February 3rd, 1537: Silken Thomas, Henry’s Irish Problem and the Ironic Death of the Earl of Kildare.

On the 3rd February, 1537 a rather overambitious lad by the nick name ‘Silken Tomas’ was put to death at the hands of His Majesty, Henry VIII. Now you may be thinking ‘Silken Thomas?? What kind of a stupid name is that?! He sounds like a right twat!’, and you would be correct.

Before I tell you about Silken Thomas, let’s look at his family and how he came to be so important. His Dad, Gerald FitzGerald -I shit you not – had been in and out of favor at the court of Henry VII for years. He later married Henry VII’s cousin, Elizabeth Zouch , and the pair had a son called Thomas. Henry made FitzGerald the 9th Earl of Kildare, and sent him to govern his home country of Ireland. It went tits up a few times, but in 1534 he was summoned to England by order of the King, now Henry VIII, to account for several offences; some of which were pissing off Wolsey’s Friend, The Archbishop of Dublin, who just so happened to be English, and plotting with local Irish ‘chiefs’ against the King, among other things.

FitzGerald though ‘fuck it’ and sent his wife to account for his crimes, to be fair his speech had started to go and he had sustained significant injuries from a recent skirmish . Whilst his wife was away, FitzGerald seized the opportunity to stockpile ammunition, gunpowder and weaponry from Dublin Castle and ‘secure it’ in his own personal care.

Henry wasn’t buying any of this horseshit and  summoned the Earl to London as a matter of urgency. FitzGerald now had to go or suffer the consequences. He decided that in his absence, he would leave his now 21 year old son, Thomas, in charge and named him as the Deputy Governor of Ireland, to serve in his absence. FitzGerald was taken to the Tower in June 1534. This is when it all kicked off for Silken Thomas.


Thomas FitzGerald, a.k.a. Silken Thomas. He is supposed to be 24 in this picture…not 54 as the image would suggest.

It wasn’t long after FitzGerald had arrived in the capital that Thomas heard the vicious rumour that his Dad had been sent to the Tower, awaiting execution.Thomas had been having his ego massaged by his fathers peers, who were actually doing nothing more than manipulating the young deputy into starting a rebellion against the English. England had undergone a reformation and the King was finding it difficult to persuade his Irish subjects to ditch the Catholic faith. With Thomas being so ambitious and eager to stamp his own mark on the country, the Irish peers grabbed the opportunity to rebel with both hands.

Thomas marched to St. Mary’s Abbey in Dublin with a small army of men, known as the Gallowglasses. These men were utter bad-asses; Gaelic-Norse mercenaries who literally gave no fucks, none whatsoever. Seriously, you would not mess with these guys. They were from Scottish and  Irish clans, and of Viking descent, but that didn’t stop them embracing their inner haberdashers and donning a silk fringe on their helmet…hence the nickname ‘Silken Thomas’. Nobody was about to take the piss though, these guys would fuck you up.

Anyway, Thomas and the Gallowglasses marched into the Abbey, where Thomas went mental. He threw down his Sword of State in front of the Kings council and openly declared rebellion. He was hoping that he could use the reformations as a way of buying the support of the Irish people, rid the country of British rule, and take charge himself under the pretense that he was ‘freeing Ireland’ or some shit…and definitely not because he was a power hungry, overambitious gobshite. He exiled the English, or executed them if they refused to leave, and seized lands and goods.

The Archbishop of Dublin, who was a sworn enemy to the family, shat himself and ran off. He managed to get his hands on a small boat but didn’t get very far before it ran around in Dublin Bay. Now I’m  no mariner, but I do know that to flee Dublin or England, and end up in Dublin Bay is pretty shit. What a chump, you could swim it and hardly get wet. As predicted, he was caught and taken to Silken Thomas, who had him ‘brained and hacked into gobbets’. Nice.

Back in England, Henry VIII was going BATSHIT. He sent for Thomas, who obviously refused to leave, and so ordered the Mayor of Dublin to arrest him. Thomas was holding the city captive: he cut off the citizens water supply and held the children hostage. The Constable of Dublin Castle was appalled about all of this shit and ordered supplies to be delivered to the castle to see the people through the rebellion. After hearing this, Thomas got his knackers in a twist and instigated a siege on the castle.


The Siege on Dublin Castle

After a bit of of a scrap, it became evident that Thomas had dropped a bollock. Henry had appointed a new Lord Deputy of Ireland to replace the traitor, and had appointed a bloke called Leonard Grey as head of the army, with clear instructions to get the mess sorted out. The rebellion lasted nearly four months, in which time vast parts of the city had been left with large numbers of fatalities, both caused by the fight, and the plague, which was rife at that time.

Silken’s men had had enough and most of them deserted him, bargaining deals for their lives with the English. Silken had no choice, he wrote a letter of submission to Lord Grey, who promised him his life if he would return to England with him to answer to the King. In 1535, he arrived in England and was thrown into the Tower, there he sat for eight months, neglected, starved and abandoned. He was eventually executed, along with his six Uncles who had egged him on,  by ‘hanging and beheading’ on February 3rd 1537.

The rebellion was over but it was a slap in the face for Henry, who quickly came to realise the Irish were not going to play by his rules. The whole ‘Silken Thomas’ affair had cost him £25,000, and Henry had decided that from then on,only Englishmen could be trusted to govern Ireland. Royal’s were no longer allowed to marry an Irish match; he did not want to run the risk of anybody with high status leading a rebellion again, and appointed Leonard Grey as the new Lord-Justice of Ireland, (who was also later executed for treason)

The funny thing was that Gerald FitzGerald was never executed in the Tower. It is said that he died of a broken heart upon hearing the news of his sons rebellion. You have to laugh.




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