CLARKE, Sir Gilbert (c.1645-1701), of Somershall Hall, Brampton, and Chilcote, Derbys.
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Family and Education
b. c.1645, o. surv. s. of Godfrey Clarke of Somershall by 1st w. Elizabeth, da. of Sir Thomas Milward of Eaton Dovedale, Derbys. educ. Univ. Coll. Oxf. matric. 12 July 1661, aged 16; I. Temple 1667. m. (1) 20 Apr. 1661, Jane (d. 1667), da. and h. of Robert Byerley of Hornby, Yorks., 1da. (d.v.p.); (2) 6 July 1671, Barbara (d. 1687), da. of George Clerke† of Watford, Northants., 2s. 2da.; (3) 1691, Frances, da. of Richard Legh† of Lyme, Cheshire, wid. of Robert Tatton of Wythenshawe, Cheshire, sis. of Peter† and Thomas Legh II*. s.p. suc. fa. 1670; kntd. 2 Mar. 1671.1
Sheriff, Derbys. 1675–6.
Clarke’s parents married on 26 Apr. 1644, making plausible a birth date, based on university admission, of 1645. By 1690 Clarke had sat in two Parliaments and had gained wide experience, especially in the Convention of 1689, of which he had been an active Member. He was well placed to be knight of the shire, possessing large estates in the north of Derbyshire, near Chesterfield, and a seat in the south of the county, on the border with Leicestershire. Furthermore, he was well versed in local affairs, having first been appointed to the commission of the peace in 1672. A consensus seems to have emerged in local politics in 1690, highlighted by an agreement to regulate the shrievalty which was signed by all shades of gentry opinion, including Clarke. In such a climate, Clarke had many qualities which appealed to the freeholders, not the least being that he represented continuity and stability. Hence he was returned with Henry Gilbert* in the election of 1690.2
On a list of the new Parliament, annotated by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†), Clarke was classed as a Tory with a query as to whether he was also a supporter of the Court, although another list made no quibble on this point. In the session of 1690, he was appointed to three drafting committees during April, and then on the 26th given leave to go into the country for three weeks. In the next session, on 1 Nov. 1690, Clarke was teller against a motion that two men arrested for breach of privilege should be heard by counsel. His name also appeared on a list of supporters drawn up by Carmarthen in December 1690, probably in case an attack was made on his ministerial position. Robert Harley* classed him as a Country supporter in April 1691. On 2 Feb. 1692 he was a teller in favour of adding a proviso at the report of the bill preventing gunpowder from being stored near the Tower. The session of 1692–3 saw the first positive evidence that Clarke had become disenchanted with the ministry: on 18 Nov. 1692 he acted as a teller for committing a Country measure, the treason trials bill. On 18 Feb. 1693 his request for leave of absence for three weeks was only granted after a division by 113 votes to 72. Presumably he did not return, as the session ended on 14 Mar.
In the following session of 1693–4 Clarke was granted leave for a fortnight on 18 Dec., only six weeks after the beginning of the session. However, he was back in attendance by 17 Jan. 1694, when he told for an attempt to omit from a clause in the land tax bill words relating to hospitals. A letter he wrote on 27 Jan. 1694 emphasizes his commitment to the Country opposition. His comment on the resolutions of the previous day, criticizing the royal veto of a place bill, was that ‘some of the Commons that be dissatisfied propose it in another shape than it is now in – being now meek and [?–] good boys’, a reference to the subsequent watering down of the address. On 28 Feb. he was again granted leave of absence, this time for three weeks. The reason for these increasingly frequent requests was ill-health. On 21 Mar. Clarke wrote from Derbyshire to Robert Harley* to acknowledge the great favour ‘you did me in being instrumental to save my life’ by supporting his application for leave due to ‘my cold and indisposition’. The letter concluded with the hope that he would soon be recovered sufficiently to wait ‘on you once more into the lobby against an excise’. Harley was probably crucial in securing Clarke’s leave, for on the day it was granted the Commons ordered a call for 14 Mar. in hopes to increase the opposition vote against the ministerial proposals for an excise. During the summer of 1694 Clarke ventured northwards to offer moral support to his brother-in-law, Peter Legh, who was standing trial on treason charges in Chester. The subsequent collapse of the trial encouraged the opposition to attack the ministry’s handling of the whole affair. On 22 Nov. 1694, in a debate on the state of the nation, Clarke provided first-hand evidence of the scandalous proceedings of the judges. He then told against the motion that the chief prosecution witness, John Lunt, be ordered to attend the following day. Later in the session he was still corresponding with Henry Prescott, registrar of Chester, on the matter of witnesses in the case.3
