BROWNE, Hon. William (1791-1876), of Woodlawn, co. Kerry

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1830 - 1831
1841 - 1847

Family and Education

b. 1 Nov. 1791, 3rd s. of Valentine Browne, 1st earl of Kenmare [I] (d. 1812), and 2nd w. Mary, da. of Michael Aylmer of Lyons, co. Kildare. m. 20 Apr. 1826, Anne Frances, da. of Thomas Segrave of Dublin, s.p. d. 4 Aug. 1876.

Offices Held

Sheriff, co. Kerry 1832.

Ensign 52 Ft. 1811, lt. 1812, half-pay 1822-68.


Browne’s family had old Jacobite connections, his ancestor Sir Valentine Browne, 3rd bt. (1637-94), of Killarney, county Kerry, having been created Viscount Kenmare in the Irish peerage by James II in 1689, when he and his heir Nicholas, as an MP, attended James’s short-lived Irish Parliament. The forfeited estates were recovered by Nicholas’s son Valentine during the early eighteenth century, but the status of the peerage, whose first holder was presumably attainted on being captured in 1691, remained anomalous. However, the titular 5th viscount, this Member’s father, was created Viscount Kenmare, 14 Feb. 1798, and earl of Kenmare, 2 Jan. 1801, the latter promotion being one of the few Union peerages granted to a Catholic nobleman.1 He, who had an extensive electoral interest in Kerry, was succeeded in 1812 by his eldest son, another Valentine, who was less interested in county politics, but played a minor role as a moderate in the growing Catholic lobby in Ireland.2 Daniel O’Connell*, who came to distrust his increasingly Tory instincts, reported to a coadjutor in 1828, of the 2nd earl, that

he certainly for his honourable intention cannot be exceeded but his retired habits render him a stranger to the Catholic population and the calibre of his mind is not likely to render his opinion valuable. Amiable he is and respectable but you are aware he has no public weight whatsoever.3

Browne, who entered the army in 1811, fought at Bergen op Zoom under Lord Lynedoch and participated in the charge of the 52nd Foot on the flank of the Imperial Guard under Sir Thomas Picton† at Waterloo, where he was severely wounded; his brothers Thomas (of Prospect) and Michael, who also received the Waterloo medal, likewise served in the Napoleonic wars.4 He joined the half-pay list in 1822 and four years later married the niece of O’Neill Segrave of Cabra House, county Dublin. O’Connell had long suspected that one of Kenmare’s family would offer for Kerry once the Catholics were emancipated, and it was William, who had chaired the Catholics’ provincial meeting in Limerick, 24 Oct. 1825, rather than his brother Thomas, who did so, with Kenmare’s backing, at the first opportunity, so forcing O’Connell to look elsewhere for a seat at the general election of 1830.5 After an initial hesitation, he offered on the basis of his family’s territorial interest and with the support of the Wellington administration, although on the hustings he made clear it that he would give government only an independent support, and that mostly in gratitude for the Emancipation Act. He was returned at the head of the poll with the knight of Kerry after a short contest and celebrated at a dinner, attended by Kenmare, in his honour in Killarney.6

Browne, who left Woodlawn in October 1830 to attend Parliament, absented himself from the Killarney repeal dinner on the 7th, to O’Connell’s disgust, and later that year signed the national declaration of the Friends of the Union.7 He was counted by Pierce Mahony† as ‘pro-government’ and by ministers among their ‘friends’, but voted in the minority for O’Connell’s motion against the Irish Subletting Act, 11 Nov., and in the majority for Parnell’s motion on the civil list, which precipitated Wellington’s resignation, 15 Nov. Although O’Connell volunteered Browne’s parliamentary services to one of the Catholic bishops, he is not known to have uttered in the House, save in presenting Killarney petitions for the abolition of colonial slavery, 18 Nov. 1830, repeal of the Irish Subletting Act, 14 Feb., and parliamentary reform, 19 Mar. 1831.8 He divided for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831.

He announced his retirement at the subsequent dissolution, and although he briefly re-entered, until it became clear that his brother’s tenants would be influenced by his opponents’ intimidatory tactics, his and the knight’s withdrawal allowed a free run for O’Connell and an associate.9 He spoke at the Kerry reform meeting in November 1831 and resigned as sheriff in December 1832, with the intention of standing for the county at the general election that month, but, as O’Connell put it, he again ‘fled from the field’.10 He sat once more for Kerry as a Liberal in the 1841 Parliament, and his nephew Lord Castlerosse, the heir of his brother Thomas (who succeeded as 3rd earl of Kenmare in 1853), occupied the same position from 1852 to 1871. Browne died, an inconspicuous country gentleman, in August 1876.11

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. CP, vii. 113-15.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 659-60.
  • 3. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1485.
  • 4. The Times, 11 Aug. 1876.
  • 5. O’Connell Corresp. ii. 1004; iii. 1253; iv. 1692a; PRO NI, Fitzgerald mss MIC639/13/7/58, 64, 75.
  • 6. Western Herald, 14, 21 June, 5, 8 July, 16, 19, 23 Aug.; NAI, Leveson Gower letter bks. Leveson Gower to Wellington, 6 July 1830.
  • 7. Western Herald, 18 Oct. 1830; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1716; Dublin Evening Post, 1 Jan. 1831.
  • 8. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1738.
  • 9. Fitzgerald mss 14/7/22, 24, 26; Western Herald, 28 Apr., 3, 10 May 1831.
  • 10. Western Herald, 8, 15 Nov. 1831; Dublin Evening Post, 11, 20, 22 Dec. 1832; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1941, 1943, 1945.
  • 11. Kerry Evening Post, 9, 12 Aug. 1876.