BRETT, Richard (d.1689), of Richmond, Surr. and Upper Marwell House, Hants.
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Family and Education
Capt. ?Surr. militia by 1661, maj. by 1676; commr. for assessment, Surr. 1677-9, Carm. 1677-80, 1689; j.p. Carm. 1677-d.3
Gent. waiter to the Duke of York 1662-?73; commr. for Admiralty droits 1673-?84, excise 1673-4, preventing export of wool 1689.4
Brett clearly enjoyed easy access to the Restoration Court and sufficient financial acumen to exploit it. His choice of the name Arthur for his illegitimate son suggests that he was himself the son of the London gentleman of that name to whom the 2nd Lord Conway mortgaged three Warwickshire manors in 1640; but whether he was of the Somerset or Leicestershire gentry families, both of whom attained some prominence at the early Stuart Court, has not been ascertained. His father may have been a Roman Catholic, as Brett, by his own admission, attended mass at St. Omer while on his travels. On his return to England, he interested himself in the Bermuda plantation and obtained a grant of the sole right to import logwood. This monopoly was abolished by Act of Parliament in 1661 and he was compensated with a pension of £250 p.a., though in 1668 he exchanged this with Thomas Clifford for a share in the logwood farm. His place in the Duke of York’s household was said to be worth £1,000. In 1673 he became an excise commissioner, and his prosperity increased rapidly. With John Parsons and a member of another Surrey family, the Vincents, he was awarded the naval victualling contract in 1677; the three partners were described as possessed of ‘solid fortunes’. But in 1678 he was prepared, to the detriment of Lord Treasurer Danby, to swear that he had ‘proposed a very improved rent for tin mines in Cornwall’, which had been rejected.5
By this time, however, Brett was ready to set up as a country gentleman. He bought the Carmarthenshire manor of Green Castle from the Hon. John Vaughan, and was added to the commission of the peace, though he never acted. On his marriage he settled at Richmond. His wife was a cousin of the great heiress, Lady Ogle, and this connexion involved Brett in the most scandalous action of his life, the virtual sale of the 14-year-old widow to Thomas Thynne II for £10,000. Lady Ogle wrote that it was ‘as feasible for Mr Brett to get money by selling me as by robbing on the highway’. Thynne rewarded him with a lease of the valuable rectory of Thame, and may have helped him to build up an estate in Hampshire. Brett bought Pauncefote Hill, near Romsey, from Sir William Portman about this time, and leased the manor of Marwell Woodstock from Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He furnished Upper Marwell House, about ten miles from Southampton, and presumably divided his time between there and Richmond. The episode did not improve Brett’s standing at Court, however; Charles II called him both fool and knave when the unhappy bride fled from her husband, and Brett, who had previously lied about the marriage, asked the King to help in recovering her. Nothing daunted, Brett, who had just lost his own wife, became a suitor for one of the daughters of Lord Manchester (Robert Montagu). ‘There you see the mettle of our old fellows, to venture upon girls’, commented a court gossip. In 1683 the victualling contract was terminated, and responsibility transferred to a government department. Whether out of boredom or necessity, Brett turned to gambling and won 2,900 guineas at a sitting from Sir Basil Firebrace. He was accused of playing with false dice, but acquitted. He was absent from the questions on the Test and Penal Laws in Carmarthenshire in 1688, but noted as ‘well known to the King’. No doubt he was closeted, but the results are unknown. He was returned for Southampton as a Tory at the general election of 1689. His motive for entering Parliament can only be conjectured; he may have feared for the future of the logwood farm, always unpopular with the clothiers, and his appointment to the commission for preventing the export of wool, thereby increasing the consumption of dyestuffs, provides some confirmation of this. But he was also owed £7,000 by the crown, secured on the excise, and this too might be endangered by the Revolution. According to Ailesbury’s list he voted to agree with the Lords that the throne was not vacant, but he was named to no committees in the Convention and made no recorded speeches. On 15 June he was given leave to go to Bath for six weeks for his health. He made his will on the same day, ‘sickly and infirm of body’, dividing his land between his two daughters. He also owned town property in Knightsbridge and Little Queen Street; one of his tenants was John Wildman I. A new writ for Southampton was ordered on 2 Nov. 1689, and Brett was buried at Richmond three days later.6
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Paula Watson
- 1. New writ.
- 2. C5/450/6; Manning and Bray, Surr. i. 431; PCC 149 Ent.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 304; Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 15.
- 4. HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), 278; Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 428; v. 176.
- 5. CSP Dom. 1640, pp. 14-15; 1660-1, p. 304; C5/450/6; Cal. Cl. SP, v. 177; Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 124, 401, 417; ii. 341; iv. 428; v. 825, 1184; Oxinden Letters 1642-70 ed. Gardiner, 337; Naval Mss in Pepysian Lib. (Navy Rec. Soc. xxvi), 165, 175, 179.
- 6. PCC 149 Ent; CSP Dom. 1682, p. 50; VCH Hants, iv. 456; Woodward, Hants, ii. 91; HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), 51; HMC Ormonde, n.s. vi. 107, 223; HMC Hastings, ii. 173; T. Vernon, Cases in Chancery, 490; J. Duthy, Sketches of Hants, 312-14; HMC Frankland, 51; Ellis Corresp. ii. 153-4; Richmond Par. Reg. (Surr. Par. Reg. Soc. i), 74, 235, 246.