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The Viscount Brouncker
Cofferer of the Household
In office
9 December 1679 – 6 February 1685
MonarchCharles II
Preceded byWilliam Ashburnham
Succeeded bySir Peter Apsley
Personal details
Bornc. 1627
Likely Ireland
Died4 January 1688(1688-01-04) (aged 60–61)
Surrey, England
Resting placeRichmond, London, England
SpouseRebecca Rodway
Alma materUniversity of Oxford

Henry Brouncker, 3rd Viscount Brouncker (c. 1627 – 4 January 1688) was an Anglo-Irish peer, courtier and politician. He served as Cofferer of the Household to Charles II, and served as Gentleman of the Bedchamber to James, Duke of York. He was a member of parliament and a very skilled games player.


Early life

Born in 1624,[1] most likely in Ireland, where his grandfather had been Lord President of Munster, Brouncker was the second son of William Brouncker, 1st Viscount Brouncker and Winifred Leigh. He was the younger brother of William Brouncker, 2nd Viscount Brouncker, who was the first President of the Royal Society, and a well-known mathematician. His father was created a Viscount in the Peerage of Ireland in 1645, by King Charles I of England, for services to the Crown.

Oxford graduate

Henry graduated from Oxford University in 1646 as a Doctor of Medicine (DM).

MP, expelled from Commons

He was Member of Parliament for New Romney from 1665 to 21 April 1668. But he was expelled from the House of Commons when charges were brought against him, for allowing the Dutch fleet to escape during the Battle of Lowestoft, Second Anglo-Dutch War, and for ordering the sails of the English fleet to be slackened in the name of the Duke of York. This was essentially an act of treason. Such a military decision, taken without the Duke's authority, was an incident seemingly without parallel, especially as his apparent motive was simply that he was fatigued with the stress and noise of the battle.[1]

Bad reputation

John Evelyn wrote, "ever noted for hard covetous vicious man, but for his worldly craft and skill in gaming few exceeded him". He was a famous chess player. He is mentioned in the famous "Memoirs" of Philibert, comte de Gramont, in particular his preference for "Orange seller" girls.

On 29 August 1667 Samuel Pepys called Brouncker: "a pestilent rogue, an atheist, that would have sold his king and country for 6d. almost".


He married (in 1661) Rebecca Rodway, widow of Thomas Jermyn, brother to the Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of St Albans, and they had no children.[1]

Civil servant

Mural monument to Henry Brouncker, 3rd Viscount Brouncker, St Mary Magdalene's, Richmond, Surrey

He was a Commissioner of Trade and Plantation in 1673. He became Cofferer of the Household to Charles II on 9 December 1679, following the death of William Ashburnham. He vacated the office on 6 February 1685, following the death of the king.[2] He also served as Gentleman of the Bedchamber to James, Duke of York.

Henry and William, his elder brother, were on bad terms, and upon William's death in 1684, William disinherited Henry, "for reasons I think not fit to mention". He left most of his wealth to his mistress, the actress Abigail Williams-Cromwell (a cousin by marriage of Oliver Cromwell), with whom he had lived happily outside marriage for many years.[1] At this time, Henry did inherit the title of Viscount, however.

Henry died on 4 January 1688 at Sheen Abbey, Surrey and was buried at the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Richmond, Surrey. As he and his wife were childless, his titles became extinct upon his death.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e McIntyre, G. S. (2004). "Brouncker, William, second Viscount Brouncker of Lyons (1620–1684)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/3596. Retrieved 9 January 2011. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ Bucholz, Robert. "Index of Court Officers: Index B" (PDF). The Database of Court Officers 1660–1837. Department of History, Loyola University Chicago. p. 82. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 March 2012. Retrieved 9 January 2011.

External links

1893 text

Henry Brouncker, younger brother of William, Viscount Brouncker, President of the Royal Society. He was Groom of the Bedchamber to the Duke of York, and succeeded to the office of Cofferer on the death of William Ashburnham in 1671. His character was bad, and his conduct in the sea-fight of 1665 was impugned. He was expelled from the House of Commons, but succeeded to his brother’s title in 1684. He died in January, 1687.

This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

3 Annotations

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

The Shortening of Sail After the Battle of Lowestoft, 3 June 1665

After destroying the Dutch flagship during a crushing victory, the English fleet pursued the Dutch, who were in confusion and lacked a command structure. However, during the night the English fleet was mysteriously ordered to shorten sail.

This happened supposedly because Groom of the Bedchamber Henry Brouncker deluded the flag captain, John Harman, and the ship’s master, John Cox, into believing he was relaying the (sleeping) Duke of York’s orders.

It was later suggested by Chancellor Edward Hyde that Brouncker, “a disreputable friend (and alleged pimp) of James’s” had promised Anne Hyde, Duchess of York, that he would bring James home safely -- or that he acted unilaterally to preserve the life of the heir to the throne (and, by implication, his own, as satirists pointed out)[i].
[i] J R Jones, The Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 17th Century, 158.

