William Brockett I of Hitchin Yeoman
b 1489-1496, d 1556-7
The first definite record so far found of “Willyam Brokett of the Towne of hechyne” is from 1538—the 30th year of the reign of Henry VIII—when he purchased a property from a Gentleman of the King’s household and the bailey of Hitchin for “threescore and fyue poundes of good and lawfull money of Englande” (£65).1 That was a large sum of money and the property was large. Subsequent records all show that William was a well-to-do Hertfordshire Yeoman and Maltster. He became the progenitor of Brockett clans that flourished in Hitchin till the late 18th C, nearby Dunton and—with little doubt–neighbouring Steeple and Guilden Morden from the late 16th to the 21st, with branches now around the world. There is also a probable record of William as young man in 1523, see below. We hope more will emerge as research progresses.
The contents of this page are William’s:
Other closely related pages:
On what basis did Coros say that William was a relative of Edward Brocket of Broadfield and Letchworth Esq? He or she either saw it explicitly mentioned in the Complaint in TNA C3/132/103 when the parchment was in a more legible condition than today, or else assumed it as obviously implicit in the situation— in those days a loan of that size given on an oral agreement of repayment to someone with the same uncommon surname would clearly only have been given by a kinsman. So despite the fact that no document has so far been found that explicitly mentions William’s parentage, this loan coupled with other extensive research shows that the following is his most probable ancestry:
Disappointingly, the History of Parliament have no record of who D F Coros was but the entry for Edward in the History of Parliament, shows a historian of fine calibre with a thorough familiarity with the sources and the period in particular. Coros contributed well over a hundred Member Biographies for the the 1982 History of Parliament, most of them from the 16th C, including the one on Sir John Brocket I, which is a reliable summary of his life too. So there is no reason to doubt the statement that William Brocket of Hitchin was a relative of Edward Brocket of Letchworth. The two settlements were only a couple of miles apart. Furthermore, we know that Edward, hearing that William was on his death bed, rode to Hitchin to reassure him he would pay back the debt: “William Brockett beinge sicke and lyinge in extremes and daunger of death in his mansion house at hitchin aforesaid the said Edward Brockett esquyer repayred and came then and there openly in the audyence of dyuerse honest credible witnesses did knowledge and confesse the said dette”.3 Then “vppon consideracion that the said Edward Brockett shuld be frendly vnto [William’s] wyfe children and executors” William granted him a £20 reduction from the £140 4 “which said graunt the said Edward Brockett thankfullye receyved and promysed to performe the consideracions aforesaid after whiche tyme the said Willyam Brockett made his last will and testament in writinge beringe date the seventh daye of Aprill … After which that is to saye within fourtene dayes next after the foresaid graunte made as is aforesaid the said Willliam Brockett at hitchin aforesaid died”.5 This means that William died by 21 Apr 1556.
1. William, recorded in 1512 as former Husbandman of Ippollitts, c 2 m S of Hitchin. William I of Hitchin’s father? Possible youngest son of Edward Broket of Appleton and Wheathampstead and father of William I of Hitchin.
2. William Broket, Citizen and Goldsmith of the City of London, Will written 31 Oct, proved 25 Nov 1536. William was born in Alnham, Northumberland.
3. Wyllyam Brocket of Tattershall, near Coningsby, c 12 m NE of Sleaford and near Horncastle, Wood Enderby, Bolingbroke, Toynton, but c 80 m N of Hitchin, d intestate 1566. Probably a close relative of William Broket Citizen and Goldsmith of London, d 1536.
4. William I’s own son William II, d 1563.
5. William Brockett of Wildhill/Essendon Gent c 1531-1611, 2nd son of Edward of Letchworth; first recorded in the 1560s.
No records of others have yet been found.
1. In the name of god amen The vijth day of Aprill in the yere of
2. our Lord god a Thousaunde fyve hundreth lvj and in the secunde and thirde yeres of the Raynes of our soueraigne
3. Lord and Lady Philipp and Mary by the grace of god Kyng and quene of England Fraunce Spayne
4. bothe Cicilles Jerusalem and Irland defenders of the faith &c. I Willam Brokett of Hycchyn within
5. the Countie of Hartf’ yeman’ hole of mynde and in good memory laude and prayse be vnto almyghtie god
6. make this my present Testament and Last will in maner and fourme following / First I bequeth my
7. soule vnto almyghtie god my Saviour and Redemer and vnto the holly company in heaven / my body
8. to be buryed wythin the paryshe Churche of Hycchyn aforesaid / Item I gyve vnto the mother
9. Church of Lyncolne iiijd / Item I gyve and bequeth vnto Elizabeth my wiff my house in Brygstrete with
10. all the appurtenances the which one John Parker nowe do dwell in / To haue and to holde to her and
11. her Assignes during her naturall Lyff / Item I gyve vnto the saied Elizabeth my wiff all such grayn
12. as I haue in my howse or in any other place as of wheatt malte Barley and all other maner of grayn
13. and all my Corne growing on the grounde / Item I gyve vnto the saied Elizabeth my wif all my Plate
14. and all other howsholde stuff except as foloweth that is to saye / I will to euery of my Childern one
15. syluer Spoyne / Item I will that Elizabeth my wife shall leive in my howse these parcelles of howshold /
16. in the hall a Long Table a Cupbourde and the hanginges as they be now at this present tyme / and also a
17. Mylne called a querne and a greatt Cheste in the Lofte / Item I will that the saied Elizabeth my wif haue
18. my howse wythall my landes that I do now dwell in and occupy for terme of one yere next after
19. my deceasse / Item I gyve vnto Elizabeth Chamber’ my Doughter and vnto euery of my other Doughters
20. fourtie pounde apeace of them / to be paied to theym when they or any of theym shall come to the age of
21. xx yeres / or and if it fortune any of theym to mary er that tyme Then I will it shalbe paied
22. to theym that so do mary at the day of their maryage / And yf it fortune any of theym to departe this
23. world before they come to the saied age / of xx yers or elles be maried / That then I will the parte and
