William Brokett of Hitchin II Yeoman
b c 1536 d 1563
William was head of the only Broket family in Hitchin in the 1560s, occupying the ‘mansion house’ in Bancroft Street that his father William Brokett I of Hitchin had purchased in 1538. His mention in his Will of “the qwerne to grynde malte withall” suggests that like his father before him—and his eldest son after him—William II worked as a Maltster. However he may also have been apprenticed to a Merchant Taylor, so perhaps he had more than one trade.
Contents of this page:
1. Contemporary namesakes
2. The question of William’s apprenticeship
3. Birth date
4. The puzzle of his first wife
5. Wife and 2 sons
6. Other records
7. Last testament and Will
1. William Brockett of Wildhill/Esyndon Gent b c 1521-26 d 1611, 2nd son of Edward of Letchworth. His 1st son William was born a few years after William II of Hitchin died.
2. William Brockett, b aft 1556, son of Robert of Bramfield; Citizen of London, d intestate 1607.
3. William II’s own son William III, born towards the end of his father’s life.
No records of others have yet been found.
William II’s Will suggests that he worked as a Maltster in Hitchin, however prior to his father’s death he may have been apprenticed to a Merchant Taylor of London. There is a Merchant Taylor’s Company record of William Brockett junior being freed from his apprenticeship to Robert Incoll on 16 Jul 1557:1
Was this William II of Hitchin? It looks possible as no other suitable contemporary William Brockett the younger is known. It couldn’t have been William II’s son William III, who was “at schole” in 1563, and may not even have been born in 1557.2 “It seems highly likely to me that a Hitchin boy from a family of suitable means and standing would be apprenticed to a Merchant Taylor in London. In the late 17th century Sir Ralph Radcliffe of Hitchin Priory apprenticed all his five grandsons to merchants of the Levant Company.”3
Manuscript details: The image above dates from around 1614. Read more
The Guildhall Library Library has an index of freemen 1530-1928 in alphabetical order (Ms 34037/1-4). It is called the ‘modern’ index to freemen of the Merchant Taylors’ Company and is a hand-written index compiled in the first half of the 20th C, in columns, in a very neat small hand. I consulted it in 2001 on a microfilm version, called then microfilm 324. It had 5 Brocket(t) entries, 4 from the 17th C (Samuel, Edmund, Joseph and Joseph) and only this one of William from the 16th. It is fortunate that this record survives, as the original is lost: “Freedom admissions 1545-57 are derived from the Wardens’ accounts 1545-57 (Ms 34048/4). The accounts for 1557-62 do not survive, and freedom admissions for these years are taken from Ms 34035/1, compiled ca. 1614 from sources then extant.”4 The entry in this modern index reads “Brockett, William, the younger. Serv. Robert Incoll 16 July 1557″, i.e. he was admitted by servitude, his master was Robert Incoll, and he was freed 16 July 1557”.
Records of the commencement of apprenticeships—their presentation by their masters—are incomplete for this period. Apprentices were presented at the Ordinary Court meetings, and would therefore be recorded in the Court minutes or the Wardens’ Account books.5 Assuming that William’s apprenticeship took no more than 10 years I searched available records of these minutes and Account books from 1547 through 1553, but found no Brocket(t)s nor Incolls. Nor were there any in 1555/6 or 1556/7. 1553-1555 may have been missing. A Robert Nycoll presented a Richard Bell in 1548 for 2s 6d.
What of William’s master Robert Incoll? The entry in the image above was copied from an original and mistakes can always occur in copying. Incoll—or Inkle or the like—is not a known surname. “Ni” in writing of the time could later be misread as “In”, as this image of the name Robert Nicholles from 1569 suggests:6
So Robert Incoll could have been a mistranscription of Robert Nicoll. As noted above the Merchant Taylor Robert Nycoll presented an apprentice in 1548, and no other records have been found of a Merchant Taylor Robert Incoll.
Robert Nicholl or Nicholls, Merchant Taylor, was of course an executor of William’s father’s Will. To be so, he would have been a long-standing and trusted friend or business partner, and perhaps one to entrust the apprenticeship of one’s eldest son to.
If this William Brockett junior was William Brockett II of Hitchin—and no other contemporary namesakes are known, let alone a senior and junior—then although his freedom occurred a year after his father William’s death, he was still known as ‘junior’. One explanation of this could be that Robert Nicholl, who had known William senior well, and in 1557 was acting as executor of William senior’s estate, had always known William his apprentice as junior and continued to refer to him as such.
