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The Foxley Family
An Extract by Montague Burrows

The relationship between the Brocas and Foxley families was known to antiquaries (but not to the Brocas pedigree) through Sir John de Foxley's will in Wykeham's 'Register,' and through the monument in Bray Church, to be presently mentioned; but it began at an earlier date than was ever suspected, till the discovery of a document which must here be described. So early indeed was the date of the marriage between John de Foxley and Matilda, the daughter of John de Brocas, that they must have been merely boy and girl at the time; and that may be the reason why it was not celebrated in the parish church of Bray, but somewhere else, we know not where. For his daughter to have been even fourteen years old in 1332, John de Brocas himself must have married in 1317; which, indeed, is the very year in which he receives his first grant from Edward II - perhaps in connection with the event.

A very large collection of most valuable MSS., the spoils of monasteries treasured up in different places, had come to the Bodleian Library from Bishop Tanner in the early part of last [18th] century, had been submerged in the Thames by the upsetting of the barge in which they travelled and, from that date up to quite recently, had remained unsorted, illegible from water-stains and inaccessible. In the year 1878, however, their arrangement and restoration by a chemical process were completed - an excellent work, too long delayed. Amongst the names of persons mentioned in the collection was that of Matilda Brocas, occurring in a document which had come from the muniments of Sarum diocese. This was the remission by Robert, Bishop of Sarum, of a sentence of suspension from his functions for a year of a priest named William de Handloo, who had been "concerned in the solemnization of a marriage between John de Foxley and Matilda Brocas, outside the parochial church and mother parish of Bray in our diocese, and without the license of our Diocesan Office". After the lapse of some part of the time of suspension, that punishment is commuted for another, "so that from this time forward he may lawfully minister as before".

From this, it is plain that Matilda ought to have insisted upon being married in her parish church; but it was evidently what we now call a 'runaway-match' for which the too-compliant priest suffered the temporary loss of his faculties. It is observable that the first purchase of land at Bray by John de Brocas, the bride's father, took place in this very year and that the bridegroom's grandmother, Constantia Foxley, who died a year later, was at this time in possession of the Bray manor-house, while his father was Constable of Windsor Castle; so that imaginative persons have all the materials of a medieval romance ready to hand - an earlier 'Merry Wife of Windsor' and an earlier 'Vicar of Bray.' We are at least free to give the young couple credit for bringing the influence of their parents to bear upon the Bishop, in mitigation of sentence on the friendly priest. Who were these Foxleys'?

The first member of the family who can be traced is Sir John de Foxle, Foxleye, or Foxley, Baron of the Exchequer in 1308-9. There is nothing to show any connection between him and the ancient house of Foxley of Foxley and Blakesley, in Northamptonshire, for the arms are quite different; but some confusion might easily arise from the circumstance that both families were headed by a John de Foxley at the same time. The Baron of the Exchequer was certainly the founder of his family at Bray in Berkshire and Bramshill in Hampshire; the latter place having come to him with Constantia his wife. A long legal career and the favour of kings, had brought wealth to the Judge. Towards the end of that career, we find him administering the estate of the magnificent Anthony Beck, Bishop of Durham. In 1321, he obtains leave to impark "a certain place in Pokemere (Puckmere, near Foxley Farm), in the parish of Bray, within the bounds of Windsor Forest". Resigning office in 1322-3, he is found, at his death two years later, in possession of considerable property in Bray and Bramshill, besides other estates in Buckinghamshire and Hampshire.

Thomas de Foxley, the Judge's only son, who succeeded his mother at Bray in 1333, was also a trusted servant of the Crown. We have seen [elsewhere in the original volume] that he was Constable of Windsor Castle from 1328 to his death in 1361, and associated with Sir John de Brocas and Oliver de Bordeaux in the Commission for rebuilding it. Under him, both the family properties took a great development. In 1341 he and Katherine, his wife, daughter and coheir of Sir John Ifield, receive permission " to hear divine service" in his manor of Iwhurst [ie. Foxley Manor at Touchen End], where his father had received a grant of land in 1317), in Bray parish. In 1347, his Berkshire estates are charged with the supply of 120 archers for the war; and this is the county which he represented in Parliament in the years 1327, 1332, and 1337. But the chief interest connected with his name, besides his share in building Windsor Castle, lies in the present day in the erection of the noble mansion of Bramshill, considerable remains of which still exist, being worked up into the structure of the present house built by Lord Zouch in 1604-12. It was erected in the style of the period, round a court 100 feet long by 80 broad, with walls of great thickness, the vaulting of the cellars and other parts being precisely similar to what may be observed in the steward's room and servants' hall at Windsor Castle, and the workmen employed by Foxley at the Royal Palace being presumably the same as those engaged in the erection of Bramshill. These details are taken from an interesting account of 'Bramshill: its History and Architecture,' lately published by Sir W. H. Cope, Bart., the representative of the family which has owned this fine place for the last two centuries. He also observes that Hatfield House, built by John Thorpe, the architect employed at Bramshill, is a sort of expansion of the latter house, the difference being that at Hatfield the architect started afresh, while at Bramshill he attempted to convert an 'inside house,' one surrounding a court, with windows looking inwards, into an outside house with windows looking outwards, "by pushing back the two subordinate wings till they nearly met;" and he quotes Mr. Ferguson for the remark that Bramshill is of exceptional interest from the circumstance of the Edwardian mansion of the Foxleys having been thus converted into a splendid specimen of Elizabethan or Jacobean architecture, or rather, as we should now say, English Renaissance. On the death of the last member of the old family of De Port, to whom the fee had formerly belonged, and who still must have had some claim on it, Foxley obtained license to enclose 2,500 acres of land in Bramshill and Hazeley, in order to make the park which still exists, and which shares, with Highclere, the reputation of being the finest in Hampshire.

