Sir William Brereton, Kt.

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Sir William Brereton, Kt.

Also Known As: "of Malpas"
Birthplace: Probably Brereton, Cheshire, England
Death: May 17, 1536 (39-48)
Tower of London, London, Middlesex, England (Beheaded adultery and conspiracy with Queen Anne Boleyn)
Immediate Family:

Son of Sir Randal Brereton, IV of Malpas and Eleanor Dutton
Husband of Elizabeth Brereton
Father of Henry Brereton; Thomas Brereton and William Brereton
Brother of Peter Brereton; Jane Brereton; Margred Brereton; Richard Brereton; Sir Randle Brereton, Kt. and 5 others

Occupation: Groom of the King's (Henry VIII) Privy Chamber
Managed by: Oliver Marcus Stedall
Last Updated:

About Sir William Brereton, Kt.

See Peter Bartrum, (March 8, 2018; Anne Brannen, curator)

William Brereton (groom)

William Brereton (c. 1487 – 17 May 1536),[1] the son of a Cheshire landowner, was a Groom of the Privy Chamber to Henry VIII.[1] 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.[2] Many historians are now of the opinion that Anne Boleyn, Brereton and their co-accused were innocent.[2]

William Brereton, born between 1487 and 1490,[1] was the seventh[3][4] son of Sir Randle Brereton of Ipstones, Shocklach, and Malpas,[3] Knight Chamberlain of Chester, knight banneret and knight of the body of Henry VII.[1] His mother was Eleanor, daughter of Piers Dutton of Halton, Cheshire.[1] 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.[1]

In 1529, Brereton married Elizabeth, daughter of Charles Somerset, 1st Earl of Worcester, widow of Sir John Savage, and second cousin to Henry VIII.[1] He and Elizabeth had two sons:[3]

  • 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.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7] The king's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, "authorised and commissioned by the king,"[8] masterminded the proceedings against the queen and her co-accused.[9] The allegation against Brereton, who had been arrested on 4 May,[10] was that Anne solicited him on 16 November 1533, and misconduct took place on 27 November.[11] Historian Eric Ives argues that Cromwell added Brereton to the plot against Anne in order to end the troubles he was causing in the Welsh Marches, and to reorganise (and centralise) the local government of this area.[6]

The trials of William Brereton, Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, and Mark Smeaton took place at Westminster Hall on 12 May.[12] They were charged with high treason against the king, adultery with the queen and plotting king's death.[12] Having been found guilty, they were all sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.[13] The queen and her brother were tried separately on 15 May within the Tower.[14]

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.[15] George Constantyne, an eyewitness to their executions, recorded their last words.[16] Brereton's words as he faced the executioner's axe, "The cause whereof I die, judge not. But if you judge, judge the best,"[16] 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."[11][17]

William Brereton was portrayed by James Gilbert on the Showtime series, The Tudors, during season 2. The show made it seem he had been commissioned by the Pope (Peter O'Toole) to assassinate Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) for the good of King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and 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) -- or were tortured into admitting it -- Mark Smeaton (David Alpay) -- Brereton falsely admitted his guilt to Thomas Cromwell (James Frain).

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,[18] 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.[6]



William was the 7th of 9 sons and had to find his own fortune in the world rather than rely on his inheritance. William's family was prosperous landed gentry, seated in Cheshire in Northern England. His father had enjoyed substantial favor from the crown, but had little to give to his younger heirs. Like four of his brothers (four others became priests), William entered royal service and by 1524 was a groom of the king's Privy Chamber. William married in 1529 to a widow, Elizabeth Savage, who was a second cousin to Henry VIII which improved his status and his connections to the crown. As a result of his marriage, he received 36 offices in Cheshire and North Wales. After his father's death, William received the office of chamberlain of Chester thanks to his ties with the king.

In 1530, "William Brereton, a groom of the Privy Chamber and Thomas Wriothesley, a member of the royal secretariat, were given the task of obtaining the signatures of noblemen and courtiers for a petition to the Pope, urging him to grant the King an annulment [of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon] without further delay" - Alison Weir's King Henry VIII and his court.

In 1536, William was one of the five men (George Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris & Francis Weston) who were accused of adultery and conspiracy with Queen Anne Boleyn. Cromwell claimed that the queen had solicited William for sex on November 16, 1533 and the act took place on the 27th. In retrospect, this is highly unlikely, since Anne was still in seclusion after having given birth to Elizabeth in September (Eric Ives). He was not a prominent courtier and was an older man in the background of the Boleyn faction. Despite the dubious nature of the claims made against him, he was arrested on May 4th during a jousting tournament in Greenwich in which William, as the story goes, picked up the token handkerchief of Queen Anne and in doing so set off the king's jealous rage. William Brereton was found guilty of high treason and beheaded at Tower Hill on May 17, 1536. Historian Eric Ives claims that the true reason William Brereton was implicated in the conspiracy is because of Cromwell's interest in Brereton's lands in Wales and Northern England.


