Fitzthomas, John (DNB00)
|←Fitzthedmar, Arnold||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 19
FITZTHOMAS, JOHN, first Earl of Kildare and sixth Baron of Offaly (d. 1316), belonged to the great Anglo-Irish family of the Fitzgeralds, though the genealogies are contradictory. The Earl of Kildare (Earls of Kildare, pp. 15–22) makes him grandson of Maurice Fitzgerald II [q. v.], the justiciar, who died in 1257, and so far the descent is undoubted. In all probability his father was the justiciar's younger son, Thomas Macmaurice, whose death the Irish ‘Annals’ enter as taking place at Lough Mask Castle, co. Mayo, in 1271 (Loch Cé, p. 469). In 1287 died Gerald Fitzmaurice (Clyn, p. 10), who was this Thomas's grandnephew, and being descended from Thomas's eldest brother Gerald, had come to own Offaly and Maynooth [see Fitzgerald, Maurice, 1194?–1257 ad fin.] On Gerald Fitzmaurice's death (1287) he bequeathed this inheritance to John Fitzthomas, his granduncle's son and his own first cousin once removed.
Besides the inheritance of this cousin, John Fitzthomas seems about the same time to have come in for that of his first cousin, Amabilia, one of the two coheirs of his uncle Maurice Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald [q. v.], the justiciar, who died in 1277 (Sweetman, ib.; Cal. Gen. ib.) He makes his first appearance in the receipt rolls of the Irish exchequer in connection with a payment of 50l. from co. Limerick through his more distant kinsman, Thomas Fitzmaurice, the father of Maurice Fitzthomas [q. v.], first earl of Desmond (Sweetman, iii. 54). In the summer of 1288 the new justiciar of Ireland proclaimed a muster against the Irish of Offaly and Leix, who were in a state of open rebellion. They had in 1285 taken Gerald Fitzmaurice, Fitzthomas's predecessor in the barony, prisoner on his own lands (ib. iii. 265; Clyn, pp. 10, 11). John Fitzthomas was one of the three chief leaders of the host, and was appointed to guard the marchers from Rathemegan (Rathangan? in co. Kildare) to Baly-madan. The expedition was on the whole successful, but there is an entry of 11l. 13s. 4d. for the ‘rescue of John Fitzthomas’ (Sweetman, pp. 267, 273); and Clyn, under 1289, tells us that ‘lord John Fitzthomas lost many horses and followers (garciones) in Offaly.’ Four years later the castle of Sligo was granted to him (Annals of the Four Masters).
In 1291 Fitzthomas seems to have been in England, and a little earlier had been on an expedition against the king's enemies in Ireland (Sweetman, No. 915, p. 428). In May 1292 he was empowered to treat with the king's adversaries. In 1294 ‘Mac Maurice’ (i.e. in all probability John Fitzthomas) leagued with the great Anglo-Norman family of the Berminghams in a disastrous expedition against Calbach Mor O'Conor, one of the most dangerous of the rebellious Irish princes of Leinster (Loch Cé, p. 501). When Magnus O'Conor, king of Connaught, died in 1293, William de Vescy, the new justiciar (12 Sept. 1290–18 Oct. 1294), put Ædh O'Conor, a scion of the rival race of Cathal Crobdherg, on the throne, but so great was Fitzgerald's power in Connaught, that within ten days the new king was a prisoner. Before the year was out Fitzgerald had set Ædh free, and the justiciar had made his own candidate king (Loch Cé, p. 509; Annals of the Four Masters, p. 459). This opposition on the part of a mere noble seems to have roused the anger of William de Vescy (Abbrev. Plac. p. 231; Sweetman, vol. ii. sub 13 Nov. 1278, Nos. 2025, &c.). The feud was at its height by April 1294, and William de Vescy accused John Fitzthomas of felony. John accused the justiciar of saying that the great lords of Ireland need care very little for a king like Edward, who was ‘the most perverse and dastard knight in his realm.’ William denied the charge, and offered wager of battle. From Ireland the case was transferred to Westminster, and a day appointed for the combat. At the fixed time (24 July) William de Vescy appeared in full armour, and, as his opponent had not arrived, claimed judgment by default (ib. Nos. 135, 137, 147; Abbrev. Plac. pp. 231–4; Rymer, ii. 631). Other accounts represent that William de Vescy, to avoid fighting, fled to France, and the king gave to John all that was his, including Kildare and Rathangan. But it would seem, from a note to Butler's ‘Grace,’ that Kildare remained in the king's hands till 16 May 1316, whereas William de Vescy was still receiving summons to parliament in 24 Edward I, and did not surrender Kildare and his Irish estates till 1297 (Annals of Ireland, p. 323; Parl. Rolls, i. 127–34; Grace, p. 43; and note in Irish Close Rolls, i. 36, Nos. 45–6). The famous Fitzgerald legend of this quarrel may be read in Campion, p. 115, Holinshed, p. 241, and Burke's ‘Peerage.’ The justiciarship was transferred in the same year (18 Oct. 1294) to William de Oddyngeseles (Sweetman, vol. iv. Nos. 165–6).
