Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Firebrace, Henry

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FIREBRACE, HENRY (1619–1691), royalist, sixth son of Robert Firebrace of Derby, who died in 1645, by Susanna, daughter of John Hierome, merchant, of London, held the offices of page of the bedchamber, yeoman of the robes, and clerk of the kitchen to Charles I, which he obtained through the interest of the Earl of Denbigh. He became much attached to the king, and was able to be of service to him on more than one occasion—at Uxbridge, in connection with the negotiations there in 1644, Oxford, and elsewhere. After the king's surrender to the Scots at Newark, in 1646, Firebrace joined him at Newcastle, and attended him to Holmby House and Hampton Court, and again after his flight to the Isle of Wight he obtained permission to attend him as page of the bedchamber during his confinement in Carisbrooke Castle. Here he determined, if possible, to effect the king's escape, and accordingly contrived one evening, as Charles was retiring to rest, to slip into his hand a note informing him of a place in the bedchamber where he had secreted letters from friends outside. A regular means of communication was thus established between the king and his most trusted supporters. They thus concerted a plan of escape. At a signal given by Firebrace Charles was to force his body through the aperture between the bars of his bedchamber window, and let himself down by a rope; Firebrace was then to conduct him across the court to the main wall of the castle, whence they were to descend by another rope and climb over the counterscarp, on the other side of which men and horses were to be in waiting to carry them to a vessel. On a night, the precise date of which cannot be fixed, but which was probably early in April 1648, Firebrace gave the signal by throwing something against the bedchamber window. The king thrust his head into the aperture, and succeeded in squeezing some portion of his body through it, but then stuck fast, and could with difficulty get back into the room. Firebrace was not slow in devising a new plan, which he communicated to the king by a letter. A bar was to be cut in one of the windows, from which the king would be able to step upon a wall and escape over the outworks. The king, who had already begun filing one of the bars of his bedchamber window, expressed approval of the new plan as an alternative scheme. In the end, however, he abandoned an attempt at secret flight as impracticable. In a letter (26 April) he commanded Firebrace 'heartily and particularly to thank, in my name, A. C. F. Z., and him who stayed for me beyond the works, for their hearty and industrious endeavours in this my service.' The cipher letters are supposed to stand for Francis Cresset, Colonel William Legg, groom of the bedchamber, Abraham Doucett, and Edward Worsely. The person 'who stayed beyond the works' appears to have been one John Newland of Newport, who had provided the vessel for the king's use. On the day before his execution Charles charged Dr. William Juxon to recommend Firebrace to Prince Charles as one who had been 'very faithful and serviceable to him in his greatest extremities.' After this we lose sight of Firebrace until the Restoration, when he petitioned to be appointed to one or other of the posts which he had held under the late king. The petition, which was supported by a certificate from Juxon, then archbishop of Canterbury, of Charles's recommendation, was granted, and Firebrace was appointed to the several offices of chief clerk of the kitchen, clerk-comptroller-supernumerary of the household, and assistant to the officers of the green cloth. He died on 27 Jan. 1690-1.

Firebrace married, first, Elizabeth, daughter of Daniel Dowell of Stoke-Golding, Leicestershire; secondly, Alice, daughter of Richard Bagnall of Reading, relict of John Bucknall of Creek, Northamptonshire; and thirdly, Mary, of whom nothing seems to be known except that she was buried in the north cloister of Westminster Abbey on 1 Feb. 1687-8. By his first wife he had issue four sons and one daughter. His eldest son, Henry, became a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and entered the church; his second son, Basil (d. 1724), went into business, was sheriff of London in 1687, and was created a baronet on 28 July 1698. In December 1685 a royal bounty of 1,694l. was paid him (Secret Services of Charles II and James II, Camd. Soc. p. 114). Reference is made to him in Luttrell's 'Relation.' The dignity became extinct in 1759. The original form of the name Firebrace, sometimes spelt Ferebras, is said to have been Fier à bras; the family was probably of Norman lineage.

[Nichols's Leicestershire, iv. pt. ii. 726; Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. App. 274 b, 7th Rep. App. 224 a; Sir Thomas Herbert's Memoirs, 1702, pp. 185-200; Dr. Peter Barwick's Life of Dr. John Barwick (translation by Hilkiah Bedford, pp. 87-9, 380-7; Wotton's Baronetage, iv. 65-77; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1660-1, p. 20; Coll. Top. et Gen. vii. 163, viii. 20.]

J. M. R.