Brodrick, Alan (c.1655–1728), 1st Viscount Midleton , lord chancellor of Ireland, was the second son of St John Brodrick, a beneficiary of the Cromwellian land settlement who originated from Wandsworth in Surrey and established himself at Ballyannan, near Midleton in Co. Cork, where he built a small but imposing manor house. Alan’s mother, Alice, came from another planter family, being the daughter of Laurence Clayton of Mallow in the same county. St John Brodrick had received his first land grant in Co. Cork in 1653, and expanded his holdings after the restoration, when his eldest brother, another Alan, served as a commissioner for settling the affairs of Ireland.
Education and exile from Ireland Each of St John's three eldest sons was given a legal education, and all practised as barristers. Alan was sent to the Middle Temple in London in 1670, and called to the bar eight years later. (In the meantime he had been admitted, in 1672, to Magdalen College, Oxford, though he left the university without taking a degree.) Although there is no record of his admission to King's Inns, he was evidently practising at the Irish bar by 1680, and in 1681 secured his election as recorder of Cork, an early indication both of his own abilities as a politician and of the regard in which he was held.
At the Glorious Revolution his family removed themselves en bloc to England, and were numbered among the fugitive Irish protestants attainted by the Irish parliament of James II (qv) in 1689. Alan was prominent among the exiles who urged on King William (qv) and the English ministry the necessity for action to relieve the protestants remaining in Ireland and for strong military intervention to overturn the Jacobite regime. He and his father were chosen in October 1689 by a meeting of ‘the gentlemen of Ireland’ in London to be among the Munster representatives on a committee ‘to address the King . . . and make proposals for the settlement of Ireland’ (Journal of Rowland Davies, 60). Returning to Ireland after the battle of the Boyne, Brodrick was restored to the recordership and advanced to the office of second serjeant in the Castle administration.
Politics, 1692–1703 In the Irish parliament of 1692 he represented Cork city. Although his letters give no indication that he had been unhappy with the way in which Ireland was governed, he was vocal in his criticisms when the parliament assembled, especially over the issue of the treaty of Limerick, which he and other ultra-protestants considered too generous to catholics, and over the management of forfeited estates, which carried similar implications. He was one of the most prominent advocates of the claim of the Irish house of commons to possess a ‘sole right’ in the preparation of money bills. As a result he was dismissed by the lord lieutenant, Henry Lord Sidney (qv), after parliament was prorogued, though there was some suggestion, encouraged by Sidney, that he had first tendered his resignation, a point he himself resolutely refuted. Subsequently he supported, but did not participate in, efforts to raise the grievances of Ireland at Westminster. Then, after the appointment of the whig Lord Capel (qv) as one of the Irish lords justices, and subsequently as lord deputy, Brodrick came back into favour.
In May 1695 he was appointed Irish solicitor general, as part of a ministerial reconstruction recommended by Capel with a view to securing a political settlement, the legislative price of which was a compromise over the ‘sole right’, a clutch of anti-catholic penal laws, and an attempt to secure a toleration for protestant dissenters. While Brodrick was not a particularly enthusiastic supporter of the dissenters' cause, he was concerned enough for the passage of other ‘good laws’ to be prepared if necessary to ‘yield’ the principle of the ‘sole right’ (Alan Brodrick to Thomas Brodrick, 5 May 1694, Surrey History Centre, Midleton MS 1248/1 ff 268–9). In the event, he was not obliged to make any sacrifices other than the toleration bill, whose loss he found relatively little difficulty in swallowing.
Under Capel and his successors, Alan and his brother Thomas Brodrick (qv) took prime responsibility for the Castle's management of the Irish house of commons (to which Alan was again returned for Cork city in 1695 and 1703). Despite frequent protestations of his willingness to relinquish office rather than principles, the uncertain financial circumstances in which he found himself, as a younger son, seemed always to militate against a grand gesture. Perhaps partly for this reason, and also because he and Thomas had been closely involved with the administration of grants of forfeited estates to King William's favourites and English whig ministers, he did not take a prominent part in the ‘patriotic’ agitation against the English Woollen Act of 1699 and the Forfeitures Resumption Act of 1700; at the same time he did not hide his resentment at these interferences in Irish affairs and did what he could in his legal capacity to assist those Irish purchasers of forfeited estates who were adversely affected by the resumption. The appointment of a leading English tory, Lord Rochester (qv), to the viceroyalty in 1700 might have threatened his position, but he adapted to the changed political climate – perhaps helped by the continuance in government in Dublin of the whig lord chancellor (and former lord justice) John Methuen (qv) – and was still in office, although not entirely secure or comfortable, when Rochester was replaced in 1703 by an Irish tory, the 2nd duke of Ormond (qv).
