Sir William Brooke (1565-1597) was the son of William Brooke, 10th Lord Cobham Warden of the Kent Cinque Ports (1527 to 1597) pictured at the start of this post. He was of a similar vintage to Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and Elizabeth’s replacement for Dudley in the royal favourite stakes after his death in 1588. Like other Elizabethan gentlemen he did a stint in the continental religious wars being knighted by Essex in 1591 at Dieppe. He was, in short, one of the new breed of men in Elizabeth’s court.
Having done his time abroad he was then returned to Parliament as MP for Rochester at the behest of his father. Lord Cobham was not terribly amused that of the two MPS for Kent it was Sir Robert Sidney (brother of Sir Philip Sidney, nephew of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester) who was returned as the senior parliamentarian. Elizabeth noted that it wasn’t very helpful that both men were abroad at the time. The fact that Brooke was also outlawed was also an issue. Elizabeth had decreed that members could not take their place until they had settled with their creditors. The matter must ultimately have been settled to Elizabeth’s satisfaction because he is described by Margaret Cavendish as one of her favourites. Certainly, in June 1597 William had been made Keeper of Eltham Great Park though whether it was because he was a royal favourite or because his family was an important one is something that probably bears further consideration.
The family links with Elizabeth are in themselves interesting. Clearly being a Kent family the Boleyn equation and Kent gentry affinity comes into play. Anne Boleyn sent George Brooke 9th Lord Cobham (1497-1558) a letter telling him about the birth of Elizabeth in September 1533 but he was also one of the judges that tried the queen just three years later. The following year at the christening of young Prince Edward it was Lord Cobham – our William’s grandfather- who carried consecrated wafers for both the illegitimised Tudor princesses.
George’s story continued to be tied to that of Henry VIII’s children and it is evident that he was of the reforming persuasion in his beliefs and the way in which he had chosen to have his children educated. The reign of Mary Tudor was made difficult not only by his faith but by the fact that he was related to Sir Thomas Wyatt through marriage. Wyatt even wrote to him demonstrating the belief that Cobham would side with him against Mary to put Elizabeth on the throne. He and his sons were arrested and there can be no doubt that Thomas Brooke had sided with Wyatt until the end. After that Lord Cobham who spent some time in the Tower kept his head down. He entertained Cardinal Pole and he made enquiries about heritics.. He died just before Mary so never saw Elizabeth ascend to the throne but the new Lord Cobham, William who had also been imprisoned in the Tower for his suspected part in Wyatt’s rebellion was on hand to play his allotted part in Elizabeth’s court and the administration of Kent as well as the Cinque Ports.
Clearly our Brooke was a bit of an Elizabethan wild boy and this led to his untimely end when he insulted Elizabeth Leighton the slightly pregnant lover of Sir Thomas Lucas of Colchester. Lucas called him out and he was mortally wounded one cold December morning in Mile End at a rapier’s end. He was carried home where friends and family visited him as he lay dying.
Brooke had made his will in June having gone on a sea voyage but on the morning of his death he had added an undated codicil to the will which left everything to his brother George:
‘Your jest and my haste would not suffer me to acquaint you with what I am gone about this morning, what hath called me out so early. I send you enclosed within these what I shall leave behind me. My will and meaning is you should have all lands, leases and prisoners which I desire you may as quietly enjoy as I sincerely mean…Wishing you the best fortune, your loving brother William Brooke
The will was proved on the 25 December 1597. For those of you who like to know these things, George Brooke was executed for plotting against James I in 1603.
One letter described William Brooke as “misfortunate.” Two arrest warrants were issued for Lucas by the privy council – on on the 24th of December and a second on the 30th. This was was very unfortunate for Elizabeth Leighton who bore an illegitimate child also called Thomas who would not meet his father until he was six years old when James I pardoned Lucas and he was able to return home. He and Elizabeth went on to have seven more children of whom the youngest, Margaret would go on to serve Queen Henrietta Maria and marry the Marquis of Newcastle going down in history as Mad Madge. She would also write her biography, just because she felt like it even though society disapproved of the idea of women writing books for publication and tell the story of her father’s duel.
It is perhaps not surprising that Lucas found himself at the wrong end of an arrest warrant, William Brooke’s father the 10th Lord Cobham (who had died on March 6 1597) was a man with clout. Brooke’s sister Elizabeth was the wife of Sir Robert Cecil – the most important man in the kingdom. She had also died at the beginning of 1597 but there were still family and political ties that were wielded by the new Lord Cobham – Henry Brooke – pictured left. He had been invested as Warden of the Cinque Ports on the same month that his father died.
In addition to which Whitaker makes the salient point that Elizabeth was already tetchy with the Lucas family because Sir Thomas’s sister Anne had gone to court to serve as a lady in waiting but then married for love against the queen’s wishes. Anne had defied the queen to marry Arthur Throckmorton who was the younger brother of Bess Throckmorton who, of course, irritated Elizabeth monumentally by marrying Sir Walter Raleigh demonstrating once again that everyone in the Tudor court is related somehow or another!
And who would have thought that in reading around the topic of Margaret Cavendish as part of the Stuarts in Derbyshire course I am currently delivering that I should encounter a tale of Tudor passion that correlates to Elizabeth I and her various favourites which happens to be part of another course that I am currently teaching.
Whitaker, Katie. (2003) Mad Madge. London: Chatto and Windus