The Tudor Society

3 February – Silken Thomas

On this day in Tudor history, 3rd February 1537, in the reign of King Henry VIII, Thomas Fitzgerald, 10th Earl of Kildare (known as Silken Thomas), his five uncles and Sir John Burnell, were executed as traitors at Tyburn in London.

What led these men to these awful ends and why was Thomas known as "Silken Thomas".

Find out more in today's talk.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 3rd February 1587, the Privy Council met in William Cecil, Lord Burghley’s chambers at Greenwich and agreed to send Mary, Queen of Scots’ signed death warrant to Fotheringhay. You can find out more about that in last year's video and my video from 1st February:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1478 – Birth of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham at Brecon Castle. He was the eldest son of rebel Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, and his wife, Katherine Woodville. His father had been executed in 1483 after rebelling against Richard III, but his attainder was posthumously reversed, allowing Edward to become Duke of Buckingham. Unfortunately, Edward was also executed in 1521 after being found guilty of treason.
  • 1554 – Thomas Wyatt the Younger and his rebels reached Southwark, London. By this time, however, Mary I had rallied her troops, and Wyatt found the city guarded and barricaded. He had to move on to Kingston, where he managed to enter London on 6th February.
  • 1576 – Henry of Navarre, future Henry IV of France, escaped from Paris after being forced to live at the French court and convert to Catholicism, following the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre of August 1572.


On this day in Tudor history, 3rd February 1537, in the reign of King Henry VIII, Thomas Fitzgerald, 10th Earl of Kildare (known as Silken Thomas), his five uncles and Sir John Burnell, were executed at Tyburn in London. Thomas was hanged and beheaded, but his uncles and Burnell were hanged, drawn and quartered.

What had led these men to their rather sticky ends?

Well, Thomas’s father, Gerald Fitzgerald, 9th Earl of Kildare and Lord Deputy of Ireland, had been called to the royal court in London in 1534. According to the Annals of Ulster, the summons was due to accusations made by “Foreigners of Ireland” regarding “excess of his illegality and his injustice on them”. The Annals goes on to say that they planned to put him in the Tower of London “in anticipation of his ruin”. Kildare answered the summons, leaving his twenty-one-year-old son Thomas in charge of things in Ireland as Vice-Deputy. Kildare was indeed imprisoned in the Tower, where he died in September 1534.

While his father was imprisoned in the Tower, Thomas, known as Silken Thomas after the silk fringes he and his men wore on their jackets, heard a rumour that his father had been executed in London. Thomas publicly renounced his allegiance to King Henry VIII, who was Lord of Ireland, at St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin in June 1534 and asserted his allegiance to the pope, instead. He then launched a rebellion against King Henry VIII. Chronicler Edward Hall records that “he took all the king’s ordinance, and sent ambassadors to the Emperor to have entreated to him to take part with him. Also he slew the Bishop of Dublin and burnt and robbed all such as would not obey him.”

It is not known who exactly murdered Archbishop John Alen, but Thomas got the blame. Unfortunately to Silken Thomas, an English army under the command of the newly appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir William Skeffinton, recaptured Dublin and then, in March 1535, attacked Silken Thomas and his forces who’d holed up at Maynooth Castle. In the summer of 1535, after realising that no Spanish or imperial forces would be sent to help him, Silken Thomas surrendered to the English forces led by Lord Leonard Grey, who guaranteed his safety. He was escorted to London, where he was imprisoned in the Tower. While a prisoner there, he wrote a letter to his friend O’Brien asking him for money for food and clothes, writing “I never had any money since I came into prison, but a noble, nor I have had neither hosen, doublet, nor shoes, nor shirt but one; nor any other garment but a single frieze gown, for a velvet furred with a budge, and so I have gone wolward (shirtless) and barefoot and barelegged diverse times (when it hath not been very warm); and so I should have done still, but that poor prisoners of their gentleness hath sometimes given me old hosen and shoes and shirts.”

Worse was to come though. Despite the promise of safety and the hope of mercy, Silken Thomas and his five uncles, who’d been implicate in the rebellion, were executed as traitors on this day in Tudor history, 3rd February 1537. The Chronicle of the Grey Friars records:
“Also the 3rd day of February [1537] the lorde Garrad with his five uncles of Ireland—these were their names, Thomas lorde Fytzgarrard, sir James Fytzgarrard, sir John Fytzgarrard, sir Richard Fytzgarrard lord of St Johns in Ireland, sir Oliver Fytzgarrard, and sir Watter Fytzgarrard—were drawn from the tower unto Tyburn, and there all hanged and hedded and quartered, save the lorde Thomas, for he was but hanged and hedded and his body buried at the Crost Freeres in the quire, and the quarters with their heads set up about the city.”

Thomas’s family’s lands were confiscated.

In 1541, Parliament declared King Henry VIII King of Ireland, stating that Ireland was now “knit forever to the imperial crown of the realm of England.” King Henry was determined to complete dominate Ireland.

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  1. M

    I love your “Cats and Chats” 😂😂😂

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3 February – Silken Thomas