Lord Edward FitzGerald

FitzGerald, Lord Edward, twelfth child of the 1st Duke of Leinster, and brother of preceding, was born at Whitehall, London, 15th October 1763.

At the age of sixteen he accompanied his mother and step-father (Mr. Ogilvy) to France. The latter superintended his studies, which were chiefly directed to the acquisition of knowledge that would fit him for a military career.

In 1779 they returned to England, and Lord Edward received a commission in a militia regiment of which his uncle, the Duke of Richmond, was colonel.

In 1780 he was appointed to a lieutenancy in the 26th Regiment. Soon after joining at Youghal, he exchanged into the 19th, then under orders for America, and in June 1781 sailed for Charleston.

His letters from America exhibit ardent enthusiasm for the military profession and the warmest affection towards his mother, to whom they were written.

He distinguished himself in an engagement with the United States commander, Colonel Lee, and was soon appointed Aide-de-camp on Lord Rawdon’s staff.

Probably the success of the American colonists in fighting against regular troops, led him in after years to the conviction that his countrymen in Ireland could cope with them with a similar result.

He brought with him from America a negro servant, “the faithful Tony,” who followed his after fortunes with devoted affection. Indeed Lord Edward had a singular power of attaching to himself all who came within his influence.

In 1783 he visited the West Indies. A few months afterwards he returned home, finding that his hopes of promotion lay in Europe.

In the autumn of the same year he entered Parliament for Athy, and for the two following years resided chiefly at Frescati, Blackrock.

He derived a moderate income from the rents of his estate of Kilrush in the County of Kildare.

In the spring of 1786 he took the then unusual step for a young nobleman of entering the Military College, Woolwich.

In 1787 he visited Gibraltar, and travelled in Portugal and Spain.

In May 1788 he joined his regiment, the 54th, in Nova Scotia, and for a year was stationed at New Brunswick, Halifax, Quebec, and Montreal. He wrote to his mother:

“I grow fonder of my profession the more I see of it, and like being Major much better than Lieutenant-Colonel, for I only execute the commands of others.”

Cobbett was then Sergeant-Major of the 54th, and afterwards wrote of him:

“Lord Edward was a most humane and excellent man, and the only really honest officer I ever knew in the army.”

In April 1789, with Tony and a brother officer, he explored the country from Frederickstown, New Brunswick, to Quebec, camping out. He accomplished the journey of 175 miles in twenty-six days, and established a shorter practicable route than that hitherto followed.

In June he sojourned amongst the Indians near Detroit, and was made an honorary chief of the Bear Tribe.

In December he arrived at New Orleans, and finding it impracticable to proceed to Spanish America, returned to Ireland.

The simplicity of life in the colonies delighted him. He writes:

“There are no devilish politics here;” and “every man here is exactly what he can make himself, and has made himself by his own industry.”

In February 1787 he expressed himself much disappointed, though not dispirited, at the turn affairs were taking in Ireland.

On the 13th March, in a speech in Parliament in support of a motion by Grattan, he said:

“Tithes having for thirty years been considered as a hardship and matter of grievance, it became the wisdom of the House to inquire into them. While the people were quiet no inquiry was made; while they were outrageous no inquiry, perhaps, ought to be made; but certainly it was not beneath the dignity of the House to say that an inquiry should be made when the people returned to peace and obedience again.”

Family considerations induced him for a time to consent not to vote against the Government; but to show that he was not influenced by mercenary motives, he declined to accept promotion during that interval.

In 1790 he was offered by Pitt the command of an expedition against Cadiz; but finding that acceptance might necessitate his voting against his convictions in Parliament, he was obliged to relinquish this chance of distinguishing himself. The same year he was returned for the County of Kildare.

In October 1792 he visited Paris, and he writes:

“I lodge with my friend [Thomas] Paine; we breakfast, dine, and sup together. The more I see of his interior, the more I like and respect him. I cannot express how kind he is to me; there is a simplicity of manner, a goodness of heart, and a strength of mind in him, that I never knew a man before possess.”

At a meeting of the British residents in Paris on the 19th November, he joined in drinking to the progress of liberty and the revolution. Amongst other toasts was:

“The people of Ireland, and may Government profit by the example of France, and reform prevent revolution.”

He and other young noblemen renounced their titles, actual or honorary; and for participation in these proceedings he was dismissed from the army.

On the 21st December, after a short acquaintance, he married Pamela, a lovely and fascinating girl of about eighteen years of age, a ward of Madame de Genlis—most probably her daughter by the Duke d’Orleans (Philip Egalite). Pamela had been previously, while on a visit to England, engaged to Sheridan, then a widower.

The nuptials took place at Tournay, and Louis Philippe, afterwards King of the French, was amongst the witnesses to the ceremony. The marriage proved in every respect happy.

