Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Duke of Leinster

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Portrait by Allan Warren

Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Duke of Leinster (27 May 1914 – 3 December 2004) was Ireland's Premier Peer of the Realm.


Gerald FitzGerald was the only child of Edward FitzGerald, 7th Duke of Leinster and his first wife, May Juanita Etheridge, a chorus girl.

Due to his parents' separation in 1922 and their subsequent divorce eight years later, the future duke spent most of his childhood being cared for by his grandaunt, Lady Adelaide FitzGerald, at Johnstown Castle, County Wexford. Lady Adelaide (1860-1942) was the widow of his granduncle, Lord Maurice FitzGerald, and a daughter of the 7th Earl of Granard. He used the courtesy title of Marquess of Kildare from 1922 when his father acceded to the Leinster titles.

Educated at Eton, he became a cadet at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and took a commission in the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, with whom he served as a major in the Second World War. He was invalided out of the Army after being wounded in Normandy.

After the war the future duke tried to farm the estate at Kilkea Castle, County Kildare, Ireland, but it proved unprofitable, and in the early 1960s he moved to Oxfordshire and worked in the aviation industry. It was at his Oxfordshire home that, in 1976, the police were called to prevent his father making off with over £100,000 by way of a painting by Joshua Reynolds and a tapestry. The 7th Duke died the same year; however the 8th Duke was prevented from receiving his title momentarily due to an American who claimed to be the son of his father's elder brother Lord Desmond FitzGerald (d. 1916).[1]

Similarly, in 1999, the Duke failed in his attempts to prevent a half-brother being formally recognized by both Debrett's Peerage and Burke's Peerage. This man, Adrian FitzGerald, was the illegitimate son of the 7th Duke by Yvonne Probyn (later surnamed FitzGerald by deed poll, who was the daughter of Captain Percy John Probyn, RAMC, who was the eldest son of Frederick Probyn, JP, of Cambridge House, Treverthen, Monmouthshire.[2]

Marriages and children[edit]

The Duke was twice married, his wives being:

  • Joane Kavanagh (1915–1994), eldest daughter of Rt. Hon. Maj. Arthur Thomas MacMorrough Kavanagh, The MacMorrough Kavanagh, Prince of Leinster. Married on 17 October 1936, they divorced in 1946 (Joane, Marchioness of Kildare, married, the next year, Lt. Col. Archibald Macalphine-Downie, and had further issue.) The Kildares had three daughters:
    • Lady Pamela Hermione FitzGerald (6 November 1937 – 3 April 1938), whose middle name was given in honour of her father's paternal grandmother, Hermione, wife of the 5th Duke of Leinster.
    • Lady Rosemary Anne FitzGerald (born 4 August 1939), married on 9 February 1963 (divorced in 1967) Mark Killigrew Wait. After her divorce, she reclaimed her maiden name.
    • Lady Nesta FitzGerald (born 8 January 1942), married in 1977 Philip Tirard (died 1993), with whom she has two daughters.
  • Anne Smith (6 May 1922 – 4 December 2016), daughter of Lt. Col. Philip Eustace Smith of Rothley Crag, High Sheriff of Northumberland in 1931. They married on 12 June 1946 and had two sons:

Ducal claims[edit]

After Gerald FitzGerald, Marquess of Kildare, became 8th Duke of Leinster, in 1976, a California artist and teacher, Leonard FitzGerald, claimed to be the rightful Duke. He said his father was Lord Desmond FitzGerald, the second of three sons of Gerald FitzGerald, 5th Duke of Leinster, and who was thought to have been killed in the First World War while serving in the Irish Guards. Leonard FitzGerald declared that Lord Desmond, however, secretly emigrated to North America and lived there until his death in 1967, despite eyewitness accounts of Desmond FitzGerald's death and his burial at the public cemetery in Calais, France.[3][4][5][6][1][7]

On the advice of his doctor, because of ill health, Leonard FitzGerald withdrew his claim. He died in 1994, but the claim is continued by his son Paul FitzGerald, who filed a suit about this with the Department of Constitutional Affairs in 2006.[8] Paul FitzGerald's claim, however, was eventually dismissed in 2007.[2][3]

In 2010, however, DNA evidence was presented that indicates that Paul FitzGerald is related to the wife of the 5th Duke, the former Lady Hermione Duncombe.[4] As reported in The Scotsman, "With the help of Dunfermline-based genealogist Lloyd Pitcairn, Mrs FitzGerald Caudill [Paul FitzGerald's aunt] traced Maud Crawford, the grand-daughter of Lady Hermione's younger sister Urica [sic] Duncombe. The results of the tests found that it was '41 times more probable' that Ms Crawford and Paul FitzGerald were extremely closely related than were from different families. The evidence that Paul FitzGerald is related to the family of the 5th Duke's wife is the first DNA evidence ever produced in the case, and may support Mrs FitzGerald Caudhill's long-held claim suggesting that her mysterious father was the son of Lady Hermione, the wife of the fifth Duke of Leinster."[5]


  1. ^ "American loses battle over Leinster duke claim".
  2. ^ Anglo Boer War, Percy John Probyn, accessed 22 April 2012
  3. ^ Lord Desmond FitzGerald's grave can be seen at
  4. ^ "Bomb Kills Duke's Heir: Lord Desmond Fitzgerald Was Experimenting with New Missile", The New York Times, 8 March 1916. The article states that FitzGerald "was experimenting with a new kind of bomb, when it exploded and a fragment struck him in the head. He was taken to a hospital and died an hour later". According to Rudyard Kipling (, FitzGerald "was so severely wounded that he died within an hour at the Millicent Sutherland (No. 9. Red Cross Hospital). Lieutenant T. E. G. Nugent was dangerously wounded at the same time through the liver, though he did not realise this at the time, and stayed coolly in charge of a party till help came. Lieutenant Hanbury, who was conducting the practice, was wounded in the hand and leg, and Father Lane-Fox lost an eye and some fingers. Lord Desmond FitzGerald was buried in the public cemetery at Calais on the 5th. As he himself had expressly desired, there was no formal parade, but the whole Battalion, of which he was next for the command, lined the road to his grave. His passion and his loyalty had been given to the Battalion without thought of self, and among many sad things few are sadder than to see the record of his unceasing activities and care since he had been second in command cut across by the curt announcement of his death. It was a little thing that his name had been at the time submitted for a well-deserved D.S.O."
  5. ^ According to cemetery records, Desmond FitzGerald is buried in Calais Southern Cemetery, Plot A, Row Officers, Grave 5
  6. ^ Peterkin, Tom; Elsworth, Catherine. A Californian claimant, an 'escape' from the trenches and the fight for a dukedom, Daily Telegraph, February 28, 2006. Accessed June 12, 2008. Archived November 21, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ According to the Scottish War Memorials Project, Lord Desmond's death occurred thusly: "Fr Lane Fox OSB was chaplain to the Irish Guards. He lost his right eye and hand in a bombing accident. He was standing by the Colonel Lord Desmond Fitzgerald watching a bombing practice. The Colonel said "Now Padre, you can have a try”. Fr Lane Fox took a bomb, pulled out the pin and then before the proper time the bomb exploded in his hand, destroying his right eye and hand and killing Lord Desmond Fitzgerald. He also served with the 2nd London Irish of 47th Division and was awarded the Military Cross and the French Medaille Militaire". See
  8. ^ A Californian claimant, an 'escape' from the trenches and the fight for a dukedom - website The Daily Telegraph

External links[edit]

Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by
Edward FitzGerald
Duke of Leinster
Succeeded by
Maurice FitzGerald