BRAKIN, Francis (c.1546-c.1628), of Chesterton, Cambs. and Gray's Inn, London

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

b. c.1546,1 2nd s. of Richard Brakin of Chesterton, and Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Wren of Haddenham, I. of Ely, Cambs.2 educ. Queens’, Camb. 1561; Barnard’s Inn; G. Inn 1567, called 1579.3 m. Barbara, da. of Thomas Goodrick of Ely, Cambs., 3s. 4da.4 d. c.1628.

Offices Held

Dep. recorder, Cambridge, Cambs. 1583-1608, recorder 1608-24;5 reader, Staple Inn 1586;6 treas. G. Inn 1623-4.7

J.p. Cambs. 1591-d.,8 Ely 1602-d., Cambridge 1603-d.;9 commr. gaol delivery, Cambridge 1602-d., Ely 1602-d.,10 conservation of ditches, Ely 1603,11 sewers, fenlands 1605, river Gleane 1617-8,12 subsidy, Hunts. 1608, Cambridge, Cambs., I. of Ely 1608, 1621, 1624,13 aid Prince Henry, Cambs. 1609,14 oyer and terminer, Eastern circ. 1610-d.,15 repair Gt. Bridge, Cambridge 1617,16 swans, I. of Ely 1620.17


Little is known of Brakin’s early life except that he studied at Queens’ College, Cambridge, before attending the inns of court. From 1583 he served as deputy to three successive recorders of Cambridge, namely Lord Hunsdon (Henry Carey†), lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton I†), and Sir John Fortescue*. In 1608 Brakin was elevated to the recordership himself in recognition of his long service and work in ‘many suits and weighty causes and business greatly importing the welfare of this town’.18 Two years later the corporation elected him recorder ‘for life’.19 As recorder, Brakin was involved in many disputes between town and gown and was instrumental in negotiating the town’s incorporation by charter in 1605, and the appointment of Sir Francis Bacon* as high steward in 1617.20 However, he was not averse to assisting the university as well, and in 1606 acted as counsel for King’s College.21 Brakin received a yearly retainer of 20s. as deputy recorder and £6 12s. 4d. after his promotion. In addition, the town awarded him £5 in 1597 to entertain the attorney-general, Sir Edward Coke*; £6 13s. 4d. as a gift when he was appointed reader at Staple Inn in 1596; and 40s. for attending Stourbridge Fair in 1609.22

Like many of his fellow corporation officials, Brakin was frequently lampooned on stage in student plays.23 He is most famous for being satirized as ‘Ignoramus’, the central character of the eponymous drama designed to show the foolishness of lawyers, which was first performed before James I at Cambridge in March 1615.24 The play was inspired by recent disputes between the university and town over precedence between the mayor and the vice-chancellor, Barnaby Gooch*. At the quarter sessions in January 1612, Gooch, a vitriolic enemy of the corporation, had attempted to evict the mayor from his seat, claiming precedence on the grounds that the vice-chancellor was ranked higher in the commission of the peace. After Brakin’s mediation the two men agreed to leave the seat vacant, and at the sessions dinner that evening neither of them presided. However, at the September sessions, Gooch again took the chair and had the mayor removed.25 The matter was eventually settled by the Privy Council, which awarded the right of precedence to the vice-chancellor, but not before Brakin had attempted by various ‘pettifogging shifts’ to promote the mayor’s authority.26 Despite being six hours long, Ignoramus was enjoyed so much by James that he returned to Cambridge in May 1615 for another performance.27

Brakin’s reputation as a pettifogger seems justified. In 1604 the widow of Edward Wingfield† complained bitterly to Viscount Cranborne, later 1st earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†), that Brakin had, for his own financial advantage, offered her son poor advice. Brakin had arranged for the boy to procure a knighthood in order to be released from his wardship, which was held by his mother. Brakin’s daughter then married young Wingfield without a portion, whereupon Lady Wingfield, not unreasonably, concluded that Brakin was of ‘mean ability and as little in reputation’.28 On the other hand, Brakin enjoyed the support of Viscount L’Isle (Robert Sidney†), who in 1606 made strenuous but ultimately futile efforts to have him appointed lord chief baron of Ireland after the death of Edmund Pelham†. L’Isle described Brakin as ‘an honest and sufficient man’ and assured Salisbury that Brakin enjoyed the confidence of the lord chief justice, Sir John Popham†.29

