Magdalene College Cambridge Notes: James Bradbury and the Battle of Almanza (1708)

It is the odd nugget of quirky gossip that redeems the genealogical and manorial detail of Philip Morant's massive History of Essex, published between 1763 and 1768.[1] Writing of the travails of the Bradbury family, squires of Wicken Bonhunt since the sixteenth century, he noted that one son, James, had been 'educated at Magdalen college in Cambridge' before becoming an Army chaplain. 'He adventuring further than the duty of his place required, during the war in Spain, received a wound of which he dyed'.[2]

A forgotten member of Magdalene College Cambridge who had come to grief in an obscure continental campaign aroused my curiosity. A few keyboard clicks established the basic facts. Venn's mighty biographical dictionary of the University, Alumni Cantabrigienses, reported his admission to the College on 28 May 1696, when he was 16. Venn confirmed that Morant's narrative that he was the son of Francis Bradbury, Gentleman, of Wicken [Bonhunt], and also reported that he had attended Saffron Walden School. Since Wicken Bonhunt is within five miles of Audley End, the Saffron Walden mansion which was the home of Henry Howard, fifth Earl of Suffolk and hereditary Visitor of Magdalene, we do not need to search for reasons to explain Bradbury's choice of college. In addition, William Kilborn, the Master of Saffron Walden School, was also a product of Magdalene.[3]

Bradbury matriculated in 1697, and took his BA in 1699/1700, i.e. by modern calculation, early in 1700, as the year still formally commenced on March 25. His name does not appear in the Ordo Senioritatis, the forerunner of Honours, and he does not seem to have taken his MA.[4] (The Ordo Senioritatis classed about thirty top performers in order of achievement, then listed the remainder by colleges, the beginnings of a distinction between Honours and Ordinary degrees. Tanner's Historical Register only lists that top cohort. The absence of a name from the Ordo does not necessarily imply lack of ability: Bradbury's junior contemporary, Daniel Waterland, does not appear either, but went on to become the most distinguished scholar that eighteenth-century Magdalene produced.) The Clergy of the Church of England Database helpfully adds that Bradbury was ordained priest on 6 September 1704 by Henry Compton, bishop of London, whose diocese then embraced Essex. Bradbury was instituted as Rector of Wicken Bonhunt, a family living, two weeks later, on 23 September 1704. His date of death is recorded as 26 November 1709.[5] Confusingly, Venn gives the date of Bradbury's death as 1720, the result of an error by Morant in his listing of recent clerical appointments. The mistake is pardonable. Morant not only had to cover four hundred parishes in his research, but he relied upon earlier and mainly unpublished work by two antiquaries, William Holman and Nathanael Salmon, neither of whom proved to be entirely reliable. The main outlines of James Bradbury's life seem clear enough: born into a gentry household around 1680, educated at Cambridge, entered the Church – maybe reluctantly when the family living became vacant, certainly not urgently after graduation – followed by military service, in which he was fatally wounded, dying around the age of thirty.

Before exploring James Bradbury's fate, it is worth noting that, even by the grim standards of the time, his parents, Francis and Anne, were exceptionally unlucky in the mortality of their seven children. Two of them, one girl and one boy, failed to survive childhood. By 1697, three more had died, and the grieving parents erected a memorial, inscribed on funereal black slate, which survives in the parish church.[6] There was a tradition that the family's deeds had been destroyed in a fire,[7] and a desire to protect Bradbury interests may explain why two of the sons trained as lawyers. John, the eldest, had been sent to the Inner Temple, but died aged 25 in 1693. Francis, the next in line, had gone to Cliffords Inn, an institution that closed in 1903. He was 24 when he died in 1695. Their sister, Ann, had married a student from Cliffords Inn, John Barrell. Her death, at the age of 26 in January 1697, may have resulted from the hazards of childbirth. With none of the three leaving issue, the future of the Bradbury line now depended on the two surviving sons, William and James. Unfortunately, the family's bad luck continued. William, according to Morant, was 'a captain in the guards, killed in a duel'.[8]  He is almost certainly the William Bradbury who became an Ensign in the Coldstream Guards in 1698,[9] and whose subsequent military career can be assumed to throw light on the fate of his brother James.

