FITZGERALD, Maurice (1774-1849), of Ballinruddery, co. Kerry

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1801 - 1831

Family and Education

b. 29 Dec. 1774, 1st s. of Robert Fitzgerald, MP [I], 17th Knight of Kerry, by 3rd w. Catherine, da. of Launcelot Sandes, MP [I], of Kilcavan, Queen’s Co. educ. Harrow 1786-9; Trinity, Dublin 1789; L. Inn 1792. m. (1) 5 Nov. 1801, Maria (d. 13 Nov. 1829), da. of David Digges Latouche of Marlay, co. Dublin, 6s. 4da.; (2) Cecilia Maria, wid. of George Knight, s.p. suc. fa. 1781.

Offices Held

MP [I] 1795-1800.

Commr. of customs [I] Aug. 1799-Feb. 1801; PC [I] 27 Jan. 1801; commr. of treasury [I] 1801-7, [UK] July 1827-Jan. 1828; vice-treasurer [I] 1830; ld. of Admiralty Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835.

Trustee, linen board [I] 1803.

Maj. Kerry militia 1797, lt.-col. 1801-d.; capt. commdt. Feale inf. 1805.


Fitzgerald succeeded his father as 18th ‘Knight of Kerry’ and to an encumbered estate in 1781. His guardian and kinsman Judge Robert Day rebuked him for being a desultory student—the declined taking a degree at Dublin and was not called to the bar, involving himself in the militia and in London amusements—but conceded that he was

a young man of excellent abilities, qualities and accomplishments, and I should hope his defects may abate as his eyes open. His misfortune is an adoption of politics at an age when the mind should be employed in more liberal, ornamental and advantageous studies.1

Fitzgerald could scarcely wait for his return to the Irish parliament for county Kerry on coming of age, 14 Mar. 1795. He formed a close friendship with Castlereagh and after his notable defence of the Union in debate, 22 Jan. 1799, was next day offered a seat at the revenue board.2 His support of the Union was based on Pitt’s argument that it would solve Ireland’s problems and on the belief that Catholic relief was the sine qua non of its operation. In 1801 the outgoing viceroy Cornwallis entrusted him with the propagation in Catholic circles of the ministerial ‘pledge’ to satisfy Catholic claims.3

On his return to Westminster in 1801, Fitzgerald was at once appointed to the Irish treasury board and made a privy councillor. He did not take his seat until he was re-elected on 5 Mar. On 12 Mar. he defended the Irish martial law bill: ‘We call upon you ... to save Ireland; for disaffection is organised, and, should a French fleet appear off its coast, you will have another rebellion’. On 20 Mar. he rebuked opposition allegations about atrocities committed in Ireland in 1798. Subsequently, he spent most of his time in Dublin on duty and at home, or in ‘very dissipated habits of living’, and there was no guarantee of his attendance. On 16 Jan. 1802 and again on 9 Oct., he applied to be a trustee of the linen board, a wish that he obtained soon aftewards.4 He did not support Manners Sutton’s motion on the Prince of Wales’s revenues, 31 Mar. 1802, although he had recently married into the Latouche family and was numbered by the Prince among his Irish friends. He was surprised to learn that the Prince named him as a deserter. He accordingly wrote to the Prince, whom he had met only once, explaining that while he respected him as a friend ‘to the Irish nation’, he could not vote for the motion in question. By the time he received the letter the Prince had forgotten the matter and possibly had confused him with a namesake.5

In February 1803 Castlereagh lamented that Fitzgerald (who had recently lost his infant heir) was unable to ‘take that station in this House to which I consider your talents and character entitle you’. In May, after keeping him informed of events at Westminster, Castlereagh begged him to attend on the imminent resumption of hostilities with France and he made an unreported speech against Patten’s censure motion on 3 June. He then returned to Ireland, where the rebellion sapped his faith in the Union, already undermined by the failure to carry Catholic relief. Castlereagh rallied him:

The system upon which we should have wished to administer Ireland is not under present circumstances attainable. We must support the state under every vicissitude and at all hazards. This must be done in the hands of those to whom it is now entrusted.

