Jonathan Swift, born 350 years ago, knew an irascible character when it met one – after all Swift was himself a quite difficult character when it suited him. His description of Alan Brodrick as being as ‘violent as a tiger’ is a case in point. It took one to know one. However, Swift was not saying that Brodrick was a physically violent man, but that the language Brodrick employed in law and politics was often intemperate.
Alan Brodrick was the second son of Sir St John Brodrick and his wife Alice Clayton. He was almost certainly born in Ireland in 1656 – just as the Down Survey was being compiled. Sir St John had been granted large estates in Ireland under the Protectorate (Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth). These were centred on the market-town of Corabbey, which was renamed Midleton in 1670.
Alan was educated in Magdalen College, Oxford, and later at Middle Temple, one of the Inns of Court in London. Brodrick was called to the English Bar in 1678. This automatically entitled him to practice as a lawyer in Ireland. Almost certainly, Alan was being set up for a legal career – necessary due to his older brother Thomas being their father’s principal heir. Under the rules of primogeniture, Thomas stood to inherit all of the Brodrick estate in Ireland.
However, Alan would go on to create his own estate. When James II came to Ireland to fight for his throne against his son-in-law, William, Prince of Orange, in 1689. James’s Irish parliament attainted the Brodricks, who fled to England and gave their support to William. On returning to Ireland following the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, Alan was made Recorder of Cork. This meant that Alan was now the principal magistrate in Cork, the most important judicial office in the city. and he was responsible for keeping law and order in the city. Alan was also appointed Third Serjeant (a legal office) in 1691, but was dismissed in a few months as there was no work for him to do, as he admitted himself, although he complained bitterly!
Alan Brodrick was appointed Solicitor General for Ireland in 1695, a post he held until 1704. He was appointed Attorney General for Ireland from 1707 to 1709.
In 1710, Alan became the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland – this meant that he was the head of the Court of Queen’s Bench. However he was removed from office by the government for his disagreements over policy.
Brodrick was elected to the Irish House of Commons in 1695 as MP for Cork city, a post he held until 1710. In 1703, he was elected Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, but had to step down in 1710 when he was appointed a judge. Elected MP for Cork County in 1713, Brodrick was immediately chosen to be Speaker of the Irish Commons again. As an MP Alan Brodrick was instrumental in framing the notorious Penal Laws against Catholics and Jacobites.
His second term as Speaker didn’t last, because the government of King George I appointed him Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1714. Naturally, the Lord Chancellor was also President of the House of Lords, so Alan Brodrick was ennobled as Baron Brodrick of Midleton in 1715. This was a bit odd, since his brother Thomas was due to inherit their father’s estate. However, by then it was clear that Thomas only had daughters, while Alan had one son, St John Brodrick, by then. In 1717, three hundred years ago this year
, Alan Brodrick, Baron Brodrick of Midleton, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, was elevated as Viscount Midleton. This, presumably, was a sort of bribe to a difficult political character, to keep him in line with government policy.
It was a court case that led to the great crisis of Alan Brodrick’s political career. The Shercock-Annesley Case led to a question of whether or not the House of Lords in London was the final court of appeal in Irish legal cases. Brodrick did his best to calm down the passions the case raised. He warned the Irish House of Lords to be very careful, but the Lords pig-headedly made it clear that they thought the IRISH House of Lords should be the ONLY court of final appeal for Irish cases. In 1719 the Westminster parliament curtailed the powers of the Irish parliament by passing the notorious Dependency of Ireland on Great Britain Act or ‘Sixth of George I‘. this act remained in force until 1782. Alan Brodrick was blamed for this act, although he had sternly advised the Irish Lords not to pursue their confrontational policy.
Alan Brodrick was a political Whig, supporting the Williamite settlement. He also controlled the nearest thing to a political party in the Irish House of Commons, the ‘Cork interest’ (also called the ‘Boyle interest’ due to the Boyle family’s participation, or ‘Brodrick interest’). This grouping didn’t resemble modern political parties, but was a looser grouping. In reality, Alan Brodrick was a parliamentary undertaker – that is he undertook to produce the required number of votes to get the government’s legislation through the Commons. Alan Brodrick’s great rival in parliament was the fabulously wealthy William Connolly, who also touted for the job of government parliamentary undertaker. The two men had an often bitter relationship. William Connolly eventually won the parliamentary battle, going on to build the magnificent Castletown House in County Kildare as a testament to his success and wealth. Sadly, Alan Brodrick invested in Peper Harrow, an estate in Surrey, to which his successor as Viscount removed himself and his heirs.
All these posts allowed Alan Brodrick to accumulate or acquire lands in several counties, but mostly in County Cork, adjoining his father’s lands. His three successive marriages, to Catherine Barry, Lucy Courthorpe and Anne Hill, gave him additional family and political connections and two sons – St John Brodrick born to Catherine Barry died just months before his father, and Alan, born to Lucy Courthorpe, would outlive his father as Second Viscount Midleton.
Alan Brodrick, first Baron Brodrick of Midleton, and first Viscount Midleton, died in August 1728, a few months after his son, St John, had died. He was succeeded by his second son,Alan, second Baron Brodrick of Midleton and second Viscount Midleton.
In 1920, William St John Fremantle Brodrick, the ninth Viscount Midleton was elevated as first Earl of Midleton, and his son, George St John Brodrick, became the second Earl and tenth Viscount in 1942. The earldom became extinct with the death of George in 1979, but the viscountcy and baronage survived, transferring to a cousin.
The titles continue today with the Alan Henry Brodrick, 12th Baron Brodrick and 12th Viscount Midleton, who has a son to succeed him.