BROOKE, alias COBHAM, William (1527-97), of of the Blackfriars, London and Cobham, Kent.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. 1 Nov. 1527, 1sts s. of George Brooke, 8th Lord Cobham, and bro. of George, Henry, John and Thomas. educ. Padua 1542-5. m. (1) by 4 June 1535, Dorothy (d. 22 Sept. 1559), da. of George, 5th Lord Bergavenny, 1da., (2) 25 Feb. 1560, Frances, da. of Sir John Newton alias Cradock of East Harptree Som. and Hanham, Glos., 4s. inc. Henry and William. Kntd. 1 Dec. 1548, KG nom. 23 Apr. 1584, inst. 15 Apr. 1585. suc. fa. as 10th Lord Cobham 29 Sept. 1558.2

Offices Held

Esquire of the body by 1553; constable, Dover castle, Kent 16 Dec. 1558-d.; ld. warden, the Cinque Ports 16 Dec. 1558-d.; j.p. Kent 1558/59, q. 1561-d.; ld. lt. Kent 1559-d.; commr. Rochester bridge 1571; PC 1586-d.; keeper, Eltham pk., Kent 1592-d., ld. chamberlain, the Household 8 Aug. 1596-7.3


Early in 1540 it was said that Lord Cobham had wanted to send two of his sons to the Continent with the Duke of Cleves’s chancellor but that Cromwell would not allow them to leave England; in the following year, with Cromwell removed from the scene, William Brooke was licensed to go abroad ‘for his further increase of virtue and learning’, taking with him two servants, three horses and £20 in money. He also took with him a number of ‘remembrances’ from his father, to say his prayers and hear mass devoutly, to remember his marriage vows, to obey his tutor and be diligent in his study of the civil law, rhetoric and Greek, and to write home as often as possible: these precepts the young traveller subscribed, ‘I will perform all these things by the grace of God. By me, your son, William Brooke’.

Although he was sent to Padua to study, the outbreak of England’s war with France evidently made Brooke chafe at being in Italy, and in the autumn of 1545 he left for the Netherlands determined to take part in any action he might find. Early in the following year he returned to England on a short visit and in November he was given a military appointment at Calais, where his father was deputy. The letter ordering the grant of this office was put forward by Sir William Paget, and Lord Cobham called his son Paget’s servant in a letter of April 1547 asking Paget to agree to William’s offering his service to the King of France for a year. During the wars of Edward VI’s reign Brooke led a band of 100 men, and in July 1550 he conveyed £7,000 from England to the treasurer of Calais. In the summer of 1551 he formed part of the embassy to France led by his brother-in-law the Marquess of Northampton, bringing home a report from the ambassadors in June and returning to France with fresh instructions from the Council.4

Brooke was three days short of 20 when the Parliament of 1547 opened. That such a stripling should have caused one of the Cinque Ports to break (so far as is known for the first time under the Tudors) the ordinance confining their representation to residents is proof enough of Brooke’s enjoyment of powerful backing; apart from his father, a man of weight in Kent, his patron Paget is most likely to have procured his election, perhaps with the aid of the Protector Somerset himself. Brooke’s knighthood, conferred on 1 Dec. 1548 during the second session of the Parliament, suggests that he then stood well with the Protectoral regime, although his connexion with Northampton must later have aligned him with Somerset’s rival Northumberland. He did not sit in the Parliament of March 1553, and it is not known whether he played any part in the succession crisis of that summer, but when six months later his uncle Sir Thomas Wyatt II raised Kent against Queen Mary he was one of those implicated, although how deeply cannot be known; he pleaded not guilty to an indictment for treason, as did his younger brothers George and Thomas, and all three were pardoned, while his father was let off at the cost of giving the Queen an obligation for £450. Brooke’s election 18 months later for Rochester, which had been the starting-point of the rebellion, could therefore have given little satisfaction at court, and even less when towards the close of this Parliament he joined the opposition to one of the government’s bills. According to the Complete Peerage he received a writ of summons to the Lords for the second session of the following Parliament, that of 1558, but no trace of this summons has been found and he is not recorded as having taken his place in the Upper House until 1559.5

With the accession of Elizabeth, six weeks after Brooke’s own succession to his barony, new opportunities opened out for him. The first important task assigned to him was the distasteful one of announcing Mary’s death to King Philip in Brussels. He was appointed to succeed Sir Thomas Cheyne as lord warden of the Cinque Ports, placed on the commission of the peace for Kent, and in the following year made lord lieutenant of the county. Thenceforward, for nearly 40 years, Lord Cobham was a busy servant of the crown, entrusted with the defence of Kent, the mustering of soldiers, the suppression of piracy, the staying of ships in times of embargo and a host of minor duties committed to him as need arose by the Council. He twice went on embassies to the Netherlands, in 1578 with Sir Thomas Walsingham and in 1588 with Thomas, 4th Earl of Derby. In 1586 he was sworn a member of the Privy Council and ten years later was made lord chamberlain. He was then only three months off his seventieth birthday, and he died in the following March at Cobham Hall, which he had enlarged with a new south wing and a north wing still unfinished at his death.6

He had made his will on 24 Feb. 1597, trusting ‘wholly and only’ by the merits of Christ’s passion to attain salvation and asking to be buried ‘after a laudable sort, and without vain pomp’, in the church at Cobham. His household servants at Cobham and at the Blackfriars, London, were to receive an extra half year’s wages, and the houses to be delivered, ten days after his funeral, to his son and heir Henry Brooke. To Sir John Leveson, Thomas Fane and William Lambarde, three of his executors, Cobham left the site of the old college of Cobham on which they were to build a new college for poor people to live in; all his jewels, ornaments and plate, except those items which he bestowed otherwise in his will, were to be sold to pay his funeral expenses, debts and legacies and to provide the money for the perpetual maintenance of this almshouse. Cobham named as another executor his cousin, Sir Edward Wotton, and desired his friend Lord Burghley, and his son-in-law Sir Robert Cecil, to be overseers of his will.7

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Helen Miller


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Date of birth given in CP. Arch. Cant. xi. 108; LP Hen. VIII, xviii; PCC 35 Hogen.
  • 3. Stowe 571, f. 31; CPR, 1558-60, p. 103; 1569-72, p. 278; G. Scott Thomson, Lds. Lt. in the 16th Cent. 47-50; HMC 12th Rep. IV. 189; APC, xxvi. 98.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, xv, xvi, xviii, xx, xxi; APC, i. 547; CSP For. 1547-53, pp. 123, 139-40, 332-3.
  • 5. CPR, 1553-4, p. 381; DKR, iv(2), 243; D. M. Loades, Two Tudor Conspiracies, 82, 108, 110-11, 118; Guildford mus. Loseley 1331/2; M. A. R. Graves, ‘The Tudor House of Lords 1547-58’ (Otago Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1974), ii. 315.
  • 6. CPR, 1558-60, p. 103; Scott Thomson, 47-48; APC, vii-xxviii passim; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 601; Add. 1580-1625, p. 242; Neale, Commons, 214-21; Arch. Cant. xi. 205.
  • 7. Arch. Cant. xi. 209-16.