Fitzwilliam, Sir William (1526–99), vice-treasurer and lord deputy of Ireland, was eldest son of Sir William Fitzwilliam of Milton, Northamptonshire, England, and Anne, daughter of Sir Richard Sapcote of Elton, Huntingdonshire. Fitzwilliam was a relative of John Russell, 1st earl of Bedford, who presented him to Edward VI, leading to his appointment as marshal of the king's bench. He married (1543) Anne, daughter of Sir William Sidney of Penshurst, Kent; they had two sons and three daughters. He became a member of the royal court during the reign of Edward VI, who appointed him keeper of the king's bench prison. Although a protestant, he supported the accession of the catholic Queen Mary in 1553 in the face of a challenge from Lady Jane Grey, for which he was knighted on 2 October; he was also entrusted with important positions within the local government of Northamptonshire.
Reforming vice-treasurer By then he was closely associated with a group of young courtiers congregated around Thomas Radcliffe (qv), later 3rd earl of Sussex, who had realised that service in Ireland provided them with an opportunity for political and financial advancement. In October 1554 he was appointed head of a commission charged with inquiring into allegations of corruption within the royal administration of Ireland. On arriving in Dublin to take up this position, he was sworn a member of the Irish privy council and also appointed head of a royal commission for managing the leasing of crown lands. Thereafter, he directed a series of reports to London that exposed the manner in which the lord deputy of Ireland, Sir Anthony St Leger (qv), had corruptly mismanaged crown finances and property for the benefit of himself and of his political associates. He also denigrated St Leger's policy of seeking to govern Ireland with the consent and cooperation of the native Irish lords. Eventually, St. Leger was recalled in disgrace in July 1556 and replaced as viceroy of Ireland by Fitzwilliam's patron Sussex.
Sussex embarked on an aggressive policy of military expansionism in Ulster and the midlands, which required a significant expansion in the royal military establishment. This strategy was opposed by the Pale gentry who had to bear the burden of maintaining this enlarged army, and their criticism had the effect of forcing Sussex to rule through an inner clique of loyal adherents that included Fitzwilliam, whom he appointed vice-treasurer of Ireland (July 1559). This position gave him control of crown finances in Ireland and made him the second most important official within the Dublin administration. As vice-treasurer, he received a lease of the royal manor at Athlone and played a role in the local administration of Westmeath, being captain of the royal garrison at Athlone and later being appointed seneschal of the western parts of the county. In 1559 he sat in the Irish parliament as MP for Carlow county.
From January to August 1560 he served as lord justice of Ireland during the temporary absence of Sussex in England. As such, he tried to undermine two of Sussex's chief critics in Ireland – Gerald Fitzgerald (qv), 11th earl of Kildare, and Gerald Fitzgerald (qv), 15th earl of Desmond, whom he accused of being in alliance with Irish rebels. Sussex and his cohorts sought to rule Ireland with the support of Thomas Butler (qv), 10th earl of Ormond, and the attendant Butler interest. Conversely they were hostile to the Butlers’ traditional foes within the Fitzgerald faction, which was powerful in the midlands, parts of the Pale, and Munster. Throughout his career Fitzwilliam would align himself closely with Ormond, who, as well as being the dominant magnate in Co. Kilkenny and Co. Tipperary, was also on good terms with the queen.
With Sussex forced to absent himself at court in order to defend his controversial policies, he served further terms as lord justice (January–June 1561, January–July 1562). During his second term he campaigned against Shane O'Neill (qv), lord of Tyrone, against whom he repeatedly urged military action. Instead Queen Elizabeth I forced him to continue negotiations with the rebel leader. In 1562 Sir Nicholas Arnold (qv) was dispatched to Ireland to investigate Sussex's stewardship of the royal finances in Ireland, and insinuated that Fitzwilliam was guilty of financial malpractice. Much as Fitzwilliam had done eight years previously, Arnold was seeking to establish a bridgehead in Dublin to facilitate the takeover of the Irish administration by a newly ascendant court faction led by the royal favourite Robert Dudley. After succeeding Sussex as governor of Ireland in May 1564, Arnold immediately overturned his predecessor's policies by reducing the size of the army and by seeking to conciliate the Fitzgeralds, Shane O'Neill, and the Pale gentry.
