O'BRIEN, Henry, Lord Ibrackan (c.1642-78), of Great Billing, Northants.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. c.1642, 1st s. of Henry, 6th Earl of Thomond [I] (d.1691) by 1st w. Lady Anne O’Brien, da. and coh. of Henry, 3rd Earl of Thomond [I]. educ. privately (Henry Oldenburg) 1655-6; Wadham, Oxf. 1657-8; travelled abroad 1659. m. bef. 14 Dec. 1661, Katherine, da. of Lord George Stuart, 9th Seigneur d’Aubigny, h. to her bro. Charles, 3rd Duke of Richmond, and s.j. Baroness Clifton, 4s. (3 d.v.p.) 1da.1
Capt. of ft. [I] 1663-70; col. of ft. 1678-d.2
J.p. Northants. 1663-d.; commr. for assessment, Northants. 1673-d., Lincs. 1677-d.; asst. Rochester Bridge 1678.
PC [I] 1673; jt. surveyor and receiver of greenwax fines 1677-d.3
MP [I] 1661-6.
Lord Ibrackan was descended from Brian Boru, the most celebrated of the native Irish kings, slain at the battle of Clontarf in 1014. His grandfather was the first to settle in England, purchasing Great Billing about 1628. The family endeavoured to remain neutral in the Civil War, but their Irish property was overrun by the Confederates, while their personal estate in England was ‘disposed for service of Parliament’. The set-back was only temporary, and Ibrackan was heir to £16,000 a year. His father, arrested as a royalist suspect in 1659, became governor of county Clare at the Restoration, but he was not a serious politician and his influence on Ibrackan’s career was largely negative.4
Ibrackan (who was usually known in England as Lord O’Brien) was approached by Sir James Langham in 1663 to stand for Northampton, five miles from his home, with the support of the dissenters, but refused. A visitor about this time found Billing ‘one of the noblest seats in the country, where Lord and Lady O’Brien live handsomely, and attend to the affairs of their family’. He was anxious to fight in the second Dutch war, but his promised commission in Lord Northampton’s regiment was cancelled without explanation. On the removal of Christopher Hatton to the Upper House, he decided to contest Northampton with Sir William Fermor; but the death of the other Member, Sir Henry Yelverton, followed soon afterwards, and they were both returned unopposed. He became an active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, with 96 committees. He acted as teller in 12 divisions and delivered about 40 speeches. A strong Protestant and more English than the English, in spite of his ancestry, he was appointed to the committee on the growth of Popery in 1671 and to manage the conference. He spoke against deferring supply for the debate on the assault on Sir John Coventry. He fought as a volunteer aboard the Victory at Sole Bay, where he was slightly wounded. Lord Ossory (Lord Thomas Butler) wrote on 21 June 1672 that he was ‘sorry Lord O’Brien should not find more satisfaction after the hazard he has undergone’. To give him a seat on the Irish Privy Council would be ‘a very cheap way of gaining so considerable a person’. On the contrary, every means was used to drive him into opposition. When his brother-in-law died childless in December leaving Lady Ibrackan his heir, Lauderdale seized the title-deeds to the Scottish estate ‘by a file of musketeers’. In Ireland his Roman Catholic tenants were encouraged to complain of him as ‘the chief countenancer of the fanatic party’, largely on the grounds of a rather unwise friendship with the irreconcilable republican Walcot, later to lose his life for his part in the Rye House Plot. Lord Orrery (Roger Boyle) wrote to thank Ibrackan and his father for their ‘great kindness and care for the poor English’. He spoke in the debate on Irish affairs on 17 Mar. 1673, exonerating the Irish army from any Popish officers except Colonel Talbot, ‘but for other matters hopes you will redress them’. He complained of the bad management of the revenue and the suffering caused by the war. During the recess, as he had still not been offered any employment, he went to observe the war in Flanders, and then set himself to prepare for the next session, accumulating ten pages of notes, chiefly on the condition in Ireland. His appointment to the Irish Privy Council in October came too late to mollify him, and when Parliament met he presented his petition against Lauderdale, which was referred to a committee chaired by Sir Trevor Williams. He helped to prepare the general test bill, and was added to the committee for the impeachment of