Fitzgerald was further disillusioned in February 1804 when his offer to raise a corps was not taken up: the viceroy thought he had ‘risen in his own estimation’ too much. He was tempted at this time, when the King’s death or a Regency seemed imminent, to pay his court to the Prince of Wales. The tempter was his friend in opposition, Christopher Hely Hutchinson*, who assured him that he would not commit him to the Prince: ‘Do not stir till you hear from me, and keep yourself as quiet as possible. Say nothing.’ On 26 Mar. 1804, Hutchinson wrote again, ‘I assure you, I have not committed you in the most slight degree’. This caution proved well warranted: but the chief secretary was aware of the fact that Fitzgerald was doing nothing to support Addington’s tottering administration and complained that he had not complied with five or six requests to attend the House, at Castlereagh’s instigation so he thought. The viceroy was sure such conduct was ‘upon some speculation’. When Castlereagh himself summoned him, 28 Apr., and he was prepared to put in an appearance, it was too late to be of service to Addington.6

Fitzgerald remained in office under Pitt’s second ministry and voted for the additional force bill, 18 June, and spoke on Irish revenue collection, 25 June 1804, before returning to Ireland. On 17 Jan. 1805 the chief secretary had to dragoon him into attendance again; after two months (he voted with government on 8 Apr.), he returned to Ireland, where his mother-in-law’s death and the assizes detained him until May, when he supported the Catholic petition, indicating that he had always sympathized with the unfulfilled promise held out to the Catholics at the Union. He soon afterwards crossed to Ireland again, to the chief secretary’s indignation: ‘he has given only one vote this session and that against us on the Catholic petition’: it was ‘extraordinary’ conduct for a lord of the treasury. He was summoned back, but did not return owing to his wife’s confinement.7

Given that, to quote Judge Day’s estimate of Fitzgerald: ‘His talents are not unlike his person, showy without stamina’,8 it is clear that Westminster was not congenial to him. The underlying reason is strongly hinted in his confession to a confidant on the advent of the Grenville ministry:

I certainly wish to continue in, chiefly because a sort of disgrace would attach to dismissal by a popular administration, and the triumph to my enemies in the county. As to the permanency of office, I estimate it very lightly, having strong doubts as to the permanency of empire ... I repent of my vote on the Union, because I think the benefits I looked to now almost unattainable.

His contribution to the ‘popular administration’ was virtually nil and at the election his guardian took the precaution of returning him for Tralee in case of trouble in the county election. On 5 Mar. 1807 Judge Day inquired:

how, for God’s sake, do you manage to skulk from all your pluralities, from the regiment, from the treasury, from Parliament? I don’t at all wonder that you prefer your sequestered nook and thatched cabin, furnished with such a family, to the glare and battle of these scenes, but how you manage to be dispensed with is the wonder.9

Not surprisingly, on the fall of the Grenville ministry, the new chief secretary invited Fitzgerald to remain in office; but he had at last found a cause. On 3 Apr. 1807 he replied that, believing in the necessity of Catholic relief and that the ex-ministers had not violated the royal prerogative on that issue, he preferred to resign with them. This view he repeated in Parliament on 9 Apr., adding that the Irish war effort in itself justified concessions to the Catholics.10 On 20 Apr., in a debate on his own motion for the regulation of funds levied by Irish grand juries, he assured Wilberforce that he would not have supported the Union had he known that ‘direct pledges’ to the Catholics would not be fulfilled and that the Union, consequently, would be ‘barren and nominal’. His guardian remonstrated:

I cannot see how ... you can fling away so handsome an income and so respectable a situation. I cannot understand why you should resign an office the moment those men come back who gave it to you ... I am extremely concerned at this pettish and rash step you are taking, and prophesy that after a few hours of pride and glory ... you will feel years and ages ... of deep sorrow and compunction at its folly.11