24. porcion of theym that so departe this world / to be egally deuyded amonges theym that do Survive and
25. Lyve / Item I gyve vnto William my sonn fourtie pounde in redy money / Item I gyve vnto euery
26. of my god Childern iiijd / Item I gyve vnto Grace Brokett Twentie shillinges / Item I gyve
27. vnto Johan Mathewe Twentie shillinges / Item I gyve vnto Johan Wylkynson Twentie shillinges
28. Item I gyve vnto the reaperacion of Hycchyn Church and vnto the mending of hye wayes and also
29. the distribucion of the poore people as myn Executours and ouerseers shall thynk moost convenyent /
30. for they knowe my mynde Item as to the distribucion of all my Copyhold Landes First I gyve vnto
31. William my son v acres of Copyhold Lande Lying in wratton / The residue of all my Copyhold Landes holden
32. of the Quenes maiestie as of her manor of Hycchyn I gyve vnto Edward my sonne To haue to hym and
33. his heyres according to the custome and maner there / Item I will that he shall entre vppon the saied
34. Copyholde Landes when he comyth to the age of xxij yeres / And if he departe the world before that
35. tyme Then I will it shall remayn vnto William my sonne and vnto his heyres according vnto custom
36. and maner of the saied Lordshipp / And I will Elizabeth my saied wif shall take the profittes of all the saied
37. Copyholde Landes that Edward shuld haue / vnto such tyme the saied Edwarde Comys to the age of xx
38. yeres if he so Long do Lyve To the vse of the saied Edward my son / And then my saied wif or her
39. Assignes to gyve accompte to my saied sonne Edwarde for the mean profittes taking allowing vnto her and
40. her Assigns all resonable and Laufull charges during the saied tyme / And forthatthis my saied last will
41. and Testament may take effecte accordingly to the meanyng therof as tochyn my saied Copyhold Landes
42. I haue made a Surrender therof and of euery parcell therof into the handes of Thomas Parrys and James
43. Chamber Tenantes of the saied Lordshipp / The resideue of of [sic] all my saied goodes after my debtes paied my Legaces
44. fulfilled and my funerall expenses discharged I will and bequeth theym to Elizabeth my saied wif and my Childern egallye
45. to be distributed betwene theym at the ouersight of my Executors and ouerseers / And I will fourther as myn Executors
46. shall gather vpp my debtes to delyuer theym to my saied wif she putting to my Executors in sufficient suertie for
47. the payment and fulfilling of all my said legaces / and also to discharge and save harmeles my saied Executors
48. for all maner of acte and actes doen by me agaynst our soueraign lord the Kyng and quene and any other person
49. or persons at any tyme in my lif and to the perfourmaunce of this my saied last will and Testament
50. I make Robert Nycoll Citizen & merchaunt Taylour of london and John Gaddesdon myne Executours and
51. Thomas Parrys ouerseers and either of theym to haue for their paynes taking fyve pounde Thies being
52. wytness James Chamber John Derdys William Marshall and Thomas Vpton wyth dyuers other
53. by me John Chamber and Thomas Vpton
54. memorandum That the saied William Brockett after the making of his saied Testament
55. and laste will viz The xijth day of the monethe of Aprill in the yere aboue wryttyn / being in good and perfitt
56. mynde and remembraunce adding further to this his Testament and last will / gaue and bequethed saing as
57. hereafter foloweth viz That wheras he hadd as then presenly in his howse lxxx pounde and odde money in golde and siluer
58. he willed and bequethed xx pounde therof vnto Elizabeth his wif / And all the residue of the same money he willed
59. gaue & bequethed vnto William Brockett and Alice Brockett his sonne and Doughter begottyn of his First
60. wiff / Then being present and hearing the same James Chamber thelder and John Gaddesden / by me
61. John7 Chamber per me John Gaddesden
- Robert Nicholl / Nycolles was a citizen and Merchant Tailor of London. He was not a Hitchin man, but to have been made William’s executor he must have been a close acquaintance or business associate. He was probable master of William’s son William, his apprentice.
- John Gaddesden was probably also a witness to William’s son William’s Will in 1563. A 1591 reference shows a John Gaddesden as late owner of the Dragon House, which was next to the Berry Barns, a property held in the 1550s by William Broket.8 There was a John Gaddesden, schoolmaster in Hitchin …, who was probably this John’s son.
As executors pursuing debts owed to William, Robert and John sued Edward Brockett [junior] in Chancery. It isn’t yet known when Robert died, but it was possibly before Edward Brockett’s debt to William had been recovered, since two other Nicolls had been pursuing Edward Brockett in court for debt by 1569.
Thomas Parys was a wealthy and prominent Hitchin Gentleman. Read more
John Chamber, James Chamber and James Chamber the elder were all witnesses. Read more
There were several James Chambers, so it is difficult to be certain who this James and James the elder were, or John. One would probably have been William’s only son-in-law at the time, husband of his daughter Elizabeth called Elizabeth Chambers in the Will itself. The James the elder may have been the copyholder of the manor, also mentioned in the Will itself. The 1556 Survey recorded this James Chamber owning a copyhold messuage next to Portmill Lane, a burgage adjoining it, and a burgage next to the land of Thomas Astry’s.14 The properties next to Portmill Lane ran down to the River Hiz and the tanhouse was behind the houses.15 This James therefore was probably the James Chambers of Hitchin Tanner, whose Will was written 19 Mar 1577 (19 Eliz) and proved in the PCC 16 Nov 1577. In it James mentioned his possibly pregnant wife; 2 daughters Elizabethe and Marye under 18; his three brothers, Thomas (and his son Jeames and other children), Richard (and his daughter Jone) and William of Potton (and children); also William s/o Richarde Chambers (perhaps not his brother). He mentioned no John Chambers. His daughters Elizabeth and Mary may have been baptised in Hitchin 17 Dec 1570 and 6 May 1576 respectively. Other Chambers…16
Other named witnesses were John Derdys, William Marshall, Thomas Upton and John Gaddesden: Read more
William Marshall …
Thomas Upton held a freehold burgage once Teles at 2d quit rent and 3 acres arable land in Burfordfeld at 5½d in 1556.17
John Gaddesden was presumably one of William’s two executors.
