The lives and experiences of Countess Avice Stafford in the fifteenth century and Elizabeth Preston, duchess of Ormond, in the seventeenth century were significantly different. Nonetheless, each contributed to the survival, perpetuation and prosperity of the dynasty. Avice married once, had no children, and predeceased her husband, but her status as an aristocratic and wealthy woman in medieval England was vitally important in elevating the earl's status and increasing his wealth, thereby facilitating the expansion and enhanced prosperity of the earldom of Ormond in England. Just over 200 years later, in Ireland, Elizabeth, duchess of Ormond, also married once, had six children, and was an effective advocate of her family, provider of protection and succour for several persecuted Protestant families, and one of the most influential, wealthy and powerful women in mid-seventeenth-century Ireland.
Between the 1450s and 1660 the Ormond women, like their male counterparts, featured centrally – albeit less visibly – in the aftermath of wars, succession crises, survival of the earldom, and internal family disputes. However, this was a period of highs and lows in the history of the dynasty, especially in 1515 and 1614 when protracted succession crises placed the chief female protagonists at the centre of the conflict. Each crisis resulted in new and significant changes in the life of the dynasty itself. It is also true, however, that in the ninety-nine years between the two crises, the earldom of Ormond experienced some of its longest phases of stability and prosperity. From the arrival of Margaret Fitzgerald through the tenure of her successor and daughter-in-law, Joan Fitzgerald, successive Ormond women played important roles in the political affairs of their husbands’ family and, in the case of Joan, between the earldoms of Ormond, Ossory and Desmond. While their husbands and sons were undoubtedly the chief protagonists in the strife of the mid and late sixteenth century in Ireland, as wives, mothers and widows these women demonstrated their political agency and influence in the various roles available to them, either through court representations or participation in peace negotiations, and several were accorded recognition by successive monarchs for doing so. Like the ‘Kildare women’, several of the ‘Ormond women’ capitalised on the opportunities that came with their social position (especially once they married) in order to make significant contributions to the advancement of Ormond interests.