FITZGERALD, the name of an historic Irish house, which descends from Walter, son of Other, who at the time of the Domesday Survey (1086) was castellan of Windsor and a tenant-in-chief in five counties. From his eldest son William, known as "de Windsor," descended the Windsors of Stanwell, of whom Andrew Windsor was created Lord Windsor of Stanwell (a Domesday possession of the house) by Henry VIII., which barony is now vested in the earl of Plymouth, his descendant in the female line. Of Walter's younger sons, Robert was given by Henry I. the barony of Little Easton, Essex; Maurice obtained the stewardship (dapiferatus) of the great Suffolk abbey of Bury St Edmunds; Reinald the stewardship to Henry I.'s queen, Adeliza; and Gerald (also a dapifer) became the ancestor of the FitzGeralds. As constable and captain of the castle that Arnulf de Montgomery raised at Pembroke, Gerald strengthened his position in Wales by marrying Nesta, sister of Griffith, prince of South Wales, who bore to him famous children, "by whom the southern coast of Wales was saved for the English and the bulwarks of Ireland stormed." Of these sons William, the eldest, was succeeded by his son Odo, who was known as "de Carew," from the fortress of that name at the neck of the Pembroke peninsula, the eldest son Gerald having been slain by the Welsh. The descendants of Odo held Carew and the manor of Moulsford, Berks, and some of them acquired lands in Ireland. But the wild claims of Sir Peter Carew, under Queen Elizabeth, to vast Irish estates, including half of "the kingdom of Cork," were based on a fictitious pedigree. Odo de Carew's brothers, Reimund "Fitz William" (known as "Le Gros") and Griffin "Fitz William," took an active part in the conquest of Ireland.
Returning to Gerald and Nesta, their son David "Fitz Gerald" became bishop of St David's (1147-1176), and their daughter Angharat mother of Gerald de Barri (Giraldus Cambrensis, q.v.), the well-known historian and the eulogist of his mother's family. A third son, Maurice, obtained from his brother the stewardship (dapiferatus) of St David's, c. 1174, and having landed in Ireland in 1169, on the invitation of King Dermod, founded the fortunes of his house there, receiving lands at Wexford, where he died and was buried in 1176. His eventual territory, however, was the great barony of the Naas in Ophaley (now in Kildare), which Strongbow granted him with Wicklow Castle; but his sons were forced to give up the latter. His eldest son William succeeded him as baron of the Naas and steward of St David's, but William's granddaughter carried the Naas to the Butlers and so to the Loundreses. Gerald, a younger son of Maurice, who obtained lands in Ophaley, was father of Maurice "Fitz Gerald," who held the great office of justiciar of Ireland from 1232 to 1245. In 1234 he fought and defeated his overlord, the earl marshal, Richard, earl of Pembroke, and he also fought for his king against the Irish, the Welsh, and in Gascony, dying in 1257. He held Maynooth Castle, the seat of his descendants.
Much confusion follows in the family history, owing to the justiciar leaving a grandson Maurice (son of his eldest son Gerald) and a younger son Maurice, of whom the latter was justiciar for a year in 1272, while the former, as heir male and head of the race, inherited the Ophaley lands, which he is said to have bequeathed at his death (1287) to John "Fitz Thomas," whose fighting life was crowned by a grant of the castle and town of Kildare, and of the earldom of Kildare to him and the heirs male of his body (May 14th, 1316), Dying shortly after, he was succeeded by his son Thomas, son-in-law of Richard (de Burgh) the "red earl" of Ulster, who received the hereditary shrievalty of Kildare in 1317, and was twice (1320, 1327) justiciar of Ireland for a year. His younger son Maurice "Fitz Thomas," 4th earl (1331-1390), was frequently appointed justiciar, and was great-grandfather of Thomas, the 7th earl (1427-1477), who between 1455 and 1475 was repeatedly in charge of the government of Ireland as "deputy," and who founded the "brotherhood of St George" for the defence of the English Pale. He was also made lord chancellor of Ireland in 1463. His son Gerald, the 8th earl (1477-1513), called "More" (the Great), was deputy governor of Ireland from 1481 for most of the rest of his life, though imprisoned in the Tower two years (1494-1496) on suspicion as a Yorkist. He was mortally wounded while fighting the Irish as "deputy." Gerald, the 9th earl (1513-1534), followed in his father's steps as deputy, fighting the Irish, till the enmity of the earl of Ormonde, the hereditary rival of his house, brought about his deposition in 1520. In spite of temporary restorations he finally died a prisoner in the Tower.
