James FitzMaurice FitzGerald (died 18 August 1579) was a member of the 16th century ruling Geraldine dynasty in the province of Munster in Ireland. He rebelled against the crown authority of Queen Elizabeth I of England in response to the onset of the Tudor conquest of Ireland. He led the first of the Desmond Rebellions in 1569, spent a period in exile in continental Europe, but returned with an invasion force in 1579. He died shortly after landing. His rebellions were strongly associated with counter-reformation Catholic ideology.
FitzMaurice was son of Maurice Fitzjohn a Totane, brother of the 12th Earl of Desmond, and Julia O'Mulryan of County Tipperary, making him nephew of James FitzGerald, Earl of Desmond and cousin of Gerald FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond. Upon James' death, Totane had been granted the barony of Kerricurrihy in County Cork by the earl's successor, but Gerald fell out with Totane and wars were fought between the families.
Following his defeat by Sir Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormonde, at the Battle of Affane in 1565, the 15th Earl and his brother, John of Desmond, were detained in England. During their absence, FitzMaurice became captain general of County Desmond with the warrant of the Earl. This meant he had authority over the soldiers retained in the service of the Desmond Fitzgeralds. In July 1568, he entered Clanmaurice, the territory of the lord of Lixnaw, to distrain for rent and assert the Desmond authority: having seized 200 head of cattle and wasted the country, he was confronted by Lixnaw on the way home and utterly defeated.
Alienation from Desmond
At the end of 1568, the absent Earl of Desmond granted Sir Warham St Leger a lease of the barony of Kerricurrihy, which cast FitzMaurice's inheritance into confusion. In 1569 the lord deputy of Ireland, Sir Henry Sidney, was informed by FitzMaurice that he had assembled the people of Desmond to tell them that the lord deputy was unable to procure the release of the captive earl, who would be executed or perpetually imprisoned, and that the people should proclaim a new earl or captain: with one voice, the people were said to have cried out for FitzMaurice to be captain. The earl's wife, Eleanor Butler, wrote to her husband in November that FitzMaurice was seeking to bring the earl into further disrepute and to usurp his inheritance, "by the example of his father".
To reassert Geraldine authority, FitzMaurice then launched what would become known as the first of the Desmond Rebellions. The southern part of Ireland erupted into a general rebellion, owing in part to attempts at establishing plantations. In June 1569, FitzMaurice and the Earl of Clancarty (MacCarthy Mor) invaded Kerrycurrihy, spoiled the inhabitants, took the castle-abbey of Tracton, hanged the garrison, and refused to depart without the surrender to them of the custody of Lady St Leger and Lady Grenville, the wives of the principal English colonists. FitzMaurice then joined in league with the turbulent brothers of the earl of Ormond, and entered a bond with the Earl of Thomond and John Burke, son of the Earl of Clanricard. He wrote to the mayor and corporation of Cork in July ordering the abolition of the new heresy of Protestantism, at a time when he appears to have been taking instruction from Irish Jesuits.
By September 1569, Sidney had broken the back of the rebellion and left Sir Humphrey Gilbert behind to suppress FitzMaurice, who sought refuge in the woods of Aherlow, and after Gilbert's departure FitzMaurice raised a new force in February 1570 and spoiled Kilmallock. In February 1571, Sir John Perrot landed at Waterford as President of Munster and challenged FitzMaurice to a duel, which FitzMaurice declined with the remark, "For if I should kill Sir John Perrot the Queen of England can send another president into this province; but if he do kill me there is none other to succeed me or to command as I do."
FitzMaurice attacked Perrot, but retired on mistaking a small cavalry company for the advance party of a larger force. After a second and successful siege by Perrot of the Geraldine stronghold of Castlemaine, FitzMaurice sued for pardon, which was granted in February 1573, after he prostrated himself in Kilmallock church with the president's sword point next to his heart. FitzMaurice swore fealty to the crown, and gave up his son as hostage.
