The second oldest establishment in Midleton, apart from the church, is Midleton College, which was founded as Midleton Endowed School in 1696. Still flourishing today, the college has outlasted other schools founded in the seventeenth century, but was nearly lost in the early nineteenth century because the Headmaster simply let the school decline. The founding of this school is wrapped up in the aftermath of the Williamite War or War of the Three Kings between James II and King Louis XIV of France on one side and King William III (of Orange) on the other side.
The story however begins much earlier in 1677, when the elder daughter of James, Duke of York, was married off to her first cousin, the Prince William of Orange-Nassau, who had become Stadholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel some years earlier. It seems that William hoped to inherit the English crown following the death of his father-in-law, James, given that there were no surviving princes in the House of Stuart.
The Princess Mary was accompanied to the Hague by her maid of honour Elizabeth Villiers, who soon became William’s mistress. However, William’s accession to the English throne came about in very dramatic fashion. James Duke of York became King on the death of his older brother, King Charles II, in 1685 and proceeded to upset hardline Protestant opinion in his realms by his tolerance of Catholics and Dissenters. In 1688, after much preparation and manipulation of English political opinion, William invaded England with a fleet and force far greater than anything the Spanish had employed a century earlier. James fled to France and later came to Ireland to recover his throne. William, and his wife Mary, were made joint monarchs and William soon came to Ireland to defeat his father-in-law at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690. Although William left Ireland soon after the failure of the siege of Limerick (1690), he was already beginning to distribute confiscated Irish lands . The entire private Irish estate of James II was given to Queen Mary and may have paid for some of the furnishing of Kensington Palace, which Mary was building at the time. This estate, created by King Charles II in 1660, brought in about £24,000 per annum and was quite a lucrative addition to Mary’s income.
With Mary’s death in December 1694, her sister Anne would have expected to inherit their father’s Irish estate, but William granted it to Elizabeth Villiers, his now former mistress. The grant to Villiers upset both the Irish and English parliaments who wished to sell off the estate to pay off some of the debts of the crown. In order to mollify parliamentary opinion, Elizabeth sought the legal and political help of the Brodrick family of Midleton. With their help, Elizabeth Villiers decided to found an endowed school in Midleton, on land granted for the purpose by Sir St John Brodrick. His elder son, and heir, Thomas, was appointed to the board of governors of the school, along with Elizabeth’s brother-in-law, Henry O’Brien, Earl of Inchiquin, who resided at nearby Rostellan. In addition, Elizabeth appointed Alan Brodrick and his brother-in-law, Laurence Clayton of Mallow, as trustees of the lands she set aside from the her new estate to provide an income for the school. Thomas Brodrick was also charged with the actual building of the school itself.
One might have thought that the construction of the school would have got under way at once. But the parliamentary dispute over the grant to Elizabeth Villiers precluded this – everything was held up until the estate could be finally settled. In the end, the English parliament confiscated the entire estate to sell it off to pay the Crown’s debts in 1700. However, the Brodricks had sufficient influence at Westminster to preserve the endowment lands for the school – these were specifically excluded form the confiscation but it wasn’t until later that an income could be secured from the lands to pay for the school.
Half of these lands were first let in 1710 and the remainder being let in 1712. It was only now, with an income secured from the school endowment that Thomas Brodrick could begin to draw up plans for the building of the school, which was certainly completed in 1717 with the appointment of the first headmaster, Rev George Chinnery. Thus, over twenty years after Elizabeth Villiers had endowed the school, it opened for business. The delay was caused by the political row over the fate of James II’s private Irish estate which provided the original endowment for the school. It was the Brodrick’s astute political skills that allowed the school project to go ahead and give Midleton its second oldest institution after the parish.