Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1763 - 1798) was a member of the Irish aristocracy who became centrally involved in the Society of United Irishmen and the events leading up the 1798 rebellion. Son of the Duke of Leinster and grandson of the Duke of Richmond, he was later to renounce his title of Lord and call for the abolition of all hereditary titles. Nevertheless, he is still commonly recalled as Lord Edward Fitzgerald, rather than plain old Edward Fitzgerald, as the involvement of an aristocrat in what was essentially a bourgeois rebellion is significant. He was born in Carton House, County Kildare, and was to die in Newgate Prison.
Before becoming involved in the cause of Irish independence and Catholic Emancipation, Fitzgerald was an officer in the British army, with whom he fought in the American War of Independence. Serving as MP for Kildare in the Irish Parliament, he became heavily influenced by the French Revolution of 1789, as were many others at the time. He visited Paris in 1792, where he met Thomas Paine and also his future wife, the illegitimate daughter of the duc d'Orleans. Back in Ireland, he argued the cause of reform in parliament, but became disillusioned of the possibility of attaining independence through constitutional means. He declined to stand again for election, declaring free elections were impossible, as Ireland was essentially under martial law. When he joined the United Irishmen, they had already become an underground organisation dedicated to the overthrow of rule from England and the establishment of an Irish republic. Their membership was primarily drawn from the protestant middle classes, but in their cause they united "protestant, catholic and dissenter," in Theobald Wolfe Tone's phrase.
Aided by his military experience, Fitzgerald quickly became a central figure in the planning of an armed rebellion against English rule. The rebels sought the help of France, but in the end decided to go ahead with the rising on their own, in May 1798. However, the United Irishmen had been heavily infiltrated by English spies, and in March of that year many of Fitzgerald's comrades were arrested. Fitzgerald himself was forced into hiding, with a price of £1,000 on his head. He was finally tracked down in May, by Major Henry Sirr, acting on a tip-off from an informer. Fitzgerald did not go quietly, killing one of the soldiers sent to arrest him, and receiving a mortal wound in his arm, from which he died on the 4th June, 1798, as the ultimately doomed rebellion raged throughout the country.