William Brokett II of Hitchin Yeoman
b by 1534 d 1563
William was head of the only Broket household 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 own Will of 1563 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 it is likely he was previously apprenticed to a Merchant Taylor. He died scarcely 30 years old. The direct evidence so far found for William II is:
1. His father’s Will of 1556
2. Freedom from apprenticeship in 1557
3. Land purchase in 1561-2
4. His own Will of 1563
5. His burial record of 1563
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/Essendon Gent b c 1521-26 d 1611, 2nd son of Edward of Letchworth, see the separate page. His 1st son William was born a few years after William II of Hitchin died.
2. William Brockett, b aft 1556, Citizen of London, died intestate 1607; son of Robert of Bramfield, see the separate page..
3. William II’s own son William III of Hitchin, was born towards the end of his father’s life, and was not yet “at schole” in 1563,1 see the separate page.
4. William Brockett the London Goldsmith who died in 1536 had no issue, see the separate page.
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 there is currently little doubt that he was 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 1557:2
Manuscript details: The image above is of a record dating from around 1614. Read more
The Guildhall 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 (Edmund, Joseph, Joseph and Samuel) 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.”3 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.4 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.
Note, by the way, the surname Barelegges in the entry following William’s. Did his ancestor have hairless legs?
What gives us confidence that this freedom from apprenticeship record was of William Brockett II of Hitchin? Firstly, no other contemporary William Brockett the younger is known. Secondly, the date fits with other records of William, including the fact that apprentices couldn’t normally marry and William II didn’t marry till 1560-1. Then there was the status of his wealthy Yeoman father. Historian of Hitchin Bridget Howlett wrote, “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.”5 Finally, there is the probable name and identity of William’s master.
What of William’s master recorded in 1614 as Robert Incoll? The entry in the image above was transcribed 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 an original 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.
In 1557, the very year of this William’s freedom, Robert Nicholl or Nicholls, Merchant Taylor, was active in a court case recovering debts owed to William I of Hitchin, as his first named executor. To be so, he would have been a long-standing and trusted friend or business partner, and a suitable person to entrust the apprenticeship of one’s eldest son to. If this William Brockett junior was William Brockett II of Hitchin—and no other suitable contemporary namesake is known—then although his freedom occurred a year after his father William’s death, he was clearly still officially recorded as ‘junior’. One explanation of this could be that Robert Nicholls, who must have known William senior well, had always known William his apprentice as junior and continued to refer to him as such. Be that as it may, the suggested Nicolls to Incoll mistranscription is only extra corroboration that the freedom record was of William II, and isn’t necessary evidence to prove it.
As mentioned above, the Guildhall Library’s index of the Merchant Taylors’ Company freemen 1530-1928 has only 5 Broket entries, this one of William from the 16th C and 4 from the 17th C, with the following information:
1. Edmund, presented 1646, freed 1653.
2. Joseph the elder, freed 1628 aged 28.
3. Joseph the younger, freed 1652 aged 23.
4. Samuel, freed 1668, son of Samuel, Haberdasher of London, freed 1640.
From other sources we know the following about these 4:
1. Edmund was baptised 1625, see the separate page. He was therefore presented aged 21 and freed aged 28.
2. Joseph the elder was baptised 1600 and apprenticed 1619, see the separate page. He was therefore apprenticed aged 19 and freed 9 years later aged 28.
3. Joseph the younger was baptised 1629, see the separate page. He was freed 1652 by patrimony—i.e. by his father—aged 23.
4. Samuel, Haberdasher of London, the father was baptised 1609, apprenticed 1633, and freed 1640—from the Company of Haberdashers—see the separate page. He was therefore apprenticed aged 24 and freed aged 31. His son Samuel, was apprenticed for 8 years and freed 1668—from the Merchant Taylors’ Company. A record of his baptism hasn’t yet been found.7
Thus Haskett-Smith’s comment that freedom was “commonly arranged so as to expire at 21”,8 was clearly a general statement and didn’t hold true for these Brokets. With respect to William Brockett junior who was freed 1557, therefore, we can’t reliably estimate any birth date for him from his freedom record except that it probably wouldn’t have been after 1536, i.e. freed aged 21, nor before 1529, i.e. freed aged 28. Other than that we have to look for other evidence, and it points to a date not after 1534 [[[[????]]]], see next.
The genealogical purpose of trying to establish an approximate birth date for someone who lived before parish records were kept, or have survived, is to help determine whether and how that person could have been related to another person. The less the substantive and/or circumstantial evidence found of the persons concerned the more speculative the relationship, and the greater the possibility that new evidence could up-end current calculations. Nonetheless, it can be worth attempting, if only to test how well existing evidence fits together and to lay out the parameters for any new evidence that might emerge.
Other than William Brokett II of Hitchin’s probable apprenticeship record which only provides a rough range of his birth date of 1529-36, as discussed above, how else might we estimate it? As for substantive evidence there is currently only one precise item—his father’s Will of April 1556—but also a couple of other imprecise items—estimates of his own marriage and of the birth date of his sister Alice, as follows.
