Thomas Bryan, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas

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Thomas Bryan, II

Also Known As: "Thomas Brien", "Thomas Brian", "Thomas Brienne", "Thomas de Bryan", "Thomas Bryen", "Sir Thomas Bryan Chief Justice"
Birthdate: (62)
Birthplace: Cheddington, Buckinghamshire, England
Death: December 11, 1500 (62)
Immediate Family:

Son of Edmund Bryan, I and Alice Bures Bryan
Husband of Margaret Bryan
Father of Joan Bryan,; Elizabeth de Bryan; Sir Thomas Bryan, II, Kt. and Edmund Bryan, II

Occupation: Chief Justice of Common Pleas, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas Court Ireland., Knight’s Serjeant and Knight of the Bath. Chief Justice of the common plea’s., Chief Justice, Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas
Managed by: Ann Margrethe Nilsen
Last Updated:

About Thomas Bryan, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas

Sir Thomas Bryan ("King's Serjeant" & "Knight of the Bath") was a British justice born to common blood, most likely to the son of John Bryan, who was a fishmonger. Thomas assumed the arms of Guy Bryan, Baron when he became a person of some importance. It is suggested that Thomas Bryan, KS, KB went to university before beginning legal studies in the 1440s, becoming a student at Gray's Inn, progressing rapidly; by 1456 he was already a Bencher (or Master of the Bench is a senior member of an Inn of Court in England and Wales, and is an office for life once elected) and was acting as a Feoffee for the Inn. He was at this point serving as legal counsel for various London companies, including as a steward for St Bartholomew's Hospital. He was appointed "Common Serjeant of London"(full title The Serjeant-at-Law in the Common Hall is an ancient British legal office and is the second most senior permanent judge of the Central Criminal Court after the Recorder of London, acting as deputy to that office, and sitting as a judge in the trial of criminal offences). in 1460, a position he held until he was made a "Serjeant-at-law" in 1463, followed by a further promotion to "King's Serjeant" in 1470. After the accession of Edward IV of England" in 1471 Bryan was made "Chief Justice of the Common Pleas", and was appointed a "Knight of the Bath" in 1475. Bryan served as Chief Justice of the Common Pleas from 1471 for 29 years until his death in 1500.

A Feoffee is a trustee who holds a fief (or "fee"), or estate in land, for the use of a beneficial owner. The practice of granting legal seizin in one's land-holdings ("holdings" as only the king himself "owned" land by his allodial title) to a group of trusted friends or relatives or other allies whilst retaining use of the lands, began to be widespread by about 1375. The purpose of such an action was two-fold: Akin to modern tax-avoidance, it was a legal loop-hole to avoid the suffering of the customary feudal incidents, namely the payment of feudal relief on an inheritance, the temporary loss of control of a fiefdom through wardship where the landholder was under the age of majority of 21, and the forcible marriage of a young heiress. Secondly, the land-holder was able effectively to bequeath his land to whomsoever he wished, and was no longer bound by the custom of primogeniture where the eldest son alone had the right, on payment of the appropriate feudal relief, to inherit.

The Serjeants-at-Law (SL) was an order of barristers at the English bar. Serjeants were the oldest formally created order in England, having been brought into existence as a body by Henry II. The order rose during the 16th century as a small, elite group of lawyers who took much of the work in the central common law courts. The Serjeants had for many centuries exclusive jurisdiction over the Court of Common Pleas, being the only lawyers allowed to argue a case there.

A King's Serjeant was a Serjeant-at-Law appointed to serve the Crown as a legal adviser to the monarch and their government in the same way as the Attorney-General for England and Wales. The King's Serjeant (who had the postnominal KS, or QS during the reign of a female monarch) would represent the Crown in court, acting as prosecutors in criminal cases and representatives in civil ones, and would have higher powers and ranking in the lower courts than the Attorney or Solicitor General. King's Serjeants also worked as legal advisers in the House of Lords, and were not allowed to act in cases against the Crown or do anything that would harm it.

The Chief Justice of Common Pleas was the head of the Court of Common Pleas, also known as the Common Bench or Common Place, the second-highest common law court in the English legal system until 1875.

In the Middle Ages, knighthood was often conferred with elaborate ceremonies involving the knight-to-be taking a bath (possibly symbolic of spiritual purification), during which he was instructed in the duties of knighthood by more senior knights. He was then put to bed to dry. Clothed in a special robe, he was led with music to the chapel where he spent the night in a vigil. At dawn he made confession and attended Mass, then retired to his bed to sleep until it was fully daylight. He was then brought before the King, who after instructing two senior knights to buckle the spurs to the knight-elect's heels, fastened a belt around his waist, then struck him on the neck (with either a hand or a sword), thus making him a knight.

On the western border of Buckinghamshire, five miles north of the town of Tring, there once stood the manor of Marsworth. Nothing now remains of the original manor-house that was pulled down in n the eighteenth century except the moated remnants of a grassy terrace and a few cobble stones. Built upon a softly rising incline that combined both arable land and grass, Marsworth was constructed about 1292. A survey thirty-two years later revealed a capital messuage (a dwelling house with adjacent buildings and a courtyard and adjoining lands used in connection with the household), a garden, and a fish-pond. The manor originally belonged to the Goldington family, for whom it was at times named, but by 1489 it had become the property of Sir Thomas Bryan.

