BROOKE, Thomas (c.1391-1439), of Holditch, Dorset and Weycroft, Devon.
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Family and Education
b.c.1391, s. and h. of Sir Thomas Brooke*. m. at Cooling castle, Kent between 5 Apr. and 11 May 1410, Joan (c.1404-24 Nov. 1442), da. of Sir Reynold Braybrooke* (d.1405) of Cooling castle and o. surv. da. and h. of Joan de la Pole (d.1434), suo jure Lady Cobham, 10s. inc. Edward†, 4da. Kntd. 1418; jure uxoris Lord Cobham aft. 13 Jan. 1434.1
Commr. of array, Devon June 1421; inquiry, Som., Dorset June 1421 (Urswyk estates), Som. Aug. 1426 (necromancy), Devon Dec. 1431 (piracy); to raise royal loans, Som. Apr. 1422, Devon, Cornw. July 1426, May 1428; of sewers, Som. May 1425.
J.p. Som. 12 Feb. 1422-Feb. 1433, Devon 20 July 1431-d.
Sheriff, Devon 6 Nov. 1424-15 Jan. 1426.
Tax assessor, Devon Jan. 1436.
By the time of his return to Parliament for Dorset in 1413, at the early age of about 22, the younger Thomas Brooke was already holding lands in that county, at ‘Blundeshay’ in Whitchurch Canonicorum, estimated to be worth £44 a year. In November 1417 he and his wife were in residence at Weycroft, the family seat, and when his father died in the following January he inherited more of the family estates, although a substantial portion remained in his mother’s keeping as jointure until her death in 1437. Brooke is known to have come into possession of seven manors in Dorset, the Somerset manors of Brooke Ilchester, West Bagborough, ‘Sewardswick’ and Lufton, and the Devon manors of Weycroft and North Molton, for the most part inherited from his father in 1418. His marriage had brought him immediate control of property in Bincknoll and Chisbury in Bedwyn (Wiltshire) together with the manor of Hemenhale (Norfolk), but the remainder of his wife’s inheritance only passed to them after the death of her mother, Lady Cobham, in 1434. The Cobham estates when finally acquired, after lawsuits with Lady Cobham’s last husband, Sir John Harpenden, substantially increased Brooke’s fortune, providing him with an income well over £250 a year. They included no fewer than five manors, besides Cooling castle, in Kent, three in Oxfordshire and three in Essex, two each in Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire, one in Berkshire and ‘Cobham’s Inn’ in London, as well as extensive lands and several advowsons in Surrey and elsewhere in south-east England.2
Thomas’s marriage contract had been drawn up between his father and Lady Cobham and her then husband, Sir John Oldcastle*, on 20 Feb. 1410, Sir Thomas subsequently undertaking to pay Oldcastle 1,300 marks on the day of the wedding, which was to take place before Whit Sunday. In return, the Brookes were assured that Joan Braybrooke, then only about six years old, would inherit her mother’s enviable possessions. Thomas’s inevitable close connexion with his wife’s stepfather, Oldcastle, the ‘Lollardus Lollardorum’ of later royal proclamations, engendered if it did not confirm a sympathy for religious heterodoxy. This must have been quite clear to the Brookes from the outset: on 3 Apr. an interdict was imposed by Archbishop Arundel on certain churches in Kent, and John, the chaplain of Oldcastle’s household, was citated for heresy. Two days later the interdict was lifted, ostensibly to allow the wedding at Cooling of Oldcastle’s stepdaughter to Thomas Brooke. But whether or not the Brookes knew of Oldcastle’s heretical views at the time of the marriage, it is clear that not long afterwards both Sir Thomas and his son also adopted them, and the latter was actually accused of taking part in the great lollard revolt of 1414. In the previous summer, shortly after the younger Brooke’s first appearance in Parliament (on the same occasion as his father and half-brother, Richard Cheddar, had represented Somerset and Oldcastle had been summoned to the Lords), Oldcastle was arraigned before Convocation and, eventually, convicted of heresy. His escape from the Tower early in October precipitated the rising at St. Giles’s Fields three months later in which Brooke was openly implicated. He had been arrested and was in the Tower along with a neighbour from Somerset, Sir Thomas Beauchamp*, by 8 Feb. On that date four of his friends went surety for him in the sum of 1,000 marks that he would be the King’s ‘true prisoner’ and make no attempt to escape, and after this he was no longer kept in chains, but allowed to go at large within the precincts. Brooke spent some months in the Tower and precisely when he was liberated is not known, but he was probably a free man by 24 Aug., when, at the request of his mother-in-law, Lady Cobham, he and Richard Clitheroe I* were granted custody of all the lands which Oldcastle had occupied jointly with her, together with all those he had held in her right. Although he had yet to stand trial, the government had by then obviously decided that he was relatively harmless. On or about 29 Sept., he and Beauchamp came before the King at Westminster, where they were accused both of stirring up rebellion and of holding heretical opinions. They pleaded not guilty and were ordered to appear again on 26 Oct., when they were acquitted of both charges by a jury. Brooke and Clitheroe continued to administer the Cobham estates while Oldcastle was on the run, and it seems likely that Brooke maintained contact with his wife’s stepfather and may even have given him shelter and support. At any rate the Council was extremely suspicious of his activities, and on 13 July 1417 he and his half-brother, Cheddar, were compelled to find surety, each in the very large sum of £1,000, that neither would make or lead unlawful assemblies, adhere to Oldcastle against the Church or secretly maintain him in his heresies. During the next Parliament, to which both Brooke and Cheddar were returned for Somerset, the lollard was captured. Even so, the Commons petitioned for his execution, and he was condemned by the Lords as an outlawed traitor and convicted heretic.3
