Brabazon, Reginald (1841–1929), 12th earl of Meath , landowner, philanthropist, and disciplinarian, was born in London on 31 July 1841, the second son of William Brabazon, eleventh earl, and Harriet, second daughter of Sir Richard Brooke, sixth baronet, of Norton Priory, Cheshire. His godmother was Catherine Gladstone (née Glynne), wife of W. E. Gladstone. Initially educated at Eton, Brabazon later went to Hanover to learn German before entering the British Foreign Office in 1863 as a clerk. After spending some time as an attaché at Frankfurt am Main (1866), as a replacement for Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (qv), he served in Berlin (1868–70), The Hague (1870), and Paris (1871–3). In 1873 he declined the position of second secretary to the embassy in Athens, but remained in the service, without pay or an appointment, until he retired in 1877. Thereafter Brabazon's metier, inspired by his father and his wife, was social and philanthropic work, mostly in Great Britain. Politically, he was enthused by the idea of empire and an imperial patriotism based on social service and civic duty. The founder and president of the Empire Day movement, he persuaded the British parliament to fly the union jack over the palace of Westminster in 1893, at a time when there was no officially recognised national flag.
On his father's death in 1887 Brabazon succeeded to the title and to the estate of Kilruddery, Co. Wicklow. In addition to the Wicklow estate, which encompassed 14,717 acres in 1876, he owned 36 acres in the dilapidated Coombe district of Dublin city, as well as residences in London (83 Lancaster Gate), Surrey (Chaworth House, Ottershaw, Chertsey), and Co. Wicklow (The Coppice, Rathdrum). By 1921, however, Kilruddery's expenses exceeded its owner's entire Irish income and he was on the verge of bankruptcy.
A committed unionist and leading member of the Irish Land Conference, Meath sat in the house of lords as Baron Chaworth (UK). In June 1901 a bill, introduced by him, for the purpose of establishing day industrial schools in Ireland passed all its stages in the upper house, but failed to pass through the lower house, despite the fact that these schools already existed in England. Largely responsible for the construction in 1907 of the Boer War memorial arch in St Stephen's Green, Meath associated himself with John Redmond's (qv) recruitment campaign in 1914 and became president of the city and county of Dublin recruiting committee.
A staunch imperialist, Meath was chairman of the duty and discipline movement, which had more than 4,000 members in 1917. The objectives of the movement were to combat softness, slackness, indifference, and indiscipline in young people, and to give reasonable support to all legitimate authority. Meath's encouragement of discipline and physical education meant that he was also a strong supporter of national service and Baden-Powell's scout movement.
Meath was the first president of the Dublin Philanthropic Reform Association, through which he initiated the police-aided clothing scheme to clothe the ‘ragged youth’ of Dublin, and was a founding member and honorary secretary of the Dublin Hospital Sunday movement, a hospital fund which raised about £200,000 between 1874 and 1922. He also founded the Hospital Saturday Fund in 1873 to help working people meet the real expenses of medical care. A member of the Church of Ireland social service committee and the Dublin diocesan social service committee, he was appointed by Baden-Powell chief commissioner (Ireland) of the boy scouts organisation in 1911. From 1898 he served as lieutenant for the county and city of Dublin, JP for the counties of Dublin and Wicklow, DL for the county of Wicklow, and honorary colonel of the 5th battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Between 1902 and 1905 he served as chancellor of the Royal University of Ireland, but retired owing to nationalist dissent. Meath was created PC (Ireland) in 1887, KP in 1905, GBE in 1920, and GCVO in 1923. In 1921 he was elected by the Irish privy council and the Irish peers to serve in the aborted Southern Ireland senate established by the Government of Ireland Act 1920.
Meath wrote two volumes of reminiscences, Memories of the nineteenth century (1923) and Memories of the twentieth century (1924), as well as several works related to his social and philanthropic work. In 1868 he married Lady Mary Jane Maitland, with whom he had six children. More than half of his income was derived from his wife. He died in London after a week's illness on 11 October 1929, and was succeeded as 13th earl by his eldest son, Reginald Le Normand Brabazon. There is a portrait (1928) of Meath by Sir William Orpen (qv), as well as a series of photographs by Bassano, in the National Portrait Gallery, London, and a bronze bust in the possession of the Royal Commonwealth Society. A memorial to him was erected at Lancaster Gate, London.