Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brewer, William

BREWER, BRIWERE, or BRUER, WILLIAM (d. 1226), baron and judge, the son of Henry Brewer (Dugdale, Baronage), was sheriff of Devon during the latter part of the reign of Henry II, and was a justice itinerant in 1187. He bought land at Ilesham in Devon, and received from the king the office of forester of the forest of Bere in Hampshire. A story told by Roger of Wendover (iv. 238), which represents Richard as whispering to Geoffrey FitzPeter and William Brewer his reverence for the bishops who were consulting together before him, tends to show, if indeed the king were not merely acting, that he treated Brewer as a familiar friend. When Richard left England, in December 1189, he appointed Brewer to be one of the four justices to whom he committed the charge of the kingdom. Brewer was at first a subordinate colleague of Hugh, bishop of Durham, the chief justiciar. Before long, however, Bishop Hugh was displaced by the chancellor, William Longchamp, bishop of Ely. When the king heard of the insolence and unpopularity of the chancellor, he wrote to Brewer and his companions, telling them that if he was unfaithful in his office they were to act as they thought best as to the grants of escheats and castles, and wrote also to the chancellor, bidding him act in conjunction with his colleagues. At a great council held at St. Paul's, on 8 Oct. 1191, the Archbishop of Rouen produced a letter from the king appointing him justiciar in place of Longchamp, and naming Brewer and others as his assistants. Brewer evidently was prominent in the proceedings taken against the chancellor; for his name is on the list of the bishops and barons whom the displaced minister threatened with excommunication. In 1193 he left England to assist the king, then in captivity, at his interview with the Emperor Henry VI. He arrived at Worms on 29 July, the day on which the terms of the king's release were finally arranged. After this matter was settled, Richard sent him, in company with the Bishop of Ely 'and other wise men,' to arrange a peace with Philip of France. The treaty was signed on 9 July at Nantes. On the king's return to England in the spring of 1194, Brewer and others who had been concerned in the proceedings against the chancellor were deprived of the sheriffdoms they then held, but were appointed to other counties, 'as if the king, although he could not dispense with their services, wished to show his disapproval of their conduct in the matter' (Stubbs, Const. Hist. i. 503). A serious dispute having arisen between Geoffrey, archbishop of York, and his chapter, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was at that time the justiciar, sent Brewer with other judges to York in July to settle the quarrel. They summoned the archbishop, and on his refusing to appear seized his manors, and caused the canons whom he had displaced to be again installed. Brewer also appears as one of the justices who were sent on the great visitation, or 'iter,' in the following September. In 1196 he founded the abbey of Torr in Devon, as a house of Præmonstratensian canons (Dugdale, Mon. vi. 923). During the reign of Richard he became lord of the manor of Sumburne, near Southampton, and held the sheriffdoms of Devonshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Nottinghamshire, and Derbyshire (Dugdale, Bar.} He married Beatrice de Valle. In 1201 Brewer founded the abbey of Motisfont as a house of Augustinian canons. This foundation has been ascribed to his son William {Ann. de Osen.}, but the charters of the abbey prove that it was the work of the father (Mon. vi. 480). On 15 Aug. of the same year he was present as founder at the foundation of the Cistercian abbey of Dunkeswell in Devonshire. He is said also to have founded the Benedictine nunnery of Polslo in that county (Ann. de Margam; Mon. iv. 425, v. 678).

