BROWNLOW, Charles (1795-1847), of Lurgan, co. Armagh

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



1818 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 17 Apr. 1795, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Lt.-Col. Charles Brownlow of Lurgan and Caroline, da. and coh. of Benjamin Ashe of Bath, Som. educ. R. sch. Armagh; Trinity, Dublin 1812; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1815. m. (1) 1 June 1822, his cos. Lady Mary Bligh (d. 18 June 1823), da. of John, 4th earl of Darnley [I], 1da.; (2) 15 July 1828, Jane, da. of Roderick MacNeill of Barra, Inverness, 2s. 1da. suc. fa. 1822; cr. Bar. Lurgan [I] 14 May 1839. d. 30 Apr. 1847.

Offices Held

PC [I] 8 Mar. 1837.

Trustee, linen board [I] 1817.

Sheriff, co. Armagh 1834-5.

Capt. Lurgan inf. 1817.


A Brownlow had occupied one of the county Armagh seats in the Irish Parliament for most of the eighteenth century and William Brownlow, an inactive ministerialist, was its Member in the united House of Commons from 1807 until his death, without issue, in 1815. His next brother and heir, Charles senior, attempted to replace him, but it was his son and namesake, this Member, who regained the seat in 1818 and was returned unopposed at the general election of 1820.1 He voted generally with Lord Liverpool’s administration, to whom he and his father applied for various pieces of patronage, particularly against opposition motions for economies and retrenchment.2 An anti-Catholic, he served at least once on the committee of the Grand Orange Lodge,3 and on 30 Mar. 1824 was the first to style himself an Orangeman in the Commons. He was an active constituency Member, who often presented local petitions and sat on several select committees on Irish matters. He spoke against the early release from prison of the disgraced former Member for Barnstaple, Sir Manasseh Masseh Lopes*, 11 July 1820. He divided against censuring ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He voted against Catholic relief, 28 Feb., and claimed it would endanger the Church of Ireland, 23 Mar. He defended the right of Thomas Ellis, Member for Dublin, concurrently to be an Irish master in chancery, 5 Mar., when he was a teller for the majority in his favour, and supported the appointment of the Irish revenue commission, 15 June 1821.4 He sided with ministers against inquiry into Irish tithes, 19 June 1822, but urged them to take up this issue at a future date.5 As his elder brother William had been killed while on active service in Spain in 1813, he inherited his father’s estates and electoral interest in county Armagh in September 1822.6

Brownlow voted against parliamentary reform, 20 Feb. 1823. On 24 Feb. he moved for papers on the use by the Irish attorney-general, William Plunket, of ex-officio informations against the Orange rioters who had been acquitted by the grand jury of involvement in the attack on the lord lieutenant in a Dublin theatre late the previous year. The following day he stated that he would raise the subject on 15 Apr., after the Irish assizes and before Plunket’s expected motion on the Catholic question on the 17th.7 This embarrassed ministers, who were bound to stand by Plunket but feared that their anti-Catholic supporters would be inclined to desert him, and opposition, who wished to criticize the use of such legal indictments but had no sympathy with the Orange cause. A last minute compromise was reached to limit the damage on both sides.8 Brownlow moved his censure on Plunket, 15 Apr., with a speech of considerable force and persuasive power, which Henry Bankes* described as being ‘of uncommon and distinguished ability, judgement and effect’.9 Even Henry Goulburn*, the Irish secretary, had to admit privately that the ‘charge was remarkably well brought forward by Mr. Brownlow, though he was occasionally betrayed into extravagance and exaggeration, and produced a very alarming impression on the House’. However, Plunket, who accused Brownlow of ‘undue warmth’ and latitude in argument, won round the Commons, which approved Courtenay’s motion for the orders of the day, on the understanding that Sir Francis Burdett would move for an inquiry into the conduct of the sheriff of Dublin relating to the original charges.10 When this arose on 22 Apr., Brownlow again condemned Plunket’s conduct and defended that of the sheriff; he divided in the majority for the inquiry that day, and subsequently took an active part in the examination of witnesses. He sided with opposition in condemnation of the conduct of the lord advocate in the Borthwick case, 3 June, but divided with government against the committal of the Irish tithes composition bill, 16 June 1823.

Brownlow voted against the production of information on Catholic office-holders, 19 Feb., and reform of the representation of Edinburgh, 26 Feb. 1824. He spoke for postponing for a year the intended repeal of the linen duties, 12 Mar., and lauded the appointment of an Irish commission on the provision of non-sectarian education, 25 Mar. He expressed sympathy with Irish freemasons, whose legal status was threatened, 30 Mar., and brought up a petition from those in Armagh for exemption from the Irish Secret Societies Act, 12 Apr. His stance was seen as an indication of fears for the continued existence of the Orange order, and Daniel O’Connell* reported to his wife that ‘I really think ... the Orangemen are getting afraid. [George] Dawson’s* and Brownlow’s speeches look a little like it’.11 On 31 Mar. Brownlow presented and endorsed the petition (which he later in the session got referred to the select committee on Ireland) of the freeholders of Ireland calling for the suppression of the Catholic Association, and vindicated the conduct of the Orange lodges. He voted with opposition for an advance of capital to Ireland, 4 May, and in condemnation of the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824.

