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John Brayne and his other brother-in-law.

WHEN IN 1579 John Brayne and his brother-in-law, James Burbage, mortgaged their playhouse in Shoreditch, the Theatre, Bayne had just resolved a quarrel with another brother-in-law over another mortgage. He was Edward Stowers, a blacksmith, who explained his side of the quarrel in a lawsuit against Brayne in the Star Chamber. (1) The events at issue began in or before 1562 and ended in 1578. Brayne, a grocer, built the Red Lion playhouse in 1567, and he and Burbage built the Theatre in 1576. Brayne's wife was Stowers's sister, and Burbage's wife was Brayne's sister.

In the lawsuit, which consists only of Stowers's bill of complaint, Stowers says he is of "Averstone," Essex, yeoman--rather than blacksmith, presumably, because he wanted to appear as a property owner, not a rude mechanical. "Averstone" is Alphamstone, then also called Alverston. He explains that he owned "one messuage or tenemente wth thappurtenances theare vnto belonginge" together with two parcels of land containing six acres in Bures St. Mary, Essex. That parish extends across the Stour into Suffolk, where the church is. The part in Essex was and is often called Bures Hamlet, and it adjoins Alphamstone. (2)

Stowers mortgaged the property to William Sparkes for 15 [pounds sterling]. Then William Warrison, citizen and pewterer of London, paid off the mortgage and took a new one. When Warrison died, he left the new mortgage to his uncle and next heir, Peter Warrison, clerk, parson of Brown Candover in Hampshire, who conveyed it to Alice Abell, widow of St. Andrew Holborn in London. In her hands it became forfeit so that she owned the property. She would not, however, take advantage but (like John Hyde, the mortgagee at the Theatre) allow Stowers to redeem the property when he could pay off the debt, because the value of the property was great, the amount still owing was small, and she cared for Stowers's welfare.

Now Brayne, "a verry dangerous sobtell and craftie mane," secretly "intreated" the widow to convey the property to him. Brayne alleged "vnto her by greate and sollem vowes ... that he did it only for the love he bore vnto" Stowers, to whom "he was tied in concience as well as in respecte of marriadge of his sister to doe what good he coulde for" Stowers. The idea, Stowers thought, was to enable him more easily to redeem the property. Brayne would control it and the widow would continue to hold the mortgage so that Stowers could "wth better and greater ease ... and lese grefe of mynd" make small payments that Brayne would give to the widow. Brayne often solicited Stowers "to the said purpose," alleging that he would "franckly and frely wthout any recompence at all" allow Stowers to redeem the property and speaking of "betteringe and presearvinge" Stowers's "estate and welfare." Supposing that Brayne "ment honestly and faythefully as he did speke and swere," the widow "willed" Brayne to send Stowers to her, and she, too, urged Stowers to consent to the arrangement. So "vpon thes and many other solleme othes and professiones," Stowers consented, and in two indentures dated in the fourteenth year of Elizabeth (which began on 17 November 1571) the widow assigned the property to Brayne.

Stowers then spent great sums on the place, on traveling to it, and "for the lone of the saide money." Eventually he repaid Brayne and demanded that Brayne convey the property to him along with the evidences by which he controlled it. Brayne complied. He had a lawyer draw up "an ample and sufficient reassueravnce of the messuage & lands" to Stowers and "Vppon the sodden broughte fourthe & deliueryd vnto" him "a great many of owld wrightinges" about it. Stowers could not read and "neuer trobled" anybody "wth the sighte of" the documents, but "beleued faythefully" everything Brayne had said about them. Then "for the preservacione of him selfe his wife and famelly," he "was constrayned to once more morgadge the saide messuage or tenement wth the twoe peces of land therevnto belonginge vnto one of his trustie frendes who did not refuse to pleasure" him. The trusty friend could read and found that the documents were not what Stowers thought. Worse, they included "Indentures of bargayne and sale" by which Brayne had conveyed "vnto diuers other persones ... the saide landes and messuage."

