Fitzgerald's Rebellion

Justin McCarthy
Chapter IV | Start of Chapter

"Silken Thomas" made up his mind not only to lead a rebellion against the English Sovereign, but to precede his acts of war by a public renunciation of his allegiance. Lord Thomas rode to the council chamber of Dublin in splendid array, attended by some hundred and forty retainers in becoming panoply. He entered the council chamber and took his place as Vice-Deputy at the head of the table, while his armed followers rushed in and filled whatever space had been left in the great hall. Then Lord Thomas arose and delivered a speech, in which he renounced his allegiance to the English Sovereign, and declared that he was no longer the Deputy of King Henry, but his foe. He announced that his desire now was rather to meet King Henry in the field than to serve him any longer in office. The Chancellor and others at the council table made earnest and even impassioned appeals to the young nobleman not to commit himself to so rash a course, but "Silken Thomas" was not to be dissuaded. The story goes that his Irish harper had followed him into the council chamber, and, understanding only Irish, began to fear that the interchange of talk at the table boded some wavering in Lord Thomas's purpose. He suddenly intoned a Gaelic poem inciting his lord to go bravely on, and telling him that he had already lingered too long in the hall of his enemies. It is not likely that Lord Thomas needed any incentive, but, as the tale goes, the recited words ended all parley. "Silken Thomas" rose to his feet and declared that he preferred "rather to die with valiantnesse and libertie than to live under King Henrie in bondage and villanie." Then he flung on the table the sword of State he had been carrying as Vice-Deputy, and left the council chamber with his crowd of armed retainers. There was no force immediately at the disposal of the Chancellor which could have prevented Lord Thomas from going his way. The Council promptly issued an order to the Lord Mayor of Dublin for the immediate arrest of "Silken Thomas," but the Lord Mayor had a prudent mind, and did not see by what means he could carry out such an order.

"Silken Thomas" raised a formidable rebellion against the power of the English Sovereign, and a war went on which for a long time proved favourable to his cause. The English troops, however, had resources of modern artillery and warlike munitions which were new to the Irish, and the prospects of the struggle began to show darkly against "Silken Thomas" and his followers. In the meantime authentic news came to Ireland that the Earl of Kildare had died quietly in the Tower of London, and "Silken Thomas" succeeded to the title—a barren title, as it proved to be. The new Earl of Kildare made unavailing efforts to obtain the intervention of some Continental power in his struggle against England. Altogether the war lasted fourteen months, and it ended in the Earl's surrender. There is much dispute as to whether his surrender was absolute or conditional, but it is enough to know that "Silken Thomas" was sent to the Tower of London, and that on February 3, 1537, he was hanged on the gallows at Tyburn after an imprisonment of sixteen months. His five uncles, after imprisonment of eleven months, met the same death. "Silken Thomas" was but twenty-four when his life thus ended, and his short career came to be illuminated and enshrined in poetry and romance as well as in history.