BROOKE, Robert (c.1637-69), of Cockfield Hall, Yoxford, Suff. and Wanstead House, Essex.
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Family and Education
b. c.1637, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Sir Robert Brooke† (d.1646) of Cockfield Hall by Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Colepeper of Wigsale, Suss. educ. privately (Daniel Milles). m. 26 Apr. 1659, Ann (d. 7 Jan. 1666), da. of Sir Henry Mildmay†, master of the jewels 1620-49, of Wanstead, 1da. d.v.p. suc. bro. 1652; kntd. 9 June 1660.1
J.p. Suff. 1658-d., Essex 1662-d.; commr. for militia, Suff. 1659, Mar. 1660; lt.-col. of militia ft. Suff. Apr. 1660-d.; commr. for oyer and terminer, Mdx. July 1660-d., assessment, Suff. Aug. 1660-d., Aldeburgh 1661-d., Essex 1663-d., appeals, Bedford level 1668.2
Six clerk in Chancery 1662-3.3
Brooke’s grandfather, a merchant and alderman of London, purchased a considerable estate in East Suffolk in the closing years of the 16th century. His father, a Presbyterian, sat for Dunwich in three early Stuart Parliaments and served on the county committee during the Civil War. But his mother was a devout Anglican, and his tutor took Anglican orders in 1656. The estate was burdened not only with a jointure for his mother, who long outlived him, but with provision for his widowed sister-in-law; and after his marriage to the daughter of one of Charles I’s judges, Brooke seems to have resided chiefly at Wanstead. But he signed the Suffolk petition to George Monck for a free Parliament in 1660, provided money for the King’s service, and was returned to the Convention for Aldeburgh, together with his former brother-in-law, Thomas Bacon. He was moderately active, being appointed to 12 committees, including that for the indemnity bill. He was knighted for his services to the Restoration, and presumably continued to support the Court. He spoke against excepting from indemnity those Irish Protestants who had joined in the rebellion of 1641, and acted as teller against a clause on behalf of the maintenance trustees. In the debate on unauthorized Anglican publications initiated by William Prynne on 30 June, he moved next business; but he was appointed to the committee of inquiry. When the Speaker declared lost the motion to question the Protector’s lawyers, Brooke, who had spoken in its favour, objected, but the result was confirmed on a formal division. In the second session he supported the grant of a reward to Jane Lane for assisting in the escape of Charles II after the battle of Worcester.4
The Aldeburgh corporation wrote that in the Convention Brooke ‘performed the trust in him reposed, not to us only, but to the public concern of his Majesty with a loyal, faithful and unwearied labour’ and though detained in London by smallpox, he was re-elected in 1661. An active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was appointed to 100 committees, taking the chair in five, and acted as teller in 15 divisions. In the first session he was named to the committees for the corporations bill and the bill of pains and penalties, and took the chair for two private bills introduced on behalf of John Copiestone, the Cromwellian sheriff of Devon. He also carried to the Lords the estate bill of Thomas Lee I. He was allowed to purchase the Wanstead estate forfeited by his father-in-law. He acted as teller against the motion for a general excise on ale and beer on 18 Feb. 1662 and against a bill to regulate abuses in the excise in the following month. At the end of the session he was appointed with William Morice I and Sir Nicholas Crisp to present the King with a resolution in favour of a ship-owner’s widow with a claim on the excise. In 1663 he was appointed to the committees both to hinder the growth of Popery and to provide remedies for meetings of dissenters. On 8 Nov. 1666 he twice acted as teller against supply. Six days later he was sent to the Lords to ask for concurrence in an address of thanks to the King for giving orders to suppress the insolence of the Papists. He acted as chairman of the inquiry into the Fire of London.5
Brooke came to the forefront on the fall of Clarendon, as chairman of the inquiry into the miscarriages of the second Dutch war, from which he presented four reports. In this capacity he figures prominently in the diary of Samuel Pepys, who thought him too young for the chair, ‘and yet he seems to speak very well’. He was appointed to the committees to inquire into the sale of Dunkirk and to establish a public accounts commission. On 31 Oct. 1667 he delivered from Monck (now Duke of Albemarle) his narrative of the war, and ten days later he was among those sent to ask the Duke of York about the fortification of Sheerness. For all his severity towards the navy commissioners, especially Peter Pett, he opposed the impeachment of Clarendon. On the charge of advising arbitrary power, he said: ‘Possibly the advice the lord chancellor gave the King for a standing army was given in a time of emergency, not to be a durable thing, but to go off when the occasion ceased’. He acted as teller both against this article and that alleging the betrayal of state secrets to France; but he was appointed to the committee for the banishment bill.6
On 14 Feb. 1668 Brooke presented his main report on miscarriages, blaming faulty intelligence, the failure to fortify the Medway towns, and payment of seamen by ticket. In the debate that followed he said:
It is not probable that the King should be better advised by the Council that has so ill advised him already. He cannot [be] better advised than by us, of whom he cannot have the least suspicion of sedition or disloyalty.
He hoped that the bill for triennial Parliaments, brought in by Sir Richard Temple on 18 Feb., would not be thrown out; but he was not allowed to read an anonymous accusation of selling offices, believed to be aimed at William Coventry. He told Pepys that: ‘We will not give any money, be the pretence never so great, nay, though the enemy was in the River of Thames again, till we know what is become of the last money given’. He opposed, both in debate and division, the King’s request to consider supply every day. When his kinsman Sir Samuel Barnardiston became deputy governor of the East India Company, Brooke presented their petition against the decision of the House of Lords in Skinner’scase. He carried three messages from the House to the public accounts commission, from whom he brought on 24 Apr., together with Sir Robert Carr, objections to the naval accounts submitted by Sir George Carteret. Four days later he introduced an unsuccessful wrecking proviso to extend the Conventicles Act to Papists. When the miscarriages investigation turned to the failure to follow up the success off Lowestoft in 1665, Brooke defended Sir John Harman; but he took the chair in the committee to amend the articles of impeachment against Henry Brouncker, which he carried to the Lords on 8 May.7
When Parliament met again in August, ‘Brooke made a motion that the House might sit till the Lords were adjourned, lest they should imprison Sir Samuel Barnardiston again’. But he found few supporters, and before the next session he was dead. He retired to France ‘upon the distress of his affairs’, and was drowned while bathing in the Rhone at Avignon in June 1669. Brooke was a major loss to the country party, for, as Pepys noted, ‘he do happen to be held a considerable person, of a young man, both for sobriety and ability’. Though his zeal for economy may be explained by his own financial difficulties, his unimpeachable Anglicanism and his independence of judgment made him one of the most respected country gentlemen in the House. His Suffolk property eventually passed to his nephew Sir Charles Blois, but Wanstead was sold by his trustees, with the assent of his sister Mary, his nephew Nathaniel Bacon, the Virginian rebel, and his brother-in-law Walter Mildmay, to (Sir) Josiah Child for £11,500.