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


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Thomas “Silken Thomas” FitzGerald Confronts King Henry VIII

Thomas FitzGerald, Lord Offaly at the time, known as “Silken Thomas” because of the silk worn on his followers’ helmets, rides through Dublin with a large band of followers on June 11, 1534, as he has heard the false rumour spread by Henry VIII that his father, Gerald FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Kildare, has been executed in the Tower of London. He enters the Chapter House of St. Mary’s Abbey, Dublin, where the King’s Counsel is awaiting him and flings down his Sword of State. This is a dramatic act of defiance, by which he hopes to force his claim to power. Henry VIII treats it as an act of open revolt and confines his father to the Tower where he dies two months later.

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.

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

FitzGerald summons the council to St. Mary’s Abbey, Dublin, and on June 11, 1534, accompanied by 140 armoured gallowglasses with silk fringes on their helmets, rides to the abbey and publicly renounces his allegiance to his cousin King Henry VIII, Lord of Ireland.

The Lord Chancellor of Ireland and Archbishop of Dublin, John Alen, attempts to persuade FitzGerald not to commit himself to such a rash proceeding. The young lord’s harper, however, 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 lingers 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 does not have 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. FitzGerald 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 he declares 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 will 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 has technically succeeded as 10th Earl, but the Crown never confirms his title. He retreats to his stronghold at Maynooth Castle, but in March 1535 this is taken by an English force under Sir William Skeffington by bribing a guard, while Thomas is absent gathering reinforcements to relieve it. The surrendered garrison is put to death, which becomes known as the “Maynooth Pardon.” FitzGerald 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, FitzGerald is sent as a prisoner to the Tower of London. The Attainder of the Earl of Kildare Act 1536 is passed to permit his execution and the confiscation of his property. Despite Grey’s guarantee, he is executed with his five uncles at Tyburn, London, on February 3, 1537. The 1536 Act remains law until it is repealed by the Statute Law Revision (Pre-1922) Act 2005.

FitzGerald’s revolt causes Henry 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.


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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.


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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.


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Death of Maurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond

fitzgerald-coat-of-armsMaurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond, Irish nobleman in the Peerage of Ireland, Captain of Desmond Castle in Kinsale, so-called ruler of Munster, and for a short time Lord Justice of Ireland, dies at Dublin Castle on January 25, 1356.

FitzGerald is the second son of Thomas FitzMaurice FitzGerald, 2nd Baron Desmond by his wife Margaret. His father dies in 1296 when he is still a child. He succeeds his elder brother Thomas FitzGerald, 3rd Baron Desmond as 4th Baron Desmond in 1307, and also inherits great wealth and large estates.

By 1326 FitzGerald’s influence is such that there are rumours of a conspiracy to make him King of Ireland. Modern historians tend to dismiss the story, on the ground that the alleged conspirators were other magnates who were more interested in increasing their own power than aggrandising FitzGerald.

FitzGerald is created Earl of Desmond by Letters Patent dated at Gloucester, England, August 27, 1329, by which patent also the county palatine of Kerry is confirmed to him and his heirs male, to hold of the Crown by the service of one knight’s fee. This is part of a Crown policy of attempting to win the support of the magnates by conferring earldoms on them.

In January 1330 FitzGerald is summoned by Sir John Darcy, Lord Justice of Ireland, to fight armed Irish rebels, with a promise of the King’s pay. It is FitzGerald who introduces the practice of Coigne and Livery, the quartering of troops on the inhabitants of the district they are sent to protect.

Accepting the King’s proposal, in addition to dealing with Munster and Leinster, FitzGerald routs the O’Nolans and O’Murroughs and burns their lands in County Wicklow and forces them to give hostages. He recovers the castle of Ley from the O’Dempsies, and has a liberate of £100 sterling dated at Drogheda August 24, 1335, in return for the expense he has incurred in bringing his men-at-arms, hobelars, and foot-soldiers, from various parts of Munster to Drogheda, and there, with Lord Justice Darcy, disperses the King’s enemies.

In 1331 there are further rumours of an attempt to make him King. Although there seems to be no foundation for them, the Crown takes them seriously enough to imprison FitzGerald for several months. He is released when a number of fellow nobles stand surety for his good behaviour.

In 1339 FitzGerald is engaged against Irish rebels in County Kerry where it is said he slays 1,400 men, and takes Nicholas, Lord of Kerry, prisoner, keeping him confined until he dies as punishment for siding with the rebels against the Crown.

The same year FitzGerald is present in the parliament held in Dublin. He is summoned by Writ dated at Westminster July 10, 1344, with Maurice, Earl of Kildare, and others, to attend the King at Portsmouth “on the octaves of the nativity of the Virgin Mary,” with twenty men-at-arms and fifty hobelars, at his own expense, to assist in the war against Philip V of France.

FitzGerald, who has long been acting “with a certain disregard for the niceties of the law” now decides on open rebellion. In 1345 he presides at an assembly of Anglo-Irish magnates at Callan, County Kilkenny, ignores a summons to attend the Irish Parliament and attacks Nenagh. He is a formidable opponent, and for the next two years his defeat is the main preoccupation of the Crown. He surrenders on a promise that his life will be spared. He is imprisoned and his lands forfeited. He is allowed to go under guard to England to answer the charges against him.

By no means for the last time, the Crown evidently decides that it can not govern Ireland without the magnates’ support. In 1348 FitzGerald is released, and pardoned in 1349. His loyalty does not seem to have been in question during the last years of his life.

In July 1355 FitzGerald is appointed Lord Justice of Ireland for life, dying, however, the following January in Dublin Castle. He is interred in the Church of the Friars-Preachers in Tralee.