Again, if this William Brockett junior was William Brockett II of Hitchin, then it suggests a birth date of around 1536. Freedom was “commonly arranged so as to expire at 21”,7 but there were always exceptions.
Ignoring for the sake of argument the possible apprenticeship, how else might we estimate a birth date for William?
William son of Edward was probably born 1460-65 and William III was probably born c 1559-60, no more than 100 years later. In between those two Williams were two other Williams, whose birth dates are less clear. We know when these two died and the size of their families at the time, which helps.
Over a period of 100 years, therefore there were three complete generations. Laslett calculated the average age at first marriage in the 2nd half of the 16th C for males at about 26½ and for females about 23½.8 These were averages of course and one or more of these three Brokets would have been a good number of years over the average. As a youngest son in a system of primogeniture—which these Brokets appeared to follow at this time— William son of Edward would probably have married late. Other unknown circumstances could have led to either or both of the others doing so too.
Turning to William I and his two children from his 1st wife—William II and Alice—the following calculations seem reasonable. Pamela Wright estimated that Alice was born 1534-5, although it was “tricky calculating”.9 This assumed that Alice was younger than William, and was based on two factors: first that her stepmother, William I’s 2nd wife, gave birth in 1536 and second that Alice would have been 48 when she gave birth to her last known child in 1583. Wright’s statement that her stepmother gave birth in 1536 would have been based on the fact that William I’s Will of April 1556 mentions that his daughter Elizabeth from his second wife was married—presumably very recently—and so would have been 20. This was part of the tricky calculation; being older than 48 and still child-bearing would have been another. As for Elizabeth marrying at 20 or 18, it is possible that it was even earlier.
Considering Laslett’s average age at first marriage in those days for females was about 23½, being married at 20 would have been on the young side, however Elizabeth might well have got married even younger, say at 16, and therefore been born as late as 1540. Elizabeth the daughter of her nephew Edward Brockett of Campton and his wife and Parnell appears not to have been much more than 15½ at her marriage. This would allow either a few more years for William I to marry again after a birth date for Alice of 1534-5, or for Alice to have been born a couple of years later, up to 1539. The latter would decrease Alice’s age at the birth of her last known child to 44, or even 43 if the baptism wasn’t immediately after birth. This is assuming Alice was younger than William II, as Wright did because of assuming an age of 20 for Elizabeth marrying. A marriage age of 3 or 4 years earlier would allow for Alice to have been older than William II, and still only require a latest birth date for her of 1536-7.
A marriage at 16 for Elizabeth would mean that William II, if he was older than Alice and allowing for an 18 month gap between them, could have been born between 1535-7. Of course other children may have been born who died young or miscarried between him and Alice, so he could have been born some years before. If he was younger than Alice he could have been born between 1537-9. And of course if he and Alice were twins, they could have been born between 1535-9, or earlier if other children were born after them. Indeed if manorial custom meant that an heir had to be 22, William had to have been born before 1534 to inherit the Wratton copyhold without proviso. All of these birth estimates for William II would fit with the estimates of the birth date of William I of Hitchin, even allowing for one or more pregnancies before William II’s birth.
Attempting to estimate William II’s birth date from the other direction—the likely date of his son William III—introduces too many variables to enable any useful time span to be suggested. Just because William III was under school age at William II’s death doesn’t necessarily mean that William II was young. He could have married much older than the average, he and his wife may not have had children for some years after their marriage, and William III may not have been their first born.
But returning to the question above whether William II was apprenticed to Robert Incoll or Nicholl, Merchant Taylor of London, and therefore born around 1536, this discussion shows that it was possible. And especially if he and Alice were twins.
If you had come upon this webpage between 2006 and 2016 you would have seen a heading here < Wives and children > followed by the text of a copyhold transaction at Hitchin Manor court of 8 Jun 1555 in both Latin and English translation. 10 Its catalogue entry reads: “Copy of Court Roll: Manor of Hitchin Foreign: Admission of Margaret, wife of Wm. Brocket, to ‘the Berybarns’. 1555.” The entry echoes an endorsement on the document itself, long predating the catalogue, which reads: “Wm Brockett and Margeret his wife“.
Here began the puzzle of William’s wife Margaret. Which William was she married to? The court roll entry begins “William Brokett customary tenant of the Lord came…” He was a tenant of the local lord of the manor, and presumably therefore a Hitchin man.
