Fitzgerald, James fitz Maurice (d. 1579), catholic militant and prominent member of the Fitzgerald family of Munster, instigated two rebellions against Queen Elizabeth with the intention of halting the reformation in Ireland and restoring the catholic faith. He was the second son of Maurice fitz John (d. 1564), a younger son of John fitz Thomas Fitzgerald, 13th earl of Desmond de facto, and Julia, daughter of Dermot O'Mulrian of Sulloghade, Co. Tipperary. His father, known by the sobriquet ‘Maurice an Torteáin’ (Maurice of the burnings), served as a military commander for his older brother James (qv) (d. 1558), 14th earl of Desmond. Fitz Maurice performed a similar function for his first cousin Gerald (qv) (d. 1583), 15th earl of Desmond, and it was in this context that he attacked the estates of Thomas Butler (qv) (d. 1614), 10th earl of Ormond, in 1563. Within five years he would stand at the head of the earldom, his rise to prominence a direct consequence of the difficulties experienced by his cousin Desmond.
For much of the decade after 1558 Desmond was in a series of legal and military disputes with his arch-rival Ormond that reached a violent climax, though not an end, at the battle of Affane, Co. Waterford (February 1565). In March 1567, with the conflict continuing, the lord deputy, Sir Henry Sidney (qv), arrested Desmond, and sent him and his brother, Sir John Fitzgerald (qv) of Desmond, to the Tower of London (December). Before he went, Desmond appointed fitz Maurice captain of the Desmonds during his absence. Shortly after assuming command fitz Maurice was challenged for control of the earldom by Thomas Roe fitz James, the earl's older, bastardised half-brother, but had seen off his rival by March 1568. Four months later fitz Maurice invaded Clanmaurice, Co. Kerry, the lordship of the Fitzmaurice barons of Lixnaw, a collateral branch of the Desmond family. Fitz Maurice seized cattle, claiming they were in lieu of rents due, and unsuccessfully besieged Lixnaw. Although he suffered significant casualties, fitz Maurice survived and remained in charge of the earldom.
The following year, however, fitz Maurice set out to break the link between Ireland and the English monarchy. In February 1569 he convened an assembly, attended by Donal MacCarthy Mór (qv) (d. 1597), earl of Clancar, and other lords of Munster, to devise a political strategy to restore the Roman catholic faith in Ireland. The assembly took the view that the original terms of the bull Laudabiliter, by which Pope Adrian IV consented to the intervention of Henry II (qv) in Ireland in order to encourage the catholic faith among its inhabitants, had been broken by the English monarchy's support for the reformation. As a result, they argued, Adrian's grant was null and void, and therefore the pope was entitled to nominate a new overlord for Ireland. Acting on this reasoning, the assembly sent two envoys to Spain, asking King Philip II to choose a Habsburg relation of his to be the new monarch of Ireland, subject to the agreement of the Vatican. However, the two envoys, Maurice Fitzgibbon (qv) (MacGibbon), archbishop of Cashel, and Thomas O'Herlihy, bishop of Ross, received no aid, as Philip did not wish to antagonise Elizabeth. In spite of this lack of Spanish support, fitz Maurice persevered in his objectives and attacked the barony of Kerrycurrihy, Co. Cork, in June, thereby initiating the first Desmond rebellion. Although fitz Maurice had a personal motive for attacking Kerrycurrihy, the barony having been held by his father before being mortgaged by the earl to Sir Warham St Leger (qv), it was the religious overtones that made the rebellion especially dangerous. Fitz Maurice viewed the conflict as a catholic crusade against the heretical English protestants. Thus, when he captured Kilmallock, Co. Limerick, he ordered the restoration of the catholic faith within the town, and on 12 July sought the expulsion of all protestants within Cork city.
In response to fitz Maurice's actions Humphrey Gilbert (qv) was appointed commander of English forces in Munster. An unforgiving opponent, Gilbert, in his relentless pursuit of the rebels, undermined the resolve of many of fitz Maurice's allies, with MacCarthy Mór submitting in December. Fitz Maurice, however, remained resolute, and attacked Kilmallock (February 1570, February 1571). Sir John Perrot (qv) was appointed lord president of Munster and campaigned vigorously against the rebels but was unable to end the rebellion, unsuccessfully besieging Castlemaine castle (June–July 1571). Perrot's frustration reached such a level that he challenged fitz Maurice to a duel (November). A combat between the two men, with twenty-four soldiers each, was subsequently arranged. Fitz Maurice did not appear, however, arguing (no doubt correctly) that if he were killed the rebellion would collapse, while if Perrot were killed the English would merely send another commander to the province. The following year Perrot successfully besieged Castlemaine, and towards the end of the year fitz Maurice intimated that he would be prepared to end the rebellion. He met Capt. George Bourchier on 8 December, and eventually (23 February 1573) he submitted to the lord president at Kilmallock, the scene of much of the fighting.
