Fitzgibbon (Macgibbon), Maurice (d. 1578), archbishop of Cashel and catholic envoy to Spain, was the illegitimate son of a member of the powerful Fitzgerald dynasty of Munster. He joined the Cistercian order, becoming abbot of the monastery of St Mary de Magio at Monasternenagh, Co. Limerick. He seems to have spent much of his early life on the continent and could speak a number of European languages. In Rome on 4 June 1567 he was provided to the archbishopric of Cashel, and was consecrated eleven days later. In order to become an archbishop he was granted dispensation both for his illegitimacy and his lack of a university degree. He arrived in Spain in late April 1568 and, worried about being arrested in Ireland, attempted to get the Spanish authorities to intercede on his behalf with Queen Elizabeth I of England. By May it was apparent that the queen would not tolerate Fitzgibbon's presence in Ireland, leading the papal nuncio in Spain to give him the option to continue indefinitely in exile.
Overcoming his trepidation, Fitzgibbon had returned to Ireland by November when, attracting local support, he expelled James MacCawell, his rival Church of Ireland archbishop, from Cashel before celebrating mass in the cathedral. However, MacCawell was soon restored by royal troops and Fitzgibbon went into hiding. At the start of 1569 he was present at a meeting of the leading lords and catholic prelates of Munster, who decided to appeal to King Philip II of Spain for military aid in their planned rebellion against English rule. Fitzgibbon was to be their envoy and would present a petition to Philip offering the kingdom of Ireland to a kinsman of Philip's of his choosing. This choice would be subject to the pope's approval.
He left Ireland in early February and reached the Spanish court during April to present the petition to the king. Philip was sympathetic and granted him a yearly pension of 1,000 ducats. Moreover, Fitzgibbon soon attracted the patronage of powerful Spanish ministers and courtiers, most notably Cardinal Espinosa, who assured him of military aid within a year. Encouraged, he wrote in a similar vein to the Munster confederates, who commenced their rebellion.
However, their envoy had been too credulous. Philip hoped to improve his relations with Elizabeth and was awaiting her response to his overtures; until then he had no intention of supporting such an undertaking. Exasperated by the lack of progress, on 4 May 1570 the Munster rebels wrote rebuking Fitzgibbon for raising false hopes and for failing in his mission. Later that year Fitzgibbon suffered further setbacks. First, on 29 July, Pope Pius V wrote chiding him for offering the Irish throne to Spain without his consent and implied that such consent would not be forthcoming. Then he fell out with the English adventurer and sometime pirate Thomas Stukeley (qv), who had arrived in Madrid earlier that year. At first Fitzgibbon believed Stukeley was the man to lead a Spanish expedition to Ireland, but he quickly became jealous of the favour that was showered upon Sir Thomas and the manner in which he usurped his scheme for invading Ireland. He may also have come to appreciate the Englishman's self-serving and treacherous nature. On 16 December, Fitzgibbbon met with Philip and denounced Stukeley, outlining his past misdeeds in great detail. Perhaps wearying of Fitzgibbon's hectoring, Philip affected to disbelieve him.
Totally discredited, Fitzgibbon left Spain in January 1571 for Paris. He did so without authorisation from Philip who directed his agents in the city to monitor the archbishop's activities. Fitzgibbon hoped to win support in France for the Irish rebels, particularly from the ultra-catholic Guise faction. However, he first met with the English ambassador, Sir Francis Walsingham, on 26 March and announced that he was prepared to reveal details of Stukeley's plans in return for a royal pardon and a restoration to his see. Walsingham distrusted Fitzgibbon and arranged for one of his spies, an Irishman named Thomas Bathe, to enter the archbishop's service. Fitzgibbon subsequently gained interviews with the cardinal of Lorraine and the duke of Anjou, but Bathe later discredited him with both men by telling them that Fitzgibbon had little influence.
Thwarted and in financial distress (his Spanish pension having presumably been withdrawn), Fitzgibbon reopened his communications with Walsingham, who hoped either to lure him into travelling to England or to procure his arrest and extradition by the French authorities. For his part, Fitzgibbon appears to have been hoping to secure passage to Ireland without divulging any important information. Initially, he accepted Walsingham's offer of safe conduct to England, but prudently changed his mind and refused absolutely to go. His fate there would surely have been torture and execution. Fearful of Walsingham's machinations, he fled Paris for Nantes in late April.
He appears to have gone to Spain before travelling to Ireland in late 1571, most likely on a diplomatic mission to the rebels. On his way back to the continent he was arrested in April 1572 in Dundee, Scotland, and imprisoned in Leith; later he was moved to another fort, probably Dunbar. Elizabeth immediately pressed for his extradition, but the Scots demanded a bounty that she was not prepared to pay. During his captivity Fitzgibbon repeatedly stressed that he was a subject of the king of Spain, which encouraged his captors to believe that the Spanish would pay a ransom for him. After a failed escape attempt in July, he apparently broke out of prison with outside help at the start of September and fled to the continent from Aberdeen.
He returned to Spain and resumed his intrigues with little success before travelling in June 1573 to Brussels. There the Spanish viceroy, the duke of Alba, favoured him, but displayed no interest in his plans for Ireland. Instead, Fitzgibbon began plotting with various English exiles in Brussels against Stukeley, who was still highly regarded in Madrid. However, Stukeley undermined this scheme by bribing a key conspirator. In March 1574 Fitzgibbon was back in Madrid and receiving a yearly pension of 300 ducats. He was living in Oporto, Portugal, in November 1575, by which time ill health had forced him into retirement, and died there in 1578.