BROCKE, William (c.1566-1611), of the Inner Temple, London and Longwood House, Owslebury, Hants.

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.1566, 3rd s. of Robert Brocke (d.1588) of Chester, Cheshire, and Jane, da. and coh. of John Cotgreave of Cotton Edmunds, Cheshire, wid. of Richard King of Upton, Cheshire.1 educ. Brasenose, Oxf. 1583, aged 17; Clifford’s Inn; I. Temple 1584, called 1593.2 m. by 1601, Anne, da. of Sir Benjamin Tichborne† of Tichborne, Hants, 1da.3 d. 16 Nov. 1611.4

Offices Held

Standing counsel, Chester 1597-d.;5 recorder, Southampton 1603-d.;6 bencher, I. Temple 1605, reader 1608.7

Commr. inquiry, St. John’s hosp., Chester 1601;8 j.p. Hants 1602-d.;9 freeman, Southampton, Hants 1603,10 freeman and alderman, Chester 1603-d.,11 Winchester, Hants 1608-d.;12 commr. piracy, Southampton 1603,13 gaol delivery, 1604-d., Winchester 1606-d., Poole, Dorset 1611,14 nisi prius, Southampton 1608,15 subsidy, Hants and Southampton 1608,16 aid, Hants 1609,17 piracy, Southampton 1611,18 oyer and terminer, Poole 1611.19


Brocke’s father was an alderman of Chester who married into a minor county family and was granted arms in 1580.20 His mother was sister-in-law to a Hampshire landowner, Sir Richard Pexall of Beaurepaire, and it was presumably via this connection that Brocke, after an expensive education, entered the service of Sir Thomas Fleming I*, a prominent Hampshire lawyer. As a student at the Inner Temple, Brocke was fined for wearing his hat in church. He married into one of the leading families of the Hampshire gentry, the Tichbornes, but retained his strong puritan convictions despite his in-laws’ reputed Catholicism.21 He soon achieved sufficient legal eminence to become both standing counsel to his native city and recorder of Southampton on Fleming’s recommendation.

Brocke was returned for St. Ives at the general election of 1604 on the recommendation of the 4th marquess of Winchester. In the opening session he was appointed to the committee to recommend laws for continuance, repeal or revival (24 Mar. 1604), and chaired a bill committee to authorize justices of the peace to release debtors (31 Mar.), which he reported on 5 April.22 He was granted leave of absence to attend the Lords as counsel in a dispute concerning the Abergavenny peerage from 11 Apr. onwards. His next appointments in the Commons were to consider bills to naturalize and confirm the patents of two leading Scottish courtiers - Sir Edward Bruce (4 May), shortly to become master of the Rolls, and John Erskine, 2nd earl of Mar (11 June). On 22 May he was named to the committee to consider amendments to the bill appointing commissioners for the Union (22 May).23 Although not appointed by name to a committee concerning the preservation of fishing in Devon and Cornwall, he was entitled to attend as a local Member (5 June), and reported the bill three days later.24 He was added to the committee to consider a proviso for Chester in the bill for Tunnage and Poundage (13 June). On the question of subsidies he disapproved in principle of any grant in peacetime, despite the fact that Sir Francis Hastings sought to persuade the House that if it failed to grant money it would play into the hands of the papists. ‘Religion’, Brocke rejoined on 19 June, ‘doth not consist in subsidies’.25

In 1605 Brocke leased Longwood House from the bishop of Winchester, and in the following year he bought the nearby manor of Merdon.26 Once Parliament had reassembled following the abortive Gunpowder Plot, he was named to consider a private bill for his friend Sir Thomas Lake I* (25 Jan. 1606). 27 On 14 Feb. 1606 he was appointed to the committee for a bill introduced by Sir John Parker to regulate fees payable for copies out of courts of record, a measure that was aimed in particular at the Six Clerks in Chancery. Brocke, whose main practice was as a Chancery lawyer,28 reported it on 7 Mar. as fit to sleep unless ‘any would prefer a new bill touching abuse of copies’.29 Brocke was among those named to draft two recusancy bills (5 Mar.) and to help draw up provisos to the bill to attaint the Gunpowder plotters (8 May).30