He was fulsome in his praise of ministers on their introduction of the Irish unlawful societies bill, 14 Feb. 1825, leading O’Connell to comment that ‘nothing could be more indecent than Brownlow, Dawson and the rest of the gang’.12 He duly voted for this, 15, 25 Feb., and against Catholic relief, 1 Mar.; on 3 Mar. he brought up the petition of the Protestants of Ireland for the exemption of the Orange order from the provisions of the repressive legislation. He was one of the new members named to the select committee on the state of Ireland, 17 Feb., and, as he later explained, it was in hearing the evidence presented to it that he came to embrace the Catholic cause: ‘a new light beamed on his mind; the old system appeared to him in its true colours; and he ... at once determined to devote himself, henceforward, to the obtaining a redress of Irish wrongs and of Irish injustice’.13 O’Connell, who by 10 Mar. was calling him one of his ‘great friends’, was delighted when Brownlow made a sincere and effective declaration of his conversion in the Commons, 19 Apr., commenting to his wife that he had ‘amply vindicated everything I said of him. He began the debate with a strong and an eloquent speech. He is a warm-hearted fellow and I shall like him the longest day I live’.14 On the 19th Brownlow argued that Ireland could not continue as it was, and nor could the old penal laws be reintroduced, so that emancipation was essential, although (as he had already told the House on 28 Mar.) he favoured state payment of the Catholic clergy and a higher electoral qualification. He voted for the second, 21 Apr., and third readings of the relief bill, 10 May, his conversion being taken as a sign that the measure would easily pass the Commons and be backed by Irish Protestants.15 He was apparently satisfied with the provisions of the Irish franchise bill, which, according to Hudson Gurney*, he divided for, 26 Apr., when, as on 12 May, he spoke in its favour.16 He approved Spring Rice’s motion for papers on the religious animosities existing in Ireland, 26 May 1825, provoking Peel, the home secretary, into attacking him for inconsistency. He was ‘burnt in effigy by the Orange party’ for his betrayal, and Mrs. Arbuthnot recorded her irritation at his being ‘cried up as the finest fellow that ever was’.17

In December 1825 he, with Lords Downshire and Londonderry, objected to the timing of the Catholic bishop of Down and Connor’s attempt to agitate the Catholic question in Ulster.18 In his only known vote the following session, he sided with ministers against Denman’s motion condemning the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. He spoke for agricultural protection at a meeting in Belfast, 4 Apr.19 His relative inactivity that year was probably caused by his embarrassment at being abandoned by all his Orange friends and connections. He was pilloried unmercifully as ‘Judas Brownlow’, and, according to a French observer, ‘depuis cette époque, il ne peut entrer dans un salon sans être montré au doigt, se promener dans les villes protestantes sans être abreuvé d’insultes’.20 At the general election that summer he was challenged by the leading Orangeman William Verner† and endured a vicious contest in county Armagh. As he remarked on the hustings, where he pledged himself to vote for Catholic relief, it had ‘been the practice of some to pursue and hunt me down’, but he led Verner throughout the poll and was elected in second place behind the sitting Whig Member Henry Caulfeild, who gave him tacit support.21 In his address of thanks he insisted that he was not an apostate to his religion but was ‘an apostate of all oppression and tyranny in belief’, and he repeated these remarks at dinners in his honour in Lurgan, Newry and Belfast.22

According to John Evelyn Denison*, Brownlow ‘exposed the miseries of Ireland with some power’, 15 Feb. 1827.23 He spoke for relief, 5 Mar., when he was one of those who James Abercromby* thought ‘distinguished themselves’ and whom Henry Brougham* called ‘quite inestimable’; he voted for it the following day.24 He divided for inquiry into the allegations against the corporation of Leicester, 15 Mar. Sponsored by Lord Fitzwilliam and Burdett, he was elected a member of Brooks’s on 24 Mar. Introducing what Peel called an ‘impudent and hypocritical motion’,25 which had been postponed, 29 Mar., he condemned the Irish lord chancellor and government for appearing to condone the riotous Orange march in Lisburn, which the local magistrates had attempted to suppress; he was a teller for the minority of 69 (to 124) for the production of official correspondence on this affair. He spoke and voted for inquiry into the Irish miscellaneous estimates, 5 Apr. He divided with the Canning ministry for the grant for improved water communications in Canada, 12 June 1827.

