FitzGerald, Thomas ‘fitz Maurice’ (a.1430–1478), 7th earl of Kildare , justiciar, son of John Cam FitzGerald (thus presumably a great-grandson of Maurice fitz Thomas FitzGerald (qv), 4th earl of Kildare), emerged in the 1450s to claim the earldom of Kildare and was recognised as earl c.1455. The succession to the earldom is somewhat obscured after the death (December 1432) of Gerald fitz Maurice FitzGerald (qv), 5th earl of Kildare (who in 1397 had entailed his lands to male relatives, legitimate and illegitimate, placing his brother John first). At that point, the lands of the earldom and the title of earl separated, the former going with the 5th earl's daughter Elizabeth, who married (June 1432) James Butler (qv), 4th earl of Ormond, while the latter seems to have passed to Earl Gerald's brother John. Contemporary sources make this John the father of John Cam, who may have predeceased him, and thus the title passed to his grandson Thomas. Presumably he was called ‘fitz Maurice’ to link himself with the last direct ancestor to hold the earldom effectively.
Nothing is known of his childhood, but it is possible that he was raised in Ormond's household, and that the earl recognised that he was holding the Kildare lands in trust for the young heir. Nevertheless, by 1439 ‘fitz Maurice’ was acting in opposition to Ormond, had allied himself with the O'Byrnes of Wicklow, and was implicated in the kidnapping (1440) of the deputy lieutenant, William Welles (qv). By 1447 ‘fitz Maurice’ had rehabilitated himself somewhat and received a pardon from the Irish parliament. The deaths of Countess Joan and her husband (August 1452) meant that the lands and title were theoretically reunited, although ‘fitz Maurice’ had to fight with William and Edmund Butler (qv) of Dunboyne for the actual possession of his ancestral lands.
He was elected justiciar in October 1454, after the death of Sir Edward FitzEustace, and then appointed deputy lieutenant to Richard of York (qv), serving in that position till at earliest November 1456, and probably to the autumn of 1459. Kildare also served York as the seneschal of the liberty of Meath (1455–60), and used his position as deputy lieutenant to rebuild his family's hold over Kildare. A most important step in this process was the defeat and capture of Conn O'Connor Faly (qv) (1459), which began the process of making the O'Connor Falys into dependants of the earls of Kildare. Kildare actively supported the duke of York while he was in Ireland in 1460 and was again appointed deputy lieutenant when York left. His appointment as deputy lapsed on York's death in December 1460, but he was again elected justiciar, and was confirmed in office by York's son, Edward IV. He remained as justiciar till replaced by Roland FitzEustace (qv), Lord Portlester, in June 1462. He played no role in putting down the pro-Lancastrian rebellion of the Butlers in 1462, but received some of their lands anyway. Kildare was given a life grant of the office of chancellor of Ireland by his brother-in-law, Thomas fitz James FitzGerald (qv), 8th earl of Desmond and deputy of Ireland, in January 1464, and probably held office despite a royal grant giving the office to John Tiptoft (qv), earl of Worcester. Kildare and Desmond were both arrested and charged with treason at the Drogheda parliament (February 1468) by Worcester, who had arrived to replace Desmond as deputy lieutenant. Although Desmond was executed, Kildare escaped with the aid of Portlester, and was eventually pardoned in July 1468, provided he used his influence to bring the Irish of Leinster to peace. He again became chief governor (October 1470–July 1475), serving as justiciar and deputy lieutenant under both Henry VI and Edward IV, mainly because he was the only real candidate for the position.
While Kildare was justiciar, a series of measures were taken for the defence of the Pale, culminating in the foundation of the Guild of St George. During this period Kildare was opposed by William Sherwood (qv), bishop of Meath, and Sherwood's complaints to the king were probably the reason the king sent Sir Gilbert Debenham on an embassy to Ireland early in 1473. In August 1474 Debenham was made chancellor and sent a force of archers to help defend Ireland. There are indications that Kildare was not pleased with the existence of this independent force, but he was replaced as deputy by Sherwood (July 1475). Kildare returned as justiciar in February 1478, when Sherwood's patent of office was extinguished by the execution of the lieutenant, George, duke of Clarence. However, Kildare only held office as justiciar for a month before his death (March 1478).
The achievements of Earl Thomas are often underrated, especially when compared to those of his son, but it must be remembered that he started with far less than his son did. He rebuilt his family's fortunes from almost nothing and showed an extremely clear understanding of the Irish polity of his day. He made connections throughout Ireland, starting with his marriage to Joan, daughter of James fitz Gerald FitzGerald (qv), 7th earl of Desmond. He learned the importance of the office of chief governor and used the power of that office to start the process of bringing the local Gaelic lords under his control, and then used his children to cement alliances with both Anglo-Irish and Gaelic lords. He was also an active supporter of the church, sponsoring foundations at Adare, Co. Limerick, with his wife, and at Dunshaughlin, Co. Meath, with the earl of Worcester. After his death, he was buried in All Hallows, Dublin, and the work began by him was continued by his son Gerald (qv), the ‘great earl’ of Kildare.