James FitzMaurice FITZGERALD

Died: 1578

Father: Maurice an Torteáin FITZGERALD (Sir)

Mother: Julia O'MULRYAN

Married: Catherine BURKE


1. Gerald FITZGERALD (d. 1588)

2. Maurice FITZGERALD (d. 1588)


Son of Maurice an Torteáin Fitzgerald and Julia O'Mulryan of County Tipperary, nephew of James Fitzgerald, 14th Earl of Desmond, and cousin of Gerald Fitzgerald, 15th Earl of Desmond. Upon the death of the 13th Earl his father had been granted the barony of Kerricurrihy by the Earl's successor, but the 15th Earl fell out with Totane and wars were fought between the families.

Following his defeat by Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormonde, at the Battle of Affane in 1565, the 15th Earl and his brother, John of Desmond, were detained in England. During their absence, Fitzmaurice became captain general of County Desmond with the warrant of the Earl. This meant he had authority over the soldiers retained in the service of the Desmond Fitzgeralds. In Jul 1568, he entered Clanmaurice, the territory of the lord of Lixnaw, to distrain for rent and assert the Desmond authority: having seized 200 head of cattle and wasted the country, he was confronted by Lixnaw on the way home and utterly defeated.

At the end of 1568, the absent Earl of Desmond granted Sir Warham St Leger a lease of the barony of Kerricurrihy, which cast Fitzmaurice's inheritance into confusion. In 1569 the lord deputy of Ireland, Sir Henry Sidney, was informed by Fitzmaurice that he had assembled the people of Desmond to tell them that the Lord Deputy was unable to procure the release of the captive Earl, who would be executed or perpetually imprisoned, and that the people should proclaim a new earl or captain: with one voice, the people were said to have cried out for Fitzmaurice to be captain. The Earl's wife, Eleanor Butler, wrote to her husband in Nov that Fitzmaurice was seeking to bring the Earl into further disrepute and to usurp his inheritance, "by the example of his father".

To re-assert Geraldine authority, Fitzmaurice then launched what would become known as the first of the Desmond Rebellions. The southern part of Ireland erupted into a general rebellion, owing in part to attempts at establishing plantations. In Jun 1569, Fitzmaurice and the Earl of Clancarty invaded Kerrycurrihy, spoiled the inhabitants, took the castle-abbey of Tracton, hanged the garrison and refused to depart without the surrender to them of the custody of Lady St Leger and Lady Grenville, the wives of Sir Warham St. Leger and Sir Richard Grenville, the principal English colonists. Fitzmaurice then joined in league with the turbulent brothers of the Earl of Ormond, and entered a bond with the Earl of Thomond and John Burke, son of the Earl of Clanricard. He wrote to the mayor and corporation of Cork in Jul ordering the abolition of the new heresy of Protestantism, at a time when he appears to have been taking instruction from Irish jesuits.

By Sep 1569, Sidney had broken the back of the rebellion and left Sir Humphrey Gilbert behind to suppress Fitzmaurice, which he did so effectively that the rebel sought refuge in the woods of Aherlow. After Gilbert's departure Fitzmaurice raised a new force in Feb 1570 and spoiled Kilmallock. In Mar, Ormond was given charge of the prosecution of all the rebels, but nothing resulted. Then, in Feb 1571, Sir John Perrot landed at Waterford as President of Munster and challenged Fitzmaurice to a duel, which the rebel declined with the remark, "For if I should kill Sir John Perrot the Queen of England can send another president into this province; but if he do kill me there is none other to succeed me or to command as I do". The president was then ambushed by the rebels, who outnumbered his force ten to one, but was saved when the attackers retired on mistaking a small cavalry company for the advance party of a larger crown force. After a second and successful siege by Perrot of the Geraldine stronghold of Castlemaine, Fitzmaurice sued for his pardon, which was in Feb 1572, after the rebel had prostrated himself in Kilmallock church with the president's sword point next to his heart. Fitzmaurice submitted to the queen and swore fealty to the crown, at the same time giving up a son as hostage. Perrot was convinced he would become, "a second St Paul".

