Bruen, John (DNB00)

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BRUEN, JOHN (1560-1625), puritan layman, was the son of a Cheshire squire whose family had long been settled at Bruen Stapleford, and is believed to have given its name to the township. There had been a succession from the middle of the thirteenth century. The elder John Bruen of Bruen Stapleford was thrice married. His union with Anne, the sister of Sir John Done, was childless, but his second wife brought him fourteen children, of whom Katharine, afterwards the wife of William Brettargh, and John, who, although not the eldest born, became by survivorship his heir, were remarkable for the fervour of their puritanism. John was in his tender years sent to his uncle Dutton of Dutton, where for three years he was taught by the school-master James Roe. The Dutton family had by charter the control of the minstrels of the county. Young Bruen became an expert dancer. 'At that time,' he said, 'the holy Sabbaths of the Lord were wholly spent, in all places about us, in May-games and May-poles, pipings and dancings, for it was a rare thing to hear of a preacher, or to have one sermon in a year.' When about seventeen he and his brother Thomas were sent as gentlemen-commoners to St. Alban Hall, Oxford, where they remained about two years. He left the university in 1579, and in the following year was married by his parents to a daughter of Mr. Hardware, who had been twice mayor of Chester. Bruen at this time keenly enjoyed the pleasures of the chase, and, in conjunction with Ralph Done, 'kept fourteen couple of great mouthed dogs.' On the death of his father in 1587 his means were reduced; he cast off his dogs, killed the game, and disparked the land. His children were brought up strictly, and his choice of servants fell upon the sober and pious. One of these, Robert Pashfield, or 'Old Robert,' though unable to read or write, had acquired so exact a knowledge of the Bible, that he could 'almost always' tell the book and chapter where any particular sentence was to be found. The old man had a leathern girdle, which served him as a memoria technica, and was marked into portions for the several books of the Bible, and with points and knots for the smaller divisions. Bruen in summer rose between three and four, and in winter at five, and read prayers twice a day. His own seasons for prayer were seven times daily. He removed the stained glass in Tarvin Church, and defaced the sculptured images. On the Sunday he walked from his house, a mile distant, to the church, and was followed by the greater part of his servants, and called upon such of his tenants as lived on the way, so that when he reached the church it was at the head of a goodly procession. He rarely went home to dinner after morning prayers, but continued in the church till after the evening service. He maintained a preacher at his own house, and afterwards for the parish. Bruen's house became celebrated, and a number of 'gentlemen of rank became desirous of sojourning under his roof for their better information in the way of God, and the more effectual reclaiming of themselves and their families.' Perkins, the puritan divine, called Bruen Stapleford, 'for the practice and power of religion, the very topsail of all England.' His wife died suddenly, and after a time he married the 'very amiable and beautiful' Ann Fox, whom he first met at a religious meeting in Manchester. For a year they dwelt at her mother's house at Rhodes, near Manchester. He then returned to Stapleford, and again his house became the abode of many scions of gentility. Bruen's second wife died after ten years of married life, and the widower broke up his household with its twenty-one boarders and retired to Chester, where he cleared the debt of his estate, saw some of his children settled, and maintained the poor of his parish by the produce of two mills in Stapleford, whither he returned with his third wife, Margaret. He had an implicit belief in special providences, 'judgments,' witchcraft, &c. He kept a hospitable house, and was kind and charitable to the poor of his neighbourhood and of Chester. He refused to drink healths even at the high sheriff's feast. Towards the end of his life his prayers were twice accompanied by 'ravishing sights.' He died after an illness, which was seen to be mortal, in 1625, at the age of 65. There is a portrait of him in Clark's 'Marrow of Ecclesiastical History.' This has been re-engraved by Richardson. Among the Harleian MSS. is a compilation by him entitled 'A godly profitable collection of divers sentences out of Holy Scripture, and variety of matter out of several divine authors.' These are commonly called his cards, and are fifty-two in number. The same collection contains the petition of his son, Calvin Bruen, of Chester, mercer, respecting the treatment he received for visiting Prynne when he was taken through Chester to imprisonment at Carnarvon Castle. The life of John Bruen was not eventful, and he is chiefly notable as an embodiment of the puritan ideal of a pious layman.

[A Faithful Kemonstrance of the Holy Life and Happy Death of John Bruen, by William Hinde, London, 1641 (of this scarce book an abridgment by William Coddington was printed at Chester in 1799; Hinde's original manuscript was presented to the Chetham Society); Clark's Marrow of Ecclesiastical History, pt. ii. p. 80, 1675; Morton's Monuments of Fathers, 1706; Fuller's Worthies; Assheton's Journal, p. xv (Chetham Society); Ormerod's Cheshire, ii. 318.]

W. E. A. A.