Elected to Parliament for Cambridge in 1614, Brakin’s only recorded speech was on 7 May, when he spoke to the bill for building and repairing of bridges, arguing that edifices such as Cam Great Bridge should be maintained by pontage. He was subsequently appointed to the bill committee.30 Elected again in 1624, his first recorded contribution was in reply to vice-chancellor Gooch’s claim on 26 Feb. that the informers’ bill infringed the power of the university courts. Supported by Coke, Brakin successfully argued that since the courts of both universities operated by Civil, not Common Law, they were unaffected by the bill, and that in any case proceedings on penal laws were the town’s sole prerogative.31 On 16 Mar. Brakin spoke in debate on the validity of the Cambridgeshire election, which he had attended. He recalled that although there was a poll the under-sheriff had simply declared for Sir Edward Peyton and Sir Simeon Steward and then departed. Brakin then presented to the House a petition from various freeholders disputing the election.32 Brakin did not receive the customary Cambridge parliamentary wage of 4s. per diem, but only half that amount, totalling £8 in 1614 and £10 10s. in 1624, probably because, being resident at Gray’s Inn, he was already living in London.33 Shortly after the end of the Parliament, he resigned the recordership to Talbot Pepys*.34 He remained a member of various local commissions until 1628. Nothing further is known of him, and no further member of the family sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Chris Kyle


  • 1. Age calculated from date of admiss. to G. Inn.
  • 2. Add. 5812, f. 33; Vis. Cambs. (Harl. Soc. xli), 68-9.
  • 3. Al Cant.; GI Admiss.
  • 4. Add. 5812, f. 33.
  • 5. Downing Coll. Camb. Lib., Liber Rationalis 1561-89, f. 225; Cambs. RO, Box II/9, ff. 1, 18; Mun. Rm. Shelf C.7, f. 134; VCH Cambs. iii. 549.
  • 6. PBG Inn, i. 72.
  • 7. Ibid. 35, 260.
  • 8. Hatfield House, ms 278, unfol.; E163/18/12.
  • 9. C181/1, ff. 31v, 39v; 181/3, ff. 82v, 197; CUL, UA Collection Admin. 5, f. 38.
  • 10. C181/1, ff. 25v, 32; 181/3, ff. 192v, 221.
  • 11. C181/1, f. 58v.
  • 12. C181/1, f. 112v; 181/2, ff. 282v, 327.
  • 13. SP14/31/1; C212/22/20, 21, 23.
  • 14. E179/283.
  • 15. C181/2, ff. 106v, 332v; 181/3, f. 257v.
  • 16. C181/2, f. 289v.
  • 17. C181/3, f. 13.
  • 18. Add. 5849, f. 12.
  • 19. Cambs. RO, Box II/9, f. 18.
  • 20. Cambs. RO, Mun. Rm. Shelf C.7, f. 75v.
  • 21. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 133.
  • 22. Cambs. RO, Box II/9, ff. 1, 18; Mun. Rm. Shelf C.7, f. 134; VCH Cambs. iii. 548-9.
  • 23. Anon., The Return from Parnassus, London, 1606, sigs. E2v, E3; The Three Parnassus Plays ed. J.B. Leishman, 61-2.
  • 24. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 587; G. Ruggle, Ignoramus trans. R. Codington (1662).
  • 25. C.H. Cooper, Annals of Camb. iii. 46-7, 53.
  • 26. G. Dyer, Privileges of Univ. Camb. i. 138, 140-1.
  • 27. Cooper, iii. 84-8.
  • 28. HMC Hatfield, xvi. 296.
  • 29. Ibid. xviii. 137, 205.
  • 30. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 171.
  • 31. ‘Spring 1624’, p. 32; ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 8; Kyle thesis, 219.
  • 32. CJ, i. 687a, 737b; Ferrar 1624, p. 22.
  • 33. Downing Coll. Camb. Lib., Liber Rationalis 1611-28, ff. 38v, 283.
  • 34. Cambs. RO, Mun. Rm. Shelf C.7, f. 134.