Rebellion of Silken Thomas

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXIV

The unfortunate Earl had advised his son to pursue a cautious and gentle policy; but Lord Thomas' fiery temper could ill brook such precaution, and he was but too easily roused by the artful enemies who incited him to rebellion. The reports of his father's execution were confirmed. His proud blood was up, and he rushed madly on the career of self-destruction. On the 11th of June, 1534, he flung down the sword of state on the table of the council-hall at St. Mary's Abbey, and openly renounced his allegiance to the English monarch. Archbishop Cromer implored him with tears to reconsider his purpose, but all entreaties were vain. Even had he been touched by this disinterested counsel, it would probably have failed of its effect; for an Irish bard commenced chanting his praises and his father's wrongs, and thus his doom was sealed. An attempt was made to arrest him, but it failed.

Archbishop Allen, his father's bitterest enemy, fled to the Castle, with several other nobles, and here they were besieged by FitzGerald and his followers. The Archbishop soon contrived to effect his escape. He embarked at night in a vessel which was then lying at Dame's Gate; but the ship was stranded near Clontarf, either through accident or design, and the unfortunate prelate was seized by Lord Thomas' people, who instantly put him to death. The young nobleman is said by some authorities to have been present at the murder, as well as his two uncles: there is at least no doubt of his complicity in the crime. The sentence of excommunication was pronounced against him, and those who assisted him, in its most terrible form.

Ecclesiastical intervention was not necessary to complete his ruin. He had commenced his wild career of lawless violence with but few followers, and without any influential companions. The Castle of Maynooth, the great stronghold of the Geraldines, was besieged and captured by his father's old enemy, Sir William Skeffington. In the meanwhile the intelligence of his son's insurrection had been communicated to the Earl, and the news of his excommunication followed quickly. The unfortunate nobleman succumbed beneath the twofold blow, and died in a few weeks. Lord Thomas surrendered himself in August, 1535, on the guarantee of Lord Leonard and Lord Butler, under a solemn promise that his life should be spared.[8] But his fate was in the hands of one who had no pity, even where the tenderest ties were concerned.

Soon after the surrender of "Silken Thomas," his five uncles were seized treacherously at a banquet; and although three of them had no part in the rebellion, the nephew and the uncles were all executed together at Tyburn, on the 3rd of February, 1537. If the King had hoped by this cruel injustice to rid himself of the powerful family, he was mistaken. Two children of the late Earl's still existed. They were sons by his second wife, Lady Elizabeth Grey. The younger, still an infant, was conveyed to his mother in England; the elder, a youth of twelve years of age, was concealed by his aunts, who were married to the chieftains of Offaly and Donegal, and was soon conveyed to France, out of the reach of the enemies who eagerly sought his destruction. It is not a little curious to find the native princes, who had been so cruelly oppressed by his forefathers, protecting and helping the hapless youth, even at the risk of their lives. It is one of many evidences that the antipathy of Celt to Saxon is not so much an antipathy of race or person, as the natural enmity which the oppressed entertains towards the oppressor.


[8] Spared.—It is quite evident from the letter of the Council to Henry VIII. (State Papers, ciii.), that a promise was made. Henry admits it, and regrets it in his letter to Skeffington (S. P. cvi.): "The doyng whereof [FitzGerald's capture], albeit we accept it thankfully, yet, if he had been apprehended after such sorte as was convenable to his deservynges, the same had been muche more thankfull and better to our contentacion."