Expressing regret at having to differ with his friends in the new administration of the duke of Wellington, 31 Jan. 1828, he criticized the address for failing to praise the victory at Navarino and ignoring the condition of Ireland. He defended the Irish Landlord and Tenant Act, 19, 25 Feb., and supported Spring Rice’s motion for a select committee on national education in Ireland, 11 Mar. Having voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., he again spoke emotionally and, as John Croker* described it, ‘occasionally talked almost insanely’, for relief, 9 May, and divided in its favour, 12 May.26 His Irish drainage of bogs bill, which he introduced on 8 July 1828, ran out of time that session. He spoke for the Catholics at the Dublin Rotunda meeting of the friends of civil and religious liberty, 20 Jan., and presented the ensuing petition, 3 Mar. 1829.27 He welcomed the ministry’s decision to emancipate the Catholics, 5 Feb., but was surprisingly listed by Planta, the patronage secretary, as ‘doubtful’ on the issue. He voted, 6, 30 Mar., and spoke powerfully in its favour, 10 Mar. Despite regretting the loss of the 40s. freehold electors, he advocated the franchise bill as an essential accompaniment to emancipation, 19 Mar., when he made what Lord Howick* called ‘a very good speech’.28 He divided for allowing O’Connell to take his seat without swearing the oath of supremacy, 18 May. His drainage bill, which he had piloted through the Commons, was lost in the Lords on 4 June 1829.

He voted for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address on distress, 4 Feb. 1830, and thereafter steadily for economies and lower taxation, on which he made a handful of interventions and brought up several petitions that session. He divided for transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., 15 Mar., and to refer the Newark petition complaining of the duke of Newcastle’s electoral interference to a select committee, 1 Mar. He voted for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and parliamentary reform, 28 May. He remarked that he would have preferred immediate action against distress rather than another inquiry, 11 Mar., but, enthusiastic for the introduction of a form of poor law to Ireland, acquiesced in the appointment of a select committee on the Irish poor, to which he was named. Against O’Connell, he argued that his countrymen were not in favour of repeal of the Union, 22 Mar. He praised the Irish embankments bill, 10 May, and the Irish ecclesiastical leases bill, 16 June; but his own attempt to increase the area of productive land again failed when the Lords select committee on his drainage bill reported against proceeding further with it, 1 July. He attacked Goulburn, the chancellor of the exchequer, over the higher Irish stamp duties, 11 May, when he also spoke and voted for abolition of the Irish lord lieutenancy. He voted to end capital punishment for forgery, 24 May, 7 June, and for Labouchere’s motion relative to the government of Canada, 25 May. Verner declined to offer at the general election that year, when Brownlow was returned unopposed with the new Whig Member, Lord Acheson.29 Edward Littleton* reported to John Fazakerley*, 1 Sept. 1830, that

Brownlow writes me the most gratifying account of the new spirit that has been born in Ireland from the new qualifications for voters. He says that every succeeding Parliament will show its good effects more strongly. ‘Men have offered themselves in half the counties on independent interests and the battle has been for principles and not for names’.30

Brownlow was counted as a ‘neutral’ in Pierce Mahony’s† analysis of the Irish elections, and ministers listed him among their ‘foes’. He condemned government’s decision to advise William IV to miss the lord mayor’s dinner in the City of London, 8 Nov., and voted with opposition in the division on the civil list that led to Wellington’s resignation, 15 Nov. He spoke against repeal of the Union, 9 Nov., presented and endorsed the Armagh borough petition for parliamentary reform and the ballot, 6 Dec., and, as a supporter of the Grey ministry, called for the abolition of the duty on seaborne coals, 8 Dec. 1830. He supported the ministerial emigration bill, 22 Feb., and suggested a reduction in the duty on foreign tobacco, 10 Mar. 1831. He voted for the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., insisting that it was approved by Protestants in the north of Ireland. He stated that the disturbances in Clare were the result of economic distress and not political disloyalty, 13 Apr. He divided against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr., and criticized opposition’s attempts to prevent the dissolution, 21 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he was again returned unopposed for county Armagh as a reformer.31 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least once against adjourning proceedings on it, 12 July 1831, and steadily for its details. He divided in the minorities for swearing the original Dublin election committee, 29 July, and issuing a new writ, 8 Aug. He spoke for the Maynooth grant, 5 Aug., and the ministerial plan for national education in Ireland, 9 Sept. He presented and endorsed the petition of the Irish Catholic bishops for relief from distress, 10 Aug., and spoke and voted for disarming the Irish yeomanry, 11 Aug. He voiced support for Irish bills on public works, 16 Sept., embankments, 28 Sept., and the importation of flax seed, 12 Oct. He voted for the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He was absent from the division on the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, but divided for disfranchising 30 boroughs in schedule B, 23 Jan., paired for the registration clause, 8 Feb., and voted for the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and Gateshead, 5 Mar. 1832. He sided with ministers for the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. Having been a member of the select committee on Irish tithes, on 8 Mar. he opposed the motion of Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, to go into the committee of the whole House to consider its interim report, arguing that further attempts to enforce payments would only worsen relations between the clergy and the people, and that what was needed was a wholesale reform of the church establishment. Denis Le Marchant† recorded that his ‘speech was dull enough, though [Tom] Macaulay* told me he thought it clever. The House thought like me and gave it no cheers’.32 That day Brownlow was a teller for the minority of 31 for his own motion to postpone the discussion until the select committee had completed its deliberations, and he reiterated his complaints, 13 Mar., and divided in the minority on this, 27 Mar. He voted for the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., and the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May 1832.

