Fitzgerald, Thomas (1513-1537) (DNB00)

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FITZGERALD, THOMAS, Lord Offaly, tenth Earl of Kildare (1513–1537), son of Gerald Fitzgerald, ninth earl [q. v.], by his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Zouche of Codnor, Derbyshire, was born in 1513. Like his father he spent a considerable portion of his life in England, but it was not till 1534 that he began to play an important part in history. In February of that year he was appointed deputy-governor of Ireland on the occasion of his father's last and ill-fated journey to England. About the beginning of June a report obtained currency in Ireland, through the machinations of the Ormonde faction, that his father had been summarily executed in the Tower, and that his own death and that of his uncles had been determined upon by his government. Full of indignation at what he considered an act of gross perfidy, he summoned the council to St. Mary's Abbey, whither on 11 June he rode through the city, accompanied by 140 horsemen with silken fringes on their helmets (whence his sobriquet 'Silken Thomas '), and there, despite the remonstrances of his advisers and the chancellor Cromer, he publicly renounced his allegiance, and formally declared war on the government. After which he returned to Oxmantown, where he placed himself at the head of his army. His enemies, terrified by his decisive action, took refuge in Dublin Castle, whence several of them made their way to England. Archbishop Allen was not so fortunate. By the aid of his servant Bartholomew Fitzgerald, he obtained a small vessel in which he hoped to effect his escape ; but owing either to the unskilfulness of the sailors, or the contrariness of the winds, he was driven ashore near Clontarf, whence he hastened to the neighbouring village of Tartaine (Artane) to the house of a Mr. Hothe. On the following day, 28 July, a little before dawn, Offaly, accompanied by his uncles, John and Oliver Fitzgerald, and James Delahide, arrived on the spot, when, it is said, he ordered the trembling wretch to be brought before him, and then commanded him to be led away. But his servants, either misunderstanding or disobeying him, slew him on the spot. Whether Thomas was privy to the murder it is impossible to say ; but it is certain that he shortly afterwards despatched his chaplain to Rome to obtain absolution for the crime (v. R. Reyley's Examination, State Papers, Hen. VIII, ii. 100, and Gairdner, Cal. viii. 278, Dr. Ortez to Charles V). Meanwhile he had been endeavouring by every means within his power to strengthen his position. On 27 July, Dublin Castle, his chief object, was besieged, and those of the nobility who declined to take an oath to support him clapped in the castle of Maynooth. His overtures to the Earl of Ossory were rejected with scorn by that astute and prudent nobleman, who, shortly after his return from England in August, created a diversion by invading and devastating Carlow and Kildare. But an attempt made by his son, Lord James Butler, to surprise Offaly recoiled on his own head, and he was only rescued from his dilemma by the news that the citizens of Dublin had turned on the besiegers of the castle and made prisoners of them. Having concluded a short truce with him, Offaly marched rapidly on Dublin. An assault made by him on the castle was repulsed with loss, and in a gallant sortie the citizens succeeded in completely routing his army. He himself narrowly escaped capture, being obliged to conceal himself in the Abbey of Grey Friars in Francis Street. On the same day Sir William Skeffington and an English army set sail from Beaumaris ; but encountering a storm in the Channel were driven to take shelter under Lambay Island. Intending himself to sail to Waterford, he allowed Sir W. Brereton, with a portion of the fleet, to make for Dublin, and shortly afterwards landed a small contingent near Howth to support him by land. It was, however, intercepted by Offaly, who thereupon retired to his principal fortress of Maynooth. During the winter Skeffington remained idle, but about the middle of March he concentrated his forces about Maynooth, which he carried on the 23rd an important event from a military point of view (Froude, Hist. of England, ii. 317). The garrison, including the commandant Parese, who was charged by the Irish, but on insufficient evidence, with having betrayed the place, were