CAESAR, Julius (1558-1636), of Tottenham, Mdx. and Mitcham, Surr.

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. 1558, 1st s. of Cesare Adelmare (naturalized 1558) of Treviso, Italy, Tottenham, Mdx. and Bishopsgate, London, by Margery, da. of George Perient of Salop and Herts.; bro. of Thomas. educ. ?Winchester; Magdalen Hall, Oxf. Jan. 1575, MA 1578, DCL 1584; I. Temple 1580; Paris, LLD Apr. 1581, adv. Doctors’ Commons 1586. m. (1) 1582, Dorcas (d.1595), da. of Sir Richard Martin, master of the mint and later ld. mayor of London, wid. of Richard Lusher of the M. Temple, 4s. 1da.; (2) 1596, Alice (d.1614), da. of Christopher Green of Manchester, Lancs., wid. of John Dent, merchant, of London, 3s.; (3) 1615, Anne, da. of Henry Woodhouse of Waxham, Norf., wid. of Henry Hogan of East Bradenham, Norf., s.p. suc. fa. 1569. Kntd. May 1603.2

Offices Held

Gen. commr. piracy Oct. 1581; of counsel to City of London 1583; commissary of bp. of London in Mdx., Herts. and Essex 1583; judge of Admiralty court 1584; master in Chancery 1588; bencher, I. Temple 1590, treasurer 1594; master of requests extraordinary 1591, ordinary 1595; j.p. Mdx. from 1592; gov. mineral and battery works 1593; master of St. Katharine’s hospital 1596; eccles. commr. province of Canterbury 1603; chancellor of the Exchequer and under-treasurer 1606-14; PC 1607; master of the rolls 1614; first commr. for the great seal 1621; commr. to inquire into operation of poor law 1631.3


Caesar’s father, a doctor of medicine of Padua, settled in England about 1550, married into a family seated at Digswell, near Hatfield, became a member of the college of physicians in 1554 and soon afterwards one of Queen Mary’s favourite doctors. At the christening of his son Julius, less than a year before Elizabeth’s accession, the sponsors were William Paulet, 1st Marquess of Winchester; Henry FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel; and Queen Mary herself, represented by Magdalen, wife of Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montagu. In the new reign the father acquired modest properties in Devon, and in Bishopsgate, attended Queen Elizabeth and was fortunate in having two patrons who continued to prosper under her: Winchester and Sir William Cecil. In 1592, in a letter to Robert Cecil Caesar recalled the favour his father had received from his correspondent’s father ‘forty years since, and continued towards me, not only during mine attendance on his lordship, but ever since, and daily recontinued by you’.4

Caesar made his own way as a civil lawyer, a profession in which his grandfather had been eminent in Italy. His training fitted him for work in the ecclesiastical as well as the Admiralty courts, and one of his earliest offices was that of commissary to John Aylmer, bishop of London, who became his close friend. Evidently he took care to conform to the established religion, though his parents may well have brought him up as a Catholic, and other members of his family retained their Catholic faith along with their links with Italy. In 1586 the Earl of Leicester reported his suspicions of the loyalty of two men called Caesar, physicians whom he had once favoured. At the same time Henry Caesar, Julius’s brother, was being proceeded against for papistry; he retrieved his fortunes, partly through Julius’s intercession with Burghley, and went on to be dean of Ely. Caesar himself seems never to have come under suspicion: he served as an ecclesiastical commissioner, and to him was dedicated James Aske’s Elizabetha Triumphans, a work of 1588 on ‘the damned practices’ of ‘the devilish popes of Rome’. He was almost certainly influenced by the puritan inclinations of the Loks, the family of his mother’s second husbandy—it is perhaps significant that he was entered at Magdalen, the most puritan of Oxford colleges—but it is likely that he took a predominantly legalistic attitude to religious questions. He was the friend of Aylmer and Whitgift, and in his will stipulated that he should be buried ‘according to the ordinary service of the Church of England’.5

In 1584 he succeeded Dr. David Lewist as the judge of the Admiralty court, and for the remainder of the reign was absorbed in the court’s heavy business, which was of such importance to the trade of his city and to England’s foreign relations. Caesar had a lively personal interest in trading ventures and his step-father, Michael Lok, was a notable traveller. The majority of Englishmen of importance, and foreign princes such as King James of Scotland, wrote to him at some time or other about cases pending in the Admiralty court, their letters filling several volumes of the Caesar papers in the British Museum. No office was less of a sinecure; nor, in Caesar’s opinion, was any less rewarded or more uncomfortable, for the envy of the common lawyers was reinforced by the official complaints of foreign powers, to which the Queen seemed only too ready to listen. ‘It grieveth me much’, he wrote in 1588,

that I only of all men, must contrary to the law, have my judgments called in question by extraordinary courses. The answering of idle and unjust complaints made against me by strangers, by reason of my attendance at the Council chamber and the court, hath cost me these four years almost £800, without any consideration or allowance for the same.6

