Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fitzgerald, James Fitzjohn

FITZGERALD, JAMES Fitzjohn, fourteenth Earl of Desmond (d. 1558), second son of Sir John Desmond [see Fitzgerald, James Fitzmaurice, thirteenth earl], de facto thirteenth earl of Desmond, and More, daughter of Donogh O'Brien of Carrigogunnell, co. Limerick, lord of Pobble O'Brien, immediately on the death of his grandfather in June 1536 assumed the position and title of Earl of Desmond, and in order to support it united himself with the head of the discontented party in Ireland, O'Brien of Thomond. Naturally the government, which had just suppressed the rebellion of Thomas, earl of Kildare, could not brook such insolence, and accordingly on 25 July the lord deputy, Grey, marched against him, and having come to the border of Cashel encamped in the field three days expecting his coming, as he had promised the chief justice, with the intention of separating him from O'Brien, 'so as we might have entangled but with one of them at once.' Not keeping his appointment, the deputy marched forward and took possession of his castle in Lough Gur, the doors and windows of which had been carried away and the roof burnt by the rebels themselves, which was then entrusted to Lord James Butler, who made it defensible. But Fitzgerald had no intention of imitating his unfortunate kinsman Thomas, earl of Kildare, and, although he refused to place his person within the power of the deputy, 'he showed himself in gesture and communication very reasonable,' offering to deliver up his two sons as hostages for his loyalty, and to submit his claims to the earldom to the decision of Lord Grey. Though renewed in December nothing for the nonce came of the proposal. ' And as far as ever I could perceive,' wrote Grey to Cromwell in February 1537, 'the stay that keepeth him from inclining to the king's grace's pleasure is the fear and doubt which he and all the Geraldines in Munster have in the Lord James Butler, both for the old malice that hath been betwixt their bloods, and principally for that he claimeth title by his wife to the earldom of Desmond' (State Papers, Hen. VIII, ii. 404). Grey argued in favour of the acknowledgment of his claims, and in August Anthony St. Leger, who was at the time serving on the commission 'for the order and establishment to be taken and made touching the whole state of Ireland,' was advised by Cromwell 'to handle the said James in a gentle sort.' Accordingly on 15 Sept. he was invited to submit his claims to the commissioners at Dublin ; but suspecting their intention he declined to place himself in their power, though signing articles of submission and promising to deliver up his eldest son as hostage for his good faith. The negotiations continued to hang fire. In March 1538 the commissioners wrote that 'he hath not only delivered his son, according to his first promise, to the hands of Mr. William Wyse of Waterford to be delivered unto us, but also hath affirmed by his secretary and writing all that he afore promised' (ib. p. 550). Nor was he without good reason for his cautious conduct. The Ormonde faction in the council, violently opposed to Grey and St. Leger, were assiduously striving to effect his ruin by entangling him in rebellious projects. In July 1539 John Allen related to Cromwell how the 'pretended Earl of Desmond' had confederated with O'Donnell and O'Neill 'to make insurrection against the king's majesty and his subjects, not only for the utter exile and destruction of them, but also for the bringing in, setting up, and restoring young Gerald (the sole surviving scion of the house of Kildare) to all the possessions and pre-eminences which his father had ; and so finally among them to exclude the king from all his regalities within this land' (ib. iii. 136). In April 1540 the council informed the king that 'your grace's servant James Fitzmaurice, who claimed to be Earl of Desmond, was cruelly slain the Friday before Palm Sunday, of unfortunate chance, by Maurice Fitzjohn, brother to James Fitzjohn, then usurper of the earldom of Desmond. After which murder done, the said James Fitzjohn immediately resorted to your town of Youghal, where he was well received and entertained, and ere he departed entered into all such piles and garrisons in the county of Cork as your majesty's deputy, with the assistance of your army and me, the Earl of Ormonde, obtained before Christmas last' (ib. p. 195). Ormonde was sent to parley with him, but he refused to trust him. On the arrival of St. Leger, as deputy, however, he again renewed his offer of submission, and promised, upon pledges being given for his safety, to meet him at Cashel. This he did, and on bended knees renounced the supremacy of the pope. 