Basil Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough

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The Right Honourable
The Viscount Brookeborough
Prime Minister of Northern Ireland
In office
1 May 1943 – 26 March 1963
Preceded by John Miller Andrews
Succeeded by Terence O'Neill
Member of the Northern Ireland Parliament
for Lisnaskea
In office
Preceded by New constituency
Succeeded by John Brooke
Personal details
Born (1888-06-09)9 June 1888
Colebrooke, Ireland
Died 18 August 1973(1973-08-18) (aged 85)
Colebrooke, Northern Ireland
Nationality British
Political party Ulster Unionist Party
Spouse(s) Cynthia Brooke

Sarah Eileen Bell Calvert
Children 3
Alma mater Royal Military College, Sandhurst
Religion Anglican
Awards Military Cross
Croix de Guerre
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1908–1920
Rank Captain
Unit Royal Fusiliers
10th Hussars
Battles/wars World War One

Basil Stanlake Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough, KG, CBE, MC, PC (NI) (9 June 1888 – 18 August 1973) was an Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) politician who became the third Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in May 1943, holding office until March 1963.

Lord Brookeborough (as Sir Basil Brooke, Bt, MP) had previously held several ministerial positions in the Government of Northern Ireland, and has been described as "perhaps the last Unionist leader to command respect, loyalty and affection across the social and political spectrum of the movement".[1] He has also been described as one of the most hardline anti-Catholic leaders of the UUP.[2]

Early life[edit]

Basil Stanlake Brooke was born on 9 June 1888 at Colebrooke Park, his family's neo-Classical ancestral seat on (what was then) the several-thousand acre Colebrooke Estate, just outside Brookeborough, a village near Lisnaskea in County Fermanagh, Ireland.[3] He was the eldest son of Sir Arthur Douglas Brooke, 4th Baronet, whom he succeeded as 5th Baronet when his father died in 1907.[4] He was a nephew of Field Marshal The 1st Viscount Alanbrooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff during World War II, who was only five years his senior. His sister Sheelah married Sir Henry Mulholland, Speaker of the Stormont House of Commons and son of Lord Dunleath. He was educated for five years at St. George's School in Pau, France, and then at Winchester College (1901–05).[4]

Military and paramilitary career[edit]

After graduating from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst,[4] the young Sir Basil Brooke, 5th Bt, was commissioned into the Royal Fusiliers on 26 September 1908 as a Second Lieutenant.[5] He transferred to the 10th Hussars in 1911. He was awarded the Military Cross and Croix de Guerre with palm for his service during World War I.

Brooke was a very active Ulster Unionist Party member and ally of Edward Carson. He founded his own paramilitary group, Brooke's Fermanagh Vigilance, from men returning from the war front in 1918. Although the umbrella Ulster Volunteers (UVF) had been quiescent during the war, it was not defunct. It re-emerged strongly in 1920, subsuming groups like Brooke's.[6]

In 1920, having reached the rank of Captain, Brooke left the British Army to farm the Colebrooke Estate, his family's country estate at Brookeborough in west Ulster, at which point he turned towards a career in politics.[7]

Political career[edit]

Brooke had a very long political career. When he resigned the Premiership of Northern Ireland in March 1963, he was Northern Ireland's longest-serving Prime Minister, having held office for two months short of 20 years.[8] He had also established a United Kingdom record by holding government office continuously for 33 years.[8]

In 1921 Captain Brooke was elected to the Senate of Northern Ireland, but he resigned the following year to become Commandant of the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) in their fight against the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He was created a CBE in 1921.[8]

In 1929 he was elected to the House of Commons of Northern Ireland as Ulster Unionist Party MP for the Lisnaskea division of County Fermanagh. In the words of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, "his thin, wiry frame, with the inevitable cigarette in hand, and clipped, anglicised accent were to be a feature of Stormont for the next forty years."

Cabinet minister[edit]

Brooke became Minister of Agriculture in 1933. By virtue of this appointment, he also acquired the rank of Privy Councillor of Northern Ireland.[8] He was thus known, from 1933 until his elevation to the peerage in 1952, as Captain The Right Honourable Sir Basil Brooke, 5th Baronet, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Military Cross, Privy Council of Northern Ireland, Member of Parliament. From 1941 to 1943 he was Minister of Commerce.

Capt. Brooke addressed an Orange Institution rally at Newtownbutler on 12 July 1933, where he said:

Many in this audience employ Catholics, but I have not one about my place. Catholics are out to destroy Ulster...If we in Ulster allow Roman Catholics to work on our farms we are traitors to Ulster...I would appeal to loyalists, therefore, wherever possible, to employ good Protestant lads and lassies.[9][10]

As Prime Minister[edit]

On 2 May 1943 he succeeded John M. Andrews as Prime Minister.[11]

In 1952 Brookeborough, whilst Prime Minister, was raised to the peerage as Viscount Brookeborough, the title taken from the village named after the Brookes. Although a peer, he retained his seat in the House of Commons at Stormont and remained PM for another decade.

