Sir William Brereton

I have written two articles about the life and fall of Sir William Brereton, one of the men who was executed for adultery with Anne Boleyn. He was not a Jesuit priest sent to assassinate Anne Boleyn, as “The Tudors” portrayed him, so find out more by reading the following articles:-

  • Sir William Brereton Part 1 – Who exactly was Brereton? What was his position at court? What was his reputation and what was his connection to Anne Boleyn and the Boleyn faction.
  • Sir William Brereton Part 2 – An article examining the allegations against Brereton, his arrest, trial and execution, and the consequences of his fall from grace.

37 thoughts on “Sir William Brereton”

  1. Verity says:

    That Anne was unjustly convicted on trumped-up charges of the vilest kind and murdered by her monstrous and tyrannical husband is certainly true but that she ever loved Henry is disputable. She was a highly intelligent, manipulative, ruthless and politically motivated woman who kept Henry dangling for seven years, the price for her surrender being Queen Katherine’s crown and nothing less – as, doubtless, you know.

    The penalty for a woman convicted of treason was to be burned alive. The penalty for a man was to be hanged and eviscerated whilst still living. A lesser end rested on the king’s pleasure! None spoke out upon the scaffold – and who could blame them? The full penalty could be exacted at the last moment upon the whim of the King, He just needed an excuse to regret his ‘mercy’. All of them, apart from George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, had estates and families to protect and none more so than Anne herself. She needed to protect the life and dynastic rights of Elizabeth. Hers was a brave, touching, eloquent and extremely generous farewell to her murderer, a man responsible for the deaths of over 23,000 people! She was a hard political realist who failed in her ultimate ambition and paid the price. The very qualities that so captivated Henry initially, he came to loathe ten years later. No princess with powerful relatives, she! You have to admire her courage and resolve but as relentless ambition drove her, she knew the pitfalls but felt they did not apply to her and so it is impossible to feel sorry for her, although entirely possible to feel sorry for the manner of her end. I have to say that it is her victims, both real, to whom she was pitiless, and those unintended, that I regret; Queen Katherine and Cardinal Wolsey, harried and hounded to their deaths, Thomas More et al and all those murdered and despoiled during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Lives shattered, laws broken and religious belief tossed aside and all for her. If Henry had died following his catastrophic fall in full armour, his horse having landed on top of him, (thus rendering him deeply unconscious for over two hours, during which time he was reported to have died), Anne may have been made regent for Elizabeth, who at that time was the heir to the throne. Certainly her uncle, Norfolk, would have moved quickly to take the throne using Elizabeth as a pretext. She was, too, carrying a child that proved to be a boy. It is fair to assume that she would have moved quickly to kill Mary, the true heir. She had, after all, tried hard previously to encompass her death.

    I feel very sorry for Simon Weston, only 25 and father of a baby son, her brother, Henry Norris, the king’s best friend, William Brereton and poor Mark Smeaton. Their deaths were not her fault but she was the cause and the cause, too, of many others for whom she expressed no regret. Her end was, indeed, a great tragedy and a huge affront to the rule of law and natural justice – given how basely it was accomplished and who died with her, but she played the game, played it well but overplayed her hand in the last analysis. Love? What’s love got to do with it? Theirs was not a romantic idyll but a cold-blooded and implacable progress driven by self-obsession on both sides that stamped on the face of the nation and cost the lives and happiness of those closest to them. I see her for who she was and I view her with both admiration and distaste. The irony is that she did, in fact, succeed dynastically in granting Henry his greatest wish and need. She gave him a prince who was arguably the greatest monarch in English history. He just happened to be a girl.

    1. BanditQueen says:

      I think you mean Francis Weston!

  2. eoghan brereton says:

    sir william brereton is one of my ansesstors

    1. Kat Dudley says:

      Me too! His father, Randall was my 16th great grandfather.

      1. Laura C says:

        Me also! I have always been in love with Tudor history and just recently discovered this ancestor. Amazing!

        1. jeannette Brewington says:

          Was Sir William Brereton one of my Grandfathers. Jeannette Brewington

      2. boldlowe says:

        Mine too! Just found out and doing research. I have a clear line to 8th great grandfather William Lord Brereton and h/w Elizabeth Goring, but don’t have the connections back to this William — probably 10-11 or more ggf.
        Hi Cousins!

    2. Paula Cothren says:

      Mine too…Cothren

    3. corinne says:

      This is my ancestor as well! i have heard this story passed down for generations and I am glad to know the real story!

    4. Kathleen says:

      I am a direct descendant also. I just found this out. No wonder I have occasional dreams of people getting their heads cut off. LOL!

