Fitzgerald, Thomas (1426?-1468) (DNB00)

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FITZGERALD, THOMAS, eighth Earl of Desmond (1426?–1468), deputy of Ireland, was the son of James, seventh earl, and of his wife Mary, daughter of Ulick Burke of Connaught (Lodge, Peerage of Ireland, i. 67). In 1462 Thomas succeeded his father to the earldom (Annals of Loch Cé, ii. 165, says 1463, and speaks of him as 'the chief of the foreigners of the south'). In 1463 he was made deputy to George, duke of Clarence, the lord-lieutenant of Ireland. He showed great activity. He built border castles to protect the Pale, especially in the passes of Offaly, the ordinary passage of the O'Conors in their invasions; but the break-up of the English power in Ireland was now so complete that he had to sanction the parliamentary recognition of the tax exacted by that sept on the English of Meath, and to relax the prohibition of traffic with the 'Irish enemies.' He carried on the hereditary feud with the Butlers, whose lands he devastated in 1463. He was less successful in an expedition against Offaly. In 1464 he quarrelled with Sherwood, bishop of Meath, and both went to England to lay their grievances before the king (Ann. Ireland, 1443-68, in Irish Archæol. Miscellany, p. 253). The Irish parliament certified that he had 'rendered great services at intolerable charges and risks,' had 'always governed himself by English laws,' and had 'brought Ireland to a reasonable state of peace.' But a Drogheda merchant accused him of extorting 'coigne and livery,' and of treasonable relations with the natives. In the end Edward restored Desmond to office and granted him six manors in Meath as a mark of his favour.

The period of Desmond's government of Ireland was one of considerable legislative activity. But laws had little effect in repressing the Irish. Two expeditions of Desmond against the O'Briens did not prevent the border septs' attacks on Leinster. The Irish of Meath called in a son of the lord of Thomond to act as their 'king,' but his death of a fever averted this danger. Yet Desmond's rule was so far successful, or his hold over Munster so strong, that for the first time for many years representatives of the county of Cork appeared in the Irish parliament.


In 1467 Desmond was superseded as deputy by John Tiptoft, earl of Worcester [q.v.] It was believed that he was a strong supporter of Warwick in his hostility to Edward IVs marriage, and had incurred the hostility of Queen Elizabeth in consequence. Tiptoft convoked a parliament at Drogheda, in which, on the petition of the commons, Desmond was attainted, along with the Earl of Kildare [see Fitzgerald, Thomas, seventh Earl of Kildare] and Edward Plunket. The charges brought against them were 'fosterage and alliance with the Irish, giving the Irish horses, harness, and arms, and supporting them against the faithful subjects of the king' ('Carew MSS.,' Book of Howth, &c. p. 483). On these charges Desmond was executed at Drogheda on 14 Feb. 1468, at the age of forty-two (Clyn, Annals, p. 46, Irish Archæol. Soc.) William Wyrcester (Annals in Wars of English in France, II. ii. 789) says that Edward was at first displeased with his execution. This suggests that the actual charges rather than secret relations with English parties were the causes of his fall. Desmond was soon looked on as a martyr (Grace, p. 165). It was soon believed that Tiptoft, with his usual cruelty, had also put to death two infant sons of Desmond (Hall, p. 286, ed. 1809; cf. Mirrour for Magistrates, ii. 203, ed. 1815, and note in Gilbert's Viceroys, pp. 589-91), but there is no native or contemporary evidence for this. Richard III described Desmond as 'atrociously slain and murdered by colour of the law against all manhood, reason, and sound conscience' (Gairdner, Letters, &c. of Richard III and Henry VII, i. 68). The Munster Geraldines avenged his death by a bloody inroad into the Pale. The Irish writers celebrate Desmond for 'his excellent good qualities, comely fair person, affability, eloquence, hospitality, martial feats, alms-deeds, humanity, bountifulness in bestowing good gifts to both clergy and laity, and to all the learned in Irish, as antiquaries, poets' (Annals of Ireland, 1443-68, p. 263; cf. Four Masters, iv. 1053). He founded a college at Youghal for a warden, eight fellows, and eight choristers (Hayman, Notes of the Religious Foundations of Youghal, p. xxxiii), and procured an act of parliament allowing the corporation to buy and sell of the Irishry (Hayman, Annals of Youghal, p. 13). He was buried at Drogheda, but Sir Henry Sidney removed his tomb to Dublin (Lodge, i. 70). The 'Four Masters' (iv. 1053) say that his body was afterwards conveyed to the burial- place of his predecessors at Tralee. He married Elizabeth or Ellice Barry, daughter of Lord Buttevant, by whom he had a large family. Four of his sons, James, Maurice, Thomas, and John, became in succession earls of Desmond.

[Gilbert's Viceroys of Ireland; Annals of Loch Cé; Annals of Ireland in Irish Archæological Miscellany; Annals of the Four Masters (O'Donovan), with the note on iv. 1050-2; Carew MSS., Book of Howth, &c.; Hayman's unpublished Geraldine Documents, i. 11-13; Lodge's Peerage of Ireland (Archdall), vol. i.]

T. F. T.