            Morant's allusion to 'the war in Spain' evidently refers to the War of the Spanish Succession, which lasted from 1701 to 1714. The conflict is mainly remembered for Marlborough's victories at Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706) and Malplaquet (1709) – the first fought in Bavaria, the other two in the Low Countries. But it is hardly surprising that a war fought over who should occupy the Spanish throne also saw campaigning in Spain itself. Early in the fighting, English soldiers achieved two notable successes, which have echoes in the Europe of today. Gibraltar was captured in 1704, while the following year a Catalan revolt against Madrid rule permitted a small force under the Earl of Peterborough to occupy Barcelona. However, in 1706 Louis XIV sent the Duke of Berwick, illegitimate son of the ousted James II, to secure France's southern flank. (In an interesting twist of dynastic amorality, Berwick was also Marlborough's nephew.) In April 1707, Berwick defeated an Allied force under the command of the Earl of Galway at the battle of Almanza, about fifty miles south-west of Valencia. Since Galway was a Huguenot refugee who had entered the service of William III, Almanza has come to be tagged as the only battle in history in which the French troops were commanded by an Englishman, and the English served under a Frenchman. In fact, both armies were trans-national forces, and contemporary English opinion blamed the collapse of a Portuguese contingent for their defeat.[10]

            Almanza provides the link to the next clue in the story of James Bradbury. The Seax website of the Essex Record Office calendars a letter to the antiquarian William Holman giving information about Wicken Bonhunt and the Bradbury family. The writer, identified by another hand as 'Thomas Bridge', was evidently an enthusiast, if not an entirely accurate commentator. The document must have been written before Holman's death in 1730; its reference to the 'recent' wars suggests a date around 1720. Since none of Francis Bradbury's seven children had produced an heir, the Wicken Bonhunt estate had passed to his brother Matthew. Bridge, however, reported that two of Matthew's brothers had been killed in the wars, whereas if he was referring, as he must have been referring, to James and William, they were his nephews. According to Bridge, these mythical brothers had died, one at Almanza in Spain and the other at 'Maulplackett' in Flanders.[11]

            A bloody collision of confused attack and counter-attack, Almanza seems the most likely episode during the Spanish campaign in which an English army chaplain might have found himself inadvertently coming under fire, while Bridge's letter is the closest to evidence of a direct link between James Bradbury and the battle. But Bridge seems to have offered a second or third-hand account: had he met the people involved, he would perhaps have realised that Matthew was an uncle, not a brother. Furthermore, James was not killed at Almanza, but survived for nineteen months before dying (so it would seem) from the effects of a wound. Nor, it seems, does any other source mention him, although silence is not conclusive proof of absence – Army chaplains do not seem to have featured in personnel lists. His brother William, on the other hand, appears to be the 'Wm. Bradbury', a Captain, whose name appears in a list of prisoners taken at Almanza compiled by a French source.[12] Mackinnon's history of the Coldstream Guards adds of William Bradbury: 'Surrendered prisoner of war at Almanza, 27th April, 1707 (N.S). Died in France, April 1709'.[13] A military list that has him serving with an artillery train in Spain in 1710 probably indicates his role, but must be misdated.[14] It is entirely possible that William Bradbury died fighting a duel: an officer who had been compelled to surrender might be sensitive to perceived slights against his honour. But it is also possible that he died of wounds or disease, a sad end that became wrapped up in a romantic tale. However, while it is possible to conclude, with reasonable certainty, that Captain William Bradbury fought at Almanza, no independent evidence seems to exist proving that the Reverend James Bradbury was present too. Moreover, the fact the both brothers died in 1709 may have contributed to confusion about their fates.

            Since much seems to hang upon the letter attributed to Thomas Bridge, it would help to know something about the writer in order to assess his credentials as a witness. A tentative identification can be offered from Morant's second volume, which refers to 'Thomas Bridge, Gent.' as a former landowner in the parish of Great Tey, about five miles west of Colchester. As a Colchester-based clergyman himself, Morant maximised his local market by publishing his second volume before the first, in instalments from 1763. Since Bridge's widow had remarried, propriety might suggest that he had died a few years earlier, and hence might have been the writer of the letter to Holman, apparently dated around 1720.[15] In 1737, Morant himself had become Rector of Aldham, the next parish to Great Tey, which was the home village of his wife. It is likely that Morant knew Bridge, and he was not a credulous historian. The two men might well have shared an interest in gossip about County families. The problem is that over thirty miles of muddy roads separated Great Tey from Wicken Bonhunt, and Bridge's enthusiasm was evidently not equalled by his accuracy.

