Extracted from a talk given by Michael Brabazon at the family Reunion – September 2003
The Tudor Conquest of Ireland and the transplantation of the Brabazons to the new realm - like the move from Betchworth - has greater meaning than simply a change of scenery. Sir William Brabazon - sent to Dublin by Henry VIII in 1534 as part of the new Irish Establishment - left his community in Leicestershire, and like his antecedent Jacques, displayed all the qualities of a fierce and able warrior, but without regard to the national community of which his descendants would become a very integral part.
From his grandfather fighting against the Tudors, William became one of their greatest supporters. He must have been very much a favourite of Henry VIII as he excelled at jousting, being one of the main English contestants at the historic meeting between Henry and Frances I of France at the so-called Field of the Cloth of Gold near to Calais. The name was drawn from the appearance of so many gold covered tents housing the assembled Courts. The king liked to surround himself with young knights who were intended to revivify the spirit of Arthurian Albion. Who better then to champion Henry in Ireland than William - like Jacques, a standard bearer for a conquering king? To add, there may have been a further reason; that of existing Irish land ownership. There are a handful of pre Tudor references to names like Brabazon occurring in Ireland, one such record is for a John Brabesoun in Ardee in the year 1362. There is a John Brabazon at Eastwell at this time – is it the same person? The reason I pick on this reference is the co-incidence of the name with the town of Ardee. We are all aware, I assume, that the title of Baron Ardee preceded that of the Earldom of Meath by one generation – but why Ardee when, to my knowledge the acquisition of property by Sir William was principally in Dublin and its environs? Is this pointing to a more ancient connection to Ireland than we assume? I leave the question necessarily open but would be most interested if anyone is able to elucidate.
Henry was up against the odds in Ireland. His gamble of splitting with Rome was by no means an assured success, in England or anywhere else. His greatest fear was that the Irish would take the title of king for one of their leading families and ally themselves with France, or, indeed, offer the throne to the French king. This led to a decisive push to usurp the Irish throne for himself and employ the necessary coup de grace of the ruling Fitzgerald Clan, led by the Earl of Kildare. Sir William gave his all on the battlefield and in the new administration seated in Dublin Castle, employing a dedication of purpose that must have burned almost like a religious passion. However, like all heroic figures there are the displays of the inevitable feet of clay. He managed to defraud maybe as much as one million pounds out of the English Exchequer by levying taxes on Crown land and simply pocketing it. He was also in charge of the dispossession of much of the monasteries’ wealth, ordering the stripping of all their bells throughout Ireland which were to be sent to England for melting down and used by the military. However, none of the metal appeared to make its way out of Ireland: indeed it just ‘disappeared’. What did our ancestor do with all this money on top of his salary? Undoubtedly much of it was used as additional finance for the demands of his work, but a lot would have gone into the family coffers. Again, the replication of Jacques’ life - this time in the acquisition of a mercenary fortune - is not hard to distinguish.
On 20 January 1551 Andrew Wise became Vice-Treasurer of Ireland jointly with Sir William Brabazon whose daughter he married the same year. The marriage was short and childless and ended in divorce. He then married Eleanor Cusack. In March 1552 Andrew was sent to England with the audited accounts of the Irish Treasury. In London it was found that there was a sum amounting to 11,559 pounds included in the disbursements for which the official authorising warrants were missing. The two vice-treasurers were made responsible for making good this large sum unless they could produce the warrants. At this point Brabazon died leaving Wise solely liable, and he could not produce the warrants. In May 1553 he was arrested and cast into the Fleet Prison.
A fighter to the last, Sir William died in a military campaign in Ulster in 1552, leaving two young sons; the elder, Edward, later Baron Ardee, only 3 years of age on his father’s death, was the progenitor of the Earls of Meath, and the younger, Anthony, became the Governor of Connaught, seated at Ballinasloe. The younger son married Ursula daughter and heiress of Sir Nicholas Malby who had also been Governor of Connaught and who gave vast estates in this Province to the Brabazons. Indeed, at the beginning of the Cromwellian Wars the Brabazons as a whole constituted one of the largest land-owning families in Ireland.