  • Sir Randle Brereton, Chamberlain of Chester1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8
  • M, #20015, d. 1531
  • Father Randle Brereton, Esq.2,9,6 d. 16 Jun 1536
  • Mother Emma Carrington2,9,6
  • Sir Randle Brereton, Chamberlain of Chester was born at of Malpas, Shocklach, & Wigland, Cheshire, England.3 He married Eleanor Dutton, daughter of Peter Dutton and Elizabeth Fouleshurst; They had 8 sons (Sir Randall; Sir Richard; John, a cleric; Peter, a cleric; Sir Roger; Sir William, Chamberlain of Chester Robert; & Sir Urian) and 4 daughters (Eleanor, wife of John Egerton, & of Sir William Brereton; Anne, wife of John Harcourt & of John Peshale; Elizabeth, wife of Richard Cholmondeley, & of Sir Randall Mainwaring; & Jane, wife of Sir Thomas Hanmer).2,3,5,6,8 Sir Randle Brereton, Chamberlain of Chester left a will on 2 August 1523.3,6 He died in 1531.2,3,6
  • Family Eleanor Dutton d. a 1522
  • Children
    • John Brereton2
    • Elizabeth Brereton+10,3,4,5,6,7,8 d. bt 30 Nov 1545 - 1551
    • Sir Randle Brereton d. Jun 1530
    • Eleanor Brereton+9 b. c 1498
    • Sir Urian Brereton, Groom of the King's Chamber+11,2 b. c 1500, d. 19 Mar 1577
  • Citations
  • 1.[S6186] Unknown author, Lineage and Ancestry of HRH Prince Charles by Paget, Vol. II, p. 255, 417.
  • 2.[S5] Douglas Richardson, Plantagenet Ancestry, p. 151.
  • 3.[S16] Douglas Richardson, Magna Carta Ancestry, 2nd Edition, Vol. I, p. 308-309.
  • 4.[S16] Douglas Richardson, Magna Carta Ancestry, 2nd Edition, Vol. III, p. 94.
  • 5.[S16] Douglas Richardson, Magna Carta Ancestry, 2nd Edition, Vol. III, p. 279.
  • 6.[S4] Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry, Vol. I, p. 521.
  • 7.[S4] Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry, Vol. IV, p. 2.
  • 8.[S4] Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry, Vol. IV, p. 283.
  • 9.[S16] Douglas Richardson, Magna Carta Ancestry, 2nd Edition, Vol. I, p. 308.
  • 10.[S5] Douglas Richardson, Plantagenet Ancestry, p. 557.
  • 11.[S11583] The Wallop Family and Their Ancestry, by Vernon James Watney, p., 136.
  • From:


  • Breretons of Cheshire, 1100 to 1904 A. D (1904)
  • Sir Randle de Brereton II., of Ipstone and Malpas, married Joanna, daughter of William Holford. By her he had two sons : 1, Randle Brereton, founder of the Eccleston and Wettenhall branch : 2, Owen Brereton, of Bar Hill, the ancestor of Brereton of Coddington. His second wife was Katherine, daughter of William Butheley, of Eaton, Cheshire. By her he had three sons: 1, Randle, his heir, of Ipstone and Malpas; 2, Ralph Brereton, of Iscoyd Castle, Shropshire, who had one daughter, wife of John Holford ; 3, Bartholomew Brereton, of Grafton, who had three sons : a, Bartholomew ; b, John ; c, Humphrey, of Malpas, the historian of the War of the Roses.
  • Randle Brereton III., of Ipstone, died in Burgundy, France. His wife was Emma, daughter and heiress of John Carington, of Carington. By her he had two sons and two daughters : 1, Randle, his heir; 2, Humphrey, of Malpas; 3, Ellen, wife of Nicholas Bruyn, of Tarwin, Cheshire ; 4, Eleanor, wife of Philip de Egerton, afterwards wife of Sir William de Brerton IX., of Brereton.
  • Sir Randle Brereton IV., of Ipstone and Malpas ; Chamberlain of Chester 1506 to 1532; Knight of the Body to Henry VII. and Henry VIII. ; made a Knight Banneret by Henry VIII., at Boulonge, for Terrouenne and Tournay ; built the Brereton Chapel in Malpas Church in 1522, in which he was buried in 1532. He married Eleanor, daughter of Sir Piers Dutton, of Halton Castle, Cheshire. By her he had nine sons and three daughters: 1, Randle, his heir; 2, Richard, founder of the Tatton branch ; 3, John, founder of the Norfolk branch ; 4, Thomas ; 5, Peter ; 6, Roger, founder of the Halton branch ; 7, William, succeeded his father as Chamberlain of Chester ; was beheaded by Henry VIII. with Queen Anne Boleyn, in 1536; 8, Robert; 9, Urian, founder of the Handford branch. The daughters were : 1, Anne, wife of John Harcourt ; afterwards was wife of John Pershall, of Hordesley ; 2, Elizabeth, wife of Richard Cholmondeley ; afterwards was wife of Randle Mainwaring, of Over Peevor, Cheshire; 3, Jane, wife of Sir Thomas Hanmer, of Hanmer, Flintshire. (See Burosham branch).
  • Sir Randle Brereton V., of Ipstone, Malpas and Shocklach, married Eleanor, daughter of Sir Philip Egerton, of Egerton. By her he had one child, Anne, wife of Randall Dod, of Edge. His second wife was Izabel, daughter of Thomas Butler, of Bewsey. By her he had one son, Randle, his heir, and one daughter, Elizabeth, wife of James Starkey, of Darley.


