Geoffrey Fenton

Geoffrey Fenton

Sir Geoffrey Fenton (c. 1539 - October 19 1608) was an English writer, Privy Councillor, and Principal Secretary of State in Ireland.

Early literary years

He was the son of Henry Fenton from Nottinghamshire, and the brother of Edward Fenton the navigator.

Geoffrey (spelt Jeffrey by Lodge [ Lodge, John, & Archdall, Mervyn, A.M., "The Peerage of Ireland", Dublin, 1789, vol.1, p.156] ) is said to have visited Spain and Italy in his youth; possibly he went to Paris in Sir Thomas Hohy's train in 1566, for he was living there in 1567, when he wrote "Certaine tragicall discourses written oute of Frenche and Latin". This book is a free translation of François de Belleforest's French rendering of Matteo Bandello's "Novelle".

Till 1579 Fenton continued his literary labors, publishing "Monophylo" in 1572, "Golden epistles gathered out of Guevaraes workes as other authors ..." 1575, and various religious tracts of strong Protestant tendencies. In 1579 appeared the "Historie of Guicciardini", translated out of French by Fenton and dedicated to Queen Elizabeth.


Through Lord Burghley he obtained, in 1580, the post of secretary to the new Lord Deputy of Ireland, Lord Grey de Wilton, and thus became a fellow worker with the poet, Edmund Spenser. Fenton thereafter abandoned literature for service to the Crown in Ireland. He proved himself a zealous Protestant, who worked against the "diabolicall secte" of Rome, and urged the assassination of the Crown's most dangerous subjects. He secured the Queen's confidence with his written reports, but was arrested at Dublin in 1587 by the authority of the sitting governor, Sir John Perrot, on account of his debts, and was paraded in chains through the city. He was soon released, and made himself an instrument in Perrot's downfall in the following years.

In 1589 Fenton was knighted, and in 1590-1591 he acted as a Commissioner at London in the controversial impeachment of Perrot, which concluded when a death sentence was passed upon the former governor. By 1603 he was Principal Secretary of State, and Privy Councillor, in Ireland. [ Lodge, John, & Archdall, Mervyn, A.M., "The Peerage of Ireland", Dublin, 1789, vol.1, p.156]

Fenton is said to have seethed with hatred for the Scots and also for Elizabeth's successor, James VI. Upon the succession, Fenton's post was in danger, but Burghley exerted himself in his favor, and in 1604 it was confirmed to him for life, though he had to share it with Sir Richard Coke.

Marriage and death

Fenton died in 1608, and was buried in St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

He had married in June 1585, Alice, daughter of Dr Robert Weston, formerly Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and widow of Dr Hugh Brady, bishop of Meath, by whom he had two children - a son, Sir William Fenton, and a daughter, Catherine, who in 1603 married Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork.


* "Harl. Soc. publications", vol. iv., "Visitation of Nottinghamshire", 1871; Roy. Hist. MSS. Comm. (particularly Hatfield collection); "Calendar of State papers", Ireland (very full), domestic, "Carew papers"; "Lismore papers", ed. A.B. Grosart (1886-1888); "Certaine tragicall Discourses", ed. R.L. Douglas (2 vols., 1898), Tudor Translation series, vols. xix., xx. (introd.).

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