On this day four hundred and eighty years ago six men were ‘…draun from the Tower in to Tyborne, and there all hongyd and hedded and quartered, save the Lord Thomas for he was but hongyd and hedded and his body buried at the Crost Freers in the qwere…‘* This was the sixteenth century description of the execution of Silken Thomas, 10th Earl of Kildare, and his five uncles on the charge of rebellion against King Henry VIII.
This is an appropriate anniversary to discuss much needed book, The Geraldines and Medieval Ireland, which was published late in 2016 by the Four Courts Press, Dublin. Edited by two Trinity College Dublin scholars, Peter Crooks and Seán Duffy, the book provides new insights into the origins, power, and influence of the FitzGeralds/Fitzgeralds (the Geraldines of the title) in Ireland from 1169 to the end of the sixteenth century. The last of the fifteen chapters, that written by Ruairí Cullen, acts as something as a coda with the intriguing title ‘The battle for the Geraldines: a contested legacy in nineteenth century Ireland’.
The origin of the FitzGeralds is outlined in Chapter 1 by one of the editors, Seàn Duffy. He looks at Gerald of Windsor, the eponymous Gerald of the FitzGerald family, and traces their origins in Normandy to Gerald’s grandfather, the eleventh century Norse settler, Óttárr. The lattet’s son, Walter fitz Oter was the father of both William of Windsor and Gerald. (There is a delicious irony in the fact that William’s sons were originally given the surname Windsor – nearly nine centuries before the British royal house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha-Wettin-Geulf adopted the name Windsor in 1917 in an attempt to distance themselves from their Germanic origins.) One thing is very clear from Duffy’s chapter – the family links of Walter and his sons were impressive. Walter was the keeper of the king’s castle at Windsor with its great hunting park. Walter’s third son, Gerald, had moved to Wales by 1097, or more specifically, to Pembrokeshire.In 1102 Arnoulf de Montgomery sent an embassy to Ireland to seek the daughter of King Muirchetach O Bríain of Munster as a bride! The embassy included Gerald of Windsor, his steward. Gerald himself married a Welsh princess, Nest, daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwyr, King of Deheubarth. It was another six decades before Gerald and Nest’s sons took part in the Anglo-Norman incursion into Ireland.
Huw Pryce provides an interesting chapter on the writings of Geraldus Cambrensis’s (Geraldus de Barri/Gerald of Wales) about the Geraldines a crucial source of contemporary information. Geraldus’ mother was, of course, Angharad, daughter of Gerald of Windsor and Nest of Wales. Angharad had married William de Barri. Their son Philip de Barri was granted what is now the barony of Barrymore in south-east Cork and other lands by his uncle Robert FitzStephen (another son of Nest of Wales!).
The third chapter by Colin Veach explores the Geraldines and the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland.and chapter four gives us Linzi Simpson’s fascinating study of the early Geraldine castles at Maynooth, Naas, Rathmore, Geashill, Lea, Shanid and Croom. Her analysis of Croom and its comparison with Dungarvan is masterly. This chapter reveals how the Anglo-Normans secured their authority in their newly conquered Irish estates.
I must admit to a little local disappointment with Brendan Smith’s otherwise excellent chapter on Geraldine lordship in thirteenth century Ireland. His statement ‘A de Barri probably founded the Cistercian house at Middleton in 1180’ is most distressing given that all the evidence suggests very clearly that Corabbey was a Gaelic Irish foundation as was superbly demonstrated by Denis O’Sullivan in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society in 1945. To compound matters, there were no Barrys in Ireland in 1180 – Philip de Barri only arrived in 1182 to put down a revolt in Imokilly and Ui Liathain in south east Cork! Certainly the Barrys attempted to gain control of the abbey in the 1400s, finally succeeding in the early 1500s when Philip FitzDavid Barry became abbot. In fact Abbot Barry also became the first ‘farmer’ or leaseholder of the dissolved abbey in 1544. This was a very different matter from founding the abbey. Finally, Smith anachronistically calls the 1180 foundation ‘Middleton’ which is silly since the place was called Corabbey until 1670 – even William Penn called it that.. And ‘Middleton’ hasn’t been used as the town’s name since 1845 when the Postmaster General in London agreed to use the original 1870 spelling (Midleton).! Oh dear! I’m rather shocked at the editorial slippage there.Smith’s errors clearly show the importance of having a good local history with excellent references!
Paul McCotter’s chapter on the dynastic ramifications of the Geraldines is a delightful romp around the various branches of this sprawling clan. Reading this shows both extensive and intensive reach of the Fitzgeralds in various parts of Ireland. The Fitzgeralds of Imokilly were typical of the the local branches that established a tight grip on the area they occupied.
The peerless Robin Frame delves into the career of the first Earl of Desmond and his relationship with English authority. Peter Crooks, the other editor, examines the ascent and descent of the House of Desmond under the Lancastrians and Yorkists in the fifteenth century. Katherine Simms shows just how integrated into Gaelic culture were the various branches of the Fitzgeralds, while Aisling Byrne looks at their relationship with the culture of the wider world beyond Ireland. Sparky Booker investigates the sometimes problematic relationship between the Geraldines and the Irish. The Great Earl of Kildare and the formation of the English Pale around Dublin is explored by Steven G Ellis.
For anybody interested in south east Cork David Edwards provides a thrilling study of the origins of the Desmond rebellions in the 1570s. What is particularly exciting is his analysis of the role of the two John FitzEdmund FitzGeralds – the seventh Seneschal of Imokilly and his cousin the Dean of Cloyne. The Seneschal is shown to be an member of the party of the FitzMaurice/Catholic rebel party amongst the Earl of Desmond’s advisers. The Dean is firmly identified with the peace party of advisers who cautioned the Earl of Desmond against fatal rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I. This chapter gives great insight into the politics in the ‘Court’ of the Earl of Desmond before the final fatal rebellion.
This blog post is being published on the anniversary of the execution of Silken Thomas – Thomas, Lord Offaly, on 3rd February 1537. Briefly 10th Earl of Kildare, Thomas Fitzgerald’s reputation among historians is considered by Ciaran Brady who reminds us that Thomas was actually a pretty astute political operator, although his rebellion against King Henry VIII was ill-advised, especially against such a monarch a vindictive monarch.
In all this is an excellent book. My own quibbles are very localized and they do not spoil this wonderful book’s contribution to the study of the most powerfully romantic family in later medieval Ireland. Well done to the editors, contributers and the Four Courts Press for producing such a work.
Reference: *GG Nicholls The Chronicle of the Gray Friars of London. London, 1852. Pg 39. .