the court case - The Broket Archive

William Brockett’s executors v Edward Brockett of Bradfield

William Brockett of Hitchin’s executors, Robert Nycoll Citizen and Merchant Tailor of London and John Gaddesdon of Hitchin, first brought this case to Chancery around 1559 demanding Edward Brockett, eldest son of Edward Brockett of Letchworth Esq, settle a debt of £130 he owed William.1 It concluded with a final decree issued in 30 Jan 15652 ordering Edward to pay the complainants £90 in instalments. It was probably never paid. Within a few years Edward was an outlaw, having been pursued by two other Nicolls.

This is the C78 Decree Roll open at the judgment:3

Contents of this page:
1. Background
2. The full text of TNA C3/132/103
3. A summary of the main points
4. Some questions
5. The full text of TNA C78/25/17
6. Subsequent developments
7. Robert Nicolls


  • William Brockett was a wealthy yeoman and a leading member of mid 16th C Hitchin.
  • He appointed Robert Nycolles—Merchant Tailor of London—and John Gaddesden—a fellow Hitchin Yeoman—his executors:
  • Edward Brockett snr [of Letchworth] had been an MP and Sheriff of Herts and Essex. Coros called William Edward’s relative.
  • Edward owned the manor of Bradfield as well as land in Hitchin and elsewhere. He had purchased land in Hitchin and Offley 20 Oct 1555 for £80 and £40, total £120 (HALS 58341), then in the tenure and occupation of ‘Thomas Paris of Hechyn gent‘ (l 8). Thomas was the overseer of Wiliam’s Will.
  • Edward Brockett jnr was Edward of Letchworth’s eldest son.
  • Both Edwards were Attoneys at court – they had been educated at Lincolns Inn.
  • Sir Nicholas Bacon, Keeper of the Great Seal of England—the Judge in this case and a Lincolns Inn graduate himself—would have known the 2 Edwards. Sir John Brocket II was later knighted at his home in Gormanbury, Herts, 1577.
  • Nevertheless, the judgment went against Edward jnr.

The full text of TNA C3/132/103

TNA C3/132/103 comprises 4 parchment sheets containing the:

  1. Complaint of Robert Nycolles & John Gaddesden against Edward Brockett jnr
  2. Answer of Edward Brocket jnr to the complaint of Nycolls & Gaddesden
  3. Reply of Nycolles & Gaddesden to the answer of Edward Brockett jnr
  4. Rejoinder of Edward Brocket jnr to the reply of Nycolls & Gaddesden.

Thereafter the hearings are recorded on paper in TNA C33, concluding with the judgment in TNA C33/31/81.4

The bill of complaint is the uppermost of the four parchments and has been subject to light and rough handling, and so has faded and been damaged down the right hand edge and bottom, where the ink has mostly gone. The document was studied for five hours by means of ultra-violet light, which brought out much that was illegible to the naked eye in these areas, but where the ink had completely gone nothing could be deciphered. These unreadable parts are represented by […] in the transcript below, some being several words and others only parts of words. Where words can be safely guessed from the context they are added inside the square brackets. Much of the Complaint was reproduced in the enrolled judgment so fill-ins can be cross checked, see below. The other three parchments have only suffered creasing and are fully legible. Here is a full transcript: +Read more

This image of the beginning of lines 19-21 taken under ultra-violet light shows the words “hundred fyftye nyne” on line 20:6
the words

19. Pulchers in the Cytye of London a…
20. hundred fyftye nyne requyred t…
21. aunswered that he colde not then

Coros saw this C3/132/103 document in the late 1970s when it may well have been less damaged or faded. Coros’ statement: “The executors of a relative, William Brocket, were to sue Edward Brocket the younger in Chancery for an alleged debt…” may have been based on words in the Complaint which are now illegible. But even if not, Coros was in no doubt that the two men were related, presumably as an obvious interpretation of the circumstances.

A summary of the main points

The Facts7

William lends Edward snr £140 on a verbal promise. At William’s deathbed Edward snr admits to this debt before witnesses and William reduces the debt by £20. Later after Edward snr dies, Edward jnr pays £20 to William’s executors, apparently under an agreement entered into between him and Edward snr’s executors—his younger brothers. The issue raised before the Court is that by the agreement between Edward jnr and his brothers as executors of Edward snr’s estate, Edward jnr undertook to settle all the debts of Edward snr. They now hold him to his promise.

Edward jnr’s Answer

Edward jnr’s Answer is essentially a bare denial. He admits to knowing that Edward snr:

  • concluded a land deal with William
  • paid William £10 at the time of the deal
  • appointed William and John (his younger sons) to be his executors.

However he denies any knowledge of the monetary value involved in this land deal with William and claims the complainants’ case is fabricated. Edward jnr alludes to an agreement made soon after Edward snr’s death between himself and his brothers William and John whereby he undertakes to pay ‘certain sums’ to settle Edward snr’s debt and thereby release William and John from their duty as Edward snr’s executors. Under this agreement he will settle the debt within a number of years. It is a fact that he pays the complainants £20 (why he did so is at issue). Edward jnr admits that because of this agreement with his brothers, he paid £20 to the complainants but he denies that in so paying he had undertaken to settle Edward snr’s entire debt with William. He also denies that he was privy to the agreement made by Edward snr.

The Crux of the Matter

The question is: Why did Edward jnr pay the complainants the £20? Was it because:

  • he was settling the debt his father owed to William of Hitchin’s estate?
  • he was paying towards the settlement of his father’s debt?

The Complainants say it was the former, Edward jnr says the latter. As he neither explains the scope of his agreement with his brothers nor does he have his brothers corroborate his story, the assumption must be that Edward is not being entirely truthful in his Answer.