with one or two exceptions put to the sword. The 'Pardon of Maynooth' practically determined the fate of a rebellion which at one time threatened to prove fatal to the English authority in Ireland. Offaly, or as he was now, since the death of his father (though Stanihurst roundly asserts that he never obtained recognition of his title), Earl of Kildare, who was advancing to the relief of the place with seven thousand men, saw his army 'melt away from him like a snow-drift.' Still he ventured to risk a battle with Brereton near the Naas, but was utterly defeated, and obliged to seek shelter in Thomond, whence he meditated a flight into Spain. From this he was dissuaded by O'Brien, with whose assistance and that of O'Conor Faly he managed for several months to keep up a sporadic sort of warfare. He had married Frances, youngest daughter of Sir Adrian Fortescue, but he now sent her into England, declaring that he would have nothing to do with English blood. Seeing his fate to be certain, his allies submitted one by one to the government. On 28 July Lord Leonard Grey arrived in Ireland, and to him he wrote from O'Conor's Castle, apologising for what he had done, desiring pardon 'for his life and lands,' and begging his kinsman to interest himself in his behalf. If he could obtain his forgiveness he promised to deserve it ; if not he 'must shift for himself the best he could.' He was still formidable, and to reject his overtures might prolong the war indefinitely. Acting on his own responsibility, Grey guaranteed his personal safety, persuaded him to submit unconditionally to the king's mercy, and a few weeks after his arrival had the satisfaction of carrying him over into England. For a few days he was allowed to remain at liberty, but about the beginning of October was sent prisoner to the Tower. 'Many,' wrote Chapuys,' doubt of his life, although Lord Leonard, who promised him pardon on his surrender, says that he will not die. The said Lord Leonard, as I hear, has pleaded hard for his promise to the said Kildare, but they have stopped his mouth, the king giving him a great rent and the concubine a fine chain with plenty of money. It is quite certain, as I wrote last, that the said Kildare, without being besieged or in danger from his enemies, stole away from his men to yield himself to Lord Leonard, I know not from what motive, inclination or despair' (Gairdner, Cal. Hen. VIII, ix. 197). The government, though hampered by Grey's promise, had no intention of pardoning him. 'Quod defertur non aufertur,' said the Duke of Norfolk, when asked his opinion. After suffering much from neglect, Earl Thomas and his five uncles, whose capture and death reflected the utmost discredit on the government, three of them being wholly free from participation in the rebellion, were on 3 Feb. 1587 executed at Tyburn, being drawn, hanged, and quartered. One member only of the family, his half-brother, Gerald Fitzgerald, afterwards eleventh Earl of Kildare [q. v.], managed to escape. On 1 May 1537, at a parliament held at Dublin, Gerald Fitzgerald, earl of Kildare, Thomas Fitzgerald, his son and heir. Sir John and Oliver Fitzgerald, with other their accomplices, were attainted for high treason. It is curious that this act should have been directed against Earl Gerald, who had not been concerned in the rebellion. In the same year an English act was passed for the attainder of Thomas 'earl of Kildare,' his five uncles and their accessories. Thomas is described as a man of great natural beauty, 'of stature tall and personable; in countenance amiable; a white face, and withal somewhat ruddy, delicately in each limb featured, a rolling tongue and a rich utterance, of nature flexible and kind, very soon carried where he fancied, easily with submission appeased, hardly with stubbornness weighed; in matters of importance an headlong hotspur, yet nathless taken for a young man not devoid of wit, were it not as it fell out in the end that a fool had the keeping thereof.' Among the inscriptions in the Beauchamp Tower is that of THOMAS FITZGera.

[The chief authorities for his life are Lodge's Peerage (Archdall), vol. i.; State Papers, Hen. VIII, vol. ii., supplemented by Mr. Gairdner's Calendar, vols. viii. and ix.; Ware's Annales and Bishops; Stanihurst's Chronicle; Froude's Hist. of England, chap. viii. There is a useful life by the late Duke of Leinster in The Earls of Kildare.]

R. D.