It is difficult to go much beyond a sketchy and essentially contextual description of Magdalene College Cambridge during James Bradbury's time in residence, 1697 to 1701.[16]

In physical terms, the most notable event of his residence would have been the completion of the Second Court, now known as the Pepys Building. The shell had been erected as far back as 1679, but completion of the interior depended upon the slow process of fund-raising. Work resumed in the summer of 1695, and accounts were closed in January 1699. It is not clear when Second Court was actually occupied: buildings were usually left for some time for plaster to dry and toxic elements in lead-based paints to become safely absorbed. Equally, it should be noted that tradesmen did not always have their bills paid promptly. The new building was probably primarily intended for Fellows, but if undergraduates were allowed to tender for sets, by 1699, Bradbury would have been one of the senior among them. More to the point, part of the College would have been a building site during his student years, although the main access would have been from the river. First Court, where Bradbury would have 'kept', was perhaps seedy in appearance. Once the Second Court project was finally completed, Magdalene raised funds so that First Court might be 'stripped and covered' in 1702.[17] It is a well-established part of the College history narrative that the inside walls of First Court were faced with stucco and Roman cement from 1758 to 1954, but this inappropriate decoration may simply have been the latest phase in a longer-running strategy to impose a unified appearance upon different phases of construction in brick. Two communal spaces have been remodelled since Bradbury's day. The Chapel, since 1847 open to its medieval roof, was divided into two levels by a ceiling, the upper floor containing a library, where a visitor of 1710 found mould growing on the books. By contrast, the Hall was open to the rafters: there a ceiling was inserted and a formal double staircase added in 1714, the year in which the arms of Queen Anne were elaborately painted on the dais behind the High Table.

            Magdalene was a small community in Bradbury's day. The Master, Gabriel Quadring, was a Lincolnshire man who had been part of the College, as student and don, for forty years. His priority during Bradbury's time was the completion of the Second Court building, for which he energetically raised funds. In most generations, the College's internal administration depended upon a workhorse Fellow. In Bradbury's time, this was Samuel Barker, who had entered Magdalene in 1675. As an undergraduate, he had occupied an anomalous position, a former pupil of Eton who was admitted as a sizar, a poor student who undertook menial tasks in return for subsidised fees. He doubled as perpetual curate of the Round Church and was apparently regarded as 'a worthy gentleman'.[18]  The student community was also small.

Only 27 undergraduates were admitted during the four academic years beginning in 1696 (i.e. to July 1700).[19] Not all of these would have stayed the course, and some may not have appeared at all.

Unfortunately, its small size did not mean that the Magdalene student body operated as one happy family. In 1679, the incoming Master, John Peachell, had resolved to crack down on a number of 'vitious and disorderly customs', initiation rituals imposed upon freshmen which involved mild extortion rackets, mostly expressed in demands for cheese and fruit. These practices not only called 'just scandell and offence' to the Magdalene of 1679, but outraged 'many worthy persons formerly members of ye same, and utterly strangers to such loose and idle manners in their time'. The College was gearing up for what was in effect its first Appeal, seeking funds for the Second Court building from its alumni, and for perhaps the first time – but not the last – the views of Old Members had to be tactfully respected. Yet even with its fierce tone of outrage, Peachell's edict apparently aimed to curb excesses, although he did declare some 'sottish and even savage trickes' to be 'utterly disused and abolished'.[20] In his Advice to a Young Student, Daniel Waterland, Master of  Magdalene from 1714, urged undergraduates to be 'obliging and yielding to your seniors in college, for the sake of peace order.' If older students were foolish enough to behave in an overbearing manner, it was best to put with 'some little rudeness and some imperious carriage'. Tutors would intervene if complained to, 'yet it is better to yield and comply in some small matters, which will shew a good temper, and make you mightily beloved'.[21] Waterland had entered Magdalene in 1699: perhaps Bradbury was one of the graduating class who bullied him?

Seniority was not the only obstacle to student community; class was equally important. Charles North, orphaned son of a peer, had been admitted to Magdalene as a Nobleman in 1691, at the age of twelve. He took his MA in 1696 – his status rendered unnecessary any submission to the examination process – and became a Fellow of Magdalene two years later, when he could hardly have been more than nineteen years of age. He seems to have preferred bugles to books for, like Bradbury, he embarked on a military career, and died in Flanders in 1710. Another aristocrat was Arthur Annesley, who came to Magdalene in 1698, took his MA a year later and was elected to a Fellowship in 1700 – perhaps becoming one of the first occupants of the Pepys Building. In 1702, he was elected MP for Cambridge University, and in 1710 he succeeded his father as Earl of Anglesey. Unusually for a Fellow Commoner, Annesley was a noted scholar, who no doubt earned his College distinction.[22] Purnell says that he 'completed' an edition of Catullus and other Roman poets begun by Samuel Barker, after the latter's death in 1707, but this I have been unable to confirm.[23] His commitment to the University was undoubtedly indicated by his acceptance of the office of High Steward in 1722. The fact, too, that at his death in 1737 he left money to Magdalene to pay a stipend to the Pepysian Librarian suggests that he kept in touch with the institution, since Pepys's books did not arrive until 1724.