Extensive research on all Brokets in and around Hitchin had shown that in the 1550s there were only ever two William Broketts in Hitchin—William I and his son William II. Both were alive on 8 Jun 1555 when the Manor court sat. William I wrote his Will less than a year later on 7 Apr 1556 naming his wife Elizabeth and various children they had had together, so he couldn’t have been the husband of Margaret. William II wrote his Will 8 years later on 4 Sep 1563 naming his wife Alice and two sons at school.
The only—and very unsatisfactory—solution to the puzzle was for Margaret to have been an earlier wife of William II, preceding Alice and dying not long after this Manor court. Somehow in a mere 8 years William lost a wife, married another who bore him two sons of school age. This influenced estimates of birth dates, not just of this William II, but of his father too. It was also strange that William was transferring ownership of property to his wife in an era when married women didn’t own property, and so early in his own life. The whole situation was unlikely, but there it remained as the only explanation of the puzzle.
But in 2015 two new records came to light and the puzzle resurfaced: which William Brokett was Margaret married to?
First, the record of William II of Hitchin’s probable freedom from apprenticeship in 1557 discussed above was discovered. Under normal apprenticeship terms a man couldn’t marry during it, so since William II was still an apprentice when the Manor court sat in 1555, it looked as though Margaret could not have been his wife.
Second, the 17 Aug 1556 Survey of the Manor of Hitchin recorded the Berie Barns being held by Margaret Trustram Widow:12
Margaret’s husband John Trustram had died shortly after the Manor court’s session of 8 Jun 1555. His Will, written 24 Jul 1554 and proved 2 Oct 1555,13 did not mention the Bury Barns, but “To Margaret my wiff” he left another copyhold property, the bery stede, which was between the river and Dead Street alias Back Street (now Queen Street) partly separated from the Bury Barns by Port Mill. The Bury Barns had been surrendered by William Brockett—a witness to this Will, by the way.
Could it be that between 8 Jun 1555 and 17 Aug 1556 the Bury Barns had been transferred from Margaret Brokett to Margaret Trustram? It was necessary to take a closer look at the 8 Jun 1555 Manor court transaction. The relevant parts read:
It became clear that the clerk who endorsed the document had taken the words “his wife” to mean “William Brokett’s wife”, ignoring the intervening—and all important— detail that William had formerly surrendered the property to John Trustram.
A deed from 1537 referred to the Bury Barns being held by John Tristram.15 Therefore from some time after 1537 the copyhold of the Bury Barns was held by William Brokett and returned to John Tristram in 1555.
Puzzle: Which William Brokett was Margaret married to? Answer: To none, she was married to John Trustram.
Hitchin parish records date from 1562 and of William II’s family they recorded only the baptism of his younger son Edward on 28 Nov that year, and William’s own burial on 5 Sep 1563. Edward was only 14-16 months old when his father died, and records of him haven’t been found again till the baptism of his first child in 1586. This was in Campton, 5 miles north of Hitchin, where he and his family lived for about 10 years before moving to Dunton. His Broket descendants lived in Dunton for two generations before dispersing elsewhere, one apparently to neighbouring Steeple Morden.
William’s Will of 1563 shows that his wife was Alice daughter of William Papwurthe and that as well as Edward they had an elder son alive then—also called William. This William spent his life in the family home in Bancroft Street in Hitchin as a Yeoman and Maltster, and his large family was recorded in the Hitchin parish records. We call him here William III of Hitchin.
Until Feb 2019 it wasn’t known what happened to Alice and the two young boys on William II’s death. As a widow owning two houses, she would have been expected to appear in tax lists, but no Brokets were recorded in the 1567 or 1572 subsidies for Hitchin half hundred. It was assumed that the Alice Broket who married George Underwood in Hitchin on 21 Nov 1563:16
was the sister of William II, but the Underwood family of Weston project shows that she was in fact his widow.17 George Underwood was a Yeoman of Weston parish, some 5 m E of Hitchin, recorded in the 1598 tax returns for Weston owing 27s 8d on £10 in goods.18 Their first child, George, was baptised 1 Apr 1565 in Hitchin,19 Alice’s home town, and subsequently Alice bore George 9 further children, all baptised in Weston. Their—and Alice’s—1st daughter was named Lettis: “Lettis vnderwood the doughter of George bap the firste of June”.20 Letice was the name both of Alice’s mother and George’s infant sister buried in Weston 1555. Alice and George’s last child was baptised in 1583, 20 years after their marriage, “Martha vnderwood the doughter of George bap the xx of Aprille”:21 Alice was buried in Hitchin 27 Sep 1607, twice a Widow:22
Alice and George’s youngest son, Robert, became a London merchant and was recorded in the 1634 Visitation of London.23 It clearly says there that Alice’s father’s surname was PAPWORTH:
Along with the next 2 generations, the family can be represented as follows:24
Thus William and Edward Broket, minors when their mother remarried, went on to have 10 Underwood half siblings by their mid to late 20s.