His appeals for remuneration were incessant. In 1587 he presented to the Queen a list of deaneries and hospitals and begged her to bestow upon him the next of them that should fall vacant. He set particular store on being made a master of requests, urging that the office of judge of the Admiralty court was not by itself sufficiently respected by the common lawyer, that it was pensionless, and that it carried no place at court, so that when he came on business he was forced ‘to depart home again for lack of lodging’. In December 1587 the 2nd Earl of Essex told Burghley that his friends were urging him to ask the Queen for a mastership for Caesar. Two years later Caesar was still writing to Burghley for the office, complaining that someone near the Queen was making him out to be unfit, because he was young and the son of an Italian, and had allegedly got his judgeship by corruption; he maintained that, far from profiting as judge, he had spent £4,000 of his own money and ‘received just nothing, except some few good words, which feed not’. It is very likely that there was prejudice against Caesar. Lady Russell thought he had ‘enough already, if these days could acknowledge what is enough’. His indefatigable pursuit of profit makes the ill-will towards him readily understandable. While still campaigning for the office in the requests, he had begun, as early as 1590, to press for the mastership of St. Katharine’s, and in that year he paid £500 to Archibald Douglas for his assistance in this new ambition. The Queen heard that he had paid Douglas much more, so that in 1596 he had to confess the details to Burghley, begging that he should not be deprived of his fee in the requests on accounts of the transaction.7

His second marriage in 1596 to a rich widow brought him property at Mitcham, where he was living when the Queen visited him in September 1598. Elizabeth is said to have disappointed him of a visit on eight previous occasions. The entertainment, which included a performance of a dialogue between ‘the Poet, the Painter and the Musician’, perhaps composed by John Lyly, and the gift to the Queen of ‘a gown of cloth of silver richly embroidered, a black network mantle of pure gold, a taffeta hat, white with several flowers and a jewel of gold set therein with rubies and diamonds’, Caesar claimed had cost him £700. When the mastership of the rolls fell vacant in 1600, he was for a few days ‘in full cry for the post’, which he was not to obtain till 1614, after he had been for some time chancellor of the Exchequer. His advancement to the rolls was another occasion for financial calculations, which proved much too optimistic. On an estimate of the fees of the office, written before taking it up, he later wrote sadly: ‘This exceedeth truth by much’.8

In the reign of King James, Caesar acquired extensive property, particularly in Hertfordshire, and achieved an influence and political importance which he did not have under Elizabeth. In Elizabeth’s reign he was entirely dependent upon his official master, Charles Howard I, Lord Howard of Effingham, the lord high admiral, for election to Parliament. Reigate and Bletchingley, his first two seats, were Surrey boroughs in which the Howards had great influence throughout the reign, and at Windsor, for which Caesar sat in 1597 and 1601, the lord admiral was high steward. No activity is recorded in his name in the parliamentary journals for 1589, and no speeches are attributed to him in any of his Parliaments. However, from 1593 onwards he established himself as an active committeeman in the House. He was three times named to committees on the subsidy bill during the 1593 Parliament (26, 28 Feb., 1 Mar.). He twice served on committees dealing with recusancy in this Parliament (28 Feb., 4 Apr.), and also served on the privileges and returns committee (26 Feb.), a legal committee (28 Mar.) and one dealing with the maintenance of weirs (28 Mar.). In his next Parliament, Caesar’s committee work was mainly directed towards social matters such as the building of a hospital at Warwick (18 Nov. 1597), the relieving of clothiers in Suffolk and Essex (9 Dec.), a private bill for the Marquess of Winchester (9 Dec.) and mariners and seamen (9 Dec.). The bill for the maintenance of the navy was delivered to him on 18 Jan. 1598. He served on one legal committee on 11 Jan. 1598. His last Parliament in this period was also his most active; during it he sat on eight committees, dealing with the penal laws (2 Nov. 1601), order of business (3 Nov.), St. Bartholomew’s hospital (17 Nov.), the clothworkers’ bill (18 Nov.), monopolies (23 Nov.), a harbour on the River Severn (30 Nov.), the government of the City of London (4 Dec.), and policies of assurances used among merchants (11 Dec.).9

