(escutcheon) The Brooksby Family

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Brooksby: The Old Family

Brooksby is one of the Danish settlements along the Wreake Valley in Leicestershire, named more likely from the badgers ("brocks") than from the little river. The "by" ending, which occurs in many local village names, betrays its Danish origins. This means that we know for certain that the place has been continuously settled for at least one thousand years.

The Domesday survey shows it to have been in the eleventh century what it was when the Danes arrived and has been ever since, a fertile farming place, with meadows by the river, ploughlands and a mill; only the mill has disappeared.

Probably the first settlers chose the site of the hall, just far enough up the slope to get out of the way of the floodwater, which still spills over the banks of the Wreake several times a year. The same people probably selected a neighbouring site for a church, the Danes were great church builders, but it was not until the 13th century that money and manpower were available to replace the first small building with the handsome stone and steepled edifice that we see today.

Later again, the owners of hall and land, the de Villers or de Villiers family, extended their profitable sheep-rearing operations at the expense of their tenants' little holdings. Sheep produce fat profits, but they are not labour-intensive, and Brooksby, like many another in Leicestershire, became a "deserted village".

View of Brooksby Village

For many years it consisted of the hall, one farmhouse, and the church like a private chapel standing in the hall grounds, not a hundred yards from the front door. Nowadays the hall is the county agricultural college,and the population of Brooksby parish is picking up again. There may now be as many as twenty houses, and, in mediaeval style, once again they depend on the hall, most of them having been built by the college for its staff.

This is the place which gave its name to the family variously written as Brokesby, Bruxby, Brokesbie, Brocksby, Broxbye, Brochesbye, or almost anything except the now familiar "Brooksby". (This last however is the spelling used throughout this book, except where there is a particular reason against it.) It is a fascinating piece of detective work to pursue the "how" and "why" of a surname, as well as the "who" and "where" of its holders, and throughout this chapter the reader will be presented with a great deal of guesswork and more or less intelligent interpretations of insufficient facts.

It should not be taken for granted that these are all the available facts, nor that the interpretations are correct. There is still plenty of scope for family researchers to go on burrowing and peering into the mists of time, and come up with treasure. Between the first and second drafts of this book, quite large areas were rewritten as one or two more vital clues came to hand, turning earlier speculation on its head. The search Stopped on a deadline day, not because everything worthwhile had come to hand.

Most of the following chapters have been reconstructed from material (except for wills and parish registers) which has already been printed, and is therefore second hand. Much of it was first collected (not always accurately) in Nichol's monumental History of Leicestershire published in 1795. Much more comes from a local historian's gold mine called Farnham's Mediaeval Village Notes. The pedigrees printed in the Visitations of Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire have proved invaluable, but have to be taken with a pinch of skepticism. Most of us suffer from an innocent anxiety to make out our ancestors to have been as grand as possible, and even when we are both honest and accurate about our immediate forebears, we get muddled up among the cousins.

The warning is therefore clear: this is one person's attempt to make sense of the evidence, but anyone interested in continuing the work should go back to the beginning and patiently test every inch of the way.

It is not even clear how Brooksby arose as the family name, and it is worth looking at several possibilities.

One would expect naturally to find them in early times actually living at Brooksby, but there is only one reference, and that quite a late one, to anyone of this name apparently dwelling within the parish.

Before 1300, only four references have come to light, as follows:

There would appear to be three basic reasons why, at this early date, a man should be called by a place-name.

The first might be typified by the first reference above: a person moved from one place to another and, in the place where he settled, he was called by his place of origin to distinguish him from others of the same name. (Children sometimes distinguish their grandparents thus: "Brooksby Granny" and "Leicester Granny"). It is possible that Gerald the miller while he was still at home in the country, was called Miller of Johnson or Longshanks. It is equally probable that in a small place with no other Geralds around, he did not need a second name.

