Lecture on William Brereton and the Pork Barrel  
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Professor Eric W. Ives
"William Brereton and the Pork Barrel: Travails of Political Ascendancy"
Lecture Delivered to the Worldwide Brereton Family Reunion
Holly Lodge, Holmes Chapel, Cheshire
30 July 2001

Introduction by Derek Brereton: When I first started thinking about ways that we could make this reunion interesting - interesting on the academic side - I went to some historians at the University of Michigan, and they said "You should contact Professor Eric Ives. He has just written a book on Anne Boleyn." This is, in fact, true, and he is with us tonight. We are very grateful for that. He is now Professor of English History Emeritus at the University of Warwick. He has published on Breretons for over 30 years, the most recent book involving Breretons being the one on Anne Boleyn which you saw mentioned in your newsletters, and some of you, I know, have read. So now, I would like a warm round of applause for Professor Eric Ives.

Professor Ives: Let me congratulate you very warmly on the - well, I suppose I ought to call it "Gathering of the Clan." I think it's quite remarkable that you've all come from all sides of the world. And I think it's equally remarkable that you've all discovered each other. I'm just grateful for Derek's sake that it's not the Reunion of the Smiths.

But it helps having a name like Brereton. There may be umpteen in Wisconsin, but it's not a very common name now in England. And of course, the other advantage is that you Breretons come from Cheshire, and I'll explain in a moment later on why that's such a very important advantage.

But you know, and I don't need to tell you, that Breretons have overflowed all over the world. In the Dictionary of National Biography, there are seven of them, and in the new edition which we're just bringing out, there are going to be more. One of them led the unsuccessful colonization of New England in 1603.

There were one or two rogues. For example, an 18th century dramatist who was drowned while attempting to escape prosecution for libel - he was a Brereton. Another Brereton, a Lieutenant Colonel, committed suicide to avoid the verdict of a court martial. So you've had your mixture of people.

But the one I want to talk about tonight is William Brereton of Malpas. And you've been muttering about him a little because you all know about him as the Brereton who had his head chopped off. I've been looking very carefully at all these family trees to see whether I could find him. And I regret to say he's only on the one under the glass on the table over here. He is, in fact - if you want to know how it goes - he is, in fact, the great-great-great grandson of that one.

Unfortunately, you've been concentrating so far on the Breretons of Brereton, but the much more important Breretons are the Breretons of Malpas and Shocklach. They're much more important because, apart from anything else, they produced the most famous of the Breretons, Sir William Brereton who was the Civil War General. He was more influential - this will give you something to take home - he had more influence on the outcome of the First English Civil War than Oliver Cromwell had. Everybody remembers Oliver Cromwell, but your bloke was actually much more important.

If you want to know what he did, you need to understand that the key area in the Civil War was in fact Cheshire. If you look - this is the biggest map I could get, I'm afraid - but if you look, there are the Pennines here in the middle, and the hills of Wales there on the west. The link north and south runs between them, through Cheshire. That's one of the important things. The other thing is that Cheshire was the main port for communication with Ireland, and in Ireland King Charles had an army.

So, there were two crucial reasons why Parliament had to get control of Cheshire. One was to stop the northern supporters of Charles I getting through to the south, to where the King was at Oxford. And the other one was to stop the King bringing in reinforcements from what was called his Irish Army.

And the net result was that at Nantwich - which you will go very near to on your trips - at the Battle of Nantwich, in January 1644 - Sir William Brereton was one of the two Generals there who were responsible for the defeat of Charles I’s Irish reinforcements. And that really swung the war decisively.

He also, of course, had the distinction of capturing Chester. He besieged the city three times, and in the end he captured it in February 1646.

So he's the most famous Brereton. And he is, in relation to the chap I'm talking to you about, he is descended from my William's younger brother. So that's how it all fits.

You're going to see various things that concern the Malpas family when you go to Malpas, I think it's tomorrow. You'll see the screen in the church, which was put up by Sir Randolph Brereton, my William's father, and you'll also see the marvelous tomb of Sir Randolph and his wife. And these are extremely fine tombs, actually. And this is where my chap comes from.

Malpas_Tomb_01.jpg (56069 bytes) Malpas_Tomb_03.jpg (52572 bytes)

Now, let me start with the Sir Randolph that you're going to see in marble tomorrow. He was, like many Breretons, part soldier. Remember, Cheshire was a main recruiting ground for troops, particularly for archers. And we know that Sir Randolph fought for Henry VII, probably, I suspect, at the Battle of Stoke, and he ended up in 1504 with the top job in Cheshire, which was that of Chamberlain of Cheshire.