In contemporary subsidies for Hitchin these men were assessed as follows (Robert Nicholls was not a Hitchin man and was not recorded in any): Read more
William Brokett due 15s on £30 in goods
James Chamber due 10s on £20 in goods
John Chamber not listed
Richard Chamber not listed
John Dards not listed
John Gaddesden not listed
William Marshall not listed
Thomas Parys due 10s on £20 in goods (in Ikylford)
William Brokett due 20s
James Chamber due 13s 4d
John Chamber not listed
Richard Chamber due 3s 4d
John Dards due 3s 4d
John Gaddesden due 10d
William Marshall not listed
Thomas Parys due 3s
William Brokett due 5s on £30 in goods
James Chamber due 3s 4d on £20 in goods
John Chamber not listed
Richard Chamber not listed
John Derdys not listed
John Gaddesden not listed
William Marshall not listed
Thomas Parys due 3s 4d on £10 in land
William Broket due 30s on £30 in goods
James Chamber due 20s on £20 in goods
John Chamber not listed
Richard Chamber due 10s on £10 in goods
John Derdys due 10s on £10 in goods
John Gaddesden not listed
William Marshall due 12s on £12 in goods
Thomas Parys gent due 15s on £15 in goods
Thomas Upton held a freehold burgage once Teles at 2d quit rent and 3 acres arable land in Burfordfeld at 5½d in 1556.
No Broket listed
James Chamber due 16s on £16 in goods
John Chamber due 3s on 60s in goods
Richard Chamber not listed
John Derdys not listed
John Gaddesden due 5s on 100s in goods
William Marshall due 5s on 100s in goods
Thomas Parys not listed
No Broket listed
James Chamber due 16s 8d on £10 in goods
John Chamber due 6s 8d on £4 in goods
Richard Chamber not listed
John Dardes due 5s on 60s in goods
John Gaddesden due 5s on 60s in goods
William Marshall due 10s on £6 in goods
Thomas Parys not listed
No Broket listed
James Chamber due 10s on £10 in goods
John Chamber due 4s on £4 in goods
Richard Chamber not listed
John Dardes due 3s on 60s in goods
John Gaddesden not listed
William Marshall due 6s on £6 in goods
Thomas Parys not listed
No Broket listed
James Chambers due 16s 8d on £10 in goods
John Chambers due 6s 8d on £4 in goods
Richard Chamber not listed
John Dardes due 5s on 60s in goods
John Gaddesden due 2s 8d on 20s in land
William Marshall not listed
Thomas Parys not listed
For complete subsidy lists see … (to follow).
Probatum fuit testame’tu’ d’ci defuncti cora’ domino apud London’ xviijo die mensis Mrtij Anno d’ni mill’imo quingeno Lvjto. Jurament’ Rob’ti Nicholl et Johannis Gaddesden executor’ in h’moi testamento no’iatorum Ac approbatu’ &c’ Et co’missa fuit administrac’o o’im bonoru’ d’ci defuncti prfatis executoribus De bene et f’deli’r admi’strand’ eadem &c’ ad s’ca dei Euangelia in debita iuris forma iurats27
The old style of dating was in force then so 18 March ‘1556’ meant 18 March 1557. Probate was therefore 11 months after William wrote his Will, and he died some time between 12 Apr 1556 and 18 Mar 1557. His property was recorded in the 1556 Survey of the Manor of Hitchin, dated 17 Aug 3 and 4 Philip and Mary.28 Read more
“According to Cheney’s Handbook of Dates 3 & 4 Philip and Mary runs from 25 July 1556 to 5 July 1557. So the Survey must be dated 17 August 1556. I think this was the date when the survey was made (or at least started!) by the jurors of the Manor Court. If William Brokett had died before that date, his freehold property would have been inherited by his heirs even if transfer of his copyholds needs to be formalised through the manor court. As the jurors would have known William Brokett, it seems likely that they would have noted his death.”29
William therefore probably died between 17 Aug 1556 and 18 Mar 1557.
Why was his Will proved at the PCC?
The Prerogative Court of Canterbury in London was the highest probate court in the land and the 3 main reasons for proving Wills there were:
- the testator’s lands being in more than one diocese
- the likelihood of the Will being contested or useable in litigation
William’s Will was probably proved there for the second: his executors saw trouble brewing. They were preparing to challenge an elder doyen of the clan and a former Sheriff of the County. That the challenge related to land in Kent previously held by William may have been an additional reason. But the fact that William had copyhold lands in Hitchin “holden of the Quenes maiestie” would not have necessitated the higher probate.
Up to 1650 only 15 Broket Wills had been proved at the PCC: Read more
- 1488: Edward of Wheathampstead
- 1526: John of Swaffham Bulbeck Esq
- 1532: John of Wheathampstead Esq
- 1533: Robert Citizen and Baker of London
- 1536: William Citizen and Goldsmith of London
- 1556: William of Hycchyn Yeoman
- 1558: Sir John I of Brockett Hall Hatfield
- 1584: Edward of Letchworth Esq
- 1585: Nicholas of Wheathampstead Esq
- 1598: Sir John II of Brockett Hall Hatfield
- 1608: John of Stowe & Ympington Gent
- 1612: Dame Elizabeth of Brokett Hall Hatfield
- 1616: Anne of Wild Hill, Herts
- 1620: Edward Gent at sea
- 1650: John of Wheathampstead Esq
The two Citizens of London who died in the 1530s were brothers originally from Northumberland and if related to the Hertfordshire Brokets, were so through ancient Yorkshire roots. All others in this list were descendants of Edward of Wheathampstead, the first in the list.
William’s Will refers to his social status, a Yeoman—a farmer who worked the land with his own hands—and the Will mentions a Querne,30 which he bequeathed to his son, perhaps as an important piece of equipment in the family business. William held a fair number of acres in the fields in and around Hitchin. But a 1554 land licence is the only record found stating his occupation: “Maltman”, i.e. a Maltster, which would have occupied him for the summer at least. Certainly his elder son’s elder son was a Maltster. Malt is “Barley or other grain prepared for brewing or distilling or vinegar-making, esp. by steeping, germinating, and drying.”31
Crosby describes the thriving Hertfordshire malt industry in these times due to the “increasing demand for beer in London, not only as a social drink but also as an essential commodity in the times before there was a reliable supply of good-quality drinking water”.32 Behind William’s house there would have been a malthouse—a long, narrow, two or three storey-building with a lucam (a hoist housing) at one end to take in the sacks of barley, then cisterns to soak the grain for germination, then growing floors with shuttered windows to control temperature and humidity, and finally the kilns where germination was arrested and the malt given its distinctive flavour, with their conical or pyramidal flues. Beyond this would have been the malt store where it was bagged up ready for transportation.33
An analysis of 16th and 17th C Hitchin Wills and Inventories confirmed “the Hitchin area as a great barley producer, for Queen Elizabeth’s Hitchin ‘grape’ from which the best beer was made” and in the 17th century “we can be sure that Maltsters, like Brewers, were among the richest of Hitchin tradesmen.”34 William’s bequest for the repair of highways,35 showed that William was a senior member of a Tudor market town. It was customary for the gentry to leave money for the poor and often for the Church reparation fund, but it was only usually the larger landowners who left money for maintenance of highways. Following the Highways Act of 1555 that made “parishes responsible for the upkeep of the roads within their bounds”,36 Hitchin Maltsters like William, apparently trading with London Brewers, needed roads in good repair for business to prosper.