Changing fortunes, 1703–14 No sooner had Ormond's appointment been announced than Brodrick's prospects deteriorated. The advice he tendered to the new administration, not to attempt to send over a money bill from England in case it aroused opposition in the Irish parliament, may have been motivated by genuine concern for the Castle's political position in the new parliament, but it was interpreted as an obstructionist defence of the ‘sole right’, and used against him by enemies like the attorney general, Robert Rochfort (qv) (a former ally in the 1692 parliament). Whether or not Brodrick's anticipation of Ormond's hostility was mistaken, by the time Queen Anne's first parliament met in the autumn of 1703 neither he nor the viceroy could really trust each other. Viceregal approval of his election to the speakership was wary and grudging, and Brodrick responded by making life as difficult for the administration as he possibly could. He and his followers hampered proceedings on supply, prompted inquiries into corruption, and in particular denounced the forfeiture trustees, one of whom, Francis Annesley (qv), was expelled from the commons. Almost immediately after the prorogation Ormond dismissed him, and during the next parliamentary session, in 1705, Brodrick openly led the whig opposition.
When Ormond was succeeded in 1707 by the moderate whig Lord Pembroke (qv) Brodrick expected to return to favour, and was indeed restored to office, this time as attorney general, in June 1707. But the new lord lieutenant hoped to attract support from both parties, and thus did not surrender himself entirely to the whigs. The session of 1707 was not an easy one for Brodrick. Under pressure from the whig junto in England, Pembroke was committed to try for a repeal of the sacramental test, imposed in the 1704 Irish Popery Act, which effectively excluded protestant dissenters from crown and municipal office. Brodrick had opposed the original imposition of the test, and high-church pamphleteers assumed that he was behind the projected repeal. In fact his commitment was lukewarm: he had little sympathy for dissenters, especially the presbyterians of Ulster, and saw the promotion of repeal as a danger to whig popularity. Thus he betrayed only a superficial interest when the issue was raised in parliament, and quickly retreated when the extent of its unpopularity appeared. Even more awkward was the question of a supply. The two parties in Ireland were competing in their protestations of service to government, but Brodrick had taken up a ‘patriotic’ position in the two preceding sessions, arguing strongly for a grant of taxes for no more than one year at a time, whereas Pembroke had been instructed to ask for two; Brodrick was obliged to agree to a compromise of a year and three quarters, masking his retreat with resolutions against conciliar interference with Irish statutes.
These particular difficulties continued into the next session, held in 1709 under the viceroyalty of the junto lord, Thomas Wharton (qv). Again Brodrick complained bitterly in his private correspondence of allegations against him of conspiring for the repeal of the test. Again he felt himself obliged to insist in his negotiations with the viceroy on a limited, one-year, grant of supply, to which, fortunately, Wharton proved amenable. In December 1709, on Wharton's recommendation, he was preferred to an Irish judgeship, as lord chief justice of queen's bench, and a year later was sworn of the Irish privy council. His tenure of the chief justiceship was marked by accusations of partisanship, notably in severe sentences passed against tories guilty of ‘political’ crimes, such as the several undergraduates of Trinity College, who in the autumn of 1710 were convicted of molesting the statue of King William in College Green, and who were ordered to parade in public with placards about their necks announcing their crime.
The restoration of Ormond to the lord lieutenancy late in 1710 was clearly a disaster for Brodrick, whose dismissal from the bench and the privy council followed inexorably, and before the viceroy's arrival in Ireland in 1711. He then had to wait until the general election of 1713 before recovering his place in the commons, this time as member for Co. Cork. By now there was a new lord lieutenant, the duke of Shrewsbury (qv), a former whig and a self-styled moderate, whose brief was to steer a middle course between the two parties in Ireland and secure stable parliamentary management. But neither whigs nor tories were in any mood for compromise. Brodrick was elected speaker of the commons, in the teeth of tory opposition and despite viceregal endorsement of a tory candidate. He proceeded to lead his party in a succession of spoiling tactics, postponing debates on supply while grievances were raised and a systematic campaign was launched against the tory lord chancellor, Sir Constantine Phipps (qv). After a short session parliament was adjourned, and then prorogued, without any subsidy.