As the Northern Ireland economy began to de-industrialise in the mid-1950s, leading to high unemployment amongst the Protestant working classes, Brookeborough faced increasing disenchantment amongst UUP backbenchers for what was regarded as his indifferent and ineffectual approach to mounting economic problems. As this disenchantment grew, British civil servants and some members of the UUP combined to exert discreet and ultimately effective pressure on Brookeborough to resign to make way for Captain Terence O'Neill, who was Minister of Finance.[12]

In 1963, his health having worsened, he resigned (at the age of 75) as Prime Minister. But he remained a member of the House of Commons of Northern Ireland until the 1969 general election, becoming the Father of the House in 1965. During his last years in the Parliament of Northern Ireland he publicly opposed the liberal policies of his successor Terence O'Neill, who actively sought to improve relationships with the Republic of Ireland, and who attempted to address some of the grievances of Catholics and grant many of the demands of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA).

Brookeborough was noted for his casual style towards his ministerial duties. Terence O'Neill later wrote of him: "he was good company and a good raconteur, and those who met him imagined that he was relaxing away from his desk. However they did not realise that there was no desk."[8]

While Graham Walker wrote "...Brookeborough's achievements over twenty years were substantial: the Unionist Party maintained essential unity, the anti-partitionist project was thwarted, and a potentially difficult post-war relationship with Britain under Labour was managed to the long-term benefit of Northern Ireland's full participation in the welfare state and new educational opportunities...",[13] increased educational opportunities for Catholics increased their self-confidence and expectations, which added momentum to the 1960s civil rights movement.[14]

Later life and death[edit]

In his retirement Brookeborough developed commercial interests; as chairman of Carreras (Northern Ireland), a director of Devenish Trade, and president of the Northern Ireland Institute of Directors. He was also made an honorary LLD of The Queen's University of Belfast.

From 1970 to 1973, years in which the Stormont institution came under its greatest strain and eventually crumbled, Brookeborough made only occasional forays into political life.[8] In 1972 he appeared next to Bill Craig, MP, on the balcony of Parliament Buildings at Stormont, a diminutive figure beside the leader of the Ulster Vanguard who was rallying right-wing Unionists against the Government of Northern Ireland. He opposed the Westminster white paper on the future of Northern Ireland and caused some embarrassment to his son, Captain John Brooke, the UUP Chief Whip and an ally of Brian Faulkner, by speaking against the Faulkner ministry's proposals.[8]

Lord Brookeborough died at his home, Colebrooke Park, on the Colebrooke Estate, on 18 August 1973. His remains were cremated at Roselawn Cemetery, East Belfast, three days later, and, in accordance with his wishes, his ashes were scattered on the demesne surrounding his beloved Colebrooke Park. In its obituary, The Times indirectly blamed him for the continuing Troubles: “Brookeborough was a man of courage, conviction and great charm. But his political sense was seriously found wanting by the intransigence with which he excluded the Roman Catholic minority from responsibility and participation.” The obituary continued remarking that Brookeborough was “[a] staunch representative of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and an unyielding believer in the Protestant Ascendancy...The sectarian strife now tearing at the fabric of Northern Ireland's society is in part attributable to the immobility imposed in his long period of political leadership.”[8]

Brookeborough’s estate[15] was valued at £406,591.83.[8] [16] His only surviving son, Captain The Right Honourable John W. Brooke, Privy Council of Northern Ireland, MP, succeeded to the viscountcy.[8]

Personal life and family[edit]

He married, firstly, Cynthia Mary Surgison (1897–1970), second daughter and co-heir of Captain Charles Warden Surgison, of Cuckfield Park, Sussex. They were married on 3 June 1919 at St George's, Hanover Square. Their families were already close due to Surgison's sister being married to Brookeborough's cousin.[4] Following their marriage the Brookes went to live at Colebrooke Park. They had three sons, two of whom were killed in action during the Second World War.[8]

He was a member of the Hanover Loyal Orange Lodge 1639, which served the Brookeborough estate. Involvement with the Orange Order was a longstanding family tradition.[17]

Lady Brookeborough died in 1970 and the following year, aged 83, Lord Brookeborough married Sarah Eileen Bell Calvert, daughter of Henry Healey, of Belfast, and widow of Cecil Armstrong Calvert, FRCS, director of neurosurgery at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. Sarah Eileen, Viscountess Brookeborough, died in 1989.[18]