Thomas Bryan was a gentleman of substance and standing in Buckinghamshire. His family background was obscure, and the place of his birth cannot be stated with certainly. During his first marriage Thomas sired at least four children, although the records indicate that three were illegitimate. A later marriage produced only one child. By the time of his death in 1500 Thomas held most of his property in Buckinghamshire but also possessed land in seven other counties extending from Kent to Yorkshire. It was to his career that the family owed it conspicuous rise during the 1460s and 1470's. He entered the legal profession and received his education at Grey’s Inn, and his mentioned in the Year Books of Henry VI as an advocate as early as 1456. His call to the degree of Serjeant-at-law, or Coif, was in Michaelmas (September 29) 1463, a lucrative post whose conferees were often regarded as "the richest advocates in the whole world".

As an able lawyer and servant of the crown, Bryan was raised to Chief Justice of the Common Pleas following the death or retirement of Sir Robert Danby soon after Edward IV’s restoration in 1471. Four years later he received the honor of knighthood on the same day as the Prince of Wales and he continued to perform his judicial duties without any apparent involvement in the struggle between the Houses of Lancaster and York. Sometime after his knighthood, the Bryan family adopted the motto "Ja Tens Grace" (I hope for salvation).

There is evidence that he served as Chief Justice under Richard III, and in fact received the manors of Wyllesford near the village of Uphaven in Wiltshire, over in Gloucestershire, and Calverton in Buckinghamshire, properties forfeited to the king by persons attainted. These grants are stated to be for services against the rebels, probably referring to the rebellious of Henry Stafford, duke of Buckingham, in September 1483, but there is no indication what duties Bryan performed. His activities on Richard’s behalf did not hinder his advancement under the new Tutor king Henry VII. His patent as Chief Justice was regranted on Henry’s accession despite his past loyalty to Richard III, and he was appointed as one of the commissioners to execute the office of Steward at Henry’s coronation in 1485.

As Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, Bryan, regularly attended the House of Lords during the reigns of Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII. In the counties of Buckinghamshire, Essex, and Lincoln he served on local commissions of the peace during the latter 1470s and 1480s and as an itinerant justice on commissions of Assize, oyer et terminer, and gaol delivery.

He presided as Chief Justice until his death in October 1500, when Sir Thomas Wood was preferred to his place. Sir Thomas Bryan’s will was proved two months later. The name of his wife does not appear; however besides a daughter Elizabeth and as bastard child Joan, to whom he bequeathed a legacy, he left a son named Thomas, the father of Francis Bryan. Although his early career is relatively obscure, young Thomas benefitted substantially from the social and financial status his father had acquired from his years on the Common Pleas. This greatly aided him in securing a marriage, sometime prior to 1495, to Margaret, a daughter of Humphrey Bourchier, a nobleman of ancient lineage who had been slain at the Battle of Barnet in April 1471 fighting on behalf of Edward IV. Her grandfather, the earl of Ewe, had been created Baron Berners in 1455, and her uncle, Henry Bourchier, became earl of Essex in 1461. Moreover one of her mother’s sisters married Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey, later second duke of Norfolk. His sister was Elizabeth Howard, the mother of Anne Boleyn, who would play an important role in the career of Francis Bryan.

In June 1497 Thomas served in Henry VII’s army that slew 2000 Cornish rebels encamped at Blackheath on the outskirts of London. For his part in the suppression Bryan was knighted, and soon became a trusted official of the crown as a gentleman of the royal court. At the funeral of Henry VII in May 1509, he was designated a mourner to attend upon the body until his burial. At the opening of Henry VIII’s reign Thomas was appointed Knight of the Body and later the Vice-Chamberlain to Queen Catherine of Aragon. Early in the reign of Henry VIII he also served on the Commission of the Peace for his own county of Buckinghamshire. Like her husband, Margaret devoted most of her life to the royal service, in her case as governess to Henry VIII’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth. A proud and self-confident woman, she possessed a forceful and resolute character, traits which reappear in her son Francis. By Thomas she had two daughters and two sons of whom Francis is probably the youngest. There is no record of his birth date, but the evidence of his later career indicates that he was born around 1496. Very likely he spent his childhood at his father’s manor in Marworth.

citation: "I Came to Court A Very Young Man" Ian Baker 1991




History And Antiquities of the County of Buckingham, Volume 3 (1847)- of the ThomasBryan, Knt. Chief-Justice, who, by his Will made 7 Feb. and proved 11 Dec. 1500, practised by the Monks with regard to this relic. devotion." means, to bring them into contempt, and exhibited..."-

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Thomas Bryan, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas's Timeline

June 1, 1438
Cheddington, Buckinghamshire, England
Age 24
Cheddington, Buckinghamshire, , England
Age 24
Cheddington, Buckinghamshire, , England
June 1, 1464
Age 26
Cheddington, Aylesbury Vale, Buckinghamshire, England
Age 42
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England
December 11, 1500
Age 62
Lord Chief Justice