During the reign of John, Brewer held a prominent place among the king's counsellors. His name appears among the witnesses of the disgraceful treaty made with Philip at Thouars in 1206. When an attempt was made to reconcile the king to Archbishop Langton in 1209, he joined Geoffrey Fitz-Peter and others in guaranteeing the archbishop's safety during his visit to England, and saw him safely out of the kingdom. During the period of the interdict he strongly upheld the king, and is mentioned by Wendover (iii. 238) as one of John's evil advisers, who cared for nothing else save to please their master. The king's extortions from the clergy, the monks, and especially the Cistercians, were in obedience to Brewer's advice, and in 1210 he caused the king to forbid the Cistercian monks to attend the annual chapter of their order—a sin which, according to Paris, brought him and others concerned to a sorrowful end. He signed the treaty made by John with the Count of Boulogne in May 1212. On 15 May 1213 he signed the charter by which John surrendered the crown and kingdom of England to Innocent III, and on 21 Nov. 1214 the charter granting freedom of election to sees and abbeys, by which the king hoped to win the English church to his side. When the barons made a confederation against the king at Brackley in 1215, and drew up the list of their demands, Brewer refused to join them. After their entry into London, however, he and other ministers of the king were compelled to act with the baronial party, and his name appears among the signatures subscribed to the great charter. His heart, however, was by no means in the work, and when war broke out he became one of the leaders of the army left by John to watch the baronial forces, cut off their supplies, and ravage their lands. On the death of John he assisted at the coronation of Henry at Gloucester on 28 Oct. 1216. He warmly espoused the cause of the young king against the French, and joined with other barons in pledging himself to ransom all prisoners belonging to the king's party. He was one of those who guaranteed the observance of the treaty of Lambeth on 11 Sept. 1217, though he did not approve of the moderate terms granted to Louis (Ann. Wav.} The next year he was present with the king and court at the dedication of the cathedral church of Worcester, to which he afterwards presented a chalice of gold of four marks weight, 'not to be removed from the church save for fire, hunger, or necessary ransom' (Ann. Wig.} With the restlessness and plots of the foreign party Brewer had no sympathy, and, indeed, seems to have acted in full accord with the justiciar Hubert de Burgh. In 1221 he sat as one of the barons of the exchequer (Foss, Biog. Jurid.} He was one of the favourite counsellors of Henry III, and his influence with the king was not for good. For example, when in January 1223 Archbishop Langton and the lords demanded that Henry, who was then holding his Christmas festival at Oxford, should confirm the great charter, Brewer answered for the king, and said: 'The liberties you ask for ought not to be observed; for they were extorted by force.' Indignant at this declaration, the archbishop rebuked him. 'William,' he said, 'if you loved the king you would not disturb the peace of the kingdom.' The king saw that the archbishop was angry, and at once yielded to his demand (Rog. Wend. iv. 84). Later in the same year Honorius III associated Brewer with the Bishop of Winchester and the justiciar in a letter declaring Henry to be of full age. He died in 1226, having assumed, probably when actually dying, as was not infrequently done, the habit of a monk at Dunkeswell, and was buried there in the church he had founded. During the reigns of John and Henry III he acquired great possessions. By John he was made guardian of Henry Percy and of many other rich wards. He received a large number of grants from the king, and among them the manor of Bridgwater, with an ample charter creating that place a free borough with a market (Dugdale, Bar.} In this town he founded the hospital of St. John Baptist, for the maintenance of thirteen sick poor, besides 'religious' and pilgrims (Mon. vi. 662). In the same reign he also acquired half the fee of the house of Brito: this acquisition probably was made unjustly ('per potestatem domini Willielmi Bruyere veterioris,' Inq. p. m. 49 Hen. III, Somerset Archæol. Soc. Proc. xxi. ii. 33). It included the honour of Odcomb, with other places in Somersetshire and Devonshire. The memory of this grant is preserved in the name of Ile Brewers, a village near Langport, which passed to him along with Odcomb. One of Brewer's sons, Richard, died before him. He left one son, William, and five daughters, who all married men of wealth and importance. The names of two brothers of Brewer are preserved, John and Peter of Rievaulx. Peter became a hermit at Motisfont; for a document of that house says that he was called 'The Holy Man in the Wall,' and that he did many miracles (Mon. vi. 481). It should, however, be noted that the Peter of Rievaulx who was treasurer in the reign of Henry III was the nephew or son (Matt. Paris, iii. 220) of Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester, and so, if the Motisfont document is of any value at all, was a different man from the hermit there spoken of.

[Roger of Hoveden; Roger of Wendover, Eng. Hist. Soc; Matthew Paris, Chron. Maj. Rolls Ser.; R. of Diceto, Twysden; Benedictus Abbas, Rolls Ser.; Walter of Coventry, Rolls Ser.; Royal Letters, Henry III, Rolls Ser.; Annales de Margam, Waverleia, Oseneia, Wigornia, in Annales Monastici, Rolls Ser.; Dugdale's Baronage; Dugdale's Monasticon; Stubbs's Constitutional History.]

W. H.