Factional rivalry and disillusionment Fitzwilliam orchestrated resistance to Arnold's reforms within the royal administration and among the army captains who, taking their cue from Fitzwilliam's refusal to hand over his accounts for Arnold's perusal, similarly declined to yield their accounts. During 1564–5 a furious factional struggle raged in Dublin between Arnold and Fitzwilliam, and at the royal court between Sussex and Dudley. Fitzwilliam was particularly scathing of the manner in which Arnold gave the earl of Kildare full responsibility for the defence of the Pale and of the plantation settlement in the midlands, and portrayed him as being beholden to the Irish interest. His criticisms were largely vindicated by events as Arnold's pacific measures were interpreted as a sign of weakness by disaffected Irish lords in Ulster, the midlands, and Munster, leading to an upsurge in violence.
Arnold was recalled in 1565, but was replaced by another adherent of Dudley's, Sir Henry Sidney (qv), who ruthlessly purged the civil and military establishment of Sussex's adherents. The conspicuous exception to this process was Fitzwilliam, mainly because he and Sidney were brothers-in-law. He played a leading role in Sidney's government, being one of the most active government officials and a regular attender of privy council meetings. However, the brothers-in-law were aligned with opposing factions, and Sussex's success in rehabilitating himself in the queen's eyes undermined Sidney, who was summoned to England in autumn 1567. In his absence Fitzwilliam served as joint lord justice from October 1567 to October 1568 and, on the queen's orders, reversed Sidney's attempts to establish good relations with the O'Neills of Tyrone and the Fitzgeralds of Desmond. In spring 1568 he led an unsuccessful campaign against Scottish forces that had landed in north-east Ulster, for which he was castigated by the queen, and clashed with a number of army captains associated with Sidney, who accused him of deliberately withholding their salaries. By then he was showing signs of disenchantment with the progress of his career in Ireland, having protested against his fourth appointment as lord justice, claiming that the office was too much of a burden, particularly on his finances. The frequent and drawn-out iteration of his financial woes was to become his favoured tactic for warding off allegations of financial corruption.
Suffering from ill health, he spent much of 1570 recovering in England, during which time the first proper audit of his accounts as vice-treasurer of Ireland revealed that the crown had accumulated costs of £348,000, an astronomical sum, for the ten years ending June 1569, and that 90 per cent of this had been financed by subsidies from the English exchequer; a damning verdict on Fitzwilliam's inability either to rein in spending or to raise revenues in Ireland. Worse still, irregularities in his accounts led the queen to hold him personally accountable for the sum of £4,000. In January 1571 he returned to Dublin and was appointed lord justice for a fifth time in March. By this time, he had had enough of Ireland and beseeched the queen to allow him to retire to England once she had appointed a permanent replacement for Sidney. However, there were no takers at court for the lord deputyship of Ireland, the position then being perceived as a poisoned chalice, leading the queen to grant Fitzwilliam this dubious and unlooked-for promotion in January 1572; within months he was lobbying to be recalled. Presumably the queen believed that his desire to be forgiven his debt to the crown would motivate him to perform well in office, and on elevating him to the lord deputyship she reduced his debt to £3,000.
Lord deputy of Ireland The reasons for his pessimism were obvious to all. Sidney had bequeathed him ruinous public debts and a bloated and overextended military establishment that had alienated powerful clans throughout the country during a period of aggressive expansionism in 1569–71. Fitzwilliam's instructions were to reduce the army and cut public expenditure to the bone in a bid to restore the crown's finances in Ireland. In order to do so, he proposed governing Ireland with the cooperation of the Irish lords, and adopted the more modest goals of consolidating the crown's position in Leinster, and to a lesser extent in Munster. By then, he had concluded that Ireland could only be subdued by force; but as the queen was unwilling to finance such a conquest, it was better to let sleeping dogs lie. Ironically, Fitzwilliam now promoted the very strategy that he had decried during Arnold's governorship of Ireland.