Fitzgerald now had the opportunity and the inspiration to speak his mind freely: his conduct had endeared him to the Kerry Catholics and Daniel O’Connell became his ally. From 3 Mar. to 17 June 1808 he was in active opposition, speaking of the Copenhagen expedition as an ‘enormity’, 21 Mar., and subsequently confining himself to Irish questions, being one of the most prominent spokesmen for grand jury reform, Catholic relief and tithe commutation. By February 1809 Judge Day regarded him as ‘indented body and soul with opposition’. In that session he voted against the convention of Cintra, joined the opposition attack on the Duke of York and was again an advocate of tithe reform on Parnell’s plan and reform of the Irish grand jury levies on his own. In 1810 he was a ‘thick and thin’ opposition man on the Scheldt expedition, the army estimates, Burdett’s conduct, parliamentary reform and Catholic relief, which he defended at some length on 1 June. Two days before, he had concurred in the Irish Insurrection Act, hoping it would not be permanent. After voting with opposition on the Regency in January 1811, he was inactive for the rest of the session and lost his place on the Irish finance committee. He returned in the spring of 1812, when Lord Moira urged the Regent to hear his views on Irish discontent, to present the Irish protestant petition for Catholic relief, 20 Apr., and to call for measures against grain scarcity in Ireland, particularly the stoppage of distillation from it, in which he succeeded, 21 Apr. He voted against sinecures on three occasions, meant to speak for the Catholics on 24 Apr., did so on 22 June, and in the two days following called for tithe reform and particularly that of the potato tithe in Ireland.12

Fitzgerald attended the session of 1812-13, principally to give his vote in favour of the Catholics, but was subsequently absent until May 1815, when the Catholic question was again his object: he spoke on that, though he voted with opposition on other questions, including resumption of war. He had declined O’Connell’s invitation to take the Catholic question out of Grattan’s hands. He was then most often absent until February 1817 when he was again concerned with the prevention of Irish grain scarcity, though he also criticized the suspension of habeas corpus, 26 Feb. In May he returned to vote for the Catholics and then, as in February, voted for parliamentary reform and for retrenchment. He next emerged in April 1819 and for the rest of that session voted steadily with opposition, as well as for Catholic relief, speaking seldom, as had been the case since 1812. In 1815 he wrote, justifiably: ‘I fancy I am no favourite with the reporters’.13 He did not attend the winter session of 1819-20. The fact was, as he confessed to a friend in 1817, he found ‘the profession of Parliament expensive and thankless’ and only ‘old habits’ kept him in it.14 He had begun to embark on schemes of local improvement, ‘making a fortune of slates’ in Valentia,15 which preoccupied him until his friendship with Lord Lansdowne brought him back into office in 1827. He died 7 Mar. 1849.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Fitzgerald mss 5/23, 31-32, 35; Barnard Letters, 39.
  • 2. Cornwallis Corresp. iii. 42, 45.
  • 3. Gent. Mag. (1849), i. 538.
  • 4. Fitzgerald mss 7/81; PRO 30/9/9, pt. 1/4; Wickham mss 5/16, Fitzgerald to Wickham, 9 Oct. 1802.
  • 5. Prince of Wales Corresp. iv. 1655; Fitzgerald mss 8/19.
  • 6. Fitzgerald mss 8/40, 52, 56, 68; 9/16, 18, 22, 26, 30, 32; Add. 35705, ff. 135, 302; 35706, f. 9; 35715, f. 33.
  • 7. Add. 31229, ff. 148, 160, 259; 35715, f. 84; 35716, f. 81; 35725, f. 172; PRO, Dacres Adams mss 6/112.
  • 8. Fitzgerald mss, Day to Glandore, 13 Mar. 1802.
  • 9. Ibid. 9/80; 10/16.
  • 10. Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 1-2.
  • 11. Fitzgerald mss 10/19.
  • 12. Ibid. 10/28, 44; Geo. IV Letters, i. 30; O’Connell Corresp. i. 375.
  • 13. Add. 40198, f. 47; O’Connell Corresp. ii. 543, 552.
  • 14. NLI, Godfrey mss, Fitzgerald to Godfrey, 25 Mar. 1817.
  • 15. O’Connell Corresp. ii. 794.