On the return to Ireland of the Earl of Desmond in 1573, FitzMaurice left for the continent, offering his reasons variously as a desire to gain pardon from the queen through the French court, and the unkindness of the earl. In March 1575 he and his family, along with the Geraldine Seneschal of Imokilly, James Fitzedmund Fitzgerald, and the White Knight, Edmund Fitzgibbon, sailed on the La Arganys for St Malo, Brittany where they were received by the governor. He had several interviews with Catherine de' Medici in Paris, offering to help make Henry III of France king of Ireland, and was granted a pension of 5,000 crowns in 1576.
Early in the following year he left for the Spanish court, where he offered the crown to the brother of King Philip II, Don John; the king was cautious, however. FitzMaurice left his sons Maurice and Gerald with Cardinal Granvelle, and travelled to Italy to meet Pope Gregory XIII.
Invasion of Ireland
At the papal court FitzMaurice met adventurer Captain Thomas Stukley, and together they persuaded the pope to underwrite the cost of 1,000 troops to invade Ireland. They were to rendezvous in Lisbon and proceed to Ireland, however, Stukley decided to throw his troops and support to King Sebastian's expedition to Morocco, where he died.
Following the diversion of Stukley to Morocco, FitzMaurice set out with the nuncio, Nicholas Sanders, and Matthew de Oviedo from Ferrol in Galicia, Spain on 17 June 1579 with a few troops on his vessel and three Spanish shallops; they captured two English vessels in the channel and arrived at Dingle on 16 July 1579, launching the Second Desmond Rebellion.
On the 18th they cast anchor in Smerwick, where they garrisoned at Dún an Óir (Fort of Gold), and were joined on the 25th by two galleys with 100 troops; four days later their ships were captured by the English fleet under the command of Sir William Winter. Having exhorted the Earl of Desmond and the Earl of Kildare, as Geraldine leaders, to fight the heretics, FitzMaurice left the fort to await the arrival of Stukley (who, unknown to him, had been killed at the Battle of Alcácer Quibir in the previous year, during a campaign by King Sebastian of Portugal).
FitzMaurice went to make a vow at the monastery of the Holy Cross in Tipperary but became caught in a skirmish with the forces of his cousin, Theobald Burke, during which he was shot with a ball in the hollow of the chest, but cut his way through to Burke and his brother William, both of whom he killed with single strokes of his sword.
The battle was won, but close to the scene his injuries overcame him; he made his will and ordered his friends to cut off his head after death in order that his enemies might not mutilate his body; he begged his attendants to attest that he had not turned tail on the enemy. They assured him, and wished him to be quiet because hostile soldiers were closing in, but he insisted, "My wounds are clear, my wounds are clear". Upon his death, a kinsman ordered the decapitation and then wrapped the head in cloth; an attempt was made to conceal his trunk under a tree, but it was discovered by a hunter and brought to the town of Kilmallock. For weeks, the trunk was nailed to the gallows, until it was shattered by musket fire and collapsed.
FitzMaurice married Katherine Burke of Muskerry, and they had three children by him: two sons, Maurice and Gerald, and one daughter.
The invasion force at Smerwick was besieged and massacred after surrender in 1580 by the English. The tide turned in favour of the English, and the Second Desmond Rebellion was ended in 1583, when the Earl of Desmond and his followers had been hunted down and killed by the English and their Irish allies.
The destruction of the Desmond dynasty ended with the Desmond lands being parcelled out to English 'undertakers', and was a major step in the Tudor conquest of Ireland.
FitzMaurice was one of the first Irish leaders to use the Catholic cause as an explicit justification for rebellion against the crown. Hugh O'Neill may have been influenced by the FitzMaurice revolts, setting an example for his own major revolt in the 1590s. He is regarded by some as the man the Geraldines ought to have chosen to lead them if they were to resist the Protestant reformation.