(16th E. Desmond)

Born: 6 Jun 1571, England

Acceded: 1 Oct 1600

Died: 1601

Father: Gerald FITZGERALD (15° E. Desmond)

Mother: Eleanor BUTLER (C. Desmond)

Associated with: Comerford ?


1. Gerald FITZGERALD (19° E. Desmond)

He was born in England about 1570 in St. Leger House, the home of Sir Warham St. Leger. Elder son of Gerald Fitzgerald, 15° Earl of Desmond, by his second marriage with Eleanor, dau. of Edmund Butler, lord Dunboyne. God son of Queen Elizabeth, he is commonly spoken of as the "Queen's Earl".

When his father and his mother returned to Ireland in 1573, he was detained as a hostage in London. In 1579 he was permitted to return for a short time under strict guard. When his father renounced his allegiance to the English crown in 1579, the child seems to have been resident in Ireland. During his stay, Wallop suggested to Walsingham that "Desmond's son might be executed as an ensample of Desmond's disloyalty". For a time he was committed to the custody of the town of Kilkenny. The citizens petitioning against the expense of his keep, he was removed to Dublin Castle. His mother, to dissociate him from his father's ill fortune, delivered him up to Sir William Drury, and acting lord justice, who sent him to Dublin Castle. On 28 Aug 1582 the countess bitterly complained to Lord Burghley that his education was utterly neglected, and petitioned for better treatment.

On 17 Nov 1583 and on 9 Jul 1584 his gaolers applied to the English authorities for his removal to the Tower of London. The Lords-Justices wrote, 17 Nov 1583: "For that we acompt Desmond's sonne here in the Castell to be a prisoner of greate chardge, and that manie escapes have been mad hear, hence (though not in our tyme) we wyshe, for the better assurance of hym, that her Matie mighte be p'suaged to remouve hym hence into the Towre of London, wch. Notwithstandinge we leve to yor Ll.'s grave consideracon". They were not relieved of the charge until Jul 1584. Their second petition was successful, and before the close of 1584 the lad was carried to the Tower, to remain a prisoner there for sixteen years. On 17 Jun 1593 he wrote pathetically to Cecil that "only by being born the unfortunate son of a faulty father, had never since his infancy breathed out of prison".

During the O'Neill wars he was almost forgotten: there are few memorials of his prison life but the numerous apothecaries' and surgeons' bills on his account still preserved in the Tower records. His education does not appear to have been neglected.

In 1600, when Irish affairs had become desperate, it was thought that his name might have some influence in establishing Irish loyalty. Tyrone's rebellion was still unchecked. In Munster the Geraldine faction was united by Tyrone's influence against the English government, in the support of James Fitzthomas Fitzgerald, the Sugan Earl [q.v.], who being the heir of the disinherited elder son of James, 14° Earl of Desmond, had been put forward by the rebel leaders as the only rightful earl of Desmond. To break the union between the Geraldine faction and the other rebels, Sir George Carew, president of Munster, suggested that the imprisoned James Fitzgerald should be sent to the province, and paraded as the genuine earl of Desmond. It was confidently expected that the Geraldine faction would at once transfer their allegiance to the youthful prisoner.

Elizabeth disliked the scheme. Cecil doubted its wisdom, but finally gave way. The Desmond earldom was restored to him on the 1 Oct 1600, with the proviso that if the earl had an heir, the heir should bear the title of Baron Inchiquin. The new earl was to have none of his father's lands restored to him, and he was sent over to Ireland under the charge of Captain Price, together with a gentleman named Crosbie, and the protestant Archbishop of Cashel, Miler Magrath. Cecil directed Carew to leave Fitzgerald all the appearances of liberty, but he was to be closely watched and placed under restraint if he showed the slightest sign of sympathy with the government's enemies. The particulars of this visit are detailed in letters from the young Earl to Lord Burghley.

They set sail from "Shirehampton for Corke", 13 Oct 1600. Desmond was so sea-sick that after two days he persuaded his custodians to land at Youghal, where he says, "I had like, comming new of the sea, and therefore weake, to be overthowen with the kisses of old calleaks". At Kilmallock he was received with wild enthusiasm by the people, "insomuch as all the streets, doores, and windowes, yea, the very gutters and tops of the houses, were so filled with them". The Earl travelled quickly to Carew's headquarters at Mallow, and thence to the centre of the Geraldine district at Kilmallock (18 Oct), where Sir George Thornton, the English commander, provided him with lodging. The people still treated him with favour, and although he found his position irksome, he faithfully preached to them Elizabeth's clemency and the desirability of making peace with her. This enthusiasm, however, completely died away when he was seen to attend the Protestant service on Sunday, the 19th. The people used loud and rude exhortations to keepe him from church, and spat upon him. Government gained nothing by sending him over but the surrender of Castlemaine.

On 14 Nov, however, Thomas Oge, and officer in the service of the Sugan Earl, who held a fortress called Castlemaine, surrendered it to the new Earl, and the latter dwelt with pride on the victory in a letter to Cecil (18 Dec). But this was Desmond's only success. Cecil saw that his presence in Ireland had no effect on the rebellious population, and his guardians found him difficult to content with the narrow means at their command. He resented living on £500 a year, and desired to marry a certain widow Norreys, to which Cecil objected. Cecil held out hopes that a more suitable marriage could be arranged in England.

At the end of Mar 1601 he came to London with a letter from Carew highly recommending him for a grant of land and a settled income in consideration of his loyalty and for some of the lands lately held by the Sugan Earl, petitioning the Queen for a proper maintenance, yet owning that his state—penniless, despised, and dying—was happiness compared to "the hell" of his imprisonment in the Tower. He probably died in London towards the end of 1601, aged 30.

Chamberlain writing to Carleton from London, 14 Nov 1601, says that "the young earl of Desmond died here the last week"; but it was not until 14 Jan 1601/2 that the privy council formally announced his death, and released the persons who had accompanied him to Ireland from the charge of attendance upon him. On 17 Jan 1601/2 one of these persons, named William Power, appealed for pecuniary assistance in behalf of the Earl's four sisters, who were suffering greatly from poverty. Irish writers suggest that Desmond was poisoned, but there is nothing to support the suggestion.

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