We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Brodrick, (William) St John Fremantle, first earl of Midleton (1856–1942), politician, was born in London on 14 December 1856, the eldest of the three sons of William Brodrick, later eighth Viscount Midleton (d. 1907), and his wife, Augusta Mary, third daughter of Sir Thomas Francis Fremantle, later first Baron Cottesloe and his wife, Lady Augusta Henrietta, née Scott. He was a nephew of G. C. Brodrick. Until 1870, when his father succeeded to the title, Brodrick was taught strictly but affectionately to fit himself for hard work. He was, however, a worker by disposition. He was educated at Eton College, where his greatest friend was Alfred Lyttelton, and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he obtained a second class in modern history and was president of the Oxford Union in 1878. After taking his degree he soon made himself financially independent as his father had desired, beginning with journalism and later making a much more profitable and a permanent connection with telegraphic cable companies.

In 1880 Brodrick entered the House of Commons as a Conservative, unopposed for West Surrey: from 1885 to 1906 he represented the Guildford division. The acute Irish problem at once seized his attention in the house. He disapproved of the neglectful conduct of many Irish landowners; he did not forget that the principal part of the fortune which he was destined to inherit was derived from Midleton in co. Cork. But the unusual knowledge of Irish affairs which he acquired, and which was commended by Gladstone, by no means shook his conviction (until the war of 1914–18 brought new conditions) that the well-being of Ireland depended upon kindly and intelligent rule by England. His first office was that of financial secretary to the War Office (1886–92). It was he who in opposition during the Liberal government of 1892–5 discovered the deficiency of ammunition for the army and inspired the ‘cordite’ motion which caused the fall of Rosebery's government. In 1895 he became under-secretary of state for war, and in 1898 under-secretary for foreign affairs. He was sworn of the privy council in 1897.

Such experience amply prepared Brodrick for his appointment as secretary of state for war after the election of 1900. Brodrick played some part in the establishment of the committee of imperial defence (largely A. J. Balfour's achievement) in 1902. Brodrick did not believe that the South African War had exposed serious malfunctioning in the army, and he was a staunch defender of the Cardwell system of 1870–72, and he attempted to reform it by renovating it. He also wanted a stronger home army, organized in six corps, three of which would be ready to serve as an expeditionary force—the first plan which took account of Britain's increasingly continental orientation. Poor planning in detail and difficult relations with many of his senior officers meant that little of Brodrick's plan was achieved. The Elgin and Norfolk royal commissions and the Esher committee on War Office reconstruction suggested very different reforms—an army board, on the model of the Admiralty—and Brodrick was left stranded. However, he introduced a new forage cap for the guards which came to bear his name. Lord Esher advised Brodrick in August 1903 to resign; he did not, but Balfour took advantage of the ministerial reshuffle consequent upon the cabinet crisis in September 1903 over tariff reform to remove him from the War Office. Still in the cabinet, he was an effective counter-force to his successor, H. O. Arnold-Forster, who attempted to replace Brodrick's reform programme with his own, the consequence being that the Unionists went out of office with little to show in the way of army reform despite the high priority they claimed to give to it.

From 9 October 1903 to 11 December 1905 Brodrick was secretary of state for India. He was pitched almost immediately into the controversy over the partition of Bengal, already under consideration. This led to a major quarrel with his schoolfriend , now, as Lord Curzon, viceroy of India. They also strongly disagreed on frontier policy with respect to Afghanistan and Tibet. Curzon sent his plan for partition on 2 February 1905. Brodrick tried to encourage Curzon to put forward a more limited proposal—a commissioner for parts of Bengal—but on 9 June he agreed to Curzon's plan, though warning him of its likely explosive consequences. Partition was announced on 19 July and executed on 16 October 1905, shortly before Brodrick resigned with the rest of Balfour's government.

At the same time, Brodrick was under pressure from Kitchener to force on Curzon strengthening of the commander-in-chief's authority in India. Brodrick offered compromise but, in a subsidiary row over a military appointment, Curzon resigned. Rows with Curzon blighted Brodrick's secretaryship. In his pamphlet, Relations of Lord Curzon as Viceroy of India with the British Government, 1902–5, which he privately published in June 1926 (a year after Curzon's death), with a note that it was ‘seen and approved by the Earl of Balfour, June 1926’, he took the view that Curzon had been nervously exhausted, ‘as early as 1902 … almost at the end of his tether’.

