Sir William Brereton, 1604-61
Energetic commander of Parliamentarian forces in Cheshire and the north-western counties during the English Civil War
The eldest son of William Brereton of Handforth in Cheshire, he inherited substantial estates in Cheshire on the death of his parents around 1610. After attending Oxford and Gray's Inn, Brereton emerged as an energetic magistrate in Cheshire during the 1620s and '30s. He was made a baronet in 1627, travelled extensively in Europe and acquired property in New England. Although Brereton failed to win a seat in the election for the Parliament of 1625, he was elected MP for Cheshire in 1628 and 1640. As a staunch Puritan, he advocated root and branch reform of the Anglican church.
Brereton was commissioned by Parliament to supervise the transportation of troops and supplies from Cheshire to Ireland to suppress the Irish Uprising in 1641. On the outbreak of civil war in England, he tried to seize Chester for Parliament, but was driven out by Royalist citizens. He returned to Cheshire in January 1643 and defeated Sir Thomas Aston at Nantwich on 28 January, which he then fortified and held as Parliament's headquarters in Cheshire. Appointed commander-in-chief of Parliament's forces in Cheshire, Shropshire, Lancashire and Staffordshire, Brereton developed an effective network of spies and agents and conducted a relentless military campaign against the Royalists in the region.
In alliance with Sir Thomas Myddelton, Brereton seized territory in Shropshire during September and October 1643, defeated the Royalist commander Lord Capel and confined his forces in Shrewsbury. Brereton and Myddelton then advanced into north Wales, capturing Wrexham and several castles on the western side of the Dee estuary, thus threatening to blockade the Royalist stronghold of Chester. However, Brereton's forces were driven back into Cheshire by the arrival of the first wave of the King's reinforcements from Ireland. The King ordered Lord Byron to secure Cheshire for the Royalists, and Brereton was defeated at Middlewich on 26 December 1643. The following month, however, Sir Thomas Fairfax led a force of Yorkshire Parliamentarians across the Pennines to join forces with Brereton and defeat Byron's Royalists at the battle of Nantwich (25 January 1644).
From the autumn of 1644, Brereton was occupied with the long-drawn-out siege of Chester, which was defended by Lord Byron. The siege was so important to the Parliamentarian cause that Brereton was one of the few commanders allowed to retain both his military command and his seat in Parliament after the Self-Denying Ordinance of April 1645. After the surrender of Chester in January 1646, Brereton was involved in mopping up Royalist resistance in his region. Sir Jacob Astley surrendered the last Royalist field army to Brereton at Stow-on-the-Wold in March 1646.
After the First Civil War was over, Brereton was richly rewarded for his services to Parliament. He was given Eccleshall Castle in Staffordshire and acquired Croydon Palace, the former home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. However, Brereton's enthusiasm for public life seems to have rapidly waned. He declined to sit as one of the King's judges in January 1649 and played little part in events during the Commonwealth and Protectorate. At the Restoration, Croydon Palace was returned to Archbishop Juxon, but Brereton was allowed to remain there as a tenant until his death in April 1661.
Brereton married twice. His first wife, Susannah, was the daughter of Sir George Booth of Dunham Massey in Cheshire. She died in 1637, leaving one son, Thomas. In 1641, Brereton married Cecily, the daughter of Sir William Skeffington of Leicestershire and widow of Edward Mytton of Weston in Staffordshire. Brereton's second marriage doubled his land and property holdings and produced two daughters.
John Morrill, Sir William Brereton, Oxford DNB, 2004
Harold Forster, Sir William Brereton 1604 -1661 (Orders of the day, Volume 33, Issue 6, 2001/2002)
Brereton's diary The Diary Review
Travels of Sir WIlliam Brereton in Ireland 1635 Corpus of Electronic Texts