To understand the second way in which such names arose, we must put out of our minds any idea that people in the thirteenth century were largely immobile. Ordinary people, the serfs and villeins of history, may indeed have been tied to the land, but this was not the case with their social betters, who bought and sold rights in land, made money, lost it, quarrelled with each other, conducted lawsuits, attended the court or the assizes, moved up and down to London or overseas, visited their scattered properties, intermarried with families based several shires away, all with remarkable speed and freedom. The social and political pyramid derived from one person, the monarch, and therefore the thinking of the upper social classes was geared countrywide. The gentry of the thirteenth century probably travelled further and more frequently than many of their descendants five hundred years later

In these circumstances, a man might well be named from his main dwelling or holding, not because he had moved away from it, but because he had to be distinguished for the purpose of the considerable amount of business which had to be documented - jury service, lawsuits, marriage arrangements, wills, and so on and so forth. And at this social level, his name would be passed on to his immediate family, particularly his heirs. After a few generations, the name stuck permanently. This happened very early indeed to the nobility; some of William the Conqueror's followers (de Villiers was probably one of them) arrived in England already attached to Norman place names which they never lost.

If this happened to our Brooksby family, if they were for a while holders or part holders of the manor of Brooksby, there is no trace of it

But (this is the third way of acquiring a place-name) younger brothers or other relations moving away from the main holding might acquire a different name temporarily or permanently. Is it possible that the de Brooksbys are a younger branch of the main family settled at Brooksby which itself carried a name brought from elsewhere?

Not of the de Villiers, it would seem, who acquired Brooksby by marriage round about 1235, at which time Alexander de Villiers of Kinoulton in Nottinghamshire is first referred to as "de Villiers de Brooksby" According to the Visitation pedigree, we know most of the personnel in the de Villiers family, and there does not seem to be room for a younger brother to move off and call himself de Brooksby, although it is just possible that the Hugh de Brooksby mentioned in 1242 is really Hugh de Villiers, but not very likely. If it were so it would have been a very temporary label, for Hugh de Villiers did not found any family, he died childless before 1268, and already by 1273 we hear of two generations of a Brooksby family (Ralph and John, sons of Bartholomew). This is no casual temporary label, this is a settled family, and the occurrence of the name Bartholomew, which reappears in every generation of the Brooksbys between 1350 and 1650, is good proof that here we have evidence of that family and no other.

The reference to Clerebald de Brooksby in 1268 is an interesting one. A suit was the mediaeval way of establishing a claim to something. For safety's sake the business of buying and selling land was therefore conducted through the courts. The plaintiff was the buyer and the defendant the seller, but this does not mean there was any antagonism between them; they were simply conducting a business deal. From the reference it looks as though we have a glimpse of the new family buying out the last of the old one.

Could it be, therefore, that de Brooksby was another name for the family from which the de Villiers acquired the property? Alexander de Villiers had married Cecily de Seis, who was the heiress of Gilbert, or possibly William, de Seis, of Donington.

The de Seis, or de Sagio, or Saxo, family, had connections with Brooksby for more than one generation. Gilbert flourished in 1210. In 1220 the rector of Brooksby was Walter de Sagio, and the living was in the gift of William de Sagio. At some other date unspecified, Hugh de Seis made a gift of two shillings a year to Leicester Abbey from the mill "in his vill of Brooksby'. If "Saxo' means that this was a pre-Norman family, is there any importance in the very un-Norman name of Clerebald.

It would take a mediaeval scholar to weigh up the relative value of these guesses, and such a scholar might well come up with an entirely different one. The solution which common-sense finds hard to swallow is that Brooksby, with its 850 acres, supported two parallel families of considerable importance.


After those scanty and puzzling references in the thirteenth century, a curtain falls until about the year 1340, when the Brooksby family emerges into the light of day, prosperous, established, and settled within five miles of the ancestral village.

Robert de Brooksby held land in Melton in 1340. As this holding was referred to later by those who must have been his heirs, it is reasonable to suppose that he was the father of John (app. 1335-140O) whom the family counted as its founder. It was John's name which was set at the head of the Visitation pedigrees, and as these pedigrees marked a family's claim to gentility, it must have been John who acquired a coat of arms.

Brooksby coat of arms

These are technically described as "Barry nebuly of six, argent and sable, on a canton gules a mullet pierced or". For what it is worth, this pattern bears no resemblance at all to the arms of either the de Seis or the de Villiers family, but it is very like the arms of the Staple of Calais (a kind of employers' co-operative for the wool trade). We should in any case assume that a family in this part of Leicestershire, leaping into prominence at this time, had made their money out of wool.

