A Canon on Trial

On 10 September 1561, Richard Bruerne [Bruarne/Brewarne] (1519-1565), Canon of Windsor, stood trial before the Queen’s Visitors. Depositions were given by several residents of the College of St George, including many of his fellow canons. The written statements survive in the Chapel Archives, each with deponent’s name signed next to the statements provided, except for that of Charles Ryly, a servant who marked an ‘X’ in place of his signature. [SGC XV.58.9*]

The first accusation made against Bruerne was of improper religious practices. Henry Ryley, Canon (1560-1586) stated that ‘He hath heard Mr Allen say that Mr Bruerne hath used Jewish ceremonies, and thinkth verily that he is a manifest papist, a maintainer of superstitions, as alters, crosses and candles…’[1]

There may have been some truth to this accusation. Bruerne was a notable Hebrew scholar and is now considered to have helped to revive Hebrew studies in England. He was also a religious conservative and had argued with the said ‘Mr Allen’, Simon Allen, Canon (c.1518-1565), over the use of black choir copes and the high altar. Bruerne had been appointed to the canonry in Windsor in 1554 by Mary I as a reward for his participation in a trial which found several high ranking Protestant officials guilty of heresy. However upon Mary’s death in 1558 and the accession of her Protestant sister, Elizabeth I, Bruerne like many others found that his fortunes changed.

Bruerne was also accused of being an evil speaker by many of the witnesses, including Simon Allen who said that ‘he had heard him speak very slanderously against many men…’[2] He was also rumoured to be a conjurer, and Edward Morecroft, Canon (1560-1580) further accused Bruerne’s pet dog of being his ‘familiar… often in company…’

Lastly, Bruerne was suspected of having improper relations with a woman, the wife of Mr Alleys, a Brewer of Windsor. She was seen coming to and from his chambers on at least two occasions and once when Bruerne was absent from Evensong. The sub-chanter, Thomas Parker, also claimed that Bruerne had relations with his laundresses.

The investigation was the result of the failure of the fellows at Eton to seek the approval of Elizabeth I for the appointment of Bruerne as provost at Eton College in 1561. Bruerne was already a controversial figure and disliked by many officials of the Queen because of his involvement in the 1554 trial and his religious conservatism.

Throughout the religious reformation of the sixteenth century, the dean and canons of Windsor were often at odds over faith and religious practice. Only twenty years prior in 1541, William Franklyn, Dean of Windsor (1536-54), John London, Canon of Windsor (1540-1543) and William Symonds (Simmonds), Sub-Steward of the Dean and Canons of Windsor, provided evidence and tried the Organist, John Marbeck and the Lay Clerk, Robert Testwood for heresy. The former escaped death but Testwood was one of the three Windsor Martyrs .

Fortunately for Richard Bruerne, he escaped any such persecution. He was forced to resign his post at Eton and was denied a doctorate of divinity from Oxford in 1562, but he remained a canon of Windsor. He died in 1565 and was buried in St George’s.[3]

Kristen Mercier, Assistant Archivist


[1] The spelling of this text has been standardised for the reader. The following is a transcription of XV.58.9*: ‘He hath heard Mr Allen say that Mr Bruarnes hath used Jewish ceremonyes, and thynkth verayly that he is a manifest papist, a maynteyner of supersticions as Aulters crosses and candellis…’ .

[2] Similarly, this is a transcription of the document, XV.58.9*: ‘…he had herde him speke very slanderously agaynst many men…’

[3] Bruerne’s death was noted to be April 1563 in [S.L. Ollard’s ‘Fasti Wyndesorienses’ Historical Monographs, reprinted 1999]. However, it is more commonly accepted to be 1565 and two further documents in the St George’s Chapel Archives which concern Bruerne date to 1565: [SGC XV.58.9] An account between the executors of Bruerne, former Canon Steward, and the College of Windsor for receipts from College estates and payments on behalf of the College whilst Canon Bruerne was Canon Steward, 8 May 1565; and [SGC XV.3.35*] A declaration of the compotus (account) of Master Richard Bruerne, Master Simon Allen and Master William Day, Canons of Windsor, 1565.

The Queen's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.