1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Desmond, Gerald Fitzgerald, 15th Earl of
DESMOND, GERALD FITZGERALD, 15th Earl of (d. 1583), Irish leader, was son of James, 14th earl, by his second wife More O’Carroll. His father had agreed in January 1541, as one of the terms of his submission to Henry VIII., to send young Gerald to be educated in England. At the accession of Edward VI. proposals to this effect were renewed; Gerald was to be the companion of the young king. Unfortunately for the subsequent peace of Munster these projects were not carried out. The Desmond estates were held by a doubtful title, and claims on them were made by the Butlers, the hereditary enemies of the Geraldines, the 9th earl of Ormonde having married Lady Joan Fitzgerald, daughter and heiress-general of the 11th earl of Desmond. On Ormonde’s death she proposed to marry Gerald Fitzgerald, and eventually did so, after the death of her second husband, Sir Francis Bryan. The effect of this marriage was a temporary cessation of open hostility between the Desmonds and her son, Thomas Butler, 10th earl of Ormonde.
Gerald succeeded to the earldom in 1558; he was knighted by the lord deputy Sussex, and did homage at Waterford. He soon established close relations with his namesake Gerald Fitzgerald, 11th earl of Kildare (1525-1585), and with Shane O’Neill. In spite of an award made by Sussex in August 1560 regulating the matters in dispute between Ormonde and the Fitzgeralds, the Geraldine outlaws were still plundering their neighbours. Desmond neglected a summons to appear at Elizabeth’s court for some time on the plea that he was at war with his uncle Maurice. When he did appear in London in May 1562 his insolent conduct before the privy council resulted in a short imprisonment in the Tower. He was detained in England until 1564, and soon after his return his wife’s death set him free from such restraint as was provided by her Butler connexion. He now raided Thomond, and in Waterford he sought to enforce his feudal rights on Sir Maurice Fitzgerald of Decies, who invoked the help of Ormonde. The two nobles thereupon resorted to open war, fighting a battle at Affane on the Blackwater, where Desmond was defeated and taken prisoner. Ormonde and Desmond were bound over in London to keep the peace, being allowed to return early in 1566 to Ireland, where a royal commission was appointed to settle the matters in dispute between them. Desmond and his brother Sir John of Desmond were sent over to England, where they surrendered their lands to the queen after a short experience of the Tower. In the meanwhile Desmond’s cousin, James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald, caused himself to be acclaimed captain of Desmond in defiance of Sidney, and in the evident expectation of usurping the earldom. He sought to give the movement an ultra-Catholic character, with the idea of gaining foreign assistance, and allied himself with John Burke, son of the earl of Clanricarde, with Connor O’Brien, earl of Thomond, and even secured Ormonde’s brother, Sir Edmund Butler, whom Sidney had offended. Piers and Edward Butler also joined the rebellion, but the appearance of Sidney and Ormonde in the south-west was rapidly followed by the submission of the Butlers. Most of the Geraldines were subjugated by Humphrey Gilbert, but Fitzmaurice remained in arms, and in 1571 Sir John Perrot undertook to reduce him. Perrot hunted him down, and at last on the 23rd of February 1573 he made formal submission at Kilmallock, lying prostrate on the floor of the church by way of proving his sincerity.
Against the advice of the queen’s Irish counsellors Desmond was allowed to return to Ireland in 1573, the earl promising not to exercise palatinate jurisdiction in Kerry until his rights to it were proved. He was detained for six months in Dublin, but in November slipped through the hands of the government, and within a very short time had reduced to a state of anarchy the province which Perrot thought to have pacified by his severities. Edward Fitzgerald, brother of the earl of Kildare, and lieutenant of the queen’s pensioners in London, was sent to remonstrate with Desmond, but accomplished nothing. Desmond asserted that none but Brehon law should be observed between Geraldines; and Fitzmaurice seized Captain George Bourchier, one of Elizabeth’s officers in the west. Essex met the earl near Waterford in July, and Bourchier was surrendered, but Desmond refused the other demands made in the queen’s name. A document offering £500 for his head, and £1000 to any one who would take him alive, was drawn up but was vetoed by two members of the council. On the 18th of July 1574 the Geraldine chiefs signed the “Combination” promising to support the earl unconditionally; shortly afterwards Ormonde and the lord deputy, Sir William Fitzwilliam, marched on Munster, and put Desmond’s garrison at Derrinlaur Castle to the sword. Desmond submitted at Cork on the 2nd of September, handing over his estates to trustees. Sir Henry Sidney visited Munster in 1575, and affairs seemed to promise an early restoration of order. But Fitzmaurice had fled to Brittany in company with other leading Geraldines, John Fitzgerald, seneschal of Imokilly, who had held Ballymartyr against Sidney in 1567, and Edmund Fitzgibbon, the son of the White Knight who had been attainted in 1571. He intrigued at the French and Spanish courts for a foreign invasion of Ireland, and at Rome met the adventurer Stucley, with whom he projected an expedition which was to make a nephew of Gregory XIII. king of Ireland. In 1579 he landed in Smerwick Bay, where he was joined later by some Spanish soldiers at the Fort del Ore. His ships were captured on the 29th of July and he himself was slain in a skirmish while on his way to Tipperary. Nicholas Sanders, the papal legate who had accompanied Fitzmaurice, worked on Desmond’s weakness, and sought to draw him into open rebellion. Desmond had perhaps been restrained before by jealousy of Fitzmaurice; his indecisions ceased when on the 1st of November Sir William Pelham proclaimed him a traitor. The sack of Youghal and Kinsale by the Geraldines was speedily followed by the successes of Ormonde and Pelham acting in concert with Admiral Winter. In June 1581 Desmond had to take to the woods, but he maintained a considerable following for some time, which, however, in June 1583, when Ormonde set a price on his head, was reduced to four persons. Five months later, on the 11th of November, he was seized and murdered by a small party of soldiers. His brother Sir John of Desmond had been caught and killed in December 1581, and the seneschal of Imokilly had surrendered on the 14th of June 1583. After his submission the seneschal acted loyally, but his lands excited envy; he was arrested in 1587, and died in Dublin Castle two days later.
By his second marriage with Eleanor Butler, the 15th earl left two sons, the elder of whom, James, 16th earl (1570–1601), spent most of his life in prison. After an unsuccessful attempt in 1600–1601 to recover his inheritance he returned to England, where he died, the title becoming extinct.