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Matthew Bruninge - Merchant or Miscreant

Last Updated on 12/26/2005

[Note] The following variations in spelling have been identified and noted from record and archive searches – Bruning, Bruninge, Brunning, Brunninge, Brownrigge, Browninge and Browning.

A Summary of the Edwards Claim

In his work The Gunpowder Plot: The Narrative of Oswald Tessimond, Francis Edwards makes a bold, and tenuous claim that the principle gunpowder conspirator Francis Tesham not only escaped from the Tower of London, probably through the assistance of the Government, but that he fled to foreign shores, and changed his name to one Matthew Bruninge.

The evidence for this is based more on what cannot be found than what can. Edwards' inability to successfully identify the real Matthew Bruninge, one or two curious snippets in letters from well known and respected people, and the series of letters from Bruninge [and his friends], who Edwards says has a background strikingly similar to that of Francis Tresham, is the backbone if the claim.

Tresham's flight from England would have been greatly assited in the license to travel that was granted to him on 2 November 1605. The license allowed him to travel with "two servants, three horses or geldings, and 50 pounds in money with all other his necessaries".

This intention to travel abroad was confirmed in a note in Sir Edward Coke's hand believed to be November 1605 and indicating that Francis and his brother Lewis offered to sell their chamber in the Temple, and sold it.

In a letter from Dudley Carleton to Sir Thomas Edmondes bearing the date 1 December 1605, and written from Calais, Carleton was an able and observant man and came to enjoy considerable success as a diplomat. Carlton mentioned seeing two Englishmen who evidently did not wish to be recognised and had all the appearance of having "stolen over". They had almost no luggage and avoided conversation. "One of them looked like Francis Tresham".

‘..Betwixt this and Bologne, I encountered two Englishmen in post; who because they came so slenderly provided, having nothing behind their postilion, and concealed themselves from me without speaking or answering whilst we changed horses, I suspect to be stolen over. One of them looked like Francis Tresham, but the speech is, he is in the Tower.’

An Englishman who wished to conceal his identity arrived at the English Embassy in Madrid in September 1606. "Such hath been the importunity of the gentleman named in the paper hereinclosed as I could have no rest with him till I promised to make his desires known unto your Lordship, who, as he saith, doth also know himself by some late events. I am taught how to recommend any that have given proof of evil affection either to religion or government of my country. I therefore refer him and what he would to your Lordship's consideration"

From May 1607 a few letters appear to have come out of this Madrid Embassy, by two men previously not recorded as being there - John Jude and Matthew Bruninge. Both are claimed as pseudonyms by Edwards.

Bruninge's handwriting bears a striking similarity to that of Francis Tresham, enough to claim that they would be identical if one were not altered slightly to disguise the hand that write it. Francis Edwards further backs up his claim of Tresham being the mysterious Matthew Bruninge with a handwriting analysis performed by Joan Cambridge, President of the English Graphological Society. Cambridge claims that '..on aggregate there is sufficient evidence to support the opinion that the Francis Tresham who signed the Declaration in 1605 [the 13 November confession], was the same man who wrote from Madrid in 1609, signing himself Matthew Bruninge.

Edwards identifies a single Mattew B, eldest son of Thomas from the pedigree of one Anthony Bruninge of Wemering in Hampshire, who was "living in Ireland in 1629". He claims that "there is no other Matthew Bruninge noted at any rate until after 1750" [2].

Bruninge and Jude correspond primarily through Thomas Wilson, secretary to Sir Robert Cecil. In a letter dated 9 September 1607 Bruninge states he owes a great deal to his mother, but that the woman is not overly friendly to Wilson even though she has much to thank him for with regard to Bruninge's current situation. He claims that he is preparing to return to England which Edwards links in to the expected return date of the 2 year passport issued in November 1605.

Bruninge writes a total of 4 letters, sent by Richard Cockes, of Bayonne, a merchant and government agent. He is referenced in several others by Jude writing to Wilson. Bruninge writes one of the letters to his mother and references his "uncle perkins".

On 16 July 1608 Juda again approached Wilson on behalf of Bruninge [now spelt Browninge] claiming that he is short of purse and request 5 pounds so that he may "..use as may be for his own good".

On 30 November 1608, Bruninge writes to Mr Pyrkins who represented his late father and offers him love and service. He also offers Pyrkins information on political affairs in Spain in a way which Edwards claims strongly suggests that Pyrkins is none other than Sir Robert Cecil. This long letter mentions one William Maund, who died by his own sword,

Edwards makes the bold statement that along with one Alexander Stafford, we have no proof of the identity of Maund and that with a man who wishes to conceal his identity in his correspondence with Cecil and his secretary is likely to have used pseudonyms.

