By Bill Miller
It happens to most of us, that what we do sometimes contradicts what we believe. Some people make it a life-style, some call it hypocrisy and others call it sin, but whatever it is, my 13th great-grandfather had a bad case of it.
Nicholas Brome was born in 1450 into a very wealthy Roman Catholic family in Warwickshire, England. It was a family of Knights over many generations. His father, like previous grandfathers, had been knighted by the King and, in Nicholas’s teen years, served as Under-Treasurer of England. They lived in a huge, moated manor house called Baddesley-Clinton, a few miles north of Warwick Castle. (See photo on this page). This great castle-like home was probably built in the 13th century and was the ancestral home for at least four generations of my great-grandparents. It is still standing and in use today.
They were a devout Christian family. In fact, a short distance down the lane they constructed St. Michael’s Parish Church, an ancient parish still standing and in use. They paid for the church and the priests. Nicholas, like the rest of the Brome’s, was brought up in the faith.
After the tragic murder of his father at a church in London in 1468, the house, church and property passed on to his mother, and eventually to Nicholas. Three years later, Nicholas avenged his father’s death by killing John Herthill, the man who had killed his father. For that crime he was ordered to pay the widow and hire a priest to say mass for him daily for two years. That sounds easy, but it did not work out well.
Apparently the priest spent too much time across the moat in the big house. The story goes that one day Nicholas crossed the draw-bridge and entered the parlour and saw the priest”Chocking his wife under ye chinne.” In a knightly rage, Nicholas killed the priest. What is the penance for killing a priest, who did not have malpractice insurance? In the absence of an anger management program, Nicholas was ordered to do an extensive remodeling of St. Michael’s Church, including the addition of a new west tower. There is no record of how they handled the pastoral replacement. In the process of building the west tower he made preparations for his own future burial under a stone in the main entrance. “Sir Nicholas, concerned for his soul following the murder of the priest, became a member of eight religious communities, praying daily for the souls of its members. He asked to be buried upright at the entrance to the church ‘as people may tread upon me as they come into the church’.” Eventually, Nicholas, who died in 1517, was buried there along with his wife, Elizabeth, and his daughter, Elizabeth Brome Hawes (my 12th and 11th great-grandmothers). Not everybody gets to walk on their great-grandparents!
After Nicholas’s death the house and church passed on to his other daughter, Constance, who had married Sir Edward Ferrers. As the Protestants were now persecuting the Catholics, the Ferrers decided to convert Baddesley-Clinton into a secret shelter for Catholic priests who were under threat of death if caught. They redesigned the large home to make provision to hide and protect the clergy. Several “priest holes” were built as hiding places in event of a search. One hole is off the Moat Room, a small room hidden behind the paneling; a second is in the ceiling and can hold six people; and the third you get to by sliding down a rope into the basement tunnel and hiding in the old toilet. Oh, the challenges of ministry! Those rooms were only used once, in 1591. However, you can visit them today because the old home is now a well-preserved National Trust Site.
When it comes to locating your ancestors, there is nothing more satisfying than going to the place they lived or visiting their graves. If you know where they came from, try to get there. If you need help with the search, visit your local genealogy group or center.