BROOKE, Sir Thomas (c.1355-1418), of Holditch in Thorncombe, Dorset and Weycroft in Axminster, Devon.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b.c.1355, s. and h. of Thomas Brooke of Brooke Ilchester, Som. and Holditch, by Constance Markensfield. m. bef. May 1388, Joan (d. 10 Apr. 1437), da. and coh. of Simon Hanham of Glos., wid. of Robert Cheddar† of Bristol, 2s. inc. Thomas*. Kntd. bef. 1386.1
Commr. to requisition ships, Bristol Mar. 1385; of inquiry, Som., Glos. June 1389 (poaching), Som., Dorset Mar. 1393 (concealments), Som. Oct. 1395 (Merriott estates), Feb. 1400 (insurrections), Devon, Cornw. Aug. 1400, Devon, Som., Dorset, Wilts., Bristol, Hants Dec. 1400 (concealments), Devon Mar. 1403 (Montagu estates), Dorset Jan. 1405 (depopulation of Lyme Regis), Devon, Cornw. June 1406 (concealments), Som. Nov. 1411 (Cary estates); to take custody of the heir to the Fichet estates, Essex July 1391; of array, Som. Mar. 1392, Devon Dec. 1399, July 1402, Som., Dorset, Devon, Cornw. Aug. 1403, Som. July 1405; to survey the estates of the Lords Appellant of 1388, Som., Dorset, Hants, Wilts. Oct. 1397; of weirs, Som. June 1398; oyer and terminer, Bristol May 1400, Som. Feb. 1410; to survey rivers Mar. 1401; of sewers Aug. 1401; to proclaim Henry IV’s intention to govern well May 1402, the King’s rights at Litton Cheney church, Dorset Mar. 1404; raise royal loans, Devon, Cornw. June 1406, June 1410.
J.p. Som. 15 July 1389-Nov. 1408, Feb. 1409-Nov. 1417, Devon 26 Jan. 1394-July 1397, Dorset 26 Nov. 1404-17.
Sheriff, Som. and Dorset 15 Nov. 1389-7 Nov. 1390, Devon 13 Nov. 1393-11 Nov. 1394.
Collector of an aid, Som. Dec. 1401.
The family of Brooke, which took its name from the hamlet near Ilchester, was established at least by the 13th century. That Sir Thomas himself was its first prominent member was due largely to his opportune marriage with the widow of a wealthy Bristol merchant. On the death of his father in 1367 Brooke, aged 12, succeeded to lands at Brooke, Sock Dennis, ‘Bishopstone’ by Montacute and Kingston by Yeovil (in Somerset) and to the family home at Holditch in Dorset, custody of the same during his minority being granted to Alan Buxhill (a prominent royal courtier). The small estate held by his father at White Roding in Essex had already been lost on account of debts. Brooke added to his inheritance, not only by his marriage but also through purchase. He died holding 11 manors (including Weycroft, bought in about 1395, which became the family seat), a considerable increase on the five properties which formed his patrimony. His wife’s estate, settled on her by her first husband, Robert Cheddar, was much greater, comprising 17 manors, five advowsons and very extensive properties scattered throughout Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Gloucestershire, besides 17 messuages, 21 shops, four cellars, 160 tenements and an advowson, all in Bristol. Brooke’s first recorded contact with Joan Cheddar occurred in May 1384, at which time he stood surety for the custodian of the Cheddar estates appointed when her husband became insane. The merchant died a month later, and within four years Brooke had married his widow. When Cheddar’s heir, Richard*, came of age in 1400 he confirmed his stepfather’s life tenure of his inheritance, ‘for that for defence of the same against divers strangers, the said Thomas has many times endured great travail and cost’. This transaction left Brooke in the position of being by far the largest landowner in Somerset. When, in 1404, a subsidy was levied on those able to spend more than 500 marks a year, Brooke was recorded as holding lands in the county worth £165 a year and in Dorset worth £15; and eight years later he was said to possess property of an annual value of £189 in Somerset, £120 in Bristol, £40 in Devon, £40 in Gloucestershire, £20 in Dorset and £20 in Wiltshire, a total, no doubt underestimated, of £429. A reflection of Brooke’s wealth is provided by the royal licence granted to him in 1397, entitling him ‘to strengthen with a wall of stone and lime his manor of Holditch and enclose and make a park of 200 acres of pasture and wood ... including a deer leap in the park’ 2
