STARKEY, Oliver (c.1523-83/86).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Apr. 1554
Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. c.1523, illegit. o.s. of Roger Starkey of London by Elizabeth of Antwerp. educ. Louvain; I. Temple.1

Offices Held

Member, order of St. John of Jerusalem, commander Quenington, Glos. 1558, lt. turcopolier Feb. 1560, Latin sec. to grand master bef. 1565-?8, titular bailiff of Eagle, Lincs. 1569.2


Oliver Starkey’s parentage is set out in the depositions of witnesses in a chancery case begun by him in 1546, soon after his father’s death. He was born in Antwerp, where his father was in the service of Sir Thomas Baldry, ‘at which time the said Roger kept the mother of the said Oliver as his harlot not being at any time married together’. Soon after Oliver’s birth Roger Starkey gave up the woman, ‘whose name was Bedkyn and in English Elizabeth’, and she went to live with another man. The boy took his mother’s domicile and was educated on the Continent. His father died in 1545 worth, according to one estimate, £3,000 in land and goods; two years earlier he had obtained a grant of arms and he acknowledged his son by leaving him £300 in his will and by naming him its executor. Oliver Starkey obtained a grant of probate on 14 Nov. 1545 but renounced it six days later; the chancery case between Starkey and his first cousin Thomas Starkey turned on the reasons for this renunciation and the intentions of Roger Starkey in making the will.3

Thomas Starkey, the chief beneficiary under the will, was found by jury to be the heir and as such entitled to property in London and Middlesex. According to his witnesses, Roger Starkey had left him most of the land unconditionally and had given him authority to alter the will before proving it. Oliver Starkey had been offered, and had accepted, £300 to renounce the executorship, explaining to the judge of the prerogative court ‘that he would not let [hinder] his learning to be about the business of it’. Since his bill starting the case has not been found, it is not clear whether he received £600 in all or whether the £300 offered was inserted into the will as a legacy after his agreement to renounce the executorship. His own witnesses asserted that Roger Starkey had left his entail to his nephew on an express but unwritten trust that it should be transferred to his son ‘within three months after the said Oliver should fortune to be made denizen’; had Roger left his land to Oliver, a Flemish subject, it would have been forfeit to the crown. The crucial weakness in Starkey’s case, and the reason for its probable failure, was his inability to produce a bond said to have been given him by his cousin during their negotiation or to explain why he should have surrendered it before its condition had been performed. A reference in 1565 to Starkey’s ‘patrimony’ suggests that he invested some of his £300 or £600 in the purchase of land, but it is not known where.4

Many of the London Starkeys were mercers (although Humphrey Starkey of the previous generation had been chief baron of the Exchequer), but other branches were seated as gentry in Cheshire and Lancashire. Oliver Starkey could thus probably claim gentle birth, despite the bastardy which should have disqualified him for membership of the order of St. John. Another disqualification was his birth outside the limits of the English ‘Tongue’, but between the order’s dissolution in England in 1540 and its re-establishment in 1557 recruiting almost stopped; one man was admitted in 1545 (on Cardinal Pole’s certification) without proof of noble birth and another in 1547 despite his being born a Scot, so that Starkey no doubt benefited from similar laxity, for he cannot have been admitted to the order before 1544. (It is, however, unlikely that the Oliver Starkey who married a Lincolnshire woman in or before 1551 was the knight, even though in 1545 English knights had been allowed to marry; this was probably a namesake from Caton, Lancashire.) Starkey was doubtless naturalized after his father’s death but before he began the chancery suit or joined the order. He may have used his legacy to continue his education and he had some reputation as a poet and Latin scholar. He is credited by Warton with a translation of the Book of Ecclesiastes into (presumably Latin) verse and a translation of Sallust, but the only work of his known to survive is an elegant Latin verse epitaph on Grand Master la Valette, who died in 1568.5

Cardinal Pole was chiefly responsible for the reestablishment of the order of St. John in England, projected in 1554 although not accomplished till 1557. Starkey must have owed his appointment to Quenington commandery to Pole, who was in Brussels in January 1554 and was perhaps introduced to Starkey by Richard Shelley or his brother James, who was to be appointed a commander in 1558; Starkey, James (and perhaps Richard) Shelley, and the new prior, Sir Thomas Tresham, were the only knights in 1558 who had not been admitted before the dissolution in 1540. A former servant of Pole’s, Thomas Starkey, author of the ‘Dialogue between Pole and Lupset’, came of the Wrenbury, Cheshire, branch of the family and this connexion may also have helped Starkey. Tresham also sat (for Northamptonshire) in both the Parliaments for which Starkey represented St. Albans, a conjunction which suggests that legislation to reestablish the order and to restore its lands was contemplated in 1554, and that Tresham and Starkey were returned as spokesmen for the order, whose professed members were probably debarred by their religious status from sitting in the Commons. Starkey had no known connexion with St. Albans or Hertfordshire and must have been a crown nominee. In the event the order was re-established by letters patent and was granted only the land which still remained in the crown’s ownership.6

Starkey left for Malta with other knights of the order soon after April 1558 and no certain trace of him in England after that time has been found. He was in Malta in November 1558, presumably to undergo the training of several years that was obligatory for new knights. He remained there after Elizabeth had again confiscated the order’s property in England, although without abolishing it. Unlike most of the knights Starkey was evidently without private means and dependent on the revenues of his commandery; his indigence kept him in Malta and also brought him rapid promotion in the order, for all the other English knights, except Starkey and James Shelley, had either remained in or returned to England by February 1560, when Starkey became lieutenant turcopolier. He may have subsisted for a time on a legacy of Pole’s to the English ‘Tongue’, but by April 1562 he was begging Cardinal Moroni, the protector of England, to secure him a pension from the revenues of the English pilgrims’ hospice in Rome. A second plea in July was reinforced by a testimonial from the order’s legate to the Holy See, but it too was probably unsuccessful. In April 1565 Sir Thomas Smith, while at Marseilles on his French embassy, wrote of Starkey:

men doth give him a very good report for wisdom and also for valiantness. But he is very poor and not able without more help than he has of the order there to maintain his estate. It is no news to hear Probitas Laudatur et Alget. I perceive yet he is (as naturally all men be) desirous to return home to his country and very fain would know the Queen’s Majesty’s pleasure touching his commandery and that her Highness would not be offended with him for tarrying there [Malta] being not commanded to the contrary ... He hath also beside the commandery some other patrimony in England of which he hath long time had no profit. By that I can perceive if he do come home he can be content to conform himself to our religion ...

The beginning of the great siege of Malta in May 1565 probably changed Starkey’s outlook.7

As Latin secretary to Grand Master la Valette Starkey was probably in constant attendance on him; he took part in the council called by la Valette when the siege began and had command of the English post at Borgo, with a force of Maltese and Greeks stationed there in the absence of any