LEKE, Francis (by 1510-80), of Sutton in the Dale, Derbys., Elkering, Notts. and London.
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Family and Education
b. by 1510, 1st s. of Sir John Leke of Sutton in the Dale by 1st w. Jane, da. of Henry Foljambe of Walton, Derbys. m. Elizabeth, da. of Sir William Paston of Caister and Oxnead, Norf., 2s. 3da.; 2s. illegit. suc. fa. Nov. 1523. Kntd. 1545.3
J.p. Derbys. 1539- d. , Northumb. 1547; commr. benevolence, Derbys. 1544/45, array 1546, chantries bpric. of Durham, Northumb. and Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1546, Derbys., Notts. 1548, relief Derbys. 1550, goods of churches and fraternities 1553; capt. Tyne-mouth castle, Northumb. 1545-5 Apr. 1549; sheriff, Notts. and Derbys. 1547-8, Derbys. 1572-3; custos rot. Derbys. 1548-d.; member, council of Henry, 2nd Earl of Rutland as warden of the east and middle marches Apr. 1549; keeper, Nottingham park, Notts. 1551-d.; feodary, duchy of Lancaster, Tutbury honor Feb. 1551; gov. Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumb. July-Nov. 1560.4
A minor on the death of his father in 1523, Francis Leke became the ward of Sir Godfrey Foljambe, a wealthy Derbyshire gentleman. Despite his father’s previous arrangements for his marriage to George Chaworth’s daughter Elizabeth, he and his younger brother John married two of Sir William Paston’s daughters; it was this alliance which, by making Leke a brother-in-law of the 1st Earl of Rutland, associated him with the Manners family.5
In November 1531 Leke had livery of the family seat at Sutton in the Dale near Chesterfield and of the other Derbyshire estates in the south-east of the county: his Nottinghamshire inheritance comprised a group of manors centred on Binham, three near Newark, and Hucknall Torkard in the north of the shire. He promptly filed a suit in Chancery against his former guardian for retaining the title and other deeds relating to his property, and in a further suit he also accused Foljambe of conveying some of his lands in an attempt to disinherit him. Foljambe admitted that he held some of the deeds which he claimed Leke had given him for the protection of the estate, and expressed willingness to obey a court order for their return: in the upshot, a commission recovered the deeds relating to Kirk Hallam and among other documents a roll confirming previous royal grants to the family. It was the Derbyshire estates that Leke was to develop with the aid of considerable ex-monastic property, including Dugmanton manor bought in 1539 for £617.6
His patrimony and his link with the earls of Rutland would have ensured Leke’s standing in the county, but he added to them a successful career as a soldier which began with his service against the Lincolnshire rebels in 1536. It was as a newly appointed justice of the peace that he was returned to the Parliament of 1539, but surprisingly enough, unless he was the knight of the shire in the next Parliament whose name is missing, he was never to sit again in the county. His knighthood, like his father’s, followed service first in France and then with a band of horsemen under the Earl of Hertford at Tynemouth from midsummer to Christmas 1544. In the following year he was made captain of Tynemouth castle, a fortress newly erected on the site of the former priory; he was given a yearly fee of 100 marks and the stewardship of the estates of the priory, worth £100 a year, which Sir Thomas Hilton was persuaded to relinquish in his favour. In December 1545 the fee was increased to £81 14s.10d. on condition that he remained captain for life, but when his services were required elsewhere he was replaced in April 1549 by Hilton. It was doubtless the prestige of the office, and the support of Hertford, by then Duke of Somerset and Protector, which procured him the senior seat for Newcastle in 1547, with the local merchant Sir Robert Brandling as his fellow.7
