CROKE, John I (d.c.1600), of Southampton.
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Family and Education
m., at least 1s. 1da.
Mayor, Southampton 1568-9, 1584-5; j.p. Southampton by 1570; Southampton representative on commission about Spanish ships Apr. 1573.1
Croke came to Southampton some time before 1559 from Poole, Dorset, a county where he owned the manor and advowson of Ibberton. His main property in Southampton was in Holy Rood parish, probably the large house called ‘le Brodegate’, next to the Dolphin inn. He was admitted as a burgess on 7 July 1565, without fine, and is not known to have held any minor corporation office before becoming mayor. He was a brewer and a general merchant, sending ships as far as Newfoundland, Cadiz and Andalusia. In 1569 he was one of the two Southampton members of a commission to inquire into the evasions by London merchants of a temporary Act making Southampton the sole port of entry in England for sweet wines. In 1571 he represented the town in Parliament, when he was entrusted with the town charters and other documents to use as evidence in a successful attempt to have this concession made perpetual. On 10 Dec. 1571 the borough owed him £100 4s.5d. In February 1574 he was again in London, this time dealing with a trade dispute between Southampton and Guernsey. During his second period as mayor he applied for Southampton’s ‘accustomed privilege’ of a separate commission for musters, and in August 1585 signed the certificate of the numbers of troops embarked there.2
These official activities were carried on against a background of private lawsuits, one at least of which, about the year 1590, caused him to be committed to the Fleet prison for debt. He had already suffered heavy losses through Scotch pirates, and been involved in an Admiralty case against Thomas Thorney which dragged on for three years and led to his receiving several letters of summons from the Privy Council. The French government accused him of unlawfully receiving woad and other goods from Huguenot ships, and another Admiralty case arose out of this. In 1588 the Queen granted Croke letters of reprisal, on his bond for £2,000, for the loss of £5,000 and three ships, but he does not seem to have made good his losses, since in September 1591 he was described as ‘a merchant of good wealth and trade, now decayed by losses at the seas and other ways’.3
In January 1580 Croke wrote to tell Burghley that the master of his bark, just arrived from Biscay, had spoken with the Irish captain of two Spanish ships taking weapons to Ireland, and heard details of Spanish troop movements. About the time of the sailing of the Armada he was given a contract, concerning which a number of questions were later asked, to supply the Queen’s ships with beer at Southampton.4
Little has been ascertained about the last few years of Croke’s life. He was constantly fined at the court leet for such small offences as not scouring his ditches, enclosing common land, allowing his ships to lie too long at the town quays, or ‘making an unlawful quay’ of his own. Another set of