CLAPHAM, John (1566-1618), of London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 1566, s. of Luke Clapham of Firby in Bedale, Yorks. m. bef. 1603, Anne, da. of Edmund Kiderminster, at least 1s.1

Offices Held

Servant of Lord Burghley; one of the six clerks of Chancery from c. July 1603; jt. controller of the hanaper Mar. 1605-June 1610.


Clapham’s father left his native village of Firby in Bedale, and, after six years at Cambridge, settled in London, where John was born. Though there is no evidence that John Clapham attended either university, he studied Latin, French and history, entered Lord Burghley’s household at a ‘tender age’ and by 1590 was a courtier. In that year he published a translation from the French of Bishop Amyot’s version of Plutarch’s De Tranquillitate Animi. In 1591 he composed a Latin poem, presumably based on Ovid, on the subject of Narcissus, dedicating it to the Earl of Southampton. About this time he became a member of Burghley’s secretariat and ceased literary work, having, in his own words, ‘little leisure to be idle’. He was presumably returned for the duchy of Lancaster borough of Sudbury through the influence of Burghley’s son, Robert Cecil. As burgess for Sudbury, he may have attended the committee dealing with the draining of the fens on 3 Dec. 1597. There is no evidence that Clapham was ever referred to as Burghley’s ‘secretary’. In March 1600 it was noted that he had been the late lord treasurer’s ‘clerk’, and there is other evidence that he was on a lower level than Henry Maynard and Michael Hickes, principal secretaries during the 1590s. Maynard implied in a letter of August 1598 that, unlike himself, Clapham had not been acquainted with all Burghley’s papers, and Clapham admitted as much a month later. He was concerned at one time with wardship business and on another occasion dealt with problems arising from the state of English coastal defences. He also provided Robert Cecil with an account of Burghley’s health.2

In Burghley’s will Clapham received an annuity of £6 13s.4d. He was the only member of the secretariat so favoured, Burghley perhaps feeling a special affection for the man who had been brought up under his care. For a few years after his master’s death Clapham went into retirement and presumably began his History of England, a work based on the chronicles and ‘digested in such a manner as the reader might neither be tired with the length of fabulous and extravagant discourses, nor left unsatisfied in any material points’. He published the first volume, dealing with the Roman period, in 1602 and reprinted it four years later, carrying the story on into Saxon times.3

Meanwhile he had re-entered public life. In May 1602 he was admitted to Gray’s Inn, ‘a society’, as he described it, ‘with a competent number of honest, kind and learned gentlemen’. In the spring of 1603 he wrote Certain observations concerning the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth, a work which contained biographical sketches of leading Elizabethan figures, including his late master, Burghley. He sent the first draft, with a dedicatory letter, to his friend Thomas Hesketh. The work remained in manuscript until recently. He appears to have paid a large sum for his office as one of the six clerks in Chancery, and in a letter to Hesketh likened himself to ‘an unwise merchant that hath all his wares in one ship’.4

Though he lived in London, Clapham did not forget his native village of Firby. He built Christ’s hospital there for the support of six poor old men in 1608, and endowed it with a £30 rent charge from land in Edmonton, Middlesex. He also helped to establish the Bodleian library, contributing the sum of £5, which was used to purchase books, including his own History. In 1613 he contributed verses to a book commemorating the death of Thomas Bodley.5

What little we know of Clapham’s character comes from his own works. He was loyal to his late master, critical of his parsimony, unsympathetic to other leading Elizabethan courtiers, and contemptuous of lawyers. In religion he was a moderate, of the same mind as his master, who, as Clapham put it ‘dissented from the papist and puritan, disliking the superstition of the one and the singularity of the other’. He died 20 Dec. 1618, leaving a widow and a son, and was probably buried in St. Dunstan-in-the-West, London. No will has been found, though it is certain that he was a man of substance, as he left lands in four counties. The reversion of his office as one of the six clerks fell to one Bond who, according to Chamberlain, sold it for £6,000.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: A.G.R.S.


  • 1. J. Clapham, Eliz. ed. Read, 4, 5, 8-11; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 206, 620.
  • 2. Clapham, 4, 5, 6, 7; A. L. Rowse, Shakespeare’s Southampton, 74; HMC Hatfield, v. 191-2; viii. 255, 296; x. 83; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 331; D’Ewes, 567; Hatfield mss 63/92.
  • 3. PCC 91 Lewyn; Clapham, 11-12.
  • 4. Clapham, 9, 17, 29.
  • 5. VCH Yorks. (N.R.), i. 300; Clapham, 4 n, 8, 10 n.
  • 6. Clapham, 80-4; Chancery Proc. (ser. 2), ii. 268; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, ii. 193.