Raymond le Gros: Raymond Fitz-Gerald (Fitzgerald)

DIED A. D. 1184.

From The Irish Nation: Its History and Its Biography

By James and Freeman Wills

RAYMOND FITZ-GERALD, called, from his large person and full habits, Le Gros, was the son of William Fitz-Gerald, and grandson of Gerald of Windsor, and the bravest of the first adventurers who, in the 12th century, sought and found fortune in this island. From the beginning his courage and prowess were signalized by those hardy and prompt feats of valour which, in the warfare of that age, when so much depended on personal address and strength, were often important enough to decide the fortune of the field. And there is hardly one of the combats which we have had occasion to notice, which does not offer some special mention of his name. We shall take up his history a little back, among the events we have just related.

When Strongbow had been summoned to attend the English monarch, the command of the forces in Ireland was committed to the care of Montmorres, to whom Raymond was second in command. This combination was productive of some jealousy on the part of Montmorres, which led to ill offices, and ripened into mutual animosity.

Montmorres was proud, tenacious of the privileges and dignity of his station, and felt the acrimony of an inferior mind excited against one, whose soldier-like virtues and brilliant actions rendered him the mark of general admiration and the idol of the soldiery. Montmorres was an exactor of discipline on slight occasions, and appeared more anxious to vindicate his authority, than to consult the comfort, interest or safety of the army; while Raymond, on the contrary, showed in all his acts and manners the most ready and earnest zeal for the welfare and security of every individual. Frank and easy in his address, he preserved no unnecessary distance; and seemed more ready to endure hardship, and face danger himself, than to impose them on others.

The influence of these qualities, so attractive in a rude and warlike age, was not confined to the soldiery. Raymond's reputation stood at the highest among the leaders; and when Strongbow desired a colleague of the king, he at the same time named Raymond as the worthiest and most efficient of these adventurers. When Strongbow arrived in Ireland, he found the cry of discontent loud against Montmorres; and we have already related how Raymond's merit was enforced by the soldiers, who presented themselves in a body to demand him for their leader. The first exploit which was the result of his appointment, we have briefly mentioned. The troops destined for England, had been attacked after their embarkation, by the people of Cork. The assault was however repelled. Raymond having heard of the incident, was hastening with a small party of twenty knights and sixty horsemen to their aid, when his way was intercepted by Macarthy; a short struggle ensued, in which Macarthy was worsted and obliged to retreat, though with a force vastly superior. Raymond, with a large and rich spoil, entered Waterford in triumph.

Raymond had long entertained a passion for Basilia, the sister of Strongbow. But the earl had uniformly turned a deaf ear to his solicitations on this head. Raymond however now entertained the notion that his rising fame, his acknowledged usefulness, and the earl's own preference for him might avail to ensure a more favourable answer. But the earl, while he felt the full value of Raymond's services, did not much wish to place a leader of such popularity, and so likely to force his way to pre-eminence, on a level of advantage so near himself. He therefore received the overtures of Raymond with a coldness which gave offence to the pride of this brave warrior, who, with the resentment provoked by a strong sense of injured merit and unrequited service, retired hastily into Wales.

It was during his absence that the misfortunes, recited in the last memoir, arose from the precipitate ambition and incapacity of Montmorres, followed by the insurrection of the chiefs, and the bold but vain attempt of Roderic.

In his retirement Raymond was gratified by a despatch from the earl, entreating his prompt assistance, and offering him the hand of Basilia, with his other demands, viz., the post of constable and standard-bearer of Leinster. The triumph of Raymond was indeed decisive; the incapacity of his rival and enemy was the cause of the disasters which he was thus called upon to repair: his merit was amply vindicated from the slight it had sustained, and acknowledged by the gratification of his utmost wishes. Collecting a well-appointed and brave though small force, he came over and landed in Waterford.

We have already related the main particulars of his marriage in Wexford, and with it the interruption of his happiness by the iron call of war. On this occasion he received a large grant of lands, as the dowry of his wife, and was made constable and standard-bearer of Leinster.[1] The spontaneous dispersion of the Irish confederacy followed.