Lord Arlington (Sir Henry Bennet). But his great chance came with the debate in grand committee on Ireland on 18 and 20 Feb. 1674. He spoke seven or eight times, making some valid points about the failure to enforce the laws against Roman Catholics and the abuses of the revenue farmers under Lord Ranelagh (Richard Jones), but his speeches were ‘confusedly delivered’ and the general effect was anti-climax, especially when Edward Seymour was able to contradict him on a matter of fact. He was appointed to the committee, and also to those for the prevention of illegal imprisonment and exactions. In the spring session of 1675, he managed the third article of the impeachment of Danby (Sir Thomas Osborne), charging him with ‘procuring great gifts and grants from the crown’, helped to draw up a bill for the speedier conviction of recusants, acted as teller for the adjournment of the debate on Lauderdale and was appointed to the committee for hindering Papists from sitting in Parliament. But he may have been in Ireland for the autumn session, and in 1676 Sir Richard Wiseman marked him, though with a query, as a court supporter. He was still admitted to meetings of the opposition, but when Parliament reassembled in 1677, Shaftesbury marked him ‘thrice vile’.5
Ibrackan had never lost touch completely with the Court. His noisy, foolish father was one of Charles II’s Newmarket cronies, (Sir) Joseph Williamson was an intimate friend of the family, and of course his wife was of the blood royal. Presumably by 1676 Ibrackan was satisfied that Danby’s policy was firmly Anglican and anti-French, and he may have received the oral promise of a regiment when war should come. He was appointed to the committee for the bill to recall British subjects from the French service on 22 Feb. 1677. On the next day he probably introduced the bill for better maintenance of the Northampton clergy, which he later carried to the House of Lords. He was appointed to the committees on an estate bill promoted by his cousin, Viscount Cullen, and on the liberty of the subject, though he was unimpressed with the grievances of Shaftesbury’s agent, Harrington. On 26 Mar. he pointed out that ‘there is no medium between a defensive peace and a war’, and he was among those entrusted with drawing up an address promising assistance. On 5 Apr. he acted as teller against the adjournment of the debate on Irish cattle, and his name stands first on the committee appointed to bring in a bill of repeal. He welcomed the King’s reply to the address, and helped to manage a conference on building warships, and to draw up a further address promising supply. On 14 Apr. he was sent to the Upper House to desire a further conference. At the end of the month he was included in the committee to summarize foreign commitments. During the summer Ibrackan’s son married Danby’s daughter, although they were so young that the ceremony had to be confirmed later. In 1678, he was included in the list of government speakers. As one of the Members of the Lower House most nearly related to the royal family, he moved on the anniversary of Charles I’s execution for the solemn reburial of the remains. He helped to draw up the address for reducing France to her 1659 frontiers. ‘If Flanders be lost’, he told the House on 31 Jan., ‘let the blame be at their doors who are against assisting the King.’ His words gave offence, at least to the country party. He was teller for the motion to go into committee on supply on 4 Feb., and three days later he was among those chosen to estimate the cost of maintaining 90 warships. On 10 May, he came to blows with (Sir) Thomas Chicheley in the House, but the cause of the quarrel is not recorded. During the summer recess he went over to Flanders to join his regiment, in which, he boasted, not only every officer but every n.c.o. and private had taken the Test. He contracted a mortal disease in camp and died on 1 Oct. The evidence is insufficient to permit the claim that this early death alone prevented Ibrackan from rising to political eminence, though few men of his rank can have worked harder on all kinds of parliamentary business. His widow promptly remarried Williamson, much to the scandal of the Court. His son was drowned in the Gloucester in 1682, but his nephew, who suceeded as Earl of Thomond in 1691, sat for Arundel as a Whig from 1710 to 1714, when he was given an English peerage for promoting the Hanoverian succession.6