FITZGERALD, Lord Robert Stephen (1765-1833).
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Family and Education
b. 15 Jan. 1765, 6th s. of James, 1st Duke of Leinster [I], and bro. of Lords Charles James Fitzgerald* and Henry Fitzgerald*. educ. privately by William Ogilvie and Dr Thompson; Trinity, Dublin 1782. m. 22 July 1792, Sophia Charlotte, da. of Commodore Charles Feilding, RN, 3s. 6da.
Sec. of embassy, France 1789-91, minister plenip. ad interim 1789-90; minister plenip. to Switzerland 1792-5; envoy extraordinary to Denmark 1796-9; minister plenip. to Portugal 1802-6.
Gov. and custos rot. co. Kildare 1804.
Fitzgerald, like his brother Charles and unlike the rest of his family, but with the encouragement of his relative the Duke of Richmond, was an admirer of Pitt.1 On 19 Nov. 1795, after several years’ undistinguished diplomatic service in Paris and Bern,2 he applied to the minister to be secretary to the lord lieutenant, as a ‘native of Ireland, and in possession of a name which has been long favoured with a degree of popularity in that country’.3 Had he been awarded the post, a situation of tragic irony would have arisen in 1798 when his brother Edward joined the rebels and paid for it with his life. Instead, Lord Robert proceeded to Copenhagen, bound for diplomacy again, and was not even able to see his family in their hour of distress.4
On his return he stepped into a power vacuum created by his brother the Duke of Leinster’s opposition to the Union. Rather than contest county Kildare against a friend of government, Leinster agreed to Lord Robert’s offering, as a friend of the Union and of ministers, thus, as Lord Grenville observed, securing his family interest. Leinster subsequently admitted that Lord Robert was ‘the best locum tenens’ for his son. Informing Pitt of this scheme, 27 June 1800, Fitzgerald added that his brother made but one condition, ‘that of vacating the seat at any time that a change of ministers and measures may present him with an opportunity of more effectually supporting those with whom he has chiefly been in the custom of acting’. Castlereagh welcomed the scheme, declaring that ‘there could not be a more desirable candidate’. In October 1801 Fitzgerald applied to the Addington ministry for support in accordance with this plan, taking care to applaud the peace preliminaries, and was promised it and duly elected.5
A few weeks later he became minister to Portugal; he had applied for this unsuccessfully in July 1800, but had been earmarked for it by January 1802. In the preceding March, on receipt of a civil list pension of £800 a year, he had complained to Pitt that it was inadequate for his services and asked him to recommend him for a rise, or for promotion in the foreign line. At that time he was still a ‘warm admirer and advocate’ of the outgoing Pitt administration. He was unable to display his attitude, professedly favourable, to its successor, being abroad from October 1802, when he appealed to Addington to upgrade him to an ambassador to meet his expenses. In fact, he took his seat during a short period of leave, 15 June 1805.6
He had not cared for his mission, and as early as March 1803 appealed to Wickham to find him an Irish place compatible with Parliament. On Pitt’s return to power he had asked that minister for his deceased brother’s Irish ribbon, 12 Dec. 1804, but had to resign himself to the fact that it was never given to a commoner. In December 1805, being in financial difficulties, he applied for leave of absence, to live in Ireland for a year.7 On his return home on long leave for the purpose in May 1806, he supported the Grenville administration, without making any mark in Parliament, and they awarded him a pension of £1,700 p.a. and supported his re-election in 1806.8 He did not attend the House in January 1807, though he promised to do so in an emergency; nor, having obtained leave of absence, did he vote with ministers after their dismissal in April. He then made way for his brother Henry in the county, doubtless to facilitate his return to Lisbon. Canning, the new Foreign secretary, after extending Fitzgerald’s leave ‘beyond all precedent ... more than I would have ventured to do for any private friend of my own, or any political friend of mine’, invited him to resume his post in the summer of 1807. The French invasion of Portugal prevented it and Fitzgerald was disappointed in his hope, later that year, of being sent to Brazil. Canning professed willingness to employ him and raised his pension to £2,000, but he never received another posting.9 He died at Nice, 2 Jan. 1833.10
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: Arthur Aspinall
- 1. Life and Letters of Lady Sarah Lennox, ii. 71.
- 2. HMC Fortescue, i-iii. passim.
- 3. PRO 30/8/135, f. 164.
- 4. HMC Fortescue, iv. 230, 234, 239, 249, 263, 268, 269.
- 5. PRO 30/8/135, f. 170; Castlereagh Corresp. iii. 355; Fortescue mss, Grenville to Castlereagh, 3 July 1800; HMC Fortescue, vi. 265; Add. 33108, f. 119; 35701, f. 219; 51803, Leinster to Holland, 18 Mar. 1802.
- 6. HMC Fortescue, vi. 288; Add. 35701, f. 219; PRO 30/8/135, f. 172; Sidmouth mss, Fitzgerald to Addington, 12 Oct. 1802; J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1806), 186.
- 7. Wickham mss 5/39, Fitzgerald to Wickham, 11 Mar. 1803; PRO, Dacres Adams mss 5/121 and 30/8/135, f. 180.
- 8. NLI, Richmond mss, Canning to Richmond, 24 Nov. 1807; Spencer mss, Irish list, May 1806.
- 9. Grey mss, Fitzgerald to Howick, 13 Jan. 1807; Richmond mss loc. cit.; Geo. III Corresp. v. 3647.
- 10. Gent. Mag. (1833), i. 173.