By this time the rivalry of the De Burghs and the Geraldines had become violent, and in December 1294 John Fitzthomas took Richard de Burgh, the earl of Ulster, prisoner, and kept him in his castle of Ley till 12 March 1295. For this the lord of Offaly was once more impleaded at Westminster; he had to find twenty-four sureties by 11 Nov., and was finally mulcted in Sligo and all his Connaught estates (Clyn, p. 10; Annals of Ireland, p. 323; Sweetman, p. 104; cf. Campion, p. 79; Parl. Rolls, i. 135–6). The same year John Wogan, the new justiciar, made a peace between the two earls for two years, and it was made permanent about 28 Oct. 1298 (Annals of Ireland, pp. 325, 328).
From 1295 John Fitzthomas's name figures frequently on the writs for military service. In 1296 he accompanied the justiciar and Richard de Burgh on the Scotch expedition, and was sumptuously entertained by the king of England on Whitsunday (13 May). When summoned to London for a campaign against the king of the French, he and the Earl of Ulster were allowed a grace of three weeks (till 1 Aug.) beyond the English barons, ‘pour la longe mer qu'il ount a passer’ (ib. p. 326; Annals of the Four Masters, p. 467; Parl. Writs, pp. 280, 284, &c.; Dignity of a Peer, ii. 278, 322). In 1301 he was again serving in Scotland with Edward I from August to November, and probably again in 1303, unless he was excused on this occasion because of his son's death (ib.; Parl. Writs, i. 367; Rymer, ii. 897). He received similar summons to attend the Earl of Ulster against the Scotch for the nativity of St. John, 1310, and for the Bannockburn campaign of 1314 (Parl. Writs, ii. 392, 424).
During all these years there seems to have been great confusion in Offaly and Kildare. Ley, the chief stronghold of John Fitzthomas in Offaly, had been taken and burned on 25 Aug. 1284; the castle of Kildare was captured in 1294, and the country round laid waste by bands of predatory Irish and English; and though the great Irish chief of Offaly, Calbhach O'Conor, was slain in 1305, yet two years later ‘the robbers of Offaly burned the town of Ley, and laid siege to the castle till they were driven back by the combined forces of John Fitzthomas and Edmund Butler.’ In 1309 he crossed over to England with the Earl of Ulster and Roger Mortimer. Three years later (1312) his friendship with the De Burghs was ratified by a double marriage. At Green Castle in co. Down his ward, Maurice Fitzthomas [q. v.], the head of the Desmond branch of the family, married (5 Aug.) Richard de Burgh's daughter Catherine; and on 16 Aug. his son Thomas Fitzjohn married Joan, another daughter of the same earl. At Christmas he held a great court at Adare in co. Limerick, and knighted Nicholas Fitzmaurice, the knight of Kerry (Annals of Ireland, pp. 319, 323, &c.; Loch Cé, p. 531, &c.; Annals of the Four Masters, pp. 481, &c.; Clyn, p. 11).