And he was very wealthy too, because apart from what you'll see in the church, he also founded Malpas Grammar School. And the rules he laid down for the school – they still survive – were that the boys in winter should start at 6 o'clock in the morning and they finished at 5 o'clock; in the summer they started at 5 o'clock and finished at 5 o'clock. So if any of you are teachers and think you have a long day, "it ain't like it use’ter be."

Also, we've got one or two young people here, I see. You wouldn't have liked it either, because you were taught, of course, in Latin, and after your first year at school, you weren't allowed to speak English at all. You had to converse throughout in Latin. So that would have given you something to be going on with!

So William’s father was a very wealthy and important bloke. Now, he also was a chap who was rather efficient as a father, because he had 12 children by one wife. And of these 12, there were nine sons. And William is number six. Urian, who is the chap from whom the Civil War General is descended, I think he was number eight. And all of those sons, bar one, did very well. Three of them went into the Church and got extremely good jobs. One of them was the Peter Brereton that somebody talked to me about tonight. So, three of them went into the Church. Four of the other five were knighted. The only one who wasn't knighted is the one that we're talking about tonight. I've seen some people call him Sir, but he was never a "Sir."

The only one that didn't make anything was, I think, damaged at birth. There's some indication that he was defective in some respect. We don't know quite what, but there were special arrangements made to look after him. So that implies that he was perhaps disabled in some sense or other.

Now eventually, most of the wealth of that family ended up in the Cholmondeley family. And the present Lord Cholmondeley is Lord Chamberlain to the Queen.

If you've any time tomorrow morning, and I know some of you have, if you can get into Chester itself, and get into the Record Office, you can see the family tree of the Cholmondeleys. And this was drawn up by Sir Randolph Brereton's grandson, and it shows all of the Brereton ancestors from Sir Randolph onwards. And if you're interested in genealogy, it's very well worth seeing. It's an extremely valuable piece of work. The reference is Cheshire Record Office DDX 95.

Now, this sixth son, William, is important for two reasons. One of them you all know: he had his head chopped off. And there's nothing like having your head chopped off for getting you noticed. But the other reason is that he is one of the very few people in the 16th century about whom we actually know a great deal.

Now, we know a lot about the big boys - about the earls and dukes, and all the rest of them. They leave family papers. But he wasn't up at that level. And the reason we know as much as we do about him is thanks to the fact that he had his head chopped off, because the rules were that when you had your head chopped off, all you've got was confiscated by the King. And so all your papers went into the King's archive. Most people got them back in due course, but William’s sons didn't get them back. So in fact, we have over one hundred of William Brereton’s business papers. There are something like 33 letters or more. And then there are ten account books showing nearly all of his income. And it's quite a remarkable collection.

I published a lot of this material back in 1970, but we've now discovered a significant amount more, and I've brought this along, just to wave at you. This is a photostat of - and you can look at this afterwards - it's a photostat of the list that was made of William Brereton's business papers at the time of his arrest. And there are other lists as well. This has just been discovered by a colleague of mine, Mary Condon. So he's extremely well documented, and that means that he is a man of very considerable interest.

Now, let me explain what he was. He was a sixth son, as I said. Now, okay, his father was wealthy, but sixth sons had to work. And if you were a gentleman, you had to get a gentleman's job.

His father gave him, in fact, an allowance for his life. It was three pounds, four shillings, and a penny. Now that works out at almost - just a little but over - two pence a day. And tuppence a day was the amount of money that you could just about get by on. You couldn't, you know - there was no question of going around to pubs, but you could get by on tuppence a day. So the boy has got enough just to keep his head above water, but everything else he had to get for himself.

Except, of course, that his father was so well connected that his father was able to give him that very useful start in life that many of us have enjoyed, or other people have enjoyed. And his father set him up at the royal Court, along with, actually, a couple of his clerical brothers and his brother Urian. And William became a Groom of the King’s Privy Chamber. Now, you've got various descriptions of this which are wrong, but I'll explain to you what that appointment meant.

