BROMLEY, John I (c.1652-1707), of White River, St. Philip’s, Barbados, and Horseheath Hall, Cambs.
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Family and Education
b. c.1652. m. by 1682, Dorothy (d. 1709), da. of Thomas White of Fittleford, Dorset, 2s.1
Member of assembly, Montserrat 1678, Barbados 1685–90, speaker 1689–June 1690, member of council June 1690–3, 1696–aft. 1698.2
So considerable was the fortune made by Bromley in the West Indies, and so precipitous the social ascent achieved by his family, reaching the peerage in the third generation, that, as with many another self-made man, the obscurity of his origins became the stuff of legend. Whether in fact he had ever been a ‘pedlar’ in Barbados, as the 1st Lord Egmont (John Perceval†) was later to allege, must be regarded as highly questionable. By his own account his father ‘was of Hertfordshire and of the Bromleys of that country’, and the pedigree unearthed for the college of arms identified him as the only surviving son of George Bromley of Westmills, near Ware, and Waterford Hall in Hertfordshire. ‘I question the truth of this’, observed the Norroy king of arms, Peter Le Neve, ‘but dare not deny it.’ In fact the descent was quite impossible, since Bromley was himself a year older than his putative father. There may have been some connexion between the families, and Bromley’s eventual purchase of a Cambridgeshire estate may have reflected a desire to return to the vicinity of his paternal home. But equally suggestive is the fact that the Bromleys of Westmills were a family in financial decline in the late 17th century, and had indeed sold off their Hertfordshire property in the 1690s. If Bromley had been intent on manufacturing an armigerous descent for himself, a recently ruined family in a neighbouring county would have been an obvious choice. Whatever his real origins, he can first be traced as a member of the colonial assembly of Montserrat in 1678, bearing the title of ‘captain’. Some years later he was elected to the Barbados assembly, serving as its speaker for a spell after the Revolution until appointed to the island’s council. Having been suspended in 1693 by Governor James King for failure to take the sacrament in the Anglican church, he was saved from prosecution by the Privy Council’s order and was restored in 1696. Not long afterwards he returned to England, settling first at Bookham in Surrey and then in 1700 paying Lord Alington £42,000 for the Horseheath estate, upon which he lavished a further £30,000 in ‘improvements’. Far from abandoning his West Indian interests, he acted as an informal agent in England for Barbadian planters and merchants and in 1704–5 subscribed two petitions to the crown on behalf of the colony, the first requesting more troops to be garrisoned there on grounds of ‘security’ and the second in support of the governor, Sir Bevill Granville*, who found himself harassed by a faction in the assembly. At the same time he continued the process of acquiring gentility for himself and his family. He entered his elder son at Cambridge and in 1704 married him off to one of the daughters of William Bromley I*, for which occasion the pedigree was required. He himself embarked upon the country gentleman’s cursus honorum: a deputy-lieutenant for Cambridgeshire in 1701, j.p. the following year, and, at the 1705 general election, one of the knights of the shire.3
Bromley had been returned on the Whig interest after a close contest, only ten votes separating him from the nearer of his Tory opponents, and possibly with the backing of the Junto Lord Orford (Edward Russell*). Classed as a ‘Churchman’ in one analysis of the new House, he was listed by Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) as a ‘gain’ for the Whigs, and duly voted for the Court candidate, John Smith I*, in the division on the Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705. He was given leave of absence after little over a month, on 4 Dec. 1705, to recover his health, but was listed again as having voted for the Court on 18 Feb. 1706 over the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill. Perhaps because of poor health, he made little mark during the rest of his short parliamentary career, and no speech of his is recorded. A list of early 1708 named Bromley as a Whig, though he had in fact died on 7 Oct. 1707, aged 55, being buried at Horseheath, and leaving his elder son to succeed him in both the estates and his seat in Parliament.4