Brownlow retired from the Commons at the dissolution later that year. Le Marchant considered that it was his speech on 8 Mar. 1832, ‘the first instance, within my knowledge, of the disestablishment and disendowment of the Irish church being recommended by a Member of moderate political principles, high connections and large landed property in Ireland’, which cost him his seat.33 However, it was reported in July that his ‘constitution was broken down under the harassing weight of his parliamentary duties, in attending to which he was unremitting’, and that he had been advised by his doctor to quit politics. He was pressed to continue as a second Liberal candidate, in order to keep out Verner, but in a parting address he wrote that ‘impaired health ... confines my views within narrower limits and leaves me but the retrospect of past exertions’.34 Brownlow, who was given an Irish peerage in 1839, died of typhus fever, 30 Apr., at the newly built Lurgan Castle, and was buried, 5 May 1847, in nearby Shankhill, to whose improvement he had greatly contributed.35 By his will, dated 8 June 1832, he left all his property to his second wife (his sister’s sister-in-law), being succeeded as 2nd Baron Lurgan by his elder son Charles (1831-82), who was later a lord in waiting to Queen Victoria.36

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Hist. Irish Parl. iii. 291-7; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 286-7.
  • 2. Add. 40297, ff. 76, 78; 40358, f. 344; Black Bk. (1823), 142.
  • 3. PRO NI, Leslie mss MIC606/3/J/7/21/4.
  • 4. The Times, 16 June 1821.
  • 5. Ibid. 20 June 1822.
  • 6. PROB 11/1663/569; IR26/895/1330.
  • 7. The Times, 26 Feb., 18 Apr. 1823.
  • 8. Add. 37301, f. 14; Brougham mss, Macdonald to Brougham, 1, 3 Apr. [1823]; A. Mitchell, Whigs in Opposition, 177.
  • 9. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary; Gurney diary; Dorset RO, Bankes mss D/BKL, Bankes jnl. 143.
  • 10. Add. 37301, f. 14; D. Plunket, Life, Letters, and Speeches of Plunket, ii. 119-23.
  • 11. The Times, 13 Apr. 1824; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1121.
  • 12. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1168.
  • 13. Add. 40373, ff. 186, 370; The Times, 14 Aug. 1826.
  • 14. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1184, 1205; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, ii. 238.
  • 15. Southampton Univ. Lib. Broadlands mss PP/GC/TE/171; Grey mss GRE/B25/1A/5.
  • 16. TNA 30/29/9/3/13; Gurney diary.
  • 17. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 453; Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 400.
  • 18. PRO NI, Downshire mss D671/C/12/313.
  • 19. Belfast Commercial Chron. 5 Apr. 1826.
  • 20. Baring Jnls. i. 59; [P. Duvergier de Hauranne], Lettres sur les Elections Anglaises et sur la Situation de L’Irlande (1827), 193-4.
  • 21. Belfast Commercial Chron. 21, 24, 26, 28 June, 1 July 1826.
  • 22. Ibid. 5 July, 19 Aug., 9, 11 Sept.; Dublin Evening Post, 10 Aug.; The Times, 14 Aug. 1826.
  • 23. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Ossington mss acc. 636, Denison diary.
  • 24. NLS acc. 10655; LMA, Jersey mss acc. 510/404, Brougham to Lady Jersey [n.d.].
  • 25. Add. 40392, f. 74.
  • 26. Croker Pprs. i. 418.
  • 27. The Times, 24 Jan. 1829.
  • 28. Grey mss, Howick jnl.
  • 29. Belfast News Letter, 20 July, 13 Aug. 1830.
  • 30. Duke Univ. Lib. Fazakerley mss.
  • 31. Belfast Guardian, 17, 20 May 1831.
  • 32. Three Diaries, 210-11.
  • 33. Le Marchant, Althorp, 398.
  • 34. Newry Examiner, 11, 18 July; Northern Whig, 3 Sept., 10 Dec. 1832.
  • 35. The Times, 3 May; Belfast News Letter, 4, 7 May 1847; Gent. Mag. (1847), i. 657-8.
  • 36. PROB 11/2095/453.