|James FitzGerald, 1st Duke of Leinster by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1753|
In our time we've jaunted across continents, travelled as far as America and Australia and yet, it struck me recently as I poured my tea, we've seen few figures from the history of Ireland. I'm attempting to slightly redress the balance today but hopefully more will follow and Wales is certainly next, as a couple of my readers will be pleased to know!
James Fitzgerald was one of 12 children born to Robert FitzGerald, 19th Earl of Kildare, and Lady Mary, daughter of William O'Brien, 3rd Earl of Inchiquin. Vastly wealthy, the young man was elected to the Irish House of Commons as Member for Athy in 1741 and sat in the House for three years until the death of his father, when he became 20th Earl of Kildare in 1744, inheriting the oldest peerage in Ireland. This was the first of many illustrious titles, with the future Duke enjoying an enviable run of successes both personal and professional.
On 7th February 1747 FitzGerald married Lady Emily Lennox in a lavish ceremony at Richmond House, London. Emily was 15 years old at the time time of the wedding and was the daughter of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond. She could trace her lineage back through illegitimacy to King Charles II and the marriage secured her place in the very highest echelons of society. Hot on the heels of his wedding, FitzGerald received the title of Viscount Leinster of Taplow and with it, a seat in the English House of Lords.
|Emily, Duchess of Leinster by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1753|
The couple made their home in Ireland and though FitzGerald was anything but a faithful husband, their marriage was loving and happy. In fact, the union resulted in no less than 19 children, 11 of whom would survive childhood. It may be that FitzGerald was not the only one in the marriage to seek fun elsewhere and one of these many children was supposedly not his at all. Raised as a member of the family, the youngest child in the family was rumoured to be the son of family tutor William Ogilvie, the result of a liaison between himself and Emily. Adding fuel to the fire, within a year of FitzGerald's death his widow would scandalously marry Ogilvie, remaining happily with him until she passed away many years later.
FitzGerald's political career continued apace following his marriage and he served as Governor of County Kildare as well as becoming Master-General of the Ordnance. He rose through the military ranks as the years progressed, eventually becoming Lieutenant-General three years prior to his death. In 1766 he further added to his honours when he was made 1st Duke of Leinster, placing him at the very pinnacle of the Irish peerage.
For all his success and celebration, FitzGerald's health was not robust in his later years and he died at his Dublin home, Leinster House, aged 51. He was buried amongst much ceremony in Christ Church Cathedral and was succeeded by his son, William, Marquess of Kildare.