William Brewer (justice)

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Arms of Brewer: Gules, two bends wavy or

William Brewer (or Briwere) (died 1226) was a prominent administrator and justice in England during the reigns of Richard I, King John, and Henry III. He was also notable as a founder of a number of religious institutions.


William Brewer's ancestry is unclear, but he was probably the son of Henry Brewer and the grandson of William Brewer, forester of Bere, who founded the nunnery of Polsloe in Exeter. William began his own career as forester of Bere, which appears to have been a hereditary title, and by 1179 had been appointed High Sheriff of Devon.[1] Under Richard I he was one of the justiciars appointed to run the country while the king was on crusade. He was present at Worms in 1193, to aid in the negotiations for Richard's ransom. It was around this time that Brewer began his career at the Exchequer, where he was to sit until the reign of Henry III.[2]

Under King John William was one of the most active figures in government, next to Henry Marshal and Geoffrey fitz Peter in terms of the number of royal charters he witnessed.[3] In this period, he was appointed High Sheriff of Berkshire, Cornwall, Devon, Hampshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, Oxfordshire, Somerset and High Sheriff of Dorset, Sussex and Wiltshire. He was often unpopular with the people of his counties, and the men of Cornwall, Somerset, and Dorset paid money to the king for his removal.[4]

Brewer was adept at acquiring lands, and built himself a substantial barony from relatively humble beginnings. By 1219 he was assessed for scutage on over sixty knights' fees scattered over several shires.[5] He was able to found and endow three monasteries: Torre Abbey in Devon in 1196, Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire in 1201, and Dunkeswell Abbey in Devon in the same year.[6] In 1224 he retired from the world to live as a Cistercian monk at Dunkeswell, where he was buried with his wife before the high altar on his death in 1226.[7]

Family and children[edit]

He married Beatrice de Vaux (d. before 1220),(Latinised to de Vallibus, "from the valleys") previously the mistress of Reginald de Dunstanville, Earl of Cornwall (d. 1175) and mother of Henry FitzCount (d. 1221), and they had several children, including:

William Brewer, Bishop of Exeter, was one of Brewer's nephews.

In popular culture[edit]

William Brewer was portrayed as one of King John's enforcers in the television series Robin of Sherwood (Episode: The Time Of The Wolf, written by Richard Carpenter, 1985), played by John Harding.

William Brewer appeared as a minor character in Richard Kluger's 1992 novel The Sheriff of Nottingham.

William Brewer is mentioned in Wilson Harp's 2013 novel The Ghost of Sherwood as the High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests, but the acting sheriff in his name in the story is a fictional brother named Robert Brewer.


  1. ^ Dugdale, The Baronage of England, p. 700
  2. ^ Turner, Men Raised From the Dust, pp. 73-4
  3. ^ Turner, Men Raised From the Dust, p. 75
  4. ^ Turner, Men Raised From the Dust, pp. 76-7
  5. ^ Turner, Men Raised From the Dust, p. 80
  6. ^ Turner, Men Raised From the Dust, pp. 87-88
  7. ^ Seymour, Torre Abbey, pp. 49-50
  8. ^ Watkin, 'A Great Devonian: William Brewer', p. 82


  • Church, S. D., ‘Brewer , William (d. 1226)’, "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", (Oxford University Press, 2004) accessed 11 Sept 2008
  • Dugdale, W., "The Baronage of England" (London, 1875-6), pp. 700-2
  • Seymour, D., "Torre Abbey", (Exeter, 1977), pp. 47-52
  • Turner, R. V., "Men Raised From The Dust" (Philadelphia, 1988), pp. 71-90
  • Watkin, H. R., 'A Great Devonian: William Briwer', "Devonshire Association Report and Transactions" 50 (1918), pp. 69-169