CLIFTON, Sir Gervase (c.1570-1618), of Leighton Bromswold, Hunts.

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.1570, 1st s. of Sir John Clifton of Barrington Court, Som. by Anne, da. of Thomas Stanley, 2nd Baron Monteagle. educ. St. Alban Hall, Oxf. 1586; G. Inn 1588. m. June 1591, Katherine, da. and h. of Sir Henry Darcy, 1s. d.v.p. 1da. suc. fa. 1593. Kntd. c.1596; cr. Lord Clifton 1608.1

Offices Held

J.p. Hunts. from 1596; sheriff, Cambs. and Hunts. 1597-8; steward of lordship of Brampton, Hunts., and of manor of Spaldwick 1595; bailiff and collector of liberty called Gloucester’s Fee, Hunts. 6 Feb. 1595; gent. privy chamber by 1603.2


Clifton—not to be confused with his cousin and namesake of Clifton, Nottinghamshire—came from Barrington in Somerset, and settled in 1591 at Leighton Bromswold, acquiring both the manor and the advowson by his marriage. There he began to build ‘a goodly house’ to the designs of John Thorpe, but finished only the gatehouse before his death. He sold Barrington, his patrimony, to Sir Thomas Phillips, presumably using the money to buy more land in Huntingdonshire. He purchased Little Gidding from Sir Humphrey Drewell about 1597 and, four years later, Buckworth, with neighbouring estates, from Lord Mordaunt. In 1598 he secured a lease of the rectory of Brington, previously held by the Darcys, the former owners of Leighton Bromswold. Clifton was in 1599 a militia captain in charge of 20 lances and 20 light horse. He was required to contribute a light horse for service in Ireland in 1600 and again in the following year.3

Two previous owners of Leighton Bromswold, Sir Robert Tyrwhitt and Sir Henry Darcy, had been knights of the shire for Huntingdonshire, and in 1597 and 1601 it was Clifton’s turn. The only reference to him by name in the records of the House is his appointment to a committee considering armour and weapons, 8 Nov. 1597, but as a Huntingdonshire county Member he could have attended committees concerning enclosures (5 Nov. 1597), the poor law (5, 22 Nov.), penal laws (8 Nov.), monopolies (10 Nov.), the subsidy (15 Nov.), Robert Cotton’s lands (25 Nov.), and draining the fens (3 Dec.); and in 1601, the order of business (3 Nov.), monopolies (23 Nov.), and draining the fens (28 Nov.). Clifton probably had connexions with the Earl of Essex as, after the abortive rising of 1601, his name was suggested as one who might take part in a plot to release the Earl. Later he turned to Robert Cecil, whom he petitioned for some stewardships of royal manors in November 1603. Among other acquaintances he counted Robert Bruce Cotton, the antiquary, and John Chamberlain, the letter writer, who visited him in 1602.4

In February of that year, perhaps during a visit to his relatives, he attended a bear-baiting at Nottingham, when the bear broke loose and chased Clifton’s son upstairs. Clifton ‘opposed himself with his rapier against the fury of the beast and saved his son’. Soon after this, his son died, leaving him with an only daughter married, at King James’s suggestion, to Esmé Stuart, Seigneur d’Aubigny, younger brother of the Duke of Lennox and a kinsman of the King. In 1611 Clifton wrote to the King about ‘the fraudulent proceedings’ of Aubigny and Lennox, who, he feared, might ‘be his destruction’. He in turn was accused of getting Lennox’s lands into his hands and of concealing the fact that his estates of Little Gidding and Buckworth were encumbered by annuities. In 1612 he was summoned before the Privy Council, where, according to Chamberlain ‘very foul matters’ were opened up and Clifton, to spite his son-in-law, swore that ‘he would keep half a dozen whores and, if he got any of them with child, he would marry her’. The dispute found its way into Chancery and, after much delay, was heard by the King’s command in March 1617. Wishing ‘to tire and weary Lord Aubigny’ he tried to persuade the lord keeper, Francis Bacon, to postpone the hearing. He failed, and threatened to kill Bacon, as ‘he cared not for his own life’ and ‘it was but a matter of hanging’. For this offence he was fined £1,000 and imprisoned in the Fleet. Hearing that Bacon had ordered a survey of his lands, he declared that if a ‘hard decree’ were made against him, Bacon ‘should not be keeper long after’, for which he was put in the Tower by the Privy Council on 30 Dec. and, on 17 Mar. following, prosecuted in the Star Chamber. Thanks to royal intervention, he was soon back in the less stringent Fleet prison and allowed to see visitors. During the summer he became reconciled to his relatives, and it came as a surprise to Chamberlain when, on 5 Oct. 1618, Clifton stabbed himself. As a suicide his goods were forfeited to the Crown; on 18 Nov. 1618 they were granted to Aubigny.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: R.C.G.


  • 1. CP, iii. 308-9; PCC 52 Nevell.
  • 2. E315/309, f. 93; Harl. 6161, f. 132.
  • 3. GEC Baronetage; VCH Hunts. i. 299; iii. 21, 86-8, 92; Collinson, Som. iii. 24, 54, 113; C2 Jas. I, A7/43; HMC Foljambe, 80, 84, 104; APC, xxx. 435; xxxii. 281.
  • 4. D’Ewes, 552, 553, 555, 557, 561, 563, 567, 624, 649, 657; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 562; 1603-10, p. 51; Lansd. 85, f. 61; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, i. 160.
  • 5. Manningham Diary (Cam. Soc. xcix), p. 22; CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 42, 596; VCH Hunts. iii. 24, 54; Chamberlain, i. 345-6; ii. 126, 170; St. Ch. 8/25/5, 27/6; APC, 1616-17, pp. 346, 418; 1618-19, pp. 74, 86; HMC 10th Rep. VI, p. 84; C142/555/83; GEC Baronetage; CP.