Nicholas BROME & the Three Murders: Part Five
ST JAMES now ST MICHAEL at BADDESLEY CLINTON
The above window at St Michael Baddesley Clinton [previously St James] gives some important details of Nicholas BROOME’s life: ” Nicholas BROME Esq. Lord & owner of Baddesley Clinton. Married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Rawfre ARUNDELL of Eggleshole in the County of Cornwall, Knight Anno Domini 1473 and died the 10 October 1517 leaving issue Isabell and Constance his two daughters and lieth buried at the church dore.” This stained glass and those around it [see photo below] were commissioned by his daughter Constance who married Sir Edward FERRERS and inherited Baddesley Clinton Manor. This of course shows a pious Nicholas BROME in prayer. Perhaps praying for the souls of his father John BROME; John HERTHILL, who murdered his father and whose death Nicholas avenged by killing him; his soul [Nicholas], and that of the priest that Nicholas murdered [assumed to be William FOSTER].
We have already noted that Nicholas BROME’s penance for the killing of the priest of Baddesley Clinton, was that Nicholas agreed to raise the walls of the Church at Baddesley Clinton by 10 feet and add a bell tower and he also agreed to fit nearby St Giles Packwood with a new bell tower as well. This is immortalized in the Bell Tower at Baddesley Clinton thus:
According to Dugale there was a window at Packwood St. Giles with this inscription: “Orate pro anima Nicholas Brome , qui campanile de fieri fecit” Translated: “Pray for the Soul of Nicholas BROME who built the bell tower.” These two towers known as the towers of expiation were built during his lifetime. Nicholas appointed 4 priests to Baddesley Clinton in his lifetime:
- William FOSTER 29 Nov 1478 [believed to be the priest he murdered c1485, after which there was a period of no clergy]
- Ale AWEN 23 May 1493
- William SNELESTON 14 Nov 1499
- Robert BANKE 8 Oct 1501
WILL OF NICHOLAS BROME
But of all the records of Nicholas I find his Will is the most illuminating. It tells us a fuller story of this man’s conscience and the burdens he carried. Nicholas BROME writes his will the 3rd day of October 1516, a year before his death. He does not mention his third wife Leticia so it seems likely she predeceased him, likely shortly before the Will was written.:
“I Nicholas BROME of Woodlow Esqr. beninge of hole of mynde [mind] and of good memory thanked be almightee God do make and ordeyne [ordain] this my present testamente and last will in manner and forme hereafter follwinge. First I bequeathe my soule unto almightee God my creator and saviour to our Lady St Mary and to all the saints and my body to be buried within the church doore of St James [Now St Michael] in Baddesley there as the people may tread upon me when they come to church…I also will that there be ordeyned [ordained] and layed upon my grave a flat stone of marble with an image of Latine of a meetly quantitee with a scripture mention of the day and yeere of my deceasde and my armes therupon to the intent I amy hereafter be the better remembered and prayed for.”
What we have seen in Antiquities of Warwickshire by Dugale, there was indeed a stone of marble and a likeness in brass of Nicholas. According to John Jarman, first tour guide of the National Trust property at Baddesley Clinton, “in 1870 there was a restoration of the church by Lady Chatterton and they found there were a number of tombstones on the floor of the nave of the Church, including Nicholas’ in the doorway”, which was a large marble stone and on it was a figure of a knight in armour…” Upon further excavation it was discovered that he had been buried vertically. While his will does not specifically say this it may have been his intent to be buried thus, as a final penance, where he shall never lay at rest. I can find only 2 other vertical graves in the 16th and 17th century England, both after Nicholas BROME’s burial. The first was Sir John SPELMAN of Narborough, Norfolk, Judge of the King’s Bench who died 26 Feb 1543. The second, is the playwright and poet Ben JOHNSON who died in August 1637 and was buried at. Westminster in the Poet’s corner. He is said to have remarked “I am too poor for that and no one will lay out funeral charges upon me. No, sir, six feet long by two feet wide is too much for me: two feet by two feet will do for all I want.” It is certainly unusual for the time. As a patron of the church Nicholas was entitled to be buried there, the fact that he spells out his desire to be ” buried within the church doore of St James in Baddesley there as the people may tread upon me when they come to church” seems significant.
Nicholas asks that a Mass be said for him at Baddesley Clinton for ten years by the parson. He asks that the following religious institutions sing mass and dirge for “my soule”. These include:
- Corpus Christie Geeld [Guild] in Coventree [Coventry]
- Grey Friers of Coventree [where I am a brother]
- Gueeld [Guild] of Warwick; The Guildhall now Lord Leycester’s Hospital was built in 1450 by Richard Neville “The Kingmaker”. It was a place where members met to discuss religion, politics and trade.
