FitzGerald, Thomas fitz John (d. 1328), 2nd earl of Kildare and justiciar of Ireland, was son of John fitz Thomas FitzGerald (qv), 1st earl of Kildare, and Blanche, daughter of John Roche, baron of Fermoy. Initially he was marked out for a clerical career: on account of his father's services to the king, permission was given in 1302 and 1304 to present Thomas to benefices in Ireland worth £100 a year, and before 1306 he was granted the church of Maynooth. This promising career was soon abandoned, on account of the death of his elder brother, Gerald, in 1303. On 16 August 1312 he married Joan, daughter of Richard de Burgh (qv), earl of Ulster, a union that was supposed to symbolise the ending of hostilities between the two families. During the Bruce invasions he fought alongside his father, and was present at the defeat at Ardscull (January 1316). In May that year he received 200 marks from the issues of the bishopric of Cloyne for his service. After his father's death (12 September 1316) he inherited his lands and title, and, in order to ensure the loyalty of the new earl, the king granted him the office of sheriff of Kildare and his lands were constituted as a liberty (2 August 1317). In June 1319 he was given power to receive into English law all of his tenants.
His close links with Roger Mortimer (qv) began when the lord of Wigmore was appointed lieutenant of Ireland in 1317, and the new earl probably served in some of the expeditions that finally led to the defeat of Edward Bruce (qv) in 1318. In May 1319 he was commissioned to look into the sensitive issue of those Anglo-Irish lords who had supported Bruce's campaign in Ireland, though by the following year he was removed from the panel and ordered not to meddle any further with the inquiry. He also presented a petition to the king on behalf of the community of Ireland, which protested strongly at the way in which justiciars, without fear of reprimand, could show clemency to those who killed men of English blood (1319). The same year he also pressed for a grant of the king's service to avenge the death of Richard de Clare (qv). This was agreed to in principle, but nothing seems to have come of the matter. On 23 April 1320 Mortimer nominated him as deputy justiciar before returning to England. He was appointed justiciar on 23 April 1321 and formally paid in that capacity from 30 June. Early in 1321, due to court suspicion over his ties with the now disgraced Mortimer, he was to be replaced by Ralph de Gorges, a Despenser retainer who never reached Ireland, but out of expediency he was not removed from office till 1 October 1321. Despite being cast into political limbo he was summoned to attend the king's abortive expedition to Scotland in 1322. In order to ensure his allegiance, his eldest son, John, was held in England as a hostage, and in 1323 a scheme was mooted to marry the young Kildare heir to a daughter of Hugh Despenser the younger. The proposal came to nothing and John died in England (1323/4).
In May 1324 Kildare was summoned to the parliament at Dublin, where he and others repeated the undertakings of the Kilkenny parliament of 1310 to discipline their followers. After Mortimer's escape from captivity, the fear was expressed that he might attempt to land in Ireland, and Kildare was warned not to aid or communicate with him. He seems to have ignored the warnings, and probably wrote to and received letters from the traitor, though nothing came of these treasonable acts. He stayed away from official circles and was heavily fined for absenting himself from the parliaments of 1325 and 1326. During the crisis in England at the end of 1326 he received a warning from the Despenser regime not to be tempted into rebellion, but by 14 February 1327 the new government informally announced his appointment as justiciar of Ireland, and he took up office on 12 May 1327 during the parliament at Dublin.
His first and most immediate task was to deal with Robert Bruce, who had landed in Ulster hoping to take advantage of the continuing disorder in England. The earl sent an embassy to Bruce, his brother-in-law, and, as a result of some skilful diplomacy and a realisation of changing political circumstances, the Scottish king departed. Thomas then turned his attention to the internecine warfare that had broken out between Maurice fitz Thomas FitzGerald (qv) and the de Berminghams on one hand, and the de Burghs and Arnold le Poer (qv) on the other. But he was unsuccessful; reprimands from England failed to have their desired effect, and at a parliament at Kilkenny in February 1328 he was unable to mediate between the two sides. He died on 5 April 1328 and was buried at the Franciscan church at Kildare. He was succeeded in turn by his two remaining sons; Richard fitz Thomas, 3rd earl of Kildare (d. 1331) and Maurice fitz Thomas (qv), who became 4th earl. His widow went on to marry (July 1329) John Darcy (qv), his successor as justiciar.
His obituaries, very conventional in nature, suggested that his contemporaries neither saw the promise of greatness in him, nor were disappointed when it failed to materialise. Although his failure to tack according to the prevailing political winds never ruined his career, his consistent adherence to Mortimer in the face of Despenser hegemony stemmed the flow of royal patronage. He only began to resume his former influence after the deposition of Edward II. His relatively brief justiciarship was dramatic if not terribly successful; however, it was unlikely that anyone could have brought about a swift resolution to the faction fighting that emerged in 1327. Some of the inquisitions that resulted from this conflict tried to inculpate him in the fantastic plot to make Maurice fitz Thomas king of Ireland. His involvement may be wholly discounted, however; not only was it unlikely that the earl of Kildare would accept the dominance of fitz Thomas but it would also have meant turning his back on his old mentor, Mortimer.