William BROOKE

(5th B. Cobham)

Born: ABT 1526/1 Nov 1527, Cobham, Kent, England

Died: 6 Mar 1596/7

Buried: 5 Apr 1597, Cobham, Kent, England

Notes: Knight of the Garter.

Father: George BROOKE (4° B. Cobham)

Mother: Anne BRAY (B. Cobham)

Married 1: Dorothy NEVILLE 4 Jun 1535 / 1550, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Wales


1. Dorothy BROOKE (Maid of Honour)

2. Frances BROOKE

Married 2: Frances NEWTON (B. Cobham) (b. 1539 - d. 17 Oct 1592) (dau. of Sir John Newton of Hawtrey and Margaret Poyntz) 25 Feb 1559/60, Westminster Palace, Westminster, Middlesex, England


3. Maximilian BROOKE

4. Frances BROOKE (B. Stourton of Stourton)

5. Elizabeth BROOKE (C. Salisbury)

6. Henry BROOKE (6° B. Cobham)

7. William BROOKE (b. 11 Dec 1565)

8. Margaret BROOKE

9. George BROOKE

William Brooke,  Baron Cobham,

wearing the Collar of the Order of the Garter

and holding staff of office as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports

Born 1 Nov 1527, first son of George Brooke, 4th Lord Cobham, and his wife Anne Bray, sister and coheir of John Lord Bray. His brothers were George, Henry, John and Thomas. Educ. Padua 1542-5. Married first, by 4 Jun 1535, Dorothy, dau. of George Neville, third Lord Abergavenny; married secondly, 25 Feb 1560, Frances, dau. of Sir John 'Cradock' Newton of East Harptree, Som. and Hanham, Glos., 4s. inc. Henry and William. Kntd. 1 Dec 1548, KG nom 23 Apr 1584, inst. 15 Apr 1585. suc. fa. as 10th Lord Cobham 29 Sep 1558. Esquire of the body by 1553; constable, Dover castle, Kent 16 Dec 1558-d.; ld. warden, the Cinque Ports 16 Dec 1558-d.; j.p. Kent 1558/59, q. 1561-d.; ld. Lt. Kent 1559-d.; commr. Rochester bridge 1571; PC 1586-d.; keeper, Eltham pk., Kent 1592-d., ld. chamberlain, the Household 8 Aug 1596-7.

Early in 1540 it was said that Lord Cobham had wanted to send two of his sons to the Continent with the Duke of Cleves's chancellor but that Cromwell would not allow them to leave England; in the following year, with Cromwell removed from the scene, William Brooke was licensed to go abroad ‘for his further increase of virtue and learning’, taking with him two servants, three horses and £20 in money. He also took with him a number of ‘remembrances’ from his father, to say his prayers and hear mass devoutly, to remember his marriage vows, to obey his tutor and be diligent in his study of the civil law, rhetoric and Greek, and to write home as often as possible: these precepts the young traveller subscribed:


‘I will perform all these things by the grace of God. 

By me, your son, 

William Brooke’.

Although he was sent to Padua to study, the outbreak of England's war with France evidently made Brooke chafe at being in Italy, and in the autumn of 1545 he left for the Netherlands determined to take part in any action he might find. Early in the following year he returned to England on a short visit and in Nov he was given a military appointment at Calais, where his father was deputy. The letter ordering the grant of this office was put forward by Sir William Paget, and Lord Cobham called his son "Paget's servant" in a letter of Apr 1547 asking Paget to agree to William's offering his service to the King of France for a year.

During the wars of Edward VI's reign Brooke led a band of 100 men, and in Jul 1550 he conveyed £7,000 from England to the treasurer of Calais. In the summer of 1551 he formed part of the embassy to France led by his brother-in-law the Marquess of Northampton, bringing home a report from the Ambassadors in Jun and returning to France with fresh instructions from the Council.

