FitzGerald dynasty

The FitzGerald / FitzMaurice dynasty (Irish: Ríshliocht Mhic Gearailt or Clann Gearailt) is a Cambro-Norman and Anglo-Norman, and later Hiberno-Norman, aristocratic and royal dynasty. They have been peers of Ireland since at least the 13th century, and are described in the Annals of the Four Masters as being "more Irish than the Irish themselves" or Galls, due to assimilation with the native Gaelic aristocratic and popular culture. The dynasty has also been referred to as the Geraldines. They achieved power through the conquest of large swathes of Irish territory by the sons and grandsons of Gerald of Windsor (c. 1075 – 1135). Gerald of Windsor (Gerald FitzWalter ) was a Norman castellan in Wales, and he is the male progenitor of the FitzMaurice and FitzGerald dynasty ("fitz", from the Anglo-Norman fils indicating "sons of" Gerald).

Mhic Gearailt, Gearaltaigh

Arms of FitzGerald: Argent a saltire gules
Etymology"Son of Gerald"
Place of originIreland and Britain
Current headMaurice FitzGerald, 9th Duke of Leinster
Connected familiesDeBarry, Keating
Crom A Boo

("Crom Forever"[1])
Estate(s)Maynooth Castle Listowel Castle and Croom Castle
Cadet branchesHouse of Kildare
House of Desmond
House of Leinster

Gerald's Welsh wife Nest ferch Rhys (c. 1085 – before 1136) is the female progenitor of the FitzGeralds and Fitzmaurices. She was the daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, last King of Deheubarth and through her the FitzGeralds and Fitzmaurices descend from the Welsh rulers of Deheubarth claim kinship with the Tudors who descended from the same Welsh royal line. Consequently, the Fitzmaurices and FitzGeralds are cousins to the Tudors (Tewdwrs) through Nest and her Welsh family.

In his poetry, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, referred to Elizabeth FitzGerald (1527–89) as "Fair Geraldine".

The main branches of the family are:

The progenitor of the Irish Fitzmaurices was a Cambro-Norman Marcher Lord, Maurice FitzGerald, Lord of Lanstephan; a younger son of the Norman chieftain Gerald FitzWalter of Windsor and of his wife, Nest ferch Rhys of the Welsh royal House of Dinefwr. The Lord of Lanstephan and his sons the Fitzmaurices played an important part in the 1169 Norman invasion of Ireland.

The FitzGerald dynasty has played a major role in Irish history. Gearóid Mór, 8th Earl of Kildare and his son Gearóid Óg, 9th Earl of Kildare, were Lord Deputy of Ireland in the late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries respectively. Thomas FitzGerald, 10th Earl of Kildare (died 1537), known as "Silken Thomas," led an unsuccessful insurrection in Ireland, while Lord Edward FitzGerald (1763–1798), the fifth son of the first duke of Leinster, was a leading figure in the 1798 Rebellion. The present-day seat of the Irish Parliament Dáil Éireann is housed in Leinster House, which was first built in 1745–48 by James FitzGerald, 1st Duke of Leinster as the ducal palace for the Dukes of Leinster.

An example of the dynasty becoming "more Irish than the Irish themselves" is Gerald FitzGerald, 3rd Earl of Desmond (1335–1398), who was also known by the Irish Gaelic Gearóid Iarla (Earl Gerald).[2][3] Although made Lord Chief Justice of Ireland in 1367,[3] Gerald wrote poetry in the Irish language, most famously the poem Mairg adeir olc ris na mnáibh[2] ("Speak not ill of womenkind"). Indeed, although an accomplished poet in Norman French,[3] Gerald was instrumental in the move by the Fitzmaurices and Fitzgeralds of Desmond toward greater use of the Irish language.[2]


The surname FitzGerald comes from the Norman tradition of adding Fitz, meaning "son of" before the father's name. "Fitz Gerald" thus means in Old Norman and in Old French "son of Gerald". Gerald itself is a Germanic compound of ger, "spear", and waltan, " rule". Variant spellings include Fitz-Gerald and the modern Fitzgerald. The name can also appear as two separate words Fitz Gerald.

House of Kildare

Lords of Offaly

Earls of Kildare

Marquesses of Kildare (1761)

Dukes of Leinster, second Creation (1766)

Other titles: Marquesse of Kildare (1761), Earl of Kildare (1316), Earl of Offaly (1761), Viscount Leinster, of Taplow in the County of Buckingham (GB 1747) and Lord of Offaly (c. 1193–?)
Other titles (4th Duke onwards): Baron Kildare (UK 1870)

House of Desmond

The line of the Earls of Desmond has been extinct since the 17th century. Their branch of the dynasty continues only in their distant collateral kinsmen, Ireland's hereditary knights (for whom see section below).

