HICKES, Michael (1543-1612), of St. Peter's Hill, Austin Friars, London and Ruckholt, Essex.

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. 21 Oct. 1543, 1st s. of Robert Hickes of the White Bear, Cheapside, London by Juliana, da. of William Arthur of Som. educ. prob. St. Paul’s, London; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1559-c.1562; L. Inn 1565, called 1577. m. by Dec. 1594, Elizabeth, da. of Gabriel Colston of London, grocer, wid. of Henry Parvish, merchant of London, 2s. 1da. suc. fa. 1557. Kntd. 1604.1

Offices Held

Servant of Ld. Burghley 1573, sec. 1580; feodary, Essex 1598-1601; receiver gen. Essex, Herts., London and Mdx. 1603-4; j.p. Essex from 1605, Mdx. from 1609; keeper of Enfield park by 1608; chief steward of the royal manors of Barking, Copford, Dovercourt, East Mersea, Eastnewhall and le Rey, Harwich, Orsett, Ramsey and Shawes, all Essex, and under-steward and clerk of the forest of Waltham Cross from 1608, deputy in alienations office 1609-12.2


The Hickes family was of Gloucestershire yeoman stock. Michael Hickes’s father came to London as apprentice to an ironmonger and later set up his own mercer’s shop in Cheapside. Hickes’s years at Cambridge and Lincoln’s Inn had a profound effect on his character and ideas. Thomas Cartwright, fellow of Trinity from 1560, was the dominant figure at Cambridge in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign, and Hickes developed an admiration for the puritan leader which he later expressed in concrete terms by providing Cartwright with lodgings and money when, in December 1573, he was a fugitive from the High Commission. More than 20 years later Hickes’s esteem had not diminished: in 1595 he sought and obtained from Cartwright a form of prayer for his own use. Hickes’s contemporaries at Trinity College included other strong puritans, Nathaniel Bacon, Vincent Skinner and John Stubbe, who became his lifelong friends. Stubbe, Skinner and Hickes continued their studies together at Lincoln’s Inn. It is clear in fact that Stubbe exercised great influence in Hickes’s early life, his letters to Hickes being carefully preserved and frequently re-read. After leaving Lincoln’s Inn, Hickes assisted his mother for a time in the Cheapside mercer’s shop. In 1573 he entered Burghley’s service, and seven years later became one of Burghley’s two principal secretaries.3

Hickes’s parliamentary career extended over 26 years. He almost certainly owed his initial return in 1584 to Burghley, who exercised electoral influence at Truro through his relatives, the Killigrews. In 1589 and 1593 he sat for Shaftesbury, which was under the influence of the earls of Pembroke. The 2nd Earl had interests in Bristol and in 1586 Gregory Sprint, Hickes’s cousin and a Bristol man, occupied the junior seat. Hickes’s family connexions may have helped in obtaining Pembroke’s favour, but there is little doubt that the Earl would have been pleased to do a good turn to Burghley’s influential secretary. Hickes repaid his debt between 1601 and 1612 by lending substantial sums to the extravagant and pleasure-loving 3rd Earl. His seat at Gatton in 1597 must have been obtained either through Burghley’s influence or that of Lord Howard of Effingham. In 1601 and 1604 he probably obtained his seat through Lord Buckhurst, then the most powerful man in Sussex, who had not hesitated to make use of Hickes’s services during Burghley’s lifetime and was presumably prepared to make some return for past favours.4

Hickes did not play an important part in Parliament. In 1593 he prepared notes for a speech—we do not know whether it was delivered or not—on the bill for the relief of maimed soldiers. The speech, an impassioned plea for the passing of the bill, was written in Hickes’s colourful euphuistic style. The bill had not been making progress. It had, Hickes maintained,

brought forth nothing but a few fair leaves and blossoms of conceit and speech and now in the end is become speechless, lying as it were in a trance, given over of the physicians as past recovery.