Jude finally makes he way back to England in the entourage of the returning Cornwallis - writing a letter indicating such to Thomas Wilson from Dieppe on 17 October 1609. Of Matthew Bruninge, no more is heard.

Collected Evidence in Refute of the Edwards Claim

EDMONDES PAPERS. VOL. III. (ff. 385) 21 Feb. 1605-22 Mar. 1606
31. The same, on behalf of Matthew Brownrigge, an English merchant, whose vessel " was surprised by a Dunkerker " and plundered; Whitehall, 12 Sept. 1605. f 130.

A more detailed explanation of this event relating to Brownrigge comes from the Salisbury Manuscripts Vol. XVII.

[1605] William Bryden for his master Metthew Brownrigge, an English merchant, loaded in April last in Dantzig 80 lasts of rye in a ship of Holland bounde for Ipswich. The ship was taken by a Dunkerker [pirate], who rifled it and imposed 5,500 guilders on the ship and goods, taking one man prisoner for the ransom thereof. Undated but endorsed 1605 - Brownrigge.

EDMONDES PAPERS. Vol. IV. (ff. 309) 29 March, 1607- 16 March, 1607
56. James I. to Henry IV., on behalf of two English merchants; Westminster, 3 Nov. 1607. Copy. f. 187.

Document Details for E 214/1150
Records of the Exchequer, and its related bodies, with those of the Office of First Fruits and Tenths, and the Court of Augmentations
Exchequer: King's Remembrancer: Modern Deeds, Series D
Parties: James I. Edmond, Lord Sheffield, Sir Thomas Challener, Sir David Foulis, Sir William Fleetwood and Sir John Bourchier, knights, William Turnor, Nicholas Crispe, Ellis Crispe and Abraham Chamberlain of London, merchants, and Alexander Stafford.

According to Francis Edwards, Matthew Bruninge, the man who he believes is none other than the conspirator Francis Tresham, wrote a letter to his cousin (Salisbury MSS, vol.195, no.61) asking that he pay a Mr Alexander Stafford the sum of five pounds. Edwards then declares that this seems to be the unique entrance that Alexander Stafford makes on the stage of history.

However, further investigation turned up SP 46/139/folio 183 and the person of Stafford again rears his head. This document is dated some 7 years prior to the first, and clearly identifies not only Stafford, but also his position as a Deputy Chamberlain of the Exchequer.

SP 46/139/fo 183
Records assembled by the State Paper Office, including papers of the Secretaries of State up to 1782
State Papers Domestic: Supplementary
Copies of documents relating to the appointment of Chamberlains, Deputy Chamberlains and other officers in the Exchequer (dated according to the original, not the copy): Memorandum of admission of Alexander Stafford as deputy chamberlain:
[1603] June 23

Records of the Exchequer - E 133/75/61 - Jude Vs Stafford

Stafford's role then was akin to a tax collector who specialised in foreign tarrifs and duty. For Bruninge to request that his mother pay him, and for Jude to take action against him legally would certainly seem to show they were both merchants.

Further attempts to clarify the relationships of the main characters mentioned in Edwards claim only helped to further discredit Edwards.

C 43/6/114
Parties: Francis Perkins
Subject: Traverse of inquisition taken on death of Elizabeth, widow of Sir John Mervyn, knight, 24 Eliz I, Susanna Mompesson, Eleanor Bruning, Richard Norton, Mary Cresweller, Honora Wayte, Margaret Perkins, William Wollascott an 25/26 Eliz

E 133/5/768
Eleanor Bruning, widow, v. Walter Bayly. A parcel of land called Windmill Hill otherwise Maslynes Hill otherwise Bides Hill. Grant made by the queen to the defendant, of lands in Wootton which had belonged to Sir Francis Englefeld. Wilts. 30 Eliz. Easter & Trin.

E 133/5/766
Eleanor Bruninge, widow of Richard Bruninge, v. Walter Baylye. A parcel of land called Windmill Hill otherwise Maslynnes Hill, in Wotton Bassett. Wilts. 30 Eliz. Easter.

In Bruninge's letter to his 'mother' he mentions his uncle Perkins, therefore a legal document that contains a reference to not only a Bruning, but also a Perkins, and with the names appearing less than a dozen words apart is a most revealing piece of evidence to prove not only the true existence of this Matthew Bruninge, but that Mr Pyrkins is not a pseudonym for Sir Robert Cecil, but Bruninge's actual uncle.