If Caesar was never of great importance as a politician, he was remarkable as a civil servant. He left many volumes of papers relating to his official work, and others concerned with the mint, of which his first father-in-law was master. He worked on the history of the Exchequer, and published and presented to Burghley a history of the court of requests, to defend it against the slights of the common lawyers. John Chamberlain thought he had ‘much confidence in his own sufficiency’, but in the eyes of the Privy Council his conduct as judge showed ‘diligence, wisdom and great discretion’. He proposed that the judge of the Admiralty should regularly go on circuit, offering to contribute to the cost from his own pocket.10

Alongside his persistent striving for advancement existed a charity which became proverbial in an age of heroic philanthropy, though it is difficult to believe the stories that he habitually assisted poor suitors in the Admiralty court from his own pocket, or to take at its face value Fuller’s testimony that he was ‘a person of prodigious bounty to all of worth or want, so that he might seem to be almoner-general of the nation’. John Manningham, the diarist, recounts a story of the meeting of two poor men in the court of requests in 1602. ‘I came to be heard, if I can’, said one. ‘I think so’, replied the other; ‘now thou canst be heard in no other court, thou appealest to Caesar’.11

Caesar died 10 Apr. 1636, leaving lands in London, Hertfordshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Essex. To his son Charles he bequeathed his book called Polyanthea Caesaris, his Enchiridion, his books in his ‘two great presses at the rolls’, and his book containing, in six languages, the ten commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the three creeds. To his son Robert he bequeathed his ‘written book called the Register of the Chancery’. He besought his sons and their wives ‘to be humble, meek and gentle-hearted’ and ‘to hate idleness, the mother of all vices’, and ‘all excess and riot in meat, drink, apparel’ and ‘vain delights’. He asked to be buried in the church of Great St. Helen’s by Bishopsgate, near his parents, his brother Sir Thomas Caesar, baron of the Exchequer, and two of his children. His tomb there bears the representation of a deed poll, couched in proper legal terms, signifying that he willingly paid the debt of nature. His son Charles became notorious in 1639 when he bought the mastership of the rolls from King Charles for £15,000, partly with money left in trust by his uncle, the dean of Ely.12

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Alan Harding


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. R. Clutterbuck, Herts. ii. 283; C142/171/75; Mdx. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lxv), 95; Vis. Herts. (Harl. Soc. xxii), 133; F. Blomefield, Norf. vi. 136.
  • 3. Strype, Aylmer, 46; Lansd. 80, f. 135; HMC Hatfield, xv. 224.
  • 4. CSP Span. 1558-67, p. 522; Add. 11406, ff. 15, 18, 81, 104; HMC Hatfield, v. 148.
  • 5. Add. 11406, ff. 4, 6; Leycester Corresp. (Cam. Soc. xxvii), 409; A. L. Rowse, Tudor Cornw. 334-6; P. Collinson, ‘The Puritan Classical Movement in the Reign of Elizabeth I’ (London Univ. PhD thesis), 786-7; Strype, Whitgift, ii. 220, 346; PCC 34 Pile.
  • 6. A. L. Rowse, England of Eliz. 368; Lansd. 113, f. 3; DNB (Michael Lok); A. L. Rowse, Grenville, 274, 278; Add. 12505-7; HMC Hatfield, iv. 623.
  • 7. Lansd. 53, f. 134; 55, f. 215; 82, f. 56; Add. 11406, f. 112; HMC Hatfield, vi. 215; x. 302.
  • 8. Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, i. 45, 111; Queen Elizabeth’s Entertainment at Mitcham (ed. Hotson); Manning and Bray, Surr. ii. 495.
  • 9. VCH Herts. iii. 75, 193, 250, 274; D’Ewes, 471, 474, 477, 478, 481, 511, 512, 517, 559, 570, 571, 578, 582, 622, 624, 641, 642, 649, 658, 667, 680.
  • 10. Lansd. 129-51; Add. 10113, 11405-6, 12496-12507; NRA Rep. on Bodl. North Pprs. 385-402; Eliz. Gov. and Soc. 216, 219; J. Caesar, The Ancient State, Authority and Proceeding of the Court of Requests (London, 1597); Chamberlain Letters, i. 556; ii. 392; APC, xx. 207.
  • 11. Cam. Soc. xcix, pp. xx, 129, 138.
  • 12. C142/560/159; PCC 34 Pile.