At the other end of the College social scale, a cluster of sizars sought either academic distinction or political patronage to help their way in the Church. Peniston Booth, son of a Lincolnshire gentleman – but a sizar nevertheless – was two years behind Bradbury. He climbed the ladder to become Dean of Windsor and Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral. Immediately junior to Bradbury was John Garmston, son of a Shropshire farmer, who ranked third in the University examinations in 1701. Briefly a Fellow of Magdalene, he went on to a moderately successful career, combining several benefices with a twenty-year stint as headmaster of Lincoln Grammar School. For others, the way forward was easier. Henry Lamb, 31st in the Ordo in 1698, would succeed his father as a Nottinghamshire Rector. Some, like the Cornishman Samuel May, who graduated at the same time as Bradbury, simply vanish. Perhaps the most endearingly enterprising of Bradbury's colleagues was John Groome, a sizar from Norwich, who came up in 1696 but graduated in his cohort. Groome responded to the 'Insolence' of enemies of the Church, who attacked the clergy (of whom he was one) ' not only as Enslavers of the People, but as an Ignorant and Useless Order of Men ... utterly unserviceable to their Country, to which they have never done any Good.' He retaliated in 1710 with a massive compilation entitled The Dignity and Honour of the Clergy ... shewing how useful the Clergy have been to this Nation.[24] It seems to have been enough to net him the small Essex parish of Childerditch, which he held until his death in 1760, although apparently he did not reside there. Groome's affection for his College led him to bequeath money for sizarships, with a preference for the sons of Essex clergy. Interestingly, he also earmarked £6 a year so that his successors as vicars of Childerditch might travel to Cambridge for the annual commemoration of benefactors of service, to check that his money was still being spent. This suggests a lack of confidence in the efficiency of Magdalene administration.[25]

One final incident from the history of Magdalene in this period may throw some oblique light upon James Bradbury's decision to become an Army chaplain in Spain. In 1687, John Peachell, Master of the College from 1679 to 1690, found himself in a nightmare situation. The post of Vice-Chancellor rotated among Heads of Houses, and Peachell headed the University at just the moment when James II embarked upon a programme of authoritarian rule. When the king commanded Cambridge to confer a degree upon a Jesuit priest, Peachell found himself at the point of conflict between the University's statutes, which ruled out the admission of Catholics, and the political reality of royal power. When Peachell stood firm, the government declared that he had forfeited both his offices – Vice-Chancellor and Master –  even insisting that a printed copy of his sentence should be fixed to the College gates. In the event, Magdalene quietly ignored the deposition, and Peachell continued to conduct College business and – equally important – to receive his College emoluments.[26]

At this point, a distinguished Magdalene alumnus, Samuel Pepys, offered an unexpected solution. By the autumn of 1688, it was clear that the Prince of Orange – the future William III – was planning to intervene in England with the intention of ousting James, who happened to be his father-in-law. A fleet was assembled to head off the Dutch, and Pepys – secretary to the Navy and thus its senior civil servant – offered Peachell the post of chaplain. The disgraced Master was taken aback, and asked for time to consider, but he admitted 'I had a little itch to such a service thirty yeare agoe.' In fact, Peachell quickly concluded that he was 'encumbered with business', and also twice as old as in the days when he dreamed of going to sea.[27] Pepys had maintained occasional contact with Peachell over the years: his diary records well-lubricated meetings when Pepys passed through Cambridge in 1660 and 1661. It is likely that on those occasions that Pepys, anxious to demonstrate the success of his career since leaving Cambridge, would have talked about his secret mission to the Baltic in 1659, and his membership of the delegation to the Netherlands that brought Charles II back to his kingdoms in 1660. Peachell might well have expressed a longing for a similar adventure, a comment that Pepys recalled as offering a possible way out for an acquaintance who had fallen foul of the shifting fortunes of politics almost three decades later. In the event, the political situation soon went into reverse. Realising that he was facing a crisis, James II abandoned his persecution of Peachell, who was formally restored to his University and College offices and had no further need to consider seafaring.

