William Brokett of Hitchin II - The Broket Archive

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. Contemporary namesakes

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.

2. The question of William’s apprenticeship

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 probably not even 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

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.

3. Birth date

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.

4. The puzzle of William’s first wife

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.

There was one other William Brokett known at the time, but he was unlikely to have been a Hitchin tenant. He was a Gentleman who—later at least—lived in Essendon near Hatfield, some 14 m S of Hitchin, and was recorded paying tax on land rated at 60s in Ayott parva (St Peter) near Wheathampstead in 1567. Moreover on 15 Oct 1555 he was already the husband of Anne Bardolfe.11

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

E315_391 Hitchin rental 1556 Margaret Trustram


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:

William Brokett customary tenant of the Lord came and acknowledged formerly having surrendered outside the court into the hand of the lord through John Trustram two granges and an adjacent kitchen garden called the Bery Barns together with … To the use and behoof of Margaret his wife and her assigns to whom the Lord by his steward thereby gave possession … to have … continuously for a fixed term of 40 years”. 14

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.

5. Wife and 2 sons

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 his own burial on 5 Sep 1563. Edward was only 14-16 months old when his father died. He is not recorded again till the baptism of his first child in 1586 in Campton, 5 miles north of Hitchin, where he and his family stayed for about 10 years before moving to Dunton. His Broket descendants lived there for two generations before dispersing elsewhere, one to neighbouring Steeple Morden.

We have called Edward ‘Edward II of Hitchin’ to distinguish him from Edward I (s/o William I) and Edward III (s/o William III), and also from his cousins Edward I and II of Walsworth, but mostly ‘Edward of Campton and/or Dunton’, since he left Hitchin as a young man for Campton and Dunton.

William’s Will of 1563 shows that his wife was Alice daughter of William PAPWURTHE and that they had an elder son alive then—another William Brokett. This was William III who in turn spent his life in Hitchin as a Yeoman and Maltster, and whose large family is all recorded in the Hitchin parish records.

Until 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. The Alice Broket who married George Underwood in Hitchin on 21 Nov 1563:16

Alice Broket m 1563 Hitchin

was assumed to have been the sister of William II, but the Underwood project shows that she was in fact his widow.17 George Underwood was a Yeoman of Weston, some 5m E of Hitchin, recorded in the 1598 tax returns for Weston owing 27s 8d on £10 in goods.18 He and Alice had a number of children subsequently baptised in Weston. One of them, Robert, became a London merchant and was recorded in the 1634 Visitation of London.19 It clearly says there that Alice’s father’s surname was PAPWORTH:

Visitation of London 1883 Underwood married Papworth

Along with the next 2 generations, the family can be represented as follows:

6. Other records

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:20+Read More

7. Last testament and Will

Dated 4 Sep 1563, proved 7 Dec 1563.21 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 in 1556, which he gave to his elder son William III. The other house in Bridge Street he gave to his younger son. 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. 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 windows22 and painted cloths in the hall.23 William also left legacies in cash of £43 6s 8d plus some valuable individual items. A messuage in neighbouring Guilden Morden in the 1820s could cost less than £40, but William was not as wealthy as his father had been.

1. In the name off god Amen The iiij
2. 4th day of September in the yere of oure
3. lord god a M CCCCC lxiii And in the fyfte
4. yere of the reigne of oure most gracious
5. Souerayn lady q Elizabeth by the grace of
6. god quene of Ynglande Fraunce and Irelande
7. defender of the feith Witnesseth that I William
8. Brokett of hichyn in the countie of herford
9. yeman beinge in good and perfitte memorye Read More

Notes to the Will:

Sons William and Edward were both infants in 1563. He willed his wife “to sette and keape my twoo sonnys at schole”.24 Edward was only about a year old—baptised Hitchin 1562—so William would probably have only been a couple of years older. It seems there were no daughters.


