Brocas was a great friend and companion of the Black Prince. His father having been a knight in the service of Edward III, the two probably grew up together. During the French Wars, Bernard was present, with the Prince, at the Battle of Poitiers and, almost certainly, at Crécy and Najara too. After the Peace of Bretigny, Bernard, along with other members of his family, were employed in the settlement of Aquitaine, where he held the office of Constable. Upon the premature death of the Prince, in 1376, he was especially invited to his funeral.
Sir Bernard was also a friend of William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester. His first acquaintance with the Brocas family seems to have been through his position as architect of the rebuilding of Windsor Castle, in the earlier operations of which Bernard's father - and probably Bernard himself - had been employed. Of the three knights present, by invitation, at Wykeham's episcopal enthronement at Winchester, Brocas was one. In the year 1377, Wykeham's first act, after emerging from the difficulties in which he had been placed by his political struggle with the all powerful John of Gaunt, was to make Brocas "chief surveyor and sovereign warden of our parks…..throughout our bishopric." Soon after this, he became the chief trustee of the Brocas estates.
In the same year, immediately after the death of King Edward III & the accession of his grandson, Richard II, Brocas was appointed Captain of Calais; an appointment which, he held only for a short time, though he was now constantly employed in various diplomatic and military services. He also sat for Hampshire in ten parliaments and for Wiltshire in an eleventh, closely connected, as it would seem, with Wykeham in his political line of conduct from 1367 to 1395. On, or soon after, King Richard's marriage to Anne of Bohemia, he became the Queen's Chamberlain and he is said to have also been Chamberlain to the Count of Hainault.
In his domestic life, Sir Bernard married thrice. Firstly, in 1354, to Agnes, daughter and heiress of Sir Mauger Vavasour of Denton (Yorkshire). The following year, his uncle and namesake, the Rector of Guildford (Surrey) - wishing to secure a future for his brother's youngest and, therefore, landless son - bestowed upon him the estate which was to form the chief Brocas property: Beaurepaire, in Sherborne St. John near Basingstoke (Hants). Here, he built a fine moated house, long ago been pulled down, but it does not appear to have been an over happy home. For it seems that, while Bernard was fighting for his country abroad, his wife, Agnes, returned to her Yorkshire estates and entered into a liaison with her neighbour, Henry De Langfield. The circumstances are not precisely clear. The generous suggest that false reports of Sir Bernard's death led to the lady actually marrying De Langfield. She certainly had a son, called Bernard, of whom the Yokshireman was supposedly the father. This must have been something of a shock to poor Sir Bernard upon his eventual return home. The two were divorced in 1360, at which time, he was charitable enough to let Agnes retain the most valuable estates in her dowry.
Encouraged by his friend, the Black Prince, Bernard now made a play for the latter's cousin, Princess Joan of Kent, the young widow of Sir Thomas Holland. In the event, the Prince decided the prize was too great and married the lady himself. However, Brocas soon turned his attentions to the wealthy heiress, Mary Des Roches, widow of Sir John De Borhunt and daughter of Sir John Des Roches, a collateral descent of Peter, the Bishop of Winchester of that name. By 1361, the two were wed and Bernard received, from her, several estates, chief amongst them being Roche Court, near Fareham (Hampshire). Through this second marriage also, he became Master of the Royal Buckhounds, an hereditary office based on the manor of Weldon, in the Rockingham Forest (Northamptonshire), and retained by his descendants for three centuries. After the death of Sir Bernard's father, in 1365, the two probably lived mostly at their manor of Clewer Brocas in order to be near the King at Windsor. Although, Beaurepaire was more convenient for Odiham Castle, for which Sir Bernard had been created constable in 1376. This time, the union does appear to have been a happy one until Mary died, probably in April, 1380. Two years later, Bernard remarried to Katherine Plaunk, the widow of Sir Hugh Tyrrell, but he did not forget his second wife and, in 1384, gave lands to Southwark Priory (near Fareham) in her memory and also founded a chantry chapel in Clewer parish church. The position of chaplain was soon taken on by the hermit of nearby Losfield (St. Leonard's Hill). Sir Bernard had been a patron of his Chapel of St. Leonard since 1355 when he petitioned the Pope for an indulgence to be granted to visiting pilgrims.
Brocas died in 1395 and was succeeded in his estates by his eldest son, Sir Bernard Brocas Junior. He was buried in St. Edmund's Chapel in Westminster Abbey. That his handsome monument stands so close to the Royal tombs is a mark of the estimation in which he was held by his Royal master. The inscription on the tomb, in Latin, runs thus: "Here lies Bernard Brocas, knight, sometime Chamberlain to Anne, Queen of England. May God have mercy upon his Soul." It is possible that the recumbent effigy is not contemporary with the rest of the monument.
An old story is told of how the verger of the abbey used to point him out "the old lord who cut off the King of Morocco's head," notably to Sir Roger De Coverley who was deeply impressed. This remark was occasioned by the family crest, representing what is heraldically called a Moor's head, orientally crowned. This crest is found on the seals of Sir Bernard Brocas, along with the lion rampant of the Brocas arms, as early as 1361. He was the first to use it and it was borne by his descendants ever since, though its origin is not known. It was, of course, granted by King Edward III, and probably did represent some similar feat of war or chivalry.
Edited from Leslie Stephen's 'Dictionary of National Biography' (1886).
|© Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved.|