During the third session Brocke’s main concern, as the scurrilous ‘Parliament Fart’ poem makes clear, was the Union.31 He was among those ordered to attend a preliminary meeting with the Lords on 25 Nov. 1606 and to help prepare for a conference with the peers on the implications of the Union for trade and the need to repeal the hostile laws between the two kingdoms (11 December).32 After the Christmas recess, on 20 Feb. 1607, he chaired a lengthy debate in the grand committee on naturalization. In his report, interrupted by the weekend, he summarized the arguments which had led the committee to resolve that by the Common Law the post-nati were not already naturalized.33 He was given the task of presenting the case at a further conference with the Lords on 25 Feb., though he sought rather disingenuously to excuse himself ‘by reason he never spake in the House’.34 He was appointed to help manage two subsequent conferences with the Lords concerning naturalization (7 and 12 March).35 Brocke expressed delight in response to the king’s conciliatory message about the Union on 7 May, and moved for the immediate committal of the bill to abolish hostile laws.36 However, at a conference on the same subject (11 June), it was pointed out that the Commons’ bill could be interpreted as meaning that treason committed in Scotland could be tried nowhere in England but the border counties. Brocke, who had been named to attend the conference, deprecated any admission of error, but admitted that ‘wisdom was not born in us’. He therefore proposed a message leaving the Lords to decide on amendments, but giving assurances that the Commons had no intention of making a loophole for traitors and that it had thoroughly debated the question of witnesses. A sub-committee was ordered accordingly, but Brocke, impatient of delay, drafted the message without consultation, and it was adopted as it stood. 37 After the bill returned from the Lords, on 27 June he insisted that treason should be defined according to English and not Scottish law.38

Among various other business, Brocke chaired several private bill committees, including one to confirm the titles of those who had purchased the lands of Sir Jonathan Trelawny* (21 Feb.), which he reported four days later.39 As a personal friend of the Speaker Sir Edward Phelips, Brocke also seconded the request of Lawrence Hyde I* for the House to allow Phelips, who fell ill in mid-March 1607, a further three days’ leave to convalesce, and was one of those ordered to consider how to proceed in his absence (23 March).40 With Easter approaching and the Union in abeyance, Brocke moved on 28 Mar. to agree to the Lords’ request for a further conference on naturalization. He suggested that those appointed to attend should ‘be limited only by the discretion of the managers’. By this he meant that they might be allowed considerable latitude rather than be obliged to return to the House for permission to enter into any agreements with the peers, as it would be ‘much better to do something than nothing’.41 He took the chair for a private bill requiring William Waller to sell land to satisfy a creditor (6 Mar.), but forbore to hear his arguments ‘because they tend to the disproof of two decrees in Chancery’. The case was then argued by the counsel at the bar of the House, whereupon Brocke agreed to insert certain amendments, and after his report on 27 Mar. the bill passed.42 He was among those ordered to consider the bill reforming ‘the wide and wasteful writing of English copies in courts of record’ (12 May), and to peruse the Journal for entries touching matters of privilege (19 June).43 He was again given leave to attend the Lords as counsel on 15 May.44

Having received a hogshead of claret from the Southampton corporation earlier in the year, Brocke proceeded to earn this consultancy fee by steering a bill through the House on behalf of Southampton’s merchants designed to confirm their exclusive trading rights against a challenge from London. He reported the bill on 5 June, and further contributed to heated debate on its third reading, after which it eventually passed.45 While waiting for the Royal Assent at the end of the session, Brocke, together with William Noye* and the officers of the House, shared a light meal with Phelips in the committee chamber on 5 July.46

In 1608 Brocke acted as counsel for Southampton against the royal butler Sir Thomas Waller* over the latter’s claim to prisage on imports of wine and, despite an adverse judgment, secured a satisfactory composition, for which he was appropriately rewarded with hogsheads of ‘very good’ sack and canary.47 He also took charge of the catering at a feast given by Sir Julius Caesar* in the Inner Temple Hall.48 He increased his holdings in Hampshire by leasing Melchet Park from the Crown during the lives of the three children of John Dackombe*, whose stepdaughter married Brocke’s nephew.49

During the fourth session Brocke was named to 15 committees, around half of which were for private bills. He was among those appointed on 26 June 1610 to resolve the dispute over the discharge of old debts due to the Crown.50 In the heated impositions debate of 2 July he argued that James ‘hath no inheritance in the customs’, which were granted to him by Parliament, and hence had no right to impose. Brocke was subsequently among those chosen to summarize the arguments made on either side and to draft a petition to the king.51 Before the end of the session he was named a manager of two more conferences with the Lords. One, held on 5 July, concerned the execution of justice in the north, while the other, which met the following day, dealt with the 1604 Canons, enforcement of which had led to the deprivation of nonconformist clergy.52 At the latter conference, Brocke objected particularly to the compulsory wearing of surplices in college chapels and the necessity for preachers to subscribe to certain articles, ‘which we hold is a great decay and maim unto the Church, for although there are some that in their consciences cannot subscribe, we find that none are more conscionable and honester men’. He went on to point out that since subscription was not required by the statute of 1571, ‘we hold they cannot justly be thus compelled or else to lose their livings, wherein for their life they have as good a right as any of us to that we hold’.53 His final appointment was to prepare for a conference on the Great Contract (15 July).54 He is not mentioned in the sparse records of the fifth session.

