Sir William Brereton, 1st Baronet


William Brereton

Sir William Brereton, 1st Baronet.jpg
Sir William Brereton, 1st Baronet
Member of Parliament
for Cheshire
In office
November 1640 โ€“ April 1653
Council of State
In office
December 1652 โ€“ February 1653
Personal details
Born 13 September 1604
Died 7 April 1661(1661-04-07) (aged 56)
Croydon Palace
Resting place St John Baptist Churchyard, Croydon Minster
Nationality English
Spouse(s) Susanna Booth (1623โ€“1637)
Cicely Mytton (1641โ€“1649)
Relations William, Baron Brereton (1611โ€“1664)
Children One son, four daughters
Parents William Brereton (1584โ€“1610); Margaret Holland (1585โ€“1609)
Alma mater Brasenose College, Oxford
Occupation Landowner and soldier
Military service
Allegiance  England
Years of service 1643 to 1646
Rank Major-General
Commands Commander, Parliamentarian forces Cheshire
Battles/wars First English Civil War
First Middlewich; Hopton Heath; Second Middlewich; Nantwich; Chester; Stow-on-the-Wold

Sir William Brereton, 1st Baronet, (1604โ€“1661), was an English Puritan who owned extensive estates in Cheshire, and Member of Parliament for Cheshire county at various times between 1628 and 1653. During the First English Civil War, he was commander of Parliamentarian forces in the North Midlands.

In the 1630s, he travelled extensively through France, the Dutch Republic, Scotland, and Ireland; his travel journals from 1634 and 1635 were published in the 19th century. His records and letters from the Civil War are a primary source for Parliamentary local administration in the period, as well as the internal divisions that led to the Second English Civil War.

Despite lacking prior military experience, he proved an energetic and capable soldier, and was one of the most powerful men in England when the First Civil War ended in 1646. However, he gave up his local offices, and although nominated as a judge, refused to attend the trial of Charles I in January 1649. He was elected to the Council of State in 1652 and 1653 but rarely attended, living in semi-retirement in London.

He resumed his seat for Cheshire when the Long Parliament was reinstated in 1659, until its dissolution in March 1660, and died on 7 April 1661.


The family home, Handforth Hall, Cheshire

Brereton was born 13 September 1604 at the family home, Handforth Hall, eldest son of William Brereton (1584โ€“1610), and Margaret Holland (1585โ€“1609). Orphaned at the age of six, he was made a ward of his grandfather, Richard Denton (1549โ€“1618).[1]

As well as Handforth Hall, he inherited over 3,000 acres from his parents; in 1623, he married Susanna Booth, fourth daughter of another substantial local landowner, Sir George Booth, of Dunham Massey Hall, Cheshire.[2]

Before her death in 1637, they had four children; Susanna (1627, after 1661), Thomas (1632โ€“1674), Frances (1635โ€“1676), and Catherine (c. 1637 โ€“ after 1661). He took a second wife in 1641, Cicely Mytton, a wealthy Staffordshire widow, who died in 1649, and they had a daughter, Cecilia (c. 1642โ€“1704).[3] His will left Catherine and Cecilia ยฃ1,000 each.[1]



He graduated from Brasenose College, Oxford in 1621, and as was then common, studied law at Gray's Inn until he married in 1623.[1] Like his grandfather and father-in-law, Brereton was a zealous Puritan, a generic term for anyone who wanted to reform, or 'purify', the Church of England, which covered many different sects. The most prominent were Presbyterians, who wanted to restructure the church along similar lines to the Church of Scotland, and included Parliamentary leaders like John Pym and John Hampden. Based on his support for the Congregationalist radical, Samuel Eaton, and the reforms advocated by Sir Henry Vane the Younger in 1641, Brereton inclined towards the religious Independents, who wanted to abolish the church entirely.[4]

Archbishop Laud; like many Puritans, Brereton strongly opposed his reforms to the Church of England

Appointed Deputy lieutenant for Cheshire, he was an unusually active Justice of the Peace, or JP, attending over 80% of sessions held between 1625 and 1641; in the same period, only one other person managed over 40%. In 1627, he was given a baronetcy in return for funding 30 soldiers in Ireland for three years.[2] In the 1628 Parliament, Brereton was elected MP for Cheshire; Charles I dissolved Parliament in 1629, and did not call another until 1640, the period known as the Eleven Year Tyranny.[5]

In the summer of 1634, Brereton visited the Dutch Republic, and later published a detailed account of his travels. He installed the Dutch system of duck decoys on his lands, leading to disputes with his neighbours, who claimed it interfered with their hunting and hawking.[1] Another journal covered his trip through North East England, the Scottish Lowlands, [6] and Ireland in 1635. He later visited France, and possibly Northern Italy, although these writings have not survived.[7]

Despite opposing arbitrary taxes, he paid Ship Money, and took little part in the political debates that dominated the late 1630s. His main interest was in religion, and he strongly opposed Archbishop Laud's reforms to the Church of England. In 1640, he was re-elected for Cheshire in both the Short and Long Parliaments, and was appointed to a number of Parliamentary Committees on religion. He organised a petition from Cheshire demanding bishops be expelled from the church, while he also supported removal of church monuments.[4]

