By a deed of WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR, extant, it appears that the COLES were of the rank of barons, and were resident in Hampshire in that monarch's reign.
SIR WILLIAM COLE (c1585-1653), Knight, the first member of the Cole family who settled in Ulster, fixed his abode, early in the reign of JAMES I, in County Fermanagh, and becoming an undertaker in the Plantation, had an assignment, in 1611, of 1,000 acres of escheated lands in the county wherein he resided; to which, in 1612, were added 320 acres in the same county, whereof 80 acres were assigned for the town of Enniskillen, and that town was then incorporated by charter, consisting of a provost and twelve burgesses, Sir William Cole being the first provost (mayor).
Sir William raised a regiment, which he commanded against the rebels, in 1643, with important success.
He married twice: Firstly, to Susannah, daughter and heir of John Croft, of Lancaster, by whom he had two daughters; and secondly, to Catherine, daughter of Sir Laurence Parsons, of Birr, second Baron of the Irish Exchequer, by whom he left, at his decease, in 1653, two sons, namely,
Michael, his successor, ancestor of the Earls of Enniskillen;The younger son,
JOHN, of whom we treat.
SIR JOHN COLE, of Newland, County Dublin, MP for Fermanagh, having distinguished himself during the rebellion, particularly in the relief of Enniskillen, of which he was governor, and being instrumental in promoting the restoration of CHARLES II, was created a baronet in 1660.
Sir John married Elizabeth, daughter of John Chichester, of Dungannon, County Tyrone, and was succeeded, following his decease, in 1691, by his eldest son,
SIR ARTHUR COLE, 2nd Baronet (c1664-1754), MP for Enniskillen, 1692-5, and for Roscommon, 1695-1703, who was raised to the peerage, in 1715, by GEORGE I, as BARON RANELAGH, of Ranelagh, County Wicklow, with limitation of the title, in default of his male issue, to the heirs male of his father.
His lordship died in 1754, without male issue, and the titles became extinct.
HAVING first served in the Low Countries, Cole came to Ireland to try his fortune in 1601, and served under Sir George Carew, 1st Earl of Totnes and Lord President of Munster.
In 1607 he was appointed Captain of the Longboats and Barges at Ballyshannon and Lough Erne.
His future was, however, uncertain until the Flight of the Earls and, particularly, that of Cuchonnacht Maguire of Enniskillen.
In 1609, Cole was made Constable or Governor of Enniskillen.
He was knighted in 1617 and became one of the principal promoters and implementers of the Plantation in County Fermanagh, receiving extensive grants of land in and around Enniskillen in 1610-12 and acquiring more by purchase.
When Enniskillen was incorporated as a parliamentary borough in 1613, Cole became its first Provost.
At this stage, Enniskillen was seen as very much the county town of Fermanagh, and its original corporation included influential settlers (mostly English) like Cole.
But in the period 1611-23, Cole obtained leases or grants, on increasingly advantageous terms, of the two-thirds of the island of Enniskillen which went with the castle and the one-third which was intended as an endowment of the town.
The building of the town was largely a Cole initiative (there were only an estimated 180 inhabitants ca 1630).
Soon, Enniskillen became what a parliamentary reformer of 1790 called
the private property of the Earl of Enniskillen, and the [provost and] twelve burgesses, its sole electors, . .. the confidential trustees of his appointment.According to Pynnar's highly critical survey in 1619 of the practical operation of the Plantation, Cole was not wholly rigorous in the observance of the terms of his grants, particularly in the matter of administering the oath of supremacy to his tenants; but he was praised in 1622 for enforcing on his tenants at Portora the prohibition against sub-letting to the Irish.
Re-grants were made to him at subsequent dates re-emphasising some of his obligations, permitting some leasing to the Irish, and doubling the rents payable by him to the crown.
In general, he seems to have been more scrupulous than most Plantation patentees. Later, he was described by a contemporary as 'a brave, forward and prudent gentleman'.
He was elected MP for Fermanagh in 1634 and again in 1639. In 1641 he had a narrow escape from a treacherous death on the outbreak of the rising.
He raised a regiment and fought at its head (in spite of advancing years) in the confused wars of the 1640s, espousing the Parliamentarian cause and successfully defending Enniskillen against the Maguires. He died in 1653.