- Black Friers of Warwick [where I am a brother]
- Convent of St Mary’s in Worcester [where I am a brother]
- Priest of Aston Cantlow [where I am a brother]
- The Prioresse and Convent of the house of Wroxall [Where his sister Joyce BROME was Prioress]
- The Warde and prieste of the Geeld of Knoll [Guild of Knowle] [where I am a brother]
The concept that prayers for the dead, by the living, could aid the dead in purgatory and affect their ultimate salvation was a common belief during this period. Christian burial demonstrates that death was not the deadline for salvation and there was still hope of redemption. I think it is safe to see poor Nicholas believed he needed all the help he could get in avoiding eternal purgatory or worse. Whatever we think of him using today’s metric in his time the avenging of his father’s death would have been a private matter, and viewed as honorable. The killing of a priest, no matter the circumstance would have been perceived as most unfortunate. Not only would the church extract its price in the funding of the two towers of expiation there appears to be a moral price that Nicholas paid as well.
Below are photos of some of the religious or affiliated institutions Nicholas BROME mentions in his will. Three were 3 Guilds: Coventry, Warwick and Knowle; 2 Convents: Worcester and Wroxall; 3 Monasteries: Coventry, Knowle and Warwick; and 2 parish churches: Baddesley Clinton and Aston Cantlow. He was either a generous man or felt he needed all the help he could get, or both.
He also mentions the Manors at Woodloe, Upper Woodcote, Nether Woodcote, and lands at Norton, Offchurch, and Eathorpe and that the profits be used for the marriage of his daughters and the same to be given to his son Edward reaches 21 years of age. His son Raufe to receive his lands and tenements at Yardley and Shirley when he reaches 21. All properties and religious institutions are within about 9 miles of Baddesley Clinton save the Convent of St Mary at Worcester. This map shows their locations.
I think it is safe to say he was a conscientious father making arrangements for all of his children to be well settled. His father was murdered and he avenged his father’s death. His brother died and he inherited his brother’s inheritance. He was thrice married and had at least seven children survive to maturity. He died about the age of 67 and lived through 6 Kings of England: Henry VI, Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III, Henry VII and Henry VIII. Nicholas BROME was a man of the tumultuous times through which he live, but he was also a man with a conscience.
“O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!”William Shakespeare ‘Richard III’ Act 5, S. 3
LEGACY & FATE
If there is a silver lining to Nicholas’ death perhaps it is that he did not live to see the Act of Supremacy of 28 November 1534, which formally made King Henry VIII head of the Church of England [with the help of Thomas Cromwell]. This led to the dissolution of the monasteries and religious houses from 1536-1541 which would have been unthinkable to Nicholas at his death. His daughter, Constance and son-in-law, Sir Edward FERRERS held Baddesley Clinton and remained devout Catholics. Edward FERRERS’ great-grandson Henry (1549-1633) was a lawyer at the Middle Temple, London and in 1586 he rented the house to the devout Catholics, Anne VAUX and her sister Eleanor BROOKSBY had “priest holes”constructed at Baddesley Clinton Manor. Below are photos of two of several priest holes at Baddesley Clinton Manor. During this time there was a network of travelling priests who visited many of the Manors held by Catholics. Masses were strictly forbidden so this forced these services to be held secretly. A turn of events Nicholas could have scarcely envisioned.
In 1591 a raid was made on the Manor at Baddesley Clinton, but it failed to find any Jesuits hiding there. However, on the 8th of July 1603 a Mr BURGOYNE, magistrate, who was living at the desecrated priory of Wroxall [where previously Nicholas’ sister had been prioress] sent a constable bearing a warrant to search a Catholic house at Poundley End, Rowington. He did not find the priest he was looking for, however, on the road back, not far from Baddesley Clinton he came upon Robert GRESWOLD in the company of the venerable John SUGAR, priest. The two were arrested and committed to the Warwick gaol where they were confined for over a year.
Both were offered the opportunity to renounce their Catholic faith. They both refused and were executed by hanging on 16th of July 1604. They were both beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1987. This was immortalized in a painting by Rebecca Dulcibella ORPHEN who married Marmion Edward FERRERS in 1867. The painting was destroyed however a photo of it can be found here. There are some new Frescos of Robert GRESWOLD and John SUGAR which you can read about here. They were painted by Martin Earle at St Francis of Assisi Baddesley Clinton in 2020.
Robert GRESWOLD [a distant cousin] is listed as a husbandman and servant to a Mr SHELDON of Broadway. This is most certainly William SHELDON (c1562-1626) who held the Manor of Broadway beginning in 1584. William SHELDON (1562-1626 or later) took over Broadway Manor in 1584. This suggests a strong network of Catholic loyalists among the gentry of Warwickshires and Worcestershire. I expect a future blog post will delve more into this. As some of you know we suspect the SHELDON’s of Broadway may be the progenitors of 2 branches of American SHELDONs.
Today I count myself among the many descendants of Nicholas BROME. I came upon Nicholas, almost by accident when searching for ancestors in Warwickshire, preceding a trip there in 2019. I hope that I have done Nicholas justice in fleshing out more about him. It is my fervent hope that Nicholas found peace in the afterlife.
Kelly Wheaton ©2023 – All Rights Reserved
Earlier parts of the Murders of Nicholas Brome: