Posted by: colegrove | Wednesday 12 November 2008

Katherine, Countess of Desmond

masala-chai-teaOk, I have returned from my absence. This afternoon I want to shift my thoughts to specific people who have shown tremendous feats of longevity in history. I always tend to either eat or drink while on the computer, probably not too wise, but it’s my way of multi-tasking, I suppose. Today it is lightly steamed veggies seasoned with a very small amount of olive oil, garlic, pepper, and kelp flakes. Not extremely cooked, but just enough to make the crunch of the carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and baby onions palatable and slightly juicy. My beverage of choice today is my own blend. A type of Chai with Rooibos instead of regular tea. I just added to the Rooibos (Red Bush) some ground Ginger, ground Cardamom, ground Cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg – and Almond Extract of course.

Countess of DesmondSo, our first guest to the show today lived for over 140 years. Katherine FitzGerald, Countess of Desmond. Katherine, or Catherine, was born sometime around 1365 in Waterford, Ireland. Her parents, it is claimed, were Sir John FitzGerald, second Lord of Decies, and Ellen FitzGibbon, daughter of the “White Knight”. She married first in the time of King Edward IV. Edward IV reigned in England from 1461-1470 and again from 1471-1483. She is said to have danced with King Richard III (reigned 1483-1485), the last King before the house of Tudor put an end to the Wars of the Roses.

According to Wikipedia, one can notice her death date of 1604, but it is known she was alive in 1614, but had died by 1617, so perhaps this is a common error. Here is what we know of her from her contemporaries:

Sir Walter Raleigh, in his History of the World, 1614, says:

“I my self knew the old Countess of Desmond, of Iuchiquin in Munster, who lived in the year 1589, and many years since; who was married in Edward the Fourths’s time, and held her joynture from all the Earles of Desmond since then; and that this is true all the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Munster can witnesse.”

Fynes Moryson in his Itinerary, 1617, wrote:

“In our time the Irish Countess of Desmond lived to the age of about 140 yeere, being able to goe on foote foure or five miles to the market towne, and using weekly so to doe in her last yeeres; and not many yeeres before she had all her teeth renewed.”

Countess of Desmond

Countess of Desmond

Sir Francis Bacon, my favorite natural philosopher – who coined the phrase “knowledge is power” wrote in 1623:

“The Irish, especially the wild Irish, even at this day live very long; certainly they report that within these few years the Countess of Desmond lived to a hundred and fourty years of age, and bred teeth three times.”

The Archbishop James Ussher, famous for his Annals of the World, a history that puts together Biblical history and secular world history together in a concise, contreversial, young-earth chronology, also wrote about the Countess, but did not add many more details to her life.

In 1640, Robert Sydney, Earl of Leicester, wrote:

The old Countess of Desmond was a married woman in Ed. IV’s time, of England, and lived till towards the end of Q. Elizabeth, so as she must needs be near 140 years old. She had a new sett of teeth not long afore her death, and might have lived much longer had she not met with a kind of violent death; for she would needs climb a nut tree, to gather nuts,; so falling down she hurt her thigh, which brought a fever, and that fever brought death. This my cousin Walter FitzWilliam told me.

“This old lady, Mr. Harriot told me, came to petition the Queen; and, landing at Bristol, she came on foot to London, being then so old that her daughter was decrepit, and not able to come with her, but was brought in a little cart, their poverty not allowing means for better provision; and as I remeber, Sir Walter Raleigh in some part of his story speaks of her, and saith that he saw her in England in Anno 1589.

“Her death was strange and remarkable, as her long life was, having seen the death of so many descended of her, and both her own and her husband’s house ruined in the rebellions and wars.”

The last account I bring to the readers attention is one in 1689 by Sir William Temple:

“…A Countess of Desmond, married out of England in Edward IV’s time, and who lived far in King James’s reign, and was counted to have died some years above a hundred and forty; at which age she came from Bristol to London to beg some relief at Court, having long been very poor by the reuin of that Irish family into which she was married.”

Based on the above evidence and some digging in The Dublin Review of 1862, the picture I put together of her last days is this:

In 1589 Sir Walter Raleigh met the Countess while in Ireland. Then, either late in Queen Elizabeth I‘s reign or in King James I‘s reign, she came to court to petition help from the crown on account of the ruin of her family estate. Then in about 1614, after a visit to the Royal Court (again?), she fell while picking nuts from a tree, and died later on, as a result.

Amazing for someone near 140 years old, to still be able to walk 4-5 miles into town daily. Also, interestingly she grew one or possibly two new sets of teeth in her advanced age. This is a trait also recorded in other people who live well beyond 100, such as those in South America.

Amazing story. What are your thoughts? Personally I think her spare diet (not eating a lot), not discussed here was a major factor. Also she was active and did much walking right up until the end. She ate nuts, though in some places it says she was picking cherries or another fruit off of a tree, so she ate fruit. Any thoughts as to what may have contributed to her longevity?



  1. Interesting Lady, However I must say it was more than likely genetics. While I feel that a lot of what you do can contribute or detract from your quality of life, most peoples longevity is a product of there genes.

    I knew of a fellow in his 50s. He was a veggitarian (sp) who are nuts, sproats, soybeans, etc a majority of the time and ran miles each day.

    He dropped over with a heart attach before be reached 58.

    So, the moral of the story is to enjoy the time you have, eat what you like and that which makes you feel good, exercise to keep healthy and when your time comes embrace it and know you are going to a better place.

    But thats just my opinion, I could be wrong.

  2. I’ve been fascinated by this kind of thing ever since I read Aldous Huxley’s “After Many a Summer Dies the Swam” … interesting, thought-provoking neo-gothic horror that suggests *exactly* how this kind of thing might happen. Huxley was a very well read, intelligent guy …



  3. She’s my relative! I hope to be so lucky!

  4. Most likely she had an abnormal pituitary gland that continued to produce HGH (human growth hormone). This would explain her agility at such an advanced age and perhaps the second set of teeth. Hgh is available now in pill form and I predict that most of the populace will be taking Hgh in thirty years much like vitamins are taken today.

    • Possibly. But I have heard too many problems associated with taking HGH. It has been around for a few decades now with no noticeable increase in life expectancy… yet, not to say it doesn’t or won’t be a contributing factor, just the bugs need to be worked out.

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