First English Civil War

Lord Byron, Brereton's Royalist opponent in Cheshire

Following the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion in October 1641, Brereton supervised the transport of troops and supplies from Chester to Ireland; when the First English Civil War began in August 1642, this made him an obvious choice for commander of Parliamentarian forces in the area. However, most of the Cheshire gentry was Royalist, including his cousin, William, Baron Brereton, and he was forced to withdraw to London.[2]

In March 1643, Parliament sent Brereton back to Cheshire with 500 men, where he linked up with 2,000 local volunteers. Despite lacking military experience, he soon proved an energetic and resolute commander, winning minor victories at Middlewich and Hopton Heath. Establishing his headquarters at Nantwich, he soon attained superiority over Arthur Capell, Royalist commander in Shropshire, Cheshire, and North Wales.[8]

Over the next few years, Brereton waged an aggressive and relentless campaign throughout the North Midlands, one of his key subordinates being Colonel Robert Venables, a long-time family connection and friend, who later commanded in Ireland. Their activities forced the Royalists to divert resources from other areas, as Chester was essential for funnelling men and material from their supporters in Ireland and North Wales.[9]

In October 1643, Capell was replaced by Lord Byron, who assembled an army of over 5,000, many of them veterans from the war in Ireland. Defeated at Second Middlewich in December, Brereton appealed to Sir Thomas Fairfax for support. At Nantwich in January 1644, their combined force routed Byron, who lost over 1,500 men, most of his artillery, and baggage train.[10]

Byron spent much of the next two years blockaded in Chester. Its capture was considered so important, Brereton was exempted from the February 1645 Self-Denying Ordinance, under which army officers could not also be MPs. Byron finally surrendered in February 1646, while in March, Brereton fought in the last major battle of the war, Stow-on-the-Wold.[11]

More than 2,000 of his letters from this period survive, and are one of the most important sources for understanding Parliamentary administration during the war. They also provide insights into its internal politics; Brereton was a member of the 'War Party', those who viewed military victory as essential before any negotiations with Charles. The 'Peace Party' included Denzil Holles, one of the Five Members whose failed arrest in January 1642 was a major step on the road to war.[12]

Post 1646

State apartments of Croydon Palace, now part of a private school

Historian John Morrill writes that in 1646, Brereton was 'one of the most powerful and influential men in England'.[13] As a reward for his services, Parliament granted him possession of Eccleshall Castle, seat of the Bishop of Lichfield, and Croydon Palace, owned by the Archbishop of Canterbury. He survived Pride's Purge in December 1648, and was appointed one of the judges for the trial of Charles I in January 1649, although he did not attend the court.[2]

Despite being elected to the Council of State in 1651 and 1652, during the Commonwealth he lived in semi-retirement in Croydon Palace. The precise reasons are unclear, although it has been suggested he was disillusioned by the post-war religious and political settlement.[14] In the 1656 election, he unsuccessfully stood for Cheshire in opposition to the list proposed by Major-General Bridge.[2]

When the Long Parliament re-assembled in 1659, he took his seat once more but did not stand for the Convention Parliament. After the 1660 Restoration, he was obliged to return the church properties awarded in 1646 but was apparently allowed to stay on at Croydon, where he died on 7 April 1661. Despite later claims his coffin was lost while being transported to Handford, parish records show he was buried in St John Baptist Churchyard, Croydon Minster.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d Kyle 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Morrill 2013.
  3. ^ "Sir William Brereton, 1st Bt". The Peerage. Retrieved 14 June 2020.
  4. ^ a b Morrill 1985, p. 316.
  5. ^ Arnold-Baker 1996, p. 270.
  6. ^ Brown 1891, pp. 132-158.
  7. ^ Brereton 1844, p. vii.
  8. ^ Hutton 2003, p. 62.
  9. ^ Hutton 2003, pp. 125โ€“126.
  10. ^ Robinson 1895, p. 147.
  11. ^ Royle 2004, p. 366.
  12. ^ Sharp 2000, p. 53.
  13. ^ Morrill 1985, p. 319.
  14. ^ Morrill 1985, p. 332.


Parliament of England
Preceded by
Sir Richard Grosvenor, Bt
Peter Daniel
Member of Parliament for Cheshire
With: Sir Richard Grosvenor, Bt
Succeeded by
Parliament suspended until 1640
Preceded by
Parliament suspended since 1629
Member of Parliament for Cheshire
With: Sir Thomas Aston, 1st Baronet 1640
Peter Venables 1640โ€“1644
George Booth 1646โ€“1653
Succeeded by
Robert Duckenfield
Henry Birkenhead
Preceded by
John Bradshaw
Richard Legh
Member of Parliament for Cheshire
With: Sir George Booth, Bt
Succeeded by
Sir George Booth, Bt
Sir Thomas Mainwaring, Bt
Baronetage of England
Preceded by
(new creation)
(of Hanford)
Succeeded by
Thomas Brereton