To return to Alice, when did she and William marry? The only named reference to her before William’s Will of 4 Sep 1563, was in the Will of her grandmother Alice Kent of 12 Feb 1560, when she was unmarried and not yet of ‘lawful age’. This means that William Brokett and Alice Papwurthe married between between 12 Feb 1560 and 4 Sep 1563. We know they had two sons, the second baptized 28 Nov 1562, so they must have married between 12 Feb 1560 and at the latest mid 1561—although of course brides were often pregnant walking down the aisle. But assuming Alice had reached 16 at marriage, she was presumably born by 1544 at the latest.
1561: On 6 Oct and 20 Jan 1562 William Brokett finalised the purchase of 160 acres of land, 20 acres of meadow and 40 acres of pasture in Weston and Clothall—c 4 m E of Hitchin—from William Hyde jnr Gent. The translation of the final concord is here:25Read more
Dated 4 Sep 1563, proved 7 Dec 1563.26 Widow Alice married George Underwood on 21 Nov 1563, so it looks as though William died in September or October 1563. William styled himself ‘yeman’ (Yeoman) and was well off. He left 2 houses in Hitchin, both with land attaching and both his sons after him were substantial Yeomen. One house was the large family home in Bancroft Street, inherited from his father William I in 1556, which he left to his elder son William III. The other house in Bridge Street he left to his younger son Edward, later of Dunton. The house in Bridge Street that had been owned by William I was called the Die House and was recorded owned in the 1590s by William I’s younger son Edward I. So, coincidental as it may seem, William II must have acquired a different property in Bridge Street, which was left in this Will to his son Edward. It seems unlikely that he had acquired the Die House between 1556-63 and his son Edward, whom he left it to, later sold it to his uncle Edward I, or else that the Die House was subdivided. The Bancroft Street house had the luxuries of several glass windows27 and painted cloths in the hall.28 William also left legacies in cash of £43 6s 8d plus some valuable individual items.
1. In the name off god Amen The iiijth
2. day of September in the yere of oure
3. lord god a29 M CCCCC lxiij And in the fyfte
4. yere of the reigne of oure most gracious
5. Souerayn lady
qElizabeth by the grace of
6. god quene of ynglande Fraunce and Irelande
7. defender of the feith Witnesseth that I William
8. Brokett of hichyne in the countie of herforde
9. yeman beinge in good and perfitte memoryeRead more
10. laude and prayse be to allmyghtie god
11. my savyour and redemere make and
12. ordeyn this my last will and testamente
13. in manere and forme folowynge First
14. I bequeithe my soull vnto god the father
15. the sonne and holy ghost and my body to be
16. buryede in the churche yard of seynt Andrewe
17. in hichyn Item I geue vnto the poure mens
18. boxe vjs viijd Item I geue vnto William brokett
19. my sonne and his heires my house that I dwell
20. in beinge in bankcrofte streate and all the landes
21. boith fre and copie that belonge therto for euer
22. Item I geue vnto my seid sonne a longe table
23. of fyere bordis with a frayme to the same
24. table stonding in the hall and all the payntid
25. clothis in the seid hall with all the glase in
26. the wyndowis abought the housse
27. I geue also vnto my seid sonne xx libra in redye
28. money and one siluer spone with the qwerne
29. to grynde malte withall to be deliueride and
30. paid vnto my seid sonne at the age of xxti
31. yeris by my executrice Item I geue vnto
32. Edwarde Brokett my sonne and his heirys
33. my housse in the brigge streate and all the
34. lande that belongithe thervnto for euer and xx libra in
35. redye money and one siluer sponne to be paid
36. vnto hym at the age of xxti yeris by the
37. handes of my executrice And I will that the
38. one be the otheres heire Item I geue and
39. bequeithe vnto Edwarde Marshalles two
40. children and Thomas Chamberes thre chil
41. dren vjs viijd either of them to be paide
42. vnto them at the age of xvj yeris by the
43. handes of my executrice Item I geue vnto
44. my ij maydis seruauntes vjs viijd either of
