Fitzgerald surname history

Fitzgerald is a Norman name, made up of fi(t)z, Norman French for "son of", and Gerald, a personal name of Germanic origin from geri, "spear" and wald, "rule". The family trace their origin to Walter FitzOther, keeper of Windsor forest in the late eleventh century, whose son Gerald was constable of Pembroke Castle in Wales. Gerald's son Walter accompanied Strongbow in the invasion of Ireland, and adopted the surname Fitzgerald. Over the following eight centuries the family became one of the most powerful and numerous in Ireland. The head of the main branch, the Duke of Leinster, known historically as the Earl of Kildare, is the foremost peer of Ireland. The power of the Munster branch, the Earls of Desmond, was severely disrupted in the wars of the sixteenth century, but gave rise to three hereditary titles, in existence since at least 1333, which still survive, the Knight of Kerry, the Knight of Glin, and the White Knight, now a Fitzgibbon. The surname is now common, but remains concentrated in the ancient homeland of the Earls of Desmond, counties Cork, Limerick and Kerry.

The arms of the family are typically Norman; military necessity meant that the primary function of Norman arms was to be easily recognisable - hence their clarity and simplicity. The red saltire cross also indicates the participation of the family in the crusades of the early middle ages. The collared and chained monkey appearing in the crest is unique to the Fitzgeralds, and relates to an incident in the thirteenth century. Following the deaths of Thomas Fitzgerald and his son John in the battle of Callan. The only surviving heir was the one-year-old infant Thomas, named after his grandfather. When news of the deaths arrived at Desmond Castle in Tralee, the infant's nurse was so distraught that she abandoned the child for a time. The family's per monkey then took young Thomas and carried him to the top of the castle, where he undressed him, licked him all over, dressed him again and brought him back down to his cradle. The child became known as Tomas an Appagh, "Thomas of the ape", and lived to avenge the deaths of his father and grandfather and re-establish the power of the family; his son became the first Earl of Desmond.

There have been many distinguished bearers of the name. The best known historical figure was probably Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1763-1798), twelfth child of the first Duke of Leinster, whose sympathy with the republican ideals of the French Revolution led him to take part in the Irish rising of 1798, in which he died. His youth and aristocratic origins made him a popular romantic figure. In our own times, the most famous bearer of the name is of course Dr Garret Fitzgerald, Minister for Foreign Affairs 1973-1977 and Taoiseach 1981-1987.


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