While John was the farmer and landowner, some of his relations were established in Leicester, probably in the guild of mercers. It was already an established pattern that at least one younger son of such a family went to the university and into the church, while another was apprenticed to a trade. In 1353 a Thomas living in All Saints Leicester, was admitted freeman. At the same time another John was living in Belgravegate, and in 1357 one William was paid 48 shillings in the Mayor's accounts for going with the Duke of Lancaster to Liverpool with three carts, a journey which took nine days.

John de Brooksby first settled on an estate at Shoby, and afterwards extended himself to Frisby-on-the-Wreake, a couple of miles away. In 1374 he was having words with someone in Shoby who had taken two of his cattle. In the poll tax of 1377 his position is shown with no doubt at all: eighteen adults paid in Shoby, six married couples and five individuals being taxed at the regulation fourpence apiece, while "John de Brooksby esquier" is taxed at six shillings and eightpence. That year he bought the manor of Shoby and also some land in Saxelby with the advowson (the right to appoint the parson) of the church.

Ten years later John and his wife Agnes had to attend court in Leicester to have their right to the land examined and confirmed, and their estate at that time was listed as "A third part of the manors of Sywoldby and Reresby' and various other land in "Saxulby, Gaddesby and Grimston". As yet no mention of Frisby or Oadby: but the family fortune continued to grow. In 1390 or thereabouts Robert, clerk, is vicar of Oadby, and as the connection with Oadby continues it is clear that some land in the manor, together with the advowson, had been acquired by John. Robert was probably the one of several sons. who took most kindly to education.

1392. "John Brokesby v. John Chamberlayn (and others, including the Shoby parson) in a plea of cutting down and carrying away John Brokesby's trees growing at Grimston and Sewoldeby to the value of £40."

There is a lot of timber in £40 of fourteenth century money, and the respectability of the defendants precludes the idea of this being common thievery. Are we catching sight of a mediaeval developer enclosing time-honoured common land to the fury of his neighbours? The quotation does not say which side won.

John died some time before 1401, leaving several sons, two of whom, Bartholomew and William, are of particular interest.

William (d. 1416) had Shoby and Saxelby as his share of the inheritance. He was an important man in more than Leicestershire, being Marshall of the Kings Hall in 1401, and therefore awarded a yearly pension of 40 marks. He also married shrewdly, Joan de Saxulby, her father's heir, and so added neighbouring Saxelby to his holdings.

A couple of miles away, at the other family hall of Frisby, lived his brother Bartholomew (d. 1448), and although it is William (d. 1416) who had children and as far as we know is the ancestor to all living members of the Brooksby family, Bartholomew is a sufficiently interesting character to make us pause for a moment.

Bartholomew (d. 1448) was a very rich man, so wealthy that shortly before his death he had a cartulary made of all his holdings. These were in Thorpe Arnold, Melton, Ab Kettleby, Holwell, Little Dalby, Ashby Folville, Gaddesby, Barkby, Hoby, Wartnaby, Frisby and Rotherby. The cartulary running to some two hundred handwritten pages on vellum, is kept in the Bodleian library in Oxford:

Registrum Bartholomei Brokesby de terris et tenementis suis in villis infrascriptis.

Apart from any other interest, the cartulary stands as a memorial to the long lasting quality of English village life. Check the field names of any of the villages and you will find that many of them are in use today.

Bartholomew (d. 1448) was Sheriff of Leicestershire in 1411 and again in 1420, and member of five parliaments between 1410 and 1435. Whatever ice he cut in London, he was a power in the Midlands. His name turns up in many documents, all over Leicestershire and beyond, as witness, juryman or executor.

In 1418 he summoned the master of the hospital at Burton Lazars over a debt of £100. In 1419 he was summoned by John Howes of Melton Mowbray in a plea of taking certain chattels. In 1423 he was buying land from the Danseys of Cottingham, Northamptonshire. Sometime before 1437 he seems to have acquired the Manor of Great Bradley in Suffolk, eighty miles away. In 1428 he was sitting on a distinguished panel arbitrating on a right of way in Leicester. In 1439 he was involved in a suit in Bruntingthorpe. And so on.

In 1422 one Thomas Segrave accused Bartholomew Brooksby and others that "they took, imprisoned and ill-treated him and detained him in prison".

One reason that Bartholomew was able to leave his mark on local life was that he lived, unlike most of his contemporaries, to a ripe old age, dying, it is believed, at something over eighty years of age. Mast men had to fit their life's work into forty or fifty years.

