Silken Thomas FitzGerald, 10th Earl of Kildare

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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FitzGerald, Thomas, 10th Earl of Kildare, son of the 9th Earl, commonly known as "Silken Thomas," was born in England in 1513. In 1534, then bearing the title of Lord Offaly, he was appointed Vice-Deputy by his father. He was brave, open, and generous, but wanting in discretion. One day he kept the council at Drogheda waiting for some hours, when John Allen, Archbishop of Dublin, exclaimed: "My Lords, is it not a prettie master that all we should stay this long for a boy." This the Deputy, coming up the stairs, heard; and he rejoined, on entering the room, much to the Archbishop's confusion, "My Lordes, I am heartily sorry that you stayed this long for a boy."

In the beginning of June 1534 a rumour was spread that his father, then in the Tower, was to be beheaded, and that the same fate was prepared for himself and his uncles. Thereupon he took council with O'Neill, O'Conor, and his other friends. To avenge his father's reported death, and save himself, his only course appeared to be to throw off his allegiance. The occasion was favourable, for as Vice-Deputy he had under his control most of the Pale fortresses, and large government stores. The Earl of Desmond and many of his father's oldest and best friends reasoned with him; but he was not to be turned from his purpose, and on 11th June 1534 he rode to the council at St. Mary's Abbey, attended by 140 gallowglasses with coats of mail and silken fringes to their helmets. This display of finery caused him to be thenceforward known as "Silken Thomas."

When he had seated himself at the head of the council board, his followers rushed in and filled the hall. In a stirring speech he renounced his allegiance, and declared his intention of striving for the mastery with Henry VIII. — "I am none of Henrie his Deputie; I am his fo. I have more mind to conquer than to governe — to meet him in the field than to serve him in office." The Chancellor, Allen, with tears in his eyes, besought him not to commit himself to such a rash proceeding; but the young Lord's harper, understanding only Irish, and seeing signs of wavering in his bearing, commenced to recite a poem in praise of the deeds of his ancestors, telling him at the same time that he lingered there over long. Roused by this he exclaimed: "I will take the market as it ryseth, and will choose rather to die with valiantnesse and libertie, than to live under King Henrie in bondage and villanie." Throwing down the sword of state, he rushed from the hall, followed by his adherents. The council sent an order for his immediate arrest to the Lord Mayor, who, however, had not sufficient force at his disposal.

Now, nearly four centuries after the invasion, the English power in Ireland had sunk almost to the point at which it stood when FitzStephen and his little band fortified themselves at Bagenbun. The Castle of Dublin alone held out for the King of England: almost all Ireland had to be reconquered. Lord Offaly immediately called the lords of the Pale to the siege of the Castle: such as refused to swear fidelity to him he sent prisoners to his castle of Maynooth. Goods and chattels belonging to the King's subjects he declared forfeited, and he announced his intention of exiling or putting to death all born in England. He sent messengers to his cousin and friend Lord Butler, son of the Earl of Ormond, offering to divide the kingdom with him if he would join his cause, but this Butler indignantly refused. Several children of the citizens of Dublin in different parts of the Pale were seized as hostages for the good affection of the city. Archbishop Allen, in an attempt to escape by sea, was wrecked near Clontarf, and on the 28th July barbarously murdered in the presence of Lord Offaly and his uncles.

Lord Offaly sent his chaplain to Pope Paul III . craving absolution for this sacrilege; and an envoy with a present of "twelve great hawkes, and fourteen fair hobbies" to the Emperor Charles V., to ask for aid in the task of securing Ireland. Meanwhile the citizens of Dublin, having secretly sent provisions by night into the Castle, were obliged to admit Lord Offaly's troops within the city walls. He himself marched south to bring the Butlers under subjection, but was glad to make a truce and return, on receiving news that Dublin had closed its gates, and thus entrapped the assailants of the Castle.

After burning the vessels in the harbour, and endeavouring to stop the water supply of the city, he assaulted the Castle from the east — cutting through the partitions between the houses in the streets, and thus protecting his followers from the arrows and shot from the Castle walls. Encouraged by the news of approaching succour from England, the besieged made a brave sally, slew 100 gallowglasses, and obliged Lord Offaly to raise the siege, and agree to a temporary truce and an exchange of prisoners. On the 14th October he left his army encamped at Howth, and went to place the castle of Maynooth in a proper state of defence. Portlester, Rathangan, Lea, Athy, Kilkea, Castledermot, and Carlow, were all well garrisoned and fortified. His chief allies were his cousin Con Bacagh O'Neill of Tyrone, his brother-in-law O'Conor Faly, O'More, O'Byrne, MacMurrough, O'Brien, and most of the gentlemen of Kildare.

In the autumn he defeated at Clontarf an English contingent that had landed, sending the survivors prisoners to Maynooth. His admiral, Roukes, about the same period, captured several English transports. On 14th October Sir W. Skeffington, Lord-Deputy, sailed from Beaumaris with a fleet, which was driven by a storm under shelter of Lambay; but he was shortly enabled to land with troops and supplies for the relief of Dublin; and the Earl of Ossory invaded and ravaged Carlow and Kildare, and induced Sir Thomas Eustace and forty of Lord Offaly's adherents to return to their allegiance. The winter passed over with desultory operations on both sides. In December Offaly succeeded to the earldom of Kildare on the death of his father in the Tower of London. In March 1535 the new Earl of Kildare had with him 120 horse, 240 gallowglasses, and 500 kerns.