In his place in Parliament, soon after his return home with his wife, he denounced the Government for prohibiting a meeting of volunteers in Dublin. When called upon to apologize, he said:

“I have spoken what has been taken down; it is true, and I am sorry for it.”

In 1793 he voted and spoke against the Arms and Insurrection Bills, declaring:

“The disturbances of the country are not to be remedied by any coercive measures, however strong; … nothing can effect this, and restore tranquillity to the country, but a serious, a candid endeavour of Government and of this House to redress the grievances of the people.”

No endeavours in that direction were made, and many men like Lord Edward lost hope of all constitutional changes, and gradually drifted into revolution. He became intimate with Arthur O’Connor, who occasionally resided with him at Frescati.

About this period he formally joined the United Irishmen.

In May 1796 he and his wife proceeded by Hamburg to Basle, for the purpose of communicating with the agents of the French Government relative to obtaining armed assistance in Ireland. It is now known that his proceedings were carefully watched by spies, and information of all his negotiations conveyed to Pitt.

In the spring of 1797 Edward J. Lewins was sent to France by the Leinster Directory of United Irishmen, and resided at Paris as accredited agent of “the Irish nation.”

In May of the same year Lord Edward again visited the Continent, and met an emissary of the French Government.

Wolfe Tone was then, and had been for some time, working within France, and the United Irish leaders were working from without, in urging on the French expeditions that eventuated in the abortive Bantry attempt in December 1796, the preparations at the Texel in July 1797, Humbert’s landing at Killala in August 1798, and the engagement off Lough Swilly in September 1798, in which Tone was taken prisoner.

At the election of 1797 Lord Edward addressed the electors of Kildare, and expressed his intention of not soliciting their votes, on the ground that nothing was to be hoped for from Parliament as then constituted. Grattan retired about the same time, and for the same reason.

Lord Edward now assumed the military leadership of the United Irishmen, determined to assert by arms the independence of Ireland, a post for which he was in every way qualified both by training and disposition.

It was decided that an insurrection should take place in March 1798.

The union considered it could rely upon 267,296 armed men: Ulster furnishing 110,990; Munster, 100,634; Leinster, 55,672. None appear to have been enrolled for the County of Wexford, where the most vigorous stand was subsequently made.

As the plot thickened, it was intimated to Lord Edward that the Government would connive at his leaving the country; but he spurned the suggestion, declaring:

“It is now out of the question; I am too deeply pledged to these men to be able to withdraw with honour.”

In March 1798 he was residing at Leinster House with Lady Edward FitzGerald, and on the 12th (the day of the seizures at Bond’s in Lower Bridge-street) an attempt was made to arrest him there. Frescati was also searched in vain. His papers at both places were examined.

From this time until the 19th of May he was a wanderer, secreted with friends in different parts of Dublin: first at a friend’s in Harold’s-cross; then at Dr. Kennedy’s in Aungier-street, where he was constantly visited by his associate Surgeon Lawless, and once by Reynolds the informer, whose perfidy was not yet known to the United Irish leaders.

He was afterwards removed in disguise to the house of a Mrs. Dillon, close by the Portobello Hotel. Whilst there he visited Lady FitzGerald, then residing in Denzille-street with her children, a faithful maid, and Tony. A servant afterwards related that “on going into her lady’s room late in the evening, she saw his lordship and Lady Edward sitting together by the fire. The youngest child had been brought down out of its bed for him to see, and both he and Lady Edward were, as she thought, in tears.”

Tony often bitterly lamented that “his unfortunate face” prevented him from visiting his master.

For three weeks Lord Edward was concealed at Mrs. Dillon’s. We are told that he attached himself much to a little child that used to accompany him in his night walks along the canal.

From Mrs. Dillon’s he was removed to the house of Mr. Murphy, a feather merchant, 153 Thomas-street, where he held frequent consultations with the leaders on the intended insurrection, and again visited Denzille-street disguised as a woman. Their daughter Emily was born during Lady Edward’s residence in Denzille-street.

The leaders of the United Irishmen now concluded that French aid could not be depended on, and it was arranged that Lord Edward should take the field at the head of their forces on the 23rd May.

The increased vigilance of the authorities now necessitated more frequent changes of residence—to Mr. Cormack’s, 22 Thomas-street, Mr. Moore’s, 119 Thomas-street, Mr. Gannon’s, 22 Corn-market.

A reward of £1,000 was placed upon his head, and he had more than one narrow escape from capture.

On the 17th of May he returned to Murphy’s—by day hiding in a valley on the roof of an outhouse—by night holding consultations with his friends.

