William BRERETON (Sir)

Born: ABT 1492

Died: 17 May 1536, Tower of London, London, Middlesex, England

Father: Randle BRERETON of Ipstones, Shocklach and Malpas (Sir)

Mother: Eleanor DUTTON

Married: Elizabeth SOMERSET 1529



2. Thomas BRERERTON of Barrow

3. William BRERETON

Born between 1492 and 1499, was the seventh son of Sir Randle Brereton of Ipstones, Shocklach, and Malpas, Knight Chamberlain of Chester, knight banneret and knight of the body of Henry VII.[1] His mother was Eleanor, sister of Piers Dutton of Halton, Cheshire. Along with three of his brothers, including Sir Urian Brereton, William entered royal service. By 1521 he was a groom of the king's chamber, and from 1524, groom of the privy chamber.

On 9 Jul 1527, John Puleston, serjeant of Caernarvon Castle, wrote to Master William Brereton, of the king's privy chamber, to complain about John ap Mad. ap Hoel, deputy to Sir Hugh Vaughan, sheriff, impanelling "thieves and wretches to indite his servants without cause" and requesting Brereton to bargain with Vaughan for the reversion of deputy sheriff.

On 30 Jun 1529, Henry Maynell of Willington, Derbys., gent, and Agnes his wife, lease to William Brereton, esq., groom of the King's Privy Chamber, of all the lands & tenements with barn and stables in the East Lane, East Greenwich, with the meadows &c. belonging, held by Catherine Lyster and Thomas Parker, from Mich, next for 31 years at 4 marks a year, payable at Lady Day and at Mich.; William is to undertake repairs; clause of distraint and Agnes, before St. John Baptist, is to do as Brereton's learned counsel advise for making his title sure.

The same year of 1529, Brereton married Elizabeth, daughter of Charles Somerset, 1st Earl of Worcester, second cousin to Henry VIII and widow of Sir John Savage, the grandson of Sir John Savage, a Lancastrian commander at the battle of Bosworth in 1485. When the grandson had fallen into debt, and was also being held in the Tower for murder, all his lands were forfeited to the crown. Brereton secured the lease and in 1529 he married the widow, Elizabeth, and secured the wardship of the heir. The lands of Elizabeth's former husband had, before his death, been sequestered and granted to Brereton to farm. The Chamberlains' and Ministers' Accounts recorded in the "Records of the Superior and Abolished Courts &c" in 20-2 Henry VIII [1528-30] hold the accounts of the Lordships, manors, etc from the Lordship of Barrowe, late of Sir John Savage, knt, (deceased), as jointure of Dame Elizabeth Savage, his widow, now the wife of William Brereton, Esq.; also of the lands given by the King to the same William of those farmed by him.

In reward for his work for the king, Brereton received a number of royal grants in Cheshire and the Welsh Marches, and was made Chamberlain of Cheshire in 1531. These eventually brought him more than 10,000 a year. However, he wielded power ruthlessly, on one occasion, engineering the judicial murder of John ap Gryffith Eyton, whom he blamed for instigating the killing of one of his own retainers. Complaints were heard by the Star Chamber about Brereton's mayntenaunce of murderers, theves and misruled persons and bering of ill factes and dedes

On 12 Aug 1532, a plea was heard in Chester Castle before William Brereton, esq, the King's Chamberlain, about the property of Sir Robert Sutton, knight, which refers to an Inquisition post mortem of Sir John Savage.

In May 1536, Anne Boleyn was accused of adultery with Mark Smeaton, a musician of the royal household, and the courtiers Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, and Sir William Brereton as well as her brother, George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, all of the privy chamber. The king's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, "authorised and commissioned by the king", masterminded the proceedings against the Queen and her co-accused. The allegation against Brereton, who had been arrested on 4 May, was that Anne solicited him on 16 Nov 1533, and misconduct took place on 27 Nov. However, Anne's daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I, had been born on 7 Sep. This would have kept Anne in seclusion for a long time. Other charges of misconduct at Hampton Court certainly could not have happened, because at the time in question the court was at Greenwich.  According to the Spanish Chronicle, William Brereton was named by Mark Smeaton in his confession. Did the Countess of Worcester accuse him? Brereton had married the sister of the Earl of Worcester. Warnicke says that the Countess, beside her belief that Brereton sexual appetites were excesive, would have been the most likely one of the ladies to have recalled any meetings he had with Anne. Historian Eric Ives argues that Cromwell added Brereton to the plot against Anne to end the troubles he was causing in the Welsh Marches, and to reorganise (and centralise) the local government of this area. 

The trials of William Brereton, Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, and Mark Smeaton took place at Westminster Hall on 12 May. They were charged with high treason against the king, adultery with the Queen and plotting the King's death. Having been found guilty, they were all sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The sentence was later reduced to beheading. The Queen and her brother George were tried separately on 15 May within the Tower.

On 17 May, Brereton, George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston and Mark Smeaton, were led from the Tower to a scaffold on Tower Hill. George Constantyne, an eyewitness to their executions, recorded their last words. Brereton's words as he faced the executioner's axe, "The cause whereof I die, judge not. But if you judge, judge the best", may be interpreted as a cautious declaration of his innocence which would avoid the forfeiture of his estates. An indication of his wife's continued trust in her husband is provided by her bequest to her son nine years later: "one bracelet of gold, the which was the last token his father sent me".

William buried at St Peter ad Vincula, Tower Green.

to Bios Page to Family Page
to Peerage Page to Home Page