When William was in his 40s and probably a churchwarden, he would have been a participant in the lively discussions in Hitchin in 1534 when Henry VIII threw off the Pope’s authority and became Head of the Church in England. The Protestant Reformation which followed brought about major alterations in local worship and churchwardens had the responsibility of implementing them. The progress of the Reformation came to an end with the death of Edward VI in 1553, and William’s last 3 years saw the rapid return to Catholic forms of worship under Edward’s sister Mary Tudor. In July 1554 she married Philip II King of Spain and the Netherlands, a strict enforcer of Catholic policy. William’s last 2 years were lived during the persecution that followed. He would have known in August 1555 that the Sheriff—his cousin Edward of Letchworth—officiated that month at a burning at the stake in nearby St Albans, nonetheless the preamble to his Will written 7 months later was firmly Protestant.
William’s Will portrays a well-to-do member of the community. The terms ‘Yeoman’ meant a man who held “a small landed estate; … of respectable standing, especially one who cultivated his own land”37 and ‘Gentleman’ a man “whose wealth freed him from the need to follow a trade or profession”,38 but some Yeomen could be wealthier than some Gentlemen. William was wealthy, his Will shows he held 2 properties in Hitchin and various copyhold lands in Wratton and Hitchin. Holding 2 freehold properties in those days meant that William probably inherited property originally; a man then could not easily rise in status from landlessness. This is another indication that his ancestry had landed origins. One property was a house was in Bridge Street, near the market place occupied by a tenant, and the other was the house he and his family were living in. A contemporary document called it “his mansion house”.39 He left his widow Elizabeth the house in Bridge Street with all its appurtenances for term of her life, and he willed she could live in the family house for a year. This was perhaps to allow sufficient time to move and for the tenant to vacate the Bridge Street house. More detail of the 2 properties are given in the 1556 Survey of the Manor of Hitchin: “William Brockett held freely one and a half burgages in Bancroftstreate once Abbotts for 23d a year and one tenement in Bridgestreate called the diehouse once Scottes for 14d, in total 3s 1d a year [rent].”40
3.1 The Bancroft Street residence
A burgage was a substantial house or other property—not just a tenement—held in return for service or annual rent.41 As the Rental says the one and a half burgages in Bancroft Street were formerly held by [Thomas] Abbott, a wealthy Hitchin merchant. The property has been identified as the house known in the 19th century as The Croft.
William’s purchase of the Bancroft property was enrolled in a Close Roll dated 17 May 1538. He bought it from Henry CHRUCH, “of the kyngs howsolde gentilmane and baylye of the Towne of hechyne” for £65.42 The bailey or bailiff was an important public official, like a mayor or the agent of the lord of the manor—in the case of Hitchin the Queen.43 A summary of the Bargain and Sale held in HALS describes the premises as: “Tenement and messuage with garden adjoining in Bancroft Street between the house of William Chambers late Thomas Huntlowe’s on north and houses belonging to the brotherhood of Our Lady on the other part and a toft lying in Charlton in the parish of Hitchin with 30 acres of free land being severally in the fields of Hitchin, Ipolletts and the hamlets of Charlton and Dynesley Furnival. All the above premises were bought by the said Henry Church of one Thomas Huntlowe of London haberdasher and were sometime in the possession of Thomas Abbott of Hitchin aforesaid.”44
This deed styled William ‘Husbandman’ of the town of Hitchin but this should not mislead. The size of the property, its previous wealthy inhabitants, and the price William paid—£65—showed that he had resources. As Laslett said, there was no clear demarcation or boundary between ‘yeoman’ and ‘husbandman’,45 indeed “All yeomen were husbandmen, because they worked the land… There was a very special sense in which even a gentleman might sometimes describe himself … as a husbandman…” 46
The 1556 survey of the Manor of Hitchin shows this to have been called the Die House, formerly Scottes. William I’s Will says, “my house in Brygstrete with all the appurtenances the which one John Parker nowe do dwell in”.47 The 1556 survey records a tenement next to the river in Bull Street (an alternative name for Bridge Street) in the tenure of John Parker. In 1591 the Die House was recorded belonging to William I’s son Edward I and in the tenure of John Parker’s son William.48
William’s Bridge Street property was mentioned in the Exchequer Survey of the possessions of the former Carmelite Friary in Hitchin, dated 11 Apr 1546. It was mentioned only as a location for another property: “John MUNNER occupies a tenement with a garden in Bridge Street between the tenement of William BROCKETT on the west and the tenement of Thomas ELDRINGTON on the east paying 13s 4d a year.”49 Curiously, the very next entry in the Survey recorded Margaret BRICKETT’s tenement in Bull Street. The name Briket is usually distinct from Broket and not a variant. For further details see Brikets.
As well as recording William’s freehold properties in Bancroft and Bridge Street the 1556 survey of the Manor of Hitchin also listed William’s 7 Copyhold properties, all on a 40 year term as was the custom of the manor. The 7 entries all state that he was admitted to them at a court held on the last day of April 1551 (5 Edward VI):50
1. One dole51 formerly Edward Elmes. Rent 8s a year.
2. One tenement beside Waltesforthe and 27 acres of arable land. Rent 10s a year.
3. One tenement called Brokes with certain lands and meadows belonging. Rent 17s 10d a year.
4. A close of land with certain arable lands lying in divers parcels (Latin: vnu’ cl’m trre cum crts. terr’. arr’. iac’. in diurs’ pcell)52 in the fields of Walteswothe and Hyover called peltoftes. Rent 10s a year.
