Fitzthomas, Maurice (DNB00)
FITZTHOMAS or FITZGERALD, MAURICE, first Earl of Desmond (d. 1356), justiciar of Ireland, was the son of Thomas Fitzmaurice ‘of the ape,’ justice of Ireland in 1295, and of his wife Margaret ‘the king's cousin’ (Cal. Doc. Ireland, 1293–1301, No. 533). His grandfather, Maurice Fitzjohn, was slain along with his father, John Fitzthomas, at the battle of Callan (1261). John Fitzthomas was the son of Thomas Fitzmaurice, who seems to have been a younger son of Maurice Fitzgerald (d. 1176) [q. v.], the invader and the founder of the Geraldine family. The genealogy is, however, not quite clear.
Maurice's father died in 1298 (Ann. Hib. in Chart. St. Mary's, ii. 328; Annals of Loch Cé, i. 521), when Maurice was still a child. He left his vast estates in Munster, second only to those of the De Burghs among the Anglo-Irish nobility, to be protected by royal nominees, whose services could thus be cheaply rewarded (e.g. Cal. Doc. Ireland, 1302–7, Nos. 38, 43). In 1299 Maurice's mother married Reginald Russel without the royal license (Rot. Orig. Abbrev. i. 109). The right of his marriage was assigned to Thomas of Berkeley (Cal. Doc. Ireland, 1293–1301, No. 773). John Fitzthomas, afterwards first earl of Kildare, ultimately became guardian of his lands. On 5 Aug. 1312 his marriage to Catherine, daughter of Richard de Burgh, second earl of Ulster [q. v.], at Greencastle, reconciled for a time a long-standing family feud (Ann. Hib. p. 341; Clyn, p. 11, says on 25 Dec. 1413). Barbour says he played a conspicuous part in 1315 in resisting Edward Bruce (Bruce, xiv. 140–6, Early Engl. Text Soc.), but his authority is hardly conclusive. About this time, however, his active career begins. In 1326 the death of the great Earl of Ulster, his father-in-law, was the beginning of new feuds in which Maurice vigorously played his part. In 1327 a private war broke out between him and Arnold le Poer (Power), who had called him a ‘rhymer.’ Supported by the Butlers and William Bermingham, Maurice ravaged his enemies' lands in Ofath, and drove his allies, the Burkes, into Connaught. But the intervention of the viceroy [see Fitzgerald, Thomas, second Earl of Kildare] led to Arnold's leaving the country and Maurice's craving pardon at a parliament at Kilkenny. Yet in 1328 he again collected a strong army against the Poers. He also quarrelled with the Earl of Ulster, but in March 1329 the justiciar, Roger Outlaw, effected their reconciliation.
In 1329 Maurice was created Earl of Desmond, and received a grant of the county palatine of Kerry, with royal liberties therein to be held of the English crown. This was part of the policy which about the same time gave earldoms to the other leaders of the English colony. At the same time he received the grant of the advowson of Dungarvan, and a remission of his rents to the crown for that term (Fœdera, ii. 770). In 1330 he helped the viceroy, D'Arcy, against the clans of Leinster. Ten thousand men, including the chief of the O'Briens, followed his standards. He defeated the O'Nolans and the O'Mores and took Ley Castle. But Desmond and Ulster soon renewed their quarrels (ib. ii. 793) until the justiciar shut both up in prison. Desmond, who had been captured at Limerick (Clyn, p. 23), soon escaped, and resisted the next viceroy, Anthony de Lucy. He refused to attend the Dublin parliament of June 1331, though he appeared after it had been transferred to Kilkenny, where he swore oaths of faithfulness, and was pardoned. But in August Lucy seized him at Limerick, and shut him up in October in Dublin Castle. After eighteen months' imprisonment, Desmond was liberated on the petition of the three estates. The greatest lords of Ireland bound themselves under heavy penalties to be his sureties, and he swore before the high altar of Christ Church that he would attend the next parliament and be faithful to the king. In the same year, 1333, he broke his leg by a fall from a horse. In 1335 he served under the viceroy, D'Arcy, in the expedition of Edward III against Scotland (Cal. Rot. Claus. Hib. 9 Edw. III, p. 41; Clyn, p. 26). In 1339 he inflicted a crushing defeat on the MacCarthies and Irish of Kerry, of whom twelve hundred were slain.