Brooke was three days short of 20 when the Parliament of 1547 opened. That such a stripling should have caused one of the Cinque Ports to break (so far as is known for the first time under the Tudors) the ordinance confining their representation to residents is proof enough of Brooke's enjoyment of powerful backing; apart from his father, a man of weight in Kent, his patron Paget is most likely to have procured his election, perhaps with the aid of the Protector Somerset himself. Brooke's knighthood, conferred on 1 Dec 1548 during the second session of the Parliament, suggests that he then stood well with the Protectoral regime, although his connexion with Northampton must later have aligned him with Somerset's rival Northumberland.

He did not sit in the Parliament of Mar 1553, and it is not known whether he played any part in the succession crisis of that summer, but when six months later his cousin Sir Thomas Wyatt raised Kent against Queen Mary he was one of those implicated, although how deeply cannot be known; he pleaded not guilty to an indictment for treason, as did his younger brothers George and Thomas, and all three were pardoned, while his father was let off at the cost of giving the Queen an obligation for £450. His wife Dorothy asked her brother, Henry, Lord Abergavenny, to interced to secure Brooke’s release.

Brooke's election 18 months later for Rochester, which had been the starting-point of the rebellion, could therefore have given little satisfaction at court, and even less when towards the close of this Parliament he joined the opposition to one of the government's bills. According to the Complete Peerage he received a writ of summons to the Lords for the second session of the following Parliament, that of 1558, but no trace of this summons has been found and he is not recorded as having taken his place in the Upper House until 1559.

With the accession of Elizabeth, six weeks after Brooke's own succession to his barony, new opportunities opened out for him. His close friendship with William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, made him a powerful noble. Along with Cecil, he numbered among his friends some nobles, such as the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Arundel, whose loyalty to Queen Elizabeth was far from certain.

The first important task assigned to him was the distasteful one of announcing Mary's death to King Felipe in Brussels. William was still abroad when Sir Thomas Cheney, the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, died on 15 Dec 1558. Elizabeth had asked him to close the ports on the day of her succession because Cheney was ill, but it was a very important and powerful position, and William had competition from Elizabeth's cousin, Henry Carey. It may have been due to the influence of his sister, Elizabeth that the position was granted for life to William on 28 Apr 1559.

He was  placed on the commission of the peace for Kent, and in the following year made lord lieutenant of the county. Thenceforward, for nearly 40 years, Lord Cobham was a busy servant of the crown, entrusted with the defence of Kent, the mustering of soldiers, the suppression of piracy, the staying of ships in times of embargo and a host of minor duties committed to him as need arose by the Council.

Before he inherited his father’s title, William Brooke married Dorothy Neville, the daughter of George Neville, 3rd Baron Abergavenny, by his third wife Mary Stafford. The Nevilles were one of the two most prominent families in the county of Kent, the other being the Brookes.

The marriage was not a success, and the couple eventually separated. Dorothy died on 22 Sep 1559, almost exactly a year after her husband became Lord Cobham.

His second wife, whom he married 25 Feb 1559/60 at Westminster Palace, was Frances Newton was one of the nineteen children of Sir John Newton or Cradock of East Harptree, Somerset and Hanham, Gloucestershire and Margaret Poyntz. She was in Elizabeth Tudor’s service before 1558 and continued as one of her chamberers after Elizabeth became Queen. Later in the reign, Frances's sister, Catherine, also became a chamberer. On 17 Jul 1560, the Queen visited Cobham Hall on her summer progress and she returned there for another visit on 4 Sep 1573. Frances was considered to be one of the Queen’s closest friends. In the 1587 list she was recorded as one of the four Ladies of the Bedchamber. She was never gone from court for long.

Brooke suffered some months' house imprisonment as a result of a very tangential role in the Ridolfi plot. His involvement was primarily to cover up for his brother Thomas, who had been involved. William was arrested on 7 Oct 1571, and imprisoned in the house of his friend Lord Burghley where he remained seven and a half months. His wife Frances was also under suspicion and she was removed from the Privy Chamber on 20 Oct for a while.

