BRERETON, Sir William, 1st Bt. (1604-1661), of Handforth Hall, Cheshire

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



1640 (Apr.)
1640 (Nov.)

Family and Education

b. 13 Sept. 1604,1 1st s. of William Brereton of Handforth and Margaret, da. of Richard Holland† of Denton, Lancs. educ. Brasenose, Oxf. 1621, G. Inn 1623.2 m. (1) 1623, Susanna (d. 31 May 1637),3 da. of Sir George Booth of Dunham Massey, Cheshire, 1s. 3da; (2) 1641, Cicely, wid. of Edward Mitton of Weston, Staffs. and da. of Sir William Skeffington, 1st bt. of Fisherwick, Leics., 2da. suc. fa. 1610; cr. bt. 10 Mar. 1627.4 d. 7 Apr. 1661.5 sig. Will[iam] Brereton.

Offices Held

J.p. Cheshire 1627-aft. 1658, Staffs. 1640-54, Surr. bef. 1650-aft. 1658;6 dep. lt. Cheshire by 1628-at least 1648;7 commr. charitable uses, Cheshire 1630, 1631,8 inquiry fees, Cheshire and Flints. 1634,9 recusants, Northern counties 1635, 1638,10 subsidy, Cheshire 1641, Poll Tax, Cheshire 1642,11 assessment, Cheshire 1643-60, Staffs. 1647-60, Surr. 1649-60, sequestration, Cheshire 1643, Salop 1644, Surr. 1648, levying money, Cheshire 1643, maintenance of army 1644;12 v.-adm. Cheshire, 1644-at least 1649;13 commr. visitation, Univ. Oxf. 1647, Cheshire, Staffs. 1648, militia, Cheshire, Chester, Staffs. Surr. 1648, Cheshire, Staffs., Surr. 1659-60, scandalous ministers, Cheshire, Surr. 1654,14 sewers, Chester 1658.15

C.-in-c. parl. forces, Cheshire 1643.16

Commr. excise 1645, relief of Ire. 1645, indemnity 1647, trial of king 1649, sale of bps.’ lands 1649, cllr. of state Feb.- Nov. 1651, commr. forfeited estates 1651.17


Much of Brereton’s life has been dealt with fully elsewhere.18 The Breretons had resided in Cheshire since the thirteenth century but since then had split into many branches. At the age of six Brereton inherited Handforth Hall, a house in Chester called the Nuns and approximately 3,000 acres. His wardship was granted to his grandfather, Richard Holland†,19 an ardent Protestant, at whose residence of Denton Hall he evidently spent part of his childhood. After receiving a traditional gentleman’s education at Oxford and Gray’s Inn, he married a daughter of his near neighbour, the godly Sir George Booth, who like Holland may have helped to shape Brereton’s religious views.

Brereton was a candidate in the initial stages of the 1626 parliamentary election for Cheshire, along with Sir Richard Grosvenor, Peter Daniell and John Minshull. Both Brereton and Daniell supported Grosvenor for the first place, and in turn they received the support of him and his followers. However, as only one place was available they drew lots to decide who should proceed to face Minshull - a lottery which Brereton lost.20 Brereton encountered more success in 1628, being elected to the second seat after Grosvenor took the senior position. He made no recorded speeches during the Parliament and was only named to one committee - concerning the bill to assign a jointure to the wife of Dutton, Lord Gerard (7 May).21 In the records for the 1629 session Brereton received only one mention, when he asked for parliamentary privilege to be granted to his servant Isaac Detrow, who had been issued with a subpoena.22

During the 1630s Brereton travelled extensively and it is possible that every year he undertook what he termed his ‘summer progress’. In 1634 he journeyed around the United Provinces and in 1635 visited Scotland and Ireland. At other times he went to Paris and the Spanish Netherlands.23 On visiting Norfolk in the early 1630s he recorded the use of decoys by Dutch immigrants to lure ducks, and subsequently built such devices on his own lands. This led to a long running legal dispute with James Stanley*, Lord Strange and Sir Richard Trevor, whose servants continually disturbed Brereton’s decoys as they interfered with their hunting and hawking rights.24