In his private life, Brookeborough enjoyed farming, and he won many awards for it. He also liked shooting, fishing, and golf.[8]


By his first wife, Brookeborough had the following children:

Awards and decorations[edit]

He was awarded the Military Cross[19] for "Distinguished Service in the Field" on 3 June 1916.[20] He was awarded the Croix de Guerre[21]

Having been appointed CBE in 1921, Brooke was, on 1 July 1952, raised to the House of Lords as Viscount Brookeborough, of Colebrooke, County Fermanagh. He was appointed a Knight of the Garter in 1965. He held the office of Vice-Admiral of Ulster between 1961 and 1973. He held the office of Lord Lieutenant of County Fermanagh and was Custos Rotulorum of County Fermanagh between 1963 and 1969.

Award Ribbon Post-nominal letters
Order of the British Empire Order of the British Empire (Military) Ribbon.png CBE
Military Cross Military cross BAR.svg MC
Order of the Garter Order of the Garter UK ribbon.png KG
Croix de Guerre Croix de Guerre 1914-1918 ribbon.svg

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Walker, G, A history of the Ulster Unionist Party (Manchester 2004) p 150
  2. ^ Anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland, 1600-1998 The Mote and the Beam by John D. Brewer with Gareth I. Higgins (1998) ISBN 0-333-74635-X (Paperback)
  3. ^ Barton, Brian, Brookeborough: The Making of a Prime Minister, 1988, p. 15
  4. ^ a b c d Lundy, Darryl. "". The Peerage. [unreliable source?]
  5. ^ The London Gazette: no. 28180. p. 6940. 25 September 1908. Retrieved 2011-01-19.
  6. ^ Townshend, "Easter 1916" p.181.
  7. ^ Timothy Bowman, 'The Ulster Volunteer Force, 1910-1920: New Perspectives', in Boyce and O'Day (eds.), Ulster Crisis, pp.256-8.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l The Times, 20 August 1973
  9. ^ Ryan, Alan (1999). The Reader's Companion to Ireland. Harvest Books. p. 226. ISBN 978-0-15-600559-3. 
  10. ^ Coogan, Tim Pat (2004). Ireland in the Twentieth Century. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 299–300. ISBN 978-1-4039-6397-0. 
  11. ^ "NORTHERN IRELAND GETS NEW PREMIER". New York Times. 2 May 1943. Retrieved 23 January 2015. resigned after criticism from his own Unionist party with regard to the government's unemployment policy. 
  12. ^ MacDonald, Michael, Children of Wrath, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1986, p. 71
  13. ^ Graham Walker, p.149
  14. ^
  15. ^ probate, 5 December 1975, CGPLA NIre. • £42,793 in England and Wales: probate, 7 November 1973, CGPLA Eng. & Wales
  16. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  17. ^ Beyond the Banners:The Story of the Orange Order, 92
  18. ^ Lundy, Darryl. "". The Peerage. [unreliable source?]
  19. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29608. pp. 5570–5571. 2 June 1916. Retrieved 2011-01-19.
  20. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29608. p. 5563. 2 June 1916. Retrieved 2011-01-19.
  21. ^ The London Gazette: no. 30945. pp. 3213–11944. 8 October 1918. Retrieved 2011-01-19.

Further reading[edit]

  • Brian Barton, Brookeborough: the making of a Prime Minister, The Institute of Irish Studies, Queen's University, Belfast, 1988.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Henry Mulholland
Assistant Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Finance
Succeeded by
Sir Wilson Hungerford
Preceded by
Edward Mervyn Archdale
Minister of Agriculture
Succeeded by
Lord Glentoran
Preceded by
John Milne Barbour
Minister of Commerce
Succeeded by
as Minister of Commerce and Production
Preceded by
as Minister of Commerce
Minister of Commerce and Production
Succeeded by
Roland Thomas Nugent
Preceded by
John Miller Andrews
Prime Minister of Northern Ireland
Succeeded by
Terence O'Neill
Parliament of Northern Ireland
New constituency Member of Parliament for Lisnaskea
Succeeded by
John Brooke
Party political offices
Preceded by
Henry Mulholland
Unionist Assistant Whip
Succeeded by
Sir Wilson Hungerford
Preceded by
John Miller Andrews
Leader of the Unionist Party
Succeeded by
Terence O'Neill
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Earl of Enniskillen
Lord Lieutenant of Fermanagh
Title next held by
Thomas Patrick David Scott
Preceded by
Cahir Healy
Father of the House
Succeeded by
Sir Norman Stronge
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Arthur Brooke
Brooke Baronets
Succeeded by
John Brooke
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Brookeborough
Succeeded by
John Brooke