In January 1549 Leke was despatched with Sir Thomas Holcroft to inspect and refurbish the northern fortresses and to raise the levies of Northumberland and the bishopric of Durham; while Holcroft visited the forts, Leke was to levy men at Norham and Roxburgh. Three months later, with the appointment of his nephew, the 2nd Earl of Rutland, as lord warden of the east and middle marches, Leke and Holcroft were appointed to his council to advise him in all matters ‘considering that he is yet but of young years and not so expert nor exercised in the wars as we would have wished’. In May 1549 the two were instructed to arrange a meeting with the Scottish commissioners to negotiate an exchange of prisoners. Later in the year Rutland acted on his uncle’s advice by dismissing one of the Earl of Warwick’s servants, John Rotham, from the office of under constable of Alnwick. Warwick wrote on behalf of Rotham, but Rutland justified his dismissal and arrest on the grounds of his capture of Rutland’s servant John Leke, probably Leke’s brother, and his design to ‘apprehend my uncle Sir Francis Leke and Sir Nicholas Strelley as traitors and afterwards myself in like manner’. In the following year Leke was called before the Privy Council as a witness to Richard Whalley’s communications with Rutland at the time of his intrigues for Somerset’s restoration.8
Leke’s experience of the borders was to be called upon again at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign. She had commanded him to serve with 300 footmen from Derbyshire at Berwick, and in January 1560 the 4th Duke of Norfolk, judging Leke ‘to be a wise man and of good experience of the country’ as well as ‘of great good will to do service’, obtained permission to employ him on the Queen’s affairs. He proved indispensable at Berwick, and in the subsequent negotiations with the Scots, until Norfolk’s release from office in the following July. The Queen approved of Cecil’s choice of Leke as governor of Berwick until a captain was appointed, and he was accordingly instructed to reduce the garrison to its peacetime strength. As Cecil had forecast, Leke showed no desire to remain in office, and as early as 3 Sept. he sought his discharge on the ground of public and private expense. A similar plea followed a few days later, but it was not until 22 Oct. that the Queen ordered him to hand over the town to the new governor, the 13th Lord Grey. Ten years later his help was needed to combat the rising of the northern earls; from Newark castle he kept the Council informed of the rebels’ movements and when the turmoil had subsided he examined suspects and made arrests.9
Leke’s standing in the county had risen with his military prowess. In 1548 he had been appointed custos rotulorum for life, and during the last decade of his life he was repeatedly called upon by the Privy Council to conduct special inquiries and commissions in the shire. He had not always stood so well with the Council. In April 1556, on learning that some of his servants, wearing his badge and livery, had wandered about the north of England performing plays and interludes ‘containing very naughty and seditious matter touching the King and Queen’s Majesties, and the state of the realm, and to the slander of Christ’s true and Catholic religion’, the Council instructed the 5th Earl of Shrewsbury, then president of the council in the north, to forbid such plays and to order Leke to send those concerned to the council in the north; the Council also warned Leke that he would be held responsible for any repetition of the offence. In 1554 he had appeared in person before the Exchequer to answer two charges of keeping a number of retainers in marble-coloured livery and badges who accompanied him to the sessions of the peace and assize: he denied the charges and asked for trial by jury, but a local jury failed to arrive at Westminster and a year later the case was remitted to the assizes at Derby, with what result is not known.
Leke had a house in Charing Cross Street, Westminster, but during his attendance at Parliament in 1548 he used the Earl of Rutland’s house at Holywell near Shoreditch: this he was to give up to his nephew in 1554 as he used it so seldom, but it was from there that in May of that year he wrote to the Earl of Shrewsbury denying that he had ‘spoken reproachfully’ of him at the late sessions at Nottingham. Although involved in considerable litigation over property, particularly in his earlier years, Leke evidently prided himself on his benevolent attitude towards his tenants. His son’s ruthlessness towards them, and his extravagant and dissolute way of life, offended his own pride and his family’s long record of loyal service ‘since and before the Conquest’. By 1572 Francis Leke the younger had sold the greater part of his wife’s inheritance and was threatening to sell the rest of his lands. Leke hoped to ‘bridle his wilfulness’, and to persuade him to live ‘as a good member of our commonwealth’, by entailing several manors and by appointing Francis the sole executor of his will on condition that he performed its provisions. If he failed to do so, upset the tenants or sold the estates, Leke’s son John and daughter Frances were