Conducting research into the papers of Francis Thomas Fitzmaurice 3rd Earl of Kerry in the French National Archivees is not an easy job.  The actual volume of material, the overheated reading room, the identification of the French receipts all took their toll.  My son Marc and I spent a number of days last week examining the Fitzmaurice boxes the National Archives of France in Paris.   We were looking at the papers of Francis Thomas Fitzmaurice, 3rd Earl of Kerry. for a book provisionally titled The Fall of the Fitzmaurices:  The Demise of Kerry’s first family.

This planned book will chronicle the story of the downfall of the Fitzmaurice family, who had been  powerful  Lords of Kerry, since  the year 1235.

By 1818, after five hundred years as Kerry’s foremost family, through a combination of extravagance, irresponsibility and feckless living, their titles and estates were no more  From inheriting a great fortune, built up by the Fitzmaurice family over the  generations,  the last three Earls but particularly Francis Thomas proceeded to spend and squander, resulting in the demise of the Fitzmaurice lineage, their wealth and their lands.

The  new land owners in the Baronies  of Clanmaurice and Iraghticonnor were the absentee landlords of the 19th century in north Kerry.

The three Earls each led a remarkable life:

Thomas, 21st Lord of Kerry, Baron of Lixnaw, enobled as 1st Earl in 1723,  made a significant marriage to Lady Anne Petty, daughter of Sir William Petty and proceeded to live a feudal life style at the ancient seat of his Norman ancestors, the Old Court in Lixnaw.  He and his wife constructed an ancestral seat  ‘which in its heyday was one of the most lavish of Irish houses, set within a formal parkland of canals, avenues’[1]

Thomas’s eldest son William 2nd Earl,  who headed the family for only seven years, had already drained much of the Fitzmaurice patrimony through gambling debts, ‘wenching’ and court cases. His most scandalous feat was his ‘marriage’ to an impoverished Dublin widow, which would not be recognized as a marriage to-day and resulted in both a libel action and his excommunication from the Church of England.

Inheriting the family fortune and title of 3rd Earl of Kerry at the age of seven, Francis Thomas lived mostly in Dublin at the Fitzmaurice town house, now the Shelbourne Hotel.   Lixnaw and the Old Court were abandoned  and allowed to deteriorate. he fell in love with a married lady twenty years older than himself, a Catholic.  Francis’ cousin and heir, William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne said of Francis ‘he fell in love with a married lady twenty years older than himself, the daughter of an eminent Roman Catholic lawyer, and she having obtained a divorce, married her- [she was] an extraordinarily vain person. Having their way to fight up into good society, and having no children, they sold every acre of land that had been in our family since Henry II’s time’.

Francis and his wife Anastasia settled briefly in England but aspiring to greater eminence in the aristocratic world, moved to Paris where they rented a house at Versailles and moved in the Court circles of  Marie Antoinette and Louis xvi.  Later Anastasia’s ‘salon in the Champs Elysées was one of the most brilliant in the French capital’[2].   However their sojourn in Paris came to an unfortunate end.  After the fall of the monarchy in 1792, they were forced to flee leaving behind them all their worldly goods – furniture, silver, jewellery, paintings  and including Francis’s papers.   He left them in the care of his valet, but the house was seized, his goods confiscated and the staff beheaded.  However his papers survived to be kept in the National Archives in Paris.

These papers consist of boxes and boxes of receipts, letters, copies of settlements and sales papers.  The receipts alone tell a story of an extravagant lifestyle – travel, wine, champagne, horses, books, food, clothes, perfumes, jewellery, furniture as well as letters back to Francis’ land agent in North Kerry with directions to collect rent, sell off various lots, deal with bank managers and solicitors and tenants – in effect to send more money. 

Meanwhile the Fitzmaurice tenants were continuing to eke out a living in their cabins in North Kerry while scraping together the rent to keep Francis and Anastasia conducting a luxurious lifestyle with the Parisien elite.

Both Francis and Anastasia are buried in Westminister Abbey.

[1] Knightly, John, Lixnaw and the Earls of Kerry, (Journal of the Kerry Archaeological & Historical Society, Series 2, Vol 10, 2010), p. 33

[2] Hayes, Richard, Ireland and Irishmen in the French Revolution, (London 1932).