Fitzgerald, William Robert, second Duke of Leinster 1749-1804, second son of James, first duke of Leinster [qv.], by Lady Emily Lennox, was born on 2 March 1749. He succeeded his elder brother as heir-apparent to his father, and in the courtesy title of Baron Offaly in 1765, and in the following year took the title of Marquis of Kildare when his father was created Duke of Leinster. He then travelled on the continent, and in his absence he was elected M.P. for Dublin by his father's interest, after an expensive contest with La Touche, head of the principal Dublin bank. He was elected both for the county of Kildare and the city of Dublin to the Irish House of Commons at the general election of 1769, and preferred to sit for Dublin. In 1772 he served the office of high sheriff of Kildare. On 19 Nov. 1773 he succeeded his father as second Duke of Leinster, and soon after he married Olivia, only daughter and heiress of St. George Ussher, Lord St. George in the peerage of Ireland. In the Irish House of Commons he had made no mark, and when he succeeded to the dukedom he rather eschewed politics, though his high rank and influential connections caused his support to be sought by all parties. When the movement of the volunteers was started Leinster showed himself a moderate supporter of the scheme, and he was elected a general of the volunteers, and colonel of the Dublin regiment. In 1783, when the order of St. Patrick was founded for the Irish nobility in imitation of the Scotch order of the Thistle, Leinster was nominated first knight, and in 1788 he was appointed to the lucrative office of master of the rolls. In the movement of 1798 the behaviour of the duke was greatly discussed, but though Lord Edward Fitzgerald [qv.] was his brother he himself was never even suspected of complicity in the rebellion. He made every effort to save his brother's life, alleging his own loyalty, and it was no secret that the determination of the government to proceed to extremities was highly displeasing to him. At the time of the proposal for the abolition of the independent Irish parliament in 1799, he was therefore on bad terms with the government, yet as the leading Irish nobleman Leinster was one of the first persons consulted by Lord Cornwallis. His cordial adhesion to the idea of union was not in any way actuated by personal motives, for by the abolition of the Irish parliament his own position as premier peer and most influential person in Ireland was entirely destroyed, and his support of the scheme influenced many other peers. When the Act of Union was passed the duke received 28,800l. as compensation for the loss of his borough influence, 15,000l. for the borough of Kildare, and 13,800l. for the borough of Athy. He died at Cartons, his seat in Kildare, on 20 Oct. 1804, and was buried in Kildare Abbey. He appointed by will his cousin Charles James Fox and another guardians of his only son, Augustus Frederick Fitzgerald, who succeeded him as third duke of Leinster (1791-1874). In a notice of his death it is said of him that he was not shining but good-tempered; good-natured and affable; a fond father, an indulgent landlord, and a kind master.
The Marquis of Kildare's Earls of Kildare and their Ancestors
Hardy's Life of Lord Charlemont
Moore's Life of Lord Edward Fitzgerald
Gent. Mag. November 1804.
Contributor: H. M. S. [Henry Morse Stephens]