Fitzgerald, James Fitzthomas (DNB00)

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FITZGERALD, JAMES Fitzthomas, the Sugan Earl of Desmond (d. 1608), was the eldest son of Sir Thomas Fitzgerald, commonly called Thomas Roe or Red Thomas. Thomas Roe had been bastardised and disinherited by his father, James Fitzjohn Fitzgerald, fourteenth earl of Desmond [q. v.], and though inclined to dispute the claim of his younger brother Gerald, fifteenth earl [q. v.], to the earldom of Desmond, circumstances had proved too strong for him, and he had sunk into obscure privacy. By his wife Ellice, daughter of Richard, lord Poer, he had two sons, James and John, and a daughter, who married Donald Pipi MacCarthy Reagh. When of an age to understand his position James Fitzthomas repaired to court to petition Elizabeth for a restoration of his rights. His petition was regarded with favour, some slight encouragement held out to him, and a small yearly allowance promised him. Consequently, during the rebellion of his uncle Gerald, both he and his father remained staunch in their allegiance to the crown, and after the death of the earl and the suppression of the rebellion in 1583 they naturally looked for their restoration to the earldom. But their petitions no longer found favour at court, for Munster was to be 'planted' with Englishmen, and for ever to be made loyal to England. So matters remained until 1598, when Munster, in the words of the Irish annalists, again became 'a trembling sod.' Instigated by his brother John and by Hugh O'Neill, earl of Tyrone, James Fitzthomas assumed the title of Earl of Desmond, and before long found himself at the head of eight thousand clansmen. To the expostulations of the Earl of Ormonde he replied, on 12 Oct. 1598, by a statement of his grievances, and by an avowal of his intention, seeing he could obtain no justice, 'to maintain his right, trusting in the Almighty to further the same.' The struggle lasted for three years. But in October 1600, while withdrawing his forces from the open into the woods of Aharlow, he was surprised by Captain Greame and the garrison of Kilmallock. From that day the Geraldines never rallied again to any purpose. Dismissing his followers the earl took to the woods for safety, where, in May 1601, Sir George Carew was informed that he was living 'in the habit of a priest,' but determined 'to die rather than to depart the province, retaining still his traitorly hopes to be relieved out of Ulster or out of Spain' (Cal. Carew MSS. iv. 55). Carew made several attempts to procure his capture or death, but without success, for 'such is the superstitious folly of these people, as for no price he may be had, holding the same to be so heinous as no priest will give them absolution' (ib. iii. 471). Eventually, on 29 May 1601, he was captured by Edmund Fitzgibbon, the White Knight [q. v.], while hiding in 'an obscure cave many fathoms underground' in the neighbourhood of Mitchelstown. He was placed in irons to prevent a rescue, 'so exceedingly beloved of all sorts' was he, and conveyed to Shandon Castle, where he was immediately arraigned and adjudged guilty of treason. For a time Carew hoped to make use of him against a still greater rebel, Hugh O'Neill ; but finding him to be after all but a 'dull-spirited traitor,' he on 13 Aug. handed him over to Sir Anthony Cooke, who conveyed him to England, where, on his arrival, he was placed in the Tower. Of his life in prison there remains only the following pathetic notice: 'The demands of Sir John Peyton, Lieutenant of Her Majesty's Tower of London, for one quarter of a year, from St. Michael's day 1602 till the feast of our Lord God next. For James M'Thomas. Sayd tyme at 3l. per week, physicke, sourgeon, and watcher with him in his Lunacy.' He is said to have died in 1608, and to have been buried in the chapel of the Tower. He married Ellen, widow of Maurice, elder brother of Edmund, the White Knight, but had no issue.

John Fitzthomas, his brother, who had shared with him in the vicissitudes of the rebellion, and who indeed seems to have been the prime instigator of it, after his brother's capture, escaped with his wife, the daughter of Richard Comerford of Dangenmore, Kilkenny, into Spain, where he died a few years afterwards at Barcelona. His son Gerald, known as the Conde de Desmond, entered the service of the Emperor Ferdinand II, and was killed in 1632. As he left no issue, in him ended the heirs male of the four eldest sons of Thomas, eighth earl of Desmond [q. v.]

[The principal references to the life of the Sugan Earl will be found collected together in the Unpublished Geraldine Documents, edited by Hayman and Graves, pt. ii.]

R. D.