In his anger at his rival's successes the 9th earl had been led, it was suspected, into treason, and while he was a prisoner in England his son Lord Thomas Fitzgerald, "Silken Thomas," broke out into open revolt (1534), and declared war on the government; his followers slew the archbishop of Dublin and laid siege to Dublin Castle. Meanwhile he made overtures to the native Irish, to the pope and to the emperor; but the Butlers took up arms against him, an English army laid siege to his castle of Maynooth, and, though its fall was followed by a long struggle in the field, the earl, deserted by O'Conor, had eventually to surrender himself to the king's deputy. He was sent to the Tower, where he was subsequently joined by his five uncles, arrested as his accomplices. They were all six executed as traitors in February 1537, and acts of attainder completed the ruin of the family.
But the earl's half-brother, Gerald (whose sister Elizabeth was the earl of Surrey's "fair Geraldine"), a mere boy, had been carried off, and, after many adventures at home and abroad, returned to England after Henry VIII.'s death, and to propitiate the Irish was restored to his estates by Edward VI. (1552). Having served Mary in Wyat's rebellion, he was created by her earl of Kildare and Lord Offaley, on the 13th of May 1554, but the old earldom (though the contrary is alleged) remained under attainder. Although he conformed to the Protestant religion under Elizabeth and served against the Munster rebels and their Spanish allies, he was imprisoned in the Tower on suspicion of treason in 1583. But the acts attainting his family had been repealed in 1569, and the old earldom was thus regained. In 1585 he was succeeded by his son Henry ("of the Battleaxes"), who was mortally wounded when fighting the Tyrone rebels in 1597. On the death of his brother in 1599 the earldom passed to their cousin Gerald, whose claim to the estates was opposed by Lettice, Lady Digby, the heir-general. She obtained the ancestral castle of Geashill with its territory and was recognized in 1620 as Lady Offaley for life. George, the 16th earl (1620-1660), had his castle of Maynooth pillaged by the Roman Catholics in 1642, and after its subsequent occupation by them in 1646 it was finally abandoned by the family.
The history of the earls after the Restoration was uneventful, save for the re-acquisition in 1739 of Carton, which thenceforth became the seat of the family, until James the 20th earl (1722-1773), who obtained a viscounty of Great Britain in 1747, built Leinster House in Dublin, and formed a powerful party in the Irish parliament. In 1756 he was made lord deputy; in 1760 he raised the royal Irish regiment of artillery; and in 1766 he received the dukedom of Leinster, which remained the only Irish dukedom till that of Abercorn was created in 1868. His wealth and connexions secured him a commanding position. Of his younger children one son was created Lord Lecale; another was the well-known rebel, Lord Edward Fitzgerald; another was the ancestor of Lord De Ros; and a daughter was created Baroness Rayleigh. William Robert, the 2nd duke (1749-1804), was a cordial supporter of the Union, and received nearly £30,000 for the loss of his borough influence. In 1883 the family was still holding over 70,000 acres in Co. Kildare; but, after a tenure of nearly 750 years, arrangements were made to sell them to the tenants under the recent Land Purchase Acts. In 1893 Maurice Fitzgerald (b. 1887) succeeded his father Gerald, the 5th duke (1851-1893), as 6th duke of Leinster.
