1618, William Brereton claims he is too poor to pay a £100 fine and asks for mercy

William Brereton. SP 46/70 f. 164 (1618)

To the right honorable the Earle of Suffolke Lord High Trasorer of Englande

The humble peticon of William Brereton

Sheweth to your lordship that the peticoner was servant to Sir Randall Brereton knight nowe deceased and that a litle before his deathe the peticoner was by his saide master called to be a witnes of his saide master his will.

That in the sute betwene Sir Richard Egerton plaintiff, and Sir Thomas Brereton and others defendantes in the honourable court of Starr Chamber, the peticoner was also named a defendant, for so beinge a witnes of the saide will and was in Michaelmas terme in the xith yere of the Kinges majesties raigne by the saide court, censured amongest others to paie to his majestie a hundred poundes which without abatement is estraited into thexchequer

The peticoner beinge a poore servingman, and havinge no meanes to satisfie the saide 100 pounds to his majestie, or to maintayne himselfe, but by his service

His humble sute is, that your lordship wilbe pleased that the saide 100 pounds maie be enstalled to the yerelie payment of xl shillings which the peticoner shalbe hardlye able to paie [illegible]. And if more be required of him, he shall have no meanes to paie it, but by renderinge his bodye to prison, and there to remayne unprofitable forever

And the peticoner will daylye praie for your lordships healthe with encrease of muche honour.

[paratext:] Master West forasmuch as credible informacion is given that the peticioners estate is so smale as he cannot pay this fyne of one hundred poundes to his majesty but by a very smale yerely some. Lett the same be enstalled to be payd by forty shillinges yerely, the first payment to be made in Easter terme next, and so yerely untill the whole be satisfied, for performance whereof you are to take sufficient security and this shalbe your warraunt this last of February 1617 / T Suffolke / [Lord W: Tanfielde?] / Edward Bromely / [Thomas?] [illegible] / [illegible] xxviiio February 1617 For Bruertons estallment of a fine of C pounds impost in camera stellata [term?] Michaelmas anno xio regni

Report by Barbara Prynn

William Brereton (1567-1630) came from a prominent and ancient Cheshire family, which had early connections with the Egerton family and the two families were embroiled in litigation together. William Brereton married Jane Warburton (1563-1627). (1)

The recipient of the petition was Thomas Howard, 1st Baron Howard de Walden and Earl of Suffolk (1561–1626), who was the son of  the 4th duke of Norfolk who was executed in 1572, when Thomas was eleven years old, because  he had conspired to rescue Mary, Queen of Scots. His mother was heiress to Baron Audley of Walden, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, and he inherited Audley End. In 1588 he was knighted for gallantry against the Armada. He served at sea in the 1590s and was given the Garter in 1597. The same year, when he was believed to be on his deathbed, he was summoned to Parliament as Baron Howard de Walden. He was in favour with James I who made him Earl of Suffolk and employed him as Lord Chamberlain (1603–14). He was Lord High Treasurer from 1614 to 1618. His daughter, Frances, married the king’s favourite, Somerset. Howard was nearly brought down over the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. His building programme at Audley End was on a lavish scale and pushed him heavily into debt. In 1619 he was imprisoned in the Tower and fined £30,000 (£3,000,000) for peculation. Though he was restored to favour in 1620 and the fine reduced, he never recaptured his former influence at court. (2)

Sir Richard Egerton, whose family were also prominent in Cheshire, was born in the county in 1575 and died there in 1627. In 1619 he married Margaret Brereton, thus continuing the close connection between the two families. 3 Their son, also named Richard, was born in 1624. (4)

The English court of Star Chamber was created by King Henry VII in 1487 and was named for a room with stars painted on the ceiling in the royal palace of Westminster, where the court sat. The Star Chamber was an instrument of the monarch and consisted of royal councillors and two royal judges. The jurisdiction of the court was based on the royal prerogative of administering justice in cases not remediable in the regular courts of law. It was a court of ‘equity’ granting remedies unavailable in the common-law courts. As such the court was an informal body that dispensed with “due process” as it was then understood. (5)

Edward Bromley was born in 1563 and died in 1626. Although an experienced lawyer, he left little mark on the parliamentary sessions in which he sat. On 14th April 1604 he was named to attend the conference with the Lords at which the king outlined his initial plans for the Union (of England and Scotland)A week later he was ordered ‘to draft a bill of outlaws’, doubtless the measure barring recusants, outlaws, perjurers and forgers from election to Parliament. He was named to the bill committee five days later.

In 1607, Bromley made unsuccessful overtures for preferment as surveyor of the Court of Wards,(6) but at his elevation to the coif(7)  and the judicial bench as an Exchequer baron(8) in February, 1610, he was still described as ‘an obscure lawyer of the Inner Temple’. This promotion doubtless owed something to his family background. His father had been Chief Justice of Chester and his uncle Sir Thomas Bromley had been Lord Chancellor. It can hardly have been a coincidence that only two weeks after his patent as Exchequer Baron was sealed, Bromley inherited the family estates in Shropshire upon the death of his nephew, Thomas Bromley. His appointment created a vacancy at Bridgnorth which resulted in a contested by-election from which he apparently remained aloof. His parliamentary patronage subsequently focused on Much Wenlock where his influence as recorder secured the return of another nephew, Thomas Wolryche, three times during the 1620s. (9)


  1. http://breretonhistory.ca/Feb.%202018%20web%20-%20Breretons%20of%20Cheshire.pdf
  2. https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/british-and-irish-history-biographies/thomas-howard-1st-earl-suffolk
  3. https://www.findmypast.co.uk/transcript?id=GBPRS%2FB%2F766405184%2F1
  4. ancestry.co.uk
  5. https://law.jrank.org/pages/10462/Star-Chamber.html
  6. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Court%20of%20Wards(an English court of record under the feudal system having jurisdiction over matters dealing with estates held of the Crown, including their transfer from a deceased tenant to his heir and the payment of taxes and rents due the Crown from such estates)
  7. http://hatguide.co.uk/coif/(In England, coifs were also worn by an extinct senior grade of lawyer, the Serjeant-at-Law.)
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bromley
  9. https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/member/bromley-edward-1563-1626


This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, 1600-1625’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.