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Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1763-1798)

This article was written by John Goldworth Alger and was published in 1889

Lord Edward FitzgeraldLord Edward Fitzgerald, Irish patriot, was one of the seventeen children of James Fitzgerald, viscount and first duke of Leinster by Emilia Mary, daughter of Charles, duke of Richmond. His father died in 1773, and his mother married William Ogilvie. The Duke of Richmond lent his house at Aubigny in France to the family, who resided there till 1779; Ogilvie undertook Edward's education, which had been commenced by a tutor named Lynch.

The boy had a marked military bent, and on returning to England joined the Sussex militia, of which his uncle, the Duke of Richmond, was colonel. He next entered the 96th infantry as lieutenant, served with it in Ireland, exchanged into the 19th in order to get foreign service, and in 1781 went out to Charleston. His skill in covering a retreat got him the post of aide-de-camp to Lord Rawdon, on whose retirement he rejoined his regiment. At the engagement of Eutaw Springs, August 1781, he was wounded in the thigh, was left senseless on the field, and might have succumbed had not a negro, Tony, carried him to his hut and nursed him. Tony was thenceforth, to the end of Fitzgerald's life, his devoted servant or slave. After his recovery Fitzgerald was on O'Hara's staff at St. Lucia, but soon returned to Ireland, where his eldest brother had him elected M.P. for Athy.

He voted in the Dublin parliament in the small minority with Grattan and Curran. After a course of professional study at Woolwich a disappointment in love drove him to New Brunswick to join his regiment, the 54th, of which he was now major. Cobbett was the sergeant-major, and was grateful to Fitzgerald for procuring him his discharge, describing him to Pitt in 1800 as the only really honest officer he had ever known. Infected by the fashionable Rousseau admiration for savage life, Fitzgerald made his way by compass through the woods from Frederickton to Quebec, was formally admitted at Detroit into the Bear tribe, and went down the Mississippi to New Orleans, but was refused the expected permission to visit the Mexican mines.

On returning home he found himself M.P. for Kildare, became intimate with the whig leaders in London, joined in April 1792 their Society of the Friends of the People, shared their enthusiasm for the French revolution, and in October 1792 visited Paris. He stayed at the same hotel as Paine, took his meals with him, and at a British dinner to celebrate French victories joined in Sir Robert Smith's toast to the abolition of all hereditary titles. Cashiered from the army for attendance at this revolutionary banquet, he was not, however, so immersed in politics as to neglect the theatres. Hence his brief courtship and his marriage, 27 December 1792. He took his bride over to Ireland, and six days after his arrival at Dublin caused a scene in parliament by describing the lord-lieutenant and the majority as ‘the worst subjects the king has.’ He was ordered into custody, but refused to make any serious apology.

When not attending parliament he enjoyed the society of his wife and child and of his flowers at Kildare. His dismissal from the army and the political reaction consequent on the atrocities in France converted the light-hearted young nobleman into a stern conspirator. Early in 1796 he joined the United Irishmen, who now avowedly aimed at an independent Irish republic, and in May he went with Arthur O'Connor to Bâle to confer with Hoche on a French invasion; but the Directory, apprehensive of accusations of Orleanism, on account of Pamela's supposed kinship with the Orleans family, declined to negotiate with Fitzgerald, who rejoined his wife at Hamburg, leaving O'Connor to treat with Hoche. Returning to Ireland he visited Belfast with O'Connor, then a candidate for Antrim, but in July 1797 he declined to solicit re-election, telling the Kildare voters that under martial law free elections were impossible, but that he hoped hereafter to represent them in a free parliament.

In the following autumn the United Irishmen became a military organisation, 280,000 men, according to a list given by Fitzgerald to Thomas Reynolds, being prepared with arms, and a military committee, headed by Fitzgerald, was deputed to prepare a scheme of co-operation with the French, or of a rising if their arrival could not be awaited. Fitzgerald was himself colonel of the so-called Kildare regiment, but induced Reynolds to take his place. The latter alleges that three months after his appointment he learned the intention of the conspirators to begin the rising by murdering eighty leading noblemen and dignitaries, and that to save their lives he gave the authorities information which led to the arrest, on 12 March 1798, at Oliver Bond's house, of the Leinster provincial committee. He does not state whether Fitzgerald was cognisant of the intended murders, but anxious for his escape he had on the 11th given him a vague warning and urged flight, whereupon Fitzgerald expressed a desire to go to France that he might induce Talleyrand to hasten the invasion. Owing perhaps to Reynolds's warning, Fitzgerald was not at Bond's meeting; but being told there was no warrant against himself was about to enter his own house, then being searched by the police, when Tony, on the look-out, gave him timely notice.

So far from distrusting Reynolds, Fitzgerald, while in concealment, sent for him on the 14th and 15th, the first time to propose taking refuge in Kilkee Castle, the property of the Duke of Leinster, then occupied by Reynolds. Reynolds objected to the plan as unsafe, and next day took him fifty guineas and a case of pocket pistols. Reynolds clearly gave no information of these interviews, and Lord-chancellor Clare, if not other members of the Irish government, was also desirous of an escape. Fitzgerald, however, remained in or near Dublin, paid two secret visits, once in female attire, to his wife, who had prudently removed from Leinster House, walked along the canal at night, and actively continued preparations for a rising fixed for 23 May. The authorities were therefore obliged in self-defence to take more serious steps for his apprehension, and on 11 May they offered a reward of £1,000.

The arrest of FitzgeraldCruikshank's illustration of the arrest of Fitzgerald

Madden gives reasons for thinking that the F. H. or J. H. (the first initial was indistinctly written in the original document from which he copied the entry) to whom on 20 June the sum was paid, was John Hughes, a Belfast bookseller, one of Fitzgerald's so-called body-guard. However this may be, the authorities knew that on the 19th he would be at Murphy's, a feather dealer. Fitzgerald, having dined, was lying with his coat off on a bed upstairs, and Murphy was asking him to come down to tea, when Major Swan and Ryan mounted the stairs and entered the room. After a desperate struggle, in which Ryan was mortally wounded, Fitzgerald was captured. Shot in the right arm by Major Sirr, who had also entered the room, his wound was pronounced free from danger, whereupon he said, ‘I am sorry for it.’ He was taken first to the castle and then to Newgate. Inflammation set in; his brother Henry and his aunt (Lady Louisa Conolly) were allowed to see him in his last moments, and on 4 June he expired. His remains were interred in St. Werburgh Church, Dublin, and Sirr, forty-three years later, was buried a few paces off in the churchyard. A bill of attainder was passed against Fitzgerald, but the government allowed his Kilrush estate, worth about £700 a year, to be bought by Ogilvie at the price of the mortgage, £10,400, and in 1819 the attainder was repealed. Fitzgerald was of small stature (Reynolds says 5 feet 5 inches, Murphy 5 feet 7 inches), and Moore, who once saw him in 1797, speaks of his peculiar dress, elastic gait, healthy complexion, and the soft expression given to his eyes by long dark eyelashes. He left three children: Edward Fox (1794-1863), an officer in the army; Pamela, wife of General Sir Guy Campbell; and Lucy Louisa, wife of Captain G. F. Lyon, R.N.

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