Brocke died on 16 Nov. 1611 of a ‘rupture’ brought on by his exertions at the Chancery bar.55 In an undated will he left £100 towards the new chapel at Brasenose; divided his history books between his brother-in-law Sir Richard Tichborne* and Dackombe, and left instructions for the latter to secure his daughter’s wardship, together with his brother Edward and his old tutor Dr. Thomas Singleton. Lake and his friend Sir Thomas Savage were appointed executors, while Fleming and Phelips were asked to act as overseers.56 Although he left his ‘dear and loving wife’ well provided for, he plainly had doubts about her religion, entrusting their daughter’s upbringing to the wife of Sir Richard Mill†. Despite these precautions his widow later sheltered Catholic priests at Longwood, and wed a leading Cornish recusant, Sir John Arundell.57 No other member of the family entered Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Virginia C.D. Moseley / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Lancs. and Cheshire Hist. Soc. n.s. lxxiv. 164-7.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; I. Temple Admiss.; CITR, i. 387.
  • 3. W. Berry, Hants Gen. 31-2.
  • 4. WARD 7/35/65.
  • 5. Chester City Council Mins. (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. cvi), 52.
  • 6. Assembly Bks. (Soton Rec. Soc.), i. 61; iii. 20.
  • 7. CITR, ii. 13, 29, 35.
  • 8. Lancs. and Cheshire Hist. Soc. n.s. xlii. 79.
  • 9. C231/1, f. 144.
  • 10. Assembly Bks. ed. J. Horrocks (Soton Rec. Soc.), i. 61.
  • 11. Chester City Council Mins. (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. cvi), 52.
  • 12. Hants RO, W/B1/1, f. 314v; W/B1/2, ff. 165, 168.
  • 13. C181/1, f. 67v.
  • 14. Ibid. f. 94v; 181/2, ff. 9v, 20v, 118, 144, 152.
  • 15. C181/2, f. 59v.
  • 16. SP14/31/1.
  • 17. SP14/43/107.
  • 18. C181/2, f. 138v.
  • 19. C181/2, f. 139v.
  • 20. Lancs. and Cheshire Hist. Soc. n.s. xxvi. 124; lxxiv. 165; Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 34.
  • 21. CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 388; CITR, i. 362; PROB 11/118, f. 339v.
  • 22. CJ, i. 152b, 160b, 166b.
  • 23. Ibid. 167b, 198b, 222b, 236a.
  • 24. Ibid. 232a, 235b.
  • 25. Ibid. 995a.
  • 26. Hants Regs. ed. R.E. Scantlebury (Cath. Rec. Soc. xliii), 7-8.
  • 27. CJ, i. 260a.
  • 28. C33/112, ff. 12-60v.
  • 29. CJ, i. 279a; Bowyer Diary, 64.
  • 30. CJ, i. 277b, 307a.
  • 31. J. Mennes, Musarum Deliciae, 69; Add. 34218, f. 21v.
  • 32. CJ, i. 324b, 329b.
  • 33. Ibid. 1019b, 1020a.
  • 34. Ibid. 1021a.
  • 35. Ibid. 350a, 351b.
  • 36. Bowyer Diary, 376, 379.
  • 37. CJ, i. 382a; Bowyer Diary, 329-30.
  • 38. Bowyer Diary, 357.
  • 39. CJ, i. 339a, 352a, 1021a.
  • 40. Ibid. 354a, 1031b.
  • 41. Ibid. 1034a.
  • 42. Ibid. 349a, 357a, 1033b.
  • 43. Ibid. 373a, 386a.
  • 44. Ibid. 373b.
  • 45. Ibid. 365b, 379a, 380b, 1049b, 1050b; Soton City Archives, SC5/2/2, f. 112v; Mayor’s Bk. ed. W.J. Connor (Soton Recs. Ser. xxi), 63.
  • 46. CJ, i. 1057b.
  • 47. Assembly Bks. (Soton Rec. Soc.), i. 67-9, 86-7; ii. 17, 37-8.
  • 48. Lansd. 90, f. 209.
  • 49. C66/1769.
  • 50. CJ, i. 443b.
  • 51. Parl. Debates, 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 116-17; CJ, i. 447b.
  • 52. CJ, i. 445b, 446b.
  • 53. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, i. 126.
  • 54. CJ, i. 449b.
  • 55. WARD 7/35/65; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 318.
  • 56. PROB 11/118, f. 339v.
  • 57. Hants Regs. (Cath. Rec. Soc. xliii), 7-8; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 4.