Urien Brereton

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Brereton's house in Chester was on the site of "The Architect".

Urian is a Celtic noble male given name (also Urien, Uryen, Uren, presumably derived from British Urbgen). It is recorded in 1273 in the Hundred Rolls of Huntingdonshire in a reference to a "John, son of Urian". In the twelfth century Geoffrey of Monmouth used the latinized form Urbianus for the semi-legendary British king Urien, who marries the pseudo-mythical Arthur's sister (often Morgan le Fay, but sometimes another sister is named). He, like the kings of several other lands, initially opposes Arthur's accession to the throne after Uther's death. Urien and the others rebel against the young monarch, but upon their defeat, the rebels become Arthur's allies and vassals.

Urien Brereton of Chester

Urien Brereton (c1495-19th March 1578) was the ninth son of Sir Randle Brereton (c.1469-1505) and a Groom of the Privy Chamber to King Henry VIII. Despite living in those most turbulent of times, being a member of the kings household and either an associate or relative of many who were less fortunate, he managed to avoid being executed. Just how he did this is not exactly clear

The role of a Groom to the king seems to have been a popular one with the sons of the gentry of Cheshire, as Piers Dutton had previously held such a post. The post of Gentleman of the Privy Chamber was created around 1518 by amalgamating the posts of the two earlier officers - "Esquires of the Household" and the "Knights of the Body". The duties of these gentlemen consisted primarily in giving company to the sovereign and in dressing and undressing him, though they performed a varierty of chores. The Gentlemen were assisted by the Grooms of the Privy Chamber who, under the supervision of the gentlemen ushers, initially attended to the cleanliness of the rooms. The "Groom of the Stool" was responsible for the latrines: it is a matter of some debate as to whether the duties involved cleaning the king's bottom, but the groom is known to have been responsible for supplying a bowl, water and towels and also for monitoring the king's diet and bowel movements.

In the early years of Henry VIII's reign, the title was awarded to court companions of the king who spent time with him in the privy chamber (the king's private quarters). These were generally the sons of noblemen or important members of the gentry. Grooms ranked below Gentlemen of the Chamber, usually important noblemen, but above Yeomen of the Chamber. They were mostly well-born, and on a first rung of a courtier's career. In time they came to act as personal secretaries to the king, carrying out a variety of administrative tasks within his private rooms. The position was advanrageous in that it allowed unobstructed access to the king and if they demonstrated competence and loyalty they could expect advancement.

In 1526 Urien was appointed "Ranger of Delamere Forest". It is not clear what this role entailed. The principal role was the "Master Forester" and dated back to the time of the Norman Earls of Chester. This hereditary position was given by the Earl of Chester Ranulf de Meschines to Ranulf or Ralph de Kingsley in 1123, and it passed by marriage to the Launcelyn family and later to the Done family of Utkinton and Tarporley. Sixteen Dones then held the position over nearly four centuries, until in 1662, the master-forestership passed to the Crewe family. In 1526 he also appear to have been made "Escheator of Cheshire". The Escheator's duties were to maintain the king's rights as overlord of all land held by tenants in chief, which reverted to him on the death of such a tenant. It was the Escheator's job to enquire into land of doubtful status, and to administer land over which the king had rights. He could do this either on his own initiative or on the authority of a writ.

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn (c. 1501 – 19 May 1536) was Queen of England from 1533 to 1536, as the second wife of King Henry VIII. In February or March 1526, Henry VIII began his pursuit of her and she resisted his attempts to seduce her, refusing to become his mistress, as her sister Mary had previously been. Henry then focused on annulling his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he would be free to marry Anne. Cardinal Wolsey failed to obtain an annulment of Henry's marriage from Pope Clement VII and, in 1529–30, Anne helped bring about Wolsey's downfall and his death. When it became clear that Clement would not annul the marriage, Henry and his advisers, such as Thomas Cromwell, began the breaking of the Catholic Church's power in England which gave them the opportunity to seize the monasteries and the nunneries. Henry and Anne formally married on 25 January 1533.

Some have suggested that Urien Brereton had a close personal relationship with Anne Boleyn, the basis being that she may have named one of her dogs after him. However there are several versions of the story. In one the dog is a hunting greyhound given by William Brereton who named it after his brother. This would not imply a close relationship between Anne and Urien. Some later writers believed "Urian" was a Satanic name, tying it in with the spurious posthumous claims Anne had been charged with witchcraft, but it was not an uncommon name at the time. Urian (the dog) was involved in an unfortunate incident during Anne's last progress. Urian escaped his handlers and, along with another dog, ripped out the throat of a cow grazing nearby. The king's accounts record reimbursement for the cow's owner.

While in the role of Groom of the Privy Chamber his older brother, the 7rh son, William Brereton (c. 1487 – 17 May 1536), was executed along with other supposed conspirators for high treason and adultery with Anne Boleyn (see: Dutton). William Brereton was probably collateral damage when Thomas Cromwell (c.1485 – 28 July 1540) moved against the Boleyn faction and decided to get rid of him in the same coup. Cromwell appears to have become frustrated with the problems that William Brereton was causing in the opposition to Cromwell's plan to centrallise the government of the Palatinate of Chester.

The Breretons were also involved in local religious politics, with William in particular being engaged in issues concerning Vale Royal. Wiiiam Brereton had backed the restoration of Abbot Birkenshaw (1529/30) at what was soon to become the Cathedral in Chester. This was part of a complex feud involving Wolsey that had been running since the early 1520's.

