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  • Kristin Bundesen, PhD

Frances Howard Fitzgerald Brooke, Countess of Kildare

Updated: Nov 13, 2021

Frances Howard Fitzgerald Brooke, Countess of Kildare, Baroness Cobham (b. ?1573 – d. 1628) Frances Howard is one of my favorite women in the Carey-Knollys kinship network. At sixteen and married for almost 5 months, she convinced her father, the Lord Admiral, to make her new husband the Vice-Admiral of Ireland, even though England did not actually control much of Ireland. Not content to let the appointment stay a matter of family conversation she took it upon herself to see the appointment officiated at the Court of Admiralty.

Frances Howard Fitzgerald, was the daughter of Katherine Carey Howard and Charles Howard, and therefore a cousin of Queen Elizabeth. She served as a Lady of the Privy Chamber and held the office of Lady Carver. In 1589, she married Henry Fitzgerald, 12th Earl of Kildare partially to bind his questionable loyalty closer to the crown of England. She had three daughters, two who lived to maturity, although the marriage was rocky once the young couple had left her home at the English court. The queen acted as her personal marriage counselor reprimanding her husband for his rough behavior and inviting the countess to return to England with her children until he shaped up. While in Ireland, Frances busied herself managing her extensive Irish properties and interfering in the peace negotiations with the Earl of Tyrone. It appears she spent only what time was necessary in Ireland to make sure her husband did not spend all their money. After his death, when she was 24, she returned to Ireland to sort out the accounts finding he had cooked the books.  She aggressively pursued her Irish business interests, with the backing of her father Charles Howard by then the Earl of Nottingham. Returning to the court with her children, the young countess continued her work as a real estate mogul and financier by acquiring the wardships of several elite orphans available after William Cecil Lord Burghley’s stranglehold on this market ended with his death. She conducted business with the privy council directly neither requiring nor relying on male relatives to get her way. She successfully petitioned the court of the Exchequer to exchange some of her jointure lands in Ireland for an annual pension. She must have been a significant favorite of Elizabeth I’s as in 1602, the monarch informed the vice-treasurer that as Frances’s jointure in Ireland was worth less since the revaluation of the coinage “Out of respect for her we are ready to extend to her a favor which we do not grant to others, and to declare that her jointure shall be of such value to her as if there had not been any change in our moneys.” This was quite a financial coup. Frances married second Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham, although after the accession of James I he was implicated in the Treason of the Main and was later implicated in the case against Sir Walter Raleigh.  Despite this, James was sympathetic towards Frances’s daughter Bridget granting her a pension and placing her daughter Mary under royal protection. For further reading: Calendar of State Papers Ireland, 1601-1603, Addenda British Library, Additional MS 12507 Bundesen, K. ‘No other faction but my own: Dynastic politics and Elizabeth I’s Carey cousins’, unpublished PhD dissertation (University of Nottingham, 2009)


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