Mary Ruth Brooke (1848-1930)

Portrait of Rupert, Alfred and Mary Ruth Brooke in period costume. Taken in 1898 by E.H. Speight, Rugby (RCB/Ph/4).
Portrait of Rupert, Alfred and Mary Ruth Brooke in period costume. Taken in 1898 by E.H. Speight, Rugby (RCB/Ph/4).

Mother of Rupert Brooke (1887-1915, KC 1906)

Mary Ruth Brooke was the daughter of Charles Cotterill, who preached in Stoke-on-Trent. Her brother was Charles Clement Cotterill, master of Glencorse house, at Fettes School. It was there that she became a matron and met William Parker Brooke, whom she married and with whom she moved to Rugby.

In his letters home, Rupert always called Mary Ruth Brooke ‘mother’ but among friends he called her ‘Ranee’. At King’s, Rupert joined a secret society called the Apostles. Around the time of Rupert Brooke’s election, Lytton Strachey started calling Rupert ‘Sarawak’. There had been some talk of him being related to the Rajah of Sarawak. Although that rumour was not confirmed, upon hearing this nickname, Rupert decided that he should refer to his mother as ‘Ranee’.

Mary Ruth Brooke was supportive of Rupert’s poetry. She had one of his early poems, ‘The Pyramids’, printed and in January 1912 Rupert described her ‘pushing my book in the English portions of Cannes’ (letter to 'Ka' Cox).

One might consider her to have been rather conservative and a dominant presence in Rupert Brooke’s life. He rebelled against this, if somewhat mildly, through small gestures like pretending he only had one tie, knowing that she disapproved of it. She appears to have got on with ‘Ka’ Cox, with whom Rupert had perhaps his closest relationship, but he didn’t discuss his now famous love life with his mother. He had a good sense of what he could share with her and what he ought not to discuss, for example, he didn’t want her to know that Hilaire Belloc had been drunk when Rupert met him (see letters to Francis MacCunn and Mary Ruth Brooke, written in 1907).

A breakdown which Rupert suffered in 1912, at which time he was in a somewhat troubled relationship with ‘Ka’ Cox, led to some tension in Rupert’s other relationships, not least with his mother.

As he grew up, Rupert started to find it difficult to spend long periods of time with his mother (‘a month with the Ranee nearly finished me’, letter to John Maynard Keynes, dated 10 April 1912); however, he still wrote to his friend Edward Marsh that he had a ‘warmth for the Ranee’ (letter dated 24 May [1914]).

Rupert tended to write rather long letters, especially to ‘Ka’ Cox, so in some cases, only the relevant sections are shown below.