On the return to Ireland of the Earl of Desmond in 1573, Fitzmaurice found his leadership too amenable to the crown and quit for the continent, offering his reasons variously as a desire to gain pardon from the Queen through the French court and the unkindness of the Earl. In Mar 1575 he and his family, along with the Geraldine Seneschal of Imokilly, James Fitzedmund Fitzgerald and the White Knight, Edmund Fitzgibbon, sailed on the La Arganys for St. Malo, Brittany where they were received by the governor. He had several interviews with Catherine de' Medici in Paris, even offering to help make Henry III of France king of Ireland, and was granted a pension of 5000 crowns in 1576. Early in the following year he left for the Spanish court, where he offered the crown to the brother of King Felipe II, Don Juan of Austria; the King was not enthusiastic, and Fitzmaurice left his boys, Maurice and Gerald, with Cardinal Granvelle, and travelled to Italy to meet Pope Gregory XIII.

At the papal court Fitzmaurice fell in with Captain Thomas Stukely, and a plan for the invasion of Ireland was hatched, with the intention of offering the crown to the nephew of Pope Gregory XIII. Following the diversion of Stukely to Morocco, Fitzmaurice set out with the nuncio, Nicholas Sanders, and Matthew de Oviedo from Ferro in Galicia, Spain on the 17 Jun 1579 with a few troops on his vessel and three Spanish shallops; they captured two English vessels in the channel and arrived at Dingle on the 16 Jul 1579, thus launching the Second Desmond Rebellion. On the 18th they cast anchor in Smerwick, where they garrisoned at Dún an Óir (Fort of Gold), and were joined on the 25th by two galleys with 100 troops; four days later their ships were captured by the English fleet under the command of Sir William Winter. Having exhorted the Earl of Desmond and Gerald Fitzgerald, 11th Earl of Kildare, as Geraldine leaders, to fight the heretics, Fitzmaurice left the fort to await the arrival of Stukely (who, unknown to him, had been killed at the Battle of Alcácer Quibir in the previous year, during a misguided campaign by King Sebastian of Portugal).

Fitzmaurice went to pay a vow at the monastery of the Holy Cross in Tipperary but became caught in a skirmish with the forces of his cousin, Theobald Burke. During the fight he was shot with a ball in the hollow of the chest, but cut his way through to Burke and his brother William, both of whom he killed with single strokes of his sword. The battle was won, but close to the scene his injuries overcame him; he made his will and ordered his friends to cut off his head after death in order that his enemies might not mutilate his body; he begged his attendants to make sure that he had not turned tail on the enemy. They assured him, and wished him to be quiet because hostile soldiers were closing in, but he insisted, "my wounds are clear, my wounds are clear". Upon his death, a kinsman ordered the decapitation and then wrapped the head in cloth; an attempt was made to conceal his trunk under an old tree, but it was discovered by a hunter and brought to the town of Kilmallock. For weeks, the trunk was nailed to the gallows, until it was shattered by musket fire and collapsed.

The invasion force at Smerwick, was besieged and masscared in 1580 by the English. The tide turned in favour of the English, and the Second Desmond Rebellion was ended in 1583, when the Earl of Desmond and his followers had been hunted down and killed by the English and their Irish allies.

The destruction of the Desmond dynasty left much of the province of Munster open to English colonisation and was a great step in the Tudor re-conquest of Ireland. Fitzmaurice was one the first Irish leaders to use the Catholic cause as an explicit justification for rebellion against the crown. Hugh O'Neill may have been influenced by the FitzMauruce revolts, setting an example for his own major revolt in the 1590s. He is regarded as the man the Geraldines ought to have chosen to lead them if they were to resist the Protestant reformation.

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