BROUNCKER, Hon. Henry (c.1627-88), of Sheen Abbey, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. c.1627, 2nd s. of William, 1st Visct. Brouncker of Lyons, co. Dublin [I] by Winifred, da. of Sir William Leigh of Newnham, Warws. educ. Wadham, Oxf. matric. 20 May 1642, aged 15. m. c. May 1661, Rebecca, da. and h. of William Rodway, merchant, of London, wid. of Thomas Jermyn† of Rushbrooke, Suff., s.p. legit. suc. bro. as 3rd Visct. Brouncker 5 Apr. 1684.1
J.p. Suff. 1662-d., Suss. 1667- d. Mdx. and Westminster 1671-d., Surr. 1674-d.; freeman, New Romney 1666; commr. for assessment, Oxon. and Suss. 1667-9, Westminster 1667-74, Mdx. 1673-4; receiver of hearth-tax, Mdx. and Suss. 1670-5; commr. for recusants, Mdx. and Suff. 1675; dep. lt. Surr. by 1680-?d.2
Gent. pensioner 1661-5; commr. for wine licences 1664-8; asst. R. Adventurers into Africa by 1664-7, dep.-gov. 1666; asst. R. Fishing Co. 1664; groom of the bedchamber to the Duke of York 1665-7; commr. for plantations 1670-2, trade and plantations 1672-4; ranger [I] 1672-4; member, board of green cloth 1673-85; cofferer of the Household 1679-85.3
Brouncker came of an old Wiltshire family, which entered the ranks of the gentry in the early 16th century. His grandfather, Sir Henry Brouncker, represented Devizes in Elizabeth’s reign and was lord president of Munster. Brouncker’s father was a gentleman of the privy chamber to Charles I and vice-chamberlain to the Prince of Wales. In 1645 he bought an Irish peerage for £1,200 and joined the King at Oxford, dying in November of that year. Brouncker took no ascertainable part in the first Civil War, but he was in the Colchester garrison in 1648. Nothing further is known of him till 1656, when he joined the exiled court apparently as a pimp for the Duke of York. Sir Edward Nicholas inquired about his religion, and was told: ‘As for Mr Brouncker, he certainly is no Roman Catholic; ... however, as a courtier, he may possibly sometimes go to Mass’. The writer, an acknowledged and respected member of the Church of Rome, did not explain why this attendance should be required at a professedly Anglican Court.4
Brouncker continued his career at Court after the Restoration, married a widow with ‘a great jointure and great personal estate’and became notable also as a successful gamester. Obtaining a crown lease of a former monastery at Sheen, he adapted the premises to suit his rather different requirements, and secured for his wife a post as dresser to Queen Catherine of Braganza, which required her constant attendance at Court. His own services were rewarded with a patent to erect a lighthouse at Milford Haven. In 1665 he accompanied the Duke of York to sea, and was chiefly responsible for the failure to follow up the English victory off Lowestoft, pretending orders from the Duke to shorten sail. Four months later he stood as court candidate at New Romney, defeating Sir Charles Sedley on the mayor’s casting vote. During his brief service in the House he was a moderately active Member, acting as teller in six divisions and being named to 17 committees. As a regular teller for supply in the 1666-7 session he was mentioned by Andrew Marvell as ‘love’s squire’ and he was the ‘lieutenant mild’ of Edward Progers. But in 1667 he was dismissed from the Duke of York’s household for his hostility to Clarendon, though it may be that the Duke was now also aware how Brouncker’s cowardice had compromised his own reputation for courage. He was appointed to the committee for banishing the fallen minister, though himself under attack for his share in the miscarriages of the war. He cast the responsibility on the flag-captain, saying: ‘If I used my reason to persuade him, and he by executing of it made it his own, he is to blame, not I’. The attack on him was renewed in the spring of 1668. Brouncker defended himself with more effrontery than skill, denying that the Duke was in any danger, which might have provided some excuse for his action, and was expelled the House. Articles of impeachment were brought against him and he prudently withdrew to France. But with the adjournment the affair lapsed.5
Brouncker soon returned to England, and received far more in boons and offices than had ever been granted to him before his disgrace. In 1670, for example, he was given £1,000 and the reversion of his brother’s pension of £1,000 p.a., and in 1673 he virtually took over the office of cofferer from the aged William Ashburnham. James had never forgiven him, however, and he held no office after 1685. He died at Sheen on 4 Jan. 1688, leaving all his property (including a rather embarrassing collection of Lelys) to his old comrade of Civil War days, Sir Charles Lyttleton. This was virtually the only action of Brouncker’s life that aroused general approval. Contemporaries as diverse in their outlook as Evelyn, Samuel Pepys, and Anthony Hamilton agreed in describing him as ‘a hard, covetous, vicious man’ with an attitude to sex that was purely mercenary; ‘but for worldly craft and skill in gaming, etc., few exceeded him’.6
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Basil Duke Henning
- 1. Keeler, Long Parl. 236.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1666-7, p. 158; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 567.
- 3. Beaufort mss 600.2 (clerk of the cheque’s bk.); CSP Dom. 1663-4, p. 485; 1672-3, p. 211; 1673-5, p. 365; 1679-80, p. 307; HMC Ormonde, n.s. vii. 325.
- 4. CSP Dom. 1656-7, p. 67; 1671, p. 373; Nicholas Pprs. (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, xxxi), 6-7, 100.
- 5. Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 522; Clarendon, Life, ii. 396-9; CSP Dom. 1664-5, p. 457; 1667-8, p. 383; 1675-6, p. 177; Evelyn Diary, iv. 142-3; Marvell ed. Margoliouth, i. 145; Pepys Diary, 29 Aug., 2 Sept. 1667; Milward, 90-92; Add. 35865, f. 11; Grey, i. 141.
- 6. Pepys Diary, 4 Nov. 1668; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 928; CSP Dom. 1673-5, p. 480; Evelyn Diary, iv. 575; Grammont Mems. 259.