Although Brooke owed his prominence in Somerset to his position as a landowner, regular employment in local administration required proof of ability as well. Little is heard of him before February 1385 when, nearly 30, he joined the retinue of Sir Philip Courtenay*, the chief lord of his manor of Holditch, who was then about to go to Ireland as lieutenant of the province. His first royal commission was to find ships for Courtenay’s use. This was a connexion worth preserving, and Brooke later acted as an arbitrator in Sir Philip’s land disputes and also as an administrator of the possessions of his brother, Sir Peter†. It is less certain that it was this Thomas Brooke who was involved in an event which took place during the Scottish campaign later in the same year of 1385, when, near Bishopsthorpe in Yorkshire, Ralph Stafford, the eldest son of Hugh, 2nd earl of Stafford, was killed in a brawl between his supporters and those of Richard II’s half-brother, John, earl of Huntingdon. A man of this name was pardoned for Stafford’s death in November 1386, that is, during the first Parliament of which our by then Sir Thomas Brooke was a Member.3
Brooke’s career, however, was shaped more by his landed status than by his military achievements or possible connexion with the earl of Huntingdon. In this respect he was similar to his neighbour at Axminster, Sir William Bonville I*. Together, Brooke and Bonville dominated the parliamentary representation of Somerset for more than half a century, Sir Thomas himself sitting in at least 13 of the 22 Parliaments in the period 1386 to 1413. On two occasions he was accompanied to the Commons by Richard Cheddar, his stepson. Like Bonville, Brooke’s commissioned service was wide-ranging, and his local influence was needed equally by Richard II and Henry IV. Thus in 1397 he was required to survey the estates confiscated from the Lords Appellant of the Merciless Parliament of 1388, following their condemnation in the Parliament of 1397 (Sept.), he having witnessed the contradictory events of both Parliaments as a Member of the Commons. Nevertheless, he thought it prudent to obtain two pardons for any offences he might have committed before 31 Jan. 1398, the last day of the session at Shrewsbury, and less than three years later he was placed on a commission in the west to inquire into the concealment of goods judged forfeit by the deposed King Richard and his adherents. Only a man of high standing in the area could have dealt with both duties with equal impartiality, but in fact there are signs that Brooke was more in favour with Henry IV than he ever had been with Richard II. In November 1399, only shortly after his coronation, Henry granted Brooke exemption from royal administrative service against his will; in 1404 he referred to him as ‘our beloved and faithful knight’ and in October 1405 he granted him six bucks and six does a year for life from the royal forest of Neroche. Brooke had been summoned to the great council of August 1401 as one of four prominent figures from Somerset, and he offered Henry IV help both financially and in the military sphere. Thus, he made loans to him of 100 marks in August 1400 and £200 in 1403. Two years later he not only fought in the Welsh campaign in person, but also raised money in the West Country for the duke of York’s contingent and for the defence of the Welsh castles (for which last his individual contribution was £40). When Henry V came to the throne the grant of venison from Neroche was confirmed, and Brooke was ready to make a loan of as much as 500 marks on 17 July 1413 to help finance the projected resumption of hostilities against the French. It was again as a ‘King’s knight’ that in May 1415 he was made a grant for life (shared with his wife) of the town of Lyme Regis in Dorset, for an annual fee farm of £5. Both Sir Thomas and his wife were to be depicted on the monumental brasses on their tomb wearing the ‘SS’ collars of the Lancastrian livery. Brooke’s other activities included innumerable appearances as surety, feoffee and witness in the transactions of neighbours. With Sir Hugh Luttrell* of Dunster and other ‘noble and powerful’ men he had been present at Glastonbury abbey during Archbishop Arundel’s stormy visitation of 1408. They were called in after the formalities and Arundel ‘expounded to them all the proceedings of the visitation, requesting them to assist in securing the execution of all that had been done’4 His local influence in Dorset as well as Somerset is also suggested by the pattern of parliamentary representation at Lyme Regis, especially after he obtained control of the borough in 1415. Four of Lyme’s parliamentary burgesses of this period (Hugh Sampford, Thomas Est, William Taverner II and Thomas Lond) were all close associates of his. Most notable was the return to Parliament in 1417 of two feoffees of his estates, Est and Taverner, when his son, Thomas, was representing Somerset.
