Fitton (Fytton), Sir Edward (1528–79), administrator, was the eldest son of Sir Edward Fitton of Gawsworth, Cheshire, and his wife, Mary, daughter and co-heiress of Guicciard Harbottle, of Northumberland. At the age of twelve he married Anne, daughter of Peter Warburton of Arley, Cheshire. He was MP for Cheshire in 1553 and was knighted on 19 October that year. On 1 June 1569 he was appointed the first lord president of Connacht and Thomond, having arrived in Ireland in May. About December, he conducted court sessions in Roscommon and Galway, where he outlawed Gaelic customs, suppressed catholic images and shrines, and took pledges of good behaviour from powerful lords. Some landowners welcomed him, as they wished to be freed from the onerous military exactions imposed on them by their overlords. However, although a capable and conscientious administrator, he had no experience of Irish affairs and was totally unsuited to the task of persuading hitherto proudly autonomous gaelicised lords to accept the considerable restraints imposed on them by English rule and law. His tactless and aggressive style of governance angered powerful interests, particularly Conor O'Brien (qv), earl of Thomond. When Fitton attempted to conduct an assize at Ennis in February 1570, Thomond arrested some of his retinue and chased him back into Galway. Meanwhile, the Mayo Burkes and some of the Clanricard Burkes rose in support of Thomond, leaving Fitton virtually under siege in Galway city. By late April a royal army led by Thomas Butler (qv), earl of Ormond, had secured Thomond's submission. Then the arrival of reinforcements in Galway enabled Fitton to take the field, and he won a significant victory in June against the Mayo Burkes at Shrule, on the Galway–Mayo border.
By summer 1570, Fitton's presidency had evolved from an administrative body into an army. This was the only means by which it could maintain its authority in Connacht, but it also made it more burdensome and consequently more unpopular. During 1570–71, Fitton campaigned mainly against the Gaelic Irish in north Connacht. However, his control over his base of operations in Galway was tenuous on account of his tense relations with Richard Burke (qv), earl of Clanricard. Although outwardly loyal, the earl was angered by the quartering of royal troops on his lands and by Fitton's support of his enemies. His sons, known as the Mac-An-Iarlas, caused numerous disturbances in south Connacht.
In early 1571, Fitton campaigned against the O'Connor Don, received the submission of the Mayo Burkes, indicted some of Clanricard's supporters at Galway, and journeyed to Ennis, where a penitent Thomond cooperated fully with the rulings of his court session. However, these gains were undone in mid-April, when Clanricard refused to allow Fitton's men to be quartered on his lands, forcing Fitton to withdraw his forces from Connacht. Around the same time, eighty of Fitton's men deserted due to lack of pay. Alarmed by the growing anarchy in Connacht, the lord justice, Sir William Fitzwilliam (qv), summoned Fitton and Clanricard to Dublin in May and, after hearing their respective cases, ordered the two men to cooperate. In late October, Fitton launched a whirlwind campaign against the Mayo Burkes, the McDermots, and the O'Connor Don, compelling them to submit. Nonetheless, it was apparent that Fitton did not have the means to subdue Connacht and was dependent on the periodic arrival of reinforcements to take the military initiative.
In March 1572, exasperated by the provocations of the Mac-An-Iarlas and by Clanricard's inability or unwillingness to control them, Fitton arrested the earl, conveying him to Dublin. The Mac-An-Iarlas immediately went into rebellion, attracting considerable support. Fitton hurried back to Connacht and was able to campaign against the rebels for some of May and June before running out of supplies and money. Unopposed, the rebels wreaked a terrible vengeance on Fitton's supporters in Co. Galway before crossing the Shannon to attack Athlone Castle on 16 July. From his vantage point in Athlone Castle, Fitton watched impotently as the rebels burnt the town and devastated much of the surrounding countryside for miles around.
After hearing that the government was considering Clanricard's release, Fitton returned to Dublin and on 22 July charged the earl with treason before the privy council. However, he had not finalized the preparation of his case, and his consequent refusal to divulge his evidence when asked offended Fitzwilliam and the rest of the council. On 3 August the queen rebuked him both for refusing to disclose his evidence and for his treatment of Clanricard. The government ordered Clanricard's release on 6 August and empowered him to pacify Connacht. His authority completely undermined, Fitton left for England in December. However, he quickly rehabilitated himself, being appointed vice-treasurer of Ireland in January 1573, and in March he returned to Ireland.
