Hertfordshire Brokets 1500-58
Wealthy landowning Brokets were influential at the ruling level of Hertfordshire during the first half of the 16th century—the individuals on the left-hand side of the chart above. 4 less wealthy ones were also recorded there during that period—in all likelihood the 4 individuals on the right-hand side of the chart. The following can be highlighted:
- John of Wheathampstead Esq (Sheriff in 1506-8 and 1531-2), died 1532, see the separate page.
- Robert Gent, died 1507, see the separate page.
- Elizabeth [THWAITES] Lady, died 1507, see the separate page.
- William of Ippollitts Husbandman 1512, see the separate page.
- Margeret of Hitchin Widow 1524, see the separate page.
- Lucy [PULTER] Mrs, died 1525, see the separate page.
- Alice Brokette was left a bequest in 1544 in the Will of Thomas Welche of Great Wymondley: “to Alice Brokette my seruannt in redye money xls and a cowe”.1 Thomas’ executors were sons Edward and Thomas, overseer son Robert. Thomas senior was a Yeoman farmer with considerable property in Great Wymondley, Kings Walden and Stevenage, and Alice was the only person in the household in 1544 who wasn’t a member of his conjugal family. But despite this only being a simple single mention in a Will, by means of other evidence it is possible to be fairly confident about Alice’s connection to other Brokets and whether she was young or middle-aged by means of circumstantial evidence, as follows:
1. Great Wymondley is less than 2 miles SE of Ippollitts, less than 3 miles E of Hitchin and c 5 m E of Offley. Extensive analysis of the records of 15-17th C Hertfordshire as a whole indicate that the resident Brokets of Ippollitts, Hitchin and Offley were all part of the cadet branch of the contemporary landowning Hertfordshire Brokets. There can be little doubt therefore that Alice of Great Wymondley in 1544 was part of this cadet Broket branch, rather than the wealthier gentry branch. Besides, of the wealthy households—whose children are well-documented—neither John, knighted in 1547, nor his uncle Edward, the Sheriff in the same year, had a daughter Alice.
2. Of the Ippollitts-Hitchin-Offley Broket branch, we know that William Brokett I of Hitchin had a daughter Alice who was an adult and unmarried in 1556, 12 years after this record of Alice Brokette, servant. John Brokett of Offley’s Will of 1558 named 3 living daughters, two unmarried—Grace and Rose—and one married, simply named by her surname Starken. It also mentioned 2 unnamed living daughters in Stevenage—c 4 m SE of Great Wymondley—whom we know nothing else about. The two Broket households of William and John are the only ones known in the Ippollitts-Hitchin-Offley Broket branch who could have had a daughter in service in 1544. Evidence of a daughter actually called Alice is clearly much stronger than of an unnamed daughter, so we can be fairly confident that William I of Hitchin was her father, rather than John of Offley.
3. As a young servant from a friend or relative’s household Alice could have been a teenager or even younger. John of Offley’s daughter Grace, for example, was bequeathed 20s by William I of Hitchin, in whose household she was when aged c 8-13. Children weren’t usually farmed out as servants to other households any younger, and it is difficult to imagine them being called ‘servants’ when less than 12. Nevertheless if we entertain a wide age range and suggest that Alice was between 8 and 19 in 1544, it would point to a date of birth between 1525-36, although 1525-1532—when aged 12-19 in 1544—would probably have been more likely. This has implications for the discussion of the birth date of her probable brother William Brokett II, for which see the separate page.
4. Alternatively and more speculatively—because there is no other evidence to support it—Alice was an older spinster in Thomas Welche’s household in 1544, and in which case perhaps an otherwise unrecorded sister of William I of Hitchin and John of Offley. In the days before parish records women without property were seldom recorded, except in Wills. It might be interesting to see the 1552 Will of Edward Welshe of Great Wymondley Yeoman.2 Thomas left the house in Great Wymondley to his wife Alice and son Edward, and if Alice Brokette had been a life-long household servant, perhaps she was mentioned in Edward’s Will. A Will of Alice Welche hasn’t been found.
- Edward of Broadfield and Letchworth Esq (Sheriff in 1547-8 and 1554-5 and MP in 1542 and 1554), died 1559, see the separate page.
- John of Brockett Hall Knight (MP in 1553 and 1555), died 1558, see the separate page.
- William I of Hitchin Yeoman, died 1556, see the separate page.
- John of Ippollitts/Offley Yeoman, died 1558, see the separate page.
- Edward of Broadfield Gent, died 1583, see the separate page.
- William of Essendon Gent, died 1610, see the separate page.
Evidence shows that 8 of these were related by blood or marriage, and that 2 of the others lent money to one of them. Lending money to someone with the same uncommon surname in those pre-bank times would fairly definitely have meant a blood relationship. Furthermore, that all of them lived within 15 miles of each other also supports the other evidence that these Brokets were not long indigenous to Herts. If they had been there more than a couple of generations prior to 1500, they should typically have produced a larger number of branches spread across a wider local geographical area. As records of poorer folk appeared with parish records in the second half of the 16th C, descendants of such cadet branches would have become apparent and it would have been much less convincing to conclude that they all belonged to the one clan. This didn’t occur with the Brokets of Herts, all of whom from the rest of this century—and indeed the next—can evidentially be related to these of 1500-58.
The tax returns for Hertfordshire have all been searched for Brokets.3 As an example, the 1545 Subsidy Rolls show only 4 Broket heads of households in Herts at the end of the first half of the 16th C: 2 yeomen, 1 esquire and 1 knight.4 The Hertfordshire Brocketts of the second half of the 16th C were all close relatives of these 4 heads of household:
- John Broket was rated at 3d in tax on his property in Ippollitts Parish, about 3 miles east of Offley and 1 mile south of Hitchin. 3d indicates a small farm. The list for Ippolletts had 28 entries, John coming mid way. Quite a few people paid 2d and 1d. See John of Offley.
- William Broket was rated at 20s in tax on his property in Hitchin Parish. 20s indicates a large property. Out of the 113 rated in Hitchin, only two people paid more. See William I of Hitchin.
- Edward Broket was one of the Commissioners for Broadwater and Hitchin Hundred and was rated at 40s in tax on his property in Preston Parish, about 3 miles south of Hitchin. 40s indicates that he was probably one of the wealthiest men in the half-hundred of Hitchin, as noted by Coros. He is usually known as Edward Brockett of Broadfield or Letchworth, Esq.
- John Broket was commissioned to be an assessor for Casio Hundred, which included Brockett Hall. No tax rate for him is recorded—the returns are damaged—however 2 years later he was to become the first Sir John Brockett. He owned considerably more property than Edward of Letchworth.
All 4 wrote their Wills during Philip and Mary’s reign (25 Jul 1554-17 Nov 1558). Henry VIII had thrown off the Pope’s authority in 1534, but Mary—’Bloody Mary’—tried to reverse the changes and about 300 Protestants were put to death, including one presided over by Edward of Letchworth, Sheriff at the time. While not inferring too much about their personal piety—Wills were often composed by priests when the hour of death was expected—their allegiance to Protestantism or lack of it might be glimpsed through the formulaic bequests of their souls:
“Firste I bequeathe my soule to Almighty god my redeamer and to all the holy company of heaven”: Will of Sir John Brockett I of Brockett Hall, written 17 Aug 1557.6 He also requested that various legatees pray for his soul and that his godchildren say their Pater Noster, Ave Maria and Credo.
Page Last Updated: May 31, 2021