Brooke is born in the rectory of Glendoen, near Letterkenny, County Donegal on November 14, 1832, the eldest son of the Rev. Richard Sinclair Brooke, later incumbent of the Mariners’ Church, Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire). His maternal grandfather, Joseph Stopford, is then rector of the parish. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin. He is ordained in the Church of England in 1857, and holds various charges in London. From 1863 to 1865 he is chaplain to Victoria, Princess Royal in Berlin. In 1869, with his brother Edward, he makes long tours of Counties Donegal and Sligo, and spends much time at Kells, County Meath studying Irish antiquities. Between 1866 and 1875 he is the minister at St. James’s Chapel, a proprietary chapel. After it closes he takes services at Bedford Chapel, Bloomsbury where he continues to attract large congregations. In 1875, he becomes chaplain in ordinary to Queen Victoria. But in 1880 he secedes from the Church, being no longer able to accept its leading dogmas, and officiates as an independent preacher for some years at Bedford Chapel, Bloomsbury.
Bedford Chapel is pulled down about 1894, and from that time Brooke has no church of his own, but his eloquence and powerful religious personality continues to make themselves felt among a wide circle. A man of independent means, he is always keenly interested in literature and art, and a fine critic of both. The two-volume Life and Letters of Stopford Brooke, written by his son-in-law L. P. Jacks and published in 1917, contains many details of different facets of his life.
In 1890-1891 Brooke takes the lead in raising the funds to purchase Dove Cottage, William Wordsworth’s home in Grasmere from 1800 to 1808, and establishing it “for the eternal possession of those who love English poetry all over the world.” Dove Cottage is now administered by the Wordsworth Trust.
Brooke publishes in 1865 his Life and Letters of FW Robertson (of Brighton), and in 1876 writes an admirable primer of English Literature, followed in 1892 by The History of Early English Literature down to the accession of Alfred the Great, and English Literature from the Beginnings to the Norman Conquest (1898).
Brooke gives the inaugural lecture to the Irish Literary Society, London, on “The Need and Use of Getting Irish Literature into the English Tongue” at Bloomsbury House, March 11, 1893. He delivers a sermon on “The Kingdom of God Within” to the International Council of Unitarian and Other Liberal Religious Thinkers and Workers, meeting in London in May 1901. He continues preaching at Bedford Chapel and to unitarian congregations throughout Britain until forced to retire because of ill-health in 1895.
Brooke lives in London until 1914 and then retires to Ewhurst, Surrey, where he dies on March 18, 1916. His published letters record that his work brought him into touch with most of his famous contemporaries – including Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Philip Burne-Jones, William Morris, James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce, James Martineau and Matthew Arnold.