Thomas FitzGerald, 7th Earl of Desmond

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Thomas FitzGerald
Died 1467/8
Cause of death beheading
Resting place Christ Church, Dublin
Title Earl of Desmond
Tenure 1462/3–1467/8
Nationality Hiberno-Norman
Wars and battles Battle of Piltown
Predecessor James FitzGerald
Successor James FitzThomas FitzGerald
Spouse(s) Ellice de Barry
Issue James FitzThomas FitzGerald
Maurice FitzThomas FitzGerald
Thomas FitzThomas FitzGerald
John FitzGerald
Gerald FitzThomas FitzGerald
Lady Catherine FitzGerald
Lady Ellen FitzGerald
Parents James FitzGerald
Mary de Burgh

Thomas FitzJames FitzGerald, 7th Earl of Desmond (died 1467/68),[1][2][3][4] called 'Thomas of Drogheda', known as the Great Earl, was the son of James FitzGerald, 6th Earl of Desmond and Mary de Burgh. He was Lord Deputy of Ireland for the Duke of Clarence from 1463 to his death, and in 1464 founded the College of Youghal. His plan to found a University at Drogheda failed due to his judicial assassination.

Political career[edit]

Upon the death of his father, James FitzGerald, 6th Earl of Desmond, in 1462, Thomas FitzJames FitzGerald, became the 7th Earl of Desmond. That same year Desmond, having sided, as had his father, with the House of York, put down a Lancastrian invasion of Ireland by John and Thomas Butler, brothers of the Earl of Ormond.[5] Local memory claims that the Battle of Piltown was so violent that the local river ran red with blood, hence the names Pill River and Piltown (Baile an Phuill – Town of the blood). Piltown was the only battle of the Wars of the Roses fought in Ireland.

In appreciation, the following year King Edward IV appointed Desmond Lord-Deputy under the Duke of Clarence. Desmond built castles around the Pale, and continued the hereditary feud with the Butlers. In 1464 he founded the collegiate church at Youghal.[6]

Downfall and death[edit]

Ireland c. 1450, showing the Yorkist earldom of Desmond and its Lancastrian rival earldom of Ormond

In 1466 he was badly defeated in an expedition to Offaly, which permanently weakened the defence of the Pale.[7] He was beloved in Ireland for his defence of the Irish people against the difficulties of English law – the parliament in the Dublin Pale passed an act in 1465 that every Irishman dwelling in the Pale was to dress and shave like the English, and take an English surname such as the name of a town, or of a colour such as Black, Brown, Green or White, or of a trade such as Smith, Carpenter, Thatcher, or forfeit his goods. Another measure forbade ships from fishing in the seas off Ireland, because the dues went to make the Irish people prosperous. Another provided that it was lawful to decapitate 'thieves' found robbing "or going or coming anywhere" unless they had an Englishman in their company. On bringing the head to the mayor of the nearest town,'head money' was paid.

Desmond was the main defence of the Irish against such exactions. In 1468 Edward IV replaced Desmond as Lord Deputy with John Tiptoft, 1st Earl of Worcester, a Crown servant notorious for cruelty and ruthlessness, (nicknamed "the Butcher of England").

Accused by his political enemies of treason, for aiding the Irish against the King's subjects, as well as extortion, Desmond attended a Parliament held in Drogheda. He, along with Thomas FitzGerald, 7th Earl of Kildare were attainted for treason. The fact that Desmond had been seized in a Priory, in breach of the right of sanctuary, caused particular indignation.[8] Desmond was summarily beheaded,[7] while Kildare managed to escape to England to plead his case before the King. Desmond was buried at St. Peter's Church, Drogheda, then afterwards removed to Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Desmond's death shocked the nation: "slain by the swords of the wicked, or may I say a martyr" wrote one chronicler.[8] Some accounts claim that Tiptoft also murdered two of Desmond's young sons, who were attending school in Drogheda. The Munster Geraldines invaded the Pale. Not wishing to see a similar uprising in Leinster, Edward revoked the attainder against both Kildare and Desmond. Although Desmond's heir was allowed to succeed to his father's lands and title, relations between the Crown and the Desmonds were strained for decades.[5]

The precise cause of his downfall remains something of a mystery. There were vague rumours of a plot against Worcester, who was certainly not a man to give his enemies the benefit of the doubt, and equally vague rumours that Desmond might be planning to become King of Ireland.[8] Later accounts suggested that Edward IV's Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, was the prime mover, having taken offence at some tactless remarks of Desmond.[8] The Queen could indeed be a formidable enemy: her husband's biographer describes her as a woman who was "quick to take offence and reluctant to forgive"[9] but there is no contemporary evidence of any quarrel between her and Desmond.[8] One account claims that the Queen was jealous of Desmond's influence over her husband.[6]


Desmond has been praised by modern historians as a versatile and attractive figure: he was handsome, affable, hospitable and learned, "a Renaissance magnate with an Irish tinge".[7]

Marriage and issue[edit]

Thomas married Ellice de Barry, daughter of William Barry, 8th Baron Barry, and Ellen de la Roche, and they had issue five sons:

  1. James FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Desmond
  2. Maurice FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Desmond
  3. Thomas FitzGerald, 11th Earl of Desmond
  4. John FitzGerald
  5. Sir Gerald FitzThomas of Macollop

and two daughters:

  1. Lady Catherine Fitzgerald, married Finghin MacCarthy Reagh, 8th Prince of Carbery
  2. Lady Ellen, married 1) Thomas Butler of Caher, 2) Turlogh Mac I Brien Ara, of Duharra, Bishop of Killaloe




External links[edit]

Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by
James FitzGerald
Earl of Desmond
1st creation
Succeeded by
James FitzThomas FitzGerald