seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Execution of Lord “Silken” Thomas FitzGerald

Thomas FitzGerald, 10th Earl of Kildare, also known as Silken Thomas, a leading figure in 16th-century Irish history, is executed along with his five uncles in Tyburn, England, on February 3, 1537.

FitzGerald is born in London in 1513, the son of Gerald FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Kildare, and his first wife Elizabeth Zouche, who is a distant cousin of Henry VII of England.

In February 1534, his father is summoned to London and appoints the 21-year-old FitzGerald, by then Lord Offaly, deputy governor of Ireland in his absence. In June 1534 he hears rumours that his father has been executed in the Tower of London and that the English government intends the same fate for him and his uncles.

FitzGerald summons the council to St. Mary’s Abbey, Dublin, and on June 11, accompanied by 140 armoured gallowglasses with silk fringes on their helmets (from which he gets his nickname), rides to the abbey and publicly renounces his allegiance to his cousin King Henry VIII, Lord of Ireland.

John Alen, Lord Chancellor of Ireland and Archbishop of Dublin, attempts to persuade FitzGerald not to commit himself to such a rash proceeding. But the young lord’s harper, understanding only Irish, and seeing signs of wavering in FitzGerald’s bearing, commences to recite a poem in praise of the deeds of his ancestors, telling him at the same time that he lingered there too long. Roused by this he throws down the sword of state and rushes from the hall, followed by his adherents. The council sends an order for his immediate arrest to the Lord Mayor of Dublin, who, however, has not sufficient force at his disposal.

The Earl of Desmond and many of FitzGerald’s father’s oldest and best friends reason with him, but he is not to be turned from his purpose. As Vice-Deputy, he has under his control most of the Pale‘s fortresses, and large government stores.

Dublin Castle alone holds out for the King of England. Lord Offaly calls the lords of the Pale to the siege of the Castle. Those who refuse to swear fidelity to him are sent as prisoners to his Maynooth Castle. Goods and chattels belonging to the King’s subjects are declared forfeited, and he announces his intention of exiling or putting to death all born in England. He sends messengers to his cousin and friend Lord Butler, son of the Earl of Ormond, offering to divide the kingdom with him if he would join his cause, but Butler refuses. Several children of the citizens of Dublin in different parts of the Pale are seized as hostages for the good behavior of the city.

In July, FitzGerald attacks Dublin Castle, but his army is routed. He is, rightly or wrongly, judged to be responsible for the execution at Artane of Archbishop Alen, who had tried to mediate. This loses him support from the clergy. According to a long-established tradition, the killers, John Teeling and Nicholas Wafer, misunderstand his order, given in Irish, to “take this fellow away” as an order to kill Alen. By this time his father has taken ill and died in London, and he succeeds him as 10th Earl of Kildare, but the Crown never confirms his title. He retreats to his stronghold at Maynooth Castle, but in March 1535 it is taken by an English force under Sir William Skeffington by bribing a guard, while FitzGerald is absent gathering reinforcements to relieve it. The surrendered garrison is put to death, which becomes known as the “Maynooth Pardon.” He has wrongly assumed that his cause would attract overwhelming support, in particular from Catholics opposed to Henry VIII’s English Reformation. But Henry’s new policy also outlaws Lutheranism, and so Henry is not finally excommunicated until 1538.

In July, Lord Leonard Grey arrives from England as Lord Deputy of Ireland. Fitzgerald, seeing his army melting away and his allies submitting one by one, asks for pardon for his offences. He is still a formidable opponent, and Grey, wishing to avoid a prolonged conflict, guarantees his personal safety and persuades him to submit unconditionally to the King’s mercy. According to the Tree Council of Ireland, legend has it that FitzGerald plays a lute under the boughs of the now oldest planted tree in Ireland, the Silken Thomas Yew, the night before he surrenders to King Henry VIII. In October 1535 he is sent as a prisoner to the Tower of London. Despite Grey’s guarantee, he is hanged, drawn, and quartered with his five uncles at Tyburn, London, on February 3, 1537.

The Attainder of the Earl of Kildare Act 1536 is passed to permit his execution and the confiscation of his property. The 1536 Act remains law until it is repealed by the Statute Law Revision (Pre-1922) Act 2005.

FitzGerald’s revolt causes Henry VIII to pay more attention to Irish matters, and is a factor in the creation of the Kingdom of Ireland in 1541. In particular the powers of the lords deputy are curbed, and policies such as surrender and regrant are introduced. To provide for greater security the Royal Irish Army is established as a standing army.


Leave a comment

Death of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone

hugh-o-neillHugh O’Neill (Irish: Aodh Mór Ó Néill), the 3rd Baron Dungannon and 2nd Earl of Tyrone, dies in Rome on July 20, 1616. His career is played out against the background of the Tudor conquest of Ireland and he is best known for leading the resistance during the Nine Years’ War, the strongest threat to Tudor authority in Ireland since the revolt of Silken Thomas. The defeat of O’Neill and the conquest of his province of Ulster is the final step in the subjugation of Ireland by the English.

Although born into the powerful O’Neill dynasty of Ulster, O’Neill is fostered as a ward of the Crown in County Dublin after the assassination of his father, Matthew, in 1558. His wardship ends in 1567 and, after a visit to the court in London, he returns to Ireland in 1568 and assumes his grandfather’s title of Earl of Tyrone. By initially cooperating with the government of Queen Elizabeth I, he establishes his base of power, and in 1593 he replaces Turlough Luineach O’Neill as chieftain of the O’Neills. But his dominance in Ulster leads to a deterioration in his relations with the Crown, and skirmishes between his forces and the English in 1595 are followed by three years of fruitless negotiations between the two sides.

In 1598 O’Neill reopens hostilities. His victory over the English on August 14 in the Battle of the Yellow Ford on the River Blackwater, Ulster, the most serious defeat sustained by the English in the Irish wars, sparks a general revolt throughout the country. Pope Clement VIII lends moral support to his cause and, in September 1601, four thousand Spanish troops arrive at Kinsale, Munster, to assist the insurrection. But those reinforcements are quickly surrounded at Kinsale, and O’Neill suffers a staggering defeat in December 1601 while attempting to break the siege. He continues to resist until forced to surrender on March 30, 1603, six days after the death of Queen Elizabeth.

Elizabeth’s successor, King James I, allows O’Neill to keep most of his lands, but the chieftain soon finds that he cannot bear the loss of his former independence and prestige. In September 1607 he, with Rory O’Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, and their followers, secretly embark on a ship bound for Spain. The vessel is blown off course and lands in Normandy. From there the refugees make their way via the Spanish Netherlands to Rome, where they are acclaimed by Pope Paul V. This “Flight of the Earls” signals the end of Gaelic Ulster and thereafter the province is rapidly Anglicized. Outlawed by the English, O’Neill lives in Rome the rest of his life. He dies there at the age of 66 on July 20, 1616. He is interred in the Spanish church of San Pietro in Montorio.