  • 'Brereton03'
  • Randle Brereton of Malpas
  • m. Alice Ipstones (dau of William de Ipstones)
    • 1. Randle Brereton of Ipstones & Malpas
    • m. Katherine Bulkeley (dau of William Bulkeley of Eaton)
      • A. Randle (Randoll) Brereton
      • m. Emma (heir of John Carington of Carington)
        • i. Sir Randle Brereton of Ipstones, Shoclach and Malpas (a 1522, Chamberlain of Chester)
        • m. Eleanor Dutton (dau of Piers Dutton of Hatton)
          • a. Sir Randle Brereton of Shoclach and Malpas
          • The following is supported by Visitation (Cheshire, 1613, Brereton of Chester).
          • m1. Elenor Egerton (dau of Phillip Egerton of Olton)
            • (1) Anne Brereton
          • m2. Isabel or Elizabeth Butler (dau of Thomas Butler of Bewsey)
            • (2) .... etc.
          • b. Sir Richard Brereton of Tatton (d 1577)
          • The following is supported by Visitation (Cheshire, 1580, Brereton of Tatton).
          • m. Joan Stanley (dau of William Stanley of Tatton (son of Sir William of the Holt by Elizabeth Hopton) by Jane, dau/heir of Sir Jeffrey Massy of Tatton)
            • (1) .... etc.
          • c. Sir Roger Brereton of Wolsacre in Mallpas (6th son)
          • m. Katherine Brereton (dau of Sir William Brereton of Brereton)
            • (1) .... etc.
          • d. Sir William Brereton (d 1536, Chamberlain to King Henry VIII)
          • m. (1530) Elizabeth Somerset (dau of Charles Somerset, Earl of Worcester, widow of Sir John Savage)
          • The following is supported by Visitation (Cheshire, 1613, Brereton of Chester).
            • (1) Henry Brereton (dsp)
            • (2) Thomas Brereton of Barrow, Cheshire
            • m. Jane Bagott (dau of _ Baggott of Brethill)
              • (A) .... etc.
          • e. Sir Urian Brereton of Honford or Hanford or Handforth or Handford (d 19.03.1578, 9th son)
          • The following is supported by Visitation (Cheshire, 1580, Brereton of Hanford) & Visitation (Cheshire, 1663, Brereton of Malpas).
          • m1. Margaret Honford (dau of William Honford (or Hanford or Handford) of Honford, relict of Sir John Stanley)
          • The following is supported by Ormerod (Cheshire, vol 3, Honford and Brereton of Honford).
            • (1) .... etc.
          • m2. Alice Trafford (bur 16.06.1578, dau of Sir Edmund Trafford of Trafford)
            • (9) .... etc.
          • f. Elenor Brereton
          • m(1). Sir William Brereton of Brereton
          • This may have been the Eleanor who (also) married ...
          • m2. Sir Philip Egerton of Egerton and Oulton (d 1563)
          • g. Jane Brereton
          • Visitation (Cheshire, 1580, Brereton of Malpas) shows this Jane as married to Sir John Hanmer whilst Visitation (Cheshire, 1663, Brereton of Malpas) shows a Jane of the next generation (daughter of Alice Trafford) as married to Sir Thomas Hanmer of Hanmer. The dates suggest that it was this Jane who married ...
          • m. Sir Thomas Hanmer of Hanmer (d 20.02.1545)
          • h. Anne Brereton
          • m1. John Harcourt of Raunton
          • m2. John Persall of Horsley
          • i. Elizabeth Brereton
          • Elizabeth's 1st husband is identified by Visitation (Cheshire, 1580, Brereton of Malpas) as Richard Cholmeley but by Visitation (Cheshire, 1663, Brereton of Malpas) as ...
          • m1. Richard Shakerley
          • m2. Sir Randoll Manwaring of Peever (b c1495, d 06.09.1557)
          • j.+ other issue - John, Thomas (rector of Malpas), Peter (parson of Haswall, vicar of Oswestry), Robert (a 1566)
        • The following comes from Visitation (Cheshire, 1613, Brereton of Wettenhall) with support from Visitation (Cheshire, 1580, Brereton of Eccleston).
        • partner unknown
          • n. Randall Brereton of Eccelston, Cheshire
          • m. Catherine Manley (dau of Nicholas Manley of Poulton)
            • (1) .... etc.
  • Main source(s): BEB1841 (Brereton of Honford (both main & supplement)), Visitation (Cheshire, 1580 & 1663, Brereton of Malpas) with support/input as reported above
  • From:


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Sir William Brereton, Kt.'s Timeline

Probably Brereton, Cheshire, England
Smethwick, Cheshire, England
Smethwick, Cheshire, England
May 17, 1536
Age 44
London, Middlesex, England