In 1695 Clarke was re-elected for the county, this time in company with the Marquess of Hartington (William Cavendish*). In the opening session Clarke was appointed in second place to the committee of elections and privileges on 25 Nov. 1695. He was forecast as a likely opponent of the Court in the divisions on 31 Jan. 1696 over the proposed council of trade, was blacklisted for having refused the Association at first, and was recorded as voting against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. This pattern suggests that he had become a solid Country Tory, and indeed on 1 Feb. Clarke wrote to Lord Huntingdon to report with pleasure the rejection of the Abjuration and election of a new commission of accounts, expressing the hope that ‘this Parliament will appear good Englishmen’. On 2 Apr. 1696 he was given leave of absence, it being near the end of the session. However, after only a month of the next session he was ready to state his disappointment about the proceedings of the House: ‘By the votes you will see that there is a great majority who choose rather to be courtiers than neglected country gentlemen.’ Not surprisingly, he voted on 25 Nov. 1696 against the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. On 17 Dec. he was granted leave of absence for three weeks, covering the Christmas recess. He returned to Westminster in the new year, but was inactive in Parliament. Possibly he was already weary of attendance, for on 27 Feb. 1697 he predicted that he would be in the country before Easter, and was granted leave again on 18 Mar. His attendance in the last session of this Parliament is confirmed by a letter of 25 Dec. 1697 to inform Hartington of the bill to prevent correspondence with King James, which was before the Commons. It is likely, however, that illness severely curtailed his activities in this session as he was granted leave of absence on 13 Apr. 1698 in order to recover his health. The last comment on his parliamentary career may be left to a contemporary, who on a list drawn up around September 1698 classed him as a supporter of the Country party.4
Although Clarke did not stand for election again, his interest and advice were eagerly sought after. He was instrumental in ensuring that Thomas Coke* succeeded him as knight of the shire, helping Coke and his agents in the organization of their campaign, and seeking the withdrawal of John Curzon* in order to create a united Tory interest. Clarke was not averse to offering the new Member advice on local legislation like the Derwent navigation bill and on the constitution of the county commission of the land tax. Moreover, the real extent of his political interest in Derbyshire was only revealed by the evidence surviving from the shire election of January 1701. Initially, many friends hoped that he could be persuaded to join Coke in opposition to Lords Hartington and Roos (John Manners*). Ill-health prevented this from being a realistic option. Nevertheless, Clarke was an indefatigable correspondent in Coke’s interest, especially in sending agents into Scarsdale hundred. After Coke’s defeat, he tried to find him another seat, by acting as an intermediary with Peter Legh in case a vacancy arose at Newton. Clarke died on 30 May 1701. At a crucial meeting called to adopt his son Godfrey* as a candidate in opposition to Coke in 1710, Sir John Harpur, 4th Bt., noted with approval that ‘the country never was better served than by Sir Gilbert Clarke’. Most of Clarke’s estate passed to his son, Godfrey, although the Kentish property inherited from Francis Clerke I* went to his second son, Gilbert.5
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. Fam. Min. Gent. (Harl. Soc. xxxvii), 335–6; Vis. Northants. (Harl. Soc. lxxxvii), 53; info. from Dr D. F. Lemmings and Derby Local Stud Lib.; E. Newton, Lyme Letters, 200; E. Newton, House of Lyme, ped.
- 2. VCH Leics. iii. 185; Sir G. Sitwell, Letters of Sitwells and Sacheverells, ii. 17–19.
- 3. Lyme Letters, 200; Add. 70217, Clarke to Harley, 21 Mar. 1693–4; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 127, 129; Bodl. Carte 130, f. 353; Prescott Diary, 903, 907, 909.
- 4. Add. 70018, f. 103, Lady Anne Pye to Abigail Harley, 4 Nov. 1695; Huntington Lib. Hastings mss HA 1449, 1451–2, Clarke to Huntingdon, 1 Feb. 1695[–6], 27 Feb. 1696[–7], 25 Dec. 1697; HMC Cowper, ii. 367.
- 5. BL, Lothian mss, Clarke to Coke, 21 July 1698, 8, 23, 25 Dec. 1700, 4 Jan. 1700[–1], Robert Harding to same, 21 Oct., 15, 25 Nov. 1700; HMC Cowper, ii. 383, 396, 410, 411, 413, 421–2; iii. 89; PCC 110 Dyer.