Who is the head of the church? The church is not a building but a body of believers who acknowledge that we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. The church recognizes what God did for us by sending His son to die on a cross to save us from our sins so that we may have eternal life.

Throughout history the sinful nature of man has resulted in much tragedy. The Brereton family is not free from sin for we are all human. Any time men try to exalt themselves as the head of the church men will fall. One such time in our history occurred between 1164 and 1170 AD.

King Henry II met Thomas Becket shortly after becoming king and common interests fueled a friendship between the two men. Thomas had been educated in civil and canon law at Merton Priory in England. King Henry appointed him as Chancellor in 1155. On June 1 1162 following the death of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket was invested as a priest. On June 2, 1162 he was ordained a Bishop and by that same afternoon became the Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry named Thomas to this position as a means of increasing his influence over the church as he desired to have a weaker control over the church by Rome.

Unfortunately King Henry II did not realize Becket’s allegiance to the church and will of God was stronger than their friendship. In those days the Church had the right to try felonious clerics in their own religious courts of justice and not those of the crown. King Henry wanted to eliminate this custom and extend the courts’ jurisdiction over the clergy. King Henry developed sixteen constitutions in the Constitutions of Clarendon. Becket refused to sign the constitution and King Henry asked him to appear before the council on October 8, 1164 to answer to charges of contempt of royal authority to which he was convicted forcing him into exile for six years.

On November 30, 1170 Thomas Becket returned to Canterbury following a meeting with King Henry in Normandy. At the time King Henry was unaware that Thomas Becket while still in France had excommunicated the Bishops of London and Salisbury for their support of the King.

 Upon hearing the news King Henry the II shouted”What sluggards, what cowards have I brought up in my court, who care nothing for their allegiance to their lord. Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

Four of King Henry’s the II knights Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Moreville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton set out to confront the Archbishop. Some feel the knight were under the direction of King Henry to dispose of Beckett. Others claim the knights acted upon their own judgment outside of the orders of the king.

One of the best accounts of Becket’s murder is by his biographer Edward Grim in Vita S. Thomae, Cantuariensis Archepiscopi et Martyris, ed. in James Robertson, Materials for the Life of Thomas Becket, (London: Rolls Series, 1875-1885) (7 vols.) Vol. II.

(80) After the monks took [Thomas] through the doors of the church, the four aforementioned knights followed behind with a rapid pace. A certain subdeacon, Hugh the Evil-clerk, named for his wicked offense and armed with their malice, went with them – showing no reverence for either God or the saints because by following them he condoned their deed. When the holy archbishop entered the cathedral the monks who were glorifying God abandoned vespers – which they had begun to celebrate for God – and ran to their father whom they had heard was dead but they saw alive and unharmed. They hastened to close the doors of the church in order to bar the enemies from slaughtering the bishop, but the wondrous athlete turned toward them and ordered that the doors be opened. “It is not proper,” he said, “that a house of prayer, a church of Christ, be made a fortress since although it is not shut up, it serves as a fortification for his people; we will triumph over the enemy through suffering rather than by fighting – and we come to suffer, not to resist.” Without delay the sacrilegious men entered the house of peace and reconciliation with swords drawn; indeed the sight alone as well as the rattle of arms inflicted not a small amount of horror on those who watched. And those knights who approached the confused and disordered people who had been observing vespers but, by now, had run toward the lethal spectacle exclaimed in a rage: “Where is Thomas Becket, traitor of the king and kingdom?” No one responded and instantly they cried out more loudly, “Where is the archbishop?” Unshaken he replied to this voice as it is written, “The righteous will be like a bold lion and free from fear,” he descended from the steps to which he had been taken by the monks who were fearful of the knights and said in an adequately audible voice, “Here I am, not a traitor of the king but a priest; why do you seek me?” And [Thomas], who had previously told them that he had no fear of them added, “Here I am ready to suffer in the name of He who redeemed me with His blood; God forbid that I should flee on account of your swords or that I should depart from righteousness.” With these words – at the foot of a pillar – he turned to the right. On one side was the altar of the blessed mother of God, on the other the altar of the holy confessor Benedict – through whose example and prayers he had been crucified to the world and his lusts; he endured whatever the murderers did to him with such constancy of the soul that he seemed as if he were not of flesh. The murderers pursued him and asked, “Absolve and restore to communion those you have excommunicated and return to office those who have been suspended.” To these words [Thomas] replied, “No penance has been made, so I will not absolve them.” “Then you,” they said, “will now die and will suffer what you have earned.” “And I,” he said, “am prepared to die for my Lord, so that in my blood the church will attain liberty and peace; but in the name of Almighty God I forbid that you hurt my men, either cleric or layman, in any way.” The glorious martyr acted conscientiously with foresight for his men and prudently on his own behalf, so that no one near him would be hurt as he hastened toward Christ. It was fitting that the soldier of the Lord and the martyr of the Savior adhered to His words when he was sought by the impious, “If it is me you seek, let them leave.”