Barons Desmond (1259)

Earls of Desmond, First creation (1329)

16th Earl of Desmond, appointed by Hugh O'Neill (1598–1601)

Earls of Desmond, Second creation (1600)

Lords of Decies

FitzMaurice of Kerry

The closely related FitzMaurice Barons and later Earls of Kerry continue in the male line with the current Petty-FitzMaurice Marquesses of Lansdowne, but they descend from John FitzGerald, 1st Baron Desmond's nephew, Thomas FitzMaurice, 1st Baron of Kerry, son of his brother Maurice FitzThomas. Thus in fact they represent a "sister" branch to the FitzGeralds of Desmond. However this technically makes them slightly closer to the FitzGeralds of Desmond than either are to the Offaly-Kildare-Leinster Geraldines, represented by the modern Dukes of Leinster, who descend from Gerald FitzMaurice, 1st Lord of Offaly, uncle of the 1st Baron Desmond.

Hereditary knights

These three hereditary knighthoods were created for their kinsmen by the Earls of Desmond,[5] acting as Earls Palatine.

Cambro-Norman origins

The earliest recorded use of the patronymic FitzGerald is that of Raoul fitz Gerald le Chambellan, a Norman baron, chamberlain of Normandy, educator of the young William, future Conqueror of England, and father of William de Tancarville, Earl of Tankerville and chief chamberlain of Normandy and England after the Norman conquest. The eponymous ancestor of the various FitzGerald branches, as well as of the de Barry and FitzMaurice families, was Gerald FitzWalter of Windsor. Gerald was a Norman adventurer who took part in the 1093 invasion of South Wales upon the death in battle of Rhys ap Tewdwr, last king of South Wales.[6] Gerald was the youngest son of another Norman adventurer, Walter fitz Otho, William the Conqueror's Constable for the strategic military fortress of Windsor Castle, as well as the King's Keeper of the Forests of Berkshire. Domesday Book records Walter fitz Otho as tenant-in-chief of lands formerly held by conquered Englishmen in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, and Middlesex. Walter's positions and most of his lands were inherited by Gerald's older brothers, Robert, Maurice, and William, the oldest, ancestor of the earls of Plymouth, while Gerald inherited the estate of Moulsford, now in Oxfordshire, near to Wallingford, where his father owned a fortified house adjacent to those of other powerful Norman authorities.

Various claims were made for Gerald's antecedents: that his father or his grandfather was a Saxon or Florentine baron; that his mother was one Gwladys ferch Ryall, or "princess" Gwladys ferch Gruffydd of Gwynedd, or "princess" Gwladys ferch Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn of Powys; that Gerald's grandfather was one "Dominus Otherus", a Tuscan nobleman descended from a Duke of Florence named Cosmo or Cosimo/Cosimus "Gherardini". The foregoing claims are erroneous. Pursuant to Domesday, Gerald's mother was Beatrice, not Gwladys ferch Gruffydd or Gwladys ferch Rhiwallon; the latter, in fact, was Gerald's mother-in-law. It's unlikely the Conqueror would have granted Walter lands in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Surrey, and Middlesex, let alone entrusted him with a strategic military fortress, had Walter not been a Norman and proven trustworthy. The Domesday survey records that Walter held some 22 estates from the king as tenant-in-chief. References to the Dominus Cosmo or Cosimo/Cosimus "Duchy of Florence" must be considered hoax, totally lacking sources (to be note also that there was no Duchy of Florence until the 15th century, and the only dukes named Cosimo were Medicis.

The legendary story of Thomas, Gerard and Maurice, sons of Gherardino, still lives on, and it has been studied: they were members of the well-known Gherardini family of Montagliari [7] and they left Florence to joint Henry II of England to go and conquer Ireland. Some historians think they initiated the FitzGerald branch.[8] Recently, a cover story published by "Sette", in 2014, the Italian weekly magazine of Corriere della Sera, was dedicated to the Gherardini family of Montagliari and their relationship with the FitzGerald Family as well with the Kennedy family. For the magazine these families have maintained relationship among them even in recent time (for example with John Fitzgerald Kennedy at the White House).[9]

Nest ferch Rhys ap Tewdwr was the daughter of the last king of South Wales by his wife, Gwladys ferch Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn of Powys. Their grandchildren, Maurice FitzGerald, Lord of Lanstephan, Raymond le Gros and Philip de Barry were leaders in the Norman invasion of Ireland. Nest's son by her second marriage, Robert FitzStephen, was another participant, as was William de Hay, husband of one of Gerald's and Nest's granddaughters. Nest's grandson (through her son by Henry I of England), Meiler FitzHenry, was appointed Lord Justice of Ireland for his cousin, Henry II. The most renowned of Gerald's and Nest's grandchildren, Gerald of Wales, gave an account of the Norman invasion, as well as lively and invaluable descriptions of Ireland and Wales in the late 12th century.


