The Real Game of Thrones: Robb Stark vs. Silken Thomas

When he heard his noble father had been executed, he gathered his followers and publicly renounced his allegiance to the king. Later, his army was slaughtered by the king’s allies after agreeing to an allegiance. This notorious bloodbath become known as…

…the Red Wedding? No – the Pardon of Maynooth.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Meet Thomas FitzGerald, AKA Tomás an tSí­oda, AKA the 10th Earl of Kildare, AKA “Silken Thomas.” So how is he Robb Stark’s real-life counterpart?

Side-by-side portrait of Silken Thomas and photo of Robb Stark
OK, maybe not looks-wise…

His family stuck to the old ways: Like the Andals, the FitzGeralds were originally invaders themselves, arriving with the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169 (if you ever hear a reference to “800 years of oppression!” in Ireland, this is the start of those 800 years). But as the Andals intermarried with the First Men, the FitzGeralds quickly became adapted to Ireland, making themselves a new identity that was both Gaelic Irish and Anglo-Norman. In the words of later scholars, they were “more Irish than the Irish themselves”: or, as bad 19th-century poetry put it:

These Geraldines! These Geraldines!–not long our air they breathed;
Not long they fed on venison, in Irish water seethed;
Not often had their children been by Irish mothers nursed;
When from their full and genial hearts an Irish feeling burst!
The English monarchs strove in vain, by law, and force, and bribe,
To win from Irish thoughts and ways this “more than Irish” tribe;

The FitzGeralds and other “Old English” families resented later Tudor English attempts to directly control their power and lands in Ireland.

His dad was kind of a big deal: Like Robb Stark, Thomas had a privileged upbringing, with numerous younger sisters and step-siblings, and a devoted, powerful father – Gearóid Óg, Lord Deputy of Ireland – who was well-connected to the king. Thomas’s mother, Elizabeth Zouche, was Henry VII’s cousin, and his stepmother Elizabeth Grey was a cousin of Henry VIII’s. Like Ned, Gearóid (also known as Garrett Óg) fought for the king several times and accompanied him on important occasions – such as Henry VIII’s extended diplomatic visit to France known as the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520.

When he heard his dad had been executed, he rebelled against the king: Robb Stark called his banners when Ned was taken prisoner, and was proclaimed King in the North after his father’s death. In 1534, Thomas, then Vice-Deputy of Ireland, knowing that Gearóid had been taken to the Tower of London and hearing he had been executed, stormed into St. Mary’s Abbey in Dublin with more than 100 horsemen to publicly renounce his loyalty to Henry.

Woodcut of Thomas rebelling against the king
Later depiction of Thomas’ moment of rebellion.

The difference here is that Robb’s father really was dead; Thomas’s wasn’t. Though he soon would be – Gearóid died a prisoner in the Tower in 1534. Oops.

An ill-advised execution was his undoing: Robb Stark executes Lord Karstark against the advice of his counsellors, thus losing the Karstark men, giving Bolton the weakness he needs to betray him. Thomas executed Archbishop John Alen who had attempted to mediate between his forces and the king’s; thus he lost the support of the powerful Irish clergy, who he had expected would support him against the ex-Catholic Henry VIII.

Betrayal led to a grisly death for him and his family: Robb was betrayed by his foster-brother Theon Greyjoy, who took Winterfell for himself; Robb was betrayed again by Lord Bolton and the Freys, and died horribly with his wife, mother, and his men. After Thomas’s siege of Dublin failed, he retreated to his family’s stronghold of Maynooth, where he soon realised he would need more men.

16th-century woodcut depicting Thomas's unsuccessful siege of Dublin.
16th-century woodcut depicting Thomas’s unsuccessful siege of Dublin. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

While Thomas was away recruiting more desperately-needed soldiers, the English bribed a guard to let them into the castle. They then slaughtered the entire garrison – including the guard, Christopher Parris, who hadn’t had the wit to make his life as well as money part of his bargain: this is “the Pardon of Maynooth.” After this, Thomas was forced to surrender, and he was hanged and beheaded at Tyburn in 1537, along with his five uncles, who were hanged, beheaded, and quartered.

FitzGerald rebellion continued with the First and Second Desmond rebellions (1569-1573, 1579-1583), and sparked again centuries later in 1798, when the son of the 20th Earl, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, led yet another unsuccessful rebellion against British rule (top Irish history tip: all the rebellions were unsuccessful). Edward died in prison of wounds taken during his arrest: I like to think both he and Thomas would be amused that the house the 20th Earl had built as a city townhouse – Leinster House – is now the seat of the Irish parliament. Who knows what future Starks will do?

Robb definitely had the cooler nickname, though.


Sources: Wikipedia (Thomas, Gearóid, the FitzGeralds); Maynooth Archaeology;

7 thoughts on “The Real Game of Thrones: Robb Stark vs. Silken Thomas”

Leave a Reply