CLERKE, Bartholomew (c.1537-90), of Clapham, Surr.

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. c.1537, s. of John Clerke of Wells by Anne, da. of Henry Grantoft of Hunts. educ. Eton c.1550-4; King’s, Camb. 23 Aug. 1554, BA 1559, commenced MA 1562; incorp. Oxf. 1566; LLD 1572; also studied at Paris. m. aft. 1575, Eleanor, da. of (?Robert) Haselrigge, wid. of Thomas Smith of Mitcham, Surr., 1s. 1da.1

Offices Held

Professor of rhetoric, Camb. c.1563, proctor 1564, 1569; adv. Doctors’ Commons, dean of the arches and master in Chancery 1573; eccles. commr. 1576; j.p. Surr. by 1577; judge of ct. of audience 1578; archdeacon of Wells c.1581-2; commr. to the Netherlands 1585-6, 1587.2


Clerke was one of the leading civilians of his day. Before he became university proctor for the second time in 1569, a rumour circulated that he was unsound in religion, but the Earl of Leicester and others supported him. Leicester’s favour is surprising; the puritan party at Cambridge were probably opposing Clerke, who had earlier given Cecil information about puritan activities in the university.3

Court influence must have been behind Clerke’s return for Bramber in 1571. The Duke of Norfolk was generally the patron here at this period, and it seems likely that Lord Buckhurst persuaded him to nominate Clerke. On 19 Apr. 1571 a Mr. Clarke—presumably Bartholomew, as William Clerke I was not a scholar—made a speech in the House on the usury bill, quoting Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine and the Psalms.4 Some months later Clerke went with Lord Buckhurst to Paris to congratulate the French King on his marriage. The two men were close enough friends for Clerke to remain at Buckhurst’s house for some time after their return from France.

Clerke rose rapidly in his profession, gaining his doctorate in 1572, and becoming 3 May 1573 dean of the arches and soon afterwards master in Chancery. His preferment was largely due to Archbishop Matthew Parker, who supported him when his arches appointment was opposed in some quarters (rumour said by Leicester), and the Queen decided to ask him to resign, giving as reason his comparative youth. Clerke hotly refused to give up his patent, declaring to Parker that he would ‘as lief forego his life’ as his patent; he kept the position, although as late as December 1573 he was still afraid of losing it. He continued to work cordially with the archbishop until Parker’s death in May 1575, giving much time and attention to his work in the ecclesiastical courts. Aylmer, bishop of London, later commended Clerke to Burghley as one of the very few lawyers in London who was ‘painful’, and did not ‘follow his private gain’. The Acts of the Privy Council from 1572 to 1589 contain numerous references to cases coming before him as dean of the arches, judge in the court of audience, or master in Chancery.5

During the last five years of his life Clerke was a member of two commissions to the Netherlands. In December 1585 he and Henry Killigrew were sent as members of Leicester’s council of state there, but at first Clerke found the position difficult, as the Earl disliked his appointment and underestimated his abilities, describing him to Walsingham as having ‘good will, and a pretty scholar’s wit’, but with ‘no great stuff’ in him, ‘nothing that I looked for’. ‘It is a pity you have no more of his profession, able men to serve ... He is too little for these big fellows’. Clerke’s salary, with expenses, was 40s. a day, and Leicester, always impatient, at first thought the money wasted. ‘For any need I see I shall have of Mr. Bartholomew Clerke, I assure ye I had far rather have my Lord North’s counsel and assistance.’ By the following July, however, the Earl had changed his mind: ‘Dr. Bartholomew Clerke cloth serve exceeding honestly and painfully, and doth increase greatly in understanding’. In October he chose Clerke to take a special report to the Queen. Clerke joined Buckhurst and Sir John Norris on an unsuccessful mission to the Netherlands in the following year to explore possibilities of peace with Spain and to allay Dutch discontent at Leicester’s actions.6

He lived for some time at Mitcham, Surrey, and in 1583 bought the manor of Clapham, but he found difficulty in proving his title to some of the property, and in February 1587 submitted the matter to arbitration. By his will, made April 1589 and proved 17 Mar. 1590, five days after his death, he left the manor to his son Francis, who was only eleven when he succeeded—Clerke probably married later in life than was usual in the sixteenth century. The will is interesting, referring to his great obligations to Lord and Lady Buckhurst, and asking them to accept his most valuable horse—‘the best thing I have in the world’—and a ‘casket of Cyprus’. His daughter Cicely he wished to be brought up in Lady Buckhurst’s ‘virtuous tuition’; at her marriage—if possible to one of Clerke’s own name, but the matter must be left to God’s providence—she was to receive £1,000. He gave legacies to his four step-children, sons and daughters of his wife by her first husband, and £60 to ‘the poor children of my brother John’. The will refers to the testator’s long and faithful service to the see of Canterbury, and to money left in trust for his wife when he went on his ‘dangerous service overseas’. Lands mentioned, besides the manor of Clapham, include leases of Grantchester and of the parsonage of Ashe, and of meadowland at ‘Fawxhal!’ (Vauxhall). His wife and son, the co-executors, were to spend not more than £100 on a funeral without pomp or unnecessary charges, but were to have a little chapel built, to contain family tombs, near the north window in Clapham church. Clerke’s monument has been destroyed, but Cooper records the epitaph. He gives also a full list of Clerke’s published works and an account of the offices in the court of arches.7

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. DNB; Lansd. 15, f. 128; 17, f. 73; 22, f. 52; Vis. Surr. (Harl. Soc. xliii), 148-9.
  • 2. C. Coote, English Civilians, 50; APC, x. 148; Le Neve, Fasti, i. 161; Leycester Corresp. (Cam. Soc. xxvii), passim.
  • 3. Lansd. 8, f. 155.
  • 4. D’Ewes, 171.
  • 5. Lansd. 17, ff. 73, 219; 35, f. 2; Strype, Parker, ii. 183-4.
  • 6. Leycester Corresp. 33, 37, 75, 375; Lansd. 51, f. 13; 69, f. 202.
  • 7. G. L. Gomme, Ct. Mins. Surr. and Kent Sewer Comm. 252-3; APC, xiv. 348-9; J. H. M. Burgess, Chrons. of Clapham, 114; C142/226/129; PCC 21 Drury; Cooper, Ath. Cant. ii. 71.