September 2 – The Earl of Kildare dies in the Tower


On this day in Tudor history, 2nd September 1534, in the reign of King Henry VIII, Gerald Fitzgerald, 9th Earl of Kildare and Lord Deputy of Ireland, died in the Tower of London. He had never recovered from a gunshot wound and was being nursed by his wife.

Kildare was about 47 years of age at his death and he’d been arrested on 29th June 1534, accused of corruption and causing rebellion in Ireland.

He spent a substantial amount of his career being accused of crimes, but it was his son, ‘Silken Thomas’, who caused his final undoing.

Find out more about this Earl of Kildare, his life and career…


On this day in Tudor history, 2nd September 1534, Gerald Fitzgerald, 9th Earl of Kildare and Lord Deputy of Ireland, died in the Tower of London at around the age of 47. An already ill Kildare had been arrested on 29th June 1534, accused of corruption and causing rebellion in Ireland.

By his death, he was one of the ten wealthiest Tudor magnates with a yearly income of over 2,000 Irish pounds.

But who was Kildare and how did he come to this sad end?

  • Kildare was born in 1487 and was the only son of Gerald Fitzgerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, also Lord Deputy of Ireland, and his wife, Alison Eustace.
  • It is thought that he went to the English royal court when he was about seven or eight following his father’s arrest, as surety for his father’s loyalty. He was educated there.
  • In 1502, when he was about 15, Gerald played Man of Arms at the funeral of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, eldest son of Henry VII, riding Arthur’s courser and wearing his armour.
  • In July 1503, he married Elizabeth Zouche, daughter of Sir John Zouche of Codnor, Derbyshire, and a cousin of King Henry VII, and in August 1503 he returned to Ireland with his father and his new wife. The couple had two children, Thomas and Alice.
  • In 1504, Gerald was appointed Lord High Treasurer of Ireland, and in 1505 he fought at the Battle of Knockdoe, serving under his father. He fought well but made the mistake of committing the reserve he commanded too soon.
  • In 1513, his father died and Gerald became Earl of Kildare. Henry VIII also appointed him Lord Deputy of Ireland.
  • Kildare first faced accusations regarding his work in Ireland in 1515, when he was accused of acting without the council’s consent and that he’d imposed unlawful levies on the king’s subjects. However, he kept the king’s favour, receiving grants and also licence to found and endow a college at Maynooth.
  • Kildare’s wife died in October 1517.
  • In 1519, Kildare made another visit to the court at London and while he was there clashed with Cardinal Wolsey and was accused of maladministration. In May 1520, he was ordered not to leave London, but in June 1520 was able to accompany the king to the Field of Cloth of Gold. He was imprisoned temporarily, but released in November of the same year. However, he was in trouble again in the spring of 1521 and ordered to appear before the Star Chamber. He was soon exonerated and went on to marry Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, in 1522. They went on to have six children together, including Elizabeth, Countess of Lincoln, who was Fair Geraldine of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey’s sonnet.
  • Kildare returned to Ireland with his bride in 1523, where he clashed with Piers Butler, Earl of Ormond, who’d been acting as governor while he was away. Commissioner had to be sent to settle the feud, but Kildare was reinstated as Lord Deputy. However, they clashed again in 1526 and both men were called to court. Kildare having aroused the king’s suspicions over his seeming inability to arrest his relative James Fitzgerald, Earl of Desmond. Kildare travelled to London with his daughter Alice, taking her so that she’d be able to report back to Ireland on his behalf and return if he was apprehended. He left his brother, Thomas, as vice-deputy, but Henry VIII replaced him with Lord Delvin while Kildare was kept under house arrest at the Duke of Norfolk’s residence at Newington. He was granted a general pardon in 1530 and was allowed to return home in August 1530 with Sir William Skeffington as deputy.
  • Kildare and Skeffington worked well together at first, restoring order, but had fallen out by July 1531, by which time Kildare was once more feuding with Butler, who was now Earl of Ossory. Ossory’s son, Lord Butler, and Kildare were summoned to England and Henry VIII reappointed Kildare as Deputy and Butler as treasurer.
  • In 1532, Kildare was shot while besieging Birr Castle. He was described as “shot into the bodye with a hand gone and ney slayne, but he was neuer holl againe, the mor pittie”.
  • By 1533, Henry VIII’s chief advisor, Thomas Cromwell, was receiving more complaints about Kildare and in that September he was summoned to court once more to face accusations regarding “excess of his illegality and his injustice on them”. He sent his wife first, pleading his injury, but the king wanted Kildare himself. In February 1534, at a council meeting at Drogheda, Kildare appointed his son, Thomas Fitzgerald, who would become known as Silken Thomas, as his deputy, and set off for London.
  • You may remember from my 3rd February talk on Silken Thomas that Thomas heard rumours that his father had been executed and so publicly renounced his allegiance to the king at St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin in June 1534 and asserted his allegiance to the pope, instead. He then launched a rebellion against King Henry VIII. Chronicler Edward Hall records that “he took all the king’s ordinance, and sent ambassadors to the Emperor to have entreated to him to take part with him. Also he slew the Bishop of Dublin and burnt and robbed all such as would not obey him.” Sadly, Thomas’s actions led to his father’s arrest on 29th June 1534 and his imprisonment in the Tower of London.
  • His injury from being shot had led to him partially losing the use of his limbs and the ability to speak, and he was nursed in the Tower by his wife, dying there on this day in Tudor history, 2nd September 1534. He was buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower.
  • Kildare was posthumously attainted of treason in 1536 and on 3rd February 1537 his heir, Silken Thomas, and Kildare’s five brothers were executed as traitors at Tyburn. Gerald, his eldest son by his second wife, was restored to the earldom of Kildare by Mary I in 1554.

My 3rd February video on Kildare’s son, Silken Thomas:

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