Subsequently, although Brooke evidently retained his lollard views, to all outward appearances he conformed to the established attitudes. On 21 May 1418 he took out royal letters of protection as being about to go overseas, and before 27 Oct., when he received similar guarantees, he was made a knight. He served with the royal army at the siege of Rouen, and it seems likely that he stayed on in France until Henry V’s last visit to England in February 1421. He represented Somerset in the following Parliament. Also he was present at the elections at Ilchester for the second Parliament of the year, to which his half-brother was once more elected as a knight of the shire. In his capacity as sheriff of Devon, Brooke held the elections at Exeter for the Parliament of 1425, and he again attended those at Ilchester in 1429.4 In the meantime, he had quarrelled with his wealthy neighbour at Axminster, Sir William Bonville II*. In February 1427 he had procured the appointment of a commission of oyer and terminer respecting a forcible entry, damage to property, and assaults on his men by Bonville and his followers at Weycroft. But in fact it was Brooke himself who was at fault. He had enclosed a large part of his manor of Weycroft to make a park ‘for wild beasts’ thereby blocking three roads and restricting the access of Bonville and his tenants to their own properties. Brooke sought to give his actions greater authority by procuring a royal charter which officially permitted him not only to enclose and crenellate Weycroft but also to empark 800 acres of land there, having first expeditiously placed the property in the hands of powerful feoffees with influence in the royal council, namely the Protector himself (Humphrey, duke of Gloucester), and the earls of Salisbury and Suffolk, as well as important local landowners such as Sir Hugh Luttrell* (his wife’s kinsman), Sir Giles Daubeney† and Sir Thomas Beauchamp. But when the dispute was put to arbitration in August 1428 it was decided that all the obstructions should be removed, and that Brooke, having met the legal costs, should attend a love-day ending with a dinner given by the abbot of Newenham. Sir Thomas’s influence at Court in 1427 had borne fruit in the grant of the charter and in two separate Exchequer leases of property at Taunton (Somerset) and Hoghurst (Dorset), yet, as his defeat on this issue indicates, local hegemony was expressly denied him.5 In January 1436 Brooke was appointed to serve on a committee for assessing those below the rank of baron in Devon for the tax on landed income. Shortly afterwards both he and his mother were called upon to contribute 100 marks each towards the fitting out of the duke of York’s expedition to France. Since the death of his mother-in-law two years earlier he had assumed the courtesy title of Lord Cobham, but there is no record of his being summoned as such to either of the Parliaments which met before his death: those of 1435 and 1437.6
Brooke’s will, drawn up on 12 Feb. 1439, is strikingly similar to his father’s in so far as it provided for a niggardly burial ceremony and omitted monastic houses from the beneficiaries. There was the same emphasis on the testator’s unworthiness, contemptuous language used of the corpse, injunctions against funeral pomp and legacies to the poor instead of to the Church. Only three masses of requiem were to be said. Every poor, blind or lame man or woman coming to the funeral was to receive 4d., and other needy people 1d. each, and sufficient meat and drink was to be provided for everyone who went back to the manor house at Holditch after attending mass at Thorncombe church, where Brooke was to be buried in the north aisle. He died on 12 Aug. following. One of his more interesting instructions had been that if any of his children were to ‘trouble, disese, or pursew of my trew servandys’ his widow ‘with alle the lordeshipe and frendshipe that she may gete’ was to succour and defend them so long as she had ‘any gode wherwith to withstande [their] ivyll wyll’. The eldest of these children, whose intentions their father so feared, was Edward Brooke, who was returned as knight of the shire for Somerset in 1419 and 1442, and, after his mother’s death in the latter year, was later summoned to the Upper House as Lord Cobham.7
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Authors: J. S. Roskell / L. S. Woodger
- 1. CP , iii. 345-6; Procs. Som. Arch. Soc. xliv (ii), 18-19, 36-37.
- 2. Feudal Aids, i. 497; ii. 75, 102, 107, 108; v. 263, 279; vi. 426; Reg. Stafford (Exeter) ed. Hingeston-Randolph, 272; CCR, 1413-19, pp. 480-2; C138/29/54; C139/38/15, 65/37, 84/62; C1/6/116, 17/267; Som. Feet of Fines (Som. Rec. Soc. xxii), 194.
- 3. CCR, 1409-13, p. 81; 1413-19, pp. 116, 121, 428, 487; Coll. Top. et Gen. vii. 338; Procs. Som. Arch. Soc. xliv (ii), 36-44; CFR, xiv. 75; CPR, 1413-16, p. 248; C. Kightly, ‘Early Lollards’ (York Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1975), 341-9, 373; Concilia Magna Brittaniae ed. Wilkins, iii. 330-1; KB27/614 m. 15.
- 4. DKR, xli. 704; C76/101 m. 7; C219/12/6, 13/3, 14/1.
- 5. CPR, 1422-9, pp. 400, 403; CChR, v. 1; Devon RO, Petre (Bonville) mss, TB470; CFR, xv. 165, 170.
- 6. PPC, iv. 326, 328; Reg. Lacy (Canterbury and York Soc. lxi), 67.
- 7. Fifty Earliest Eng. Wills (EETS lxxviii), 129-30; C139/92/32, 97/6, 112/66.