GERARD, Sir Gilbert (d.1593), of Ince, Lancs. and Gerrard's Bromley, Staffs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

Mar. 1553
Oct. 1553
1555

Family and Education

s. of James Gerard of Astley and Ince by Margaret, da. of John Holcroft; bro. of William Gerard II. educ. Camb.; G. Inn 1537, called 1539. m. Anne, da. and h. of Thomas Ratcliffe of Winmarleigh, Lancs., 3s. inc. Thomas I 4da. Kntd. 1579.2

Offices Held

Autumn reader, G. Inn 1554, jt. treasurer 1556; j.p.q. Beds., Bucks., Cambs., Cheshire and Hunts. by 1558, Essex, Herts., Kent, Mdx., Surr. and Suss. by 1561, Norf. and Suff. by 1572, Lancs. by 1587; custos rot. Mdx. c.1573; attorney-gen. 1559-81; eccles. commr. by 1564; steward of Copt Hall and other manors in honour of Clare, duchy of Lancaster 1567-91, steward of Rochdale manor by 1567, bailiff, West Derby hundred by 1570, vice-chancellor at Lancaster from c.1571, steward of Amounderness hundred 1578-91; gov. Harrow sch. 1572; master of the rolls 1581-d.3

Biography

By the accession of Elizabeth, Gerard was already established as an advocate, influential as a country gentleman, and experienced as a parliamentarian. Appointed attorney-general early in the reign (there is an old story that he defended Elizabeth in Queen Mary’s reign), work of an ecclesiastical nature occupied much of his time, and in this context may be noted his friendship with Archbishop Parker, whom he assisted in introducing reforms into Merton College, Oxford. He was also employed in Ireland where, in 1560, he reformed the procedure of the court of Exchequer and drew up new orders and articles for collecting the Queen’s rent. He was often called upon to settle tricky problems of jurisdiction, as when, with the assistance of Thomas Bromley the solicitor-general, he held that the city and county of Worcester came within the jurisdiction of the council in the marches of Wales. He was actively engaged in the trials consequent upon the northern rebellion and, at the request of the Earl of Sussex, president of the council in the north, sat on the special commission which met principally at York and Durham. Subsequently he helped to draw up the interrogatories and to examine Thomas Bishop, the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Northumberland, Lord Lumley, Brian Lassells, the bishop of Ross and Stephen White. In 1572 he seconded Nicholas Barham in prosecuting the Duke of Norfolk and Robert Higford, the Duke’s secretary. Gerard gave advice and assistance to the University of Cambridge, from 1561 acting as their counsel when not himself engaged as justice of assize. In 1571 he was thanked for his services in connexion with the passing of a statute of that year, confirming the university’s charters and privileges.4

Attorney-general for over 20 years, Gerard was naturally able to feather his nest. His perquisites included the appointment of certain clerks and officers in the Queen’s courts, wardships, a grant of wine without impost, and profitable leases. He was a duchy of Lancaster official of some importance, and it was in Lancashire that his influence was greatest and he possessed most property. He increased his Staffordshire estates and acquired Gerrard’s Bromley—where he built himself a large house—and other lands in the vicinity from Sir Thomas Gerard of Etwall, Derbyshire. He owned other property in Middlesex, Shropshire and Wiltshire, and his position at court brought him the friendship of many distinguished persons. Still, he never reached the top of his profession, and in 1579, Bromley, the solicitor-general, was appointed lord chancellor over his head, Gerard becoming master of the rolls two years later with emoluments between 1582 and 1590 totalling over £1,000 p.a. and reaching a maximum of £1,599 5s.3d. in 1586, derived largely from fines and the initial duty paid on writs and instruments. In addition, he must have profited considerably from the sale of offices. The master of the rolls was the chief administrative officer of Chancery and his patronage included the appointment of the six clerks, the clerks of the petty bag, the examiners and the clerks of the rolls chapel. The sale of a six clerks’ office alone was worth a four-figure sum to the master of the rolls, and it is known that three appointments were made during Gerard’s tenure of office. Lesser Chancery posts in his patronage included the usher, crier and doorkeeper, as well as a host of household functionaries and assistants, of whom his three secretaries were the most important. During his tenure of office the departments under Gerard’s control drifted into a dangerous state of inefficiency and chaos, and eventually, after the death of Lord Chancellor Hatton, Elizabeth appointed two commissions, one of Privy Councillors to seal instruments, and the other of masters and judges headed by Gerard, to hear cases. The two commissions then quarrelled over their respective jurisdictions, while the masters and judges refused to accept Gerard’s authority to hear causes in Chancery. During the final year of Gerard’s life he was incapacitated by ill-health.5

In accordance with the custom of the time Gerard was, as a law officer, and subsequently as master of the rolls, called to assist in the proceedings of the House of Lords. It is thus anomalous to find him returned to the Commons as knight of the shire for Lancashire in November 1584. However, a by-election was ordered on 7 Jan. 1585 on the ground that ‘he was called to the Upper House as master of the rolls’.6

Gerard died 4 Feb. 1593, and was buried at Ashley, Staffordshire. His will, made 8 Jan. and proved 6 Apr. of that year, was prefaced by a preamble in which he put his trust in God, since ‘there is nothing in any of my works or deeds whereby I can or may challenge or attain unto everlasting life’. He left plate to his sons-in-law Sir Richard Molyneux, Peter Leigh and Richard Houghton, and to an unmarried daughter, who was also to have £1,000 towards her wedding. The widow was amply provided for and received all her jewels and most of the household stuff. In addition she was to have the use of the property in Middlesex, provided that her eldest son Thomas and his wife wished her to live with them. A number of charitable bequests were made. As executors, he appointed his wife and eldest son Thomas, later 1st Baron Gerard.7

Though Gerard conformed in religion, he was described in an anonymous letter to Walsingham (29 Dec. 1586) as ‘a protestant at London and a papist in Lancashire ... there is no man that so much shifteth papists from the danger of the law as he doth’. His wife and two of his daughters were Catholics.8

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: W.J.J.

Notes

  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. References to Gerard as attorney-general, master of the rolls and land owning country gentleman can be found in the DNB; publication of the Chetham Soc.; Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc.; Wm.