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Duke of Leinster story and Fitzgeralds

The Fitzgerald family history is packed with action and tragedy at the same time. James Fitzgerald was the first Duke of Leinster who in 1741 as Lord Offaly became a Member of Parliament for the constituency of Athy in Ireland, South West of Dublin. He was only 19 years old when he became heir to the Earldom of Kildare. Three years later the Lord Offaly succeeded his father as the twentieth Earl of Kildare. In 1747 James Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare proposed to Emily Lennox, the daughter of the Duke of Richmond, and built Leinster House which is now the seat of Irish Parliament. In 1766 as a reward for his important role in Irish politics he received the highest prize in the peerage stakes, the King made him the first Duke of Leinster. Unfortunately, he died seven years later in Leinster House and his son William Robert became the second Duke.

The 1860’ enjoyed a massive housing development around both the North and South sides of Hyde Park. The areas of Kensington and Bayswater progressed from rural to fully built in about 20 years. Both areas developed in a style of the Regency architecture around Mayfair and Regents Park. These properties certainly caught the imagination of the nobility, politicians and celebrities of the time. Charles Fitzgerald had always taken a keen interest in a property development and he funded various builders in their developments making sure that the properties kept a noble style especially along Leinster Gardens and Terrace.  The developments brought new transport links including the first underground line, The Brompton and District line which crosses Leinster Gardens just south of the Duke of Leinster Hotel.

The once famous Fitzgerald family was then forced through circumstance to live a very different life which deprived them of the enormous wealth and social status to that they had become accustomed.  In 1895 Maurice Fitzgerald became the sixth Duke of Leinster due to early death of his father. Maurice died in an Edinburgh asylum in 1922, aged 35. His brother Desmond died of wounds while serving in France during the First World War in 1916. The third son of the fifth Duke of Leinster called Lord Edward Fitzgerald, born in 1892, was the next in line. This meant that Edward succeeded to the title, but he had no rights to the Leinster family seat, County Kildare or to anything else. 

He was a compulsive gambler  and ran up massive debts, and not rating his prospects of inheriting, he discharched his debt of £67,500 by selling off to Sir Harry Mallaby-Deeley MP – known as the ’50 shilling tailor’ – the life interest he might enjoy as a duke (over £50,000 a year). In return, Sir Harry paid him an annuity of £1,000. Lord Edward became the seventh Duke and he was bankrupted three times (in 1918, 1922 and 1936) and got married on four occasions.  

His first wife, May Etheridge, was a West End actress and they had only son called Gerald who was born on 27th of May 1914. Financial problems caused the end to a big romance and in 1930 couple got divorced. The Duchess was banned from visiting her son and as a result she tried to kill herself in a gas- filled room in Brixton. She was saved in time but with poor health, she died in 1935 aged just 43 years old.  Edward fell for Mrs Rafaelle Van Neck, and they married in 1932. After the war the Duke of Leinster and Rafaelle divorced. Then he met an ambitious lady called Jo. On 11 of March 1946 Jo finally achieved her ambition of becoming a duchess, even though it meant marrying a gambler who was 8 years younger than her.

Edward tried to re-kindle his relationship with Rafaelle (his second wife) but was rejected so he attempted an unsuccessful suicide. After all, Jo refused to divorce the Duke (she did not want to give up her Duchess title), remaining his wife to the end. 

Later on he met Vivien Conner, she moved in with him and became his fourth and last wife in 1965.

The Duke’s later existence was deeply sad and included a brief, unfortunate return to public life. He finally took an overdose and died in 1976, leaving an estate worth £300. 

Gerald became the eighth Duke of Leinster when his father (Edward) died.  He negotiated with the Mallaby-Deeley Estate which allowed him to return to Kilkea Castle at the end of the Second World War.  In 1960 the last of the ancestral homes of the Kildare Fitzgeralds estate was sold. Gerald Fitzgerald came back to England where he enjoyed successful business career.

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