Robert Fitz-Stephen (FitzStephen)

DIED A. D. 1182.

From The Irish Nation: Its History and Its Biography

By James and Freeman Wills

IF it were our object to relate the history of this entire period under the head of a single life, the fittest for selection would be that of Robert Fitz-Stephen. But there are few particulars of his eventful and active course, which are not mentioned in their place. By maternal descent he was brother to the Fitz-Geralds--the mother of both having been Nesta, the daughter of Rees ap Tudor, who after an illegitimate union with Henry the First, was married first to Stephen (Custos Campe Abertivi), by whom she had Fitz-Stephen, and then to Gerald the son of Otho, and castellan of Windsor.

The lands in Ireland granted to Fitz-Stephen were, first, a share in two cantreds near Wexford, granted by Dermod M'Murragh between him and Maurice Fitz-Gerald, on the capture of Wexford. The city of Wexford shortly after fell into his possession; but this he was forced to give up to king Henry, as the price of his liberty, when, by a most base perjury, with the connivance of two bishops, Malachy O'Brin and John O'Hethe, he was cajoled into a surrender of his person into the hands of those who besieged him in his castle of Carrig.

His services were afterwards requited, by a grant from the king to himself and Miles de Cogan, of the kingdom of Cork, from Lismore to the sea, with the exception of the city of Cork. This grant was to be held of the king by a service of sixty knights. The settlement, on being claimed, was disputed by the native chiefs of the province, who, with great justice, submitted that they had not resisted king Henry, or committed any act to which the penalty of forfeiture could be attached. The remonstrance was too obviously just, not to be allowed some weight. Fortunately for the peace of this district, neither party was possessed of the means of resistance: a few slight skirmishes satisfied each, that no decisive result was likely to follow the appeal to force, and a compromise was made to the satisfaction of the new grantees. By this agreement, the English chiefs were allowed to hold seven cantreds near Cork, the remaining twenty-four being retained by the native chiefs.

Fitz-Stephen's life had been one of great exertion and vicissitude. His old age was one of severe afflictions. Miles de Cogan his kinsman and friend, and his son Ralph Fitz-Stephen, who had not long been married to Miles' daughter, were, on their way to Waterford, engaged to pass a night at the house of a native, of the name of Mac Tire. This vile miscreant had been on terms of friendly intimacy with his victims, and, considering their wealth and power, it is probable that he had obtained their confidence, by having received kindness from their families. Nothing had occurred, it is evident, to lessen their reliance on the friendly hospitality of their host, at whose instance their journey had been undertaken, and by whose special invitation they were his guests. The particulars cannot with any certainty be described, but it is certain that, in a moment of confiding security, they were assassinated, with five followers, in the house of their perfidious host.

This event excited terror amongst the followers of the English knight, and an ill-warranted sense of triumph among the natives. The account quickly spread, and became the signal for war and tumult; Macarthy of Desmond, who yet retained the title of king of Cork, collected his followers and laid siege to the city of Cork. Fitz-Stephen, overwhelmed by his recent calamity, was little capable of resistance. In this affliction his friends had recourse to Raymond le Gros, who, coming from Wexford by sea, with twenty knights and one hundred archers, compelled Macarthy to submission. Poor Fitz-Stephen, received no consolation from this service. A life of severe toil and vicissitude, had worn his strength; he had been heavily afflicted by the loss of another, it is said, his favourite son: this last trial overcame him, and his rescuer found him deprived of reason.

On his death, the Carews laid claim to his estate. But Ware writes that the claim was set aside on the ground of Fitz-Stephen's being illegitimate. The plea on which legal decision can have been grounded, is likely to have some foundation; but it seems inconsistent with the concurrent testimonies of history, which agree in representing his mother Nesta as having been married to Stephen. The facts are, however, not directly contradictory; and it must be admitted, that in the statements of the annalists of the period, accuracy is not the principal recommendation.