What happens in the 15th century is that the King gets fed up at being shoved around, because the King is living in a fairly communal lifestyle. There is no big separation between the King and the courtiers. They're all living in - the King is living in what's called "the chamber," with his attendants and favorites ‘round him, and although there are more private rooms, he is pretty exposed. But, towards the end of the 15th century, the King begins to want a more private kind of life. And so, you get the development of what is called "the Privy Chamber," which is actually a suite. And the King thereafter lives for most of the time in this Privy Chamber with a pretty small staff of dependents.

And William Brereton was one of those people appointed to look after Henry VIII in this very private suite. He’s one of about a dozen people in all. Now, that's terribly important, because it meant that he was rubbing shoulders with Henry VIII all the time by virtue of his job.

Technically, his job was a fairly lowly one. For instance, he was supposed to warm the King's shirt in the morning before the King put it on.

But don't think that was a menial job in 16th century eyes, because in the 16th century people thought that a job was posh or humbling, depending not upon what it was but upon who it was done for. So the most important - this is starting to get vulgar, I do apologize - the most important person in the privy chamber is the chap who looks after the King's lavatory, and who actually attends him when he goes, and sees that everything is all right. Now, he is called the Groom of the Stool. You'll sometimes see that written later on as the Groom of the Stole, as though he was wearing some kind of garment, but it actually means the privy. And when a King died, one of the perks of being the Groom of the Stool was that you were given all the King's privies, chamber pots and all. And when Henry VIII died, there were six commodes, which the Groom of the Stool went off with.

So the fact that William Brereton warmed the King’s shirt doesn't mean that he's nothing but somebody who sweeps the floor and dusts the sideboards. The truth is, you see, that because he is so close to the King, it's like being on the personal staff in the White House. And so you've got an enormous possibility of getting influence, and you've got an enormous possibility of being used by the King for jobs. It's the way in which the King gets done what he wants without having to go through the machinery, just the same way that I think is true in the White House today. So, you're able to influence the King, and you're able to do important jobs.

And we've got a description of William Brereton doing one of these important jobs. That again is very rare, a description like this.

But in 1530, the King is trying to get a letter to send to the Pope, asking the Pope to break the marriage that he's got with Catherine of Aragon. And so the King says, and they all decide, "We'll get all the important people in the country to sign a letter going to the Pope, and saying the whole of England wants you to do this." And William Brereton was the chap who was given the job of collecting the signatures.

We know that he was paid 40 pounds in advance - that's a lot of money - and we know that he bought a large box, and he bought a lot of sheepskin, with the fleece on, to wrap around the document so that the seals didn't get damaged.

The document itself now is in Rome, because it was sent off to the Pope, you see. So we've actually got the document, with the box, and with the sheepskin. We've actually got the document that he toted around England, in the Vatican archives in Rome.

And he went as far north as Durham, which is nearly on the Scottish border, to meet the Earl of Cumberland. He went to Lincolnshire, he went to East Anglia, and to Essex, and then he went west, then he went south, and he and his mates covered the whole of England to collect these signatures for Henry VIII. That was the kind of thing that you did if you were a Groom of the Privy Chamber.

Now at this time, Cardinal Wolsey is being sacked, and is actually up on the borders of Yorkshire, trying to get himself back into favor. And the description we have of Brereton in action is of what happened when he arrived to meet Cardinal Wolsey, to get Wolsey to sign and put his seal on it. I'll read it to you. This is by George Cavendish, Wolsey's gentleman usher - that is the person who was in charge of the running of his household. He's just put Cardinal Wolsey to bed, and he says

I went to my bed, where I was scanty asleep and warm [- because, don't forget, medieval beds were cold - ], but that one of the Porters came to my chamber door, calling upon me and said there were two gentlemen at the gate who would gladly speak with my Lord [Wolsey] from the king. With that, I arose up and went straightaway to the gate with the Porter, demanding what they were that so fain would come in.

They said unto me that there was Mr. Brereton, one of the gentlemen of the king's Privy Chamber, and Mr. Wriothesley, which were come from the king in post[- hastily-] to speak with my Lord.

Then, having understanding what they were, [I] caused the porter to let them in. And after their entry they desired me to speak with my Lord without delay, for they might not tarry, at whose request I repaired to my Lord's chamber and waked him that was asleep, and when he heard me speak he demanded of me what I would have.

"Sir," quoth I, "there be beneath in the Porter's Lodge Mr. Brereton, gentleman of the king's Privy Chamber and Mr. Wriothesley come from the King to speak with you. They will not tarry, therefore they beseech your Grace to speak with you out of hand."

