BRAY, Sir Edward (c.1519-81), of Shere, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

Family and Education

b. c.1519, 1st s. of Sir Edward Bray, by his 2nd w. Beatrice, da. of Ralph Shirley of Wiston, Suss., wid. of Edward Elrington of London and Udimore, Suss. m. (1) bef. Oct. 1542, Mary (d. bef. June 1547), da. of Simon Elrington, 1s. d.v.p.; (2) Elizabeth (d.1560), da. of William Roper of Eltham, wid. of John Stevenson, 1s.; (3) Magdalene (d.1563), ?da. of Sir Thomas Cotton of Oxenhoath, Kent, s.p.; (4) Mary, 3da. suc. fa. 1558. Kntd. 1560.1

Offices Held

J.p. Surr. 1564.2

Biography

Bray’s family had at one time owned property in Cornwall, but by Elizabeth’s reign their chief estates were in the home counties—Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Kent and Surrey. Sir Edward’s election patron at Helston is not obvious; possibly it was the 2nd Earl of Bedford, who received a Privy Council letter before the election, urging him to see that suitable candidates were returned for Cornish boroughs.3

Bray presumably served in the Scottish campaign of 1559-60, since he was knighted by the Duke of Norfolk in July 1560, apparently at Berwick. No record of his military activities is known. For most of his life, at any rate during the Elizabethan period, he was crippled by debt. There was also suspicion about his religion. He had friends among leading Catholics, acted as executor for the will of Sir John Bournet, one of Queen Mary’s principal secretaries, and his name is to be found on a list drawn up in the interest of Mary Queen of Scots in 1574. He presumably took the oath of supremacy on becoming a justice of the peace and a Member of Parliament.4

On his first marriage, his father settled on him the manor of Gomshall, Surrey, and he bought Shere in 1547. But it looks as though he was mortgaging lands even before 1558, when he succeeded to his father’s estates, and later, as his financial position deteriorated, he sold more and more property. His father’s will left a large part of the fee-simple lands to the widow, Lady Jane Bray (daughter of Sir Matthew Brown, of Betchworth), for life, with a proviso that if her stepson Edward molested her the property should remain to her heirs; and she and Edward disputed this clause for many years. There were further lawsuits over debts on lands which Bray had inherited in 1557 from John, 2nd Baron Bray. Sir Thomas Knyvet procured his outlawry for defaulting on one of these obligations, and Bray was forced to bring a Chancery case, which was still unsettled when Knyvet died in 1569. By 1581 the Bray lands had dwindled considerably, but Sir Edward still owned estates in several parts of Surrey and Bedfordshire, and possibly at Wrotham, Kent, where he is said to have lived for some time. It is not surprising that with this financial background he did not aspire to the position at court which his ancestry would otherwise have made possible. He shared the office of almoner at Elizabeth’s coronation with John, 4th Lord Latimer and Sir John Gascoigne, but even this—his one recorded appearance at court—resulted in an unseemly wrangle over the fee for the office, a tun of wine and the alms dish. Gascoigne, who with Latimer had acted by deputy, brought a Chancery case against Bray for taking the whole fee for himself, a charge to which the latter returned the flimsy defence that being in kind it was not easily divisible, adding a rider that the plaintiff was only an assistant almoner, and therefore not entitled to any payment.5

By November 1564 Bray was in the Fleet prison for an unspecified offence (perhaps it was a quarrel with Sir Henry Weston) but he was released on bond to appear regularly in the Star Chamber. About 1569 one of his creditors, Robert Lloyd, sued him in the court of requests. The messenger who took the court’s injunction reported that Bray was at first amenable, but ‘forthwith the lady his wife came to him and did stand with him, and immediately he changed his former speaking, and said he would pay no money. He did know the worst; it was but to lie in the Fleet’. The sheriff of Surrey was therefore ordered to arrest him. He was in trouble again by October 1573, when he was admonished by the Privy Council for ‘a strong speech’ he had made and for ‘certain bad news’ that he had reported to a private person instead of to a justice of the peace. By November 1577 he was so hopelessly in debt that the Council appointed a commission to deal with his petition (sent from the prison of Queen’s bench) against his creditors.6

He died 7 or 8 May 1581, and was buried at Shere. His will, made in April and proved in June, appointed the widow (who married