    5. David says:

      Mine as well. 15th Great-Grandfather

    6. stenen says:

      He is m8 18th great grandfather. but he did have 20 brothers and sister so..a lot of people will be traced back to him

  3. Helen says:

    There is an area or village in Cheshire called Brereton. What connection has this place with William Brereton the groom of King Henry V111? And why has this same man the tiltle of ‘Sir’ in many writeups?

    1. Ole Brereton says:

      The son of William built the house along with queen Elizebeth.
      I am a direct descendent of William as well. There are many of us.

      Ole Loftus Brereton

      1. Yes there are any number of people who are related to him. He’s my 12th Great Grandfather.
        I cannot even begin to understand the horror his wife and children must have gone through at the time, and can’t imagine how they must have felt by the time it was over.

  4. Judi Turner-Buzer says:

    I have just traced my lineage and I am from the Brereton line too. The family are named after the location Brereton, as in those days people didn’t really have surnames, so they would use the place they came from or occupation as surname.

    Knights had to meet several criteria, including land and wealth to be made and retain their knighthood. And the Brereton line had significant wealth right through the 1500s and beyond. Therefore they were able to maintain their titles 🙂

    1. Terry Moore says:

      Brereton, the place, was named for Brereton, the family, not the other way ’round. In the absence of last names the place of origin served to identify, and Brereton is a form of Breton. That the Breretons were from northern France (Brittany) is quite clear, and they were in close kinship with William the Conqueror. It is possible to trace the Brereton lineage WAY back to the fifth century and it includes several kings and queens. Quite a powerful and enduring family and one to which I, like the rest of you, happily claim membership, mine through the Patton branch (Richard Patton b.1451 married Margaret Brereton, daughter of William).

      1. David Brereton says:

        Hi Terry, are you the Moore’s from Australia? We are related to the Moore’s from William John Brereton my GGG grandfathers brother.

  5. Glyn Hall says:

    My half brothers are direct descendents of Sir William Brereton who was beheaded.
    The crest of the Brereton family is a bears head. However, after the execution, Sir Williams line of the family had a muzzle placed on the bears head as their crest.
    There is a pub/inn/hotel in the village of Brereton called the Bears Head.

    1. Simon Binks says:

      The bear image developed because Sir William killed one of his servents and went to Henry VIII for a pardon. He was locked in the Tower and ordered to design a muzzle for bears. Upon release, he was placed in a room with a wild bear. This was a road test for the bear-muzzle, upon which his fate depended. The efficiency of the muzzle he had designed and constructed whilst in jail (gaol) was his only defence. The muzzle worked perfectly with Sir William emerging unharmed and the image of the bear became a family icon. My mother was a Brereton.

  6. Pamela Johnson says:

    I am also descended from the Breretons, one of the most prestigious families in medieval England. There is great controversy about them because their lineage includes Ada de Huntingdon as wife of Ralph Brereton, and there is a tomb in at St. Mary’s Astley with effigies of Ada and Ralph Brereton, as well as next to them two others, a knight (Wiliam Brereton supposedly) and a churchman (Gilbert Brereton) who was rector of St. Mary’s for many years. The Brereton’s have used the coat of arms of the Royal House of Scotland since 1285; the royal house had been slowly been exterminated by Henry III and then Edward I, through murder, poison, dispossession of lands, etc. Henry was kept Ada’s son captive (called a “ward”) throught his youth to his majority. He only lived for years after that. Ada’s father, David Canmore, Earl of Huntingdon, had made a treaty with Henry in 1244, part of which stipulated that his family would not be subjected to English courts, as hereditary laws were different in the two countries, and he probably knew what Henry was up to. Ada was married until 1250 to Henry Hastings; here is where the dispute lies. After Henry Hastings died in 1250, Henry III grabs her lands and titles to hold for the heir in his captivity. There is already much war going on the border with Scotland. Ada’s brother, John le Scot has died of poison at age 30, and so it leaves the 4 sisters as the heiresses. At this point Henry said he would not let the women inherit Scotland,, as they had the right to do, and Ada’s vast estates are transferred to the Crown. She is never declared dead, just land transfers (which one historian claims prove her death, I dispute, especially since she has a dated tomb and entire clan in Brereton). The Brereton family claims she then married Sir Ralph Brereton. Ever since, the English crown has recognized their incorporation of the royal Coat of Arms of Scotland in the Brereton Coat of Arms. This is key, because the king had to award letters of patent, which are confirmed in the 14th century, for them to be able to use this coat of arms. By this time I suspect Ada is running for her life, but Ralph is a very powerful marcher lord, and they are far away from London. There are two sons next to the tombs, ibid.
    So down the generations to Henry VIII and why an old, paranoid king had to get rid of William Brereton. Because everyone knew who he descended from, and he was very powerful among the Marcher Lords who were like princes unto themselves in northern England, and could have posed a real threat to Henry’s sucession. He was 50 or tereabout when Henry had him executed, not a young man like in the Tudors.

