was trained as a barrister, and by 1454 had been appointed Chief Clerk to the
King's Bench and Keeper of the Rolls. Later that year he was chosen by the
Viceroy, the Duke of York, to be Lord Treasurer, a post he held for thirty-eight
years. He was knighted in 1459, and in 1462 was created by Edward IV, Baron
Portlester. The following year he was appointed Lord Deputy to the absent
Viceroy, the Duke of Clarence. He was Lord Chancellor from 1472 to 1480 and
again from 1486 to 1492. He was Captain of the Brotherhood or Guild of St.
George, a body constituted by Act of Parliament in 1472 for the better defense
of the Pale. It was headed by the 7th Earl of Kildare, under who were the
elected Captain and eleven other peers and knights, with 120 mounted archers, 40
horsemen and 40 pages. They had power to make laws and to arrest rebels, and
were not dissolved until 1494. In 1473, Portlester became a Member of the
Fraternity of Arms. Portlester was one of the first Irish peers to be so
created by Letters Patent, the only peerages so granted before 1500 being those
of the Earls of Ulster, Carrick, Kildare, Louth, Ormonde, Desmond and Waterford;
Viscount Gormanston 1478; and Barons Trimleston 1462, Portlester 1462 and
In 1467, Roland FitzEustace
had narrowly escaped execution. The Queen, who had been offended by the Earls of
Desmond and Kildare, contrived that the Earl of Worcester should be sent to
Ireland as Lord Deputy. Desmond was at once quite unjustly accused and beheaded;
Kildare was attainted; and Portlester charged with treason. He offered wager by
battle, but his accuser, Sir John Gilbert, fled, with the result that Portlester
was completely exonerated by Parliament and Sir John attainted. Worcester
himself was beheaded on Tower Hill in 1470.
8th Earl of Kildare
succeeded his father in 1477 and was appointed Lord Deputy. Although
Portlester was many years his senior, he became his firm friend and later his
father-in-law. The Earl soon held the famous Parliament of Naas which refused to
recognize the King's representative, Lord Henry Grey. He and Portlester found
themselves in serious trouble, but were eventually forgiven, although Portlester
was replaced as Lord Chancellor by the Bishop of Meath. He refused however to
hand over the Great Seal to his successor, and another had to be made before the
affairs of State could be carried on.
Kildare and Portlester were
ardent Yorkists, and after the Lancastrian victory at Bosworth in 1485 they
regarded the new King Henry VII as merely an illegitimate Welsh adventurer.
When, therefore, there arrived in Ireland the Yorkist claimant, Lambert Simnel,
who after a thorough examination appeared to be the undoubted son of the Duke of
Clarence, he was crowned -it Dublin in 1487. Kildare and Portlester went to
England to support the Yorkist claim, but it ended disastrously at Stoke
on-Trent. Once again they received a royal pardon, Portlester being confirmed as
Lord Treasurer and once more as Lord Chancellor- by the Tudor King. He seems to
have previously assigned, in 1482, the office of Chief Baron of the Exchequer to
his son, Oliver. In 1492, the quarrels among the Anglo-Irish at last enabled
Henry to displace Kildare and his Council, and Portlester soon found himself
threatened with a hostile enquiry into the Treasury accounts. He had however run
his course, and died in 1496.
Roland FitzEustace was a
generous benefactor of the Church. In 1455, he, added the Portlester Chapel at
the east end of
St. Audoen's Church, then the wealthiest
parish in Dublin, and in 1486, he founded the Franciscan New Abbey of Grey
Friars at Kilcullen. He was a benefactor of St. Malcolyn's, Hollywood (three
miles south of Ballymore Eustace), and a co-founder of the Guild and Chantries
of St. Columb, Skreen, and the Chantries at Piercetown, Laundey and Greenoge. He
re-founded the Guild of English Merchants Trading in Ireland.
He married three times.
First, Elizabeth, daughter of John Brune; second, in about 1463, Joanna (or
Joan), widow of Christopher Plunkett, 1st Lord Killeen, and daughter of Bellew
of Bellewstown; and third, in about 1467, Margaret, widow of John, the son of
Sir John Dowdall of Newtown, and also the widow of Thomas Barnewall, daughter
and co-heiress of Jenico D'Artois. She predeceased him, and was buried at St.
His two sons, Oliver and
Richard, perhaps illegitimate, predeceased him, Richard by only a year or so. He
had four daughters, probably all by his third wife: Alison, who married 8th Earl
of Kildare, (She was the mother of the 9th Earl, and the second of her six
daughters was the famous Great Countess of Ormonde and Ossory); Joan who
married (1) her cousin Richard Plunkett, 2nd Baron of Dunsany, and (2) her
second-cousin Sir Maurice Eustace of Ballycotelan; Maud, who married (1) Thomas
Marward, Baron of Skreen, Co. Meath, (d. 1504) and (2) Sir John Plunkett of
Bewley, Co. Louth ; and Janet (d. 1536), who married Sir Walter Delahyde of
Moyglare, Co. Meath. She, with her two sons, James and John, and Thomas Eustace
her nephew, was accused of having incited the 10th Earl of Kildare to rebel in
1534, and was detained in Dublin Castle as “Dame Jenet Eustace, the traitor's
aunt and foster mother." Thomas FitzGerald, 10th Earl of Kildare,
also known as Silken Thomas, was the grandson of Alison Eustace (above) and her
husband the 8th Earl of Kildare.
Baron Portlester presumably
came into possession of Harristown as his share of his father's Castlemartin
property. He built (or added to) the castle, no doubt as part of the activities
of the Guild of St. George. There was at one time a second, perhaps the
original, castle on the estate, but its site is unknown. Little now remains of
Harristown castle, but the earthworks (just west of the railway station) show
that it must have been an imposing structure. The estate probably extended
slightly to the east of the present townland boundary, so as to include the
little chapel of St. James (now just in Coghlanstown, then the property of the
Eustaces of Ballycotelan), where stand the remains of Portlester's memorial
cross. Among the other castles built by Portlester was that of Balablaght, at
the request of the Abbot of Baltinglass.
Portlester was buried at
Kilcullen New Abbey, where his daughter, Alison, Countess of Kildare, had been
buried the year before. She is said to have died of grief when the 8th Earl was
arrested in 1495 and imprisoned in the Tower. She was not to know that he would
be freed the following year and appointed by the King “to rule over all
Ireland," as the result of the famous trial.
Portlester's tomb in the
chapel of New Abbey must have been strikingly similar to that of his brother at
Castlemartin, but it bore two effigies-himself in armour, and Margaret in a long
belted and pleated costume, wearing a " horned "' head dress. One panel bore his
arms-the Eustace saltire (differenced by an annulet, denoting a fifth son),
quartering D'Artois (carved as “Barry of six "). In St. Audoen's church in
Dublin, and now placed for protection under the ruined tower, there is a tomb or
cenotaph bearing almost identical effigies and inscription, but now without the
side panels. This was probably originally placed over Margaret's grave. (These
three tombs and their effigies, will be further considered under Kilcullen. as
will the Eustace effigy at Ballymore Eustace).
In the graveyard of St.
James's chapel, Coghlanstown, there are the base and shaft of a memorial cross
bearing his saltire with baron's coronet and what are probably the arms of his
first two wives. The inscription “Eustace Lord Portlester 1462 " appears
from the style of the lettering to have been added in the seventeenth century.
On Baron Portlester’s death
in 1496, Thomas, his nephew, son of his brother Richard, succeeded to his
estates but the title became extinct.