- William I’s Will of April 1556 bequeathed William copyhold land without any delay. In Hitchin manorial custom an heir had to be 22, as shown by the bequest to his younger brother Edward which was delayed until “he comyth to the age of xxij yeres”.9 This means that William II was definitely born by April 1534, and would therefore have been at least 26 or 27 when he married Alice Papworth.
- William II married Alice Papworth between 1560-1, see below. Dates of marriage in themselves can only provide a rough date after which someone is unlikely to have been born. Since it would have been unlikely that William was under 21 when he married, it’s unlikely he would have been born later than 1540. 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 23½.10 William I’s Will shows that he was in fact born by April 1534 (point 1 above) and therefore at least 26 or 27 when he married Alice, i.e. more or less Laslett’s average of 26½.
- William II had a full sister Alice, shown by William I’s Will. She also was therefore born before William I’s second marriage, i.e. no later than c 1540, see the separate page. It is likely that Alice was the servant in the household of Thomas Welche of Great Wymondley in 1544, with an estimated date of birth between 1525-36, see the separate page. This would fit with William’s estimated birth of no later than April 1534.
There is also one other imprecise item of circumstantial evidence—the collective evidence of the ages of his father and probable grandfather. [To follow.] Attempting to estimate his birth date from that of his elder son William III introduces too many unknowns to enable any narrow-enough time span to be estimated.
All in all, we can deduce that William Brokett II of Hitchin was probably born 1525-34.
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. 11 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 not yet at school.
The only solution to the puzzle was for Margaret to have been an earlier wife of William II, preceding Alice and dying not long after this Hitchin manor court of 1555. In 8 years—1555-63—William would have had to lose one wife and marry another who bore him two infant sons. This was possible, but it was strange that William was apparently 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 solution was unsatisfactory, but there it remained as the only one until 2015 whe 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 Hitchin manor court sat in 1555, it looked as though Margaret couldn’t 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:13
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 1555,14 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.16 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.
William II married Alice Papworth. We know this from his Will in which he mentioned “Alice my wiff” and “my Father in lawe William Papwurthe”—for more on William Papwurthe, see below. From records about Alice we know that she married William between 12 Feb 1560 and mid 1561. Hitchin parish records survive from 1562, so the marriage wasn’t recorded. Indeed, the first parish record of William II’s family was the baptism of younger son Edward on 28 Nov that year: “The 28 daye was the sonne of Will’m Broket named Edward Broket”,17 followed the next year by the record of William’s own burial on 5 Sep 1563: “The 5 daie was Will’m Broket buryed”. The evidence that William and Alice had an older son—also called William—is again William II’s Will. So, in their brief marriage from 1560 or 61 to 5 Sep 1563 Alice bore William 2 sons:
William spent his life in the family home in Bancroft Street in Hitchin as a Yeoman and Maltster, and his large family was well recorded in the Hitchin parish records. He died 1623. We call him William Brockett III of Hitchin, see the separate page.
Edward was little more than 10 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, where he died 1598, see the separate page. His Broket descendants lived in Dunton for two generations before dispersing elsewhere, one apparently to neighbouring Steeple Morden. We call him Edward Brockett II of Hitchin, in order to distinguish him from Edward I and III of of Hitchin—sons of William I and III of Hitchin respectively—and also from his cousins Edward I and II of Walsworth, near Hitchin. But mostly we call him Edward of Campton and/or of Dunton I, since he left Hitchin as a young man for Campton and then Dunton, where he died 1598, see the separate page.
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. Following Pamela Wright’s article, ????? see above, it was assumed that the Alice Broket who married George Underwood in Hitchin on 21 Nov 1563 was the sister of William II:18
But James Lively’s ‘Underwood family of Weston’ project shows conclusively that she was in fact his widow.19 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.20 Their first child, George, was baptised 1 Apr 1565 in Hitchin “Aprill The first daie was baptized George Vnderwood”.21 No parents were mentioned, but Hitchin was Alice’s home town and no other known Underwood family was there then. 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”.22 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”:23 Alice was buried in Hitchin 27 Sep 1607, twice a Widow:24
Alice and George’s youngest son, Robert, became a London merchant and was recorded in the 1634 Visitation of London.25 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:26
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 1561/2 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:27Read more
As mentioned above William was buried 5 Sep 1563. His Will was dated the day before, 4 Sep 1563, and was proved 7 Dec 1563 by the executrix.28 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 windows29 and painted cloths in the hall.30 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 a31 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”,32 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 156233—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.34 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.35 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:36
and as one of 67 Hitchin taxpayers in the subsidy of 1571, paying 5s on goods worth 60s:37
and as one of 67 Hitchin taxpayers in the subsidy of 1572, again paying 3s on goods worth 60s:38
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.
Thomas Chambers’ family:
Edward Marshall’s family:
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 1536.39
- 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 1570.40
Page Last Updated: November 8, 2021