BAKER, John I (c.1489-1558), of London and Sissinghurst, Kent.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. c.1489, 1st s. of Richard Baker of Cranbrook. educ. I. Temple. m. (1) ?Catherine, da. of Richard Sackville of Withyham, Suss. s.p.; (2) by 1530, Elizabeth, da. and h. of Thomas Digneley of Stanford Dingley, Berks. and Middle Aston, Oxon., wid. of George Barrett of Belhus in Aveley, Essex, 2s. John II and Richard 3da. suc. fa. 1504. Kntd. by 18 June 1540.3
Bencher, I. Temple 1517, Lent reader ?1522, 1530, gov. 1532-3, 1538-9, 1540-1, 1542-3, 1545-8, 1551-2, 1555-7.
Commr. subsidy, Kent 1514, benevolence, Kent and London 1544/45, relief, Kent 1550, goods of churches and fraternities, Kent and London 1553; other commissions 1535-d.; j.p. Kent 1515-d., Mdx. 1537-d., Herts. 1537-40, Essex, Surr., Suss. 1538-40; under sheriff, London 1520-6, recorder 1526-35; attorney-gen. duchy of Lancaster 1535-6; attorney-gen. 1536-40; PC by 1540; chancellor, first fruits and tenths 1540-54; chancellor of Exchequer 1540-d., under treasurer 1543-d.; custos rot. Kent c.1547.4
Speaker of House of Commons 1545, 1547.
Richard Baker, making his will on 7 Aug. 1504, left his son John £10 a year until he was 24, ‘to find him to school’. On 29 June 1506 a newly built chamber in the Inner Temple was assigned to ‘Knightley and Baker’, who had largely paid for its construction; it was to belong for ever to them and their heirs who were members of the society. Three years after becoming a bencher, John Baker began a long career of service to the city of London. When in 1526 William Shelley resigned the recordership, Wolsey strongly recommended John Scott of the Inner Temple to the City in his place, but the court of aldermen insisted on their right of free election and ‘by the way of scrutiny’ chose Baker to be the new recorder.5
In the Parliament of 1529 he was an active Member. An Act (21 Hen. VIII, c.13) of the first session prohibited the spirituality from holding leases; on behalf of the prioress of Dartford, Baker contended that it should not be retrospective. In February 1533 he reported to the court of aldermen that William Bowyer and Paul Withypoll ‘desired him to draw a bill to be exhibited to the Parliament House to corroborate and confirm the court of requests used in this city’, to which the court agreed. In April 1534 he was assigned to take the oaths of five of the City companies to the Act of Succession (25 Hen. VIII, c.22)6.
Baker resigned the recordership of London on his appointment as attorney-general to the duchy of Lancaster. It appears that he was replaced as one of London’s Members by the new recorder Sir Roger Cholmley, but he may well have been found another seat for the last session: his experience of conditions at Calais-on August 1535 he had served with Sir William Fitzwilliam I and others on a commission to redress disorders in the pale-would have been useful to a government which during that session produced legislation for Calais. It is also practically certain that he sat in the Parliament of 1536: his name is found, with those of three other lawyers, on the dorse of the Act for abjurors in certain cases not to have benefit of clergy (28 Hen. VIII, c.1). He was appointed attorney-general on the day on which Parliament was dissolved, and official disbursements for 1536 included £26 13s.4d. to ‘John Baker, the King’s attorney, for his pains in the time of the Parliament’.7
As attorney-general Baker appeared for the crown in the trials of the Lincolnshire and northern rebels in 1537 and of the bishop of London and Lord Montagu in the following year. In 1539 he was summoned by writ of assistance to the House of Lords; he and the solicitor-general received £30 each, with £6 13s.4d. to be divided between their clerks, ‘in reward for their pains in penning and writing of sundry Acts’ in the first session of the parliament. Within 12 months, however, what had been hitherto a steady upward progression was to turn into a spectacular one: out of the administrative upheaval which followed the fall of Cromwell Baker was to emerge as one of the half-dozen leading servants of the crown. One of his new offices, that of chancellor of the Exchequer, had been Cromwell’s, but the other, the chancellorship of first fruits and tenths, was only created with the court of that name by an Act (32 Hen. VIII, c.45) which was rushed through both Houses in a single week in July 1540 and which Baker himself may have helped to draft. The knighthood which had already come to him was a favourable omen, and it was to be followed before the autumn by admission to the Privy Council. Three years later he added to the chancellorship of the Exchequer the office of under treasurer, being the first holder of the two offices.8
Baker’s surrender of the attorney-generalship brought to an end his sojourn in the Lords and allowed him to resume his career in the Commons. He was returned to the Parliament of 1542 for Guildford, doubtless with royal approval but also perhaps as the nominee of the local magnate, his former colleague in France, Sir William Fitzwilliam, now Earl of Southampton and chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, which Baker himself had once served. (A further link between Baker and Guildford was his relationship by marriage with Christopher More of Loseley.) In February 1544 he was one of a Commons’ deputation to ask the Lords to appoint members to a joint committee concerning the King’s style. In the following Parliament he sat for Lancaster: his own connexions with the duchy would probably have sufficed to procure his election, but as he was to be Speaker it is probable that the central government asked Sir John Gage, the chancellor of the duchy, to provide a seat for him. Nothing is known of his performance as Speaker of this Parliament save that his address to Henry VIII at the prorogation of 24 Dec. 1545 is said to have moved the King to reply in person rather than through Chancellor Wriothesley.9
