The Earldom of Desmond, 1463–1583
The decline and crisis of a feudal lordship
Anthony M. McCormack
Descended from one of the first Anglo-Norman invaders in the late 1160s, the Fitzgerald earls of Desmond came to dominate the political, economic and social life of Munster for much of the succeeding four centuries.
In 1463, at the height of their power, Thomas, eighth earl, was appointed lord deputy, the fourth of his line to hold that post. However, five years later Thomas was executed in controversial circumstances. As a consequence, the Desmonds, traditionally highly autonomous, became alienated from the English monarchy for over seventy years, during which time they supported a Yorkist pretender to the throne of England and signed treaties with the kings of Spain and France. In addition, they also went through a period of internecine feuding between 1510 and 1540.
The accession of James, fourteenth earl, in 1541 brought this instability to an end but his son Gerald was killed in rebellion against Queen Elizabeth. His death led to the termination of the earldom and paved the way for the Munster Plantation.
Anthony M. McCormack is a graduate of University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin and has lectured at NUI Maynooth.