Besides the relationship between the Foxleys and Brocases, and the intimate connection which is displayed in the following documents, the two families had a common link in the friendship of William of Wykeham, growing, no doubt, out of his employment under them in the early period of the erection of Windsor Castle. This has been already traced in the case of the Brocases.It is equally marked by the great Bishop's selection of Thomas Foxley as one of three persons for whose benefit mass is daily to be said in the chapels of Winchester and New Colleges; by the will of Sir John, son of Thomas Foxley, in which he directs his executors to be guided in certain matters by the "ordering and consent" of the Bishop, to whom he leaves a valuable ring; and by the legacy left by the Bishop to the later John Foxley. As Thomas Foxley remained, to the last, Constable of Windsor Castle, this magnificent residence at Bramshill would seem to have been built rather for his family than for himself. Sir John Foxley, his son, Matilda Brocas' husband, resided and died there. He was the third of the family in succession to hold high office under the Crown, being in 1365 made first Constable of 'Sheppey Island Castle' (or Queensborough), for life and, in 1376, Constable of Southampton Castle, as well as Warden of the King's Manor and Park of Lyndhurst, of the King's New Forest & co. In that year, he was one of nine who were to set the county of Berkshire in array and, in the next, obtained, from the King, the grant of a house in Fleet Street, London. That he had been a favourite with Edward III is shown by his having received from him a splendid bugle-horn mounted with gold, the insignia of the Wardenship of the New Forest, which he leaves to King Richard. At the opening of the new reign he died, having sat in nine Parliaments at the end of Edward's reign - seven times for Berkshire and twice for Hampshire.

The date of Matilda's death is unknown. Her married life must have been chiefly spent at Woodcrych, or Woodcroft, a manor belonging to her husband, in the parish of Bray, where he had permission long before his father's death to hold divine service; but though she may have lived to share her husband's high position at Court and the grandeur of the house and park at Bramshill, the following circumstance suggests painful reflections. She bore him a son and two daughters but, after her death, Sir John married a certain Joan Martin, by whom he had already had children, the eldest of whom (Matilda's son, William, having died before his father) succeeded him at Bramshill as 'bastard aisné.' Matilda's daughter, Katherine, however, made a marriage which was important for the Brocases, as it brought the Warbeltons of Sherfield-on-Loddon, their near neighbours at Beaurepaire [in Sherborne St. John, Hampshire], into relationship, and it was her granddaughter, Elizabeth Warbelton, who married into the ancient family of Syfrewast. Bray Church still contains the monuments which witness to these marriages, though the Foxley Chapel, once established there, has entirely disappeared under modern 'restorations'.

The fine brass, still to be seen placed upright in the wall of Bray Church, in memory of Sir John de Foxley and his two wives, has been admirably represented in Waller's 'Monumental Brasses'. It has a double interest in relation to our subject. Arnold Brocas, the founder of the Compton branch of the family, was Foxley's chief executor; and anyone may observe how exactly the minute directions given in the will were carried out under the 'ordination' of the testator's 'most reverend lord,' the Bishop of Winchester. On the surcoat of the knight are his arms: gules, two bars argent; on his helmet the crest of the fox's head. At his right appears Matilda, whose dress displays the same arms, impaling her paternal coat of Brocas: sable, a lion rampant, or; while Joan Martin bears the arms of Foxley alone. The family died out in the male line with the bastard aisné, Thomas Foxley, who, like his father, was buried at Bray and, like him, is [ie. was] represented on a brass in the church between his two wives, Margaret and Theobalda. His daughter, Elizabeth, by Margaret Lytton, carried the Foxley properties to her husband, Sir Thomas Uvedale of Wickham, in Hampshire.

Perhaps the fact best known about Bramshill is the misfortune of Archbishop Abbot, who, while on a visit to Lord Zouche, aimed at a stag but shot the keeper. Few incidents have had more important effects on the history of Church and State; for it was the opportunity long sought by the ecclesiastical party to which the Archbishop was opposed, and gave them at last the upper hand.

We may conclude this notice of the Foxleys, and their property, by the remark that the tie between their family and that of Brocas must have been close and real, or it would not be found existing after such long intervals of time. It was forty-six years after Matilda's marriage, when Sir John Foxley makes Arnold Brocas his chief executor, and leaves him a silver cup called a 'bolle', one of two which he had been accustomed to carry with him on his travels. In 1447 - seventy years later still - William Brocas holds a place as one of the feoffees of Apuldrefield, a Kentish manor inherited by the Foxleys from Sir John de Ifield, and which had passed to the Warbeltons; while few persons are more frequently named in connection with the business transactions at Beaurepaire in the fifteenth century than "my kinsman, William Warbelton", great grandson of Matilda Brocas.

Originally entitled 'The Foxleys of Bray & Bramshill' and reproduced from Montague Burrows' 'The Brocas Family of Beaurepaire' (1886).

    © Nash Ford Publishing 2004. All Rights Reserved.