"Well, then," quoth my Lord, "bid them come up into my dining chamber and I will prepare myself to come to them."

So Wolsey put a gown on, and down he went.

And this is what they said. This is Brereton speaking.

"Sir, we must desire to talk with you apart."

"With a right goodwill," quoth my Lord, who drew them aside into a great window and there talked with them secretly.

[And those big window recesses of the time made ideal places for private conversations.]

And after long talk they took out of a bundle a certain coffer [a box] covered with green velvet and bound with bars of silver and gilt, with a lock on the same, having a key which was gilt. [They took out] a certain instrument or writing [covering several skins of parchment] having many great seals hanging at it, whereunto they put more wax for my Lord's seal, the which my Lord sealed with his own seal and subscribed his name to the same. And that done, they would needs depart.

Over as much as it was after midnight, my Lord desired them to tarry and take beds. They thanked him and they said they might in no wise tarry for they would with all speed to [the Earl of] Shrewsbury's directly without let [without hindrance] because they would be there or ever he stirred in the morning.

My Lord, perceiving their hasty speed caused them to eat such cold meat as there was in store within the house and to drink a cup or two of wine. And that done he gave each of them four old sovereigns of gold, desiring them to take it in grace [wishing that he could have given them more]. So taking their leave, they departed. And after they were departed, as I heard say, they were not contented with their reward. [They didn't like their tip at all!]

Now, as I said, the Groom gets these political jobs that the King wants done. Another thing that William did was to take some jewels to Anne Boleyn. All these sorts of things.

Anyhow, another thing was, of course, that if you were on the Privy Chamber staff, it was a great chance to do things for yourself. This is why I call this talk "The Pork Barrel," because in Tudor politics, it went in a way that I as a mere Englishman imagine that American politics works: it's all a matter of who's scratching whose back, and who's getting what out of it. And obviously, in the Privy Chamber, you could do quite well because you were so close to the King. Remember, the King has to authenticate all the grants that are worth having. You had to get his signature twice, actually. And they're in a nice position to do that. Of course, you're also in a position to stop somebody else getting what they want.

And, they used to gang together. There is a lovely and revealing letter to William Brereton from one of his colleagues, Walter Walsshe, who wanted a post in the church for his brother who was studying at Cambridge. And I'll read it to you.

Brother William,

So it is that Master Hanworth -

[Hanworth was a village right at the end of where London Airport is now.]

So it is that [the parson of] Hanworth is not like to continue long.

[He's going to die.]

I spoke yesterday to Master Norris -

[He's the Groom of the Stool.]

- and he promised me to move the king to be good to a brother of mine.

[The old boy's gonna die. I want to get this job for my brother, and Norris has agreed to put a word in for me with the King.]

I pray you, solicit it.

[Please, will you do the same.]

And harken, lest any priest or any other should make suit therein.

[Watch out for possible rivals.]

I pray you, send me word what you do hear spoken of me and my matter, as well by the king as other [people]. Thus fare you well this Monday morning.

Your own,

W. Walsshe

Then he suddenly remembers:

P.S. If chance happen well for the benefice, that a bill may be made

[- that the papers are drawn up for the appointment -]

my brother's name is Sir Edward Walsshe, priest.

So, if you can actually get profits to Edward - that's what we want.

Actually, Walter’s brother didn't get the job, because the old parson Hanworth didn't die.

Now, the result of this closeness to the King is that William Brereton is able to build up a huge portfolio of offices in Cheshire and North Wales. He got 36! And the red dots on this map show the places where he had various posts. He also was in charge of the whole area here, right the way, in fact, from Cardigan Bay – here - right over to the Peak District in the east; he was the number one man. He even had charge of the ferries on the Menai Straits, there. So he was the beneficiary of a huge amount of royal patronage, and he had almost a corner in royal jobs in the area. And eventually, he succeeded his father as Chamberlain of Chester, and then he began to get additional grants in the London area, which is down here. He got the lands of a small abbey very near to Greenwich Palace, and he had some property in and around the City, and so forth. He was really doing very well.

And eventually, in the same year that he became Chamberlain of Chester, he got married. And that was even better, because he married a woman called Elizabeth Somerset, who was Henry VII's cousin. So, he married a relative of the King.

