Fitzgerald, James, first Duke of Leinster 1722-1773, was the second but eldest surviving son of Robert, nineteenth earl of Kildare, and head of the great family of the Geraldines, by Lady Mary O'Brien, eldest daughter of William, third earl of Inchiquin. He was born on 29 May 1722, and, after receiving his preliminary education at home, travelled on the continent from February 1737 to September 1739. In the following year he became heir-apparent to the earldom of Kildare, on the death of his elder brother, and on 17 Oct. 1741 he entered the Irish House of Commons as member for Athy, with the courtesy title of Lord Offaly. On 20 Feb. 1744 he succeeded his father as twentieth earl of Kildare, and in the rebellion of the following year he offered to raise a regiment at his own expense to serve against the Pretender. He was sworn of the Irish privy council in 1746, and on 1 Feb. 1747 he received a seat in the English House of Lords as Viscount Leinster of Taplow, Buckinghamshire, an estate belonging to his uncle, the Earl of Inchiquin. This peerage was conferred on Kildare on the occasion of his marriage with Lady Emily Lennox, second daughter of Charles, second duke of Richmond, and sister of Lady Holland, Lady Louisa Conolly, and Lady Sarah Napier, which took place on 7 Feb. 1747. Kildare after his marriage took an active part in Irish politics; he built Leinster House in Dublin, and exercised a princely hospitality; and from his wealth, high birth, and influential family connections, soon formed a powerful party. This party followed implicitly all the directions of Kildare, who pursued an intermediate policy between the radical ideas of Speaker Boyle (afterwards Earl of Shannon) [see Boyle, Henry, 1682-1764] and his friends, and the ministerialists, headed by the primate, George Stone, archbishop of Dublin. Stone was an especial object of hatred to Kildare, who in 1754 sent a most violent protest to the king, attacking the primate's nomination to be a lord deputy during the absence of the lord-lieutenant, and declaring the inalienable right of the Irish parliament to dispose of unappropriated sums of money when voted in excess of the ministerial demands. Stone's chief supporter, the Duke of Dorset, was at once recalled; the primate was struck out of the Irish privy council; and the Marquis of Hartington, a personal friend of Kildare's, was appointed lord-lieutenant. The Irish people, or perhaps it is more correct to say the population of Dublin, were delighted at the earl's behaviour; a medal was struck in his honour, and he remained until the day of his death one of the most popular noblemen in Ireland. He justified the confidence of the English ministry by bringing round the speaker and Richard Malone, the chancellor of the Irish exchequer, to the support of the Irish administration, and in 1756 he accepted the post of lord deputy. In 1758 he was made master-general of the ordnance in Ireland, in March 1760 he raised the Royal Irish regiment of artillery, of which he was appointed colonel, and on 3 March 1761 he was created Earl of Offaly and Marquis of Kildare in the peerage of Ireland. Five years later he received the final step in the peerage. There were at that time no Irish dukes, and the marquis was eager to maintain his precedence over all Irish noblemen. The king promised that he should be created a duke whenever an English duke was made, and in compliance with this promise, when Sir Hugh Smithson-Percy, Earl Percy, was promoted to be Duke of Northumberland, Kildare was created Duke of Leinster in the peerage of Ireland on 16 March 1766. After this last promotion he began to take less part in politics, but in 1771 he drew up and signed a protest in the Irish House of Lords against the petition of the majority of the Irish parliament for the continuance of Lord Townshend in the office of lord-lieutenant. The duke died at Leinster House, Dublin, on 19 Nov. 1773, and was buried at Christ Church in that city. He left a large family, among whom the most notable were William Robert [qv.], who succeeded as second duke of Leinster; Charles James, a distinguished naval officer, who was created Lord Lecale in the peerage of Ireland; Lord Henry Fitzgerald, who married Charlotte, baroness De Ros in her own right; Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the rebel [qv.]; and Lord Robert Stephen Fitzgerald, a diplomatist of some note, who was minister ad interim in Paris during the early years of the French revolution, and afterwards British representative at Berne.
The Marquis of Kildare's Earls of Kildare and their Ancestors from 1057 to 1773, Dublin, 1858.
Contributor: H. M. S. [Henry Morse Stephens]