Lord chancellor and parliamentary manager, 1714–25 The death of Queen Anne and the accession of George I brought the Irish whigs into their promised land. Brodrick, who had every reason to consider himself at this point the leader of his party, was rewarded with the lord chancellorship of Ireland, made a lord justice, and in April 1715 was raised to the Irish peerage as Baron Brodrick. However, he was soon disappointed with his new dignity. For one thing he was not the only Irish whig politician with contacts in England, and while his advice was listened to it was not always followed. Secondly, he found that the patronage directly at his disposal as lord chancellor was limited, especially in comparison with the advantages enjoyed by his most important political rival, William Conolly (qv), as chief commissioner of the revenue. Finally, when the Irish parliament met, he realised that by going to the lords, politically the less significant of the two houses, he had made a serious error: Conolly was elected speaker in his place, and gained appreciably in political influence as a result.
Brodrick's resentments were compounded by his failure to engross the favour of the incoming lords justices, Lord Galway (qv) and the duke of Grafton (qv), and during the first session of the 1715 parliament his eldest son, St John, and the rest of the family connection voted against the court on numerous occasions, most notably over the proposed legislative relief for protestant dissenters – an issue on which it was possible both to embarrass Conolly and to court the disaffected remnant of tories in the commons. Brodrick excused himself at the Castle on the grounds that his son was a headstrong young man, beyond parental control. Cynical contemporaries doubted this explanation, but it is confirmed to some extent from contemporary correspondence (always allowing for the fact that Brodrick probably assumed his letters would be opened by Conolly's cronies in the Dublin post office).
The appointment of a distant connection, the duke of Bolton (qv), as viceroy in 1717 temporarily raised Brodrick's spirits, and he was quick to assume the mantle of Bolton's principal parliamentary ‘undertaker’. His promotion in the peerage to Viscount Midleton seemed a public recognition of his improved status. But his rivalry with Conolly continued, and Bolton's first parliamentary session of 1717 did not go well for the Brodrick faction. In the lords the chancellor found himself isolated when he tried to calm the rising tide of ‘patriotic’ indignation over the hearing by the British house of lords of an appeal from Ireland, in the case of Annesley v. Sherlock. In the commons St John proved unable to shake the speaker's dominance, while Conolly's willingness to assist government was an advantage. An ill-judged attempt on Midleton's part to exclude his rival from the commission of lords justices appointed to govern Ireland in the absence of the viceroy then backfired badly. Before Bolton's departure Midleton spent several hours at the Castle and assumed he had succeeded in dissuading the viceroy from recommending Conolly, but the speaker had his own contacts in England and seems to have prevailed on the ministry there to insert his name. Midleton was furious, on both political and social grounds: he could not understand why Conolly had been ‘made my equal, and an office of the greatest honour and trust in the kingdom to be executed in a great measure by one of his birth and education’ (Midleton to Thomas Brodrick, 7 Nov. 1717, Surrey History Centre, Midleton MS 1248/4, ff 90–91).
Midleton blamed the chief minister, Lord Sunderland, for his disappointment, and seems to have determined upon revenge. A visit to Westminster in 1718, to take up his recently acquired seat in the British house of commons (for Midhurst in Sussex), may have enabled him to begin an intrigue with Sunderland's enemies, Walpole and Townshend. Already his resignation was considered not only inevitable, but imminent. But he did not break openly with the ministry until March 1719, when he refused to support the Peerage Bill, rejecting personal representations from both Sunderland and Bolton, and declared that he would ‘vote with my judgment’ (Coxe, ii, 172) unless permitted to return to Ireland, an ultimatum which Sunderland had no choice but to accept. A detailed account of the episode, preserved in Midleton's papers, explained his actions as a defence of principle, and some modern historians have been willing to treat this statement at face value.
Every day Midleton expected to hear of his dismissal, but when no further action was taken he proceeded cautiously. In Bolton's second parliamentary session, in 1719, he repeated his previous efforts to moderate the response of the lords on the issue of the appellate jurisdiction, at the cost of some personal popularity, while in the commons St John rallied dissident whigs and unreconstructed tories to oppose yet another ministerial scheme for the repeal of the test. Once more Midleton protested his inability to reduce his son to obedience, but no English minister believed him. Although Sunderland was now utterly determined on his removal, a rapprochement at court between the ministers and the Townshend–Walpole faction prevented this judgment from being executed. However, the reprieve did not seem likely to be permanent, for one of the consequences of the readmission of Townshend and Walpole into the cabinet was the reappointment to the Irish chief governorship of the duke of Grafton, whose sympathies in Irish politics were firmly with Speaker Conolly.
