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The bicentennial of the failed United Irish uprising against Britain, in 1998, is a fitting time for the publication of a biography of Irish revolutionary Lord Edward Fitzgerald. The distinction between Fitzgerald and his co-rebels is his title. While his compatriots were composed primarily of middle-class barristers and solicitors, Fitzgerald was the son of the most aristocratic of Anglo-Irish families, one which, during the Middle Ages, had essentially ruled all of Ireland. His older brother was Duke of Leinster, his mother, the daughter of one of England's great Whig families. Fitzgerald, himself, began his career in a traditional fashion, joining the British army as a career officer and fighting during the American Revolution at the battle that forced Cornwallis's surrender. After his stint in North America, Fitzgerald returned to Europe where he roomed briefly with Thomas Paine in Paris. At a public dinner celebrating the French victory at Jemappes, he offered a toast to the abolition of all titles and vestiges of feudalism--earning him the designation "le citoyen Edouard Fitzgerald." While in Paris, he met his wife--the illegitimate daughter of the duc d'Orleans and his mistress--who, by virtue of her heritage, represented the dual elements that defined his own life. Shortly after returning to Ireland, Fitzgerald joined up with the already burgeoning revolution and rose quickly through the ranks because of his name and military experience. But the revolutionary ranks were rife with informers and double agents, and on the eve of the planned uprising, Fitzgerald was captured and mortally wounded.
Like his previous biographer, Irish Romantic poet Thomas Moore, Stella Tillyard draws liberally from Fitzgerald's correspondence. Through his letters, which she quotes throughout the book, he emerges as a charming, witty, and genuinely affable character. The one failing here is that most of the surviving letters are those he wrote to his mother, so he is somewhat guarded about his politics and related activities, which form the most interesting element of his character. Still, Tillyard does an excellent job of vividly describing the environment in which Fitzgerald moved--evoking a clear sense of her subject and his times. --Jordana Moskowitz [via]