Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Brackenbury, Robert

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BRACKENBURY or BRAKENBURY, Sir ROBERT (d. 1485), constable of the Tower, was younger son of Thomas Brakenbury of Denton, Durham. He was descended from an ancient family traceable in the county of Durham since the end of the twelfth century, lords of the manors of Burne Hall, Denton, and Selaby. Robert Brakenbury inherited Selaby, in the immediate neighbourhood of Barnard Castle, which had passed to Richard, duke of Gloucester [Richard III], in right of his wife, Anne Neville [see Anne, 1456–1485], about 1474. A tower of the castle still goes by the name of Brakenbury's Tower. This neighbourhood to one of the duke's principal seats probably led to their acquaintance. Nothing is heard of him until, three weeks after Richard III's accession, two grants, dated 17 July 1483, were made to him; the first, of the profitable office of master and worker of the moneys and keeper of the king's exchange at the Tower of London, with jurisdiction over the kingdom of England and the town of Calais; the second of the office for life of constable of the Tower. In the autumn of 1483 came the abortive rising of Buckingham [see Stafford, Henry, second Duke of Buckingham], For his services against the rebels Brakenbury, now styled ' esquire of the royal body,' received large grants. He was appointed for life to the office of receiver of the lordships or manors of Wrytell, Haveryng, Hoyton, Hadlegh, Raylegh, and Recheford (sic) (Essex) ; of the castle, manor, and lordship of Tunbridge, with ten marks (6l, 13s, 4d.) fee ; of Hadlowe, of the manor or lordship of Penshurst (Kent), and of the manor, hundred, or lordship of Middelton and Mardon (Kent) (Pat. Roll, 8 March 1484). To this receivership was added the office of surveyor of the same places (ib. 29 May). He also received grants (ib. 9 March) of numerous manors, mostly in Kent, belonging to Buckingham's attainted followers. On the same day (9 March 1484) his grant of the office of constable of the Tower was confirmed to him for life, with a salary of 100l. a year, and arrears of salary hitherto unpaid at the same rate (Rymer, Fœd. xii. 219), Next day (10 March) he was made keeper of the lions &c. in the Tower, with a salary of 12d a day. On 8 April he was nominated a commissioner of the admiralty, with the rank of vice-admiral. His previous grants in Kent were enlarged (28 May) by the addition of Hastings (Sussex), formerly held by the Cheyne family, and all the rest of the lands of Roberd in Kent, as well as in Surrey and Sussex, He was nominated commissioner of gaol delivery for Canterbury on 16 July, and on the commission of the peace for Kent on 17 July. On 21 Aug, 1484 he was appointed receiver-general of crown lands in Sussex, Kent, and Surrey. Between this date and 26 Jan. 1485, when he was appointed constable of Tunbridge Castle for life, with a fee of ten marks (6l. 13s. 6d.), he received knighthood. He was also made (26 Jan.) steward of the lordship of Ware for life. In a writ of inquiry, dated 24 March 1485 (2 R. Ill), he is styled ' knight of the king's body.' In the third year of Richard III, i.e. from 26 June 1485 to the following 22 Aug., he was sheriff of Kent, being described as of the Mote, Ightham.

The dates of these preferments are of some value in connection with the historic doubt associated with Brakenbury 's name as to the murder of the princes in the Tower. Most of the lands granted had been held by the rebels, and these grants (9 March and 28 May 1484) are expressly stated in the patent roll to have been the reward of his services against them. According to Sir Thomas More, Richard III, being at Gloucester, 'sent John Green, a creature of his, to Sir Robert Brackenbury, constable of the Tower, with a letter, desiring him one how or other to make away with the two children whom he had in keeping. Brakenbury refused to do it, and Green returned to King Richard with the constable's answer,' the king being then at Warwick. Richard thereupon sent Brackenbury a letter commanding him to deliver the keys of the Tower to Sir James Tyrrell [q. v.], who executed the murder. Polydore Vergil tells substantially the same story, except that Richard was at the time at Gloucester. The 'Croyland Continuator' does not mention Brakenbury's name in the matter. The ultimate authority for the story about him must be Tyrrell's confession, on which, with that of Dighton, the narrative of More was founded. Richard arrived at Gloucester on the night of Wednesday, 3 Aug., and at Warwick on the night following. It is improbable that Green could have left Gloucester (105 miles from London) on the Wednesday night, conferred with Brakenbury, and rejoined Richard at Warwick (ninety miles from London), which place the king must have left on the 5th, for he was at York on 7 Aug. The circumstances of the grants make in favour of Brakenbury's innocence. In any case, surrender of the keys of the Tower by the king's order could not make him an accessory, though his resumption of them might do so.

Brakenbury remained faithful to Richard, who, when at Nottingham, summoned him 'by often messengers and letters' to join him, and to bring with him ' as felows in warr,' but really as prisoners. Sir Thomas Bourchier, Sir Walter Hungerford, and other suspects. Brakenbury obeyed, but his prisoners escaped at Stony Stratford and joined Richmond. He himself held a command under Richard at Bosworth. According to the 'Croyland Continuator' he, with other leaders, was slain in flight without having struck a blow. But that he remained staunch to his party is attested by the inclusion of his name in the Act of Attainder of 7 Nov. 1485. As he had but a life interest in his estate of Selaby, which was held in tail male, that property descended to his nephew, Ralph Brakenbury. All his grants from Richard III were confiscated, but in 1489 an act was passed annulling the attainder, so far as regarded his other lands, in favour of his two daughters, Anne and Elizabeth, with remainder to his bastard son (name unmentioned). The surname of his wife is unknown; but among the manuscripts of the dean and chapter of Canterbury is one intituled 'Littere fraternitatis concesse … Roberto Brakenbury Armigero et Agneti uxori ejus.' This probably refers to the same person. It is dated 1483. As he was a younger son, his style was properly 'generosus,' and 'armiger' was doubtless assumed by him on his appointment as esquire of the royal body after Richard III's accession. This fixes approximately the date of the letter.

A branch of the family is said to have been settled in Lincolnshire [see Brackenbury, Sir Edward], from which county their name was perhaps originally derived.

[Rot. Parl. vol. vi.; More's Hist. of the Life and Reign of Richard III, in Kennet's Hist. of England, vol. i. (1719); The Croyland Continuator in Gale's Rerum Anglicarum Scriptores, vol. i.; Hall's Chron. 1809; Fabyan's Chron. 1811; Polydore Vergil, edited by Sir H. Ellis (Camden Soc.), 1844; Stow's Survey, ed. by J. Strype (1754), i. 75; Surtees's Hist. of Durham (1840), iv. 17–20; Hasted's Hist. of Kent (1778–1799), vols. i. ii.; Ninth Rep. of the Deputy Keeper of the Records, 1848, Patent Rolls of Richard III; Carte's Hist. of England (1750), i. 819; Henry's Hist. of Great Britain (1795), xii. Append. pp. 420–1; Horace Walpole's ‘Historic Doubts,’ Works (1798), ii. 138; Ramsay's Lancaster and York (1892), ii. 512, 513; Gairdner's Life and Reign of Richard III, 1878; Engl. Hist. Rev. (1891), vi. 250, 444; Metcalfe's Book of Knights, 1885; Gent. Mag. (1796) lxvi. ii. 1012; Inq. p.m. in App. to 44th Rep. of the Deputy Keeper of Public Records, p. 324.]

I. S. L.