Fitzgerald, Gerald (d.1398) (DNB00)

FITZGERALD, GERALD, fourth Earl of Desmond (d. 1398), justiciar of Ireland, was the son of Maurice Fitzthomas, the first earl of Desmond [q. v.], by his second wife, Evelina or Eleanor Fitzmaurice, and was generally styled Gerald Fitzmaurice. He was in 1356 taken prisoner by the Irish, but released on a truce being made (Cal. Rot. Pat. et Claus. Hib. p. 59). His father's death in the same year was soon followed by that of his elder brother, Maurice, the second earl. This produced great disturbances in Munster. To appease them Edward III granted to Gerald the lands of his brother Maurice, together with the custody of his idiot brother, Nicholas, who seems to have been regarded as incompetent to succeed (ib. p. 72). This was on 3 July 1359. On 20 July the king renewed the grant on condition of Gerald's marrying Eleanor, the daughter of James Butler, earl of Ormonde, then justiciar of Ireland (Fœdera', iii. 433). The peerage writers describe Gerald as the fourth earl, on the assumption that either Nicholas or another brother, John, previously bore the title (Lodge, Peerage of Ireland, i. 65; cf. 'Pedigree of the Desmonds,' in Graves, Unpublished Geraldine Documents, pt. ii.) But the authorities only know of Maurice and his father as his predecessors in the title. The 'Book of Howth' (p. 118) describes him rightly as third earl.

In 1367 Desmond succeeded Lionel, duke of Clarence, as justiciar of Ireland (Grace, Annals, p. 154). The appointment was a confession of weakness of the home government, for Gerald carried on even further than his father that policy of amalgamation with the native Irish which it had been Lionel's main object to prevent. The period of his rule was almost exceptionally turbulent. A great meeting was held at Kilkenny to induce the Birminghams to live in peace with the government, and the king's officials petitioned for the removal of the exchequer from Carlow, where it was exposed to the Irish attacks. In 1368 the Irish parliament petitioned that all who held land in Ireland should be compelled to defend their estates in person or by sufficient deputies. In 1369 Desmond was superseded by Sir William de Windsor. In the same year Desmond was efeated near Nenagh and taken prisoner by Brien O'Brien, king of Thomond, whose victorious army now plundered and destroyed Limerick (Annals of Loch Cé, ii. 43; Annals of the Four Masters, iii. 649). It was one of the greatest victories ever won by the Irish of Munster. In 1370 Windsor led an expedition to effect Desmond's release, but in 1372 O'Brien was again in arms and threatening Limerick (Cal. Rot. Pat. et Claus. Hib. p. 84 b).

In 1377 Desmond was at war with Richard de Burgh (ib. p. 103 b). In 1381 he was appointed to 'repress the malice of the rebels' in Munster, where no justiciar ventured to show his face after the death of the Earl of March (ib. pp. 114, 115). In 1386 he again acted as deputy of the justiciar in Munster (ib. p. 127 b). In 1393 he obtained from the council an order compelling the town of Cork to pay him a rent already granted 'considering the great expenses which he continually sustains in the king's wars in Munster' (King's Council in Ireland, 16 Richard II, p. 126, Rolls Ser.) During the latter part of his life he was constantly at war with his hereditary foes, the Butlers (ib. p. 261; cf. Cal. Rot. Pat. et Claus. Hib. pp. 121, 122 b).

Desmond is generally described in the records as the chief upholder of the king's cause in Munster. Yet his policy was to set the law at defiance and adopt Irish customs and sympathies. He obtained in 1388 a royal license to allow his son James to be fostered among his old enemies, the O'Briens, notwithstanding the statute of Kilkenny (Cal. Rot. Pat. et Claus. Hib. p. 139). The Irish annalists are enthusiastic in his praises. The 'Four Masters' describe him as 'a cheerful and courteous man, who excelled all the English and many of the Irish in the knowledge of the Irish language, poetry, and history' (iv. 761, cf. note on p. 760). He was a man of some culture and refinement. He was called 'Gerald the poet,' and some short French verses attributed to him still survive in the 'Book of Ross or Waterford,' in Harl. MS. 913, f. 15 b, with the title 'Proverbia Comitis Desmond.' 'The point of these is not very evident beyond an ingenious play on words' (Croker, Popular Songs of Ireland, p. 287). He is also described as a mathematician and magician. He died in 1398, but the Munster peasantry long believed that he had only disappeared beneath the waters of Lough Air, near Limerick, and that every seven years he revisited its castle.

By his wife, Eleanor Butler, who died in 1392, and is described as a 'charitable and bountiful woman' (Annals of Loch Cé, ii. 75), Desmond left several children. The eldest son, John, the fifth earl, according to the ordinary reckoning, was drowned in the river Suir, within a few months of his father's death (Four Masters, iv. 761). The next son, Maurice, died without male issue in 1410. The third son, James, the O'Brien's foster-son, usurped the earldom from his nephew Thomas, the sixth earl, son of John. James was the father of Thomas Fitzgerald, eighth earl of Desmond [q. v.] Two daughters of Gerald and Eleanor are also mentioned ('Pedigree of the Desmonds,' in Graves, Unpublished Geraldine Documents, pt. ii.)

[Chartularies, &c., of St. Mary's Abbey, Dublin ; Annals of Loch Cé, both in Rolls Series; Calendar of the Patent and Close Rolls of Ireland, Record Comm.; Annals of the Four Masters; Clyn's Annals and Grace's Annals (Irish Archæological Soc.) ; Lodge's Peerage of Ireland, vol. i. (Archdall) ; Graves's Unpublished Geraldine Documents, first printed in Journal of Kilkenny Archæological Society, and then separately ; Gilbert's Viceroys of Ireland ; and the other authorities referred to in the text.]

T. F. T.