He twice went on embassies to the Netherlands, in 1578 with Sir Thomas Walsingham (when he presumably served as Cecil's agent) and in 1588. In the late 1580s, he helped John Whitgift search for the author of the Martin Marprelate tracts.

William's son and heir Maximilian died age 23 in Jul 1583 in Orleans, France. Maximilian had been traveling abroad for 18 months after leaving Cambridge University and was starting to assume some of his responsibilities as an heir.

In 1586 he was sworn a member of the Privy Council. This was a victory for Lord Treasurer Burghley's faction against Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester who was on campaign in the Netherlands at the time and out of favour with the Queen. During the Armada crisis he was again in the Netherlands on a diplomatic mission to Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma, with Thomas, 4th Earl of Derby, and Robert Cecil, who on 31 Aug 1589 married William's eldest daughter Elizabeth.

All the Lord Chamberlain except the first, William Howard, patronized acting companies at one time or another, though William Brooke never did so during the seven months he was. And there's also an interesting story behind the Henry Carey - William Brooke - George Carey succession in 1596-97. Henry Carey was the patron of Shakespeare's company, the Chamberlain's Men. When he died in 1596, patronage of the company went to his son George, but the title of Lord Chamberlain unexpectedly went to William Brooke (the Careys and the Brookes were power rivals at Court). Brooke's ancestor had been Sir John Oldcastle, which was the original name of Falstaff in Shakespeare's Henry IV plays. He was forced to change the name aftercomplaints from the Brooke family, and it's often been suggested that Shakespeare used the name Oldcastle in the first place in order to get in a jab at William Brooke forgrabbing the Lord Chamberlain title. During the seven months that Brooke held the office, 8 Aug 1596 - 5 Mar 1597, Shakespeare's company was forced to call themselves Lord Hunsdon's Men; they were so called on the First Quarto of Romeo and Juliet (published in 1597) and in the payment for their court performances in the 1596-97 Christmas season.

William's wife, Frances, died in Sep 1592. She had been ill for a year or more at Blackfriars and William took her home to Cobham just 2 weeks before she died. After the death of his wife William courted the widow Magdalene Dacre, Lady Montague but she declined his offers.

Cobham had made his will on 24 Feb 1597, trusting ‘wholly and only’ by the merits of Christ's passion to attain salvation and asking to be buried ‘after a laudable sort, and without vain pomp’, in the church at Cobham. His household servants at Cobham and at the Blackfriars, London, were to receive an extra half year's wages, and the houses to be delivered, ten days after his funeral, to his son and heir Henry Brooke. To Sir John Leveson, Thomas Fane and William Lambarde, three of his executors, Cobham left the site of the old college of Cobham on which they were to build a new college for poor people to live in; all his jewels, ornaments and plate, except those items which he bestowed otherwise in his will, were to be sold to pay his funeral expenses, debts and legacies and to provide the money for the perpetual maintenance of this almshouse. Cobham named as another executor his cousin, Sir Edward Wotton, and desired his friend Lord Burghley, and his son-in-law Sir Robert Cecil, to be overseers of his will.

When Brooke died, George Carey finally got the Chamberlainship, and Shakespeare's company got their old name back.

Brooke,William(5BCobham)family01.jpg (102680 bytes)

William Brooke, 10th Lord of Cobham and his Family

by an artist of the British School, 1567

(Longleat House collection)

The Cobham family portrait, painted in 1567 by the artist A. W., also known as the Master of the countess of Warwick. The sitters were identified as Frances Newton (standing), her husband, her sister, Joanna (seated) and six of Cobham's children. More recently, the seated woman has been reidentified as Frances while the woman standing is said to be Elizabeth Brooke, Marchioness of Northampton, Lord Cobham's sister, who had died two years earlier. Such memorial portraits were not unheard of. A copy of the Cobham Family Portrait was commissioned c. 1590 by William's daughter Elizabeth and in this version another child, George, not yet born in 1567, is included in the group.

to Bios Page

to Family Page

to Peerage Page to Home Page