Maimed soldiers slept upon boards or upon the bare ground, whilst Members, ‘lying upon beds of down, sleep soundly and safely in whole skins’. The bill, which provided for relief through local assessments, was revived and passed. In the Parliament of 1597-8 Hickes was involved in an incident with Members ‘in the rebellious corner in the right hand of the House’, furthest away from the Speaker. He had been speaking on a point of order, connected with a bill in which Burghley probably had an interest, when he was shouted down. The interrupters were silenced and Hickes was allowed to continue. He was appointed to the monopolies committee on 10 Nov. 1597. No record has been found of any activity in the 1601 Parliament. By 1604 he was one of the more senior Members and in the 1604-10 Parliament sat on 17 committees.5

Between 1580 and 1598 Hickes was Burghley’s patronage secretary. While his principal colleague, Henry Maynard, dealt mainly with foreign affairs, Hickes busied himself with the problems and requests of suitors. Many of his correspondents were men of high rank, a large number of them peers of the realm and among the others government officials, ecclesiastical dignitaries, judges, serjeants-at-law, dons and mayors of towns. The standing of these suitors reflected his unique position as the man controlling access to Burghley, the most important source of patronage apart from the Queen herself. Hickes expected his services to be rewarded. He made his attitude perfectly clear in a letter to his friend Roger Manners II, in which he assured him of his ‘honest, true affection’, and remarked that he was able to give proof of this at times ‘in these petty kind of offices ... which I know are as welcome and acceptable to you as twenty fair angels laid in the hands of us poor bribers here in court’. Still, the evidence suggests that Hickes’s idea of a fair recompense for his troubles was not always shared by suitors. The Earl of Cumberland, writing on behalf of an unnamed lady, informed Hickes that his client was anxious to have her business settled:

She hath twice been sent for and by the messengers assured that, if she will give the sum you know of, her suit shall presently be dispatched. ... She refused to hearken to it, resting upon me. Wherefore, I pray you, send me word what you will do. If you will despatch it, what I said shall be performed. If not, give her liberty to seek [an]other [patron] which I wish she should not need.

Humphrey Glasier of Cheshire, writing in May 1596, also complained of Hickes’s demands: £6 10s. was the sum involved, a ‘very large allowance’, as Glasier remarked. In over 70% of the cases for which we have evidence Hickes was offered monetary or other benefits for his assistance. Analysis of the letters received by him shows the patronage machine at work. Most suitors approached him directly, but a considerable number felt it necessary to employ an intermediary. Hickes had no doubt about the strength of his own influence, on one occasion telling a suitor to pay no attention to a Council decision, for he himself would attend to the matter in due course. He certainly had an important voice in the appointment of escheators during the last decade of the sixteenth century. Suitors for these posts who employed his mediation stood a good chance of success and Hickes himself received, on occasion, as much as £20 for his services.6

There is no evidence to suggest that Hickes was ever on terms of intimate friendship with Burghley. It is certain, however, that he and Robert Cecil were, for a time at least, the closest of friends. The two men were well acquainted by 1584, and by 1588 Hickes filled the role of crony, factotum and confidant. The youthful Robert Cecil was a very different man from the cold, aloof statesman of the Jacobean period. In the early 1590s he found pleasure in a convivial circle of friends. In this group the witty Hickes, with his gift for repartee, occupied a prominent place. From 1592, moreover, the younger Cecil began to play an increasingly important part in affairs of state. Hickes, the intimate of his leisure hours, was also the confidant of the rising politician and administrator. At times the two men resorted to practices which did credit to neither. On one occasion, having arranged with Hickes to trick a suitor by suppressing a letter which ought to have been delivered to Burghley, Cecil added mockingly, ‘This is no knavery, for if it were I know your upright conscience’. Hickes and Cecil did not even hesitate to bully the ageing Burghley. In 1594 the bishopric of Durham was vacant. Burghley intended originally that William Day, dean of Windsor, should be the new bishop. His son and his patronage secretary, however, had other ideas. Supporting the candidature of Toby Matthew, they finally persuaded him to change his mind and agree to Matthew’s nomination.7