'And then,' writes St. Leger, 'considering the great variance between the Earl of Ormonde and him, concerning the title of the earldom of Desmond ... I and my fellows thought it not good to leave that cancer remain, but so laboured the matter on both sides, that we have brought them to a final end of the said title.' St. Leger assured the king 'that sith my repair into this your land I have not heard better counsel of no man for the reformation of the same than of the said Earl of Desmond, who undoubted is a very wise and discreet gentleman,' for which reason, he said, he had sworn him of the council and given him 'gown, jacket, doublet, hose, shirts, caps, and a riding coat of velvet, which he took very thankfully, and ware the same in Limerick and in all places where he went with me' (ib. p. 285). By such conciliatory conduct did St. Leger, in the opinion of Justice Cusack, win over to obedience the whole province of Munster (Cal. Carew MSS. i. 245). In July 1541 he was appointed chief executor of the 'ordinances for the reformation of Ireland' in Munster, and in token of the renunciation of the privilege claimed by his ancestors of not being obliged to attend the great councils of the realm, he took his seat in a parliament held at Dublin. In June 1542 he visited England, where, being admitted to the presence of the king, he was by him graciously received, his title acknowledged, and the king himself wrote to the Irish council 'that the Earl of Desmond hath here submitted himself in so honest, lowly, and humble a sort towards us, as we have conceived a very great hope that he will prove a man of great honour, truth, and good service.' Nor did he, during the rest of his life, fail to justify this opinion. On 9 July 1543 he obtained a grant of the crown lease of St. Mary's Abbey, Dublin, 'for his better supporting at his repair' to parliament. By Edward VI he was created lord treasurer on the death of the Earl of Ormonde (patent 29 March 1547), and on 15 Oct., when thanking him for his services in repressing disorders in Munster, the king offered to make a companion of his son. During the government of Bellingham he was suspected of treasonable designs, and having refused a peremptory order to appear in Dublin, the deputy swooped down upon him unexpectedly in the dead of winter, 1548, and carried him off prisoner. He was soon released and continued in office by Mary. In the summer of 1558 he was attacked by a serious illness, and died at Askeaton on Thursday 27 Oct. He was buried in the abbey of the White Friars, Tralee. 'The loss of this good man was woful to his country ; for there was no need to watch cattle, or close doors from Dun-caoin, in Kerry, to the green bordered meeting of the three waters, on the confines of the province of Eochaidh, the son of Lachta and Leinster' (Annals of the Four Masters). He married four times : first, Joan Roche, daughter of Maurice, lord Fermoy, and his own grandniece, for which reason she was put away, and her son, Thomas Roe (father of James Fitzthomas Fitzgerald, the Sugan Earl [q. v.]), known as Sir Thomas of Desmond, disinherited ; secondly, More, daughter of Sir Maolrony McShane O'Carroll, lord of Ely O'Carroll, by whom he had Gerald, his heir, also John and four daughters she died in 1548 ; thirdly, Catherine, second daughter of Piers, earl of Ormonde, and widow of Richard, lord Power she died at Askeaton, 17 March 1553; and fourthly, Ellen, daughter of Donald MacCormac, MacCarthy Môr, by whom he had a son, Sir James-Sussex Fitzgerald, and a daughter, Elinor.

[State Papers, Hen. VIII, vols. ii. and iii. ; Lodge's Peerage (Archdall); Ware's Annales; Stanihurst's Chronicle; Cal. Carew MSS. vol i.; Hamilton's Cal. vol. i.; Liber Hiberniæ, ii. 41; O'Clery's Book of Pedigrees, Kilkenny Arch. Soc. Journal, 1881, p. 413.]

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