When in Cheshire, Brereton was the most active of the county’s j.p.s, attending over 80 per cent of all quarter sessions. A ‘model puritan magistrate’, he enthusiastically suppressed alehouses and searched out Catholic recusants. 25 He was returned to the both the Short and Long Parliaments for Cheshire, and in March 1643 was appointed commander of the parliamentary forces in Cheshire. During the course of a distinguished military career he routed the royalist forces in Cheshire, defeated Prince Rupert at Tarvin, captured Liverpool, Stafford, Wolverhampton, Whitchurch and Shrewsbury, and vanquished Sir William Vaughan at Denbigh. His defeat of Sir Jacob Astley at Stow-on-the-Wold in 1646 concluded the last great battle before Charles surrendered.26

Brereton died on 7 Apr. 1661. It was intended that he would be interred in Handforth Chapel, Cheadle, but legend states that his coffin was swept away while crossing a river, which, if true, would account for the lack of a burial entry in the Cheadle register.27 By the terms of his will, drawn up the day before he died, £1,000 each was left to his two youngest daughters. No other significant bequests were mentioned, which suggests that Brereton had already settled most of his affairs.28 Two engravings of Brereton, one by G. Glover portraying him on horseback, and another by an unknown artist, were published in 1647 in Josiah Ricraft’s England’s Champions and John Vicars’s England’s Worthies respectively.29

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Chris Kyle


  • 1. WARD 7/42/166; G. Ormerod, Hist. Cheshire, iii. 639.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; GI Admiss.
  • 3. J.P. Earwaker, E. Cheshire, i. 255.
  • 4. CB.
  • 5. Ormerod, iii. 639, 645; Earwaker, i. 254-9; Al. Ox.; GI Admiss.
  • 6. C231/4, p. 221; 231/5, p. 393; SP16/405; C193/13/4, 5.
  • 7. SP16/117, f. 32; 16/150, f. 92.
  • 8. C192/1, unfol.
  • 9. C181/4, f. 192.
  • 10. T. Rymer, Foedera, ix. pt. 1, p. 58; pt. 2, p. 62.
  • 11. SR, v. 82, 152.
  • 12. A. and O. i. 90, 111, 147, 228, 410, 447, 543, 642.
  • 13. HCA 30/820, no. 59; CSP Dom. 1649-50, p. 203.
  • 14. A. and O. i. 927, 962, 973, 1079, 1091, 1223, 1235, 1242, 1243; ii. 42, 44, 307, 310, 476, 479, 673, 676, 969, 975, 1063, 1081, 1321, 1331, 1333, 1365, 1377, 1379, 1428, 1441, 1443.
  • 15. C181/6, f. 172.
  • 16. CJ, iii. 19.
  • 17. A. and O. i. 691, 723, 937, 1254; ii. 152, 500, 523.
  • 18. Letter Bks. of Sir William Brereton ed. R.N. Dore (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. cxxvii), 31-68; R.N. Dore, ‘The Early Life of Sir William Brereton’, Trans. Lancs. and Cheshire Arch. Soc. lxiii. 1-26; J. Morrill, ‘Sir William Brereton and England’s Wars of Religion’, JBS, xxiv. 311-12; J. Morrill, Cheshire; Oxford DNB; Brereton’s Travels ed. E. Hawkins (Chetham Soc. i).
  • 19. WARD 9/162, f. 76.
  • 20. Cheshire Archives, CR63/2/18, unfol.
  • 21. CD 1628, iii. 301.
  • 22. CJ, i. 928a.
  • 23. Dore, ‘Early Life’, 9-10.
  • 24. Ibid. 5, 6, 17, 20-23.
  • 25. Morrill, ‘Brereton’, 312.
  • 26. Letter Bks. of Sir William Brereton, ii. 49.
  • 27. Ibid. 56; Oxford DNB.
  • 28. PROB 11/305, f. 27; Earwaker, i. 259.
  • 29. Wing V304, R1436; the latter is repr. in Earwaker, i. 256.