at Athboy, fitz Thomas acknowledged his trespasses and placed himself at the earl's mercy. Six days later, in the presence of John Wogan, an agreement was drawn up between the two. Fitz Thomas surrendered to the earl all of his lands in Connacht and Ulster, the source of the dispute. In return he was granted de Burgh possessions in Leinster and Munster. Richard had consolidated his possessions in the north and west and his authority there was unrivalled. In October 1299 he inherited a share of the considerable estates in England and Ireland of his maternal uncle, Richard fitz John FitzGeoffrey.
After the settlement with fitz Thomas, Richard's attention shifted eastwards to Scotland. The links between Scotland and the earldom, traditionally strong, had recently been strengthened in 1286 when de Burgh and Thomas de Clare signed a compact of mutual aid with leading Scottish nobles, including Robert Bruce, lord of Annandale, and his son the earl of Carrick. On 10 October 1296 Edward I ratified the marriage of Richard's sister Jill to James Stewart, the high steward of Scotland; part of the dowry included lands in Ulster. The war in Scotland would inevitably demand the earl's attention. He was summoned to accompany the king in 1298 and again in 1301, though his demands were too extravagant for Edward to be able to afford him. He still remained in royal favour, however; from 29 September 1299 until 13 January 1300 he acted as Wogan's deputy in the role of justiciar, while Wogan was in Scotland, and in 1302 his daughter Elizabeth married Robert Bruce, the future king of Scots, who had recently returned to the English side. Desperately short of manpower and now willing to make concessions, Edward again called on the earl to come to Scotland. In July 1303 de Burgh was made leader of the Irish force, over the head of the justiciar, and before leaving Dublin he knighted thirty-three of his followers in a lavish ceremony. His army, some 3,000 men, was in relative terms enormous and included a number of Irish kings from Ulster. He dined with Edward at Perth on Christmas day 1303, in February 1304 he negotiated the surrender of John Comyn, he was present at the siege of Stirling in April, and on 31 July he returned home. He was well rewarded for his service; the Dublin exchequer now owed him a huge sum of money, and many of his followers, Anglo-Norman and Irish, received pardons from the king for their crimes in Ireland. He became closely associated with the king's Irish council and he was granted custody of the royal castle at Athlone on 26 October.
In July 1305, when royal authority was at its lowest ebb in Connacht, de Burgh petitioned Edward for official control over the king's cantreds, as his cousin William ‘Liath’ de Burgh (qv) was exercising de facto lordship over all of the province. Despite unfounded rumours that he harboured his fugitive son-in-law in Ulster after Bruce's revolt in 1306, he remained in favour. Edward II appointed him lieutenant of Ireland on 16 June 1308, though the very next day he was replaced by Piers Gaveston (qv), the king's favourite. His daughter Matilda married Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, on 29 September at Waltham Abbey in the king's presence, and the following day his son and heir, John, married Gilbert's sister Elizabeth (Gilbert and Elizabeth were nephew and niece to the king). In England on 16 August 1309 he was made keeper of Randown and Roscommon castles and was granted full remission of his father's Connacht debts, which went back some thirty-four years. Five days later he was appointed to take part in the abortive negotiations with the Scots. At the Kilkenny parliament in 1310 de Burgh was given pre-eminent membership of the king's Irish council, his name preceding even that of the justiciar. The same year he began work on Sligo castle, built in imitation of the Edwardian castles in Wales. In that year he also began a dispute with Richard de Clare (qv) over the possession of lands in Thomond, and backed the bid made by Donnchad O'Brien (qv) for the O'Brien kingship, in direct opposition to the candidate supported by Clare. Over the next four years, despite a number of ineffectual truces, William de Burgh led a number of raids into Thomond at the earl's behest. On 22 March 1314 Richard received a letter from the king expressing full confidence in him, and a week later he was again summoned to Scotland; he remained in Ireland, however, and thus avoided the defeat at Bannockburn.
