Elizabeth Fitzgerald: The Fair Geraldine

Elizabeth Fitzgerald was born in 1527, in Ireland to Gerald Fitzgerald, 9th Earl of Kildare and his wife Elizabeth Grey. Elizabeth Grey was the daughter of Thomas Grey, 1st Marquis of Dorset. Dorset was the son of Elizabeth Woodville, Queen to King Edward IV, by her first husband, John Grey.

In 1533, Elizabeth Fitzgerald, her mother and one of her sisters moved to London when her father was accused of treason or corruption charges and put in the Tower of London. After her father died in the Fall of 1534 (in the Tower), she was raised at English court alongside her cousin Princess Elizabeth Tudor.

Elizabeth_Fiennes_de_Clinton,_later_Countess_of_LincolnIn 1537, her half-brother Thomas Fitzgerald, 10th Earl of Kildare, and five FitzGerald uncles (James, Oliver, Richard, John and Walter) were executed at Tyburn for treason and rebellion. Thomas had renounced his allegiance to Henry VIII. On 3 February 1537, Elizabeth’s brother, who had been imprisoned for sixteen months, and her uncles for eleven months, were executed as traitors at Tyburn. They were hanged, drawn and quartered.

After the execution of her half-brother and uncles, Elizabeth was sent to Lady Mary Tudor’s household at Hunsdon. Her younger brothers, however, were raised alongside Prince Edward Tudor. Elizabeth’s oldest remaining brother, Gerald, who became 11th Earl of Kildare upon the execution of his brother, had gone on the run in Ireland.

Around that same time, at the age of ten, she became immortalized in a sonnet by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. This is where she picked up the nickname, “The Fair Geraldine”. Since Elizabeth was so young it is not believed to be a love sonnet by any means, it was more of a way for Surrey to show men at court what a great catch she would be in the future. She needed all the help she could get after her family’s name was tarnished by the above noted scandal.

From Tuscan came my lady’s worthy race;
Fair Florence was some time their ancient seat;
The western isle, whose pleasant shore doth face
Wild Camber’s cliffs, did give her lively heat:
Fostered she was with milk of Irish breast;
Her sire an earl; her dame of princes blood:
From tender years, in Britain she doth rest
With king’s child, where she tasteth costly food.
Hunsdon did first present her to my een:
Bright is her hue, and Geraldine she hight:
Hampton me taught to wish her first for mine:
And Windsor, alas, doth chase me from her sight.
Her beauty of kind, her virtues from above;
Happy is he that can obtain her love.

– Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

In 1543, at the age of sixteen, Lady Elizabeth married a forty-something year old Sir Anthony Browne, and subsequently became stepmother to his eight children.

Five years after they were married, on 6 May 1548, Sir Anthony died – Elizabeth was left a widow at the age of twenty-one. She had two children by Sir Anthony, but they had both died young.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald was a close friend of Queen Elizabeth since she had been a companion to her when she was still Princess Elizabeth and they were just small children. The friendship between the girls was renewed in the household of the dowager queen consort Katherine Parr, and her husband Thomas Seymour when Elizabeth Fitzgerald went to live in their household after the death of her first husband, Anthony Browne. It is said that they got along during the brief time together.

On 1 October 1552, at the age of 25, she married her second husband, Edward Clinton, Lord High Admiral.

BAL72730 Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Countess of Lincoln, 1560 (oil on panel) by Meulen, Steven van der (fl.1543-68) (attr. to); 91.4x73.7 cm; Private Collection; Dutch, out of copyright
Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Countess of Lincoln, 1560 (oil on panel) by Meulen,

In 1553, Elizabeth and her second husband (Edward Clinton) were supporters of the plot to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne in place of Lady Mary Tudor. Lady Jane Grey had also been a member of Katherine Parr’s household. It seems Lady Elizabeth Fitzgerald had affection for the young girl. This may be why she supported Lady Jane’s claim to the throne.

When the plot failed, Lady Elizabeth and her husband managed to regain the trust of Princess Mary, who subsequently became queen. Shortly after the ascension of Mary’s half-sister Elizabeth Tudor to the throne following Mary’s death in 1558, Lady Elizabeth was at court as one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting. Elizabeth was one of those who, in 1561, had tried to warn Lady Catherine Grey to confess her clandestine marriage to Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford to the Queen before the latter discovered the truth from other people. That same year, Lady Elizabeth fell briefly into disfavour with the Queen and was accused of “frailty” and “forgetfulness of duty”. These charges were made by the Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker who also declared that she should be “chastised in Bridewell” for her “offences”. Tudor historian David Starkey concludes that Archbishop Parker considered Lady Elizabeth to have been a “strumpet“. (Wikipedia: Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Countess of Lincoln)

After all that Elizabeth regained her former favor with the Queen Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Countess of Lincoln passed away in March 1590. She had survived her second husband by roughly five years.

out of; (c) Herbert Art Gallery & Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Another possible image of Elizabeth – out of; (c) Herbert Art Gallery & Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation


Queenship and Political Discourse in the Elizabethan Realms by Natalie Mears

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Catherine Parr Edward VI Elizabeth Fitzgerald Elizabeth l Henry VIII History House of Tudor Lady Jane Grey Mary l

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