At the general election of 1906 Brodrick was defeated and in 1907 he succeeded his father as ninth Viscount Midleton, taking up residence at Peper Harow, near Godalming. He now had more time to attend to Ireland and he became leader of the southern unionists. The most important event in this connection was his part in 1917 in trying to arrange through the Irish convention a settlement between north and south. The aim was a united, autonomous Ireland ‘within the British Empire’ with adequate safeguards for unionist minorities. The first flush of general enthusiasm soon faded into the old suspicions and enmities. It was widely thought that Midleton overestimated the likelihood that Ulstermen would subject their intense loyalty to the union to conditions under which, as they believed, they could hardly maintain it. After the breakdown of the convention Lloyd George pressed Midleton to accept the lord lieutenancy of Ireland; but Midleton declined when he learned that he would have to support a double policy of ‘autonomy and conscription’, in which he profoundly disbelieved. On 4 July 1921 he attended a conference in Dublin, at De Valera's invitation, and was subsequently able to persuade Lloyd George to agree to a truce, pending discussions, which he proceeded to negotiate in consultation with Sir Nevil Macready. But Midleton considered the subsequent settlement a ‘lamentable conclusion’ and thereafter took no further part in Irish affairs.

In politics Midleton was notable for his sincerity; he would join with zest in fair political stratagem, but never in intrigue. His long experience of men and affairs left him with an unexpected simplicity which was very attractive to his friends but which meant that he was ill equipped to deal with the Curzon affair.

Midleton was twice married: first, in 1880, to Hilda Charteris (d. 1901), daughter of Lord Elcho, later eighth earl of Wemyss and sixth earl of March, with whom he had one son and four daughters; and second, in 1903, to Madeleine Cecilia Carlyle, elder daughter of Colonel John Constantine Stanley, Grenadier Guards, with whom he had two sons, who were both killed in action at Salerno (1943). He was an alderman of the London county council from 1907 to 1913; was appointed KP in 1916; was advanced to an earldom by Lloyd George in 1920; and received the honorary degree of LLD from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1922. He died at Peper Harow on 13 February 1942.

J. B. Atkins, rev. H. C. G. Matthew

Sources  

The Times (16 Feb 1942) · Earl of Midleton [W. St J. F. Brodrick], Ireland (1932) · Earl of Midleton [W. St J. F. Brodrick], Records and reactions, 1856–1939 (1939) · N. Goradia, Lord Curzon: the last of the British moghuls (1993) · F. Pakenham, Peace by ordeal (1935) · E. M. Spiers, Haldane: an army reformer (1980) · B. W. Cox and M. Prevezer, ‘The Brodrick cap’, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, 60 (1982), 213–25 · L. J. Satre, ‘St John Brodrick and army reform, 1901–1903’, Journal of British Studies, 15/2 (1975–6), 117–39 · P. Magnus, King Edward the Seventh (1964)

Archives  

TNA: PRO, corresp. and papers, PRO 30/67 |  BL, corresp. with H. O. Arnold-Foster, Add. MSS 50311, 50314, 50325, 50347, passim · BL, corresp. with Arthur James Balfour, Add. MSS 49720–49721, passim · BL, corresp. with J. H. Bernard, Add. MS 52781 · BL, corresp. with Lord Curzon, Add. MSS 50072–50077 · BL, corresp. with Sir E. T. H. Hutton, Add. MS 50085, passim · BL, corresp. with G. D. Ramsay, Add. MS 46448 · BL OIOC, corresp. with Lord Ampthill, MS Eur. E 233 · BL OIOC, letters to Arthur Godley, MS Eur. F 102 · BL OIOC, letters to John Morley, MS Eur. D 555 · BL OIOC, letters to H. E. Richards, MS Eur. F 122 · Bodl. Oxf., letters to Hebert Asquith; letters to Margot Asquith; letters to Lady Milner; corresp. with Lord Selborne · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with A. J. Balfour etc. · Herts. ALS, letters to Lady Desborough · King's AC Cam., letters to Oscar Browning · Lpool RO, corresp. with Lord Derby · NA Scot., corresp. with A. J. Balfour and G. W. Balfour; corresp. with Phillip Kerr; corresp. with Lord Minto · NAM, letters to Lord Roberts · NL Ire., letters to J. Redmond · Parl. Arch., corresp. with Andrew Bonar Law; corresp. with David Lloyd George; corresp. with John St Loe Strachey · Plunkett Foundation for Cooperative Studies, Oxford, corresp. with Sir Horace Plunkett · U. Birm. L., letters to Austen Chamberlain and Joseph Chamberlain


Likenesses  

B. Stone, photograph, 1902, NPG · Russell, photogravure, 1911, NPG · W. Stoneman, photograph, 1921, NPG · W. Carter, oils, county hall, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey · B. Partridge, caricature, pen-and-ink cartoon, NPG; repro. in Punch (29 Jan 1902) · attrib. Russell, photograph, NPG · Spy [L. Ward], chromolithograph caricature, NPG; repro. in VF (18 July 1801)

Wealth at death  

£68,590 further grant: 1943, CGPLA Eng. & Wales