The Earls of Desmond in the Fourteenth Century

The Earls of Desmond in the Fourteenth Century

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The Earls of Desmond in the Fourteenth Century

Keith Alan Waters

University of Durham: Ph.D. Thesis, Department of History (2004)


The Desmond Geraldines, earls of Desmond after 1329, were a prominent Anglo-Irish family in the English lordship of Ireland in the fourteenth century. Their landholdings included lands in Counties Kerry, Limerick, Waterford, Cork and Tipperary, as well as the liberty of Kerry. This substantial lordship crossed cultural borders to include Gaelic regions as well as Anglo-Irish controlled areas and the Desmond Geraldines were able to exert influence and, in some cases, overlordship over the semi-autonomous Irish kingdoms beyond their borders. The earls of Desmond seem to have been particularly adept at operating in both English and Irish spheres of influence, making them crucial to the stability of southwest Ireland. The substantial ambition and drive which had led the Desmond Geraldines to carve out this lordship did not end with the creation of the earldom of Desmond: the earls continued to attempt to bring more lands and men under their control. Their ambition brought them into conflict not just with the gentry and absentee landholders whom they were attempting to dominate but also with other powers who were trying to expand into the same areas.

These conflicts, in turn, brought the earls of Desmond into conflict with the crown government and the king of England, at times jeopardising their position within the lordship. However, they also gained a substantial affinity drawn from the region; both drawn from their own lands and recruited fi-om bordering lands. This thesis explores these ambitions and relationships. It looks at the complex, sometimes violent, relationships between the earls of Desmond and local gentry, neighbouring magnates, absentee landholders, the royal government and the English crown as well as with the Irish. It also explores the extent of the Desmond lordship and the methods used to expand it as well as their administration and exploitation of that lordship.

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