Gout and the political career of Lord Broghill

Today’s blog from Dr Patrick Little of the Commons 1640-1660 Section sees the return of our focus on health, medicine and Parliament. Patrick discusses the detrimental effect of gout on the career of Lord Broghill in the mid-seventeenth century…

Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill, is perhaps best known as the leading supporter of the scheme to make Oliver Cromwell king under the revised constitution, the Humble Petition and Advice of 1657. Born in 1621 as the younger son of the 1st earl of Cork, Broghill had spent much of his youth fighting against the Catholic rebels in Ireland, and he joined the Cromwellian forces on their arrival in 1649. Thereafter he became one of Cromwell’s most trusted advisers, and was made president of the Scottish council in 1655. Yet even as he took up his position at Edinburgh, Broghill was already suffering from the illness that would interrupt, and eventually dominate, his political career. Gout, typically in the hands or feet, is an extremely painful illness that comes in intermittent attacks that can completely incapacitate sufferers for weeks on end. Broghill’s first bad attack came at the end of November 1655, and lasted until 25 December, leaving him confined to bed, and unable to manage the affairs of the Scottish council except by letter. It was a taste of things to come.

In August 1656 Broghill was elected to the second protectorate Parliament as MP for both Edinburgh and co. Cork, but his ability to serve either Scotland or Ireland was hampered by his periodic bouts of gout. For example, as president of the Scottish council he was expected to take the lead when the Scottish union bill was introduced into the Commons, but an attack in November forced him to keep away from the chamber, and despite the efforts of other Scottish councillors to advance the bill, by the time of Broghill’s return in December the initiative had been lost. The Irish union bill that ran in parallel with its Scottish counterpart was also affected by Broghill’s absence; and it may not be coincidental that neither bill became an act in this Parliament.

In February and March 1657 Broghill was well enough to guide the Humble Petition through the Commons, and to take part in the ‘kingship debates’ with Cromwell that followed, but he could not persuade the protector to accept the crown. As spring turned to summer his enemies in the ‘army interest’, who had opposed the reforms, gathered strength. In June they tried to turn back the clock by introducing their own Additional Petition and Advice. Amongst other things, this would reverse moves to widen the franchise in Scotland and rehabilitate former royalists in the north. At this crucial juncture Broghill was again struck down by gout, leaving Sir Archibald Johnston of Wariston to cackle ‘blessed be the Lord, that has laid aside these last three weeks Broghill by the gout, or else he had stopped both our public and private business’ (Diary of Sir Archibald Johnston of Wariston, ed. D. Laing, iii. 84).

Irish affairs were also affected by Broghill’s illness. On 7 June 1657 he wrote to Bulstrode Whitelocke asking that he use his influence to ensure the passage of a bill guaranteeing land in Ireland to cover the arrears owed to Protestant officers who had served before the Cromwellian invasion. An English civilian like Whitelocke was not best-placed to guide this through, however, and the matter languished until Broghill’s return to the Commons on 26 June, the very last day of the sitting, when he managed to secure a resolution that the rights of the pre-1649 officers would be respected.

In the later years of the protectorate, the army gradually increased its influence with Oliver Cromwell, and this left Broghill and his allies disillusioned. In particular, the refusal to reform the Irish council and the long delay in confirming the appointment of the protector’s youngest son, Henry Cromwell, as lord deputy of Ireland, rankled. In early November 1657 Broghill told Edmund Montagu, with a bitterness born of personal experience, ‘if all things move at the rate of our settlement of Ireland has done, I shall think the body politic has got the gout’ (Bodl. MS Carte 73, f. 143: 6 Nov. 1657). Broghill’s gloom had not lifted in the early months of 1658, and when he was again confined to bed in March, despite his protestations his friends suspected that this was a diplomatic illness, as ‘either he is not consulted well enough in England … or some present melancholy has seized him’ (Thurloe State Papers, ed. T. Birch, vii. 56). After the death of Oliver Cromwell in September 1658, Broghill backed the regime of his son, Richard, who became the new lord protector; but his efforts were again impeded by gout. Broghill fell ill while helping to manage the Irish elections in January 1659, and was unable to travel to Westminster to take his place in the upper chamber (the ‘Other House’) until the beginning of March.

The fall of the protectorate in May 1659 threw everything up in the air, and Broghill reacted by deftly switching sides. With the Restoration of Charles II he was rewarded with the earldom of Orrery and the presidency of Munster, and in the years that followed he played an important role in reconstructing Ireland and ensuring the dominance of the Protestant community there. But the gout had not gone away, and the corresponding effect on his temper did little to help his career, which became noted for its personal feuds, not least with the duke of Ormond. In January 1673 Orerry had a particularly severe attack which went on for 40 days, during which he could only be moved by being lifted in a sheet by his servants. In July 1676 he underwent a botched operation to remove a chalky substance from his foot, and was left unable to walk. And it was gout that finally killed him, aged 58, on 16 October 1679.


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