The fact that so serious a figure as Peachell – Master of a College and even, briefly, an Archdeacon – had once felt 'a little itch' to become a Navy chaplain is surely enough to acquit James Bradbury from any suspicion that he was an unholy militarist simply because he engaged in similar work for the Army at much the same age. James Bradbury was, no doubt, an obscure clergyman who became the casualty of a forgotten battle, a memory only falteringly preserved thanks to an aside by a subsequent county historian. Yet it worth reflecting that, throughout the two centuries after the 1542 re-foundation of Magdalene College Cambridge, England fought relatively few overseas wars, in campaigns that involved comparatively small numbers of personnel. James Bradbury may well have been the first member of Magdalene to lose his life in a continental conflict. He would not be the last.



All on-line sources were consulted between August and October 2016.

[1] G.H. Martin, 'Morant, Philip, 1700-1770', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[2] P. Morant, The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex (2 vols, 1768), ii, 587-88. Extract on line at  The final 'e' in the Cambridge Magdalene was not settled until c.1816.

[3] So named in Venn; called 'Kilborne' in  P. Cunich, et al., A History of Magdalene College Cambridge 1428-1988 (Cambridge, 1994), 145-6.

[4], consulted 18 August 2016. The Ordo Senioritatis is given in J.R. Tanner, The Historical Register of the University of Cambridge ... (Cambridge, 1917),  422-3, consulted as

[5], consulted 18 August 2016. The Clergy Database confirms that he graduated from Magdalene, while Venn calls the parish 'Wicken Bonant'.

[6] //">>

[7] (see below).

[8] Morant, ii, 588.

[9] Journals of the House of Commons, xiii (1699), 103, consulted as:

[10] R. Cavendish, 'The Battle of Almanza,' History Today, lvii (2007), consulted as: For contemporary accounts of Almanza, An Account of the Earl of Galway's Conduct in Spain and Portugal (London, 1711), 82-5 and  T. Brodrick, A Compleat Account of the Late War in the Netherlands together with an Abstract of the Treaty of Utrecht (London, 1713), 189-95. Like many place-names in southern Spain, Almanza (also spelt Almansa) is of Arabic origin, meaning 'the house'.

[11] Essex Record Office, D/Y 1/1/37/1, [Thomas Bridge] to William Holman, undated, calendared as .

[12]  C. Dalton, English Army Lists and Commission Registers, 1661-1714, vi (London, 1904),  362, consulted

[13] [Colonel] Mackinnon, Origin and Services of the Coldstream Guards (2 vols, London, 1833), ii, 468-9. Mackinnon had adjusted the date to take account of calendar reform in 1752. Consulted as

[14] Dalton, English Army Lists and Commission Registers, 1661-1714, vi, 48.

[15] Morant, The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex, ii, 207.

[16] The key source is Cunich, et al., A History of Magdalene College Cambridge 1428-1988,  138-68 (by Eamon Duffy), supplemented by E.K. Purnell, Magdalene College (London, 1904), 137 ff. and  [R.Hyam], Magdalene Described ... (2nd ed., Cambridge, 2011).

[17] Purnell, Magdalene College, 16.

[18] W. Van Mildert, The Works of Daniel Waterland... (2nd ed., Oxford, 1843), i, 8, consulted as

[19] Cunich, et al., A History of Magdalene College, 305.

[20] The wordy denunciation of student misconduct was signed by Peachell and 9 Fellows, on 8 December 1679, Purnell, Magdalene College, 142-3.

[21] Van Mildert, Works of Waterland (2nd ed., Oxford, 1843),  iv, 400.

[22] D.W. Hayton, 'Annesley, Arthur,' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[23] Purnell, Magdalene College, 147.

[24] Quotation from the unpaginated preface. Consulted as Groome's note on Magdalene College Cambridge (439-40) must be one of the earliest contributions to the writing of its history, and it useful in identifying a location known as Monks-Corner.

[25] Purnell, Magdalene College, 151; Victoria County of Essex, vol. 8 (London, 1983), 17-24. Waterland tightened administrative procedures after becoming Master in 1714.

[26] Eamon Duffy in Cunich, et al., A History of Magdalene College, 152-3; Purnell, Magdalene College, 143-7.

[27] Cunich, et al., A History of Magdalene College, 153. There is a more extended but less accurate  transcription in J. Smith [ed.], The Life, Journals, and Correspondence of Samuel Pepys ... (2 vols, London, 1841), ii,151-2.