Book Review – The Geraldines and Medieval Ireland.


Gerald FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Kildare, father of ‘Silken’ Thomas. This image appears on the dust jacket of the new book on the Geraldines.

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.


Maurice FitzGerald brought the Geraldines to Ireland in 1169.

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.


The original ‘House of Windsor’ was descended from Walter fitz Oter, the Castellan of Windsor Castle. His son was the eponymous Gerald of Windsor who gave his name to the FitzGeralds, the famous Geraldines of medieval Ireland. The British Royal Family only adopted the surname Windsor a century ago….in 1917!

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 ruined keep at Maynooth Castle. The fall of Maynooth to Sir William Skeffington in 1535 while ‘Silken’ Thomas was absent. Although the garrison surrendered, Skeffington ignored the usages of war and butchered them in what became known as the ‘Maynooth Pardon.’.

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. .



Midleton – why only one ‘d’?

One of the matters discussed by John Fenton during his lecture on Thursday night last was the spelling of the name of MIDLETON – why only one ‘d’?  The solution is remarkably recent – and not as obvious as might first appear.

If you do an internet search for towns called Middleton or Middletown, you will get a nice long list of towns located mostly in England, the United States, Canada, Australia and other English-speaking countries, usually former British colonies.

Here in Ireland we have Middleton in County Armagh.  But until the 1840s there was a Middleton in County Cork.  In 1685, Sir Richard Cox wrote a manuscript account of the county of Cork for the benefit of William Molyneaux who intended to publish a modern description of the whole of Ireland.  He calls the town Midleton – the date of this account is important, for the town was only named in 1670.  Dr Charles Smith, in The Ancient and Present State of the County and City of Cork (vol 1, 1750), calls the place Middletown!  A slight variation of this name, Middle Town, is also used by John Rocque in his Map of the Kingdom of Ireland (1760).  Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) calls it Midleton.  The Ordnance Survey’s first edition map (c.1840) names the town as Middleton, and this is repeated in the second edition of c.1897.  So which is it?  Middleton or Midleton?

The source of the town’s name lies in the Charter of Incorporation issued by King Charles II in 1670.  But, sadly, the original charter document with its florid writing and royal seal does not survive.  What does survive is a leather-bound manuscript verbatim copy completed by the Rev. Verney Lovett on Saturday, 7th February, 1784. The embossed cover states that it contains the Charter of Middleton.  Two ‘d’s.  But the text of the charter on the inside starts off using the spelling ‘Midleton‘ – only ONE ‘d’.  The pages towards the end of the document spell the name ‘Middleton‘ – TWO ‘d’s!   But we must make allowance for seventeenth century spelling – you pretty much made it up as you went along and only in a Latin text did you dare to employ consistency of spelling! The text of the Charter of Midleton was in English.  Bizarrely, Samuel Lewis (see above) illustrated his account of the town with an engraving of the seal of the corporation, and the seal itself contained an original inscription which read Corporation of Middleton 1670.

When Sir Alan Brodrick was made Baron Brodrick of Midleton in 1715, the title employed only ONE ‘d’ in the town’s name.  Then he was promoted to Viscount Midleton in 1717, and the name of the town was still given with one ‘d’. Consistency had arrived at last, but only for the title in the peerage!

The matter of the town’s name was resolved, at least for the Post Office, by George Alan Brodrick, 5th Viscount Midleton (of Midleton in County Cork), in a correspondence with the Postmaster General in London on March 12th 1845.  Lord Midleton commented that there was some confusion in the delivery of letters to the correct destination (presumably letters to Middleton in Armagh or Middleton near Birmingham in England were misdirected.  The local historian Richard Henchion states that a letter addressed to someone in Middleton in County Cork was forwarded by the postmaster in that same post office to his colleagues in Middleton near Birmingham in England. That post office sent it back with the comment – ‘This is for YOUR office.‘  And they were right!  I do wonder if this misdirected latter was actually addressed to Lord Midleton himself, for there was also a Lord Middleton with a seat at Middleton, Warwickshire, England!  In his letter, Lord Midleton admitted that there would be some expense in getting the steel stamps changed for Midleton Post Office, and was prepared to accept this as a valid excuse for not changing the name.

(I suspect that Lord Midleton didn’t refer back to the charter of 1670, perhaps he was aware of the variable spelling in that document.)

The Postmaster General’s reply was written on 26th March, 1845.  He said he had looked up the title of his correspondent and found that he was the ‘Viscount Midleton of Midleton in the County of Cork!’  He directed that the spelling on the stamps be changed to MIDLETON to avoid further confusion.  So it was Viscount Midleton’s title in the peerage that confirmed the name of the town – Midleton with ONE ‘d’!    So, by direction of the Postmaster General in London we have our name spelled as it is today!  The new spelling of MIDLETON didn’t catch on for several years, but now it is clearly fixed. And no, we’re NOT changing it!