On assuming the governorship of Ireland, he was obliged to retain all of Sidney's supporters within the administration and army, which meant he was never securely in control of the royal administration. Moreover, by spring 1571, he had become embroiled in a war of words with Sidney, whom he sought to blame for the turmoil in Ireland. Desperate to redeem his reputation, from mid 1572 Sidney began agitating for his own reappointment as lord deputy, at which his patrons at the royal court and his clients in Dublin mounted a campaign designed to discredit Fitzwilliam. The beleaguered lord deputy sought to defend himself in writing lengthy self-justificatory missives to the queen, who was, however, irritated by his pessimism and by his often impenetrably allusive prose.
As a result, he was unable to dissuade her from countenancing ill-advised and largely privately funded colonial ventures led by Sir Thomas Smith (qv) in the Ards peninsula in Co. Down (1572) and by Walter Devereux (qv), 1st earl of Essex, in Co. Antrim (1573). He predicted correctly that these ventures would provoke the local Irish into taking up arms and that he would come under pressure to assist these English adventurers. During 1573–5 he clashed repeatedly with Essex, who demanded government support for his stillborn colony and attempted to replace him as lord deputy. He also quarrelled bitterly with Sir Edward Fitton (qv), the president of Connacht and an adherent of Sidney's, who was effectively driven out of Connacht in summer 1572 by a rebellion led by the sons of Richard Burke (qv), 2nd earl of Clanricard. Believing that the best means of pacifying the province was to delegate authority there to Clanricard and to allow the presidency of Connacht to lapse, Fitzwilliam frustrated Fitton's attempts to try Clanricard for treason, leading to an open row between them at the council table. Like Essex, with whom he was soon making common cause, Fitton suspected that Fitzwilliam had deliberately encouraged the local Irish to oppose him.
Fitzwilliam's main priority on becoming lord deputy was to reduce the crown's debts in Ireland. In order to further this goal and to ease the burden imposed on the Pale in providing for the royal army, he secured in spring 1572 an agreement whereby he would maintain the royal army in garrisons outside the Pale and accept personal responsibility for the provisioning of the army if the Pale would waive a large debt of £70,000 owed by the crown. He hoped that this initiative would place his government on a much firmer political and financial footing, but was undone by his enemies at court, who ensured that the queen did not fulfil her promise to keep him regularly supplied with subsidies. As a result, he was compelled to borrow on his own credit and by the start of 1574 claimed to be £6,000 in debt. This was, however, insufficient to keep the soldiers supplied, who in turn began seizing food and livestock from landowners in the Pale. By late 1574 these depredations had sparked a well organized and well supported campaign of civil disobedience and resistance to the armed forces within the Pale.
Further reflecting the queen's lack of confidence in his stewardship of her Irish finances, in early 1573 she stripped him of his vice-treasurership and handed this position to his enemy Fitton. This prevented Fitzwilliam from using royal revenues to pay off his own debts, and the periodic arrival of subsidies from England inevitably led to recriminations with Fitton over their distribution. The animosity between its two leading officials paralysed the Dublin administration for much of 1573–4. Meanwhile the continued opposition to provisioning the army within the Pale had bankrupted the government and necessitated the dispatch of emergency subsidies from England in early 1575.
