Gearóid Mór FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare
Gearóid Mór FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, KG (died c. 3 September 1513), known variously as "Garret the Great" (Gearóid Mór) or "The Great Earl" (An Iarla Mór), was Ireland's premier peer. He served as Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1477 to 1494, and from 1496 onwards. His power was so great that he was called "the uncrowned King of Ireland".
Gerard FitzGerald (or, in Irish, Gearoid Mór FitzGerald) was appointed Lord Deputy in 1477, but was replaced by Lord Grey of Codnor on the supposition that an Englishman could do the job better. The lords of the Pale set up a breakaway parliament in protest, and Edward IV was forced to re-install FitzGerald. He inherited the title of Earl of Kildare in 1478.
FitzGerald managed to keep his position after the York dynasty in England was toppled and Henry VII becoming king, but Fitzgerald blatantly disobeyed King Henry on several occasions; he supported the pretender to the throne of England and the Lordship of Ireland, Lambert Simnel. However, Henry needed Fitzgerald to rule in Ireland, and at the same time could not control him. Simnel's attempt to seize the throne ended in disaster at the Battle of Stoke and many of his supporters, including Kildare's brother Thomas, were killed. Henry, now secure on his throne, could afford to be merciful and pardoned both Simnel and Kildare. Kildare was shrewd enough not to commit himself to the cause of the later pretender Perkin Warbeck, despite Henry's caustic comment that the Irish nobility would crown an ape to secure power for themselves.
He presided over a period of near independence from English rule between 1477 and 1494. This independence ended when his enemies in Ireland seized power and had him sent to London as a traitor. He suffered a double blow: he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, and his wife Alison died soon after. He was tried in 1496, and used the trial to convince Henry VII that the ruling factions in Ireland were "false knaves". Henry immediately appointed him as Lord Deputy of Ireland, saying "All Ireland cannot govern this Earl; then let this Earl govern all Ireland"; and allowed him to marry as his second wife Elizabeth St. John, a distant cousin of the King. Gearóid returned to Ireland in triumph.
He ruled with an iron fist. He suppressed a rebellion in the city of Cork in 1500 by hanging the city's mayor. He raised up an army against rebels in Connacht in 1504, defeating them at the Battle of Knockdoe. In 1512, after entering O'Neill of Clandeboye's territory, capturing him and then taking the castle of Belfast, FitzGerald then for reasons now unknown proceeded through to utterly ravage the Bissett family's lordship of the coastal Glens of Antrim.
A year later, on an expedition against the O'Carrolls, he was mortally wounded while watering his horse in Kilkea. He was conveyed back to Kildare, where he died on or around 3 September 1513.
Gearoid has been described as a man whose exceptional charisma impressed all his contemporaries, Irish and English. Unlike his eldest son, who favoured diplomacy, he was described as "open and plain" in his dealings, hot-tempered and unpredictable when young, but more mellow in later life.
Gearoid Mór was the son of Thomas FitzGerald, 7th Earl of Kildare and Jane FitzGerald, the daughter of James FitzGerald, 6th Earl of Desmond, 'the Usurper'. The Cambro-Norman FitzGerald dynasty had risen to become the premier Old English peers in Ireland. They were descended from Gerald de Windsor and the Welsh Princess Nest ferch Rhys, the daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, Prince of Deheubarth.
Gearoid Mór FitzGerald married Alison FitzEustace, daughter of Rowland FitzEustace, 1st Baron Portlester, with whom he had five children:
- Gearoid Óg FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Kildare
- Lady Eleanor FitzGerald - married Donal MacCarthy Reagh, 9th Prince of Carbery 
- Lady Alice FitzGerald - married Conn O'Neill, Prince of Ulster
- Margaret FitzGerald - married Piers Butler, later the 8th Earl of Ormond.
- Lady Elllis FitzGerald, who married Christopher Fleming, 8th Baron Slane.
He married secondly Elizabeth St. John, daughter of Oliver St. John of Lydiard Tregoze, a cousin of Henry VII, and had a further five children:
- Sir James FitzGerald of Leixlip
- Isabel FitzGerald - married Richard de Barry of Rathbarry
- Oliver FitzGerald
- Richard FitzGerald of Fassaroe, who married Maud Darcy, widow of James, Baron Skryne
- Sir John FitzGerald
- Walter FitzGerald, who married Elisabeth Plunkett, daughter of Robert Plunkett, 5th Baron of Dunsany
The Legend of the Great Earl's Ghost
A legend, re-told by Nuala O'Faoláin, says that Gearóid was skilled in the black arts, and could shapeshift. However, he would never let his wife see him take on other forms, much to her chagrin. After much pleading, he yielded to her, and turned himself into a goldfinch before her very eyes. A sparrowhawk flew into the room, seized the "goldfinch", and he was never seen again.
According to legend, the Great Earl and his soldiers now slumber in a cavern beneath the Curragh of Kildare, ready to awaken to defend Ireland in her hour of need. The Earl rises once every seven years on May Day, and rides around the Curragh on his steed. When his horse's shoes are worn down to the thickness of a cat's ear, he will lead his army against the English, drive them out, and reign as king of Ireland for forty years.
- Butler – Fitzgerald dispute, which Gearóid Mór played a large part in resolving in 1492.
- Chrimes S.B. Henry VII Yale University Press 1999
- Annals of Ulster 1512.2; Annals of the Four Masters 1512.11
- Lennon, Colm Sixteenth-century Ireland- the Incomplete Conquest Gill and Macmillan 1994 p.69
- Irish Pedigrees: MacCarthy Reagh, Prince of Carbery (#119)
|Peerage of Ireland|
|Earl of Kildare
Gearoid Óg Fitzgerald