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Battle of Piltown and The Execution of ” Great Earl” of Desmond

With the success of the Yorkists on the accession of Richard’s son as Edward IV, the Geraldines became predominant in Ireland, and during his reign, (1461-83), and that of his brother, Richard III (1483-1485), the Earls of Desmond and Kildare shared official power almost without interruption. The Earl of Ormonde had been beheaded in England and his estates confiscated.

The latter measure was ratified by the Irish Parliament, and when Sir John Butler claimed the Ormonde estates, he was opposed by Thomas, 8th Earl of Desmond. A fierce battle took place at Piltown (Co. Kilkenny), in which the Butlers were defeated (1462).

Edmond Butler, who had taken the name of Mac Riocaird, was made prisoner, and was ransomed by the transfer of two Irish books . Sir John Butler held out for some years, although his castles at Kilkenny and elsewhere were captured. Upon the accession of Henry VII the lands of the Ormondes were restored, but the Earls of Ormonde continued for a long time to reside in England, and the Butlers were led in Ireland by other members of the family.

Thomas, Earl of Desmond, the victor of Piltown, was next year appointed Lord Deputy (1463). He enjoyed at once the confidence of all sections amongst the Irish and Anglo-Irish and the favour of the King. The latter conferred much power upon him, and he became so influential that he is called the “Great Earl of Desmond.”

 He was a man of much learning and many accomplishments, and a great patron of Gaelic poets and scholars. He founded a college at Youghal, and endeavoured to create a University at Drogheda, but this was prevented by his death. The new officials established by the Talbots had been opposed to Desmond as previously to Ormonde, and had endeavoured, without success, to undermine his influence with the King. While he was clouded by his defeats at the hands of O’Connor and O’Brien he used some imprudent language regarding the Queen, and this was utilised by his enemies.

Through the influence of the angry Queen, Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, was appointed Deputy in his place, and he and the Earl of Kildare were charged at a Parliament in Drogheda with alliances and fosterage with the Irish. Desmond came to Drogheda, and was immediately seized by Tiptoft and executed (1467).

Kildare went to England and extenuated himself, whereupon he returned, and with Desmond’s sons, ravaged the Pale with fire and sword. He was bought off, appointed Chancellor, and next superseded Tiptoft as Deputy. From that time all official power was almost continuously in the hands of the Kildare family for 65 years (1468-1533).

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