Thomas FitzWilliam, 1st Viscount FitzWilliam

Thomas FitzWilliam, 1st Viscount Fitzwilliam (1581–1650) was an Irish nobleman of the Stuart age. He was born to wealth and privilege, and acquired a peerage, but due to his loyalty to the English Crown his estates suffered greatly during the English Civil War, and he died in poverty.


He was born in Dublin, probably at Merrion Castle, eldest of the five sons of Sir Richard FitzWiliam, Constable of Wicklow, and Jane Preston, daughter of Christopher Preston, 4th Viscount Gormanston.[1] The FitzWilliam family are recorded as living in Dublin from about 1210, and by the time of Thomas's birth they were among the wealthiest and most influential families in the Pale.

Early career

Thomas was only fourteen when his father died. As a young man he spent some time in London studying law at Gray's Inn. He was knighted in 1605, the year of his marriage.

In 1608 he narrowly avoided entanglement in the rebellion of Sir Cahir O'Doherty, having stood surety for the good behaviour of O'Doherty, who had married Tomas's aunt Mary Preston.[2] A messenger arrived at Merrion Castle ordering FitzWilliam to produce the person of O'Doherty; fortunately FitzWilliam was not at home. No doubts seem to have been entertained about his own loyalty to the Crown, except perhaps during the latter part of the English Civil War, and in 1629 King Charles I created him Viscount FitzWilliam in recognition of his family's long record of service to the Crown.[3] It appears that a good deal was expected in return for the title, and Thomas made substantial gifts to the Crown. This put a particular burden on his estates since he was involved in protracted litigation with his numerous brothers and sisters, due to his father's breaking of an entail on the estates, which benefitted Thomas but not his siblings. Like nearly all of his family he inclined to the Roman Catholic faith, while adhering in public to the Church of Ireland; later generations were more overt in their support for the Catholic religion.

Civil war and last years

When the Irish Rebellion of 1641 broke out, FitzWilliam, unlike many of the nobility of the Pale, remained loyal to the Crown, despite strong pressure from his mother's family, the Prestons of Gormanston, to join the Irish Confederacy.[4] He was one of only three nobles to offer their assistance in the Royalist defence of Dublin, and a garrison was placed in Merrion Castle. It was betrayed in June 1642 and thereafter FitzWilliam only lived there for short periods. He went to London to offer his services to the Crown, but despite his long record of loyalty to the Crown he was rebuffed, apparently on account of his known leanings towards the Roman Catholic religion, and he took no further part in the fighting. In his last years he led an unsettled existence, living sometimes at Merrion, sometimes with his eldest son at Howth, and sometimes in Louth. At times he seems to have been almost destitute, and he wrote to James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde in 1647 asking for repayment of a debt. In 1648 he was promised a pension of £100 a year, but it is unclear if he ever received it.[5]

Due perhaps to the confused conditions of the English Civil War, little seems to be known about the date and place of his death. Even the year has been disputed, but is generally stated to be 1650. He was certainly dead before 1655 when his eldest surviving son Oliver was allowed to inherit a part of the estates, though most of them were not restored until 1663.[6]


In 1605 he married Margaret Plunkett, daughter of Oliver Plunkett, 4th Baron Louth and his wife Frances, who was the daughter of Nicholas Bagenal and sister of Henry Bagenal and of Mabel, Countess of Tyrone.[7] They had four sons:


His friend James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde described him as a man who was "in every way faithful to his allegiance".[8]


  1. Ball, F. Elrington History of Dublin Alexander Thom and Co. Dublin 1902-1920 Vol.2 p.11
  2. Ball, p.12
  3. Cokayne Complete Peerage 6 volumes. Reissued 2000 Vol. 5, p. 527
  4. Ball, p.13
  5. Ball, p.16
  6. Ball, p.18
  7. Cokayne Complete Peerage, p. 527
  8. Ball, p.13
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