Leaving Maynooth Castle strongly fortified in the hands of his foster brother and confidant, Christopher Parese, he went into Offaly to raise additional adherents for the summer campaign. Skeffington invested Maynooth Castle on the 14th March, and on the 23rd Parese, consenting to betray his trust, permitted the outer defences to be taken without resistance, after which the keep was carried by assault. A park of heavy artillery, brought up to the siege by the English, and for which the Anglo-Irish were quite unprepared, had no small effect in compelling such a speedy surrender of a place the Earl of Kildare regarded as almost impregnable. Of the garrison, twenty-five were beheaded, and one hanged, as it was thought dangerous to spare skilled soldiers. "Great and rich was the spoile; such store of beddes, so many goodly hangings, so rich a wardrob, suche brave furniture, as truly it was accompted, for householde stuffe and utensiles, one of the richest earle his houses under the crowne of Englande."

Parese, to increase the estimation in which his treachery should be regarded, dwelt on the trust and confidence Kildare bestowed on him: and Stanihurst tells us how his treachery was rewarded: "The Deputy gave his officers commandment to delyver Parese the summe of muney that was promised to him upon the surrender of the castell, and after to choppe off his heade." The Earl had meanwhile raised 7,000 men in Offaly and Connaught, and was on his way to relieve the castle, when the news of its fall induced most of his forces to disperse and return to their homes. With such as remained true, he advanced and gave battle to the royal forces near Slane.

The Deputy's artillery again gave him a superiority, and the Earl was defeated with heavy loss. Again the Deputy considered he was justified in putting his prisoners, 140 gallowglasses, to death. After this disaster, the Earl took refuge in Thomond, with a retinue of sixteen gentlemen and priests, sending a deputation to the Emperor to entreat for succour. The Irish chiefs one by one submitted, and the Earl's castles were taken, except Crom and Adare.

In July, aided by O'Conor Faly, the Earl assaulted and took Rathangan Castle, and held it for a time; he also harassed the Deputy by cutting off his supplies, and carrying on a skirmishing warfare; nevertheless, but for the supineness of the English commanders and the extreme disorder of the soldiers, the war would soon have been ended. On 3rd August Kildare's forces were further disorganized in an engagement near the Hill of Allen — indeed, would have been annihilated, but that at the decisive moment, the kerns of O'More and 0'Conor, nominally in alliance with the English, refused to fall upon their fellow-countrymen.

William Keating, one of Kildare's captains, was taken in this engagement, and saved his life by not only deserting the cause of his leader, but undertaking to drive him out of his fastnesses in Kildare, and to allure from him the Keating kerns, his last reliance. Driven out of a fortified rath near Rathangan, the Earl was forced to retire into Offaly, and at length, worn out by fatigue, and deserted by all his followers, he surrendered himself to Lord Grey, near Maynooth, on the 18th August 1535, as Stanihurst asserts, on the promise that he should be pardoned on his conveyance to England. During the first six months of the fourteen which the war lasted, Ireland was practically clear of English troops, and it was in the power of the Irish lords and chiefs to have made a permanent stand against the English rule, had they so desired, and been united.

In none of the communications between Skeffington and London is there any mention of the Earl of Kildare's surrender being other than unconditional; yet the following extract of a letter from the Duke of Norfolk to Thomas Cromwell would lead one to suppose that some terms were agreed to: "One [reason against executing him] is, that consernying the facion of his submyssion, my Lord Leonard and my Lord Buttler shuld for ever lose their credight in Irlond; which wer pite, for they may do gode servize: another is, that sewerly the Irishemen shall never after put them selffes into none Inglisheman his handes." At the end of August the Earl was sent prisoner to London, under the escort of Lord Grey, and by the King's order was committed to the Tower.

His uncles Sir Oliver and Sir John were also captives, while Sir James, Sir Walter, and Sir Richard, who had been all along opposed to their nephew's proceedings, were on the 31st December treacherously seized, and also sent to the Tower. On the passage to England, Stanihurst relates that Sir Richard asked the captain the name of the vessel, and was informed it was the Cow. "Dismayed at this, he said: Now good brethren, I am in utter despaire of our return to Ireland, for I beare in mind an old prophecie that five Earles brethren should be caryed in a cowe's belly to England, and from thence never to returne. Whereat the rest began afresh to houle and lament, which doubtelesse, was pitiftill to behold five valiant gentlemen, that durst meete in the fielde five as sturdie champions as could bee picked out in a realme, to bee so sodanily terrified with the bare name of a modern cow."

In May 1536, an Act of attainder was passed against Kildare and his relatives. In a letter from the Tower, towards the end of 1536, to his follower John Rothe, he gives a most deplorable account of the barbarity with which they were treated. On the wall of the State-prison may still be seen the letters, "Thomas FitzG" — the name was never completed — for on 3rd February 1537 the Earl of Kildare, then aged but 24, after an imprisonment of sixteen months, and his five uncles, after an imprisonment of eleven months, were executed at Tyburn. Stanihurst thus describes him: "Thomas FitzGiralde, upon whom nature poured beautie, and fortune by byrthe bestowed nobilitie, which, had it been well employed, and were it not that his rare gyftes had bene blemished by his later evill qualities, hee would have proved a ympe worthie to bee engrafte in so honourable a stocke Hee was of nature tall and personable; in countenance amicable; a white face, and withall somewhat ruddie, delicately in eche lymme featured; a rolling tongue, and a rich utterance; of nature flexible and kinde; verie soon caryed where hee fansied; easily with submission appeased, hardly with stubbornnesse weyed; in matters of importance an headlong hotespurre, yet nathelesse taken for a young man not devoyde of witte; were it not, as it fell out in the ende, that a fool had the keeping thereof."

He married Frances Fortescue, but had no children. "He lovys hir well," says a writer of the time; "howbeit I cannot perceyve that sche favors him soo tenderlye."

Sources

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

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