5. One cotland53 called brigmans or Bridgemans lying beside Hyover. Rent 10s a year.
6. One cotland called Coollys. Rent 5s a year.
7. One cotland beside Highover called maltemans. Rent 6s 8d a year.
“The Survey is dated at the top 17 Aug 1556 so was 4 months after the death of William I. Probably no manor court had been held between April and August 1556 so his son Edward—or rather his mother as his guardian—had not yet been admitted. The omission from the 1556 Survey of William’s copyhold in Wratton (the Wratten) is puzzling. The 1591 rental does record that William Brockeyt (III) held 5 acres of copyhold arable land at The Wratton rent 20d for 6 months. I think much of this land was used as brickyards and brick kilns in the 17th century. One possible explanation of its omission from the 1556 Survey is that William I had bought the land shortly before his death and had not yet been admitted at the Manor Court and that he purchased it from one of the men who appear in the 1556 Survey as holding several acres of arable land in the fields of Hitchin which are not described in detail.”54
3.4 Land in Kent
A record towards the end of his life in 1554 shows that William was purchasing property further afield than Hertfordshire. A licence issued 10 Oct 1554 allowed Cuthbert and Mary Thomson to alienate 32 acres in Plumstead Marsh to him for a fee of 21s 4d.55 Cuthbert Thomson was a Brewer of Saint Lawrence Poultney in the City of London.56 A complaint in Chancery brought by Michael Tomson against William Beswike and his wife Mary, widow of Cuthbert Thomson, concerning the “Estate of Cuthbert Thomson of London, brewer, deceased with lands in Bedford, and Barton, and lands in Abbots Salford, Warwickshire”.57 Barton is only 7m W of Hitchin. William as a Hitchin Maltster and Cuthbert as a London Brewer probably did business together.
The licence further illustrates William’s close relationship to the wider Broket dynasty, since it appears to relate to the deal he made with Edward Broket of Letchworth. A second licence, identical to the first with one significant exception, was issued one year later on 15 Oct 1555. This one allowed Cuthbert and Mary Thomson to alienate 32 acres in Plumstead Marsh for a fee of 21s 4d, no longer to William Brockett of Hitchin Maltster, but to William Brockett Gentleman.58 This William was the much younger William Brockett, husband of Anne Bardolfe and 2nd son of Edward of Letchworth.
Perhaps Cuthbert and Mary did not implement the first licence; perhaps it was renewable annually. In any event, the second was when William of Hitchin was still alive and must have been bound up with the Kent land deal Edward of Letchworth had made. This had been with the help of the loan from William. Edward seemingly got the licence transferred to his son William, to whom he bequeathed his lands in Plumpstead Marsh in his Will.
3.5 Cash and other items
Over and above the rest of his estate in his Will, of which the house he lived in must have been passed to his son, he left legacies of at least £198 1s, along with gifts to the church, the poor and the upkeep of the high ways. His memorandum shows that he had a further £80+ in cash in his house previously unbequeathed. An equivalent in 2005 of all these legacies might be £300,000, with property valued at several times that amount. The Will shows that William was a wealthy yeoman farmer:
- He had a considerable amount of ready cash along with the gold and silver in the house.
- His house had hangings covering the walls, a luxury at the time.
- He willed to be buried inside the Parish Church, an expectation only of prominent members of the community. Not surprisingly for a Yeoman of so long ago, no record of the monumental inscription is found.59
- Silver spoons were a status symbol of wealth in those days, to be displayed in sideboards,60 and William willed each of his 5 or more children to have one.
- He had several godchildren.
- It was customary for the gentry to leave money for the poor and often for the Church reparation fund, but it was only usually the larger landowners who left money for maintenance of high ways. William was a senior member of a Tudor market town. The roads in and out of Hitchin needed to be in good repair for it to prosper.
William’s Will of 1566 is the principal source for information about his family. Surviving Hitchin Parish Registers only date from 1562. It shows his family in 1556 to have been:
In 1998 Henry Gray produced a fine, handwritten pedigree of William’s subsequent Hitchin descendants, and much other information has since been discovered. About William’s first wife, however, nothing is yet known—what her name was, when they married, or when she died.
Robert Same of Welbury in the neighbouring parish of Offley mentioned his daughter Elizabeth Brokett in his Will, written 13 Dec 1546:61
Clearly, Elizabeth daughter of Robert Same was married to a Brokett, but where the couple were living Robert didn’t specify. The wife of John Brokett of Offley/Ippollitts at the time was Joan, and the only known 1510-80 Elizabeth married to a Brokett was the second wife of this William Brokett I of Hitchin. Elizabeth Thwaites, wife of Edward Broket of Wheathampstead died 1507 and Elizabeth Fowler didn’t marry Sir John Brockett II till c 1583.
Robert Same was assessed at 20s in Offley for the 1545 subsidy, the highest and first on the list.62 This was the same assessment as this William Brokett’s in Hitchin. Robert would have been older, but the two men were of similar well-to-do Yeoman status in society. It looks as though Elizabeth, second wife of William Brokett I of Hitchin was a Same, or Samme, by birth. Robert’s daughter Joone was married to Upton. Was he perhaps Thomas Upton, a witness to William Brokett’s Will and holder of a freehold burgage in Hitchin in 1556?63
When might William and Elizabeth married? William’s Will of April 1556 mentioned Elizabeth Chamber as a daughter from his second wife. If we assume that Elizabeth the daughter married no younger than 16, then the latest William and Elizabeth senior married would have been c 1540. This fits a possible date of c 1536 for William’s son William from his first wife.
It was incorrect to say that William only provided a house for his wife for one year after his death.64 As mentioned above he left Elizabeth his house in Bridge Street—then occupied by a tenant—with all its appurtenances for term of her life, and it was the other house—the one in Bancroft Street that they currently lived in—that he willed she could live in for a year. This was perhaps to allow sufficient time to move and for the tenant to vacate the Bridge Street house.
Not only that, but William also bequeathed Elizabeth all his grain and crops, all his plate and other household effects, as well as the profits from the lands due to son Edward while a minor. So William actually provided generously for Elizabeth, making no condition common at the time, for instance, that her bequests were dependent on her remaining single.