The other great Fitzgerald line was that of the earls of Desmond, who were undoubtedly of the same stock and claimed descent from Maurice, the founder of the family in Ireland, through a younger son Thomas. It would seem that Maurice, grandson of Thomas, was father of Thomas "Fitz Maurice" Nappagh ("of the ape"), justice of Ireland in 1295, who obtained a grant of the territory of "Decies and Desmond" in 1292, and died in 1298. His son Maurice Fitz Thomas or Fitzgerald, inheriting vast estates in Munster, and strengthening his position by marrying a daughter of Richard de Burgh, earl of Ulster, was created earl of Desmond (i.e. south Munster) on the 22nd of August 1329, and Kerry was made a palatine liberty for him. The greatest Irish noble of his day, he led the Anglo-Irish party against the English representatives of the king, and was attacked as the king's enemy by the viceroy in 1345. He surrendered in England to the king and was imprisoned, but eventually regained favour, and was even made viceroy himself in 1355. He died, however, the following year. Two of his sons succeeded in turn, Gerald, the 3rd earl (1359-1398), being appointed justiciar (i.e. viceroy) in 1367, despite his adopting his father's policy which the crown still wished to thwart. But he was superseded two years later, and defeated and captured by the native king of Thomond shortly after. Yet his sympathies were distinctly Irish. The remote position of Desmond in the south-west of Ireland tended to make the succession irregular on native lines, and a younger son succeeded as 6th or 7th earl about 1422. His son Thomas, the next earl (1462-1467), governed Ireland as deputy from 1463 to 1467, and upheld the endangered English rule by stubborn conflict with the Irish. Yet Tiptoft, who superseded him, procured his attainder with that of the earl of Kildare, on the charge of alliance with the Irish, and he was beheaded on the 14th of February 1468, his followers in Munster avenging his death by invading the Pale. His younger son Maurice, earl from 1487 to 1520, was one of Perkin Warbeck's Irish supporters, and besieged Waterford on his behalf. His son James (1520-1529) was proclaimed a rebel and traitor for conspiring with the French king and with the emperor. At his death the succession reverted to his uncle Thomas (1529-1534), then an old man, at whose death there was a contest between his younger brother Sir John "of Desmond" and his grandson James, a court page of Henry VIII. Old Sir John secured possession till his death (1536), when his son James succeeded de facto, and de jure on the rightful earl being murdered by the usurper's younger brother in 1540. Intermarriage with Irish chieftains had by this time classed the earls among them, but although this James looked to their support before 1540, he thenceforth played so prudent a part that in spite of the efforts of the Butlers, the hereditary foes of his race, he escaped the fate of the Kildare branch and kept Munster quiet and in order for the English till his death in 1558. His four marriages produced a disputed succession and a break-up of the family. His eldest son Thomas "Roe" (the Red) was disinherited, and failed to obtain the earldom, which was confirmed by Elizabeth to his half-brother Gerald "the rebel earl" (1558-1582), but Gerald had other enemies in his uncle Maurice (the murderer of 1540) and his son especially, the famous James "Fitz Maurice" Fitz Gerald. Gerald's turbulence and his strife with the Butlers led to his detention in England (1562-1564) and again in 1565-1566. In 1567 Sidney imprisoned him in Dublin Castle, whence, with his brother, Sir John "of Desmond," he was sent to England and the Tower, and not allowed to return to Ireland till 1573. Meanwhile the above James, in spite of the protests of Thomas "Roe," had usurped his position in his absence and induced the natives to choose him as "captain" or chieftain of Desmond. He formed a strong Irish Catholic party and broke into revolt in 1569. Suppressed by Sidney, he rebelled again, till crushed by Perrot in 1573. As Earl Gerald on his return would not join James in revolt, the latter withdrew to France. But Gerald himself, after some trimming, rose in rebellion (July 1574), though he soon submitted to the queen's forces. On the continent James Fitz Maurice offered the crown of Ireland in succession to France and to Spain, and finally to the nephew of Pope Gregory XIII. With the papal nuncio and a few troops he landed at Dingle in Kerry (June 1579) and called on the earls of Kildare and Desmond to join him, but the latter assured the English government of his loyalty, and James was killed in a skirmish. Yet Desmond was viewed with suspicion and finally forced, by being proclaimed as a traitor (Nov. 1st, 1579), into a miserable rebellion. His castles were soon captured, and he was hunted as a fugitive, till surprised and beheaded on the 11th of November 1583, after long wanderings, his head being fixed on London Bridge. His ruin is attributable to his restless turbulence and lack of settled policy. The vast estates of the earls, estimated at 600,000 acres, were forfeited by act of parliament.