The presidency of Connacht was shelved but, to soften the blow, Fitton retained the ward of Athlone Castle and was appointed chief commissioner of Connacht. As such, he held occasional sessions in Athlone down to 1576, dispensing justice for Connacht. In reality, the province had slipped out of royal control, but he used his visits to Connacht to highlight the lawlessness of the province and Clanricard's bad faith. Following the re-establishment of the presidency of Connacht in 1576, Fitton reluctantly surrendered his command in Athlone and, more pertinently, the lucrative lease of crown lands associated with the castle.
The collapse in his relationship with Clanricard had destroyed his presidency of Connacht, but his relationship with Fitzwilliam was scarcely much better. Fitton bore a grudge against Fitzwilliam for not providing him with adequate military support during his presidency and for taking Clanricard's side in their dispute. It also appears that in 1571 Fitton had vied unsuccessfully with Fitzwilliam for the governorship of Ireland. The queen disliked Fitzwilliam and gave Fitton total control of her Irish finances as a means of checking his authority. Unsurprisingly, the two men clashed repeatedly, with Fitton frequently refusing to hand over money to Fitzwilliam. However, their biggest dispute was over a legal matter.
Following the murder of a servant of Fitton's by the servant of another government official, Fitzwilliam pardoned the killer on 4 June 1573. Angered by this apparent injustice, Fitton obtained the pardon and refused to hand it back, leading Fitzwilliam to imprison him for one day. After Fitton then boycotted privy council meetings and departed for Connaught, Fitzwilliam wrote to London demanding his removal. However, on 28 June the queen wrote reprimanding Fitzwilliam and praising Fitton. A mortified Fitzwilliam was forced to give way and Fitton triumphantly resumed his seat on the Irish privy council on 7 September.
The queen refused Fitzwilliam's resignation and the running of the Dublin administration continued to be disrupted by the inveterate bickering of its two leading officials; royal officials in London soon tired of having to arbitrate between them. That autumn, Fitton demurred when Fitzwilliam suggested he go to Munster to attempt to resolve a gathering political crisis in the province. By spring 1574, the province was on the brink of open rebellion and Fitzwilliam was able to convincingly accuse Fitton of dereliction for refusing this mission. As a result, in May 1574, the English privy council rebuked Fitton; soon after, reports circulated that he was to be dismissed from office.
Thereafter, his relationship with Fitzwilliam improved markedly, and in September the lord deputy even praised him for his service. Much of his antagonism towards Fitzwilliam had derived from Fitzwilliam's perceived passivity in the face of provocations and threats from rebellious Irish. However, his stewardship of the crown's Irish finances gave him a greater appreciation of the stringent limitations placed upon Fitzwilliam and he became noticeably less bellicose in his attitude towards the Irish. Moreover, he also became pre-occupied with disentangling himself from the inevitable financial and political difficulties associated with his post as vice-treasurer. Due to poor record keeping, weak financial controls, the queen's parsimony, the expectation that leading royal officials should advance their own money on behalf of the crown and a collapse in royal revenues caused by the prevailing political turmoil, Fitton found himself warding off financial ruin and charges of corruption. It is difficult to penetrate the truth of this, but he denied all wrongdoing and claimed to have suffered financially from holding public office. In May 1575, he travelled to court for the audit of his accounts for the previous two years; they passed muster and he was accorded the honour of a private conference with the queen at Hatfield park.
Upon returning to Ireland that autumn, he continued as a leading member of the Dublin administration generally cooperating closely with the new lord deputy Sir Henry Sidney (qv) (1575–78) and his successor the lord justice Sir William Drury (qv) (1578–79). However, as Sidney came under pressure in 1578 to improve the royal finances, Fitton infuriated him by declining to sign a letter in April affirming that royal revenues in Ireland had increased. Following Sidney's dismissal that autumn, he disputed the accounts prepared by Sidney and the royal auditor Thomas Jenison (qv). Subsequent investigations uncovered widespread falsification of accounts by Jenison thereby bearing out Fitton's claims. Undoubtedly, his flinty independence commended him to the queen and her ministers in London enabling him to survive a series of skirmishes with lord deputies during his career.
Fitton died 3 July 1579, having fallen ill during an expedition to Longford, and was buried 21 September in St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin. A brass monument stands in the south choir aisle of the cathedral depicting Fitton, his wife, and their fifteen children. His eldest son, also Sir Edward Fitton (qv), failed to succeed him as vice-treasurer and returned to England. He was granted lands in the Munster plantation in 1587 but, finding the grant uneconomical, returned to England.