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Sir Henry Bromley

Born : Worcestershire
Died : 1615

Sir Henry Bromley was the eldest son of Sir Thomas Bromley and Elizabeth Fortescue (daughter of Sir Adrian Fortescue). Sir Thomas was Lord Chancellor (appointed in 1579) and had presided over the trial of Mary Queen of Scots in 1586. On his death in 1587, Sir Henry inherited all his father's lands except the family seat at Holt Castle which was held by Sir Thomas' widow for her life [1].

Sir Henry rose through the statesman ranks, eventually becoming Sheriff of Worcester. In February 1601 he was implicated for his involvement with the Essex Rebellion, and his lands, including Holt Castle, were forfeited, but upon the accession of James I, these were returned to him, and he proceeded to show James his full loyalty [1].

Bromley was amongst the fourth category of offenders in the Essex Rebellion, those heavily fined and "reserved to her Majesty's use". Among this group also were Sir William Parker, Robert Catesby, and Francis Tresham [2].

Bromley served as the local magistrate and was known at court from around April 1603 when a rhyme popular around the time inferred his religious stance: "Neville [Dr. Neville, Dean of Canterbury] for the Protestants, Lord Thomas [Howard] for the Papist, Bromley for the Puritan, and Lord Cobham for the atheist" [2].

It was common knowledge that Bromley was a staunch Puritan, and perhaps it was an indication of their religious disaffection that his family allied themselves with the recusant Littleton family through his sister Murial's marriage to John Littleton of Hagley (John Littleton was a local MP who was condemned for his part in the Essex Rebellion. He died in the Tower of London before he could be executed).

Evidently Bromley found favour at court for on 8 February 1604 he received a grant in fee-farm of land in the Duchy of Lancaster, and in September, a further grant of lands in Essex and Suffolk. Both grants were worth substantial annual incomes [3]. Whether these grants were an inducement or not, Bromley was eager to help the Privy Council in its apprehension of Jesuits, and return the favours he had received.

Knowing that Thomas Habington had a priest in his house at Hindlip virtually on a constant basis, Bromley managed to procure from the Privy Council, with the utmost secrecy, a commission by which he could search Hindlip at any time [3]. This he enforced, which ultimately led to the arrest and imprisonment of Habington for the suspected harbouring of Edward Oldcorne, although Habington was eventually freed. In his History of Worcester, Habington makes more than one reference to searches carried out by Bromley at the express permission of the Privy Council. Edwards looks at this veiled persecution on the Habingtons by Bromley objectively, putting forward the notion that it was carried out for reasons of personal gain as well as the returning of favours.

"It seemed to Bromley that all he needed to round off his property was [H]abington's house, together with certain properties adjoining. He did not doubt that he would be able to acquire these, either as a gift of Queen Elizabeth or else at a very cheap price indeed if he could ever have the luck to capture a priest, either in the house or in Mr [H]abington's company" [3].

After the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, and the failed stand by the conspirators at Holbeche House, Sir Richard Walsh (kinsman to Bromley) received at Worcester a letter from the Privy Council dated 11 November 1605 asking that "such of the traitors as may conveniently without hazard of their lives, should be presently sent up to London". Walsh replied that the engagement had left him somewhat disabled in body, and committed the prisoners to Bromley who travelled with them to the Tower [2].

Because of his obvious knowledge of the premises, Bromley was instructed by the Privy Council to search Hindlip towards the end of January 1606, for the priests they believed were being sheltered there. It is apparent that the confession of Humphrey Littleton had yielded evidence that Oldcorne was residing at Hindlip. In the early morning of 20 January, Bromley and a large contingent of men numbering almost 200, arrived at Hindlip. Thomas Habington was absent on business at the time. When he arrived later in the day, he declared that there were no priests in his house, or even in Worcester.

On the fourth day of the search, Thursday, 23 January 1606, Sir Henry Bromley wrote to Sir Robert Cecil to report progress: "I holding my resolution to keep watch longer (though I was out of all hope to find any man or any thing), yet at the last, yesterday being Wednesday, found a number of Popish trash hid under boards in three or four several places" [5]. Bromley was apparently absent in the afternoon when Nicholas Owen and Ralph Ashley emerged from a hide in the chimney. That evening, Bromley again wrote to Cecil: "two are come forth for hunger and cold that give themselves other names; but surely one of them I trust will prove [to be] Greenway, and I think the other be Hall. I have yet presumption that there is yet one or two more in the house; wherefore I have resolved to continue the guard yet a day or two". After further hectic and destructive searching, on Monday 27 January, Oldcorne and Father Henry Garnet themselves emerged.

Bromley's first thought on capturing the priests at Hindlip was to take them to Worcester gaol, but he was persuaded to "bring them to his own house as well to have them carefully tended, that he might restore them to strength to enable them for the journey, as also to keep them from conference with the rest of the prisoners, among whom were two or three necessary to be examined, for that they would not confess anything there" [2].

Bromley's opinion of Garnet is interesting. Bromley wrote of the capture of another priest prior to Garnet "there was brought up to Worcester yesternight a poor priest apprehended in a poor man's house whose name and fashion of life appeareth by his own confession....I think him no great, dangerous man". Garnet however appeared to gain only respect from Bromley, who even allowed the priest to share in Candlemas celebrations with his family on 6 February [3].

Tesimond's narrative goes further: "Sir Henry Bromley was more surprised than any, and could not restrain his admiration for Father Henry. So much so, that when he arrived in London he told many of the leading gentlemen that he had never before met such a man, and scarcely believed that he had his like for modesty, prudence and learning. He added that if he had not been charged in connection with the plot, he would have thrown himself on his face before the King in order to beg for him every grace and favour possible" [3].

Bromley honoured Garnet as "a learned man and a worthy priest". The two men (Garnet and Oldcorne) were shown no brutality in their stay at Holt Castle. This is an interesting display of mixed loyalty by Bromley, afterall the current consensus of opinion was that the priests were behind the Gunpowder Plot, and the Sheriff of Worcester had two of the leading Jesuits in his hands [4].

Sir Henry Bromley married four times, lastly to Anne Beswicke who erected a monument in the chancel of Holt Church to her husband. He died in 1615 and was succeeded by his son Thomas from his second marriage. Thomas, who was knighted, died in 1629 leaving the estates to his son Henry who was also Sheriff of Worcestershire, and took the Royalist side in the Civil War.

Sources

[1] Salzman, L.F. ed., "The Victorian History of the Counties of England: A History of Worcester", Vol. IV, 1945
[2] Edwards, Francis, S.J., "Guy Fawkes: the real story of the Gunpowder Plot", 1969
[3] Edwards, Francis, S.J., "The Gunpowder Plot: the narrative of Oswald Tesimond alias Greenway, trans. from the Italian of the Stonyhurst Manuscript", edited and annotated, The Folio Society, 1973
[4] Fraser, Antonia, "Faith & Treason - The Story of the Gunpowder Plot", 1996
[5] Hodgetts, Michael, "Elizabethan Priest Holes: East Anglia, Baddesley Clinton, Hindlip", Recusant History
[6] Hodgetts, Michael, "Secret Hiding Places", Veritas Publishing, Dublin 1989
[7] "Dictionary of National Biography", 1895

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