In the afternoon of the next day he was in bed with a cold, when the house was suddenly surrounded, and Majors Swan and Sirr, accompanied by a body of soldiers, rushed up stairs and into his room.

In the struggle that ensued Lord Edward wounded more than one of his antagonists; but in the end, disabled by a shot from Major Sirr’s pistol, he was made prisoner, and was conveyed under a strong guard to the Castle, and afterwards to Newgate. He expressed regret when told by a surgeon that his wound was probably not mortal. [It is now known that Lord Edward was betrayed by Francis Higgins, or the “Sham Squire.”]

The Surgeon-General, Stewart, had been called in, and while dressing his wound he whispered to Lord Edward his readiness to convey any message he desired to Lady Edward. “No, no,” he rejoined, “thank you; nothing, nothing; only break it to her tenderly.”

He lingered on for sixteen days in Newgate, until two o’clock on the morning of the 4th June 1798, when he passed away, aged 34. Until within a few hours of his death all communication with his relatives and friends was denied. Then (through the influence of Lord Clare) Lady Louisa Connolly and his brother, Lord Henry FitzGerald, were admitted to his bedside. He kissed and embraced both of them, spoke of his wife and children, raved about public affairs, and remarked, “I knew it must come to this; we must all go.”

His remains were privately interred in a vault of St. Werburgh’s Church.

Attainted by Act of Parliament, his estate was forfeited and sold, but was secured by his step-father for the benefit of his children. The attainder was reversed in 1819.

Lady Edward FitzGerald’s after life, passed upon the Continent, was not happy. Her means were derived from an allowance by her reputed half-brother, Louis Philippe. She died in Paris, 8th November 1831, aged 55, and was buried at Montmartre.

Lord Edward’s only son, Edward Fox, died in 1863, leaving a daughter.

His daughters Pamela and Lucy, who married respectively General Sir Guy Campbell, and Captain G. F. Lyon, had died a few years previously.

Dr. Madden, in concluding his sketch of Lord Edward, says:

“The loss of Lord Edward to the cause of the United Irishmen was irretrievable. It might be possible to replace all the other members of the Directory after the arrests in March; but there was no substitute to be found in Ireland for Lord Edward. He was the only military man in connexion with the Union capable of taking command of any considerable number of men, competent for the important office assigned him, and qualified for it by a knowledge of his profession, practical as well as theoretical. When he was lost to the cause, it was madness to think there was any hope left of a successful issue for resistance.”

Lord Holland, writing in 1824, bears the following testimony to Lord Edward’s character and intentions:

“More than twenty years have now passed away. Many of my political opinions are softened—my predilections for some men weakened, my prejudices against others removed; but my approbation of Lord Edward FitzGerald’s actions remains unaltered and unshaken.

His country was bleeding under one of the hardest tyrannies that our times have witnessed. He who thinks a man can be even excused in such circumstances by any other consideration than that of despair from opposing a pretended government by force, seems to me to sanction a principle which would insure impunity to the greatest of all human delinquents, or at least to those who produce the greatest misery among mankind. … Lord Edward was a good officer. The plans found among his papers showed much combination and considerable knowledge of the principles of defence. His apprehension was so quick, and his courage so constitutional, that he would have applied, without disturbance, all the faculties he possessed to any emergency, however sudden, and in the moment of the greatest danger or confusion. He was, among the United Irish, scarcely less considerable for his political than his military qualifications.

His temper was peculiarly formed to engage the affections of a warm-hearted people. A cheerful and intelligent countenance, an artless gaiety of manner, without reserve, but without intrusion, and a careless yet inoffensive intrepidity, both in conversation and in action, fascinated his slightest acquaintance, and disarmed the rancour of even his bitter opponents. These, indeed, were only the indications of more solid qualities—an open and fearless heart, warm affections, and a tender, compassionate disposition. Where his own safety was concerned, he was bold even to rashness; he neither disguised his thoughts nor controlled his actions: where the interests or reputation of others were at stake, he was cautious, discreet, and considerate. Indignant as he was at the oppression of his country, and intemperate in his language of abhorrence at the cruelties exercised in Ireland, I never could find that there was a single man against whom he felt the slightest personal animosity. He made allowance for the motives and even temptations of those whose actions he detested.”

Perhaps there is no one whose memory is held in more loving regard by the Irish people than Lord Edward FitzGerald.


72. Castlereagh, Viscount: Memoirs and Correspondence, edited by the Marquis of Londonderry. 12 vols. London, 1848–’53.

132. FitzGerald, Lord Edward, Life: Thomas Moore. 2 vols. London, 1831.
FitzPatrick, Dr. W. J., see Nos. 106, 184, 208, 301.

331. United Irishmen, their Lives and Times: Robert R. Madden, M.D. 4 vols. London, 1858–’60.