Raymond was next sent to besiege Limerick. The city had been seized by the prince of Thomond, and was at this time in his possession. Raymond, with six hundred chosen men, marched to besiege it. Arriving at the banks of the Shannon, his advance was checked by broken bridges and a broad and dangerous stream. In this emergency two knights volunteered to try the way, and, entering the river where appearances were most favourable, they made their way across in safety; but, on their return, one was swept down the current and lost. A third knight, who had followed, passed safely, but remained in danger from the near approach of the enemy. There was some hesitation among the troops; when Raymond spurred forward from the rear, entered the stream, and called on his men to follow. The example of their chief gave confidence; and, without further hesitation, the whole body advanced into the rough and rapid waters, and, with the loss of two men, gained the opposite bank. The reader will best conceive the bravery of this exploit from its effect. The enemy --rough, hardy, and inured to the hardships of exposure and strife--. were so astonished at the feat, that they fled without a blow. The English lost no time in this position, but at once pursued them; and, after a considerable slaughter of the fugitives, they obtained possession of the city without further resistance.

This success confirmed the fortune and fame of Raymond; but the envy of his rival was not asleep. Montmorres appears to have belonged to that low order of minds which shrink from open enmity, and adopt the safer and more cowardly alternative of carrying on their schemes under the hollow cover of a perfidious friendship. Such, if we are to credit Cambrensis, was the circuitous path followed by Hervey, who may perhaps have consulted other feelings, but certainly pursued revenge in seeking the advantages and opportunities of a near alliance with his rival. He married the daughter of Maurice Fitz-Gerald, the uncle of Raymond, and thus at once placed himself within the circumvallation of domestic confidence. He was not long before he availed himself of this position for the basest purposes. He despatched secret messengers to Henry, informing him of the dangerous course of Raymond's ambition, and assuring him, on the authority of a near kinsman, that his aspiring temper knew no limit short of the independent sovereignty of the kingdom; that for this purpose he studied the arts of a factious popularity; that he had secured Limerick, and propagated a secret feeling of disaffection to the king and devotion to himself through the whole army.

The consequence of representations thus proceeding from so authoritative a quarter, and backed by so many seeming confirmations, alarmed the cautious mind of Henry; he therefore, without delay, sent over four commissioners, of whom two were to conduct Raymond to the king, and the others to remain in order to watch the conduct of Strongbow, and obtain a general insight into the dispositions of the other leaders.

Raymond was at no loss to comprehend the whole machinery which had been set in motion against him. He declared his willingness to wait on the king. But while delays arose from the state of the weather, which prevented the ships from leaving port, an account came that the prince of Thomond had laid siege to Limerick; and that the garrison was in want of provisions, and, if not quickly relieved, must perish by famine or the enemy. This emergency was rendered critical by the illness of Strongbow. The earl, nevertheless, mustered his troops, and made the necessary preparations for their march. When all was ready, the soldiers refused to proceed without their favourite leader, under whom alone they had been accustomed to march to certain victory. The commissioners were consulted; and, seeing the necessity, consented that Raymond should take the command. But Raymond refused. It became, therefore, necessary for the earl and the commissioners to descend to the most earnest and pressing solicitations, to which he at length yielded with seeming reluctance and real triumph. The malice of his enemy had but given additional eclat to his fame.

He marched at the head of an army composed of eighty knights, with two hundred horsemen and three hundred archers. With these, a native force, under the prince of Ossory, swelled his numbers.

At his approach the prince of Thomond abandoned the siege, and coming to meet him, occupied a defile through which the path of the English lay; there, posting his men according to the well known tactics of the country, he awaited the approach of Raymond. The English leader soon obtained a view of the ambuscade, and calmly prepared to force his way through a position of which the dangers were so great and apparent, that it diffused terror and doubt among his allies. This sense was increased by the cool and deliberate deportment, and tranquil preparations of Raymond: the steady composure, too, of the English soldiers was little to be understood by the ardour of the Irish temperament. The prince of Ossory, under this fallacious impression, thought fit to address a remonstrance to the English knight. He bluntly informed Raymond that he had no alternative between destruction and victory. He pointed out his unprotected situation in the case of defeat; and told him, with a frankness which marks the low civilization of this period, that, if the day went against him, his Irish allies would instantly join the enemy for his destruction. Raymond received the exhortation with a stern smile, and answered it by commanding an immediate onset. The Irish received the attack with their native spirit, but with the result to be looked for from the superior arms and discipline of the assailants; they were driven with great slaughter from their intrenchments, and scattered in utter and irretrievable rout and confusion over the country. So great was this confusion, and so far did it spread, that the whole of Munster felt the shock. O'Brien, hitherto implacable in his enmity, saw the danger of allowing hostilities to proceed under such an aspect of circumstances. He proposed an interview with Raymond.