45. them to be paid vnto them Immediatlie after
46. my dethe Item I will that Alice my wiff
47. haue boithe my houssis and all the lande a
48. forseid vntill my ij sonnys cume to the age
49. aforseide and to sette and keape my twoo
50. sonnys at schole And also she to keape the
51. seid houssis in good reparacions And yf
52. boith my sonnys dye before the seid age
53. than I will my wiff to haue boith the seid
54. houssis and all the lande aforseid durynge
55. hir liff Item I will that yf my seid chil/
56. dern fortune to dye bifore the age aforseide
57. that then I will the seid money geuen vnto
58. them to be at my wiffes disposicion to geue
59. at hir pleasure The residue of all my
60. goodes and cattalles aswell moueablis as vnmo
61. ueablis my dettes paid and my legacies fulfellid
62. and my body honestlye buryede I geue vnto
63. Alice my wiff whom I make and ordeyn
64. to be my true and laufull executrixe of this
65. my last will and testamente even as she
66. will answere before god at the day of Iuge
67. mente And I will that my Father in lawe
68. William Papwurthe and laurence Manfelde
69. to be my Ouerseares of this my last will and
70. testament And for ther payns I geue vnto
71. either of them vjs viijd In witnesse of
72. this my last will and testament Mr Tun//
73. stall Vicare of hichyn John hugchynson
74. Edwarde Marshall Robert Lyne Thomas
75. Robbisson Robert Clerke and John gaddisdin
76. with dyuerse other.
Comments on the Will:
Sons William and Edward were both infants in 1563. William senior willed his wife “to sette and keape my twoo sonnys at schole”,30 the word ‘set’ suggesting they hadn’t yet started. A similar term ‘to fynde to school’ was used of young John Brocatt by his grandfather John Pulter in 1485, there clearly meaning to provide for primary education, but it could also be used for higher education. However, we know that son Edward here was only about a year old—baptised 28 Nov 156231—and William would probably have only been a year or two older.
- William Papwurthe was William’s father-in-law, his wife Alice’s father. He was the William Papworth who was one of the 10 jurors with steward Thomas Parrys for the 1556 Hitchin manor court of survey.32 William is third on the list:
This William Papworth held 2 freehold properties in the Market Place next to the Swan, as well as copyhold land.33 William Papworth’s Will of 1565 shows him to have been a well-to do Hitchin Yeoman.
- Laurence Manfelde was in all probability William’s brother-in-law, husband of one of his sisters. Laurence is recorded as one of 67 Hitchin taxpayers in the subsidy of 1567, paying 3s on goods worth 60s:34
and as one of 67 Hitchin taxpayers in the subsidy of 1571, paying 5s on goods worth 60s:35
and as one of 67 Hitchin taxpayers in the subsidy of 1572, again paying 3s on goods worth 60s:36
Laurence was not recorded in the 1566 Survey of Hitchin, nor the 1576 or 1588 subsidies. He was a witness to the Will of William II’s son Edward I of Dunton in 1598, in which Edward called Laurence’s youngest daughter Johanna “cosen”. Johanna was about 18 at the time and was the only legatee outside Edward’s immediate family. If cosen meant 1st cousin then Laurence would have married a sister of William II. Laurence died in 1602 in Ashwell. His Will was nuncupative and mentioned little other than the name of his wife Joane, and that he had 3 daughters, the youngest of whom should receive most. Wife Joane was probably one of William I’s unnamed daughters under 20 in 1556. But although the baptisms of Laurence and Joane’s children are in the Hitchin Parish Register from 1568 to 1580, their marriage isn’t. See the tree.
Alternatively, if cosen is taken to mean a 2nd cousin, Laurence’s mother could have been a sister of William I.
Witnesses to the Will:
- Thomas Chambers: Probably a brother of William’s sister Elizabeth‘s husband James Chambers. Thomas and James were recorded in a charter of confirmation regarding a tenement in Bancroft Street in 1536.37
- John Gaddesden: An executor of William I’s Will, and all that that entailed.
- Ralph Tunstall MA: Vicar of the Parish Church 10 June 1563 until he resigned 1570.38
Page Last Updated: April 5, 2020