Breakdown of royal authority in Ireland The reduction in the royal military establishment in 1571 led to renewed assaults by the O'Moore's of Leix and the O'Byrnes of Wicklow on English settlements in the midlands and the Pale. In response, Fitzwilliam empowered the earls of Kildare and Ormond to maintain order in the province. However, Ormond was distracted by local feuds, by opposition from within his family to his loyalist stance, and by his absence at court during 1572–3. This forced Fitzwilliam to rely on Kildare, who appears to have fomented further trouble in the midlands as a means of highlighting his own indispensability to the government. Such was the chaos prevalent in Leinster that by 1574 Fitzwilliam only left Dublin city with an escort of 100 armed men for fear of being ambushed by rebels. He was criticised for remaining within Dublin, unlike Sidney, who had regularly led military campaigns against rebel Irish. From 1573 he authorised English seneschals at Ferns, Leighlinbridge, and Maryborough to prosecute the rebels with the utmost severity and defended them from criticisms of their subsequent excesses, which appears to have inflamed matters further. The brutality of the seneschals conflicted with his strategy of relying on the cooperation of the earls and led to Ormond becoming disillusioned with his ally.
Rather unusually, he enjoyed good relations with the president of Munster, John Perrot (qv), and cooperated efficiently with him in seeking to quell a revolt in the province by the Fitzgeralds of Desmond. Perrot had largely subdued the rebels by the close of 1572, only for Fitzwilliam's enemies at court to undermine him once again by convincing the queen to release the Fitzgeralds’ leader, the earl of Desmond, from imprisonment in England. Believing that Desmond would seek to overthrow the presidency of Munster, Fitzwilliam demanded that the earl accept strict limits on his authority within his lordship and detained him indefinitely in Dublin when he refused to do so. However, Desmond escaped in November 1573 and returned to Munster, where he and his men captured several royal castles and attacked loyalists. A tense stand-off between Desmond and Fitzwilliam ensued for much of 1574. Suspecting Fitzwilliam of partisanship against Desmond, the queen rebuked him for his handling of the situation and for his passivity in the immediate aftermath of the earl's escape. Only in late summer 1574 did Fitzwilliam receive the royal assent for military action and marched into Munster at the head of a small army. After he captured Derinlaur castle in Co. Waterford in August, Desmond reopened negotiations and submitted to Fitzwilliam at Cork in September.
Desmond's submission had the effect of influencing disaffected lords elsewhere in the country to draw back from open rebellion, but the country remained highly unsettled. Meanwhile, he tried to distract attention from the failures of his government by attempting to frame the earl of Kildare for treason from late 1574. The case against Kildare was not very strong; but, suspecting that the earl had been alerted to his machinations, Fitzwilliam arrested him in May 1575. A frenzied attempt to uncover evidence in the midlands ended in failure and the earl was eventually cleared, but not before being needlessly alienated from the crown. The queen finally put Fitzwilliam out of his misery and assented to his resignation and return to England in September. Although he appears to have benefited financially from his time as vice-treasurer, his lord deputyship does seem to have been financially ruinous.
Return to Ireland From 1575 to 1588 he lived quietly at his residence in Milton, Northamptonshire. He leased Fotheringhay Castle, where Mary, queen of Scots, was imprisoned prior to her execution in 1587, and apparently treated her with kindness. On 17 February 1588 he was called out of retirement and reappointed lord deputy of Ireland, thanks to the efforts of his wife's cousin Lord Burghley, the lord treasurer of England. On assuming office (30 June), he found the crown's position in Ireland much improved, with only Ulster remaining outside the Dublin administration's grasp. As before, he was expected to govern cheaply and not attempt any ambitious policy initiatives. He was almost immediately confronted by a serious military crisis in September when twenty-five ships from the Spanish armada were wrecked off the western coast. On 4 November he left Dublin to mount an energetic and bloody campaign in Co. Sligo and Co. Leitrim against the hapless armada survivors.
