The ninth and last Catholic Earl of Kildare, in the ninth year of Henry VIII., had been summoned to London to answer two charges preferred against him by his political enemies: "1st, That he had enriched himself and his followers out of the crown lands and revenues. 2nd, That he had formed alliances and corresponded with divers Irish enemies of the State." Pending these charges the Earl of Surrey, the joint-victor with his father at Flodden field, was despatched to Dublin in his stead, with the title of Lord Lieutenant.
Kildare, by the advice of Wolsey, was retained in a sort of honourable attendance on the person of the King for nearly four years. During this interval he accompanied Henry to "the field of the cloth of Gold," so celebrated in French and English chronicles. On his return to Dublin, in 1523, he found his enemy, the Earl of Ormond, in his old office, but had the pleasure of supplanting him one year afterwards. In 1525, on the discovery of Desmond's correspondence with Francis of France, he was ordered to march into Munster and arrest that nobleman. But, though he obeyed the royal order, Desmond successfully evaded him, not, as was alleged, without his friendly connivance. The next year this evasion was made the ground of a fresh impeachment by the implacable Earl of Ormond; he was again summoned to London, and committed to the Tower. In 1530 he was liberated, and sent over with Sir William Skeffington, whose authority to some extent he shared. The English Knight had the title of Deputy, but Kildare was, in effect, Captain General, as the Red Earl had formerly been. Skeffington was instructed to obey him in the field, while it was expected that the Earl, in return, would sustain his colleague in the Council. A year had not passed before they were declared enemies, and Skeffington was recalled to England, where he added another to the number of Kildare's enemies. After a short term of undisputed power, the latter found himself, in 1533, for the third time, an inmate of the Tower. It is clear that the impetuous Earl, after his second escape, had not conducted himself as prudently as one so well forewarned ought to have done. He played more openly than ever the twofold part of Irish Chief among the Irish, and English Baron within the Pale. His daughters were married to the native lords of Offally and Ely, and he frequently took part as arbitrator in the affairs of those clans. The anti-Geraldine faction were not slow to torture these facts to suit themselves. They had been strengthened at Dublin by three English officials, Archbishop Allan, his relative John Allan, afterwards Master of the Rolls, and Robert Cowley, the Chief Solicitor, Lord Ormond's confidential agent. The reiterated representations of these personages induced the suspicious and irascible King to order the Earl's attendance at London, authorizing him at the same time to appoint a substitute, for whose conduct he would be answerable. Kildare nominated his son, Lord Thomas, though not yet of man's age; after giving him many sage advices, he sailed for England, no more to return.
The English interest at that moment had apparently reached the lowest point. The O'Briens had bridged the Shannon, and enforced their ancient claims over Limerick. So defenceless, at certain periods, was Dublin itself that Edmond Oge O'Byrne surprised the Castle by night, liberated the prisoners, and carried off the stores. This daring achievement, unprecedented even in the records of the fearless mountaineers of Wicklow, was thrown in to aggravate the alleged offences of Kildare. He was accused, moreover, of having employed the King's great guns and other munitions of war to strengthen his own Castles of Maynooth and Ley--a charge more direct and explicit than had been alleged against him at any former period.
While the Earl lay in London Tower, an expedient very common afterwards in our history-the forging of letters and despatches-was resorted to by his enemies in Dublin, to drive the young Lord Thomas into some rash act which might prove fatal to his father and himself. Accordingly the packets brought from Chester, in the spring of 1534, repeated reports, one confirming the other, of the execution of the Earl in the Tower. Nor was there anything very improbable in such an occurrence. The cruel character of Henry had, in these same spring months, been fully developed in the execution of the reputed prophetess, Elizabeth Barton, and all her abettors. The most eminent layman in England, Sir Thomas More, and the most illustrious ecclesiastic, Bishop Fisher, had at the same time been found guilty of misprision of treason for having known of the pretended prophecies of Elizabeth without communicating their knowledge to the King. That an Anglo-Irish Earl, even of the first rank, could hope to fare better at the hands of the tyrant than his aged tutor and his trusted Chancellor, was not to be expected. When, therefore, Lord Thomas Fitzgerald flung down the sword of State on the Council table, in the hall of St. Mary's Abbey, on the 11th day of June, 1534, and formally renounced his allegiance to King Henry as the murderer of his father, although he betrayed an impetuous and impolitic temper, there was much in the events of the times to justify his belief in the rumours of his father's execution.