Baker retained his Councillorship, and his offices, at the accession of Edward VI, a circumstance which makes even more remarkable the manner of his entry to the next Parliament. It was not simply to find him a seat, as had been done in 1545, but to see him returned as a knight of the shire, as befitted a Speaker-elect, that the new government intervened in the elections in his home county of Kent. On 28 Aug. 1547 the Council wrote to the lord warden of the Cinque Ports, Sir Thomas Cheyne, ordering him ‘to recommend Sir John Baker so to those that have the naming of knights of the shire as at the next Parliament he may be made knight of the shire of Kent accordingly’: a similar letter went off to the sheriff ‘to make his friends for the election of Sir John Baker’. That there was opposition to Baker’s election, or to the way in which the Council’s recommendation was presented, appears from its further letter of 28 Sept. to the sheriff, ‘understanding that he did abuse towards those of the shire their request into a commandment’ and informing him that ‘as they meant not nor mean to deprive the shire by any their commandment of their liberty of election whom they should think meet, so nevertheless if they would in satisfaction of their lordships’ request grant their voices to Mr. Baker they would take it thankfully’. The lord warden was likewise rebuked for misinterpreting their request, as the Council was informed, ‘to menace them of the shire of Kent; so they advised him to use things in such sort as the shire might have the free election’. Baker was not elected for Kent; instead he was returned, presumably by a more successful intervention, for Huntingdonshire, a county with which he had no known connexion. On 4 Nov. 1547 he was elected Speaker. During the third session of this Parliament he signed the Acts for a general pardon and for the fine and ransom of the Duke of Somerset (3 and 4 Edw. VI, cc.24, 31) and headed a successful delegation of the House to ask the King’s permission, ‘by his Council’, for the amending of the Act for a relief (2 and 3 Edw. VI, c.36) passed in the previous session. He was also required on 3 Dec. 1549 to give notice to the 9th Lord la Warr to produce his nephew William West before the House, and on 31 Mar. 1552 to report to the Duke of Northumberland the resolution of the House in the case of Sir Robert Brandling.10
Although Baker is not known to have sat in the Parliament of March 1553, it is highly probable that he did so. Shortly after the Parliament ended Baker had to face the supreme crisis of his career. Although, or because, he had long served Henry VIII (who in his will named him an assistant Councillor to his son) and Edward VI, Baker was reluctant to obey the King’s instructions for the alteration of the succession. On 11 June 1553, when it had become obvious that Edward had not much longer to live, Sir Edward Montagu, Baker, and three other lawyers were called to the court and ordered by the King himself to draw up the legal instrument necessary to devise the crown away from his half-sisters. They debated among themselves and reported to the Council that the very consideration of such an action was treasonable. Commanded on his allegiance to obey, Montagu offered to respect a commission given under the great seal if a general pardon were granted him immediately afterwards, while Baker, who had remained silent throughout the audience, evidently also gave his assent. Both signed the letters patent of 21 June, under which Northumberland’s daughter-in-law, Jane Grey, claimed the crown on the King’s death two weeks later, and promised ‘never to vary or swerve, during our lives’ from the defence of the succession thus established.11
Baker kept that promise, on paper if not in action, up to 19 July, when he and other Councillors wrote to the lord lieutenant of Essex exhorting him to remain loyal to Queen Jane, but later that day he was present in Cheapside when Mary was proclaimed Queen and on 20 July he signed the Council’s order to Northumberland to lay down his arms. On Mary’s triumphant entry into London on 3 Aug. Baker circumspectly kept within his own house. Two days later he was sworn of the Privy Council; in the same month he was appointed to hear the appeal of the bishop of Durham against his deprivation; and on 10 Oct. 1553 he sued out a general pardon.12
Throughout the reign of Mary, Baker remained chancellor of the Exchequer and under treasurer, but he lost his chancellorship of first fruits and tenths with the abolition of that court in 1554. On the surrender of his patent and in consideration of his service to Catherine of Aragon (about which nothing further has been discovered), Henry VIII and Edward VI, he was given an annuity of £233. He had been elected to the Parliament of October 1553 for Bramber, no doubt through the patronage of the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, who in the following year named Baker one of his executors, but in the remaining Parliaments of the reign he sat as knight of the shire for Kent. In the two Parliaments of 1554 both his sons sat and in the two remaining Parliaments of the reign the elder one did so, an achievement rarely equalled during the period: it is even possible that the Thomas Baker returned for Bramber in 1555 was of the family. On 29 Nov. 1553 the bill for the uniting, dissolving or new creation of courts was committed to Baker after its second reading: it was in the reorganization of the revenue courts following on this Act (1 Mary st.2, c.10) that he lost the chancellorship of first fruits. Before the Parliament of April 1554 he was one of those appointed ‘to consider what laws shall be established in this Parliament, and to name men that shall make the books thereof’. It was probably he and not one of his sons who was the ‘Mr. Baker’ to whom the bill for the punishment of seditious rumour was committed after its second reading on 19 Nov. 1554, and again he rather than his son Richard to whom the bill for confirmation of patents was committed ‘to be reformed’ on 5 Mar. 1558. During the Parliament of 1555 he carried bills to the Lords and in February 1558 he had a privilege case committed to him.13
