William Brereton (courtier)
Sir William Brereton
|Died||17 May 1536 (aged 48–49)|
Tower Hill, London
|Cause of death||Decapitation|
|Resting place||Tower of London, London, United Kingdom|
|Occupation||Groom of the Privy Chamber to Henry VIII|
|Spouse(s)||Elizabeth Somerset (Lady Savage)|
|Parent(s)||Sir Randle Brereton|
Sir William Brereton (c. 1487 – 17 May 1536), the son of a Cheshire landowner, was a Groom of the Privy Chamber to Henry VIII. In May 1536, Brereton, the queen's brother, George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston and a musician, Mark Smeaton, were tried and executed for treason and adultery with Anne Boleyn, the king's second wife. Many historians are now of the opinion that Anne Boleyn, Brereton and their co-accused were innocent.
William Brereton, born between 1487 and 1490, was the seventh son of Sir Randle Brereton of Ipstones, Shocklach, and Malpas, Knight Chamberlain of Chester, knight banneret and knight of the body of Henry VII. His mother was Eleanor, daughter of Piers Dutton of Halton, Cheshire. Along with three of his brothers, William entered royal service. By 1521 he was a groom of the king's chamber, and from 1524, groom of the privy chamber.
Marriage and issue
- Henry Brereton
- Thomas Brereton
Elizabeth's first husband was the grandson of Sir John Savage, who had been a Lancastrian commander at the battle of Bosworth in 1485. When the grandson had fallen into debt, and was also being held in the Tower for murder, all his lands were forfeited to the crown, and Brereton, as the king's man in Cheshire, was granted jurisdiction over them. After Sir John Savage's death, Brereton's marriage to his widow established a family relationship with the king and thus cemented his position as a royal servant.
In reward for his work for the king, Brereton received a number of royal grants in Cheshire and the Welsh Marches. These eventually brought him more than £10,000 a year. However, he wielded power ruthlessly, on one occasion, engineering the judicial murder of John ap Gryffith Eyton, whom he blamed for instigating the killing of one of his own retainers.
Arrest, trial and execution
In May 1536, Anne Boleyn was accused of adultery with Mark Smeaton, a musician of the royal household, and the courtiers Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton as well as her brother, George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, all of the privy chamber. The king's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, "authorised and commissioned by the king," masterminded the proceedings against the queen and her co-accused. The allegation against Brereton, who had been arrested on 4 May, was that Anne solicited him on 16 November 1533, and misconduct took place on 27 November. Historian Eric Ives argues that Cromwell added Brereton to the plot against Anne to end the troubles he was causing in the Welsh Marches, and to reorganise (and centralise) the local government of this area.
The trials of William Brereton, Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, and Mark Smeaton took place at Westminster Hall on 12 May. They were charged with high treason against the king, adultery with the queen and plotting the king's death. Having been found guilty, they were all sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The queen and her brother were tried separately on 15 May within the Tower.
On 17 May, William Brereton, George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston and Mark Smeaton, were led from the Tower to a scaffold on Tower Hill. George Constantyne, an eyewitness to their executions, recorded their last words. Brereton's words as he faced the executioner's axe, "The cause whereof I die, judge not. But if you judge, judge the best," may be interpreted as a cautious declaration of his innocence which would avoid the forfeiture of his estates. An indication of his wife's continued trust in her husband is provided by her bequest to her son nine years later: "one bracelet of gold, the which was the last token his father sent me."
William Brereton was portrayed by James Gilbert on the Showtime series, The Tudors, during season 2. The show plotted him as a Catholic assassin in the guise of courtier, commissioned by the Pope (Peter O'Toole) and ambassador Eustace Chapuys (Anthony Brophy) to assassinate Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) to revert King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) from steering the English state at collision course with the Catholic Church. He was accused of having had carnal knowledge of the queen. Unlike the others in his position, who either denied – George Boleyn (Pádraic Delaney) and Henry Norris (Stephen Hogan) – were tortured into admitting it – Mark Smeaton (David Alpay) – or acquitted – Thomas Wyatt (Jamie Thomas King) – Brereton falsely admitted his guilt to Thomas Cromwell (James Frain), knowing that it would ensure the Queen's conviction for high treason, and thus the fulfilment of his objective, albeit at the cost of his own life.
On The Tudors, although Brereton was an actual historical figure, his character was totally fictionalised. William Brereton is portrayed as a young man, while in reality he was almost fifty. Moreover, he was not a Jesuit, nor was he commissioned by the Pope to assassinate Anne Boleyn. Anne was crowned queen in 1533 and executed in 1536, while the Pope did not formally establish the Jesuit order until 1540. Brereton was probably collateral damage when Thomas Cromwell moved against the Boleyn faction and decided to get rid of him in the same coup.
- Ives 2008.
- Ives 1992, pp. 651–664.
- Rylands 1882, p. 43–44.
- Ives 2008, Ives states that he was the sixth son.
- Ives 1976, pp. 5, 11, 33.
- Ives 2005, pp. 347–348.
- Lipscomb & April 2013, pp. 18–24.
- Lipscomb 2013, p. 23.
- Ridgway 2012, p. xx.
- Ives 1992, p. 652.
- Wriothesley I 1875, p. 36.
- Wriothesley I 1875, p. 36 The king would later grant clemency, they were all were beheaded.
- Wriothesley I 1875, p. 37.
- Wriothesley I 1875, p. 39–40.
- Amyot 1831, p. 65.
- Ridgway 2012, p. 201.
- Ridgway 2012, p. vi.
- Amyot, T., ed. (1831). "Memorial from George Constantyne to Thomas Cromwell". Archaeologia. 23. London: Society of Antiquaries.
- "Calendar of State Papers, Spain". British-history.ac.uk. Retrieved 20 March 2014.
- Glover, Robert; Fellows, William; Chaloner, Thomas (1882). Rylands, John Paul, ed. The Visitation of Cheshire in the Year 1580, Made by Robert Glover, Somerset Herald, for William Flower, Norroy King of Arms : With Numerous Additions and Continuations, Including Those from the Visitation of Cheshire Made in the Year 1566 by the Same Herald : With an Appendix Containing the Visitation of a Part of Cheshire in the Year 1533, Made by William Fellows, Lancaster Herald, for Thomas Benolte, Clarenceux King of Arms : And a Fragment of the Visitation of the City of Chester in the Year 1591, Made by Thomas Chaloner, Deputy to the Office of Arms. Publications of the Harleian Society. XVIII. London: Harleian Society.
- Ives, E. W. (July 1992). "The Fall of Anne Boleyn Reconsidered". The English Historical Review. 107 (424): 651–664. doi:10.1093/ehr/cvii.ccccxxiv.651.in JSTOR
- Ives, E. W., ed. (1976). Letters and Accounts of William Brereton of Malpas. The Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire. 116. Old Woking: Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire.
- Ives, Eric (2005). The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: 'The Most Happy'. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4051-3463-7.
- Ives, E. W. (January 2008) [First published 2004]. "Brereton, William (c.1487x90–1536)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/70865. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Lipscomb, Suzannah (April 2013). "Why Did Anne Boleyn Have to Die". BBC History Magazine. 14 (4): 18–24.
- Ridgway, Claire (2012). The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown. MadeGlobal Publishing. ISBN 9781475266122.
- Wriothesley, Charles (1875). Hamilton, William Douglas, ed. A Chronicle of England During the Reigns of the Tudors, From A.D. 1485 to 1559. I. Printed for the Camden Society.