On February 3, 1537 five brothers, Sir James, Sir John, Oliver, Richard and Walter Fitzgerald, were taken from the Tower of London where they had been incarcerated for 11 long months.They were most probably fastened to a hurdle or wooden panel and drawn behind a horse the five miles from the Tower to the terrible Tyburn gallows – here they were hung, drawn and quartered.
The Fitzgerald family, Earls of Kildare, had been Yorkist supporters during the Cousins’ War and Henry VIII was wont to keep a close eye on them. In 1533 he summoned Gerald Fitzgerald, 9th Earl of Kildare to London. This was a pretty big year for Henry. He married and crowned Anne Boleyn, his daughter Elizabeth was born and he was excommunicated by Pope Clement VII. So a bit up and down!
Thomas Fitzgerald, Lord Offaly, the Earl’s 21 year old son, was left in charge back home in Ireland.
However, news reached Thomas that his father had been beheaded in the Tower. Unaware that this was a ploy by the family’s enemies to provoke the young heir, Thomas rallied his followers and rampaged through the streets of Dublin to the Chapter House of St Mary’s Abbey where the King’s Council awaited him. Silken Thomas, so called on account of the silk his followers wore on their helmets, threw down his Sword of State and renounced his allegiance to the King.
Thomas then went all out to bring Dublin to its knees. The ironic twist in this sad story is that when the Earl heard what his son had done, he took to his bed in the Tower and died.
Back home things went from bad to worse. Great swathes of Kildare and Meath were burned; the people who survived the conflagration were driven out. The new deputy sent by Henry to quell the rebellion was Sir William Skeffingdon who laid siege to the Fitzgerald’s stronghold, Maynooth Castle.
It was all over. Thomas surrendered to Lord Grey who promptly packed him off to the Tower and soon after his arrest his five uncles were also captured, even though three of them had openly and publicly disproved of their nephew’s actions.
Men in their 30s and 40s at the time of their execution, it is impossible to imagine sustaining the loss of five sons, brothers, uncles – kinsmen with a large extended family left to mourn them.
So where is the Good Gentlewoman in this story, I hear you ask, and what is the St John connection?
Here comes the family history bit.
Thomas ‘Silken’ Fitzgerald 10th Earl of Kildare, was the son of Gerald Fitzgerald 9th Earl who was the son of another Gerald, the 8th Earl and his first wife.
The 8th Earl of Kildare had a large family of 14 children, seven by his first wife and seven by his second. His first wife was Alison FitzEustace.
His second wife, the mother of the five sons hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, was Elizabeth St John, the daughter of Oliver St John and his wife Elizabeth Scrope of Lydiard Tregoze.
Following the death of the 8th Earl in 1513 Elizabeth married Sir John Wallop, a soldier and diplomat and considerably younger than Elizabeth, possibly as much as 20 years younger.
Elizabeth died on June 28, 1516. Further research is necessary to discover her place of burial.