William Brokett’s imprisonment 1628
In March 1628 William, servant of Robert Radcliffe, 5th Earl of Sussex, was arrested in London for a small debt and imprisoned. William petitioned the House of Lords claiming he had been arrested contrary to privilege granted to the Earl and was freed.
Four documents detailed the case:
- Petition 1 May 1628
- Writ of Habeas Corpus 2 May 1628
- Petition 5 May 1628
- Return to the Writ 5 May 1628
William’s two petitions referred to his brother Thomas and ‘one Samuell Cowley, a man no wayes interessed in the said Cause … a welthie man pretending love and advice’, showing that William was a son of William, deceased eldest son of William of Esyndon.
The petitions also mentioned William’s wife and family. (Was her name Mary and did they baptise another child, Elizabeth, in St Mary Whitechapel, Stepney in 1629?) To have a wife and children by May 1628, William would have to have married by 1624. He would also have to have been 21—in those days most men married aged c 271—making 1603 a latest date of birth. His parents had married by 1599 and Thomas—at least—was an older sibling, so William was aged 25-7 in 1628. Thomas was then still entrusted with William’s property.
Many records weren’t kept or were destoyed in the period leading up to and during the Civil War and only 2 subsequent ones have been found that might have been of William: emigration to Virginia 1638, and signing the Protestation in Reigate, Surrey 1641/2.
Aged 35-7 in 1638, he would have been uncommonly old as an emigrant to Virginia. Most indentured servants at that time were said to have been 15-24, ie b c 1614-22. The Protestation record is more likely to have been of him, Reigate is c 9 m W of Oxted, where his father owned a house called Stockenden.
William’s petition for freedom succeeded, but the family’s estate as a whole disappeared with the eldest son. Although she married again in 1629, their widowed mother described her 5 youngest children then as ‘like to starve or be thrown on the parish’.
1. Petition of 1 May 1628
“To the right honourable the Lords of the vpper house of Parliament . The humble peticion of William Brokett”:2 Read more
And yet the said Cowley, this peticioners brother, the Serieant, and Smith that keepeth the Counter together with Newbold the Clark that received the said writt, vpon which this peticioner was arrested, being since his said arrest, shewed the said proteccion, and required the allowance thereof, for the enlargement of his person and goodes, which they refuse to obey, but suffereth this peticioner to remayne prisoner in contempt, of this most honorable howse ./
Wherfore this peticioner humbly desireth your Lordshipps to graunt vnto him the like priviledges As other Servantes of this honorable house, and to free both him, and his said goodes from the said arrest. And likewise to send for the said parties, to answere theire Contempt.
And your peticioner, his wife & Children shall ever pray for your Lordshipps .
The House of Lords Journal recorded:3 Read more
‘The Earl of Sussex affirmed Brockett to be his Servant.
‘Ordered, A Habeas Corpus cum Causa, etc to be awarded to the Sheriff of London, ret. immediate, to bring the said William Brockett before their Lordships.”
The Radcliffes’ seat was at New Hall in Boreham, Essex, c 3 m NE of Chelmsford.4 Three other servants of the Earl of Sussex complained similarly of arrest in breach of privilege between 1625-9.5
2. Writ of Habeas Corpus 2 May 1628
The Writ was directed to the sheriffs of London to bring William before their Lordships immediately.6
3. Petition of 5 May 1628
“To the right honourable the Lords of the vpper howse of Parliament . The humble peticion of William Brokett”:7 Read more
Wherevpon this peticioner fearing that which followed, did send the said proteccion to the said Cowley forthwith, yet he notwithstandinge, did cause the said Serieantes to extend the goodes of this peticioner to the value of £200. vpon a statut acknowledged to Thomas Brokett this peticioners brother, of £500. and nothing due therevpon, yet defeasanced to pay £250. by £40. per annum, £10. euerie quarter, the first payment to be made at our Lady day last, but no place of payment, nor the plaintiff to be found, having no certaine abode, being hid away by the said Cowley.
And the said Cowley not being content to extend the peticioners goodes, but the next day after the proteccion shewed him did cause this peticioners body likewise to be charged in execucion vpon the said statut, in further contempt of the priviledges of this most honorable howse . Pretending that he had warrant from Thomas Brokett the plaintiff, whose estate, and thestates properlie belonging to Creditors, the peticioner and 8. others of his brothers and sisters, which the said Thomas Brokett was trusted withall to the value of £4. or 5000. the said Cowley hath caused to be conveyed to himself, and then perswaded the said Thomas to goe beyond the seat, thereby to deceive not only this peticioner with said brothers & sisters of their porcions, but also the said Creditors of their iust debtes ./
Now for that the said Cowley, and the said Serieantes did know of the said proteccion, before this peticioner or his said goodes were taken in execucion vpon the said statute.
His most humble suite to your Lordshipps is, that you wilbe pleased to send for the said Cowley and the Serieantes to answere their contemptes; and the wronges don vnto this peticioner. And he with his wife & Children shalbe ever bound to pray for your Lordshipps &c.
The House of Lords Journal recorded:8 Read more
And whereas it appeared also, by the Return of the said Writ, That the Goods of the said William Brocket were taken in Execution; their Lordships referred it to the Committee for Privileges, to consider whether the said Goods, so taken in Execution, are to be re-delivered unto him also, by Privilege of Parliament.”
4. Return of the Sheriffs to the Writ 5 May 16289
Page Last Updated: November 7, 2020
For full bibliographical details please see the sections Publications or Glossary.
 Laslett 1983 p 82
 vol 3: 1620-1628, pp 776-7 (British History online, accessed Oct 2005).
 Complete Peerage, Sussex p 524
 HL/PO/JO/10/1/28, 36 and 37
 vol 3: 1620-1628, pp 779-81 (British History online, accessed Oct 2005).