BRAKYN, Thomas (by 1494-1545), of Cambridge and Chesterton, Cambs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. by 1494, s. of John Brakyn. m. by 1523, Lucy, da. of John Taverner of Spalding, Lincs., at least 1s. Richard.4

Offices Held

Commr. subsidy, Cambridge 1523, 1524, oyer and terminer 1540; mayor 1524-5, 1529-30, 1543-4, alderman by 1544; j.p. Cambridge by 1529, Cambs. 1542; marshal of the hall, Cambridge by 1533-?d.; collector of customs, port of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumb. Apr. 1543-d.5


Thomas Brakyn was a fishmonger whose services to Cambridge included the provision of much of the town’s official requirements of fish. This was the gift most frequently made to counsellors or friends of the borough, visiting noblemen and royal officials, and from 1515, when the municipal treasurers paid Brakyn for a present of fish given to the lord chief justice, every extant account for 30 years contains similar entries.6

Brakyn’s election three times to the mayoralty is unique in this period. His experience in that office and as the borough’s spokesman in its frequent negotiations or disputes with outside bodies, together with his evident popularity, suffice to explain his return to every Parliament summoned during the last 16 years of his life. He may, indeed, have begun his career in the Commons in 1523, a Parliament for which the names of the Cambridge Members are unknown; in the previous year he had spent 15 days in London and Windsor seeking a reduction in the number of archers the borough was required to support for the army. No such uncertainty attaches to his return in 1529 after a controversial election.7

On 5 Oct. 1529, according to Brakyn, over 100 freemen of Cambridge, who had assembled to elect their burgesses to the forthcoming Parliament, ‘quietly peaceably charitably and lovingly’ chose himself and Robert Chapman. It was but a week earlier that Brakyn had been elected mayor, and the disturbances which marked that occasion, as revealed in a Star Chamber suit brought against Brakyn by the retiring mayor, Edward Slegge, throw much light on the parliamentary election which followed. The mayoral struggle had lasted from mid-August until late September and was only brought to an end when the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, as high steward, caused a third election to be held at which Brakyn was chosen in accordance with the borough statutes.8

If Brakyn is to be believed, Slegge received the writ to elect Members on 18 Sept., but he himself said that it came on the 28th, the day of the final mayoral election. At 5 o’clock in the afternoon of that day, Slegge, ‘perceiving his time and office to be nigh expired ... brought forth the said writ to him directed ... and by virtue of the same would have proceeded to the said election’ in the town hall, where ‘a very small number of the said burgesses and commons not passing the number of 20 or 30 were assembled for other matters ... not having any knowledge of any election to be made that day’. Slegge claimed that the town crier was forcibly prevented by Brakyn, Robert Chapman and a mob of their supporters from making the election proclamation, whereupon he and his followers fled the town hall in fear of their lives. Brakyn countered that all had been done peaceably; he had remonstrated with Slegge ‘that it had not been seen in that house the burgesses of the Parliament to be so lightly chosen at such time of that day and without warning given to the said commons’, and when Slegge ignored this objection the townsmen present ‘departed thence for it was almost dark night’. Clearly Slegge intended to prevent Brakyn’s election and was only foiled by the postponement, forcibly or otherwise. On the following day Brakyn, now mayor, gave the proper notice for a parliamentary election, which followed on 5 Oct. At first there was talk of prosecuting Slegge for misdemeanours committed while in office, but after Brakyn’s victory a compromise was reached by which Chapman presented articles of complaint against Slegge, whose day for answering them was postponed. The whole affair ended (again in Brakyn’s version) with Brakyn sitting on the justices’ bench alongside Slegge, who afterwards went home and ‘dined with the said Thomas Brakyn ... in good quietness and charity’. The only surviving evidence of Brakyn’s parliamentary activity dates from 1543. In March of that year the Cambridge corporation agreed that Brakyn ‘shall be allowed all the money that be employed in getting [?setting] forth of the Act for paving [35 Hen. VIII, c.15] and for dissolving of the Act for regrating of fish [35 Hen. VIII, c.7]’.9

In May 1540 Brakyn paid £762 to the crown for Chesterton manor; a year later he bought 30 acres at Chesterton from a private vendor, but resold it, with two parcels of the manor land, before his death. In 1541 he was sued in the court of Star Chamber by Chesterton’s commoners for having wrongfully ditched and enclosed common fen. In another case, this time in Chancery, Brakyn was said to have submitted fraudulent accounts to a partner of his in the business of ‘buying and selling of pikes and other freshwater fish’. In neither case is the result known. Brakyn presumably exercised his office at Newcastle-upon-Tyne by deputy; he went there in 1544 in connexion with the purchase of coal for Cambridge, but certainly lived in Cambridge and Chesterton till his death on 16 Nov. 1545. He had again been elected to the Parliament of that year, and his death before its opening necessitated a fresh election on 2 Dec., when John Rust was chosen in his place.10

Brakyn’s will has not been found, but extracts from it appear in his inquisition. He left his wife a life interest in part of his house in Cambridge and the joint use with his son Richard of several others. The total value of Brakyn’s lands at Cambridge, Chesterton and Histon was returned at £46 a year, of which £42 was accounted for by Chesterton manor alone.11

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: D. F. Coros


  • 1. C. H. Cooper, Cambridge Annals , i. 386.
  • 2. Ibid. i. 394, 396.
  • 3. Ibid. i. 407.
  • 4. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Vis. Cambs. (Harl. Soc. xli), 18; C142/74/17.
  • 5. F. Blomefield, Coll. Cant. 224; Cooper, i. 415; C1/749/4-6; LP Hen. VIII, ii, iii, vi, xii, xv-xviii; St. Ch.2/26/178.
  • 6. Cooper, i. 298; Downing Coll. Cambridge Bowtell mss Liber Rationalis 1510-60 passim.
  • 7. Cooper, i. 306, 391.
  • 8. St.Ch.2/26/178.
  • 9. Cambridge Guildhall reg. bk. 1539-82, ff. 26, 33.
  • 10. LP Hen. VIII, xv, xvi, xviii, xix; St.Ch.2/3/313; C1/749/4; 142/74/17; Cooper, i. 415, 422, 440.
  • 11. C142/74/17; Cooper, ii. 70n.