Fitzgerald, Gerald (1525–85), 11th earl of Kildare , was the son of Gerald FitzGerald (qv), 9th earl of Kildare, and his second wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Grey, marquis of Dorset. He was born on February 28, probably at his father's residence, Maynooth castle. In 1534 his half-brother Lord Offaly, Thomas FitzGerald (qv), led a revolt against the crown and his father died in the Tower of London. Thomas was captured in 1535. In the aftermath of the revolt Gerald’s tutor, Thomas Leverous (qv), a priest and foster-brother of his father, moved him out of harm's way from Kildare to his sister Lady Mary O'Connor in Offaly. The instructions of the lord deputy, Gerald's uncle, Lord Leonard Grey (qv), were to capture him, dead or alive, and the execution of Thomas and five of his uncles for treason in 1537 underlined Gerald's peril.
As Grey, with increasing success, pursued a policy of restoring Geraldine obedience to royal authority through a mixture of coercion and conciliation, Gerald was moved for safekeeping from the O'Connors to the O'Briens in Thomond and from there to Manus O'Donnell (qv) in Tír Conaill. Finally, after the defeat of O'Neill (qv) and O'Donnell at Bellahoe, Gerald left Ireland and arrived in France at St Malo about March 1540. Here he attracted attention as a possible future king of Ireland, but representations from the English court led to his moving on to Rome in 1541, where he spent his teens under the protection of his kinsman Cardinal Pole. He entered the service of Cosimo de' Medici at Florence and took part in campaigns against the Moors with the knights of Rhodes. However, throughout the 1540s he continued to be seen as a threat to the English government, and there were frequent rumours of his plans to invade Ireland at the head of a French army or, alternatively, to return to the north of Ireland with Scottish assistance.
The death of Henry VIII in 1547 transformed Gerald's situation. Protector Somerset was anxious to have him return from the continent so that he could not be manipulated by foreign rulers to England's disadvantage. Negotiations conducted through Gerald's mother led to him being formally pardoned on 2 March 1549, and he left France for England late in June. On 25 April 1552 he was restored to part of his paternal estates and knighted by Edward VI. In the following year he served against Sir Thomas Wyatt and on 13 May 1554 Queen Mary both released further lands to him and restored him to the title of earl of Kildare and baron of Offaly. There were political reasons for the favours he received, but there were private influences at work also. King Edward and Queen Mary were his cousins, his sister Elizabeth (qv) had been one of Mary's maids of honour since 1538, and his brother Edward was a gentleman pensioner at court. Less than three weeks after his restoration, in the royal chapel, he married Mabel Browne, a gentlewoman of the queen's privy chamber who was the daughter of Elizabeth's late husband Sir Anthony Browne and his first wife Alice, daughter of Sir James Gage of Montmouthshire.
In May 1555 Kildare was granted the lordships and lands that had been held by the crown since his father's attainder. In the following October he returned to Ireland where he was appointed to the council in March 1558 and to important commissions within his lordship and where he campaigned with the earl of Sussex (qv) against rebellious Irish chieftains. Sussex, whose expensive and oppressive use of force to achieve his purposes aroused resistance, chose to believe (perhaps rightly) that Kildare's cooperation masked his organization of a conspiracy to gain the government for himself. He was removed from his command in Leix–Offaly and denigrated to the queen.
The failure of Sussex to deal with the defiance of Shane O'Neill (qv) gave Kildare an opportunity to retrieve his position. Since his return, he had been working to recreate the Fitzgerald network of alliances, the O'Neills among them, and in 1561 he offered to bring Shane to obedience by peaceful means. The offer was accepted through the influence of the queen's favourite Lord Robert Dudley, who aimed to undermine the lord deputy. Kildare was authorised to negotiate with Shane and accompanied him to court later in the year. The gambit was an apparent success, but Shane reverted to his former ways when he returned to Ireland. Sussex once more failed to deal with him, provoked opposition, found himself defenceless against Dudley's intriguing, and lost office in April 1564.
His successors, Arnold (qv) and Sidney (qv), both clients of Dudley, restored Kildare to the council and gave him large responsibilities in Leinster and the midland plantations. He worked particularly closely with Sidney, campaigning with him against Shane O'Neill, hunting down the catholic archbishop of Armagh, assisting the passage of the government programme in parliament in 1569 and maintaining order in the Pale and on its borders while Sidney attended to the disturbances of the Desmonds and Butlers. In return, he was made admiral of Ireland in 1567, granted the manor of Geashill in Offaly in 1568, which constituted the major part of his unrecovered ancestral lands, and had his family restored to the blood by act of parliament in 1569, which allowed his lands and title to descend lineally or collaterally.
When Sidney was succeeded by a partisan of his Butler rivals, Sir William Fitzwilliam (qv) in 1571, Kildare was both resentful and apprehensive. He moved his residence from Maynooth to Kilkea, retained a small army of landless mercenaries, cultivated the Gaelic chieftains, and dominated the region by intimidation. Allegations that he was inciting the O'Mores and O'Connors to ravage the plantation areas and attack the Pale and setting himself up in opposition to the government at Dublin led to a summons to London in April 1575, where extensive examinations revealed many illegal practices and doubtful dealings with the Irish chieftains, but no evidence of subversive intent. By February 1576, he had been exonerated of treason and the lord deputy was ordered to ensure that his interests were protected while he was detained in London.
Kildare returned to Ireland in 1578 and earned the goodwill of the lord justice, Sir William Drury (qv), by mediating with angry opponents of cess in the Pale. When James Fitzmaurice (qv) rebelled in July 1579, he went with Drury's small force to Munster, and made a sufficiently favourable impression to receive a letter of thanks from the queen. When Baltinglass (qv) also rebelled in south Leinster in August 1580, he was one of the party that accompanied the new lord deputy, Lord Arthur Grey (qv), Lord de Wilton, in the campaign that ended abruptly with defeat by the O'Byrnes at Glenmalure. And when Grey went to Munster, he left Kildare to act as general in the Pale.
His performance of the duties of that position was criticized in official circles as dilatory and inept, and when it became known that he had revealed foreknowledge of the rebellion to Archbishop Loftus (qv) early in July, his collusion with Baltinglass seemed obvious. Evidence was collected of his awareness of the conspiracy, and shortly after Grey's return to Dublin in November he was relieved of his duties and sent with his heir, Henry (qv), and his son in law and alleged co-conspirator, Lord Delvin (qv), to London, where he was interrogated while further evidence was sought. He was committed to the Tower in June 1582 but released without charge in June 1583 on payment of a bond for £2,000 and on condition that he remained within twenty miles of London. This restriction was removed in 1584 and he was given permission to return to Ireland, but ‘excused' from attending parliament in 1585.
Gerald Fitzgerald died in London on 16 November 1585 and was buried at Kildare. In folklore, he became the ‘wizard earl’ whose death was an enchanted sleep and who would awaken to free Ireland. His wife, whose ostentatious catholicism gave credence to suspicions of his involvement in a catholic plot, survived him until 25 August 1610. Their eldest son had died in 1580, and Gerald was succeeded by Henry, who was killed in the campaign against O'Neill (qv) in 1597, and by his youngest son William who was drowned in the Irish Sea two years later. The house of Kildare was continued through Gerald, heir of the earl's brother Edward.