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Henry Brooke

Henry Brooke

Henry Brooke was born in Rantavan, Mullagh in 1703. He was son of Rev. William Brooke, rector of Killenkere and Letrice Digby. His mother was possibly the second daughter of Dr. Simon Digby, bishop of Elphin. He was educated at the Royal School Cavan and Trinity College Dublin and afterwards went to London to study law. He married his cousin Catherine Mears and they had twenty two children, of which only two survived to adulthood, including Charlotte Brooke.

While in England, Brooke was acquainted with Alexander Pope who refined some of Brooke’s literary work. Brooke parodied Sir Robert Walpole the ‘whig’ prime minister in his play ‘Gustavus Vasa’ and this was the first play banned under the licensing Act of 1737. Brooke’s health was always delicate and on doctors advice he returned to Dublin in 1725. Brooke was interested in politics but could not avoid controversy because of his parodies. Brooke’s father died in 1745 and he inherited the land and house at Rantavan.

He wrote a series of pamphlets called ‘Farmers Letters’ spanning fifteen years (1745-1760) which were anti Catholic in nature and were written to prepare Protestants for the spread of Jacobitism. The Earl of Chesterfield (then viceroy to Ireland) rewarded Brooke for his political support by appointing him barrack-master of Mullingar. The regular salary was important to Brooke as money was limited. Brooke withdrew somewhat from politics and with his brother Robert tried to modernise the Rantavan estate. This did not work out and they moved to Daisy Park near Sallins, Co Kildare an estate rented from a cousin Simon Digby. He renewed his interest in politics and his views became increasingly liberal and produced a new series of ‘Farmers Letters’ defending Irish history and culture in 1760.

Brooke became the first editor of the ‘Freemans Journal’ in 1763. It was in the period 1765-1770 that Brooke wrote ‘The Fool of Quality’ his most famous work which provided discourse on politics, education, women’s rights, and the penal laws.

He returned to Rantavan House in 1770 but he was no more successful than previously in his attempts to effect improvements to the estate. His wife died in 1772 and his mental and physical health declined. He died in Dublin on 10 October 1783 and is buried in Mullagh.

Works

Pamphlets

TitleYear
Farmers Letters1746-1760
Interests of Ireland1759
Liberty and Common sense1759

Books

TitleYear
Juliet Grenville1774
The Fool of Quality 5 vols1765-1770

Plays

TitleYear
Gustavus Vasa : Defender of his country1739
The Patriot1741
Betrayer of his Country (1742) published as The Earl of Westmoreland1741
Jack the Giant Queller1749
The Earl of Essex1750

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