He wasn't her first husband. Her first husband had been a chap called Sir John Savage the younger. And Sir John Savage was an absolute - shall we be polite and say - an "unfortunate" character who eventually ended up in the Tower of London for murdering a local justice. And there are all sorts of stories about him. I can't go into John Savage, because we'll go on forever and ever about that. But he was arrested, and imprisoned, and shortly after he died. And that left his widow with a whole raft of properties up here, which are marked yellow and orange on the map.

And, first of all, William was given the estate to look after, and then he married her. And so he had the properties.

So, we know that - you'll remember - he started life worth three pounds, four shillings and a penny. When he died, he was worth over 12,000 pounds a year, which is some kind - from three pounds to 12,000 - is some kind of increment, if you think about it. And it was all done by pork barrel politics of this kind.

This meant that William was pretty affluent. We know he lent money and that he had his own pack of hounds. We know he hawked - you know, falconry – because he paid for birds to be caught in Wales. He was a businessman too. He produced woolen blankets, and he supplied the royal Court with wood, which was the main fuel. He had fingers in all sorts of pies. He was an active farmer. We know, for example, that he was sending animals down from Chester to London, probably to feed the Court.

And of course, the more successful he was, the more people came to him, and sought favors through him - and in the 16th century, if you did a favor for somebody, you could expect them to pay you back.

I don't know if it's as much in America, but in England today the only people who get money for favors are people in the medical profession. If you go for a certificate from the doctor, he'll charge you. When one of my students comes to me and wants a reference, I do it for him for free. And I always think it's a bit unfair. But anyhow, that's the way it goes.

But in the 16th century, you didn't do anything for nothing.

And they've got a very nice kind of language about it, full of implications. And I'll read you one of the letters that William Brereton got from one of the blokes that he was doing something for.


I do not only perceive your kindness shown to me, as it appears by Master Knyvett’s letter, but also by the report of divers of my friends, that you be my singular and especial good master in that behalf, in so much that you have bounden my poor favour and good will to be at your commandment the days of my life.

In other words, you've done so much for me that, brother, you can depend on me!

And if it would please you to command me to do some pleasure or service to any of your friends, that would be to me a great comfort.

Who can I help for you? Because, if I can pay you back a bit,

then I might be the more bolder to call upon you mastership at my needs.

I've built up such a debt with you that I need, actually, to pay it off a bit, and then I'll be in a position to ask for more.

Now, it wasn't something that was done by accident. We know that William Brereton was actually fishing for jobs.

There's a very famous case. This little red spot here is Shotwick-on-Dee. And there was a royal park there that was leased by the crown to Sir Ralph Edgerton. And William Brereton deliberately set out to get it from him. And the advice he was given is quite revealing:

Prepare ye the best ye can, as well with the King's Grace, as my Lord Cardinal and such other as ye think meetest.

[Use all your contacts to get what you want.]

And if you may, as soon as you can, move my Lady Princess to be good to you.

[Try to get Princess Mary on your side. And the Bishop of Exeter. And anybody else. Just get the whole thing lined up.]

To write to you to give good attendance by yourself and other of your friends about the King, to the intent to have knowledge what labour Master Edgerton makes, I trust it needeth not. And likewise to my Lord Cardinal.

[I trust that you don't need me to tell you to keep your ears open to see what the other chap is up to.]

It's the same thing, you see. It's a matter of fixing up the thing pretty neatly, getting all the boys lined up, and - lo and behold - you end up with whatever you want out of the pork barrel.

Now, William was at court most of the time, but he was still very much in charge in Cheshire. For instance, the little green spots on the map are the monasteries that he controlled. And you may be saying, how did he come to control monasteries? Well, he did.

For example, at the monastery at Valle Crucis - which is this one, near Llangollen - there was a row amongst the monks, and William Brereton was sent there to sort it out. Which he did, but lo and behold, he ends up with a grant from the monastery for himself.

When the Abbot of Chester became vacant, William’s nominee was not elected. So he got his heavy mob to put pressure on the new abbot, and the abbot was forced to sign an agreement to resign at Brereton’s request, under the huge penalty of a thousand pounds. This put him entirely in William’s control. And it was a lot of muscle went into all this.

And William was particularly important in this part of Wales here – in central Wales and along the border with England - which is what we call the March of Wales, and there the normal national system in England and Wales didn't run. Instead you had a system of local lordships, almost like separate states. And William Brereton was the representative of the lord in a number of these places: Bromfield and Yale, Chirk and the Holt.