Baker was a justice of oyer and terminer in Kent for the trials following the suppression of Wyatt’s rebellion. More important, since by it his post-humous reputation was established, he shared responsibility for the campaign to extirpate heresy in the county. Although he had evidently conformed under Edward VI, he had earlier shown his Catholic sympathies by his role in the prebendaries’ plot of 1543 against Archbishop Cranmer, and he remained a friend of another participant in that affair, Stephen Gardiner, giving evidence for the defence at his trial in 1551. As a justice of the peace and, from April 1556, a commissioner to inquire into heresy in Canterbury diocese, his name was connected in the popular mind with the burnings in Kent, which outnumbered those of any other county except Middlesex. Had he survived Elizabeth’s accession by more than a few weeks, Baker’s record would perhaps have told against his retention on the benches of those two counties: as it was, he died before the issue of the new commissions.14
Whether Baker hoped to keep, or could have kept, his knighthood of the shire in the new Queen’s first Parliament is likewise a matter for speculation. Even so, in the length and variety of his service he must be accounted the outstanding Member of the time. There were men with longer parliamentary spans—Sir Francis Knollys could boast one of 60 years—but none with such an unbroken one: with the single possible exception of March 1553, Baker sat in every Parliament held between 1529 and 1558, 11 times as an elected Member in the Commons and once as an assistant in the Lords. The climax of Baker’s Membership was his Speakership of the Parliaments of 1545 and 1547. Although not the only Speaker of the century to serve twice—John Pollard did so under Mary, and Sir John Puckering under Elizabeth—Baker occupied the chair for longer than either of them: he also outstripped his two precursors of the Parliament of 1529, Sir Thomas Audley and Humphrey Wingfield. Unfortunately, it is next to impossible to say what effect, if any, Baker’s long tenure had on the Commons. His two Speakerships certainly coincided with important developments there, the rapid growth of Membership (from 349 when he first became Speaker to 379 when he laid down the office), the removal to St. Stephen’s Chapel, the rise of committees and the regularizing of divisions: wherever such changes originated, it must have fallen to Baker to guide the House in its adaptation to them, and here his continuity may have been his greatest asset. Among others were the ability and industry which had got him thus far, the freedom from political ambition and religious zeal (at least of the self-damaging kind) needed to keep him there, and the capacity to work and mix with disparate elements present in the House.
Baker made his will on 16 Oct. 1555, on the eve of the fourth Marian Parliament. He provided for his younger son John and bequeathed the greater part of the estate to his elder son Richard; he had freed his Kent lands from the restrictions of gavelkind tenure by Act of Parliament (31 Hen. VIII, c.3) in 1539, and had increased the tiny inheritance left him by his father to the large patrimony handed on to his sons. Much of the new property he had acquired from the crown. On 12 Jan. 1558 he drew up his testament, asking to be buried beside his wife Elizabeth in the church at Cranbrook and directing masses to be said for him in the 12 parishes in Kent and three in Sussex in which he held land. He bequeathed to his elder son the plate and household stuff at Sissinghurst, together with the house which he had built in Cranbrook, and left to his second son the plate in his house in the city of London. He also made bequests to his three daughters, all married, one of them to Thomas Sackville; to his grandsons, John Baker and Richard Baker; to his stepson Edward Barrett and his friends Sir Martin Bowes and Sir William Petre. On 27 Sept. 1558 he added a codicil, leaving to his elder son the manor of Staplehurst which he had bought from Sir Thomas Cawarden since making his will. The witnesses to these documents included on each occasion two physicians, John Clement, who had been brought up by Sir Thomas More, and John Caius, the co-founder of Gonville and Caius College. On 5 Dec. 1558 Baker added a further codicil, in which he made a bequest to his sister-in-law, one-time prioress of Clerkenwell. He died in London on 23 Dec. 1558 and in the following month was buried at Cranbrook.15
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: Helen Miller
- 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
- 2. House of Lords RO, Original Acts, 28 Hen. VIII, no. 1.
- 3. Aged 62 ‘or thereabouts’ in 1551, Foxe, Acts and Mons. vi. 184. PCC 20 Holgrave, 26 Bodfelde; Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 145; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. xlii), 63-64; C1/391/47; LP Hen. VIII, xv; DNB.
- 4. City of London RO, Guildhall, jnl. 12, f. 49; rep. 7, f. 148; 9, f. 112v; Somerville, Duchy, i. 408; LP Hen. VIII, viii, xi, xv, xvi, xviii, xx, xxi; PPC, vii. 3; APC, ii. 24, 163, 265, 379; iii. 39; CPR, 1547-8, p. 85; 1549-51, p. 140; 1550-3, pp. 355, 396; 1553, p. 355; 15