A plan of Edward III to supersede the Anglo-Norman settlers by English ministers produced a terrible dissension between the ‘English born in Ireland’ and the ‘English born in England’ (Grace, p. 133). Desmond took the lead in the struggle. He refused to attend the parliament of October 1341 at Dublin, and collected a great gathering of the nobles and townsfolk of English blood at Kilkenny in November. This assembly sent a long complaint to Edward III against the policy of his viceroy, and denounced the greed and incompetence of the ‘needy men sent from England without knowledge of Ireland.’ But the new justiciar, Ralph D'Ufford, persevered in the new policy. Desmond absented himself therefore from the parliament of June 1345 at Dublin. Ufford treated this as a declaration of war (Clyn, p. 31). He invaded his territories, and captured his castles of Iniskilty and Castleisland, where he hanged the leaders of the garrison. Many of the other nobles abandoned Desmond in alarm. The Earl of Kildare was imprisoned. Desmond's estates were declared forfeited. The grandees who had been his sureties in 1333 were ruined by Ufford's insisting on their forfeiture. Ufford died on Palm Sunday 1346, but all that Desmond got by his death was a respite and a safe-conduct. In August John Maurice was made seneschal of Clonmel, Decies, Dungarvan, and other lands formerly belonging to Desmond (Cal. Rot. Pat. Hib. 20 Edw. III, p. 51). In September 1346 he sailed from Youghal with his wife and two sons to answer his accusers or to prosecute his complaints in England. He surrendered himself to the king, and was retained for some time in prison. In 1347 he was present at the siege of Calais (Clyn, p. 34). In 1349 he was finally released from his difficulties (Cal. Rot. Pat. 23 Edw. III, p. 158), received back his lands, and was restored to the king's favour. In 1348 Ralph, lord Stafford, and others had bound themselves by heavy penalties as his sureties (Fœdera, iii. 154). He never ventured again on his old course of contumacy.
In 1355 Desmond was taken under the king's special protection (ib. iii. 300), the forfeits of his manucaptors of 1333 were restored (ib. iii. 306), and he himself was appointed viceroy of Ireland on 8 July, in succession to Thomas Rokesby. He remained in office until his death on 25 Jan. 1356 (Ann. Hib. MS. Laud, p. 392; Obits and Martyrology of Christ Church, p. 61, Irish Arch. Soc.; Gilbert, Viceroys, p. 21, places his death in July), ‘not without great sorrow of his followers and all lovers of peace.’ He was buried in the choir of the church of the Dominicans at Dublin, but his body was afterwards transferred to the general burying-place of his race, the church of the same order at Tralee. He is described as ‘a good man and just, who hanged even his own kinsfolk for theft,’ and ‘well castigated the Irish.’ He was the foremost Irish noble of his time, and the spokesman of the Anglo-Irish party which aspired to practical independence.
Desmond is said to have been married thrice. His first wife, Catherine de Burgh (d. 1331), was the mother of Maurice and John, who became in succession earls of Desmond. An elder son, named Nicholas, was deprived of his inheritance as an idiot (Fœdera, iii. 433). His second wife is described as Eleanor, daughter of Nicholas Fitzmaurice, lord of Kerry. Her real name was Evelina (Cal. Rot. Claus. 32 Edw. III, p. 67). She was the mother of Gerald Fitzgerald [q. v.], the fourth earl, called ‘Gerald the poet’ (Lodge, Peerage of Ireland, i. 64, ed. Archdall). His third wife is said to have been Margaret, daughter of O'Brien, prince of Thomond.
[A valuable communication from Mr. T. A. Archer has been utilised for this article. The Annals of Ireland from the 15th Century, Laudian MS., published in Gilbert's Cartularies, &c., of St. Mary's Abbey, Dublin, vol. ii., forms the ‘chief authority for the history of the English settlement,’ and copious in their accounts of Desmond. See also Grace's Annales Hiberniæ (Irish Archæol. Soc.); Clyn's Annals of Ireland (Irish Archæol. Soc.); Sweetman's Calendar and Documents relating to Ireland; Rymer's Fœdera; Liber Munerum Hiberniæ; Lynch's Feudal Dignities of Ireland; Gilbert's Viceroys of Ireland; Graves's Unpublished Geraldine Documents; Book of Howth; Lodge's Peerage of Ireland, vol. i.]