His wife was Alicia, probably Alicia Hastings, and besides a son known as "William Bastard" he had at least one legitimate child. In 1603 an antiquary, poking about among the graves in Frisby church, noted the grave of Alicia (d. 1460), and a child's grave inscribed "Bartholomew son of Bartholomew'. He died childless, and his heir was first his brother Edmund (or Edward), nearly as old as himself, and within a year or two his nephew John.

This reminds us of the acute difficulty in those days of actually passing on the family in a straight line. The infant mortality was very high, so too was the death rate among young men and above all their wives. Because of the frequency with which youngish married partners died, the number of second and third marriages would put Las Vegas to shame, and the cross-fertilisation between families and between branches of the same family, and the continuous hassle over wills, and marriage-rights, and widow-rights, and child-rights, makes, even in the bare notes collected by Nichols or Farnham, a merry-go-round of switching and swapping money, goods and land which make the reader quite giddy. Add to this the complications of illegitimate offspring, and children brought up by step-parents, and it will be clear that the task of the family historian dealing with these early years is hazardous to say the least of it.

But however difficult it may be to follow the written records clearly, we have interesting evidence of Bartholomew as builder and improver in the village of Frisby, where his traces are plain to see.

Gables Farm, Frisby

Gables Farm, in the centre of the village, probably dates from the seventeenth century, but its arched cellars are Bartholomew's cellars, although his hall has been replaced. In the grounds (somewhat rickety now, which is hardly to be wondered at) stands a great barn which is either Bartholomew's or one generation later. At the village crossroads stands a market cross, on which the handsome decorations are still faintly visible, which was likely raised by Bartholomew for the convenience of his villagers, or to impress the passing traffic, or a bit of both. The village. church was at least one hundred and fifty years old in his day, but he enlarged and repaired it. The decorations on the cross shaft and in the Lady Chapel seem to be by the same hand. The roof of the north aisle is his work, and he instructed his carpenter to carve two emblems on one of the beams.. One is a coat of arms: Brooksby appears on the left to the observer, and Hastings on the right, which is why we assume Bartholomew's wife to have been Alicia Hastings. The other emblem is a rose, probably the white rose of York: the Hastings family were strongly loyal to the house of York, 50 we may presume the Brooksbys to have been the same.

Cross shaft (detail)

According to Nichols, Bartholomew was buried in Owston priory church. This has almost entirely disappeared, and Nichols himself was using another antiquary's work from the year 1590. This collector had found at least seventy-six coats of arms in the church: Brooksby appeared twice in his list, once with the mullet in the canton, and once without. Many other of the good Leicestershire families appear in the list, with some of which Brooksby was at some time closely allied: Hastings, Woodford, Villiers, Berkely, Folville. It must have been a custom to seek burial in this priory, where the souls of all benefactors would be prayed for daily, even though Frisby was more closely tied to Laund Abbey which held the advowson of the church.

It was reported that Bartholomew Brooksby was buried in a marble tomb in the chancel of Owston, and that his tomb was covered with an embroidered cloth as a mark of esteem. But the priory was swept away at the time of the reformation, and the tombs and the coats of arms have long since gone.

Lady Chapel niche (detail)

We must leave Bartholomew (a. 1448) and turn back to our main line After William (d.1416) came Henry (a. 1457) who married Editha Bracebridge, and after Henry came another William (a. 1523) whose brother Thomas (a. 1542) married Catherine Furtho of Furtho in Northamptonshire, but who cannot be the ancestor of the Northamptonshire Brooksbys because it seems that he died childless.

William (a.1523) had six sons, and as far as we know he is the last common ancestor of the present-day Brooksbys. Two of his sons are responsible for two of the modern lines, or so we believe. We shall therefore describe William (a. 1523) and then devote a little time to each of the sons in turn.

William (a. 1523) was of Shoby. His cousin Bartholomew appears to have held Frisby in this generation, and possibly Great Bradley, and another cousin, John (a. 1518), Oadby, but these attributions should be regarded with caution. There are some anomalies in the dates on the family tree, and it may be that between the first William (a. 1416), Henry (a. 1457), and the second William (a. 1523), a generation is somewhere missing. But with William (a. 1523) we are on pretty firm ground at last.