On 26 May 1315 Edward Bruce landed at Carrickfergus (Annals of Ireland, p. 348, &c.; Loch Cé, p. 563; Annals of the Four Masters), and Barbour seems to make John Fitzthomas take part in the Earl of Ulster's expedition which, in the ensuing summer (July–September 1315), forced the Scotch back from Dundalk to the Bann (Barbour, xiv. 140–6). After a few months spent in Ulster Edward Bruce made a definite advance south, and by the beginning of 1316 was laying waste John Fitzthomas's own county. At Arscoll in co. Kildare he was met by three hosts, each of which outnumbered his own. But the leaders, Edmund Butler, John Fitzthomas, and Arnold Poer, were at variance, and the Scotch gained an easy victory (26 Jan. 1316). Bruce, however, almost at once began to retreat north, burning John Fitzthomas's great castle of Ley on his way (Annals of Ireland, pp. 296–7, 244–8; Clyn, p. 12). John Fitzthomas and the other Irish magnates gathered at Dublin (c 2 Feb.) and took an oath of fealty to the king of England's new agent, John de Hotham (Annals of Ireland, p. 350; Lib. Hib. pt. iv. p. 6). In mid-February the Scotch were still lying at Greashill in Offaly, while the English army lay at Kildare (Annals of Ireland, p. 349). A little later John Fitzthomas crossed over to England, and it was probably soon after this that he was created Earl of Kildare. The patent is dated 16 May 1316 (see patent in extenso, Lodge, i. 78–9). Immediately after this the Earls of Kildare and Ulster seem to have taken a second oath (c 3 July), and two months later, just as the news of Robert Bruce's landing reached Dublin, John Fitzthomas died at Laraghbryan, co. Kildare, on Sunday, 12 Sept. (Annals of Ireland, pp. 247, 352). He was buried at the Franciscan monastery in Kildare (ib. p. 297).
John Fitzthomas is said to have married Blanche Roche, daughter of John Baron of Fermoy (Earls of Kildare, p. 28; Lodge, p. 79). His children were (1) Gerald, ‘his son and heir’ (d. 1303) (Clyn, p. 10; Grace, p. 47; Annals of Ireland, p. 331); and his successor, (2) Thomas Fitzjohn, second earl of Kildare [see Fitzgerald, Thomas, d. 1328]. To these the Earl of Kildare adds Joan, who in 1302 married Sir Edmund Butler (cf. Annals of Ireland, p. 331), and thus became ancestress to the later marquises of Ormonde; and Elizabeth, who married Sir Nicholas Netterville, ancestor of the viscounts Netterville (Earls of Kildare, p. 28).
John Fitzthomas seems to have been one of the most unruly even of the Irish barons. Besides the feuds already noticed, he appears to have had another with the De Lacies in 1310 (Pat. Rolls of Ireland, No. 58, p. 13, cf. No. 240, and p. 16, No. 50). He is said to have built and endowed the Augustinian abbey at Adare (Earls of Kildare, p. 27; Archdall, Monasticon, p. 414), ‘for the redemption of Christian captives.’ His fame was of long continuance in his own country, where an Irish poet, in 1601, wrote of him: ‘The first Leinster Earl without reproach … John the redoubtable, than whom no poet was more learned’ (Earls of Kildare, p. 28). At one time or another he must have had under his control no inconsiderable part of Ireland. The fact that he was never justiciar seems to point to some distrust as to his perfect trustworthiness, and his power is shown by his equality in the quarrel with the great house of Ulster, which latterly seems to have been willing to secure peace by mutual marriages. His elder son, Gerald, is said to have been betrothed to a daughter of Richard de Burgh; but if this was so, the agreement seems to have been broken short by the young noble's death.[Sweetman's Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, vols. i–v.; Rymer's Fœdera, ed. 1720; Calendarium Genealogicum, ed. Roberts; Irish Close and Patent Rolls, ed. Ball and Tresham, 1828; Parliamentary Writs (Palgrave, 1827); Liber Munerum Hiberniæ (Thomas, 1824); Report on the Dignity of a Peer; Book of Howth, ed. Bond and Brewer; Annals of the Four Masters, vol. ii., ed. O'Donovan; Annals of Loch Cé, ed. Henessy (Rolls Series); Clyn's Annals, ed. Butler (Irish Archæol. Soc. Publications); Grace's Annals, ed. Butler (Irish Archæol. Soc.); Campion's Annals in Irish Chroniclers (Dublin, 1809); Holinshed, vol. vi., ed. 1808; Annals of Ireland ap. Cart. and Doc. of St. Mary's, Dublin, ed. Gilbert (Rolls Series); Archdall's Monasticon, ed. 1789; Burke's Extinct Peerages; Marquis of Kildare's Earls of Kildare; Lynch's Feudal Dignities of Ireland; Barbour's Bruce, ed. Herrtage (Early Engl. Text Soc.); J. T. Gilbert's Hist. of the Irish Viceroys; Rolls of Parliament, Edward I.]