Information taken from The Jamestown Voyages Under The First Charter 1606-1609 shows a letter that found its way into the hands of Don Alonso De Velasco (who was later Spanish Ambassador to England) and only survives in the translated version in Spanish. Dated 28 March 1608 and from one Francis Perkins, the letter is signed Your servant while he lives, Francis Perkin, From Jamestown in Virginia. It certainly raises the possibility that Bruninge's uncle was a Virginia settler, and perhaps an agent for, or associate of an agent for, the Spanish. This would support Matthew's own existence in Spain, and the communication of information to his uncle from the Spanish which Edwards claims is the passing of intelligence. Perhaps indeed it was intelligence. The overlapping of the time period of early to mid 1608 when Perkins is in Virginia, and Bruninge is known to be in Spain would certainly support this.

The comments in Perkins' letter show he is seeking preferment in appointment to the Virginia Council and that he has a strong friendship with Sir William Cornwallis. He mentions the fact he has a strong understanding of business and management of affairs of importance, and only helps to support the details of Bruninge's letters and the inferment of the social circles in which he passed.

Further cursory investigations revealed several Bruninge families in England at the time. The largest in Suffolk. The ship that Matthew Brownrigge was piloting as master in 1605 was taken by a Dunkerker on its way to Ipswich - in Suffolk. If Brownrigge and Bruninge are the same person and that the two merchants referred to by James are Bruninge and Jude, how did they come to be apparently in Madrid? Certainly Bruninge's letters came through Richard Cockes in Bayonne close to the Spanish border but James was communicating with Henry IV regarding their release.

Were the references in Bruninge's letter to the service Cecil and Wilson had undertaken for him attempts to clear his ransom, or help pay off his losses?

Vavasour's notes regarding Tresham's sickness -

‘..To which my Master sayd that he would give them 100li for their charges oversea, and that he intended himselfe shortely to come over into France, having gotten a licence to travayle, to see if he cold gett remedye of that his old dicease of the strangurye, (whereof he died in the Tower)..’

There is perhaps much to question regarding the nature and origin of Tresham’s illness. Vavasour’s note makes it clear that Tresham has been suffering from the affliction for some time, an observation that Cecil corroborates in a letter he wrote to the Ambassador of Spain, Sir Charles Cornwallis on 6 January 1606.

‘..Concerning the constitution of our affairs here…there is but little alteration; all things being deferred, for the arraignment and execution of the traitors, till the next term; save only that Francis Tresham, one of the traitors, died lately in the Tower of natural sickness, to which he hath been a long time subject.’.

According to Edmund Sawyer’s Memorials of Affairs of State, from the original papers of Sir Ralph Winwood, Tresham supposedly contracted ‘..a dangerous sickness by the loathsomeness of the place’ while incarcerated in Newgate in 1601 [for his involvement in the Essex Rebellion].

The intention to travel to France to seek treatment and a remedy for this stranguary also helps dispel any hidden agenda behind the granting of a licence to travel, and while the nature of the sickness doesn’t immediately infer it was chronic, in Elizabethan and Jacobean England it was certainly potentially fatal if left untreated. An exact diagnosis of Tresham’s condition is of course impossible, however, by looking at the symptoms described by Vavasour, it is quite possible that Tresham was suffering from problematic kidney stones.

‘..After this his disease coming very sharpely upon him and that he was constrained to take phisicke and thereby to keepe his bedd, having taken much phisicke, but all did him no good but great harme, for that it did never worke with him..’

‘..he was but badly dealt withal by the phisition, which was one Doctor Quin of Oxforde[Matthew Gwinne, MD, a fellow of St. John’s College Oxford, and First Professor of Physic at Gresham College, London], who was sworne phisition to the Tower, and one who had always had, and then did posesse great friendship to my Master. And therefore desired that he might have Doctor Fawster [Richard Foster, MD, President of the College of Physicians 1601-1604 and 1615-1616], who had beene his own phisician, and knew well the state of his bodye, which at lengthe throughe much a doo, was graunted.’

The evidence here, which is yet to be formatted and written up more coherently, conclusively dispels the original claim by Edwards. More recent research, and the availability of records has enabled us to gather a large portfolio of information that would not have been accessible to Edwards when his claim was made. It is likely on reflection that Edwards would have retracted this addition to his work The Gunpowder Plot: The Narrative of Oswald Tesimond alias Greenway, trans. from the Italian of the Stonyhurst Manuscript in future publications.

This thread is currently being expanded upon by David Herber in a comprehensive article on the death of Francis Tresham and includes additional corroborating information from the Joan Wake article on Tresham's death, as recounted by his servant Vavasour.


[1] Dictionary of National Biography, 1895 and 2004 [Online Edition]
[2] Edwards, Francis, SJ, "The Gunpowder Plot: The Narrative of Oswald Tesimond alias Greenway, trans. from the Italian of the Stonyhurst Manuscript", The Folio Society, London 1973
[3] Barbour, Philip, "The Jamestown Voyages Under The First Charter 1606-1609: Volume 1", The Hakluyt Society, Cambridge University Press, 1969

Various PRO documents as sourced from Access 2 Archives.

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