 (81) With rapid motion they laid sacrilegious hands on him, handling and dragging him roughly outside of the walls of the church so that there they would slay him or carry him from there as a prisoner, as they later confessed. But when it was not possible to easily move him from the column, he bravely pushed one [of the knights] who was pursuing and drawing near to him; he called him a panderer saying, “Don’t touch me, Rainaldus, you who owes me faith and obedience, you who foolishly follow your accomplices.” On account of the rebuff the knight was suddenly set on fire with a terrible rage and, wielding a sword against the sacred crown said, “I don’t owe faith or obedience to you that is in opposition to the fealty I owe my lord king.” The invincible martyr – seeing that the hour which would bring the end to his miserable mortal life was at hand and already promised by God to be the next to receive the crown of immortality – with his neck bent as if he were in prayer and with his joined hands elevated above – commended himself and the cause of the Church to God, St. Mary, and the blessed martyr St. Denis.

(82) He had barely finished speaking when the impious knight, fearing that [Thomas] would be saved by the people and escape alive, suddenly set upon him and, shaving off the summit of his crown which the sacred chrism consecrated to God, he wounded the sacrificial lamb of God in the head; the lower arm of the writer was cut by the same blow. Indeed [the writer] stood firmly with the holy archbishop, holding him in his arms – while all the clerics and monks fled – until the one he had raised in opposition to the blow was severed. Behold the simplicity of the dove, behold the wisdom of the serpent in this martyr who presented his body to the killers so that he might keep his head, in other words his soul and the church, safe; nor would he devise a trick or a snare against the slayers of the flesh so that he might preserve himself because it was better that he be free from this nature! O worthy shepherd who so boldly set himself against the attacks of wolves so that the sheep might not be torn to pieces! and because he abandoned the world, the world – wanting to overpower him – unknowingly elevated him. Then, with another blow received on the head, he remained firm. But with the third the stricken martyr bent his knees and elbows, offering himself as a living sacrifice, saying in a low voice, “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the church I am ready to embrace death.” But the third knight inflicted a grave wound on the fallen one; with this blow he shattered the sword on the stone and his crown, which was large, separated from his head so that the blood turned white from the brain yet no less did the brain turn red from the blood; it purpled the appearance of the church with the colors of the lily and the rose, the colors of the Virgin and Mother and the life and death of the confessor and martyr. The fourth knight drove away those who were gathering so that the others could finish the murder more freely and boldly. The fifth – not a knight but a cleric who entered with the knights – so that a fifth blow might not be spared him who had imitated Christ in other things, placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr and (it is horrible to say) scattered the brains with the blood across the floor, exclaiming to the rest, “We can leave this place, knights, he will not get up again.” But during all these incredible things the martyr displayed the virtue of perseverance. Neither his hand nor clothes indicated that he had opposed a murderer – as is often the case in human weakness; nor when stricken did he utter a word, nor did he let out a cry or a sigh, or a sign signaling any kind of pain; instead he held still the head that he had bent toward the unsheathed swords. As his body – which had been mingled with blood and brain – laid on the ground as if in prayer, he placed his soul in Abraham’s bosom. Having risen above himself, without doubt, out of love for the Creator and wholly striving for celestial sweetness, he easily received whatever pain, whatever malice, the bloody murderer was able to inflict. And how intrepidly – how devotedly and courageously – he offered himself for the murder when it was made clear that for his salvation and faith this martyr should fight for the protection of others so that the affairs of the church might be managed according to its paternal traditions and decrees.