With "falshode and cosseninge" Brayne meant "to gayne vnto him selfe and his heires the Inherritavnce of the saide messuage and land." He did not have "the feare of god before his eyes or any remorse or sparke of grace to thinke of his depe and great vowes sworne vnto" Stowers, "but [was] seducted and lede by the devell who hathe drawen him in to a great many of suche like fowle and bade acciones." Brayne had "committed moste horrable and vilde decayte and cossenadge, by reason of [] cossenadge and decayte" Stowers could not borrow money on the property--"could not nor cannot eny waye performe relefe vnto him selfe and charge, [] vilde and horrable parte is most odious before the almightie god, contrary to the dewtie of a good and faythefull subjecte[,] the evell example of others[,] The vtter vndoinge and ouerthrowghe of" Stowers, "his pore wife children and famelly, and to the viollatinge of his [Brayne's] owne depe ... vowes [and] othes." Stowers then ended the bill as customary, by asking the court to subpoena Brayne.

Stowers's bill is an untidy and unconvincing piece of legal writing. Not only is it undated, but Stowers left the date of the original mortgage blank (twice), ignored the dates of other events, and gave that of the two indentures only as the fourteenth year of Elizabeth. Major assertions should be wrong: that Stowers's welfare was the whole point of the widow's and Brayne's negotiations, and that Brayne's documents included both an ample and sufficient conveyance to Stowers and an indenture of sale to somebody else. He was also wrong, as we shall see, to think that in Elizabeth's fourteenth year the widow's name was Abell. Moreover, Stowers's remarks about Brayne and his dealings seem excessive, to justify, probably, filing the lawsuit in the Star Chamber rather than a more mundane court. Luckily, documents survive explaining much of what really happened and when.

Mortgages looked like outright sales, but at the end or in a separate contract the mortgagee conceded that the sale would be void if the mortgagor paid a sum or series of sums by a time or times specified. The pewterer, William Warrison, acquired Stowers's mortgage on 10 October 1562. He died in 1563, leaving it to his uncle, Peter Warrison--who, as the nominee of the abbot of Hyde, had become rector of Brown Candover on 2 March 1558. In a deed that does not say Stowers could redeem the property, Peter Warrison gave the mortgage to Alice Abell, the widow of Henry Abell, on 14 February 1565. He wrote his will on 7 October following, and it was proved on 16 November. (3) Alice Abell was his main beneficiary, one of his overseers, and a witness to a codicil in which he left clothing to "his freindes," who included Brayne and his wife. He also left in her keeping two pieces of jewellery for her granddaughter, Katherine Wolveridge (4)--one a "chaine of golde with a crucifixe with thre perlls at it." Alice Abell ceased to be either a widow or Abell on 13 May 1566, when she married Roger Rapper of St. Andrew Holborn at her parish church, St. Dionis Backchurch, recently the parish church also of Brayne's wife. Late in 1568, however, she became a widow again. (5)

She sold Stowers's property to Brayne in three (not two) contracts on January 28, 1572, earnestly making the sale seem outright and giving him a bond of 100 [pounds sterling] that would be forfeit if it was not. The property is a "messuage" with "twoe parcelles of lande ... whereof the one is called lytle Mayefelde and the other Robertes Crofte ... conteyninge together ... sixe acres more or lesse." (6) The main contract does not specify the price, but on the same day Brayne gave her a bond of 80 [pounds sterling], forfeit if he did not pay her an annuity of 3 [pounds sterling] for two years and 4 [pounds sterling] for fourteen more. On 19 June 1578, she said that she was "a poore aged and impotent widowe" sixty years old "and vpwardes," and in 1590 she died as Alice Rapier, widow, of St. Andrew Holborn. (7)

If Brayne did not reply to Stowers in the Star Chamber, he did reply in his will, which "syck in bodey," he wrote on 1 July 1578. (8) He described the property as "my howse mesuage or [Tenemen.sup.t]e with all landes howses yardes and appurtenaunces whatsoever to the same belonging," which he had "purchased and bought of Alice Rapers of London widdow." The property was now occupied by Brayne's tenant, John Claye, bricklayer. Brayne, therefore, had neither conveyed it to Stowers nor sold it to others. The documents he gave to Stowers, however, could have included a copy of a lease to Claye that made the place unmortgageable.