And according to complaints, his fellows, his men, used Chirk as a base for cattle rustling.

For example, William Hanmer, who was one of Brereton's men, and Robert Morris, who was another one, turned up at Oswestry, which is a town in the next lordship which belonged to the Earl of Arundel. And there:

they ran to the Earl of Arundel's tenants and took many of them and robbed them, and spoiled them of all that they had about them, and many of the tenants took the church of Oswestry upon them -

[They took sanctuary in the church]

- for safeguard of their lives. The same misdoers assaulted the church, and shot many arrows to the church, and the town dwellers were fain to shut up their doors and their windows. And they that left their doors and windows open, they shot in many arrows. And so the misdoers went through the town, to the high cross.

"High Noon," isn't it?

And at the high cross, William Hanmer shot a poor man, one Richard Capper, with a broad arrow because the poor man said, "This is an evil rule in a good town."

That's a line from a western, if you can think of it. And a broad arrow is an arrow with a broad point which would do a lot of damage to you.

And from thence they went through the high street till they came before the castle gate, and there they stood and their weapons in their hands after the most riotous fashion, and they called for drink, and so drank in the market place. And when they had tarried there as long as it pleased them, the misdoers went to Chirk land again.

That, of course, is the complainants’ version. We don’t have William’s side of the story, but he did a deal with the local big boy, the Earl of Arundel, and it was all sorted out.

But from this comes a lot of trouble. Because one of William Brereton's deputies was a chap called John ap Gruffydd Eyton, and two of Eyton’s relatives were killed during these troubles. And William Hanmer himself was killed later. Brereton blamed Eyton for Hanmer’s murder and the two of them fell out. What I think happened was that Hanmer’s death was a revenge killing by one of Eyton’s family or one of his men, and Brereton believed he was the instigator.

So, what happened? Well, the only details we have come from John Eyton, but his side of the story goes like this.

They had an inquest, and when it met, William’s deputy, Randolph Lloyd, tried to write Eyton’s name as the killer. But the jurors refused to go along with this, so the deputy ordered them not to return a verdict. But again the jurors refused, and so Lloyd imprisoned them in Holt Castle, which was Brereton’s principal seat of authority in the area.

A new inquest jury was called. Half of them were Brereton’s men and the rest were not freeholders, as the law said they should have been. And they did return that Eyton was an accessory to murder in the first degree.

It probably wasn't so, but anyway, he was indicted, and he was taken to London under arrest. And William Brereton - we know, because we've got the account - he paid for 24 armed men to escort him down there. But when they got there, he was acquitted, and they freed him.

So, what is Brereton gonna do?

Well, Brereton gets another warrant for his arrest. He did nothing, but warrant his arrest, because in London he clearly needed help to serve it.

So he put out signals of wanting to compromise, and he invites John Eyton to breakfast. Now, the Welsh way of settlement for murder was to pay compensation, and we know that John Eyton arrived with a coffer containing 66 pounds, 13 shillings and 4 pence. So we think that he actually came in the usual style, because they were going to sort it out within a month. And that would be the end of it.

And William Brereton was very cheerful, very affable, very "Oh, we'll get this all sorted out." So he said to John, "Let's go for a walk."

So, he had him walking around London. And Brereton’s house was very near to the Tower of London, which was a separate judicial area. And Brereton, who knew where the boundary was, made sure they crossed into the Tower precinct. And there the porter of the Tower was waiting, and he pounced on Eyton and arrested him.

With Eyton under lock and key, Brereton obtained a warrant to have him tried back at Holt Castle, which is Brereton's big place. But there was still a lot a support for Eyton, and so Brereton defused this by talking about bailing the accused when he appeared in court.

Instead, a trial was held without warning, very early in the morning, and with a packed jury. The sentence was death, and by 9 o’clock Eyton was hanged.

So William Brereton, if the story is accurate, was a character of some determination and vindictiveness, as you can imagine.

But now, I said that I'd talk for a bit. And unfortunately I can talk forever on William Brereton. But you'll all be wanting to know, what about Anne?

Well, the facts are that on Thursday, the 4th of May, in 1536, he was arrested and charged with high treason - high treason, for having committed adultery with the Queen, Anne Boleyn. He was tried on Friday the 12th of May at Westminster Hall with three others similarly accused – including Henry Norris, the Groom of the Stool. He pleaded not guilty, but they were all convicted.