William of Shoby was of the calibre of previous generations and an important man in his area, though he does not seem to have speculated in land to the extent that his forebears did. He was Sheriff of Leicestershire sometime before 1498. In 1522 a William Brooksby was entered as freeman of Leicester and labelled gent.1 This makes it likely that it was the same William, in which case it must have been a courtesy freemanship like an honorary degree.

His name appears in certain suits and wrangles: Wymondham, 1522, William Berkeley was trying to get a "chest with charters in it" out of the hands of William Brooksby of Shoby esquire, and Thomas Brooksby of Furtho, the executors of his late great-uncle, Sir Maurice Berkeley. Apart from such references, there are three interesting relics of William (a. 1523). One is his tombstone, one is his will, and the third is the pulpit of Saxelby church.

Pulpit, Saxelby Church
(detail)

Taking the last first, this is such a charming, elaborate, and sophisticated piece of work that it does not look as though it could have been done by William's local joiner. Either he must have imported the workman, or imported the pulpit already carved. In either case, Pevsner's dating is "early 16th century", so we know that we have William to thank.

When Nichols was compiling his History, William's tomb was still in its original place on the floor of the south aisle.

Upon a large flat stone, now partly covered with a pew, are three neat brass figures, about three feet long, a man in mail, and his two wives, with hands in the position of prayer. Above their heads is the family crest, a horse's head. The inscription so far as remains is "Hic jacet Willms Brokysbi, quondam patronus illius eccl'ie, qui quide Willielmus obiit ... Januarii, anoDom. mcccc xxo tertio ... quorum animabus propitietur Deus, Amen."

(Here lies William Brooksby, formerly patron of this church, who the said William died ... January A.D. 1523 ... on whose souls God have mercy. Amen.)

In fact Nichols, or his informant, was guessing. The person who drew the illustration was far more accurate, showing very clearly that the "horse's head" was the boar of Brooksby. Moreover it is obvious from the illustration that, although there must originally have been three figures, only the right-hand one (the second wife) was at all visible when the drawing was made. The central figure would obviously have been the husband, but he may or may not have been "a man in mail". The figure visible in the picture is the one now on the north wall of Saxelby church, and the fact that this was the only one of the three to survive seems to show that even in Nichols' day the other two were not just concealed, they had already disappeared.

We know from other sources that the first wife was Emma Myles (d.1505) and the second Elizabeth Staunton, who also predeceased her husband. It is reasonable to infer that all six sons belonged to Emma. For one reason or another, Robert, Thomas, Richard, and Bartholomew must all have been born before 1505, the date of Emma's death. Bartholomew got the Staunton property, and though one cannot make a final judgment about William's sense of family justice, it does seem likely that if his second wife had had a son, her property would have gone to him. In the list of William's executors, which appears to be in order of seniority, Edward comes after Bartholomew, and Maurice is not mentioned at all, so I have put him last.

The six sons of William (d. 1525) are thus:

  1. Robert
  2. Thomas
  3. Richard
  4. Bartholomew
  5. Edward
  6. Maurice

1. Robert of Shoby and Frisby (d.1551)

We know quite a lot about Robert, as he was the eldest, the chief landowner, and the founder of the main Brooksby line which died out at Shoby with the death of Winifred Lady Englefield in 1672. John Leland in his itinerary listed Brokesby of Shouldby in a list of eleven "Gentilmen of Leyrecestrshire that be there of most reputation." We do not know when Leland compiled his list, exactly, but the current Brooksby would have been either Robert or his son.

As was usual, his father's will does not mention land, which was divided in some other way, but we notice that the holdings in Shoby and Frisby, which at one time were separate, now both come together in Robert. He also was left the choicest furnishings of the house: a feather bed, bolster, a bed of bawdkyn with curtains of sarsnet, the best counterpane and a pair of sufficient blankets. (The main bed of a family, in which the important events of birth, marriage and death all took place, had a very special value, and quite properly was bequeathed in detail to the eldest son.) Robert was also left the hanging in the parlour of red with harts, lions and fawns, with all the other stuff in the said parlour, also the hanging in the hall.

ROBERT was married to Alice Shirley of Staunton Harold, but she does not seem to have brought him any extra land, and is not commemorated on his tomb, so probably she died well before him, perhaps as early as 1500 after his three children were born. By the time he died Dorothy Brooksby, daughter of John Brooksby of Oadby, a cousin, was living with him as housekeeper and, apparently, mistress. He left her in his will `the house that Thomas Mores of Grimston now dwelleth in, £20 towards her marriage, and the bed that I lie upon in the parlour with all the stuff belonging to it.,

The rest of the family were determined that she should get nothing, having had, they thought, quite enough already.

