Professor Eric W. Ives
"William Brereton and the Pork Barrel: Travails of Political
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
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 Is 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
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.
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 useter
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 Williams 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
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
Williams sons didn't get them back. So in fact, we have over
one hundred of William Breretons 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
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
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 Kings 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. Hes 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 Kings 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
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
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
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
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
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.
So it is that Master Hanworth -
[Hanworth was a village right at the end of where London Airport
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
[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.
Then he suddenly remembers:
P.S. If chance happen well for the benefice, that a bill may
[- 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
Actually, Walters 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
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
I do not only perceive your kindness shown to me, as it appears
by Master Knyvetts 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
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, Williams 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 Breretons request, under the huge penalty of a thousand
pounds. This put him entirely in Williams 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.
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 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
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 dont
have Williams 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 Eytons
relatives were killed during these troubles. And William Hanmer
himself was killed later. Brereton blamed Eyton for Hanmers
murder and the two of them fell out. What I think happened was that
Hanmers death was a revenge killing by one of Eytons
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, Williams deputy, Randolph
Lloyd, tried to write Eytons 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 Breretons principal seat of
authority in the area.
A new inquest jury was called. Half of them were Breretons
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
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 Breretons 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 oclock
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 Annes
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
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
And then, when he was on the scaffold, this is what he said to
The cause whereof I die, judge not. But if you judge, judge
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
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 Breretons 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], Gods words 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 [deserts]
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
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 Breretons 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
Photos by the editor.