On his appointment as lord deputy, he was granted a higher salary than normal due to his straitened financial circumstances: he still owed the crown just under £1,800. As a result, his main priority was his own self-enrichment, which he pursued relentlessly and to the detriment of good government in Ireland. Indeed, the uncharacteristic decisiveness he showed in leading his forces to encounter the Spanish armada survivors would appear to have been due to his eagerness to salvage valuables from the wrecked ships. With the aid of his patron Burghley, he presided over a campaign to uncover so-called ‘concealed lands’, property rightfully belonging to the crown that was held by private individuals. Ostensibly designed to raise royal revenues, in practice it became a process whereby local officials utilised their control of the judicial process to seize property for themselves, often on very dubious legal pretexts. Fitzwilliam presumably benefited from his indulgence of such chicanery, which caused extreme discontent in Munster and Connacht, and employed as his agent Patrick Crosby, one of the most notorious land-grabbers in the country.
Elsewhere, he sold positions in the church and state to the highest, and often least suitable, bidder while he took bribes from a number of Gaelic lords. Foremost among these was Hugh O'Neill (qv), earl of Tyrone, whom he praised as the main guarantor of order in Ulster. While he left Tyrone's lordship in central Ulster well enough alone, he did seek to expand piecemeal into the north, and imposed English sheriffs on a number of lordships in the south of the province. Many of these officials acted in a very heavy-handed fashion but were careful to share the proceeds of their thefts and extortions with Fitzwilliam, who shielded them from government investigations. His venality at times led him into startling about-turns, which earned him a reputation for unpredictability and treachery and alarmed Tyrone and other independent lords.
Rivalry with Perrot During 1589 Fitzwilliam's corrupt activities left him exposed when he fell into political difficulties on a variety of fronts. Despite their previous good relationship, he quickly fell out with his predecessor as lord deputy, Sir John Perrot, and their mutual antagonism deepened in spring 1589 when Perrot became one of the queen's main advisers on Ireland in London. Thereafter, Fitzwilliam found his decisions being questioned and opposed by Perrot's clients within the Irish government and that appointments and policies were being imposed on him by the queen through Perrot's mediation. Meanwhile, he also clashed with the independent-minded president of Connacht, Sir Richard Bingham (qv), whom he sought to blame for a revolt that had broken out in Connacht in early 1589. He visited Connacht that summer and, after lending a sympathetic ear to the complaints of the former rebels regarding Bingham's tyrannical conduct, authorised an inquiry into the president's rule of the province. However, the queen rebuked Fitzwilliam for his partisanship and the inquiry cleared Bingham of all the charges against him. Indeed, it was rumoured that Fitzwilliam had encouraged the Connacht Irish to rebel against Bingham in order to provide a pretext for his intervention in the province. Thereafter, a chastened Fitzwilliam made no further attempt to restrain Bingham's brutal self-aggrandisement in Connacht.
During summer 1589 he attempted to exploit for the crown's benefit a succession dispute to the lordship of the MacMahons, comprising Co. Monaghan. At first, he agreed to assist Hugh Roe MacMahon in deposing Brian MacHugh Og MacMahon as ruler of that lordship. However, by November he had fallen out with Hugh Roe and had imprisoned him. The lord deputy's enemies alleged that Fitzwilliam had supported Hugh Roe after being assured of a bribe of 800 cows, but had turned on his ally after he failed to deliver.
Perrot was kept well informed of these controversies and was eager to exploit them to bring about Fitzwilliam's downfall, and by the close of 1589 reports were circulating that Perrot would soon be reappointed lord deputy. Aware of his own vulnerability, Fitzwilliam resorted to desperate measures in February 1590 by accusing Perrot of having plotted treason with King Philip II of Spain in 1585. The charge was based on the unconvincing testimony of a renegade catholic priest, Dennis O'Roughan, who was then imprisoned in Dublin castle and had clearly been induced to make this fantastical claim by Fitzwilliam.
