FitzGerald, Thomas fitz James (c.1420–1468), 8th earl of Desmond , eldest son of James fitz Gerald FitzGerald (qv), 7th earl, and his wife Mary, daughter of Uilleag Burke (qv), 5th lord of Clanricard, was the first member of his family to play a prominent role in the Dublin administration for over a century. His rise to national prominence came after he defeated John Butler (qv), 6th earl of Ormond, at the battle of Pilltown in the early summer of 1462, effectively ending Butler's attempt to raise a pro-Lancastrian rebellion in Ireland. He succeeded to the earldom shortly after his victory and was rewarded by several grants, including the offices of constable of Limerick castle and steward of the lordship of Connacht, and with custody of the Irish lands of the earldom of March (August 1462). Desmond was further rewarded (April 1463) when he was appointed deputy lieutenant, probably with the expectation that he would use his influence in Munster to expand the power of the Dublin administration. His efforts in this direction initially seemed to be quite successful. His first parliament was better attended than those held by his immediate predecessors, and sessions were held outside the Pale for the first time in decades. It also loosened the restrictions on trade with the Gaelic Irish of Munster. However, Desmond's successes in this direction were countered by the general distrust that the men of the Pale had for him. Although he actively campaigned against the O'Briens and made peace with Aodh Ruadh O'Donnell (qv) and Uilleag Burke of Clanricard, the Palesmen – led by William Sherwood (qv), bishop of Meath – were still uneasy. Complaints about his conduct were sent to the king as early as the winter of 1463–4; he was summoned to England in the summer of 1464, but retained his position and returned to Ireland. The earliest indications that the king was prepared to replace him came in May 1465 when John Tiptoft (qv), earl of Worcester, was appointed deputy; but Worcester failed to come to Ireland. Desmond's relations with Sherwood and the Pale worsened in 1465, and his second parliament was far less amenable to control. His defeat by Conn ÓConnor Faly (qv) in 1466 seems to have provided the final impetus to remove him from office. Worcester was again appointed deputy lieutenant in the spring of 1467, arriving to take office in October 1467. Desmond's relations with the new deputy seemed good at first, but he and Thomas fitz Maurice FitzGerald (qv), 7th earl of Kildare, were suddenly arrested in February 1468 and Desmond was executed on 15 February. The reasons for his execution have spawned several myths, including one that the queen of England secretly ordered it after Desmond expressed misgivings over the royal marriage; but the simplest explanation is that the king sent Worcester to regain control in Ireland and that he used the methods he was accustomed to using in England. Desmond's execution was condemned in Ireland, and his brother Garrett (Gerrot) led raids into the Pale in retaliation. By his marriage to Ellice, daughter of James Barry (the Barry Mór), Desmond had one heir, James (qv), who, however, was still a minor in 1468. The execution had the effect of severing almost all connections between the Dublin administration and the earls of Desmond for the next half-century.
CPR, 1461–8; Stat. Ire. 1–12 Edw. IV; Otway-Ruthven, Med. Ire.; Art Cosgrove, ‘The execution of the earl of Desmond, 1468’, Kerry Arch. Soc. Jn., viii (1975), 11–28; NHI, ix