The matter was investigated by Parliament in Oct. 1667 and April 1668. When suspicion pointed at him, Henry Brouncker fled abroad[ii].
[ii] J D Davies, Gentlemen and Tarpaulins: The Officers and Men of the Restoration Navy, 150, 156.

Brouncker's defense, written from Paris in June 1668, made no mention of Anne Hyde, but accused Capt. Harman, master Cox and witnesses of perjury. Brouncker implied he was passing on James' order not to engage during the night, which was misinterpreted by Harman and Cox as an order to shorten sail. Brouncker also claimed Cox did not put on sail again because the night was so dark it was impossible to distinguish enemy from friendly lights[iii].
[iii] British Library, Additional MS 75,413, piece 9

Regardless of Brouncker’s actions, some English ships could not have made a hot pursuit that night. Sandwich’s Royal Prince had to replace her main topsail, which had been ‘shot to pieces’, while the Bonadventure had to mend her rigging, ‘having every running rope in the ship shot, and most of our main yard and bowsprit and spritsail yard’[iv].
[iv] Sandwich Journal, Navy Record Society, 228; Lincolnshire Archives Office, MS Jarvis 9/1/A/1, log of Christopher Gunman

This was not enough to prevent a general chase being ordered. Failure to do so can be attributed to the flagship's confused chain of command, and to Henry Brouncker; why he gave that message to Harman is irrelevant.

However, Brouncker’s suggestion that York (who must have been exhausted and in shock after his narrow escape) gave ambiguous orders -- and then expected subordinates to second-guess his meaning -- is in keeping with his personality and subsequent track record as an admiral [v] and as king.
[v] Journals and Narratives of the Third Dutch War, Navy Records Society, 175

The fleet returned to a ‘running posture’ at about 4 a.m. on 4 June -- too late to prevent the northern remnant of the Dutch fleet getting through the Texel sea-gate[vi].
[vi] National Maritime Museum, WYN/13/6

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Henry Brouncker was in the Colchester garrison in 1648, but next appears in 1656 when he joined the exiled court as a pimp for the Duke of York.

Sir Edward Nicholas inquired about his religion, and was told: ‘As for Mr. Brouncker, he certainly is no Roman Catholic; ... however, as a courtier, he may possibly sometimes go to Mass’. The writer, a respected Catholic, did not say why this was required at an Anglican Court.

Henry Brouncker continued his career at Court after the Restoration, married a widow, Rebecca Rodway Jermyn, with ‘a great jointure and great personal estate’ in 1661, and became a successful gamester.

Obtaining a crown lease of a former monastery at Sheen, Brouncker adapted it to suit his rather different requirements, and secured his wife the post of dresser to Queen Catherine, which required her constant attendance at Court.

In 1665 Brouncker accompanied James, Duke of York to sea, and was responsible for the failure to follow up the English victory off Lowestoft, pretending orders from the Duke to shorten sail.

Four months later Brouncker stood as court candidate at New Romney, defeating Sir Charles Sedley MP on the mayor’s casting vote.

During Henry Brouncker MP’s brief time in the House he acted as teller in six divisions and was named to 17 committees.

But in 1667 Henry Brouncker MP was dismissed from James, Duke of York’s household for his hostility to the Earl of Clarendon, although it may be that the Duke was now aware how Brouncker’s cowardice had compromised his own reputation for courage.

Henry Brouncker MP was appointed to the committee for banishing fallen minister, while being under attack for his actions off Lowestoft. He put responsibility on the flag-captain, saying: ‘If I used my reason to persuade him, and he by executing of it made it his own, he is to blame, not I’.

The attack on Henry Brouncker MP was renewed in the spring of 1668. Brouncker defended himself with more effrontery than skill, denying the Duke of York was in danger, and he was expelled the House.

Articles of impeachment were brought against Brouncker, and he prudently withdrew to France. With the adjournment the affair lapsed.

Henry Brouncker soon returned to England, and received more in boons and offices than had been granted before his disgrace. In 1670 he was given £1,000 and the reversion of his brother’s pension of £1,000 p.a., and in 1673 he virtually took over the office of Charles II's cofferer from the aged William Ashburnham.

James, Duke of York never forgave him, and Brouncker held no office after 1685.

Henry Brouncker MP died at Sheen on 4 Jan. 1688, leaving everything (including an embarrassing collection of Lelys) to his Civil War comrade, Sir Charles Lyttleton. This was about the only action of Brouncker’s life that aroused general approval.

Highlights from https://www.historyofparliamenton…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Henry Jermyn was the second son of Sir Thomas Jermyn, of Rushbrooke, Suffolk and his wife, Rebecca Rodway.

Rebecca then married Henry, 3rd Viscount Brouncker (making Henry Jermyn a step-nephew of Pepys’ colleague, the Commissioner William, Lord Brouncker).

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.






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