According to the 1890 Matheson report, Fitzgerald/FitzGerald was the 36th most common surname in Ireland.[10]

Fitzgerald/FitzGerald is the 692nd most frequent surname in the United Kingdom.[11] The surname occurs most frequently in the following ten counties, in descending order, with the number of occurrences in parentheses: "1. Greater London, (500), Greater Manchester (191), West Midlands (176), Lancashire (130), Kent (118), Essex (117), West Yorkshire (113), Merseyside (108), Hampshire (84), and Surrey (76)."[11]

"Fitzgerald" (including "FitzGerald," as the survey was not case-sensitive),[12] was the 390th most common surname in the 2000 United States Census.[12] 73,522 Fitzgeralds were counted, with 27.25 Fitzgeralds per 100,000 members of the population.[12] Respondents surnamed Fitzgerald had self-reported ethnicities of 88.03% non-Hispanic white only, 8.44% non-Hispanic black only, 0.32% non-Hispanic Asian or Pacific Islander only, 1.28% non-Hispanic Asian only, 1.43% of two or more non-Hispanic races, and 1.43% Hispanic.[12]

The FitzGerald dynasty was the subject of a poem called "The Geraldines" by Thomas Osborne Davis, the chief organizer and poet of the nationalist Young Ireland movement. The ill-fated romance of Thomas FitzGerald, 5th Earl of Desmond with Catherine MacCormac was the subject[13] of the air "Desmond's Song"[14] by the Irish poet Thomas Moore.

Saint Patrick's Saltire, sometimes used to represent Ireland in modern flags, may have derived from the arms of the Geraldines.[15]

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Fitzgerald in the United States Navy is named for Lieutenant William Charles Fitzgerald, USN. The Fitzgerald family coat of arms (a white shield with a red saltire) provides the foundation for the coat of arms for USS Fitzgerald.

A variety of people, places, and businesses bear the name FitzGerald or Fitzgerald, including the FitzGerald crater on the far side of the Moon, named for physicist George FitzGerald.

See also


  1. A Hand-book of Mottoes Borne by the Nobility, Gentry, Cities, Public Companies, &c. Bell and Daldy. 1860. p. 35. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  2. Gearóid Iarla FitzGerald (1335–1398) Archived 11 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  3. Webb, Alfred. A Compendium of Irish Biography. Dublin: 1878.
  4. Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles (1904) [1986]. The Art of Heraldry: An Encyclopædia of Armory. London: Bloomsbury Books. p. 485. ISBN 0-906223-34-2.
  5. John O'Donovan, "The Descendants of the Last Earls of Desmond", Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Volume 6. 1858.
  6. Walter fitz Otho at
  7. According to a study carried out by Enrico Faini of the University of Florence, there were about ten old aristocratic families who moved to Florence from 1000 and 1100: Amidei; Ardinghi; Brunelleschi; Buondelmonti; Caponsacchi; Donati; Fifanti; Gherardini of Montagliari; Guidi; Nerli; Porcelli; Scolari; Uberti; Visdomini. See: Jean-Claude Maire Vigueur and Andrea Zorzi (“Il gruppo dirigente fiorentino nell'età consolare” n "Archivio Storico", CLXII (2004), p. 210.
  8. "The earls of Kildare and their ancestors" by the Marquise of Kildare. Hodges, Smith & Co., Dublin 1858; "La leggenda dei tre Valdesani conquistatori dell'Irlanda", V. Uzielli, Firenze 1906. To see also: “I Gherardini ed il Castello di Montagliari” C. Corazzini, Firenze, 1898 and for a summary of the documentation available in the archives, see “Unpublished Gherardini documents” by Samuel Hayman
  9. Sette, Corriere della Sera, 28 March 2014, n.13. Cover: "Kennedy, l'Italiano". Title of the article at page 28: "Dall'America a Firenze passando per l'Irlanda. Così andando a ritroso fino ai "figli di Gerald" abbiamo ritrovato Kennedy "l'italiano".
  10. 100 Most Common Irish Surnames, 1890
  11. Geographical distribution of the name 'Fitzgerald' in the UK Archived 20 April 2013 at
  12. U.S. Census 2000
  13. Webb, Alfred. A Compendium of Irish Biography. Dublin: 1878.
  14. Moore, Thomas, The poetical works of Thomas Moore, including melodies, ballads, etc.. Philadelphia: 1835. p. 349
  15. Hayes-McCoy, Gerard Anthony (1979). Pádraig Ó Snodaigh (ed.). A history of Irish flags from earliest times. Dublin: Academy Press. p. 38. ISBN 0-906187-01-X.
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