Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brereley, Roger

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BRERELEY or BRIERLEY, ROGER (1586–1637), divine and poet, was born on 4 Aug. 1586, at Marland, then a hamlet in the parish of Rochdale, where Thomas Brereley, his father, and Roger, his grandfather, were farmers. The name is spelled in many ways, but it seems best to adhere to the form which constantly recurs in the Rochdale baptismal register, as this undoubtedly represents the right pronunciation. From his father's brother Richard the Brearleys of Handworth, Yorkshire, are descended. He had three brothers and two sisters younger than himself. Brereley himself began life as a puritan. He took orders and became perpetual curate of Grindleton Chapel, in the parish of Mitton in Craven. The stipend (in 1654) was worth 51. He held (in 1626) a close in Castleton, in the manor of Rochdale, which had belonged to his grandfather. His preaching was simple and spiritual, and his followers soon became distinguished as a party. As early as 1618 Nicholas Assheton, recording the burial of one John Swinglehurst, adds 'he died distract; he was a great follower of Brierley.' J. C., the writer of the first notice of his life, says: 'Because they could not well stile them by the name of Breirlists, finding no fault in his doctrine, they then styled his hearers by the name of Grindetonians (sic), by the name of a town in Cravan, called Grindleton, where this author did at that time exercise his ministry, thinking by his name to render them odious, and brand them for some kind of sectaries; but they could not tell what sect to parallel them to, hence rose the name Grindletonism.' And Brereley himself, in his piece 'Of True Christian Liberty,' writes:–

I was sometime (as then a stricter man)
By some good fellows tearm'd a puritan.
****And now men say, I'm deeply drown'd in schism,
Retyr'd from God's grace unto Grindletonism.

In a sermon preached at Paul's Cross on 11 Feb. 1627, and published under the title of 'The White Wolfe,' 1627, Stephen Denison, minister of St. Catherine Cree, charges the 'Gringltonian familists' with holding nine points of an antinomian tendency. These nine points are repeated from Denison by Ephraim Pagitt in his 'Heresiography' (2nd ed. 1645, p. 89), and glanced at by Alexander Ross, Πανσεβεια (2nd ed. 1655, p. 365). Pagitt is the authority Sir Walter Scott gives for the extraordinary collocation (Woodstock, 1826, iii. 205): 'Those Grindletonians or Muggletonians in whom is the perfection of every foul and blasphemous heresy, united with such an universal practice of hypocritical assentuation, as would deceive their master, even Satan himself.' The nine points may perhaps be a caricature of positions advanced by some of Brereley's hearers, but they bear no resemblance to his own teaching. If Denison derived them from the 'fifty articles' mentioned by J. C., as exhibited against Brereley at York by direction of the high commission, we can easily understand that 'when he came to his trial not one of them [was] directly proved against him.' This trial must have been prior to 1628, for it was held before Archbishop Tobias Matthew, who died 29 March in that year. Matthew, a strict and exemplary prelate, sustained Brereley in the exercise of his ministry, and before leaving York he preached in the cathedral. It is certain that Brereley was not conscious of any deflection from Calvinistic orthodoxy. He expressly censures Arminius (Serm. 21), 'who will needs set rules and laws to God.' He calls the heresies of Nestorius, Eutyches, &c., ' little holes in Christ's ship ' (Poems, p. 46). Although his language about the second Person of the Trinity may be thought to show traces of Socinian influence, no antitrinitarian heresy seems to have been charged upon him. Denison's most damaging point is clean contrary to Brereley's own language. He quaintly owns that 'men no angels are,' and he doubts the possibility of perfection in the saints on earth. He is very strong against mere forms; for instance, he calls 'bread and wine a silly thing, where the heart is not led further' (Serm. 9). But he was the very opposite of a sectary, and desired to remain a humble son of the church. In 1631 Brereley was instituted to the living of Burnley, Lancashire. He died in June 1637, the Burnley register recording that 'Roger Brearley, minister,' was buried 13 June. He was married, and had a daughter Alice, living in 1636.

His literary remains are:

  1. 'A Bundle of Soul-convincing, directing, and comforting Truths; clearly deduced from divers select texts of Holy Scripture. … Being a brief summary of several sermons preached at large by … M. Rodger Breirly … Edinburgh, printed for James Brown, bookseller in Glasgow, 1670, sm. 8vo (this, which can hardly be the first edition, consists of twenty-seven sermons, and the biographical 'Epistle to the Reader,' by J. C., who says of the origin of the volume: 'After his death a few headnotes of some of his sermons came to my view,' perhaps implying that the notes were Brereley's own).
  2. Another edition, London, printed by J. R. for Samuel Sprunt, 1677, 18mo, is probably a reprint from an earlier issue; it reckons the sermons as twenty-six in number, what is Sermon 22 in the 1670 edition being not numbered, but headed ' Exposition,' &c. (it is on the beatitudes). It contains also, after the sermons, the following pieces in verse: 'The Preface of Mr. Brierly;' 'Of True Christian Liberty;' 'The Lord's Reply,' four pieces thus headed, alternated with three pieces headed 'The Soul's Answer,' 'The Song of the Soul's Freedom,' 'Self Civil War.' The spelling of the poems is often interesting, as indicating a northern pronunciation, and there are a few Lancashire words; the punctuation is atrocious. There is often much pathos in Brereley's rude lines: his spirit reminds one of Juan de Valdés, none of whose writings were translated in his time.

[Raine's Journal of Nicholas Assheton, Chet. Soc. vol. xiv. 1848, 4to, pp. 89-96 (including extracts from Brereley's poems); Halley's Lancashire, its Puritanism and Nonconformity, 1869, i. 159-64; Whitaker's Craven (ed. Morant), 1878, p. 34; Whitaker's Whalley (ed. Nichols and Lyons), ii. 169; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. vi. 388, 517 (more extracts from the poems); certified extracts from Rochdale parish register; works cited above.]

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