James FitzMaurice

FitzMaurice, James, cousin of the 15th Earl of Desmond, born early in the 16th century, was styled by English writers, "James Geraldine," or "the Arch Traitor." His early life abroad is thus referred to in the Desmond Pedigree: "In his lifetime, being a great traveller in France, Spaine, the Low Countrys, Germany, and Turkye, and a renowned Irish warrior, had letters of recommendation from the King of France to the Emperor, and from the Emperor to the King of Poland, where he was honourably entertained, and promoted for his fighting against the Turks. In that war he behaved himselfe soe bravely that he won greate applause and honor both for himselfe, his king, and his country."

On the imprisonment of Gerald, 15th Earl of Desmond, and his brother, in the Tower of London, in 1567, the leadership of the family fell by their desire to James FitzMaurice. He resisted the pretensions of Sir Thomas Desmond to his brother's earldom. Sir Thomas was supported by the Butlers and by FitzMaurice of Kerry. The origin of the contest that ensued between the chieftains of the south and the Government is thus stated by Mr. Froude: "A number of gentlemen . . chiefly from Somersetshire and Devonshire — Gilberts, Chichesters, Carews, Grenvilles, Courteneys-twenty-seven in all, volunteered to relieve Elizabeth of her trouble with Ireland. . . They insisted they must have the whole coast line from the mouth of the Shannon to Cork harbour included in their grant. . . The Irish, it is true, were not wholly savages; they belonged, as much as the English themselves, to the Aryan race; they had a history, a literature, laws, and traditions of their own, and a religion which gave half Europe an interest in their preservation; but it is no less certain that to these intending colonists they were of no more value than their own wolves, and would have been exterminated with equal indifference. . . [Old title deeds were raked up, and a number of farms and castles, belonging to the Desmonds, MacCarthys, and Butlers, were occupied by some of these adventurers.] . . MacCarthy More, James FitzMaurice, the Earl of Desmond's brother, and the south-western chiefs held a meeting in Kerry, and determined to use the opportunity of the quarrel between the Butlers and the English for a common rising to save themselves from impending destruction.

To them the struggle was for their lands and lives, and as the colonization scheme leaked out, it became easy, with such a cause, to unite all Ireland against the invader. The religious cry and the land cry fell in together. The land was the rallying ground among themselves; religion gave them a claim on the sympathy and the assistance of the Catholic powers." They sent Sir James Desmond and some ecclesiastics to the Pope to crave his assistance; they overran the country in various directions; made an ineffectual attack on Kilkenny, sacked Enniscorthy, and marched into Ossory, where they were accused of committing every kind of outrage. They also sent messages to Turlough Luineach O'Neill, inviting him to join their standard of revolt with some of his Scotch auxiliaries. At this juncture Sidney set out on a military expedition into Munster, and the Earl of Ormond was sent over to bring his refractory brothers to order.

The ranks of the insurgents being thus broken up, James FitzMaurice retired with a few followers to the mountains. All the castles and the plain country were in the hands of Government, and Sir John Perrot was put in command of the conquered province. FitzMaurice renewed the war early in 1570. On 2nd March he invested, took by escalade, plundered, and burned Kilmallock. In 1571 Sir John Perrot took the field in Munster, boasting that he "would hunt the fox [FitzMaurice] out of his hole;" who, however, in the wilds of Aherlow was able to set Perrot and his troops at defiance. At the same time a desultory warfare was waged by the Irish chiefs in Connaught and Ulster. In 1572 the Earl of Clanricard having been taken prisoner by Sir Edward Fitton, his sons renewed the war; multitudes of the Irish rallied to their standard, and amongst the rest FitzMaurice. In May he went into Ulster, collected 1,500. Scots, and came down upon the country bordering the Shannon. His first step was to burn Athlone — the scanty English guard left in the castle being unable to interfere. Thence he moved down to Portumna, where he was joined by the De Burghs, and crossed the river into Limerick. Sir John Perrot came up with him between Limerick and Kilmallock, cut his forces in two, and might have annihilated them but for a mutiny among his soldiers, whose wages were in arrear.

Perrot again surprised FitzMaurice at Ardagh, and killed thirty of his Scots; a month later the Butlers destroyed a hundred more, and sent their heads to rot on the gates of Limerick. After aimless and wasting expeditions, the Connaught insurgents dispersed to their homes, and FitzMaurice, having encountered innumerable perils, forced his way south, only to find that Castlemaine, the last of his strongholds, had been compelled to capitulate to the Lord-President. He sustained himself in the woods until the following February (1573), when he sent in hostages and proffered his submission to the President. This was gladly received; and he was still powerful enough to ensure his life being preserved. The ruined church of Kilmallock, the scene of his principal aggression, was selected for the ceremony of reconciliation. There, on his knees, in the most abject terms, he confessed his guilt, and craved the pardon of the President, who held his naked sword with the point towards the fallen chieftain's breast. The latter kissed the weapon, and falling on his face exclaimed: "And now this earth of Kilmallock, which town I have most traitorously sacked and burnt, I kiss, and on the same lie prostrate, overfraught with sorrow upon this present view of my most mischievous part!