But the influence of his mighty house was still great among the Irish. The disinherited Thomas "Roe" left a son James "Fitz Thomas," who, succeeding him in 1595 and finding that the territory of the earls would never be restored, assumed the earldom and joined O'Neill's rebellion in 1598, at the head of 8000 of his men. Long sheltered from capture by the fidelity of the peasantry, he was eventually seized (1601) by his kinsman the White Knight, Edmund Fitz Gibbon, whose sister-in-law he had married, and sent to the Tower. The "sugan" (sham) earl lingered there obscurely as "James M'Thomas" till his death. In consequence of his rebellion and the devotion of the Irish to his race, James, son of Gerald "the rebel earl," who had remained in the Tower since his father's death (1583), was restored as earl of Desmond and sent over to Munster in 1600, but he, known as "the queen's earl," could, as a Protestant, do nothing, and he died unmarried in 1601. The "sugan" earl's brother John, who had joined in his rebellion, escaped into Spain, and left a son Gerald, who appears to have assumed the title and was known as the Conde de Desmond. He was killed in the service of the emperor Ferdinand in 1632. The common origin of the earls of Desmond and of Kildare had never been forgotten, and intermarriage had cemented the bond. Just before his death the exile wrote as "Desmond alias Gerratt Fitz Gerald" to his "Most Noble Cosen" the earl of Kildare, that "wee must not be oblivious of the true amity and love that was inviolably observed betweene our antenates and elders."
There can be no doubt that the house of Fitzmaurice was also of this stock, although their actual origin, in the 12th century, is doubtful. From a very early date they were feudal lords of Kerry, and their dignity was recognized as a peerage by Henry VII. in 1489. The isolated position of their territory ("Clanmaurice") threw them even more among the Irish than the earls of Desmond, and they often adopted the native form of their name, "MacMorrish." Under Elizabeth the lords of Kerry narrowly escaped sharing the ruin of the earls. The conduct of Thomas in the rebellion of James "Fitz Maurice" was suspicious, and his sons joined in that of the earl of Desmond, while he himself was a rebel in 1582. Patrick, his successor (1590-1600), was captured in rebellion (1587), and when free, joined the revolt of 1598, as did his son and heir Thomas, who continued in the field till he obtained pardon and restoration in 1603, though suspect till his death in 1630. His grandson withdrew to France with James II., but the next peer became a supporter of the Whig cause, married the eventual heiress of Sir William Petty, and was created earl of Kerry in 1723. From him descend the family of Petty-Fitzmaurice, who obtained the marquessate of Lansdowne (q.v.) in 1818, and still hold among their titles the feudal barony of Kerry together with vast estates in that county.
From the three sons by a second wife of one of the earls of Desmond's ancestors, descended the hereditary White Knights, Knights of Glin and Knights of Kerry, these feudal dignities having, it is said, been bestowed upon them by their father, as Lord of Decies and Desmond. Glin Castle, county Limerick, is still the seat of the (Fitzgerald) Knight of Glin. Valencia Island is now the seat of the Knights of Kerry, who received a baronetcy in 1880.
AUTHORITIES - Calendars of Irish documents and state papers and Carew papers; Gilbert's Viceroys of Ireland; Lord Kildare's Earls of Kildare; G.E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage; Haymond Graves, Unpublished Geraldine Documents; Annals of the Four Masters; Calendar of the duke of Leinster's MSS. in 9th Report on Historical MSS., part ii.; Ware's Annals; J.H. Round's "Origin of the Fitzgeralds" and "Origin of the Carews" in the Ancestor; his "Earldom of Kildare and Barony of Offaley" in Genealogist, ix., and "Barons of the Naas" in Genealogist, xv.; and his "Decies and Desmond" in Eng. Hist. Rev. xviii.
(J. H. R.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)