  7. Jeannette Brewington Martin says:

    When did the name Brereton become Brewington in the United States ??

    1. Claire says:

      I didn’t know that it had, sorry. Names do change over time though. In Tudor times, for example, there wasn’t any standardised spelling so names and words were spelled differently all the time. My own surname has been spelled different ways through the generations. It would all depend on the literacy level of the person filling in documents etc.

    2. Gilbert Brewington says:

      Around the Revolutionary war. My great grand father six times back was William Brereton of Maryland, but changed it to Brewington, as not to be associated with the British family.

  8. Samantha Bowles says:

    Just wanted to say what fabulous articles. Urian Brereton was my 11 times great grand father. So finding this site makes for exciting reading. Thank you xx Samantha xx

    1. valerie says:

      He is also one of mine and did you see that one of Urians grandsons is a saint? Saint Ambrose Barlow.

      1. Family history lover says:

        I’m also a descendant of William breretom
        In the line that is a brother to St. Ambrose Barlow
        I love the history of this family.

  9. Tracey says:

    I am a descendant of William. He’s 24 generations back. Brereton down thru Humphrey’s daughter Emma. Then down thru 7 generations of Dodd Three generations of Hedden to John Henry Orr. Whose daughter Anna Louise Orr married Gustav Timm. Their daughter Dorothy Vera Mable married Otis Roy Truitt whose mother was Lidora Bell Spicknall. Go back 4 more generations of Spicknall to Sarah Roberson. Her mother Ann Hutchinson. And grandmother Missy Sewell to Ignatius Sewell. John Sewell. Richard Sewell. Mary Dugdale. Elizabeth Swynfen. Arthur Swynfen. Dorothy Noel. James Noel. Maud Brereton. William Brereton .
    Then there is my father’s side. Great grandmother Gladys Galer to her grandfather Reasoner Galer. From his mother’s side all the way back to Lady Catherine de Neville.
    I only note these on here for anyone reading who might be related through them.

  10. Vincent Brereton says:

    Hi all
    I am Vince Brereton and related all the way back. Family from Cheshire and I live in Coventry UK

    1. Margaret says:

      Just found this article. I was born in Coventry and now live in Bedworth. I have traced my lineage back to Gilbert Brereton abt1226.

  11. Melissa Bright says:

    Regarding “Brereton” becoming “Brewington” in the U.S., I am from a village in Maryland, now called Allen, that was originally named “Brereton” for William Brereton, husband of Sarah Smith, both of whom came here, to what was then Somerset County, Maryland, in about 1679 from Northumberland County, Virginia, just across the Chesapeake Bay. They settled on land given to them by Sarah’s father, and a village grew up around the mill that that served their plantation and the other settlers who followed them. Our William Brereton was born in Cheshire around 1648; his family was prominent in Virginia and may have come to America during Cromwell’s Commonwealth (I’m still trying to verify or disprove that). Our William died in Somerset County in 1790, where he had served as a Justice of the Peace and also as High Sheriff. He managed to keep his position even in the aftermath of the Restoration, then through upheaval in the Maryland colony against the Proprietor, Lord Baltimore. His grandson, also William (1719-1796) appears to have been the one to change the name to Brewington, for the reasons Gilbert Brewington spoke of, above. The Brereton name had been associated with service to the Royal Family for hundreds of years and many generations. Distancing at that time was most likely quite prudent. But also very sad.

    1. Laura A says:

      I’m related to the same William. Do you have any idea who his parents were?

    2. Johnny Day says:

      This is my Family as well. Do you know of his children names??

  12. Laura L Bistak says:

    Sir William is my 17 x great grandfather through his son Andrew. Down through the Mainwarings, The Stiles and the Fairchilds. My 3 x great grandmother was a Fairchild, I have been having such fun researching my family history. I have over 3700 people in my tree and am no where near done.

  13. Sir William Brereton is my 13 X Great Grandfather ,,,,,,I have really enjoyed doing my family tree through the Nevilles,,,the Sackvilles ,,,the Windsors and the de Warrennes ,,,,,,

  14. Dawn Zimbler says:

    Hiya distant cousins. I just found out he was my 14th Great Grandfather.

  15. Wanda Wirthlin says:

    My husband’s 12th great grandmother married William Brereton as her 2nd husband. She was the daughter of Charles Somerset ,1st Earl of Worcester, widow of Sir John Savage, and second cousin to Henry VIII. He and Elizabeth had two sons, Henry and Thomas. From what I read, she witnessed against him at the trial. That was crucial to have that evidence to put Queen Anne to death. I am still researching this. If anyone knows the truth about this please get in touch.

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