William Brewer, 1st Baron Brewer

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Arms of Brewer: Gules, two bends wavy or

William Brewer, 1st Baron Brewer (alias Briwere, etc.) (died 1226) was a prominent administrator and judge in England during the reigns of Kings Richard I, his brother King John, and the latter's son Henry III. He was a major landholder and the founder of several religious institutions. In 1204 he acquired the feudal barony of Horsley in Derbyshire.[1]


William Brewer's ancestry is unclear, but he was probably the son of Henry Brewer and the grandson of William Brewer, Royal Forester of Bere, Hampshire, who founded the nunnery of Polsloe in Exeter. William Brewer, Bishop of Exeter, was one of his nephews.


William began his own career as Forester of Bere, which appears to have been a hereditary title, and by 1179 had been appointed Sheriff of Devon.[2] Under King Richard I (1189-1199) he was one of the justiciars appointed to administer the kingdom the king was on the Third Crusade. In 1193 he was present at Worms, Germany, to aid in the negotiations for the ranson of King Richard. In about 1193 he began his career as a Baron of the Exchequer, which office he exercised until the reign of King Henry III (1216-1273).[3]

Under King John (1199-1216) Brewer was one of the most active figures in government, together with Henry Marshal, Bishop of Exeter and Geoffrey FitzPeter, 1st Earl of Essex in terms of the number of royal charters he witnessed.[4] During this period he was appointed Sheriff of Berkshire, Sheriff of Cornwall, Sheriff of Devon, Sheriff of Hampshire, Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, Sheriff of Oxfordshire, Sheriff of Somerset and Dorset and Sheriff of Sussex and Sheriff of Wiltshire. He was often unpopular with the inhabitants of his counties, and the men of Cornwall, Somerset, and Dorset paid money to the king for his removal.[5]

Brewer was adept at acquiring lands, and obtained a substantial barony from relatively humble beginnings. By 1219 he was assessed for scutage on over sixty knight's fees scattered over several shires.[6] He founded and endowed three monasteries: Torre Abbey in Devon in 1196, Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire in 1201, and Dunkeswell Abbey in Devon in 1201.[7] In 1224 he retired from the world to live as a Cistercian monk at Dunkeswell, where he died in 1226 and was buried with his wife before the high altar.[8]

Marriage and progeny[edit]

He married Beatrice de Vaux (d. before 1220), (Latinised to de Vallibus, "from the valleys") previously the mistress of Reginald de Dunstanville, 1st Earl of Cornwall (d. 1175) and mother of Henry FitzCount (d. 1221), by whom he had progeny including:


  • Richard Brewer (d. 1213/5),[9] who predeceased his father.
  • William II Brewer (d. 1232), eldest surviving son and heir, who married Joan de Redvers, a daughter of William de Redvers, 5th Earl of Devon. He died without progeny, when his five (sic) sisters became his co-heiresses.[10]


  • Graecia Brewer, wife of Reginald de Braose (d.1227/8).[11]
  • Isabel Brewer, wife of Baldwin III Wake (d.1213), feudal baron of Bourne, Cambridgeshire,[12] and seemingly also wife of Ralph de Down[13]
  • Joan Brewer, wife of William III de Percy, 6th Baron Percy (1197-1245), feudal baron of Topcliffe, Yorkshire,[14] The wardship and marriage of William III de Percy, who attained his majority of 21 in 1218, son of Henry de Percy (d.1198),[15] had been acquired by her father.[16]
  • Alice Brewer, 4th daughter, who married twice:
  • Margaret (alias Margery) Brewer, who married thrice:
  • Eva Brewer, a further daughter recorded by Tristram Risdon (d.1640), wife of Thomas le Grace[24]



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. ^ Sanders, I.J. English Baronies: A Study of their Origin and Descent 1086-1327, Oxford, 1960, p.123
  2. ^ Dugdale, The Baronage of England, p. 700
  3. ^ Turner, Men Raised From the Dust, pp. 73-4
  4. ^ Turner, Men Raised From the Dust, p. 75
  5. ^ Turner, Men Raised From the Dust, pp. 76-7
  6. ^ Turner, Men Raised From the Dust, p. 80
  7. ^ Turner, Men Raised From the Dust, pp. 87-88
  8. ^ Seymour, Torre Abbey, pp. 49-50
  9. ^ Watkin, 'A Great Devonian: William Brewer', p. 82
  10. ^ Risdon, Tristram (d.1640), Survey of Devon, 1811 edition, London, 1811, with 1810 Additions, p.245
  11. ^ Sanders, p.123
  12. ^ Sanders, p.123
  13. ^ Risdon, p.135
  14. ^ Sanders, p.123
  15. ^ Sanders, p.148
  16. ^ Hunt, who calls him apparently erroneously "Henry Percy"
  17. ^ Pole, Sir William (d.1635), Collections Towards a Description of the County of Devon, Sir John-William de la Pole (ed.), London, 1791, p.272
  18. ^ Sanders, p.123
  19. ^ Sanders, p.123
  20. ^ Sanders, p.123
  21. ^ Sanders, p.123
  22. ^ Sanders, p.123
  23. ^ Risdon, p.245
  24. ^ Risdon, p.135
  25. ^ Risdon, Tristram (d.1640), Survey of Devon, 1811 edition, London, 1811, with 1810 Additions, p.245
  26. ^ Risdon, p.135
  27. ^ Risdon, p.146


  • Church, S. D., ‘Brewer , William (d. 1226)’, "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography" (Oxford University Press, 2004) accessed 11 Sept 2008
  • Hunt, William, biography of Brewer, Briwere, or Bruer, William (d. 1226), published in Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 6, 1885-1900.
  • Dugdale, W., "The Baronage of England" (London, 1875-6), pp. 700-2
  • Jenkins, J.C., 'Torre Abbey: Locality, Community, and Society in Medieval Devon' (DPhil Thesis, University of Oxford, 2010), pp. 37-43 accessed 3 March 2015
  • 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