Silken Thomas

Thomas FitzGerald, better known as Silken Thomas was the 10th Earl of Kildare and is one of the more famous characters of Maynooth castle. He was the son of Garret Óg, and ruled during the famous downfall of the castle.

Born in 1513, not much is known of his youth but he did spend a few years in English courts so he would have been well versed in the culture at the time. Before his father Garret Óg left for England in 1534, being summoned by Henry VIII about his ruling in Ireland, he nominated his son Silken Thomas as his successor. This surprised a few people, as Silken Thomas was very young at the time. Also, the previous summer, he led a campaign against the O’Reilly’s under the title ‘Lord Offaly’, but was unsuccessful. Successor he was however, and it is said that his father warned him not to come to England, as he feared the worst for his family. Probably under his father’s advice, Silken Thomas marched to Dublin, with 1,000 men and threw down the sword of state, declaring rebellion against England. It is here that Silken Thomas may have gotten his name as the 140 horsemen that came with him had headpieces ‘gorgeously embroidered with silk’.

His father passed away whilst in prison in England, and Silken Thomas was officially the leader of the Kildare Dynasty. Henry VIII sent Sir William Skeffington over with 2,300 men to effectively put an end to any rebellion. Silken Thomas laid siege to Dublin twice that year but was unable to take the city. Skeffington landed and pursued Silken Thomas, who wished to avoid a pitched battle at all costs. Even though Silken Thomas fortified castles, and burned surrouding districts, he lost the initiative and his forces were slowly weakening- down to a few hundred by winter 1534. Not only that but two of his uncles defected to Skeffington’s side, and key leaders in his army died of sickness. By spring the following year, the English army was in Kildare. In March the English surrounded Maynooth castle with 1,000 men. A ten day siege began which ended on 23 March. Although the castle was attacked with artillery for a number of days, it was through treachery, with the bribery of Christopher Paris the captain of the guard which led to the fall of the castle. Most of the 100 men in the castle were executed, including Christopher Paris (who bargained for money but not his life), in what is now known as the ‘Pardon of Maynooth’. The castle became a home for Lord Deputy’s for years to come. What was left of the Kildare army now fled west to Lea castle, another Kildare castle, and then to the Bog of Allen. With few men left, and the Enlgish forces surrounding him, Silken Thomas surrendered on 24 August 1535 to Lord Leonard Grey, who had replaced Skeffington as commander. He surrendered on guarantee of his life which was given by Grey, but not by King Henry. He was eventually executed at Tyburn on 3rd February 1537 with his 5 Uncles (including the two who defected!). His Uncles were hung, drawn and quartered, while Thomas was hung and beheaded. So ended the Kildare Dynasty for a few years, until the return of Gerald Fitzgerald in 1552.


References: Thomas FitzGerald by Mary Ann Lyons (dictionary of Irish Biography)


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