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1537] EXECUTION OF SILKEN THOMAS
Slane, but Skeffington's artillery once decided the fortunes of the day, and the young earl was hopelessly crushed.
He retreated among the wooded defiles of the mountains; but eventually surrendered to Lord Leonard Grey, who had succeeded Skeffington as lord-deputy in July 1535, on a promise of safety and protection. The promise, it is said, was confirmed upon the sacrament; but no sanctity of association prevented Grey from sending Silken Thomas a prisoner to London. Thither his five uncles were also despatched, three of whom, having taken no share in the rebellion, had been treacherously arrested by the lord-deputy at a banquet to which he had invited them. All were committed to the Tower. In May 1536 an act of attainder was passed against Kildare and his relatives, and in June 1537 the young Geraldine, then in his twenty-fourth year, perished with his five uncles on the scaffold. On the walls of the state prison where young Fitzgerald was confined, may still be deciphered the unfinished signature, * Thomas Fitzg- He was,' says Stanihurst, of nature tall and personable; in countenance amicable; a white face, and withal somewhat ruddy; a rolling tongue and a rich utterance ; of nature flexible and kind; very soon carried where he fancied, easily with submission appeased, hardly with stubbornness vexed.'
Silken Thomas having left no issue, his brother Gerald became heir to the Geraldine estates. The story of this youth's early days is
as thrilling as a romance. Born in 1525, he was only ten years old when Thomas was executed. Lying ill of small-pox at Donore in the County Kildare when the news reached Ireland of his brother's and uncles' death, he was carried secretly away by a priest, Father Leverous, and placed in charge of his aunt, Lady Mary O'Conor, in Offaly. The hope of the Geraldines now centred in this lad, and it was felt, and rightly felt, that the English government would spare no pains to get possession of him. Having remained for a short time with his aunt, it was deemed wiser to hand him over to the powerful protection of O'Brien of Thomond, and to Thomond he was accordingly sent in care of his cousin, James Delahide. The government now made every effort to capture him. Threats and bribes were alternately used to persuade O'Brien to give up the lad, but O'Brien boldly refused.
As to O'Brien,' wrote the authorities at Dublin Castle to the English minister, Thomas Cromwell, 'notwithstanding his letter, and promises of subjection and obedience to the king's highness, we could neither get him to condescend to any conformity according to the same, nor yet deliver the Earl of Kildare.'
After remaining for six months in Thomond, Gerald was next sent into Desmond's country to his aunt, Lady Eleanor M‘Carthy. The government appealed to Desmond to surrender the lad, but Desmond refused as resolutely as O'Brien had refused.
*A most gracious pardon' was offered to the
BROTHER OF SILKEN THOMAS
young earl if he would come in.' But the Geraldines would put no trust in English promises. Gerald was next sent to O'Donnell of Tyrconnell, whom his aunt, Lady Eleanor, had married.
Once more the government exhausted every effort to seize the fugitive; but every effort was baffled by the fidelity and skill of his protectors. 'I assure your lordship,' Cromwell was informed by an English agent in 1539, that the English Pale be too affectionate to the Geraldines, and the Irish covet more to see a Geraldine to reign and triumph than to see God come among them.'
In 1540 the English minister was again informed that the detestable traitors, young Gerald, O'Neil, O'Donnell, Desmond, O'Brien, O'Connor continue to destroy the property of his majesty's subjects, to subdue the whole land to the supremacy of the Pope, and to elevate the Geraldines.'
It was now decided to send young Gerald out of Ireland, and, about March 1540, he sailed from Donegal Bay to St Malo with Father Leverous, and an old servant, Robert Walsh. Frances I., King of France received him with warm hospitality and showed him every attention and favour. From France he went to Flanders; and finally to Rome, where Cardinal Pole took him by the hand, and completed his education.
In 1544 he distinguished himself in an expedition to the coast of Africa, and in 1545 he was appointed master of the horse to the Florentine statesman, Cosmo de Medici.
The young earl had now an established position, and in 1547 we find him coming to London in the train of foreign ambassadors, and taking rank with the nobles of the land.
At a mask ball given by King Edward VI. he fell in love with an English beauty, once a lady of the court, Mabel Brown. They were married shortly afterwards, and the romance of the young earl's life ended.
In 1552 he was restored to his Irish estates, and in 1554 he returned to Ireland amid great public rejoicings. For the remainder of his life he lived at peace with the government, though, like so many of the Geraldines, he was always an object of suspicion to the authorities.
In 1585 he died, and was succeeded by his son Gerald, who became the twelfth Earl of Kildare.
HILE the life and fortunes of
the brother of 'Silken Thomas' hung in the balance, great changes were taking place in Ireland.
Lord Leonard Grey who, as we have seen, became viceroy in 1535, carried
the government of the country with ability and vigour. He led many expeditions against the native chiefs, beat them in battle, and outmanoeuvred them in negotiations. At length, wearied by intestine strife and constant war, they prepared to make a final submission, on condition of being left in possession of their lands.
Grey was the most competent governor that had yet been sent to Ireland. But he raised