This renunciation of allegiance was a declaration of open war. The chapter thus opened in the memoirs of the Leinster Geraldines closed at Tyburn on the 3rd of February, 1537. Within these three years, the policy of annexation was hastened by several events--but by none more than this unconcerted, unprepared, reckless revolt. The advice of the imprisoned Earl to his son had been "to play the gentlest part," but youth and rash counsels overcame the suggestions of age and experience. One great excess stained the cause of "Silken Thomas," while it was but six weeks old. Towards the end of July, Archbishop Allan, his father's deadly enemy, left his retreat in the Castle, and put to sea by night, hoping to escape into England. The vessel, whether by design or accident, ran ashore at Clontarf, and the neighbourhood being overrun by the insurgents, the Archbishop concealed himself at Artane. Here he was discovered, dragged from his bed, and murdered, if not in the actual presence, under the same roof with Lord Thomas. King Henry's Bishops hurled against the assassins the greater excommunication, with all its penalties; a terrific malediction, which was, perhaps, more than counterbalanced by the Papal Bull issued against Henry and Anne Boleyn on the last day of August--the knowledge of which must have reached Ireland before the end of the year. This Bull cited Henry to appear within ninety days in person, or by attorney, at Rome, to answer for his offences against the Apostolic See; failing which, he was declared excommunicated, his subjects were absolved from their allegiance, and commanded to take up arms against their former sovereign. The ninety days expired with the month of November, 1534.
Lord Thomas, as he acted without consultation with others, so he was followed but by few persons of influence. His brothers-in-law, the chiefs of Ely and Offally, O'Moore of Leix, two of his five uncles, his relatives, the Delahides, mustered their adherents, and rallied to his standard. He held the castles of Carlow, Maynooth, Athy, and other strongholds in Kildare. He beseiged Dublin, and came to a composition with the citizens, by which they agreed to allow him free ingress to assail the Castle, into which his enemies had withdrawn. He despatched agents to the Emperor, Charles V., and the Pope, but before those agents could well have returned--March, 1535-- Maynooth had been assaulted and taken by Sir William Skeffington--and the bands collected by the young lord had melted away. Lord Leonard Gray, his maternal uncle, assumed the command for the King of England, instead of Skeffington, disabled by sickness, and the abortive insurrection was extinguished in one campaign. Towards the end of August, 1535, the unfortunate Lord Thomas surrendered on the guarantee of Lord Leonard and Lord Butler; in the following year his five uncles--three of whom had never joined in the rising--were treacherously seized at a banquet given to them by Gray, and were all, with their nephew, executed at Tyburn, on the 3rd of February, 1537. The imprisoned Earl having died in the Tower on the 12th of December, 1534, the sole survivor of this historic house was now a child of twelve years of age, whose life was sought with an avidity equal to Herod's, but who was protected with a fidelity which defeated every attempt to capture him. Alternately the guest of his aunts married to the chiefs of Offally and Donegal, the sympathy everywhere felt for him led to a confederacy between the Northern and Southern Chiefs, which had long been wanting. A loose league was formed, including the O'Neils of both branches, O'Donnell, O'Brien, the Earl of Desmond, and the chiefs of Moylurg and Breffni. The lad, the object of so much natural and chivalrous affection, was harboured for a time in Munster, thence transported through Connaught into Donegal, and finally, after four years, in which he engaged more of the minds of statesmen than any other individual under the rank of royalty, was safely landed in France. We shall meet him again in another reign, under more fortunate auspices.
Lord Leonard Gray continued in office as Deputy for nearly five years (1535-40). This interval was marked by several successes against detached clans and the parties to the Geraldine league, whom he was careful to attack only in succession. In his second campaign, O'Brien's bridge was carried and demolished, one O'Brien was set up against another, and one O'Conor against another; the next year the Castle of Dungannon was taken from O'Neil, and Dundrum from Magennis. In 1539, he defeated O'Neil and O'Donnell, at Bolahoe, on the borders of Farney, in Monaghan, with a loss of 400 men, and the spoils they had taken from the English of Navan and Ardee. The Mayors of Dublin and Drogheda were knighted on the field for the valour they had shown at the head of their train-bands. The same year, he made a successful incursion into the territory of the Earl of Desmond, receiving the homage of many of the inferior lords, and exonerating them from the exactions of those haughty Palatines. Recalled to England in 1540, he, too, in turn, fell a victim to the sanguinary spirit of King Henry, and perished on the scaffold.