He and the others were sentenced to being drawn, hanged and quartered – that is, dragged to the scaffold, half strangled, then emasculated and gutted while still alive, beheaded and then chopped into quarters. But because of the court connections of the condemned, this sentence was commuted to beheading. And with the others, and Anne’s brother, George, Lord Rochford, he was beheaded on Wednesday, the 17th, on Tower Hill.

Now, I first of all became interested in William Brereton because, having come across him initially as a Cheshire gentleman, I couldn't rightly see what he had done to have his head chopped off - because the evidence of any offense, as I'll tell you in a moment, was very thin. I could not conceive of what was going on.

For example, the first people who were arrested were a lute player on the Sunday and Norris on the Monday. Anne and her brother George were arrested on the Tuesday. Brereton was not arrested until Thursday. So, obviously he wasn't at the top of their consideration, to say the least of it. And, though he worked at court and clearly knew Anne, there is no evidence at all of any personal link between him and the Queen. His friends tried but could never find out why he was arrested.

Indeed, one of his school friends asked Brereton, just before he was arrested, you know, what was going on? And Brereton said the only thing he could do was to deny it. So he denied it right from the start.

And then, when he was on the scaffold, this is what he said to the crowd:

The cause whereof I die, judge not. But if you judge, judge the best.

In other words, don't ask questions. And if you do ask questions, come up with a verdict on my side. So he was as near as he could go to proclaiming his innocence - because, remember, if you said the wrong thing, you could be held back for the whole ghastly treatment. So you were wise not to say too much.

Now, this is powerful evidence, because in those days, everyone had a clear understanding that there was life after death when you would be judged by God. So it was vital to die with a clean conscience, and prisoners about to be executed were expected to admit to the justice of their punishment. For Brereton to say what he did was either a declaration that he was innocent or a deliberate decision to face God with a lie on his lips. And everyone knew which it was.

Not only did the crowd understand perfectly that Brereton was not, in fact, guilty. His wife even knew. The adultery story affected her not a whit, and to her death, she kept a gold and jewelled bracelet which William gave her. She bequeathed it to her youngest son as "the last token his father sent me."

And I don't think he was guilty. The actual evidence is, in the case of each of the men - it gives four dates - two dates when they were supposed to have been solicited by Anne and two days when they were supposed to have committed this misconduct with her. Then they'd say "And lots of other times as well."

But in fact, as far as William Brereton is concerned, it is alleged that Anne solicited him on the 16th of November 1533, and misconduct took place on the 27th of November. But as you know, the future Queen Elizabeth was born on the 7th September 1533. And convention would have kept Anne in seclusion until early October, and her post-partum condition for even longer. It was also claimed that she solicited him again on the 3rd of December at Westminster, and misconduct took place at Hampton Court on the 8th of December. This certainly did not happen, because the court on that day was at Greenwich, 20 miles away.

So it is quite clear that there was absolutely no evidence whatsoever to connect him with any immorality with Queen Anne. And in fact, Anne was totally innocent on all charges. It was all part of a political coup to get rid of her.

But if it was part of a political coup, why did William Brereton get involved? Because he was not a major figure like the other chaps. I mean, her brother was executed. The Groom of the Stool was executed, and such - that kind of thing. He's a very small fish! So why did they pick on him?

Well, my explanation is that the answer is the situation in North Wales and Cheshire. Brereton was the biggest officeholder there, and local conditions were anything but peaceful. And I would guess that it was the Government who decided that they were going to clear up these problems in Wales. And they were going to turn the whole muddle of the March area into counties, on the English style. And William Brereton was an example of the old, bad way of doing things. His behavior to John Eyton was unpardonable. And so I think the plot to get rid of Anne gave a very rich opportunity to get rid of him too.

Now, a poem was written about that. And I'll read it to you. It links Brereton’s death specifically with his misbehavior over John Eyton. It was written by George Cavendish, the same chap that I spoke to you of earlier, the gentleman usher to Wolsey who described the visit that Brereton paid to Wolsey to get him to sign the petition to Rome. Now this is what he wrote. It is in the first person, as though Brereton is speaking:

But late I was in wealth, the world can it record,
Flourishing in favour, freshly beseen,
Gentleman of the chamber with my sovereign Lord,
Till fortune unawares hath deceived me clean,
Which pincheth my heart, and rubbeth me on the spleen
To think on my fall; remembering mine estate
Reneweth my sorrow, my repentance cometh too late.