He had two sons, Michael and John, the elder of whom predeceased him.
John, the younger son, who died ca 1691, was made Custos Rotulorum for County Fermanagh and a baronet in 1661, being then, in effect, the head of the Cole family, because Sir Michael Cole, Kt, son of Sir John's elder brother, Michael, did not come of age until probably about 1663.
Sir John Cole, 1st Baronet, was a figure of more than local significance, as he was one of the commissioners appointed to implement the acts of Settlement and Explanation (the Restoration land settlement in Ireland).
He lived at Newland [probably Newlands, Clondalkin], County Dublin.
Sir John had a number of sons and daughters, many of whom died young.
In 1671, one of these daughters, Elizabeth, married as his second wife, her cousin, Sir Michael Cole.
On the occasion of this marriage, Sir John Cole settled on his daughter's issue his estate at Montagh, barony of Clanawley, County Fermanagh (which he had purchased in 1658).
This estate 'marched' or was intermingled with Sir Michael's own patrimonial estate in the barony of Clanawley.
Montagh did not, as the 4th Earl of Belmore erroneously supposed, include the site of the future Florence Court; but its accession shifted the centre of gravity of Sir Michael Cole's estate southward of Enniskillen, and must have had a great bearing on the decision to build in that location.
Montagh never actually belonged to Sir Michael, but came into the possession of the eldest son of the marriage, John Cole, either at his coming of age in 1711 or at his mother's death in 1733.
Nevertheless, it continued to be recorded as a separate entity in the family rentals until well into the 19th century.
In 1754, at the death of Sir Arthur Cole, 2nd Baronet and 1st Baron Ranelagh, only surviving son of Sir John Cole, 1st Baronet, his great-nephew, John Cole, the future Lord Mount Florence, had an income of £2,220 a year, which doubled his rental and provided him with the means to begin building soon afterwards.
The stated extent of the inheritance seems much exaggerated (if John Cole had had an income of £4,400 (equivalent to £733,000 in 2011) in 1754, he would have been among the richest men in Ireland), and it is not clear where the figure comes from.
Probably the source is one of the updated editions of Thomas Prior's List of the Absentees of Ireland, first published in 1729, which gives figures which are usually inflated.
In the present instance, however, the figure is even more misleading because it is based on the assumption that all Lord Ranelagh's estates went to John Cole.
This was not so.
Lord Ranelagh had other great-nephews and nieces, including Sir Arthur Brooke, Bt, of Colebrooke, County Fermanagh, whose ancestor would hardly have called his house Colebrooke if he had not received a significant endowment when he married Lord Ranelagh's sister.
Sir Arthur himself inherited (probably in 1754) Lord Ranelagh's estates in Counties Tipperary and Clare.
The County Dublin and Dublin City property seems to have been divided between Sir Arthur and the aforementioned Henry Moore, another great-nephew (hence the proximity of Cole's Lane, Moore Street, etc, in the vicinity of the General Post Office).
Even the West Dean and East Grimstead estate, Wiltshire (as has already been noted), was not inherited by the Florence Court Coles until 1819, and even then was subject to various co-heir-ships.
Lord Ranelagh was the origin of the Coles' mysterious 12,000 acre estate in County Waterford; but as it does not feature in Cole deeds of settlement until the 1790s, it – like the East Grimstead estate - may have been subject to a life interest to Lady Ranelagh which did not expire until 1781, ten years after Florence Court was completed.At the very least it would have been subject to its share of her jointure. Old men with younger wives and no other close relations, are likely to make sure that their widows are well provided for.
In other words, Florence Court may have been built on Ranelagh 'tick' (and paid for later out of the proceeds from the sale of the Waterford estate), but there is most unlikely to have been any great influx of cash in 1754.
In fact, the main windfalls of cash at this time came from the sale of the seats for the borough of Enniskillen: one was sold in 1761, and both at the general elections of 1768, 1776 and 1783.
The prices are unrecorded, but must have been between £1,500 and £2,000 per seat.
Lord Ranelagh died in 1754, aged 90, without issue when the baronetcy and barony both became extinct.
MUCH OF MY RESEARCH EMANATES FROM THE ENNISKILLEN PAPERS, WHICH ARE DEPOSITED AT THE PUBLIC RECORD OFFICE OF NORTHERN IRELAND.
First published in April, 2011.