  1. William Papwurthe was William’s father-in-law, his wife Alice’s father. With Thomas Parys he was also a juror in the 1556 court of survey when he held 2 houses in the Market Place next to the Swan as well as copyhold land.25 The Papworths were woolstaplers in Hitchin.26
  2. 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:27
    E 179_121_209 Hitchin3 Lawrence Manfield
    and as one of 67 Hitchin taxpayers in the subsidy of 1571, paying 5s on goods worth 60s:28
    E179_121_217 1571 Hitchin Laurence Manfeld
    and as one of 67 Hitchin taxpayers in the subsidy of 1572, again paying 3s on goods worth 60s:29
    E179_121_224 1572 Hitchin Lawrence Manfield
    He 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 1536.30
  • 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 1570.31

Page Last Updated: March 8, 2019


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


[1] Guildhall Library ms 34035/1. Image reproduced by kind permission of London Metropolitan Archives. Note the fine surname Barelegges in the entry following William's! Did his ancestor have hairless legs?

[2] See William II's Will below.

[3] Communication from Bridget Howlett 1 Mar 2017

[4] Guildhall Library manuscripts Guide to Records: goo.gl/HihGyb (accessed 20 Aug 2018).

[5] Many thanks to Claire Titley of London Metropolitan Archives for this information Mar-Apr 2017 and for providing the image above.

[6] Taken from TNA C 78/25/17a with kind permission of the National Archives.

[7] Haskett-Smith 1916 p 3

[8] 1983 p 83

[9] Alice Broket of Weston & Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England, an unpublished essay from 2009, p 1

[10] HALS 60313 Hychyn Foren. For the full text see attached pdf

[11] TNA C66/913; Calendar of Patent Rolls Philip & Mary vol 3 1555-6

[12] TNA E315/391 f69v, reproduced by kind permission of the National Archives. Many thanks to Bridget Howlett for drawing my attention to this Survey, containing much information about the properties of William and Edward Brokett.

[13] Archdeacon Hunts. Thanks to Bridget Howlett for the transcript and property details.

[14] Communication from Bridget Howlett Feb 2015: The Bery Barns or Granges were in Portmill Lane, probably part of the site of the manor house and its associated buildings, bury being used in the Hertfordshire sense of manor house, e.g. St Paul's Waldenbury.

[15] HALS 67126. The deed records the sale of the hall house next door to the Dragon House where John Trustram lived. The hall house previously belonged to Dame Alice, wife of Sir Thomas More. Thanks again to Bridget Howlett for this information.

[16] Pamela Wright's unpublished essay 'Alice Broket of Weston & Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England'. Hitchin parish register image courtesy of Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies, published by FindMyPast, accessed 19 Feb 2019.

[17] Many thanks to James Lively, coordinator of the project.

[18] TNA E179/121/260 and E179/121/269.

[19] Howard & Chester 1883 vol 2 p 303, available at goo.gl/fNBCcP on 20 Feb 2019. Many thanks to James Lively for this reference.

[20] CP25/2/155/2102

[21] Archd. Hunts. Numbers added for reference.

[22] J T Smith in English House 1200-1800 The Hertfordshire Evidence (1992) p 95 when discussing vernacular houses from the dissolution to the end of the 17th century states 'Since the building of a lateral chimney–stack precluded opposed windows, it was difficult to light a hall properly and at the same time to exclude draughts except by using glazed windows; the cost of glazing is likely to have restricted its adoption in vernacular houses.' Thanks to Bridget Howlett for this information 23 Oct 2016

[23] Thanks again to Bridget Howlett for a reference about the luxury of painted wall hangings in an unpublished work by Lionel Munby c 1985 about 16th century Hitchin wills and 17th century wills and inventories, citing the examples of John Monke in 1558 with painted cloths in his hall, and Thomas Mondys in 1551 with a 'halling that is painted with Reven head that hangeth in the loft.'

[24] Lines 49-50

[25] TNA E 315/391.

[26] Hine 1929 vol 1 p 85 n xxiii.

[27] TNA E179/121/209. Reproduced by kind permission of the National Archives licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

[28] TNA E179/121/217. Reproduced by kind permission of the National Archives licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

[29] TNA E179/121/224. Reproduced by kind permission of the National Archives licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

[30] No. 87612 of HALS Miscellaneous Volume X. Documents deposited by Mrs Hine, Willian Bury. The catalogue was digitised by The National Archives as part of the National Register of Archives digitisation project NRA 308: goo.gl/KHHkJa (accessed 20 Aug 2018).

[31] Hine 1929 vol 2 p 445