By Sep 1563 her stepson William owned the Bancroft Street residence and a house in Bridge Street (which may not have been the same one left to Elizabeth), as shown by his Will. Her burial wasn’t recorded in the Parish Register, but these didn’t begin till 1562, so Elizabeth may have died before 1563. Much more likely, however, is that she remarried. This was the prudent course for widows with young families. The following 1568 record from Astwick, Bedfordshire, c 8 m N of Hitchin, leaves little doubt that this was what Elizabeth did:
The 26th day of September in the year of the Lord 1568, master Henry Worleye, commissary, committed administration of the goods of Elizabeth Squyer, late wife of William Brockett, intestate, deceased, to John Squyer of Astewycke, sworn in form of law, saving the right of whoever &c.65
1. Astwick is only c 8 m N of Hitchin. Elizabeth was “late wife”, i.e. widow, of William Brockett. William Brokett I of Hitchin had died 11 years previously and his widow was an Elizabeth. No other contemporary Williams are known, see above.
2. “intestate, deceased” here referred to Elizabeth. William left a Will. Married women neither normally left Wills, nor were subject to Administration—unlike spinsters and widows. Unless there was a marriage settlement, married women’s property was owned by their husbands. So this record shows that Elizabeth owned property in her own right that hadn’t passed to her second husband.
3. The administrator was normally the heir. However, John Squyer may not have been her husband, but her stepson or other relative of her former husband. William Brocket had died 1556-7 so there was not time for Elizabeth to have had a Squyer son who was of legal age by 1568. Nonetheless the record doesn’t preclude John Squire from being her living husband.
1562: A John Squyer purchased a “messuage etc. in Bancrofte Strete in Huchyn” from Thomas Maye and Anne his wife.66 However, John was not listed in the 1567 subsidy for Hitchin.
Squires appeared as tenants of the manor of Astwick in 15-17th C Court Rolls,67 but no relevant common pleas actions for John Squire or the like for Bedfordshire between 1520-80 have been found. The Will of John Squire, Yeoman of Astwick, Bedfordshire, written 31 Mar 1590, showed no connection to any Broket.68
William’s Will mentioned the following children:69
- William—whom we call ‘William Brokett II of Hitchin’ was the only surviving son from William I’s first wife. He was bequeathed copyhold land in the Wratton, probably a recent acquisition by William I.70 This confirms that he was born by April 1534, see the separate page. The family residence—the Bancroft Street house—was unnamed in the Will but would presumably have already been passed over to William II. William I gave his second wife tenure of it for a year after his death.
- Alice, daughter from his first wife and unmarried in 1556, was left £30 in the Memorandum. This was the significant new element in the Memorandum:
“… he had as then presently in his house 80 pounds and odd money in gold and silver. He willed and bequeathed 20 pounds thereof unto Elizabeth his wife. And all the residue of the same money he willed gave and bequeathed unto William Brockett and Alice Brockett his son and daughter begotten of his first wife”71
The bequests for his other daughters were all once they reached 20 or married. Alice was therefore probably 20 or more in 1556, and born by 1536. Maybe she was older than her brother William. Perhaps she was named after her mother, or her father’s aunt. It isn’t known what became of Alice. It was thought that she was the Alice who married George UNDERWOOD 21 Nov 1563 Hitchin:
but it was later discovered that this was Alice, widow of William Brokett II of Hitchin, formerly Papworth.
“I give Elizabeth Chambers my daughter and all my other daughters forty pounds each to be paid them when they reach the age of 20”.72
One of the two witnesses to William’s Will called James CHAMBER/S could have been her husband. He was probably not the elder one, because since Elizabeth was a daughter of William’s second wife, she would have married relatively recently, and could even have been as young as 16 at marriage. Her husband might also have been the Chamber/s witness called John, or indeed another Chambers—the family had several branches in Hitchin at that time. On 15 Jun 1567 the Hitchin Parish Register recorded “The 15 daie was buryed Elizabeth Chambers wife of James Chambers” and on 10 Feb 1568 or 69 “The 10 daie was buried James Chambers”.73 These may well have been the burials of Elizabeth and her husband. Whether they had surviving children isn’t known.
- Edward, the only surviving son from William’s second wife. We call him Edward I of Hitchin, see the separate page. He was bequeathed all William’s copyhold lands apart from those in the Wratton. Under 20 in 1556, he would have been born at the earliest 13 April 1536. He married Barbara. In 1593 sold his Bridge Street property in Hitchin, but kept the lands in Walsworth. The only issue we know of is a son Edward, whom we call Edward Brockett I of Walsworth.
- “Other Doughters”, to each of whom William left £40. The plural implies at least 2. One was probably Annys who married Robert THOROWGOOD 9 Oct 1570 in Hitchin: “The 9 daie were maried Robert Thorowgood & Annys Broket”. Robert is recorded as the father of Marye Thorowgood bap 23 Dec 1571 in Hitchin: “The same  daie was baptized Marye Thorowgood daughter of Robert”, but he was buried there 5 Nov 1572: “The 5 daie was buried Robert Thorowgood”. In 1571 Robert Thurowgood was assessed at 8s 4d tax on goods worth 100s in Hitchin.74 He didn’t pay in 1572, 1576 or 1588.75 No further record of Ann or Mary has been found in this period. The Ann Thorgood, Widow of High Roothing [Roding], Essex, whose Will was proved 1592 was another Ann.76 From other evidence, it is likely that Joane, wife of Laurence MANFELDE was another of William’s “other daughters”, see the separate page.
William’s Will also mentioned Grace Brokett and two other females—Johan Mathewe and Johan Wylkynson—who received bequests of 20s each. One or more of them were probably in service in William and Elizabeth’s large house. One or both of the Johans might well have been sisters or cousins of Elizabeth. As for Grace, she was the daughter of John Brokett of Offley Yeoman,77 probably William’s younger brother. 17 years after William’s death, in 1573, she married Richard PRIOR of Barton-le-Clay, Bedfordshire. Richard was most likely son and heir of John Prior, senior, died by 1588 and whose copyhold lands in Barton he had left to son Richard and his heirs after the lifetime use of his wife Agnes.78 Richard would have been the ‘lovinge brother’ of Edward of Millow,79 grandson of this William I of Hitchin. As adolescence approached most children in those times were sent from their parents’ homes to serve in others’ homes. So Grace need have been no older than 12 or 13 at the time of this Will, born at the latest 1543. She gave Richard 9 children 1575-93 at more or less two-yearly intervals.80 It would have been rare in those days for 50 year olds to give birth. If then, she was no more than 45 when her 9th and last child was born, her own birth would have been no later than 1548. So at the time of this Will of William’s, Grace was probably between 8-13 years old, a young niece helping in the household in his last years. Grace was still living 18 Mar 1617 when husband Richard’s Will was proved in the Archdeaconry of Bedford. She was buried in Barton 19 Jan 1630, aged about 82-87.