In his Rejoinder, Edward jnr merely repeats and stands by his earlier Answer. There is no infusion of any supporting evidence. He again denies that the agreement between him and his brothers is for the settlement of all his father’s debts as alleged by the complainants.

He now raises the legal issue of the complainants’ right in law, not being the executors of Edward snr’s estate, to bring this action (Bill of Complaint) against him. He questions whether the complaints have sufficient privity of contract to give them locus (standing) in the Court on this matter?

Privity of Contract

1. Are the complainants party to the agreement between Edward jnr and Edward snr’s executors?
2. If the allegation is true that Edward jnr is to settle all of Edward snr’s debts, who is the party that benefits? Brothers William & John? Or the complainants?
3. The agreement being denied, are the complainants the correct party to bring suit against Edward jnr or is the correct party to do so his younger brothers—the appointed executors—since Edward jnr entered into the agreement with them?
4. It is not they who will suffer a loss of benefit if he went back on his promise to settle all debts. [If the agreement he made was made with his brothers then the complainants have no privity to enforce the agreement.]
5. Perhaps it is Edward jnr’s tendency to deny rather than to clarify issues which caused the court to suspect his motives and truthfulness.


The Judgment orders Edward jnr and one surety to be bound to the complainants for 200 marks (£133+). It also orders Edward jnr to pay the Complainants £90 in instalments. If he fails to do so his surety will satisfy the debt.

On Jan 30 1565/6 Edward was ordered to pay £90 [16] in the following instalments: 1. Easter. [19] £20 2. 29 Sept. [20] £30 3. 25 March. [22] £20 4. 29 Sept. 1566 [19] £20, i.e. the residue. Total £90.

The Judgment further orders the Complainants to be similarly bound to Edward jnr for 200 marks. They are to indemnify him and keep him indemnified against all other persons who might lawfully claim any part of the £90 from him. They are to release the £90 to such persons as are entitled to it under William snr’s Will and if they fail to do so, their surety will settle 200 marks on Edward jnr.


It appears that the Court recognised a sum owing of £90 only. By ordering Edward jnr to pay the Complainants the Court is recognising that when he paid £20 to the Complainants, he undertook to settle all sums owing by Edward snr. To make certain that he does pay this sum they order that he or a surety pays £133+ (200 marks) if he reneges on this payment.

But the Court also wanted to ensure that Edward jnr was not burdened by additional claims, so it ordered that with the receipt of the £90 the Complainants now must ‘protect’ (indemnify) Edward against any subsequent claims on the same debt of £90.

So if a 3rd party now claimed an entitlement to the £90 or any part of it, the 3rd party would have to recover it from the Complainants and William’s estate. If they refused to protect Edward jnr they would have to pay to him 200 marks and if they failed to do this their surety would have to do so.

Some questions

  1. Why did Edward snr appoint his next 2 younger sons to be executors of his Will? Edward jnr was his eldest son and as an Attorney might have been the more likely candidate.
  2. Did Edward jnr expect that by taking over the execution of his father’s estate he might not have to take over the debt of the estate?
  3. What were the terms of the agreement he made with brothers William and John? Why would they agree to his taking over?
  4. Why did Edward jnr not reveal any of its terms in his Answer? Would it not have helped his case?
  5. Why didn’t his brothers testify in Edward’s defence? If he was settling his father’s debt, so releasing his younger brothers from their duties and benefits as executors, what was the consideration for this agreement between them?
  6. Was Edward jnr in debt before this case?

The full text of TNA C78/25/17

+Read more

Subsequent developments

Robert Nicolls

William’s first-named executor, Robert Nicholl / Nycolles, was a citizen and Merchant Tailor of London, and probable master of William’s son William, his apprentice. When he died has not yet been discovered, but it was possibly before Edward Brockett’s debt to William had been recovered, since two other Nicolls were pursuing Edward Brockett in court for debt.

The following two Wills were evidently not his:
Robart Nicholls of London, Haberdasher, written 12 Aug 1563, proved 20 March 1564/5.9
Robert Nicolls or Nichols of London, Gentleman, written 3 Jan 1582, proved 19 Jun 1583.10 This appears to have been revoked on 19 Jun 1583 and proved again 27 Jan 1584.11

A search in the PCC Indexes for an Administration for Robert Nicholls after 1559 was unsuccessful.12 The following two seem too late:13

Robert Nicholls of Hampton, Norfolk, 1588 (folio 76).
Robert Nicolls of Eaton [Eton], near Windsor, Bucks, 1592 (folio 12).

Page Last Updated: April 6, 2020


For full bibliographical details please see the sections Publications or Glossary.


[1] TNA C/132/103.

[2] TNA C33/31/81 enrolled in C78/25/17.

[3] Reproduced by kind permission of the National Archives licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

[4] Earlier stages were found in C33/29/64 and 105, C33/30/104, C33/31/365

[5] Numbers have been given to the lines for ease of reference.

[6] TNA C3/132/103 m1. Reproduced by kind permission of the National Archives licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

[7] Grateful acknowledgements to Advocate Richard Brockett for his comments on this interpretation.

[8] Numbers have been given to the lines for ease of reference.

[9] PCC PROB 11/48/85.

[10] PCC PROB 11/65/407.

[11] Ridge n d vol 3 (1581-1595) p 113.

[12] Glencross 1912 (1559-71); vol 3 Ridge (1581-95); and vol 4 (1596-1608). There is apparently no index for 1571-81.

[13] Ridge n d vol 3 (1581-1595) p 113.