A woman of great familiarity with the said testator, in so much that she kept the house of the said testator, and had all the rule and government of the same, and everything therein was at her commandment; and she, perceiving that the said testator was not likely to recover, but was like to die, as he shortly afterwards did, she, knowing the most part of his substance and also what ready money he had, embezzled, stole, and conveyed away great substance both in ready money and other things to the value of £200 and above, and afterwards the testator died.

Robert died only eight years after his father, in 1531, and is the subject of a very handsome marble tomb in Saxelby church. The engraved top slab has been set up on the chancel wall:

Hic jacet Robert' Brokesby, armiger, patron' isti'1 ecclesie, qui obiit xxviii die Marcii, aodni movocci ...

(Here lies Robert Brokesby, gentleman, patron of this church, who died March 28, A.D. 1531).

The rest of the history of Robert's family will be told in Chapter Two.


2. Thomas of Leicester (f. 1536)

In one source Thomas is specifically called "second son" of William (d. 1523). Like the second sons of many similar families, he was connected with trade, but he must also have had a legal training. In 1524, he was chosen as Recorder of Leicester, and also named as "gilda mercatorum", a member of the guild of mercers. It is unclear whether this means that he would have started life as an apprentice mercer, or a student of one of the Inns of Court, or both.

The mercers were in any case an appropriate guild for the son of a wool-growing family in those days before any unbridgeable gulf opened between "gentry" and "tradesmen". In Tudor times it was as possible to become rich and powerful by one road as the other, and no doubt the connections between members of the same family helped a good deal.

The records of Leicester may be deficient, since they do riot mark the entry of Thomas as a freeman. He remained as Recorder for twelve years (1524-1536), and during that time was also chosen in 1529 as one of two burgesses, with Robert Harwar, to represent Leicester in Parliament.

He must have had many business connections with London as well as his Parliamentary duties, and may have died there, as there is no record of his death in Leicester. Nor is there any record of marriage, or a family. But these are early days, parish registers being established only in 1538, and not always being taken very seriously at first. Quite a spate of Brooksby deaths are recorded in London between 1563 and 1576, in various parishes: Robert (1563), Jeffrey (1566), Miles (1569), Jeffrey (1569), Thomas (1576), Francis (1576). These names are found in an incomplete collection of London burials. They prove nothing, but they do show a heavy involvement of the family in London as well as Leicestershire at this time.

Thomas's father's will left him 4Os. a year to be paid out of a close called "the Scoles". He was also, with four brothers, an executor of the estate, and that the five did not always agree is evidenced by a spate of summons, counter-summons, and quarrels of one sort and another.

The reasons for proposing this Thomas as the possible father of an illegitimate son Thomas Turley, who set up as a mercer in Loughborough and founded the Mountsorrel family, are set out at the beginning of Chapter Three.


Richard of the Newarke Saxelby and Asfordby (d.1549)

The third son was said to be of "St. Martin's Leicester" when he was admitted to the university of Cambridge on October 16th 1516. It would seem likely that he was living in Leicester, perhaps with his elder brother Thomas, in order to attend school and reach the necessary scholastic level of a university student. There was a free grammar school in Melton Mowbray at the time, which would have been much nearer home, but the efficiency of such little schools fluctuated with the capability of the master, and there would be no lack of opportunities for an academic career in the town of Leicester.

Richard stayed only two years at Cambridge. In his case scholarship would have been less important than family connections, and in 1519 he became a Canon of the Newarke College in Leicester.

The College Church of the Newarke has long ago disappeared: though it was not very great, it was exceeding fair" according to John Leland. The College foundation consisted of a Dean, twelve Canons, thirteen Vicars-choral, three clerks, and one verger, "the same also to be the porter of the College". These positions were comfortably subsidised, and when Richard was presented to the sixth prebendal stall, it was an easy place for the rest of his life. His patron was George, Lord Hastings, of Kirby Muxloe and presumably it was owing to the same patronage that Richard also became Dean of the Chapel of Hastings Castle. "My son Richard Brokesby the Dean" is mentioned several times in his father's will with a touch of pride, though whether he had the character for an ideal churchman is somewhat doubtful. When the Newarke College was visited in 1526, Canon Richard Brokesby was singled out for comment as one whose behaviour was rather more coarse, and his interests rather more warlike, than was quite desirable.