Sir William’s wife, Lady Elizabeth, who outlived her husband by 30 years, would have naturally become the major influence in the lives of the next generation of Brabazons. She was from the ancient de Clifford family, originally seated at Clifford Castle near Hay-on-Wye in Herefordshire and later in Kent, whose ancestry through different female lines has been traced back to many noble houses including that of the Emperor Charlemagne. The famous Leeds Castle in Kent [Web Site] was the seat of the Culpepper branch of the family, which was passed down in the female line to the Fairfaxes. It must have been Elizabeth who decided to seat the family in Ireland rather than England, and we can only guess at the reason or reasons why. Perhaps the vastness of their new holdings swayed the decision, but between Elizabeth’s own inheritance – she was a co-heir – and the Brabazons’ English holdings there were plenty of reasons to return to the homeland. Maybe it was at the bidding of the King, as the Cliffords were very much part of Henry’s court, receiving from him the earldom of Cumberland. Whatever, both sons soon became Anglo-Irish, fully participating in the building of a changed Ireland. The lives, characters and approaches of those two progenitors set the courses of our ever-expanding Clan up to the present day.
One interesting reference I found to the family in Elizabethan times is in a book entitled The Twighlight Lords. The Queen played a balancing game between the protestant fundamentalists and the Anglo-Catholics, and tolerated Roman Catholics in high positions so long as they remained loyal. The young Viscount Baltinglass was one such person, who, to general surprise, staged a revolt after inheriting the title in 1580. Before he turned against Crown, he was at the centre of a circle of loyal Anglo-Irish Catholics - the Plunkets, Dillons, Aylmers, Nugents and, yes, Brabazons. And there were only two male adult Brabazons at this time, William’s sons, Edward and Anthony. Immediately I read this, the Clifford connection dawned on me. Although Sir William was stoutly in favour of the Reformation, the Clifford family as a whole remained Catholic. Indeed, the present Baron Clifford is one of the leading Roman Catholic aristocrats; his ancestor the first Baron, Thomas Clifford, being part of Charles II’s so-called CABAL, of which the C stands for Clifford. The northern English part of the family remained both Catholic and loyal throughout the religious rebellion in the northern counties. So, although both sons at some point reverted back to the Established Church, the Clifford influence had made its mark on Brabazon thinking and behaviour, not least planting a sympathy for the beliefs of the native Irish population. This may well explain the younger son’s approach to bringing the troublesome tribes of the West under Dublin control. Rather than employ a military solution, he is said to have ingratiated himself with the tribal leaders by acting as honest broker in helping settle inter-tribal feuds. Certainly, when the forces of O’Neil swept over Ireland, Anthony Brabazon at Ballinasloe was one of the few Anglo rulers to be left unharmed.
Welcome to the Brabazon Blog! We are trying to get a forum going that would be more instantaneous and universal than either the family website (brabazonarchive.com) or separate emailing. We have commenced with a handful of topics - taken from the website - to kick-start conversations. Your suggestions for additional areas of interest and emails of a personal nature can be sent to Michael Brabazon at firstname.lastname@example.org
As we are probably all now aware, the Brabazon Clan is not homogenous but rather a mosaic of smaller genetic groupings, sometimes explicable by descent via a Brabazon female line, sometimes due to the adoption of the Brabazon name for various known or unknown reasons. By casting the discussion network as wide as possible perhaps we can begin to shed more light on each of the sub-lineages of the Clan - worldwide brainstorming, so to speak!
The Earl and Countess of Meath remain the standard bearers of the Brabazon name, and I think we would all agree that we have an excellent family at the very heart of the Brabazon Clan. Across the spectrum of our Family we are a good microcosm of Irishness in all its cultural forms and our cohesiveness in diversity is perhaps the best testimony to the greatness of our ancestors. So start blogging and let's see where it goes!