It happened, at the same time, that the king of Connaught, who had for some time begun to see plainly the folly of sacrificing his own province for the liberation of chiefs who would not be delivered by him--resolved to leave them at last to their fate, and to save the poor remains of his monarchy. For this purpose he sought the English camp, and arrived on the same day that O'Brien came in for the like purpose. Raymond had thus the honour of receiving the oaths and hostages of these two most respectable and formidable of the native princes; and by one signal action bringing the war to a termination with greater advantages than had yet been obtained.

A tragic romance in the family of a Munster chief--Macarthy of Desmond--afforded a fair pretext for continuing his operations in the field. Cormac, the eldest son of Macarthy, rose in rebellion against his father; and having thrown him into prison, seized possession of his territories. Macarthy had sworn allegiance to the king of England, and now claimed the protection of the English general, with promises of ample advantages, should he, by his means, obtain his freedom and power. Raymond unhesitatingly complied. Entering the territory of Desmond, he soon made it appear to the rebellious and unnatural Cormac that there was no resource short of unqualified submission. He yielded--his father was released and reinstated in his possessions: and Cormac thrown into the same dungeon which he had assigned to his father. Here the fate he amply merited was not long deferred. The gratitude of Macarthy was attested by a liberal grant to Raymond of territories, which he transmitted to his posterity; while an abundant supply for the wants of his army, gave an importance to this service in the estimation of the army and the commissioners.

It was at this period, that he received from his wife a letter, containing the following mystic enunciation:--

"Know, my dear lord, that my great cheek tooth, which was wont to ache so much, is now fallen out; wherefore, if you have any care or regard of me, or of yourself, come away with all speed."[2]

This communication, implying the death of Strongbow, was easily interpreted by Raymond, who set off without delay. The situation was one of great emergency. The troops were felt to be necessary, for the preservation of the English province thus deprived of its governor; and Raymond felt the mortifying sense, that their removal would be the signal for the native chiefs to renew their hostilities, and seize on the unprotected city. There yet was no alternative. In this situation, it occurred to him to make an experiment on the generosity and fidelity of the chief of Thomond. Sending for this prince, he assumed a confidential manner, and told him that as he was now become one of the great barons of the king, it was fit that he should receive, as such, a mark of confidence, suited to the high dignity of the rank: with this view it was now, he informed him, resolved to intrust him, with the charge of Limerick, that he might have occasion to approve his attachment, and to merit added honours.

But Raymond had met with his superior in the game which he now ventured to play. The secret triumph of the Celt was concealed under the impenetrable aspect of simple faith, and by professions of cordial gratitude and lasting attachment. Without the slightest symptom of reluctant hesitation, he took the oaths required for the safe custody and faithful restoration of the town. Raymond, felicitating himself on the success of his expedient, now proceeded to march out of the town. He was scarcely over the bridge, when it was broken down at the other end; nor had he proceeded much farther, when he saw the flames arise in different quarters.

This occurrence was reported to the king, it is said, with the hope of exciting a prejudice against Raymond in his mind. But the effect was different. He is reported to have observed, "that the first gaining of Limerick was a noble exploit, the recovery of it still nobler; but that the only act of wisdom was the manner of its abandonment."

On the death of Strongbow, the council in Dublin, acting on a just sense of expediency, chose Raymond as his successor in the government, and their choice met the sanction of the king's commissioners. But the jealousy of the king had been too effectually worked upon by the artful misrepresentations of interested and angry enemies. He resolved to intrust the government to William Fitz-Adelm, whom he now sent into Ireland with twenty knights. With him he sent John de Courcy, Robert Fitz-Stephen, and Miles de Cogan, as an escort, with ten knights to each. With these came Vivian, the pope's legate, and Nicholas Wallingford, an English priest, bearing the brief of pope Alexander, in confirmation of the king's title to the sovereignty of Ireland.

Raymond received the new governor with the respect due to the king's representative, and delivered up the forts, towns, hostages, &c. On this occasion it is mentioned, by several of the Irish historians, on the authority of Cambrensis, that the new governor looked with a malignant eye on the numbers and splendour of Raymond's train, and turning to those who surrounded him observed, that he should soon find means to curtail this display.

He kept his word as far as he could, and Raymond was one of the English settlers who felt the weight of his oppressive government. His public career appears to have terminated from this: his name no more occupies a place in the history of the period. It appears that he lived in retirement on his property, near Wexford, and left his wife still living at his death. In 1182 we meet him once more in arms, in aid of his uncle Fitz-Stephen, who was in danger of being attacked by superior numbers in Cork. This event was quickly followed by occasions in which he could not have failed to be a party, and we may venture to assume that his death happened within the next two years.


[1] Leland, i. 109.

[2] Girald. Cox. Hanmer.