1523: Will of Richard Burwell of Stevenage Butcher
In the name of God amen the 5th day of June in the year of our Lord God 1523 I Richard Burwell of Stevenage in the county of Hertford Butcher whole of mind and of good remembrance laud be to Almighty God make and ordain this my last will and testament in manner and form following First I bequeath my soul to Almighty God to our Lady Saint Mary and to all the holy company of heaven my body to be buried in the parish church of Saint Nicholas of Stevenage in the midst of the nether cross alley next and to the belfry before the rood Also I bequeath to the high altar there for my tithes negligently forgotten 6s 8d Item to our mother Church of Lincoln 12d Item to the light before the rood to the light of our Lady in our Lady Chapel and to the light of Saint Nicholas to each of their lights 3s 4d Item I bequeath to the light of Saint Margaret and Saint Katerine to each of them 20d Item to the light of St George 12d to the light of Saint Michael 12d Item to the porch light 3s 4d Item to the reparations of the church 20s Item to the brotherhood of the Trinity in the same parish 20s Item I bequeath to Mynysden Chapel and to the church of Houghton Conquest to each of them 6s 8d Item to the churches of Graveley Chesfield Knebworth Shepall Wymley and Wyley to each of them and 3s 4d Item to the priory of Wyley 10s Item to the Friars of Ware and to the Friars of Hychyn to each of them 10s to sing in each place a trentall for my soul and all my good friends’ souls Also I will that Elizabeth my wife have all such stuff as is in my place which has been of her own provision and ordinance Item I bequeath to the same Elizabeth my wife two of my best cattle my white horse and my grey horse and 24 sheep which go with Thomas Hunbersby of Stevenage and all my swine Item I will the said Elizabeth my wife have my place that I dwell in with all the houses thereto belonging yards gardens and back tenements with the close and all my free lands lying in diverse fields of Stevenage and Bro’end close with Dedelane Croft and Saint John’s Pightell during her natural life except the lands belonging to Wilsons Whites… and the half acre at the mere suffering John my son to have the occupying of the shop the slaughter house and the chamber over the said slaughter house at his pleasure with his easement in the yards and a garden place beyond the cherities in Dedelane Croft which I marked out with my own staff. Also I will my wife pay yearly out of Dedelane Croft 10s to the keeping of my obit as long as he she occupies the said Croft and 18d towards the Lord’s rent of the same and John my son to pay the residue of the Lord’s rent Also I will that same Elizabeth my wife have half the crue and crop now growing in my lands and fields and one half of all my stuff which has been of my own ordayning except my brass pan and my best brass pot and my best chest Also I bequeath to the same Elizabeth my wife £20 in ready money to be paid of such money as she has in keeping of mine by mine executors and after the decease of Elizabeth my wife I will that all such lands and tenements as is above willed shall remain to John Burwell my son to him and to his heirs of his body lawfully begotten except Brownend’ which I will John my son have in fee simple after the death of his mother and also paying and bestowing out of Dedelane Croft yearly for my obit 10s which Croft I bind for ever more to keep my yearly obit and for lack of issue of the said John my son I will my place with the said lands shall remain to Allyce my daughter and to the issue of her body lawfully begotten and for default of such issue I will it shall remain to Richard Chamber the son of Johan my daughter and to his heirs always performing my obit as aforesaid and for lack of him and his issue I will it shall be sold by the parson the churchwardens and two or three of the honest men of the parish at that time being and with the money coming of the same I will an honest priest to sing in the same parish church for my soul my good friends’ souls and all Christian souls as long as the said money shall last Always provided that Dedelane Croft and St John’s pightle be put in feoffment for my obit to be kept as afore is written and not sold in no wise Also I will that John my son have Which mede in fee simple furthermore I will to the same John my son all my lands and pastures in the parishes of Knebworth Langley and Mynnysden both free and copy in fee simple paying to the Lord his duty after custom and manner Also I will the said John my son have half of my crop growing in the fields my best chest and half the household stuff that has been of my own provision except my great brass pan and my best brass pot Also two black horses and a bay horse with their harnesses to them belonging my cart and plough and my scales and weights Item I give to the said John my son the house which he dwells in in fee simple with the garden place beyond the cheritie in Dedelane Croft and the half acre of land lying at the mere in Wilmere field Item I give and will to the same John my son my house at the Warer [?] which I bought of Thomas Huckell with the land to the same belonging in fee simple paying to his brother George £10 So that the said George nor his heirs nor no man else for him or them nor none to the use of him or them shall ask or claim any part or portion of or in the lands or tenements or other the possessions or substance of me Richard Burwell or of my assigns more than these portions to him herebefore willed and bequeathed in any wise by this my last Will Item I bequeath to John my son 4 acres copyhold lying on Almons hill Item I will that Allys my daughter have my best brass pan and my best brass pot Item I will to Richard Hunbersby my godson the son of Allys my daughter my tenement called Wilsons at Nicholas Green with the land to the same belonging like as the deeds specify Item I will to Johan my maid 6s 8d Item to Margaret my maid 3s 4d Item to Jane Hunbersby 40s Item to John Spencer [?] my servant 6s 8d Item to William Broket my servant 3s 4d Item to Richard Chambers my godson a cow at John Burwell’s choice Item I will to Elizabeth Pybush 3s 4d The Residue of my goods and chattels not willed nor bequeathed I will them to John Burwell and Thomas Hunbersby whom I make and ordain my executors to perform this my last Will and testament Also I will Sir Roger Butt priest be supervisor of this my last Will and testament These being witnesses John Bukworth curate of Stevenage Sir Richard Newman the vicar of Great Wymly Robert Muthell John Hukkell Fuller and Roger Hide of Stevenage provided always that neither John Burwell nor Thomas Hunbersby take upon them to receive any debts nor otherwise in performing these my bequests but by the assent and consent of the said Sir Roger Butt ./
It has been transcribed here in full to show his status and ownership of property, livestock and crops in various local parishes. It also shows he had at least 4 servants and contacts with Hitchin, like Richard Chamber/s, his grandson and godson. William Brokett I of Hitchin’s daughter Elizabeth also later married into this family, and his son William II continued the contact. As for his servants, Richard Burwell left bequests to:
Johan my maid 6s 8d
Margaret my maid 3s 4d
John Spencer [?] my servant 6s 8d
William Broket my servant 3s 4d
It was normal English custom for young males and females to join the households of local pillars of society, relatives or friends “often until after the age of twenty-one or even considerably longer”.82 From the simple mention in this Will it isn’t possible to deduce much about William Brockett’s age, except that it would have been extremely unlikely that he was less than 13, and possibly as Laslett said, considerably older. Also, given the proximity of Stevenage to Hitchin and the connection to the Chambers family, it is likely that William was a member of the wider Hertfordshire Broket family which had come down from Yorkshire a generation or two before. Other than this 1523 record records of only two William Brokets have been found in the Hitchin area—or indeed Hertfordshire and Essex—up to the 1560s: William I of Hitchin and William of Ippollitts, both of whom are recorded several times. The likelihood is strong therefore that this William of Stevenage in 1523 was William I of Hitchin, and he was the son of William of Ippollitts. The latter was already a Husbandman in his own right by 1512, so it is much more likely that Richard Burwell’s servant was from the next generation, and an early William I of Hitchin.