The murder of Thomas Becket at the hands of the knights which included a Brereton is shocking. The family motto “With the Aid of God” reminds us that all things are possible with God. Despite the stain of blood on the family name from this horrible event God reminds us that we are washed clean by the power of the blood of Jesus Christ. Many future members of the family have done great things in the name of Jesus which show us the forgiving nature of our Heavenly Father.


Brereton Hall

During the Norman Conquest the land taken from the Saxon holders was divided among the companions of William the Conqueror. Each division of land was called a barony and were granted to the knights. Gilbert de Venables owned the Barony of Kinderton which consisted of six dependencies one of which was Astbury which contained Brereton. This is evidenced in the Domesday Book.

Through out the history of the family you will see many family members named William who were named after William the Conqueror. It seems that each male in the family would name one of his sons William. This makes things complicated when trying to determine the genealogy.

A description of Brereton is given in George Ormerod’s history of Cheshire,
“Breerton standeth upon the London Way, two miles north from Sandbach, and hath yearly a Fair, which is held on Breerton Green on Lammasday, being the first day of August, (when the lambs are taken away from the ewes). Not far off is the Parish Church of Breerton, and near unto the church the goodly Manor Place, newly builded (1586), all of brick; the like whereof is not in all the country again. Therefore, it is not to be omitted, and not so much for the buildings as for the number of ancient and valiant knights and gentlemen who had, and have, their origin from thence.”

Brereton Hall is located on a slope on the bank of the stream Croco,which collected into a lake known as Blackmere or Brereton’s Lake.

In Sir Philip Sydney’s “Seven Wonders of England,” are the following lines,

“The Breretons have a lake, which, when the sun
Approaching warms (not else), dead logs up sends
From hideous depth,. which tribute when it ends,
Sore sign it is the Lord’s last thread is spun.”

This is because there is an old legend that claims that on the night of the beheading of William Brereton the lake threw up black logs from the bottom.

Queen Elizabeth laid the foundation stone of Brereton Hall because she remained connected to the Brereton family because William had stood by her mother’s interests even to his own death.

The Breretons during the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries were among the most distinguished families in England. They intermarried with other noble families like the Caringtons, Cholmondeleys, Davenports, Hanmers, Traftords, Radclyffs, Edgertons, Corbets, Stanleys, Booths, etc.

The early ancestors spelled their name Brerton, Bretone, Breerton, Brierton, and Brereton. I have found over 175 different spellings of this ancient surname. The lack of standardized spelling in the English language at the time means that many spellings for the surname exist today. Many families are unaware that they are actually descendants of this family.

Sir William Brereton the IX in 1516 was the first person to adopt the current spelling and also the first person to drop the de from the surname.

Some of the Irish branch of the family used the Brierton spelling. A John Brierton in 1602 discovered the land of Martha’s vineyard and Cape Cod along with Captain Bartholomew Gosnold. He wrote a book addressed to Sir Walter Raleigh on his discoveries which can be read on line through the public archives. He helped build the first English fort and storehouses and planted wheat, barley, and oats in New England.

His account of his journeys inspired John Smith (best known from the story of Pocahontas) to travel to this new found land to help settle it.

It is also believed that the John Brierton returned to England following his exploration of Massachusetts and shared tales of his adventures with his close friend William Shakespeare. It is believed that John Brierton’s stories inspired Shakespeare’s play the Tempest.

Sir William Brereton Bart. IV of Handford known as the “Warrior” during the Civil war obtained a large land grant in the northeastern portion of Massachusetts from Sir Fortunatus Gorges the father of the Plymouth colony in 1620.


Knights were once elite warriors with high social status whose lives were dedicated to fighting. Knights were part of the ruling class in Europe. They were considered nobles and eventually land holding became a requirement to be a knight. Estates were often castles which gave the lineage its surname and it became the unit of social power.

The first family member on record according to my research was not a Brereton at all. His name was Gilbert de Venables because in those early days people were identified by the place they were from. The word de in the french language means “of”. Gilbert de Venables was from the town of Venables in France. He changed his name to Gilbert de Brereton when he took over the land during the Norman Conquest in England. The family name is therefore derived from a place and not a person. When doing searches on the family name for genealogical purposes it is important to remember that some people with the last name de Brereton are not actually from the same family tree but are actually people who just lived in Brereton.