Brayne did not go on to deny Stowers's claim to the property or say that Stowers had not paid off the mortgage. Instead, he bequeathed the place "to my brother Edwarde Stowers of Averstow in the Countie of Essex Smith" on condition that Stowers pay Brayne's widow 10 [pounds sterling] "for such Costes Chardges and expences [] I haue laide owte ... in sutes of lawe towchinge the said howse or messuage." The lawsuit, no doubt, was that in the Star Chamber, and Stowers, having paid for the bill, would also pay for the response to it.

Stowers soon died. He was buried on 21 August 1578, in the parish of St. Leonard Shoreditch, where Brayne and the Burbages lived and the Theatre was. (9) His death, and Brayne's will, may have cause the lawsuit to collapse before the Star Chamber could do much about it. Brayne would quarrel bitterly, even violently, with Burbage and another associate, Robert Miles, and die bankrupt in 1586. (10)

if Stowers did not redeem his property, a relative probably did. For Edward Stower, blacksmith, owned much land and three houses Bures Hamlet, Essex, when he wrote his will on 4 February 1604. (11) Two houses were in a "crofte of land": a new "messuage" where he lived and a "howse thirvnto belonginge." The third was a "messuage" called Lowis with "yerds Orcherds & gardyns." He could have been of the right age to be the son of Brayne's brother-in-law, for his eldest son lived separately in Lowis, his second son and eldest daughter were married and each had one child, his second daughter had just married, and his third and fourth daughters were unmarried. The will was proved on 30 September 1606.

In the transactions of 1572, Alice Rapier would capitalize her stake and Brayne would have Claye's rent and either Stowers' payments or the place outright if Stowers did not make them--the more likely if Stowers could not remortgage the place. Were these dealings horrible, vile, dishonest, and odious before almighty God? By the standard of the ways in which Miles squeezed Brayne out of the George Inn in Whitechapel and (thanks to the mortgage of 1579), Burbage squeezed Brayne's widow out of the theatre, the answer is no.


(1.) Public Record Office (hereafter PRO), STAC.5/S.31/37.

(2.) English Place-Name Society, Essex. 405, 420.

(3.) PRO, PROB.6/1, f. [67.sup.v] (William Warrison's probate act); C.54/675, no. 4 (the deed of gift); PROB. 11/48, ff. [234.sup.v]-[235.sup.v], [362.sup.v]-[363.sup.v] (Peter Warrison's will); and Hampshire Record Office, Winchester, 21M65/A.1/25,f. [10.sup.v] (his appointment). The abbot of Hyde was John Capon (alias Salcot), who was also bishop of Salisbury. He cooperated with the reformers in the 1530s, reconciled to Rome when Mary became queen, and died in October 1557. See William Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum (London, 1846), 2.432, and DNB.

(4.) The Abells' only child, Fortune, married Thomas Hychcok and had three children; she then married James Wolveridge, gentleman, of Odiham, Hampshire, and had Katherine (PRO, Req.2/261/8, the bill).

(5.) Guildhall Library (hereafter GL), Mss. 17602, and 9050/1, f. [53.sup.v]. Margaret Stowers belonged to St. Dionis Backchurch when she married Brayne there on 14 January 1565.

(6.) PRO, C.54/873, mm.22 (Alice Raper's bond), 23 [Brayne's bond), 29-30 (the indenture of sale). This description of the property virtually translates that in Latin in the deed of gift).

(7.) PRO, Req.2/261/8, the bill; and GL, 9050/2, f.46.

(8.) GL, Ms. 9171/17, ff. [29.sup.v-30. The London Commissary Court accepted the will without demur, but in 1588 James Burbage apparently suspected Brayne' widow had forged it (PRO, C.3/222/83).

(9.) GL, Ms. 74991/1, f.21.

(10.) See my "Shylock, Robert Miles, and Events at the Theatre," Shakespeare Quarterly 44 (Summer 1993): 183-97.

(11.) Suffolk Record Office, Bury St. Edmunds, IC 500/1/64/77.

HERBERT BERRY is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Saskatchewan.
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Title Annotation:Elizabethan theater builder John Brayne's mortgage dispute with Edward Stowers
Author:Berry, Herbert
Publication:Shakespeare Studies
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:Jan 1, 2002
Previous Article:Early London pageantry and theater history firsts.
Next Article:Domestical matters.

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