In 1538 Urien was appointed Sheriff of Flint, and in July that year he became attorney to the King. This was the time between the execution of his brother (1536) and the fall of Cromwell, when Cromwell was still in a powerful position and before his difficulties following Henry's disasterous marriage to Anne of Cleves. Thus, despite both the Queen's and his brother's execution Urien continued to enjoy the King's favour, receiving the bulk of William's Cheshire estates — amounting to over 200 acres — from the King, but not all of his offices which were distributed widely. It is also telling that some of the offices which Urien held appear to have been previously held by his brother, or held jointly between the two. This leads to a suggestion that while Cromwell saw William Brereton as an obstacle, the king did not have any disfavour for the brother Urien.

The convent at Chester

The earliest known charter connected with the House of Benedictine nuns of St Mary dates from about the year 1150, though it is known the nuns were in Chester before that date, possibly at another site. Further information can be found on the page relating to Nicholas Street, while the story of the "Nuns Grave" can be found on the page relating to Vale Royal.

For present purposes, on 21 January 1540 the prior Elizabeth Grosvenor and the convent surrendered the house and all its possessions to the Crown. The prioress was assigned a pension of £20, three of the senior nuns pensions of £4, seven other nuns and one of the novices pensions of between £2 13s. 4d. and £2, and the two other novices pensions of £1 6s. 8d.; 12 of those pensions were still paid in 1556 and Elizabeth Grosvenor, 'sometime lady of the nuns', was still alive in the early 1570s. After the dissolution the lands of the nunnery were used to endow the new bishopric of Chester but the site was reserved to the Crown in the grant made to Bishop Bird in 1541. In 1542 it was granted to Urian Brereton at about the same time Urien was granted the assets of Newnham Priory (in Bedfordshire). Henceforth the Breretons of Handforth occasionally resided at "The Nunnes".


Following its break with the Roman Catholic Church, England attacked Scotland, partly to break the "Auld Alliance" and prevent Scotland being used as a springboard for future invasion by France, partly to weaken Scotland, and partly to force Scotland to agree to a marriage alliance between Mary, Queen of Scots (born 8 December 1542), and the English heir-apparent Edward (born 12 October 1537), son of King Henry VIII. Major hostilities began with an attack on Edinburgh on 3 May 1544. Henry declared war in an attempt to force the marriage between Edward, who was six years old at the start of the war, and the infant queen. The rapidly rising Urien Brereton was knighted in 1544 by Edward Seymour (then the Earl of Hertford) for "valour" during the Burning of Leith. He would have then been approaching fifty years of age. Evidently very little valour would have been needed as the people of Leith had abandonned the town and fled to Edinburgh - as written at the time: "the which we found all desolate, for not a soul did we find in the town."

Seymour had been appointed "Esquire of the Body" to Henry VIII in 1529 and was another who had benefited by his close connections with the king. He was the brother of Queen Jane Seymour (who died in 1537 from postnatal complications followin the birth of the future Edward VI), the third wife of King Henry VIII. He was Lord Protector of England from 1547 to 1549 during the minority of Edward VI (1547–1553), but was later executed.

Hanforth Hall Brereton's ancestral home (Photo "Mike in Macc" Wikipedia).


Handforth Hall has an inscription under a coved gable by the porch entrance reading:


The date given is 1562, by which time Urien would be in his late 60's and Elizabeth would have been queen for a few years. There is a legend that Elizabeth herself laid the foundation stone of the hall. Urien would live on until 1578, attaining a remarkable age for his time. Way back in 1530, Urien married Margaret, the daughter and sole heiress of William Handford, Esquire, of Handford (Handforth). His son, grandson, and great grandson, were all of the name of William; and it is the latter (Sir William Brereton, Baronet) who was the distinguished Parliamentarian General and took part in the seige of Chester. It was not a simple sucession: Margaret died in 1570, and her son John being childless, the two men settled the estates between them. Sir Urian married again to the widow of Sir William Leylands, and was succeeded by his son, Randle, who himself died childless, and his brother William Brereton (1604-1661) succeeded to the estate.


With Brereton being the leader of the Parliamentary forces besieging Chester, it is unlikley that his property in Chester remained unmolested, although for many years the remains of the convent were still extant on the site. The can be seen in the Buck Brother's engraving of 1728 and an engraving by George Cuitt of 1827. Eventially ar least parts of one arch was relocated in Grosvenor Park where it can still be seen today (see: "The Mystery of the Architect's Garden"). In 1822-3 architect Thomas Harrison built his own home on the site of the nunnery as "St Martin's Villa". The land on which St Martin’s Villa was built was donated to the architect by the County in gratitude for his professional services’. Harrison lived here from 1820 until his death in 1829 at the age of 85. Over the years it has been a parsonage, then police administration building, and was converted into a pub in 2012.


The archway from St Mary's convent, and later the home of Urien, (much restored) now stands in Grosvenor Park. It is almost certain that Urien walked through it at least once.

Urien Brereton is an enigmatic character, as a ninth son, he would normally expect to inherit little. He lived at the center of a turbulent set of feuds which saw the downfall and deaths by execution of many involved, including his own older brother, and which formed the basis for the plot of "Wolf Hall". Yet he managed to survive to a ripe old age. Perhaps he was lucky, perhaps he was smart enough to keep his head down when it was sensible to do so.

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