"FitzMaurice after this appears to have taken up his residence in France, and before long was engaged in plots for the subversion of Elizabeth's power in Ireland. Having made application unsuccessfully both to Henry III. of France and Philip II. of Spain, to furnish him with means for an expedition against the English power in Ireland, he proceeded to Rome, where he was favourably received by Gregory XIII. in 1578. His solicitations were warmly seconded by the Bishop of Killaloe, and Dr. Saunders, an English ecclesiastic. The Pope granted a bull encouraging the Irish to fight for their autonomy and in defence of their religion, and an expedition was fitted out under the command of Stukely, an English adventurer — formerly high in the confidence of Sidney in Ireland. Stukely, created Lord of Idrone by Gregory, acted as admiral of the expedition, while Hercules Pisano, an experienced soldier, had the military command. The soldiers numbered about 800, many, according to O'Sullevan's Historiae Compendium, highwaymen, who had been pardoned on condition of their joining the expedition. Stukely sailed with his squadron from Civita Vecchia. Touching at Lisbon, he was easily persuaded to join Sebastian, King of Portugal, in an expedition to Morocco, upon the promise of after assistance in the Irish project. At the battle of Alcansar, Stukely, Sebastian, and the greater part of his troops, were killed. Meanwhile FitzMaurice, travelling by land to Spain, embarked for Ireland with about eighty persons in three small vessels. [Philip's views regarding England had been changed-by Drake's doings in the West Indies.]

The party consisted of FitzMaurice and his wife; Saunders, the Legate; two Irish bishops; a few friars; a handful of English refugees; and some twenty-five Italians and Spaniards. Their strength lay in FitzMaurice's name, and in their being representatives of the Pope, who had furnished them with a banner blessed by himself. Off the Land's End they took a couple of small vessels, and on the 17th July 1579 landed at Dingle, and crossed over to Smerwick, where they set to work to fortify Oilen-an-Oir. FitzMaurice sent a long explanatory letter to the Earl of Desmond, who immediately forwarded it to Government with assurances of his loyalty. He was, however, joined by the Earl's brothers, Sir John and Sir James of Desmond, and by some 200 of the O'Flahertys, who came round from Galway in their galleys. The murder of Davells and Carter followed. [See DESMOND, 15th Earl.]

Before long the Spaniards, who had been led to expect a general rising of the people, were much disheartened. Eight days after landing their vessels were captured by English cruisers, the O'Flahertys returned home, and to avoid starvation the Spaniards left their fort and marched inland under the three Desmonds. On 17th August they separated into small parties. Sir John retired to the fastness of Lynamore; Sir James to that of Glenflesk; whilst FitzMaurice, accompanied by a few horsemen and kerns, proceeded towards Tipperary (on pretence of making a pilgrimage to Holy cross Abbey), to rally the disaffected in Connaught and the north.

In the district of Clanwilliam their horses gave out, and they seized some from the plough. These horses belonged to William Burke of Castleconnell, whose sons Theobald and Ulick, with Mac-I-Brian Ara, pursued the party, and came up with them a few miles east of Limerick, near the present Barrington's Bridge, 18th August 1579. FitzMaurice remonstrated with his assailants, but was fired at and mortally wounded. Even after this he rushed into the thick of the melee that ensued, with one blow cleft the head of Theobald Burke, and with another that of his brother. FitzMaurice expired in a few hours, the rites of religion being administered to him by Dr. Allan, who was in his company. "After that he was thus dead," says Holinshed, "and the same made known to the lord iustice, he gaue order that he should be hanged in the open market of Killmallocke, and be beheaded and quartered, and the quarters to be set upon the towne gates of Kilmallocke, for a perpetuall memoriall to his reproch for his tresons and periuries, contrarie to his solemne oth taken in that errour." FitzMaurice left two sons, one of whom was shortly afterwards slain in the Irish wars, and the other is said to have perished by shipwreck on the Irish coast in one of the vessels of the Spanish Armada. His widow and younger children died miserably shortly afterwards at the hands of the Anglo-Irish soldiers who were ravaging Desmond. [See DESMOND, 15th Earl.]


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140. Froude, James A.: History of England, from the Fall of Wolsey to the death of Elizabeth. 12 vols. London, 1862-'70.

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170a. Ireland, History of: Martin Haverty. Dublin, 1860.