Furnished with rooms
[offices] I was by the king,
The best, I am sure, he had in my country;
Steward of the Holt, a room of great winning
[a major prize]
In the Marches of Wales, the which he gave to me,
Where of tall men I had sure great plenty
The king for to serve, both in town and field,
Readily furnished with horse, spear and shield.

God, of his justice, foreseeing my malice,
(For my busy rigour
[deliberate severity] would punish me of right,)
Ministered unto Eyton, by colour of justice:
A shame to speak, more shame it is to write;
A gentleman born, that through my might
So shamefully was hanged upon a gallows-tree,
Only of rancour that rooted was in me.

Now the law hath taught me justice to know,
By Divine doom
[law], God’s word’s to be true:
"Who striketh with the sword, the sword will overthrow;"
No man shall be able the danger
[risk] to eschew [evade];
The experience in me shall give you a view,
That rigour by law hath quit me my meed
or the rigour of justice doth cause me to bleed.

Lo, here is the end of murder and tyranny!
Lo, here is the end of envious affection!
Lo, here is the end of false conspiracy!
Lo, here is the end of false detection!
Done to the innocent by cruel correction!
Although in office I thought myself strong,
Yet here is my end for ministering wrong.



Questions and Answers

Question: How did the catastrophe with Anne happen?

Professor Ives: What happened, you see, is this, as far as Anne is concerned. The King is very much in support of Anne right until the middle of April, 1536. I think it's quite clear that the story that the King has got fed up with her is wrong. And he was trying to force people to accept his second marriage as being legitimate. So everything was right until about the 14th of April, at the very least.

The first sign that there is any trouble comes on the end of the last week in April, when Anne has a flaming row with the Groom of the Stool. In public – the story goes all around the court. And this gives the opportunity, to the people who want to get rid of her, to get hold of people and see what sort of evidence they could put together.

And remember, the Tudor way was, arrest first, and find the evidence afterwards. It wasn't our way of look at the evidence and make the arrest.

And they thought that one of the people who was most likely to crack was one of the musicians at court, a chap called Mark Smeaton, who was arrested on the Sunday, and probably tortured. There is a story that he was tortured, with a knotted rope around his head, which makes your eyes pop out. But if it wasn't that, he was certainly given the third degree and was actually in psychological torture, because we know that he was kept in irons.

And that gave enough evidence - enough rumor, shall we say - for the King to be told the next day, at Greenwich - that's the Monday - at the tilt, at the joust that was going on - to be told then that Henry Norris was having an affair with Anne. Obviously it's using the story of the row.

The King went to London with Norris, and promised Norris that if he'd confess, he'd save his life.

Norris said it's not true, and I won't confess. So he was arrested, and sent to the Tower.

That was on the Monday evening. On the Tuesday morning, Anne was watching a tennis match, and she was arrested, and taken to the Tower. Her brother went to London after her, to see what he could do, and he got arrested.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who was a great friend of hers, was told to keep out of the way. So the whole thing was fixed up.

Then you find another one of them arrested, as a result of a conversation in which Anne said - something she said in the Tower, because she frankly fell to bits. And you can understand that happening.

But we don't know that she ever said anything about William Brereton at all. And it wasn't until the Thursday that they picked him up.

So it looks very much, as I say, as though it was, you know, "We've got this lot. They're on the way out. Put him in with that. That's the end of them, and we get rid of them."


Question: What happened in Cheshire and Wales after Brereton’s death?

Professor Ives: What happened was, that in the same year, they passed an Act of Parliament –"turning Wales into shireground," it was called - turning it into counties, and setting up a proper county basis - abolishing all these jobs that William Brereton had had, and establishing the kind of justices of the peace that were in England.

And as far as the jobs in Chester were concerned, they were shared around, so nobody got the whole shooting match that he had. He was the last person, really, to have the control of this huge area under his own belt.

And from that time onwards, it is what we called the Act of Union of England and Wales. From that time on, England and Wales have been united, and had the same kind of government. Except they only had one MP per county, rather than two, but that's a detail. There's not a March anymore, no.

Transcribed and edited by Thomas F. Brereton, San Antonio, Texas (t.brereton@sbcglobal.net)
Photos by the editor.


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