 Knights were often rewarded for their service through the granting of more land known as a fief. The knights were known for their bravery, honor, loyalty and service to women known as chivalry which attracted the aristocracy into also defining themselves as knights by the late 1200’s. Even kings began to refer to themselves as knights and by the 1300’s had founded a formal order of knighthood.

These changes raised the cost of becoming a knight as well as the social and military obligations causing the decline of the knights by the 1500’s. The Brereton family had knights in the family following this period which was indicative of great wealth. I have an account of the land holdings recorded in a will of one of the Brereton family members which I will share with you at a later date to give you some sense of their wealth. The family held thousands of acres of land in England and other parts of the United Kingdom.

A true knight had to also be a good Christian. Part of the knight’s education involved learning to read Latin. The knights were often called upon to read the liturgy at church. The Brereton family motto is “Opitulante Deo” which means “God Assisting Us” or “With the aid of God”.

The Christian roots have remained in the family. The lost branch of the Brereton family had several generations of Reverends. One of the members of this branch also went on to influence great Christian men like A.W. Tozer and set up a camp for pastors in the United States in the early 1800’s.

I have given several clues through this blog and if you follow the blog closely you may be able to figure out the members of the lost branch.

Knights of the Shire

Knights of the Shire for the County of Chester Under each Monarch at the time.

King Richard I

 Sir Ranulphus or Radulphus Brereton, of Brereton was one of the knights of the Crusades

King Henvry VII

Sir Randolph Brereton

King Henry VIII

Sir William Brereton of Malpas Groom of the privy chamber

Sir Urian Brereton of Handford Groom of the privy chamber (William’s younger brother)

Two other brothers were also in royal service. I have not been able to find their names yet.

      After Sir William Brereton was beheaded by the king the king placed his younger brother Urian in the same positions at his court as William had held. Anne Boleyn’s daughter Queen Elizabeth took special interest in the family because she knew what William had done to support her mother. It is said that she laid the foundation stone of Brereton Hall. To see pictures of Brereton Hall and to get more information go to www.brereton.org.

Queen Elizabeth

William Brereton, of Brereton, esq.

James I

William Brereton, of Brereton, knight William Brereton, of Ashley, esq

 Charles I

Sir William Brereton, of Handford, bart.

Charles II

Lord William Brereton of Leighlin

 Barons of the Exchequer of Chester

Owen Salusbury Brereton, of Shotwick, esq.

Royal Lineage

Royal Lineage

     According to Ormerod’s pedigree of the Breretons the family are royal blood descendants from the maternal side back to Kenneth the first Celtic King of Scotland A.D. 850, and to Egbert, the first Saxon King of England, and are also related to William the Conqueror’s sister Margaret .

     Many of the Brereton family members also held high offices in the courts of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth, James the I, Charles I and Charles II. Probably the most well known of the family members serving the royal family would be William Brereton. The reason he is best known is because he was beheaded after being accused of having an affair with King Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn. Later someone discovered that the affair had been an impossibility because Anne had been sequestered following the birth of her daughter. Unfortunately, the punishment couldn’t be reversed. The television show “The Tudors” has brought recent notoriety to William Brereton in North America.

     The most interesting thing about William Brereton is he held the office of groomsmen of the privy chamber of King Henry VIII. He was responsible for presenting all financial matters to the King. He kept careful letters and journals. After the beheading all of his papers were archived and offer to us today some valuable insight into the politics and handling of royal matters at the time. His journals offer more history on the Tudors than any other writings available for that time period. I am fortunate to hold a copy of his journals.

     The details of Williams trial are also held in the archives for England. In the documents his name is spelled two different ways. Brereton as the English form and Bryerton as the Latin form.

     Keep following this blog and you will discover some of the contents of his journal and discover the lost branch of the family.


      In the summer of 1941 my grandmother traveled by steamship to visit her uncle in Cleveland who was in upper management with the book publisher Grolier.  During the course of her journey she kept a journal of her travels.  When I discovered the journal I thought it would make a fascinating story.  As I began to write the story I began to ask myself questions about the family history. 

     This led me to explore the family history further back.  I never imagined that I would end up back in the year 1066.  How I got that far back in history is a story for another day.  Still I have questions some I still don’t have answers for but maybe together we can figure out the mysteries that still remain hidden.