BROKE, Robert (by 1515-58), of London.
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Family and Education
b. by 1515, 1st s. of Thomas Broke of Claverley, Salop by Margaret, da. of Humphrey Grosvenor of Farmcote, Salop. educ. M. Temple. m. (1) by 1537, Anne, da. of Nicholas Waring of Shrewsbury, Salop, wid. of Nicholas Hurleston (d.1531/32) of London, at least 3s. inc. John II 1da.; (2) settlement 19 Sept. 1544, Dorothy, da. of William Gatacre of Gatacre, Salop, at least 5s. 5da.; 3 other ch. Kntd. 27 Jan. 1555.3
Autumn reader, M. Temple 1542, Lent 1551.
Common serjeant, London 11 July 1536-12 Nov. 1545, recorder 12 Nov. 1545-54; j.p. Salop 1536-47, Mdx. 1547-d., Essex, Herts., Kent, Surr., Suss. 1554-d.; commr. heresies, London 1541, chantries, London, Westminster and Mdx. 1546, contribution, London 1546, relief 1550, eccles. law 1552, goods of churches and fraternities, London 1553, other commissions 1538-d.; dep. chief steward, duchy of Lancaster, north parts 1545-d.; serjeant-at-law 17 Oct. 1552, c.j.c.p. 8 Oct. 1554-d.; receiver of petitions in the Lords, Parlts. of Nov. 1554, 1555, 1558.4
Speaker of House of Commons Apr. 1554.
Robert Broke, best known as the author of La Graunde Abridgement, spent nearly 20 years in the service of the city of London. Such employment was eagerly sought by lawyers, and Broke was assisted to his office by royal letters of recommendation although how he came to be known at court has not been discovered. It was at the request of the King and Queen that he was appointed common serjeant on 11 July 1536, and when the recordership fell vacant in 1545 Henry VIII again wrote to the court of aldermen in his favour, ‘without his suit or labour, as he earnestly did allege and declare’, and he was admitted to the office on 12 Nov. Five days later he was elected to Parliament in place of the late recorder, Sir Roger Cholmley, and on 19 Nov. he was granted the freedom of the City in the Mercers’ Company.5
Broke already had experience of parliamentary business. As common serjeant he had been ordered by the court of aldermen on 22 Jan. 1544 to ‘peruse and pen’ a bill, drawn up by the two secondaries of the compter, for the repeal of the Act against untrue verdicts (23 Hen. VIII, c.3), and to ‘cause it to be put forth into the Parliament house’; nine days later he and the recorder were asked ‘to endeavour themselves to the best of their powers for the staying of the bill put into the Parliament house against merchants for buying of steel and other merchandises’. On 6 Oct. 1545, in preparation for the next Parliament, he was instructed to draw up a bill ‘that all exempt places [sanctuaries] of all cities, boroughs and towns corporate may be under the rule of the governors of the same cities, boroughs and towns’. This bill, and others prepared by the City, came to nothing, although the Act against untrue verdicts was repealed in this session, presumably at the instigation of the London Members. Another bill, started in the Lords, also engaged their attention. On 10 Dec. 1545 Broke, now recorder and Member of Parliament read to the common council of London the summary which he had made of a bill ‘lately devised by the parsons, vicars and curates of the city of London and exhibited to the Lords of the King’s most honourable Council in the Parliament chamber, against the citizens for tithes’. An answer to this bill, hurriedly composed, was rejected by the Privy Council and instead a compromise Act was passed (37 Hen. VIII, c.12) appointing arbitrators to settle all matters in dispute.6
Broke was re-elected to the first Parliament of Edward VI’s reign. In its second session the court of aldermen decided that he should be asked ‘earnestly to travail for the benefit of the city’ in the proposed bill to release fee farms for three years; he was also instructed to draw up a proviso ‘for the saving of such corporations of this city as are in danger to pass to the King’s majesty’ under the Chantries Act of the previous session. On 12 Feb. 1552 Broke was appointed to the commission of 32 clerics and laymen authorized by the Act of the third session (3 and 4 Edw. VI, c.11) to reform the canon law. In the last session of this Parliament he was sent with the mayor to ask the lord chancellor for his ‘reasonable favour’ in furthering the city’s bill for the assurance to them of lands recently bought from the King. This bill, drawn up by Broke and other counsellors, had been prepared at least two years before and, already engrossed on parchment and signed by the King and Council, had been kept in readiness for this meeting of Parliament: it passed without difficulty on 29 Mar. 1552. A year later, during Edward VI’s second Parliament, the recorder was appointed to go with the mayor to the Parliament chamber to seek the support of the Lords for London’s bill for fuel: this passed both Houses within ten days of its introduction into the Lords. The projected third Parliament of the reign, to which the recorder was elected, never assembled owing to the death of the King.7
