Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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FitzGerald, Gerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, called the "Great Earl," succeeded his father in 1477. He was appointed Lord-Deputy to the young Duke of York; but was shortly dismissed, and Lord Grey appointed in his place, on the plea that an Englishman was more suited to the office. This roused the indignation of the lords of the Pale, who, declaring that Lord Grey's patent was informal, opened a parliament of their own, under the presidency of Kildare. On appeal, Edward IV. believing it his best policy to govern Ireland through the Geraldine faction, recalled Lord Grey and appointed the Earl. Kildare displayed great vigour in the government, and continued in his post undisturbed by the accession of Richard III.

On the accession of Henry VII. it was a matter of surprise that he for a time permitted the Earl, a known Yorkist, to continue in office. The Earl was summoned to London, but made sundry excuses for non-compliance, with which Henry had to content himself at the time. Kildare's adhesion to the cause of Simnel afforded clear evidence of his insincerity, and Henry, still unable to dispense with his services, sent over Sir Richard Edgecomb to exact the most binding oaths possible from him and the other men of mark who had espoused Simnel's cause and invaded England.

It was considered necessary that Sir Richard should have the Host upon which these oaths were taken prepared by his own chaplain. FitzGerald continued to exhibit ability in the government. Lodge mentions that he received a present from Germany of six muskets, then a great novelty, with which he armed his guard at Thomascourt. After some time Kildare found it necessary to go over to London to answer complaints of the Archbishop of Armagh. The decision was in his favour, and he and his friends were entertained at a banquet, where it is said they were deliberately humiliated, by Simnel, whom they had once crowned, being set to attend on them. When the adventurer Warbeck appeared in Ireland, Henry prudently displaced the Earl, and for a time the Butlers regained their supremacy. Both Kildare and Ormond joined Lord-Deputy Poyning in a raid on the O'Hanlon's territory in Ulster.

Eventually the enemies of Kildare triumphed, and he was thrown into the Tower, where he remained two years. During his imprisonment, on 22nd November 1494, his Countess, Alison, died of grief, and was buried at Kilcullen. When brought to trial in 1496, and asked whether he was provided with counsel, he replied, "Yea, the ablest in the realm; your Highness [the King] I take for my counsel against these false knaves." Accused by the Archbishop of Cashel of burning down his cathedral, he answered: "I would not have done it if I had not been told that my Lord Archbishop was inside." This frankness delighted the King, and we are told that when some one exclaimed, "All Ireland cannot govern this Earl," Henry VII. rejoined, "Then let this Earl govern all Ireland." He had been sent to England almost a convicted traitor, and returned Lord-Deputy. Soon afterwards he showed his zeal by expeditions against the O'Briens in Thomond and the O'Neills in the north. In 1499 he entered Connaught and established castles at Athleague, Roscommon, Tulsk, and Castlerea. Many useful enactments were passed at a parliament held by him at Castledermot in 1499. Next year he marched against malcontents in the north, and also against Cork, the mayor of which city he hanged.

Some years later a powerful confederacy under Lord Clanricard was formed in Connaught, and a large army assembled. Kildare marched against them, and on the 19th August 1504 a battle was fought at Knocktuagh ("Hill of Axes"), now Knockdoe, seven miles from Galway. Clanricard was routed with a stated loss of 4,000 to 9,000 men, and Galway and Athenry were taken. O'Brien fell, and two sons and a daughter of Clanricard were taken prisoners. "We have for the most number killed our enemies," said Lord Gormanstown to Kildare, on the field of Knocktuagh, "and if we do the like with the Irish that we have with us, it were a good deed." The battle is thus described by the Four Masters: "Far away from the troops were heard the violent onset of the martial chiefs, the vehement efforts of the champions, the charge of the royal heroes, the noise of the lords, the clamour of the troops when endangered, the shouts and exultations of the youths, the sound made by the falling of brave men, and the triumphing of nobles over plebeians."

Kildare's power was firmly established by this victory, and he was created a Knight of the Garter by the King. In 1513, in an expedition against the O'Carrolls, he was wounded by the enemy while watering his horse in the river Greese at Kilkea. He was conveyed by slow stages to Kildare, where, after lingering a few days, he died, 3rd September, and was buried in his chapel of St. Mary in Christ Church. He it was that first introduced artillery into Ireland. The door was until lately shown in St. Patrick's through a hole in which the Earl of Ormond and he shook hands after an encounter between their followers in the church. Some of the coins issued in Ireland in his time bear his arms. He was thrice married. Holinshed says: "He was a mightie man of stature, full of honoure and courage, who had ben Lord-Deputie and Lord-Justice of Ireland three-and-thirtie years. Kildare was in government milde, to his enemies sterne. He was open and playne, hardley able to rule himself, when he was moved; in anger not so sharp as short, being easily displeased and sooner appeased. . . Notwithstanding hys simplicitie in peace, he was of that valoure and policie in warre, as his name bred a greater terrour to the Irish than other men's armyes."

Sources

196. Irishmen, Lives of Illustrious and Distinguished, Rev. James Wills, D.D. 6 vols. or 12 parts. Dublin, 1840-'7.

202. Kildare, The Earls of, and their Ancestors: from 1057 to 1773, with Supplement: Marquis of Kildare. 2 vols. Dublin, 1858-'62.

216. Lodge's Peerage of Ireland, Revised and Enlarged by Mervyn Archdall. 7 vols. Dublin, 1789.

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