BROOKE, alias COBHAM, Thomas (1533-78), ?of Wandsworth, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 30 Dec. 1533, 3rd s. of George, 9th Lord Cobham, and bro. of George, John, William and Henry Brooke alias Cobham I. Uncle of William and Henry Brooke alias Cobham II.1 educ. Trinity, Camb. 1547;2 Orleans 1550.3 m. Anne or Catherine, da. of Sir William Cavendish, 1s. 2da.4

Offices Held

?Clerk of the pastry 1559; ?clerk of the woodyard 1563.5


This Member presumably owed his return for Rochester to his brother William, who had recently succeeded as 10th Lord Cobham, the leading nobleman in Kent. Thomas, like his elder brother George, spent some time on the Continent under a tutor, in this case Nicholas ‘Alenus’ at Orleans, who wrote that the licentious and idle youth refused to listen to admonitions and spent whole days drinking in taverns, playing tennis instead of attending lectures, and wandering the streets at night with ‘lost men’. The tutor’s repeated requests for money, however, may not have been due entirely to his charge’s extravagance: other tutors found Lord Cobham dilatory in sending the promised allowance for his sons.6

Nothing is known of the next four years of the young man’s life. In February 1554 he was implicated, with others of his family, in the rebellion of his relative Sir Thomas Wyatt, and was sent to the Tower. An eye-witness reported that when Sir Nicholas Poyntz asked him, ‘What wind headed you to work such treason?’, he answered, ‘Oh, sir! I was seduced’. The government seems to have agreed with this view, since, though condemned to death, he was pardoned, and released in December of that year.7

Shortly afterwards he entered the service of the Earl of Pembroke and was soon in trouble again. In July 1557 the Council ordered Pembroke to send him up to London to answer a charge of robbing his relative Sir Edward Warner by breaking into his house at night. No details of Cobham’s pardon have been found, but he was evidently at liberty, or under no more than house arrest, by the following January, when the Council ordered Lord Cobham to send a hundred men to Dover under one of his sons, ‘so as it be not Thomas ... whom he is willed to spare at home for this time’.8

After 1563 almost everything known of Thomas is connected with his seafaring activities. On 27 Mar. 1564 a circular letter was sent to the ports in the south and west of Ireland, ordering them to capture him and seize the cargo of his ship. Reports of his crime are confused, but it seems clear that while cruising in the Channel he had chased a Spanish ship, which was carrying tapestries for Philip II, driven her into the Bay of Biscay, killed her captain, and taken her as a prize to Waterford. The Spanish ambassador, De Silva, and the Antwerp owners of the cargo complained to the English government, who had Brooke arrested. According to the (unreliable) despatches of De Silva, Brooke was sentenced to torture on refusing to plead. The prisoner, who apparently claimed benefit of clergy, strenuously denied that he had sewn up the Spanish survivors in sail-cloth and flung them overboard, insisting that he had put his prisoners ashore at Belle Ile. He was finally acquitted, and the jury were later fined for giving an unjust verdict. In August 1564 he sailed with Hawkins for ‘Guinea and the Portugal Indies’, but in May 1565 he was again arrested in London. By this time there were several piracy charges against him. In October a correspondent told Alva that the Queen was ‘minded to punish ill factors, by the example of Mr. Cobham, who is condemned to die, being a gentleman’. He again escaped the death penalty, but by 1571 was once more under suspicion for dealings with pirates, this time at Dover.9

Before this last case was brought he had become involved in a more serious matter—the Duke of Norfolk’s plot. The bishop of Ross, Mary Stuart’s envoy, employed him as an agent, and under torture another servant of the bishop gave evidence against him. There is no certainty that he was immediately arrested, but after the Ridolfi plot he was sent to the Tower, in spite of his appeal to the Council for pardon. Meanwhile, the piracy commissioners were instructed to make a full report on his seafaring activities, since, the Council wrote, ‘we hear so many complaints ... for his misbehaviour ... we cannot pass the same over without this manner of inquisition’.10

Kept in the Tower until April 1574, he was released on giving sureties for his good behaviour. In the following year there are several references to disputes with the Dover authorities, who refused to restore goods which he claimed, and in November 1576 the Council once more ordered his arrest on a charge of piracy. By this time, however, he had possibly already left England for Flanders. A letter from William Fleetwood I to Burghley, dated 22 Oct. 1578, reported that he had died there.11

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Hatfield ms 225/1; Coll. Top. et Gen. vii. 352; Arch. Cant. xi. 208; xii. 127.
  • 2. Al. Cant. i(1), p. 361. The Thos. Brooke who matric. Gonville Hall 1549 (ibid. 227) was perhaps his younger brother and namesake.
  • 3. Harl. 374, f. 5
  • 4. Harl. 6157, f. 9; Hatfield ms 225/1; CSP For. 1582, p. 85; Arch. Cant. xii. 127; lxii. 55; Hasted, Kent, iii. 413.
  • 5. C. G. Bayne, ‘First House of Commons of Eliz.’, EHR, xxiii. 671; CPR, 1560-3, p. 608.
  • 6. HMC Hatfield, ii. 220; Harl. 374,f. 5; Arch. Cant. xii. 127.
  • 7. Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 50, 52, 62, 131; CPR, 1553-4, p. 389; 1554-5, pp. 47, 125, 201, 293; 1555-7, p. 44; APC, v. 87.
  • 8. APC, vi. 127, 227; CPR, 1557-8, p. 358.
  • 9. CSP Ire. 1509-73, p. 233; CSP Span. 1558-67, pp. 449, 473; CSP For. 1564-5, pp. 46, 79-80, 192, 350, 487; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 405; R. G. Marsden, ‘Thos. Cobham and the capture of the St. Katherine’, EHR, xxiii. 290; VCH Kent, ii. 290 n; Lansd. 14, f. 42; Hatfield ms 155/22; HMC 13th Rep. IV, 10; mss at Town Hall, Dover.
  • 10. CSP For. 1569-71, p. 353; HMC 13th Rep. IV, 10; HMC Hatfield, i. 533.
  • 11. APC, viii. 217, 255, 353 et passim; ix. 14, 226; HMC Hatfield, ii. 222.