1544 Hilary: Common Pleas action
In the 35th year of the reign of Henry VIII the attorney of William Brokett made a plea at the court of Common Pleas held at Westminster against Ralph Saunder of Hitchin, Maltman, for a debt of 100s, which William had presumably lent him. Ralph did not come to defend himself and the court ordered the Essex [sic] sheriff to take him and bring him to court on 27 April 1544:83Read more
William Brokett appeared by his attorney for a fourth day against Ralph Saunder of Huchyn in the county aforesaid maltman, in a plea that he render him 100s that he owes him and unjustly withholds &c. And [the defendant[ has not come. And it had been ordered the sheriff to summon him &c.; and the sheriff now reports that [the defendant] has nothing [in his bailiwick in lands or chattels whereby he might be attached] &c. Therefore let him be taken, to be here on the quindene of Easter [27 April 1544] &c.
The plaintiff must have been William of Hitchin, also a Maltman; there was no known contemporary William Broket of Essex until the 17th C. So why was the writ addressed to the sheriff of Essex? Two possible reasons:84
- There were cases where the plaintiff deliberately wanted to make things difficult for the defendant; one way to do this would be to nominate a county in which the defendant could not be attached, summoned, found or taken, because he did not live there; and such cases would naturally run through to an outlawry. It was going to be difficult for the Essex sheriffs to find and take a Hitchin defendant.
- A clerk may have mistakenly recorded Hitchin as if in Essex, or else made a mistake with the marginal note as to which sheriff to send the writ to. Cases like this arose because the clerk copied out the details of the defendants from the writs, and sometimes did that thoughtlessly. So, occasionally, an address is given ‘in the county aforesaid’, when it clearly doesn’t tally. There were usually two documents from which the clerk was working, one the original bill and the other the writ to the sheriff. In this case ‘Huchyn’ was probably copied from the original bill as if in Essex, so Essex would be a logical county to send the writ to. “The reference to Hitchin under the heading Essex must be a mistake. Hitchin never was in Essex and is not particularly close to the county boundary with Essex.”85
By Tudor times when sheriffs said that someone “has nothing in their bailiwick”, it just meant that the defendant was not gentry.86 There is a short Will of Richard Saunder Yeoman of Hitchin proved in 1597,87 but it provides no information relevant to Brokets. There were also 3 Wills proved at the Arch. Hunts court of 1552 John Saundere senior of Offley 1552, Richard Saundere yeoman of Dachworth 1555, and Richard Saunder yeoman of Offley 1570.88
1544 July 24: Thomas Hemynge Gent, John Buttelere priest, John Trustram [jnr], Elizabeth Fryday and William Brokett were witnesses to the Will of John Trustram the eldare of Hichyn Yeoman, proved 2 Oct 1555.89 He willed “To Margaret my wiff … my copie hold called the bery stede …” This is different from the Bery Barns.90 Elizabeth Fryday’s Will was proved 11 Jul 1559. “Elizabeth Fryday, widow of John Fryday of Hitchin, yeoman was the daughter of John Hemming or Emmyng of Hitchin, yeoman, who lived in Bancroft in the house later called The Hermitage, Will dated 1524.”91
1545 Hilary: Common Pleas action
In the 36th year of the reign of Henry VIII the attorney of William Brokett made a plea at the court of Common Pleas held at Westminster against Robert Rogers late of Aldenham, Yeoman, and John Gayllour late of Ashwell, Husbandman, for debts of £18 and 40s respectively, which he had presumably lent them. They did not come to defend themselves and the court ordered the Hertfordshire sheriff to take them and bring them to court, both on 29 Feb and 19 Apr 1545:92Read more
William Brokett appeared by his attorney for a fourth day against Robert Rogers late of Aldenham in the county aforesaid yeoman otherwise called Rogers of Ilostrey in the county aforesaid yeoman, in a plea that he render him £18; and against John Gayllour late of Asshewell in the county aforesaid husbandman, in a plea that he render him 40s; which they owe him and unjustly detain &c. And [the defendants] have not come; and it had been ordered the sheriff to summon them &c. And the sheriff now reports that [the defendants] have nothing [in his bailiwick in lands or chattels whereby they might be attached] &c. Therefore let them be taken, to be here on the octaves of Candlemas [9 February 1545] &c. On which day here comes the aforesaid William by his attorney, and appears for a fourth day against the aforesaid Robert and John in the plea aforesaid &c.; and they have not come. And it had been ordered the sheriff to take them &c. And the sheriff now reports that they are not found &c. Therefore, as before, let them be taken, to be here on the quindene of Easter [19 April 1545] &c.
Assuming, as discussed above, that William Broket, servant of Richard Burwell in June 1523, was William Brokett I of Hitchin, we can deduce that William would hardly have been less than 13 in 1523, and possibly as Laslett said, considerably older. This puts a date of birth for William no later than 1509—and most likely earlier. The next record of him was as a Husbandman who purchased a large residence in Hitchin in 1538.
Page Last Updated: June 13, 2022