His main patron in London, Burghley, had not been privy to this plot and was furious at Fitzwilliam for engaging in such a clumsy manoeuvre. Initially it appeared as if the charge would backfire, as the queen appointed a commission composed mainly of Perrot's allies to investigate O'Roughan's claims. However, the death of the queen's principal secretary, Francis Walsingham, in April led to Burghley assuming that office and thereby becoming the queen's most powerful minister. Determined to prevent his newfound preeminence from being undone by embarrassing revelations concerning his client's misrule of Ireland, Burghley threw his weight behind the plot against Perrot, and by May had persuaded the queen to arrest the former lord deputy for treason. During the course of the summer, Fitzwilliam variously discredited, arrested, removed from office, or cowed into acquiescence most of Perrot's supporters in Ireland, and for the first time in his career enjoyed unfettered dominance of the Irish administration.
However, the manner in which Perrot's downfall was achieved severely undermined the cohesion of the royal government in Ireland. The purge of Perrot's allies deprived the state of many experienced and able administrators, and had led to the removal of nearly all leading Irish officials. Previously these native officeholders had played a key role in mediating between the crown and their compatriots, and this development intensified the sense of fear and incomprehension with which many Gaelic lords in Ulster regarded the state. Fitzwilliam was aware of these dangers and begged Burghley to release and restore some of these Irish to office. To no avail: Burghley's overriding concern was to secure Perrot's conviction for treason, and this necessitated the depiction of Perrot being engaged in a massive conspiracy against the queen, in alliance with a disloyal and catholic-sympathising clique of Irish officeholders. In an alarming development, one of Fitzwilliam's key Irish clients, Sir Robert Dillon (qv), chief justice of the common pleas, became embroiled in accusations of corruption and treason (August 1590). Given that in 1589 Dillon had been Fitzwilliam's proxy in his highly dubious dealings with the Connacht rebels and with the MacMahons, this left Fitzwilliam in danger of being consumed by his own conspiracy. Curiously, Burghley countenanced the case against Dillon – he seems to have remained annoyed with Fitzwilliam for instigating the crisis, and this may have been a way of warning him to behave with more circumspection in future. Nonetheless, the need to find convincing evidence to convict Perrot – he was finally convicted for treason in summer 1592 – and to extricate Dillon – he was eventually cleared in 1593 – distracted Fitzwilliam from an unfolding crisis in Ulster.
Crisis in Ulster In autumn 1590 Fitzwilliam acted ruthlessly to eliminate a possible source of evidence of his corruption by executing Hugh Roe MacMahon at apparently rigged judicial sessions in Monaghan. However, there were other motives behind this act. The hapless Hugh Roe was executed for having levied traditional Gaelic military exactions on the queen's Irish subjects in Monaghan. Previously Gaelic lords had promised to desist from imposing these exactions but imposed them anyway, and royal officials had tacitly tolerated it. In executing MacMahon, Fitzwilliam sent a clear message that such actions would no longer be permitted. He followed this up in 1591 by imposing a radical land settlement on the county, which undermined the MacMahon lordship by recognising the rights of freeholders to their property. This initiative was hailed by administrators in Dublin and London as a model for all future settlements in Ulster.
Having benefited handsomely from bribes from various MacMahon lords and landowners when finalising the Monaghan settlement, Fitzwilliam decided that enacting similar arrangements on the rest of Ulster would prove far more financially and politically rewarding than continuing to appease Tyrone. His relations with the earl deteriorated accordingly and he supported the efforts of the marshal of Ulster, Henry Bagenal (qv), to bring Tyrone to heel. However, Tyrone's strategic position in Ulster was greatly strengthened by the escape of Red Hugh O'Donnell (qv) from Dublin castle in December 1591, O'Donnell's expulsion of an English garrison from his lordship of Tyrconnell, and his alliance with Tyrone against his enemies within the O'Neill dynasty. As well as overturning the military balance of power in Ulster, O'Donnell's escape was politically embarrassing for Fitzwilliam, as the queen suspected that he had connived at it in return for a large bribe from Tyrone. This is probably not the case, but O'Donnell definitely had some inside help and the lack of official correspondence relating to this event suggests a cover-up.
