Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fitzgerald, Elizabeth

FITZGERALD, Lady ELIZABETH, called the Fair Geraldine (1528?–1589), was youngest daughter of Gerald Fitzgerald, ninth earl of Kildare [q. v.], by his second wife, Lady Elizabeth, fourth daughter of Thomas Grey, marquis of Dorset. Born apparently about 1528 at her father's castle at Maynooth, she was brought to England by her mother in 1533, when her father was involved in his son's treasonable practices. Her father was executed in 1534, and she lived with her mother at Beaumanoir, Leicestershire, the liouse of her uncle, Lord Leonard Grey. In 1538 she entered the household of the Princess Mary at Hunsdon, and when that establishment was broken up in 1540, she transferred her services to Queen Catherine Howard at Hampton Court. At Hunsdon Henry Howard, earl of Surrey [q. v.], first saw her. He renewed his acquaintance with her at Hampton, and began about 1540 the series of songs and sonnets, first printed in Tottel's 'Miscellany' (1557), in which he extolled her beauty and declared his love for her. One sonnet, in which he refers to the Florentine origin ascribed to the Geraldine family and to the Lady Elizabeth's education, is entitled 'Description and Praise of his love Geraldine.' Although many others describe the course of his passion, the lady is only mentioned by name in this one poem. Surrey at the time of composing these sonnets was a married man, his wife being Lady Frances, daughter of John Vere, fifteenth earl of Oxford. This marriage took place in 1534, and a first child was born in 1536. Surrey's relationship with Lady Elizabeth would seem to have been wholly Platonic, and an imitation of Petrarch's association with Laura. According to Nashe's romance, called 'The Unfortunate Traveller, or the Life of Jack Wilton' (1594), Surrey while in Venice consulted Cornelius Agrippa as to the welfare of his ladylove, and saw her image in a magic mirror. When he arrived in Florence he challenged to combat all who disputed his mistress's loveliness. Drayton utilised these stories in his beautiful poetical epistle of 'The Lady Geraldine to the Earl of Surrey,' first published in his 'Heroicall Epistle,' 1578. Sir Walter Scott has also introduced the first episode into his 'Lay of the Last Minstrel' (canto vi. stanzas xvi-xx.) Although these reports were widely disseminated in the seventeenth century, there seems no foundation for them. They are to all appearance the outcome of Nashe's imagination.

In 1543 Lady Elizabeth, who was then no more than fifteen, married Sir Anthony Browne (d. 1548) [q. v.], a widower aged sixty. The poverty-stricken condition of her family perhaps explains this union, which Surrey has been assumed to deplore in his later verse. The wedding was attended by Henry VIII and his daughter Mary, and a sermon was preached by Ridley. Surrey was executed in 1547, and Lady Elizabeth's husband died in 1548. About 1552 she became the third wife of Edward Fiennes de Clinton, earl of Lincoln (1512-1585) [q. v.] She would seem to have been greatly in her second husband's confidence, and the facsimile of a letter (dated 14 Sept. 1558), written partly by her, acting as her husband's secretary, and partly by himself, is printed by the Rev. James Graves in the 'Journal of the Archæological and Historical Association of Ireland' (1873). Clinton died in 1585, and made his wife executrix of his will, but she appears to have been on bad terms with the children of her husband's second marriage. She died in March 1589, leaving no issue, and was buried by her second husband in St. George's Chapel, Windsor, where she had already erected an elaborate monument to his memory. Her sister Margaret was chief mourner, and sixty-one old women, numbering the years of her life, followed her to the grave. A fine portrait by C. Ketel, showing a lady with auburn hair, of very attractive appearance, is at Woburn Abbey. A copy belonging to the Duke of Leinster is at Carton, Maynooth. An engraving by Scriven was published in 1809, and Mr. Graves gives a photograph from the original painting in the journal noticed above.

[Rev. James Graves in Archaeological and Historical Association of Ireland, 1873, pp. 560 et seq. publ. Kilkenny Archæolog. Soc.; Tottel's Miscellany, 1557, reprinted by Arber; Poems of Surrey and Wyatt, ed. Dr. Nott, 1815; Nashe's works, ed. Grosart, vol. v.; Duke of Leinster's Earls of Kildare, 1858, pp. 126-9.]

S. L. L.