Broke was one of the Members mentioned by Thomas Jolye in a letter of 7 Jan. 1549 as ‘assured to speak’ against Richard Musgrave’s bill to deprive the 2nd Earl of Cumberland of his hereditary shrievalty of Westmorland, and he was presumably also the ‘Mr. Broke ... skilled in the law’ consulted at the Temple by the advisers of the 16th Earl of Oxford over the measure which was passed in 1552 as the Act for frustrating assurances to the Duke of Somerset made by the Earl of Oxford (5 and 6 Edw. VI, no. 35). He also had a number of bills committed to him in the Commons: most of them were of limited scope but some were of a general nature, like the bill ‘for preaching divers opinions’ committed to him on 6 Dec. 1549. On 21 Mar. 1552 he and others were appointed by the House ‘to draw notes for a new bill for punishment of treasons’, which replaced the Lords’ bill on that subject and became the basis of 5 and 6 Edw. VI, c. 11, making it treason to affirm that the King ‘is an heretic, schismatic, infidel or usurper of the crown’: this Act was to be repealed in Mary’s first Parliament by a bill originating in the Lords which after its second reading in the Commons was committed to the recorder. A non-legislative item referred to Broke, and another was the question of the validity of the Maidstone election to the Parliament of March 1553.8
There seems no doubt that Broke was a Catholic. In 1548 a Londoner (who subsequently withdrew his allegation) declared that (Sir) Clement Smith and Mr. Recorder smiled and laughed ‘when they heard the priest at St. Gregory’s by Paul’s at his prayers at mass pray God to send the Council grace to turn from their erroneous opinions that they were in’. In the list of Members of the Parliament of October 1553 on which were marked those who ‘stood for the true religion’, that is, Protestantism, two of the London Members were noted, but not the recorder. In the Parliament of April 1554, called ‘for corroboration of true religion, and touching the Queen’s highness most noble marriage’, Broke was elected Speaker. During this Parliament a bill to protect the holders of abbey lands from ecclesiastical censure, ordered to be engrossed, was delivered to the Speaker: it passed the Commons next day, but failed in the Lords. Before the next Parliament met Broke was appointed chief justice of common pleas and resigned his office of recorder. Although his appointment came too late for a writ of assistance to be sent to him when other law officers received theirs, he was summoned to attend in the Lords in time to be named a receiver of Gascon petitions on 12 Nov. 1554, the opening day. In 1555 and 1558 he was sent writs of assistance and was again appointed a receiver of Gascon petitions.9
Broke’s activity in Parliament was not so much a diversion from his career in the courts as an extension of it. If, like his professional colleagues in both Houses, he must have viewed their proceedings chiefly from the standpoint of a practising lawyer, his experiences as a Member could not but affect his work as advocate and judge. Just as the leading case of Bulkeley v Rhys Thomas(1555) over an election return from Anglesey could lead him to cite his own electoral experience in refuting the argument that a return ‘by the greater number’ of electors was invalid without a statement of the numbers involved, so his interpretative opinions on statutes must have gained from his part in the making of so many of them: one might even say that a judge who ‘construed the minds of the makers of the statute out of mere necessity to avoid a mischief’ had his feet on the floor of the Tudor House of Commons. Even Broke’s Abridgement, designed to present, as its model, Fitzherbert’s, had earlier done, a ‘classified statement of the law as it then existed’, bore the imprint of its compiler’s interests both within and outside the legislature: it contains a heading ‘London’, includes a good many cases which Broke himself either argued or judged, and makes frequent allusion to Parliament. Published a quarter-of-a-century after Broke’s death, the work had an immediate success, as did the ‘Novel cases’ of the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary which Richard Bellewe extracted from it and produced as a separate volume in 1578.10
Broke bought the manor of Madeley, in Shropshire, in 1544. This became the residence of his eldest son and his descendants, but he himself lived either in London, in Carter Lane, or at Putney. By his will of 7 Jan. 1558 he left one third of his lands to his wife: her portion was to include Madeley and the manor of Lapley, over the border in Staffordshire, which Broke had settled upon her at their marriage. The eldest son of each marriage, John and Richard, were to inherit the rest of the estates, while the younger sons were left £40 each, if they ‘will apply learning, merchandise or other lawful exercise meet for a gentleman’s son to get his living by’. The executors of the will included Humphrey Moseley, and the overseers were Broke’s father-in-law William Gatacre, his eldest son by each marriage, and Richard Whorwood, his ‘clerk and cousin’. The inscription on his alabaster tomb, which portrays him in his robes as chief justice, with his wives and children, in the Gatacre chancel in Claverley church, records that Robert Broke, ‘famous in his time for virtue and learning’, died on 6 Sept. 1558 while ‘visiting his friends and country’; his inquisition post mortem states that he died on 5 Sept. at Patshull in Staffordshire, a few miles from Claverley. On 12 May 1559 the wardship of his heir was granted to Richard Whorwood, but on 10 June John Broke, then 21, was l