BRETT, Thomas (c.1568-1638), of The Strand, Westminster

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.1568, 2nd s. of Percival Brett (d.1617) of Tenterden, Kent and Elizabeth Forde. educ. St. Mary Hall, Oxf. 1583, aged 15. unm.1 bur. 14 Dec. 1638.

Offices Held

Lt. of ft. Brill garrison by 1592; capt. of ft. Brittany 1592-at least 1594, Ostend 1595,2 employed in raising troops in Eng. 1601,3 ? Cadiz expedition 1625,4 Ile de Ré expedition 1627;5 ? sgt.-maj. ft. in Sir Christopher Blount’s regt. 1596 expedition.6

Muster-master, Kent 1605-at least 1614;7 freeman, New Romney, Kent 1626;8 lt. gov. Portsmouth garrison, Hants by 1630-at least 1634.9

Recvr.-gen. to William Cecil*, 2nd earl of Salisbury 1612-14.10

Commr. exacted fees 1630.11


Brett’s father, the eldest son of a yeoman of Kent, was a long-serving jurat of Tenterden, while his uncle Richard settled in New Romney and married the daughter of Robert Thurbarne†, who represented the port in 1586.12 Brett himself was sent to an Oxford hall as a ‘plebeian’, but never graduated, and nothing more is known of him until he was commissioned in the English army in the Low Countries. He returned to his native county when England made peace with Spain, and in May 1605 was among those who accompanied the earl of Northampton, lord warden of the Cinque Ports, to Windsor for the latter’s investiture as a knight of the Garter.13 Two months later he was appointed muster-master of the Kent militia. It was probably Sir Edward Cecil*, a comrade in arms in the Ostend garrison, who recommended him, despite his inexperience, as receiver-general to the head of the Cecil family in around 1612. However, he proved unequal to the task, and was succeeded in 1614 by Salisbury’s more competent servant Christopher Keighley*. Brett nevertheless stood unsuccessfully for Old Sarum that same year on his master’s interest against the 3rd earl of Pembroke’s candidates.14

In March 1615 the Privy Council recommended that Brett be appointed commander of the Honourable Artillery Company of London, but the City’s aldermen chose another man instead.15 Shortly thereafter Brett acted as ‘pedagogue or tutor’ to Sir John Smithe* and his cousins on their continental travels. He returned to London in the autumn of 1618, and for a while sent news of developments at Court to England’s ambassador to Brussels, William Trumbull*.16 In March 1619 he was again recommended for command of the London Artillery Company by the Privy Council, but the captains of the London trained bands were unanimous in supporting another candidate and once again he was passed over.17 Six months later, the Council imprisoned him in the Marshalsea for six weeks after Sir Thomas Smythe* complained that he had counterfeited a pass to enable his former pupil to escape from an unhappy marriage.18

Brett maintained his connection with Salisbury, who transferred to him two shares in the Virginia Company.19 On 4 Nov. 1620 he asked his former employer for a renewal of his nomination at Old Sarum ‘if there be a Parliament’.20 This time he was successful, but he played little recorded part in the third Jacobean Parliament. His first committee, on 7 Mar. 1621, was on the bill introduced by Cecil for the standardization of militia equipment. He was also appointed to committees to consider the bill to naturalize the financier Burlamachi (19 Mar.) and inquire into the state of Ireland (26 Apr.), again in support of Cecil.21

Brett gave way to Sir Arthur Ingram* at the 1624 election, and even when his supplanter opted to sit for York he failed to find a seat. He does not appear to have stood for the first Caroline Parliament in 1625, which may suggest that he was one of the two captains with the surname Brett who served under Cecil on the Cadiz expedition later that year. In the following year, with his patron, now Viscount Wimbledon, facing a storm of criticism for his passivity before Cadiz, he was elected at Grimsby on the interest of Wimbledon’s son-in-law Christopher Wray*. However, he preferred to serve for New Romney where, presumably with the help of James Thurbarne* and his cousins in the neighbourhood, he had also been elected. He was named to the committee for privileges, and to three committees of military interest. Two were to consider bills to prevent the export of ordnance (14 Feb.) and legalize payments to muster-masters (28 Mar.) while the third was to draft a bill for the finding of arms and horses for the militia (14 March). As a Low Countries soldier he was also interested in the bill to naturalize the children of Sir Jacob Astley (11 May). It is not known whether he had any interest in the bill to void a lease of a Surrey manor made by Merton College, Oxford, to which committee he was appointed on 16 February. His last committee (24 May) was for a private bill on behalf of Wimbledon’s brother, the 2nd earl of Exeter (William Cecil†).22

