BRERETON, Hon. William (1631-80), of Dean's Yard, Westminster and Brereton Hall, Cheshire.
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Family and Education
bap. 4 May 1631, 1st s. of William Brereton, 2nd Baron Brereton of Laghlin [I]. educ. Illustrious Academy, Breda 1646-52. m. 11 Nov. 1657, Frances, da. and coh. of Francis, 5th Baron Willoughby of Parham, 3s. suc. fa. as 3rd Baron Apr. 1664.1
Commr. for militia, Cheshire Mar. 1660, assessment 1665-d.
Chairman, public accounts commission 1667-70; gent. of the privy chamber 1673-d.2
Brereton was taken prisoner with his parents when the parliamentary forces in Staffordshire captured Biddulph House in 1644. In 1646 his grandfather, the Earl of Norwich, placed him in the academy at Breda founded by the Prince of Orange, where he became a competent mathematician under the tuition of Dr John Pell, later Cromwell’s agent to the Swiss cantons. Evelyn thought him ‘a very learned gentleman’. Despite his republican friends, such as the publicist Samuel Hartlib, and ‘a continued distraction, which some interpret madness’, his name figures on the list of Cheshire Royalists drawn up by Roger Whitley in 1658, and he married (against his father’s wishes) a daughter of Lord Willoughby of Parham, a Presbyterian now at the heart of royalist conspiracy. He represented Newton in Richard Cromwell’s Parliament, and offered himself unsuccessfully for reelection in 1660. It was no doubt his father-in-law who recommended him to Lord Robartes to fill the vacancy at Bossiney caused by the decision of Charles Pym to sit for Minehead in the Convention. On 4 June Hartlib wrote: ‘Mr Brereton will shortly be chosen a Member of Parliament, and it may be he will also get some eminent charge at Court’. Brereton was duly returned, presumably unopposed, but of his prospects of employment he could only write: ‘Alas, I am so far from having more than ordinary interest at Court that I cannot tell how to effect anything’. His only committees in Parliament were for the bill to reduce the rate of interest and for drawing up the names of the regicides, and he made no speeches. Presumably he voted with the Presbyterian Opposition, for he again stood on the Robartes interest at the general election. He was involved in a double return at Truro, obtaining a majority of the freemen’s votes, but the House decided in favour of a corporation franchise.3
Even after succeeding to the title, Brereton ‘found his estate little enough for his necessary occasions and family’, though according to Burnet he neglected his own affairs in searching for the philosopher’s stone. He had received little or no portion with his wife, and he approached the Treasury, together with Richard Jones (later Earl of Ranelagh), who had married her sister, for payment of the arrears owing to Willoughby as governor of Barbados when he was drowned in 1666. When the Commons elected him to the chair of the public accounts commission, as ‘a man of great integrity ... not to be gained by the flatteries, hopes or threatenings of the Court’, nothing had been paid to him, and it is not surprising that government witnesses found him unsympathetic. Samuel Pepys, despite a shared interest in music and a previous description of Brereton as ‘a very sober and serious, able man’, clashed with him particularly violently, though his biographer’s picture of ‘old Lord Brereton’ wallowing in his chair ‘with all the bucolic omnipotence of a chairman of quarter sessions’ requires some modification, for he was not turned forty, lived in Westminster (where he had fallen behind with his hearth-tax), and did not even occupy an ordinary seat on the Cheshire bench. The chief importance of the commission lay in its vindication of the rights of the Lower House to inspect expenditure. Little is known of Brereton’s later years. He had £500 on deposit at the Stop of the Exchequer, but accepted a post at Court in 1673 as protection against his creditors. On 31 Oct. 1674 Lord Treasurer Danby authorized the payment to him of some £4,200 as his wife’s portion. He died on 17 Mar. 1680 and was buried in St. Martin in the Fields. His sons, who did not sit in Parliament, died without issue, and the Brereton estate was inherited by Sir Charles Holte.