A good many of these comfortable positions, were swept away in the Reformation, and it may be because of this that Richard took up the relatively small position of Rector of Saxelby and Asfordby in 1535, a post he held until his death in 1549.

The neighbouring Abbey of Leicester was dissolved early, in 1537. It had after all opened its doors to the disgraced and dying Cardinal Wolsey, and may have been marked down for retribution. The College of Our Lady in the Newarke hung on until 1545, when its lands and properties were confiscated to the Crown, but a sensible man might have been wise to make his preparations earlier, and set himself up with a country parish by the way of insurance.


Bartholomew (d. 1543) was the fourth son of William (d.1523). He too was left a modest 40s. a year for life by his father's will, but he also seems to have inherited his stepmother's lands, since his widow disposed of them in her will in 1559. This land was on the edges of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire in Kilvington, Staunton, Wytham, Flawburrow, and other places.

Bartholomew married Elizabeth Bracebridge and was buried with her in Melton church. Nichols recorded a rather doubtful tomb:

There is also another tomb, of a species of black marble, on which have been two figures in brass, now destroyed. Round the ledge has been an inscription of brass, but not one letter is preserved. This probably is the same on which Burton found engraved, nebuly, argent and sable, in a canton gules a crescent or, Brokesby; impaling, vair, argent and sable, a fess, gules, Bracebridge.

Another source gives the inscription as

Of your charitie pray for the soules of Mr. Barthelmewe Brokesby, esquire, and Elizabeth his wife; the which Barthelmewe deceased the vii day of May, in the yere of our Lorde God 1543; on whose soules Jesus have marcie. Amen.

And adds "Seven sons and one daughter", who were no doubt disposed in the stiff Tudor fashion below their parents, all ruffed and coiffed in adult dress, but made very small if they died in infancy, and large if they survived.

In recent years some enthusiastic hand has repainted Brokesby/Bracebridge shields all round an unclaimed black marble tomb in Melton church, but it cannot be the right one. On the top are the traces left by three brass figures not two, and there is no place at all for the figures of eight children.

The reference to the tomb is the only indication of the size of Bartholomew's family. Otherwise only four children, three sons and a daughter, are documented, and it would be interesting to know whether the other four sons died young and can be discounted. Somewhere here, if various assumptions are correct, we look for the roots of the Stoke Golding family (see Chapter Four).

William son of Bartholomew had a family but it petered out in a clutch of daughters. Richard of Stapleford (d. 1546) had a family which lasted a little longer. The last recorded member is Philip, a stationer in the parish of St. Sepulchre's in London, who, aged about 40 and a widower, married a Mrs. Elizabeth Fowles of Canterbury, widow, in the year 1686. She was aged about 30 and may have had children, but it does not seem likely.

Bartholomew also had a son Edward, born before 1523, and therefore not a direct candidate for the position of founder of the Stoke Golding line. But the occurrence, in the first Stoke Golding generation, of the names Francis, George, Elizabeth and Edward, all occurring several times among Bartholomew's known descendants, makes the guess a very respectable one, though it is a little disturbing to find Bartholomew's coat of arms quoted as having had a crescent in the canton, since Edward of Stoke Golding used the pierced mullet. Perhaps the crescent, which is not mentioned anywhere else, was a misreading by the antiquary who recorded the tomb.


Edward, the fifth son of William (d. 1523), vanishes. He was mentioned in the will of his brother Robert in 1531, he seems to have been buying a plot of land in Grimston in 1540, but there is no other mention of him, and nothing to show whether he was married or had children.


Maurice, the sixth son of William (d. 1523), is an odd man out. He was not one of his father's executors, and he was left an annuity twice as large as that of his brothers, which seems to indicate that he was either the youngest whose education needed to be completed, or he was handicapped. If the latter, he was not so handicapped but that he managed to produce an illegitimate son. In 1531, although he was still alive and mentioned in his brother Robert's will, that brother makes provision for "Laurence Whyt, bastard son of Maurice my brother", and the said Laurence was obviously taken into the family, as he appears in the muster roll of 1540 as Laurence Brooksby, "archer". There is no further mention of him, or of his father Maurice.

Font at Saxelby Church


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