Although the rebellion was over, the province remained unsettled, and towards the end of the year fitz Maurice occupied Carrigafoyle castle. The situation deteriorated further when Desmond, sent back to Dublin (March 1573), escaped in November and made his way to Limerick city, where fitz Maurice welcomed him. Back in Munster, Desmond quickly reestablished control and refused to submit to English officials. In June 1574 fitz Maurice captured Bourchier, then in command of Kilmallock, and held him captive for about a month. The province was finally pacified when Lord Deputy Sir William Fitzwilliam (qv), following a short campaign (August), compelled Desmond to submit (September). Fitz Maurice, however, was never fully reconciled to the failure of the rebellion, and in March 1575 he sailed for France with his family and a small number of supporters. As a result, he lost control of the castles of Glin, Co. Limerick, and Tarbert and Carrigafoyle, Co. Kerry, which Desmond had granted him (23 April 1574) in recompense for Kerrycurrihy until the mortgage to St Leger would be repaid.
Once in France, fitz Maurice began working to instigate another rebellion. Soon after his arrival he was presented to the young king, Henry III. Following this meeting, Henry wrote to Queen Elizabeth on his behalf in July, asking that he be pardoned and that he be restored to his lands in Ireland. Fitz Maurice, though, persevered in his plans, and met Henry again in August 1576. Disappointed with the extent of the king's interest, fitz Maurice left St Malo, where he had settled on his arrival in France, and travelled to Rome. There he met Pope Gregory XIII, who was highly enthusiastic and who on 25 February 1577 issued a papal brief granting a plenary indulgence and remission of sins to those in Ireland who would support fitz Maurice. Having secured the pope's blessing he went to Spain to gather an invasion force. He arrived in May in Madrid, where the king refused to see him. He did, however, meet Dr Nicholas Sanders (qv), one of a number of English catholic exiles then on the Continent seeking assistance for their return to England. Disappointed with the lack of support forthcoming in Madrid, fitz Maurice went to Lisbon by July, although there too he was twice refused an audience with King Sebastian. Nonetheless, he hired a ship and on 19 November set sail from Lisbon for Ireland, but severe storms forced the ship into Moruiero harbour, near Corunna. Worse was to follow, for the crew mutinied and fitz Maurice had them arrested. They escaped their confinement and took the ship and its cargo of weapons and munitions, fitz Maurice discovering this on his return from mass for the feast of the Epiphany (6 January 1578).
Disappointed, he returned to Saint-Malo, but by the end of the year was at Bilbao and had hired another ship. Sanders joined him in March 1579, and on 17 June, with a total force of about sixty, they sailed from La Ferrol with four ships. On the voyage to Ireland they captured a French ship (which was released, as they did not wish to alienate possible future French support) and two English ships. The small flotilla arrived off the Kerry coast at Dingle on 17 July, and they came ashore the following day, when they fortified Dún an Óir fort at Smerwick harbour. Fitz Maurice dispatched letters to various lords seeking their support, but few responded. Then on 1 August the rebellion received a boost when Desmond's brothers, Sir John and Sir James, killed Sir Henry Davells, the constable of Dungarvan, and nineteen others in his party as they slept that night in Tralee. The killing of Davells, who had been sent to ensure Desmond's continued loyalty, committed the brothers to the conflict and increased the strength of the rebel forces. However, fitz Maurice and Sir John soon quarrelled over the death of a woman in the rebel camp. With each claiming command over the rebel forces, and jurisdiction to decide the fate of the killer, a stalemate was reached and fitz Maurice decided to go to the north of Ireland. On his way, however, he got into a confrontation with the Burkes of Clanwilliam over stolen horses and was killed on 18 August 1579. His men cut his head off, to prevent it becoming a trophy for the English, and hid his corpse. Discovered by English forces, the body was quartered, with one quarter each being sent to Limerick, Cork, Kilmallock, and Waterford.
Fitz Maurice was married to Katherine, daughter of William Burke of Clanwilliam, with whom he had two sons, Maurice and Gerald (both d. 1588), and a daughter. He was reported to have abandoned his wife in 1573 for the widow of O'Connor Kerry, but that is uncertain. James fitz Maurice was an orthodox Roman catholic who sought to defend the position of his church and fellow communicants by linking his struggle within Ireland with the catholic powers of Europe. Ultimately, however, his actions led to the destruction of Munster and the overthrow of the Desmond dynasty.