At first Grafton took pains to cultivate Midleton's goodwill, but it soon became clear that Conolly was the power behind the viceregal throne. Midleton's opposition in the 1721–2 parliamentary session to the proposed national bank may have been another calculated ploy to embarrass the administration, but the chancellor's real opportunity came in 1723 over ‘Wood's halfpence’. By this time Midleton had become alienated not only from Grafton but from the lord lieutenant's English masters, Townshend and Walpole, to the extent that he was intriguing with their principal ministerial rival, Lord Carteret (qv). Midleton declared himself against Wood's patent, in private and in council, but was careful not to identify himself publicly with the increasingly hysterical opposition to the halfpence, and, while he was willing to meet Jonathan Swift (qv) privately, he refused the dedication to a collection of pamphlets on the controversy, and in his capacity as a senior law officer advocated the prosecution of the author and publisher of the Drapier's letters.
Walpole's solution to the political crisis was to replace Grafton as viceroy with Lord Carteret, who, he observed, would be forced to choose between ‘the two great men’. Carteret began cautiously, however, and seems for a time to have tried to act as his own ‘undertaker’. This infuriated Midleton, who interpreted the viceroy's studied neutrality as a snub to himself. He promptly resigned the seals in May 1725, claiming, as usual, that he had been forced out on a point of principle: that Carteret had required him to support Wood's patent, which as a man of integrity he could not do.
Final years and assessment Midleton went into disgruntled opposition, and at the beginning of Carteret's first session, in September 1725, clashed with the viceroy over an amendment to the loyal address of the house of lords, which sought to add the words ‘great wisdom’ to describe the king's decision to withdraw the halfpence. But he soon relinquished the leadership of his parliamentary ‘squadron’ (centred on his family, friends, and Munster connections, and including a significant number of former tories) to his sons, and eventually to his real political heir, Henry Boyle (qv) of Castlemartyr, the future speaker and earl of Shannon. Midleton died at Ballyannan on 29 August 1728, and was buried at Midleton.
Although intensely ambitious (with a passion accentuated by financial insecurity in his early years), and at times flagrantly opportunistic, Midleton was not unprincipled. Throughout his career he could be described as a whig, even though, for tactical reasons, his followers co-operated with tories in opposition after 1715. He was entirely devoted to the maintenance of revolution settlement and the protestant succession, and determined to suppress any possibility of a catholic resurgence after 1691. Although he sometimes exploited popular fears of popery in a cynical way to gain political advantage, his private correspondence, especially at times of political crisis, reveals that he fully shared those fears himself. At the same time he also harboured prejudices against protestant dissent, and despite public statements of whig orthodoxy, which convinced presbyterian agents, was never committed to the admission of dissenters to full political rights. Thus, his failure to endorse the repeal of the test after 1715, though in part a political tactic, was consistent with the reservations he had always expressed to his intimate circle.
Where his integrity might be open to challenge is on constitutional issues. Twice he espoused ‘patriotic’ principles only to compromise them on taking office: over the ‘sole right’ in 1692–5, and annual subsidies in 1703–9. In each case he was able to cover himself to some degree by securing concessions from government. Later, in his opposition to the jurisdictional claims of the Irish house of lords, and in his attitude to Wood's halfpence, he appeared to be undermining the ‘patriot’ cause. But despite the element of political calculation which informed his conduct, it is still possible to detect behind the twists and turns of his career a broadly consistent approach: while anxious to advance Irish interests he was always acutely conscious of the limitations of this kind of ‘patriotism’, and of the underlying dependence of Irish protestants like himself on the English connection. As befitted a member of a genuinely Anglo-Irish family, with property on both sides of the Irish Sea, he always thought of himself as a representative of the English interest in Ireland as well as of the Irish protestant interest.
Family Midleton was married three times. His first wife was Catherine, daughter of Redmond Barry of Rathcormack, Co. Cork, with whom he had one son, St John, and a daughter. In 1693 he married Lucy (d. 1703), daughter of another neighbouring landowner, Sir Peter Courthope, with whom he had two more sons and a daughter. He married thirdly, in 1716, Anne, daughter and eventual heir of Sir John Trevor, a speaker of the English house of commons, and widow of Michael Hill. This last marriage, though happy, was childless. St John (or ‘Senny’ as he was known within the family) predeceased Midleton by six months, and the title passed to a younger son, another Alan.