The marriage of Brooke’s elder son to the heiress of Cobham and the connexion thus forged with Sir John Oldcastle*, the bride’s stepfather, brought the family some notoriety as well as added social status. The marriage settlement made at the time of the Parliament of 1410, in which Brooke was a Member of the Commons and Oldcastle of the Lords, involved not only Sir Thomas’s commitment to pay Sir John the large sum of 1,300 marks, but also led to a charge of lollard sympathy, proven in the case of the younger Thomas and strongly suggested in the father as well. Admittedly, the provisions made by Sir Thomas and his wife in that same year of 1410 for the celebration of special weekly masses for the soul of Robert Cheddar, and the welfare of Richard Cheddar and themselves at Barlinch priory, and their inclusion in all the prayers said by the canons of the house, were orthodox enough; but Sir Thomas’s will, drawn up at Holditch on 25 May 1415, was of a type sometimes thought to indicate lollard beliefs. An unusual document with a distinctly individual flavour, the will describes the testator as a ‘wrichyd synner’ and asks God to ‘fouchesafe to receyve [his] wreched unclene soule into his mercy and kepe hyt from dampnacioun’. Brooke further directed that his body be buried at Thorncombe where people ‘gosh over into the church at the south side ryghte as they mowe steppe on me, and a flat playne stone save my name ygraved tharin ... and nether huche [coffin] ne leede to be layde in, bote a grete clothe to hely my foule caryin’. The preamble (‘in the name of the Lorde of all Lordes, the allmyghty immortal Trinite’) introduced another theme: most of the provisions went in threes to mark Brooke’s respect for the Trinity. Thus only three masses were to be said, there were to be only three torches and tapers, and 300 poor people were to receive 3d. each and 300 children 1d. each. There were to be no feasts at his funeral, and he left not a penny to the Church or to the religious orders. Brooke’s poorest tenants were to have a total of £100, and another £100 was to go to the blind and lame. If he owned costly clothes and plate he made no mention of the fact. Sir Thomas was making his will ‘out of sekeness’ and was able to write only the dating clause personally, but he lived on nearly three more years until 23 or 24 Jan. 1418. It is notable that his widow did not share her husband’s taste in plain tombs, and when she came to be buried next to him, after her death in 1437, a magnificent brass was placed over their joint grave, which, again contrary to Brooke’s wishes, was placed in a prominent position inside the church.5
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. CIPM, ix. 101; Procs. Som. Arch. Soc. xliv (ii), 14-17.
- 2. CIPM, ix. 101, 617; xii. 53, 115; C138/29/54; CCR, 1360-4, pp. 563-4; 1399-1402, pp. 283, 304; 1405-8, p. 350; 1413-19, pp. 478-82; Add. 4600, f. 282; CPR, 1367-70, p. 3; 1381-5, p. 404; 1396-9, p. 85; Feudal Aids, i. 416, 420, 448, 536; vi. 508; Some Som. Manors (Som. Rec. Soc. extra ser. 1931), 300-2; E179/169/61; C115/K2/6682 ff. 37-39d.
- 3. CPR, 1381-5, pp. 530, 539, 558; 1385-9, p. 62; 1405-8, p. 31; RP, iii. 302; J. Froissart, Chroniques (Soc. de l’Hist. de France), xii. pp. lxvii, 260-5; Westminster Chron. 1381-94 ed. Hector and Harvey, 122.
- 4. CPR, 1396-9, p. 308; 1399-1401, pp. 87, 415; 1405-8, p. 85; 1413-16, pp. 29, 325; PPC, i. 161, 202, 272-3; CCR, 1402-5, p. 525; Reg. Bekynton (Som. Rec. Soc. l), 554; E403/571 m. 21, 612 m. 8; J.H. Wylie, Hen. V, i. 147-8; E28/23/1; Procs. Som. Arch. Soc. xliv (ii), 18; C67/30 mm. 27, 34.
- 5. E326/8199; CCR, 1408-13, p. 81; Som. Med. Wills (Som. Rec. Soc. xvi), 401-2; C138/29/54; C139/38/15, 84/62; Procs. Som. Arch. Soc. xliv (ii), 17; C. Kightly, ‘Early Lollards’ (York Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1975), 347-9.