In May 1315 Edward Bruce (qv) landed at Larne; his early successes attracted many of Richard's tenants and most of the province's Irish kings to join the Scottish army. It took two months for Richard to prepare an army to meet Bruce; he fell back to Connacht and finally raised his standard in July. Accompanied by his cousin William de Burgh and Fedlimid O'Connor (qv), he marched to Ardee and joined with the army of the justiciar, Edmund Butler (qv), on 22 July. When O'Connor was forced to return to Connacht, de Burgh insisted on marching into Ulster on his own to meet the Scots; a dispute over the leadership of the combined army had occurred, and Richard was also worried that additional damage might be done to the lands of his earldom if the justiciar's army as well as his own had to be billeted there. Moreover, he was concerned about the implications for the earldom's status as a liberty if an army under the justiciar succeeded in vanquishing the Scots. This misjudgement led to his army's complete destruction at Connor on 10 September after some desultory skirmishing. De Burgh, whose power was shattered, was lucky to escape with his life. Ulster was now at the mercy of the Scots and Connacht was ravaged by Fedlimid O'Connor. Only Carrickfergus held out, though it succumbed in early September 1316 as Richard had commandeered the fleet appointed to supply the castle and used it as a bargaining tool for the release from Scotland of William de Burgh, who had been taken prisoner at the battle of Connor. In August 1316 at the battle of Athenry, William secured Connacht for his cousin, but that did not alleviate the suspicion many harboured that the earl of Ulster was in league with the Scots.
In January the following year Robert Bruce landed in Ulster at the head of a large army and the Bruce brothers marched south. De Burgh, who was staying in his manor of Ratoath, fled to Dublin. On 21 February the mayor of Dublin, acting in response to public pressure and fearing that the city was about to be besieged, arrested the earl at St Mary's Abbey and imprisoned him in Dublin castle. At the crisis parliament on 8 May it was debated whether de Burgh should be kept in prison or sent for judgment to the king in England. At the following parliament on 27 June, in response to Edward's demands, he was released, but only after he had found hostages for his good conduct and sworn allegiance to the king. In August he was given safe conduct to go to England and by November he had met Edward. The encounter obviously went well, as Richard was one of the royal guarantors to the treaty of Leake on 9 August. The issue of his arrest was fudged: Richard was not charged with any crime and the citizens of Dublin were never punished for his imprisonment. The franchisal rights to his earldom, treated as forfeit by the administration after his arrest, were recovered in parliament at Dublin in May 1320, but Carrickfergus remained in royal hands for much longer. Sources for his activities after 1320 are exiguous; he visited England in July 1322 and August 1323 and he attended the parliament at Dublin in May 1324. The remainder of his life was spent on his estates in Munster and he apparently took little interest in rebuilding his shattered earldom. After the Kilkenny parliament in May 1326 he retired to the Augustinian monastery at Athassel, where he died on 29 July; he was buried there shortly before 29 August. He had married Margaret de Guines, a relative of Queen Eleanor, before 27 February 1281; they had four sons, three of whom predeceased Richard, and six daughters.
For more than forty years Richard de Burgh was the most powerful magnate in Ireland and he had the land and resources to match most of the leading comital families in England. One measure of his status was the advantageous marriages of all his offspring. His career in Ireland and in the king's service was characterised by a shrewd sense of opportunism. Despite the strong whiff of suspicion that accompanied his relationship with the Scots, neither Edward I nor his son could afford to do without de Burgh's services. By 1310 he had reached the zenith of his power and yet he displayed no knowledge of his own limitations; his short-sightedness during the Bruce invasions led to the virtual destruction of his earldom, and only the ability of his cousin William prevented Connacht from going the same way. He had little time for claims of ecclesiastical liberty and was involved in disputes with the bishops of Derry and Raphoe. Although he was deeply involved in the ambiguous political culture of the marches, there is no evidence to support the contention that he succumbed to Irish influences and straddled the divide between coloniser and colonised. He was thoroughly anglicised and it was in that world that he felt most comfortable. The Anglo-Irish Kilkenny chronicler described him in traditional terms: ‘[he was] prudent and eloquent, wealthy and wise’, and for the Irish annalists he was ‘the choicest of all the foreigners of Erin’.