During 1592–4 Tyrone and O'Donnell consolidated their position and put together a formidable confederation of Ulster lords, determined to resist further encroachments into the province. With the queen unable to provide Fitzwilliam with the requisite financial and military support with which to confront Tyrone and his allies due to her continuing war with Spain, he was obliged to temporise with them. In early 1593 Tyrone's provocative behaviour, together with widespread reports that he had sought a military alliance with Spain, led Fitzwilliam and his privy council to travel to the border town of Dundalk that June to negotiate with the earl. When Tyrone came before them, the privy council interrogated him regarding his alleged treason, but he successfully defended himself. Fitzwilliam pressed for his arrest, but was overborne by his colleagues, who felt that the evidence against the earl was too weak to warrant such a risky course of action. Moreover, the counsellors undoubtedly felt threatened by the rather large army Tyrone had assembled just outside Dundalk. Despite Fitzwilliam's objections, the privy council also authorised Tyrone to subdue the rebellion of Hugh Maguire (qv), which led to a brief thaw in relations; Tyrone actually fought alongside Fitzwilliam against Maguire in Fermanagh in winter 1593–4.
In this campaign Fitzwilliam captured Enniskillen castle, in which he installed a royal garrison, and immediately set about implementing a Monaghan-style land settlement in Co. Fermanagh. This, combined with his earlier treacherous execution of Hugh Roe MacMahon, convinced the nobility of Ulster to rally around Tyrone in armed opposition to the crown. With war seemingly inevitable, Fitzwilliam's health collapsed in January 1594, rendering him incapable of participating in last-ditch negotiations with Tyrone at Dundalk in March. In a bid to placate Tyrone, who had complained that her lord deputy was biased against him, the queen recalled Fitzwilliam in March 1594, citing his ill health, and appointed Bingham and Sir Robert Gardiner to rule as lords justices. Fearing that Bingham and Gardiner, who were ill disposed towards him, would accuse him of corruption, Fitzwilliam refused to relinquish his office, claiming that his health had recovered and that during a time of crisis Ireland should only be ruled by a lord deputy. This behaviour led to a row with Gardiner and infuriated the queen, who appointed William Russell (qv) as lord deputy in May. Fitzwilliam finally resigned his office and returned rather ignominiously to England on Russell's arrival in Dublin in August.
Retirement Nonetheless, he had been right to be worried about allegations of corruption, particularly in the context of a bitter factional struggle at court between Burghley and Robert Devereux (qv), 2nd earl of Essex. Identifying Fitzwilliam as Burghley's weak link, Essex's adherents in London and Dublin condemned his government of Ireland in the strongest terms. In 1593 Robert Legge and in 1594 Thomas Lee (qv) each presented impressively detailed and voluminous corruption charges against Fitzwilliam, which, however, were suppressed by Burghley. Legge calculated that Fitzwilliam had made illicit profits of at least £9,600 during 1588–94. His retirement was neither a peaceful nor happy one, being spent enduring poor health, blindness, a bitter quarrel with his son, and constant criticism for his actions as lord deputy. Meanwhile, in Ireland the royal government proved unable to cope with Tyrone's rebellion and suffered a series of military reverses that left it on the verge of complete collapse at the time of Fitzwilliam's death in 1599. In their negotiations with the government the rebel leaders referred repeatedly to their ill-treatment at Fitzwilliam's hands and demanded that he be tried for corruption and tyranny. Many royal officials blamed him for being the root of all their woes and were sympathetic to these demands. In 1596 the queen was so angry that she summoned him to her presence, but he avoided going by feigning illness. Fortunately for him, Burghley and his son Robert Cecil proved effective patrons and no action was ever taken against him.
Shortly before his death at Milton (22 June 1599), he composed a self-justificatory account of his actions as lord deputy. His ostentatiously modest funeral service seems to have been designed to refute charges of having corruptly enriched himself, while he asserted in his will that he was heavily in debt. However, modern studies of his private finances suggests that his constant protests at having beggared himself through years of public service were untrue, and that any financial troubles he encountered in his final years were due to the profligacy of his family. He was buried in the church of Marham, Norfolk.