Brett returned to active service for the disastrous expedition to the Ile de Ré, in which either he or Sir Alexander Brett served as sergeant-major of the army.23 Re-elected to Parliament for New Romney in 1628, he was named to only two committees in the first session, those for the Medway navigation bill (12 May) and for the restitution of Carew Ralegh† (4 June),24 and to none in 1629. Following Wimbledon’s appointment as governor of Portsmouth in 1630, Brett served as his lieutenant. Named an executor to both Sir Richard Smythe* and Viscount Wimbledon, he drew up his own will in the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields on 30 Nov. 1638, in which he directed his body to be buried ‘where my soul leaveth it ... without affection of pride’. Acknowledging a covetous spirit, he sought to make amends by numerous bequests to poor relations, including £200 to a distant kinsman Thomas Wyvell, ‘who has served me faithfully some years’. He also left a bequest to ‘my much esteemed friend’ John Crane, chief clerk of the royal kitchens. His executors were to pay 2s. 6d. each year to every poor person in Great Chart, where he was born and baptized, ‘to receive a blessing of the God of charity’. The legacies were to be financed by the sale of his leases in Covent Garden.25 Brett may have been the Capt. ‘Tho. B.’ who was gently upbraided by his friend James Howell* in 1628 for habitual swearing.26 Unmarried and childless, he was buried at St. Martin-in-the-Fields on 14 Dec. as ‘Thomas Bert’. No later member of his family sat in Parliament.27

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Peter Lefevre / Andrew Thrush


  • 1. London Vis. Peds. (Harl. Soc. xcii), 29; PROB 11/179, f. 71v.
  • 2. List and Analysis of SP For. V: 1593-4, pp. 274, 538; vi. 85. We are grateful to David Trim for these refs.
  • 3. APC, 1601-4, pp. 84, 89, 258, 275.
  • 4. J. Glanville, Voyage to Cadiz ed. A.B. Grosart (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxxii), 122.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 251.
  • 6. S. and E. Usherwood, Counter-Armada, 35; T. Birch, Memoirs of Reign of Eliz. ii. 16.
  • 7. Arch Cant. lxxxii. 125, 135; HMC 9th Rep. i. 162.
  • 8. E. Kent Archives Cent. NR/AC2, f. 54.
  • 9. C. Dalton, Life and Times of Sir Edward Cecil, ii. 304; CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 519.
  • 10. L. Stone, Fam. and Fortune, 130; HMC Hatfield, xxii. 2, 11.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 179.
  • 12. London Vis. Peds. (Harl. Soc. xcii), 29.
  • 13. Add. 34218, f. 87.
  • 14. HMC Hatfield, xxii. 135.
  • 15. Remembrancia ed. W.H. and H.C. Overall, 23.
  • 16. HMC Downshire, vi. 530-1, 565.
  • 17. APC, 1618-19, p. 387; CLRO, Reps. 34, f. 74.
  • 18. APC, 1619-21, pp. 30, 55; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 265.
  • 19. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iii. 59.
  • 20. HMC Hatfield, xxii. 135.
  • 21. CJ, i. 543a, 562b, 593a.
  • 22. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 226; CJ, i. 819a, 820a, 836a, 842b, 858b, 863a.
  • 23. Two Original Journals of Sir Richard Granville (1724).
  • 24. CJ, i. 895b, 909a.
  • 25. PROB 11/154, f. 120; 11/179, f. 71v; Dalton, ii. 353. For his Covent Garden property, see LCC Survey of London, xxxvi. 254.
  • 26. (No author) Certain Letters of James Howell, 45.
  • 27. WCA, St. Martin-in-the-Fields par. reg.