Hickes and Cecil remained close friends for a time after Burghley’s death. Suitors continued to believe that Hickes’s influence was considerable and bombarded him with requests to use his good offices on their behalf. By 1608, however, Cecil, burdened with increasing official duties, had become distant towards his old companion. Hickes himself retained his affection for Cecil until the very end of the latter’s life. In April and May 1612, when he accompanied the dying statesman on his last journey to Bath, the relationship between the two clearly reverted to that of 20 years earlier, Hickes being once more the affectionate and cheerful companion.8

During Burghley’s lifetime Hickes had stood at the very centre of government. Afterwards he was much concerned with local administration. In July 1598, by one of his last official acts, Burghley raised his secretary to the key feodaryship of Essex, an office which Hickes continued to enjoy until 1601. As feodary he was called upon to enforce in Essex Robert Cecil’s plan of drastically increasing revenue from the court of wards. Burghley had, for example, sold the great bulk of wardships at no more than one and a half times the annual value of the land. Between 1598 and 1601, in contrast, only four Essex wardships out of 20 were sold at a rate less than three times the annual value of the lands. During 1603 and 1604, as receiver general, Hickes was involved in financial administration. From 1605 he was justice of the peace in Essex and as one of the leaders of the local gentry was, from 1606 onwards, a subsidy commissioner there. From 1608, as chief steward of important royal manors, he was involved in work connected with the great survey instituted to determine the value of all the King’s lands. During the last four years of his life Hickes was again active in central administration as one of three deputies to the lord treasurer and chancellor of the Exchequer in the alienations office, with an annual fee of £100. The principal duty of the deputies was to determine the fine to be paid upon alienations of land held in chief of the Crown.9

At the time of his death Hickes owned land in Gloucestershire, London and Nottinghamshire, as well as his interest in his wife’s Essex property. Though he engaged on occasion in a certain amount of land speculation, the bulk of his capital was employed in extensive money-lending activities. The list of his debtors is impressive, including the Earls of Shrewsbury, Pembroke and Hertford together with Robert Cecil, Sir Walter Ralegh and Francis and Anthony Bacon. The sums involved were considerable. Between 1600 and 1608 the Earl of Hertford received loans totalling £3,320 and Pembroke in May 1609 owed £1,600. The fact that Hickes had extensive contacts in financial as well as government circles made him eminently suitable as a mediator between the court and the money market. In 1603, for example, Fulke Greville requested him at short notice to raise a loan on his behalf. Within eight days Hickes had obtained the money. Greville, who had not wished his difficulties to become generally known, hastened to express his gratitude to Hickes for keeping his name out of the negotiations. Leading figures on the money market itself often turned to Hickes for aid. His brother Baptist Hickes, mercer and moneylender, frequently had difficulty in obtaining money due to him from court notables or from the Crown itself. On such occasions he often asked Michael to intervene and obtain payment of the debt.10

Hickes spent much of his married life at Ruckholt, his wife’s house in Essex, where, in the autumn of 1597, he entertained the Queen. Elizabeth liked the house itself and had words of praise for Mrs. Hickes, but the usually voluble and witty Hickes was overcome by the occasion. He had intended to make an eloquent speech of welcome to his royal visitor but, as he lamented to his friend (Sir) John Stanhope, the ‘resplendence of her Majesty’s royal presence and princely aspect did on a sudden so daunt all my senses and dazzle mine eyes, as for the time I had use neither of speech nor memory’. The Queen, annoyed by the lapse, left without conferring on him the knighthood which he expected and which he did not obtain until 1604.11

A man of singular charm, Hickes seems to have had few enemies. He certainly had many friends. One of these was his Essex neighbour and fellow puritan, (Sir) Robert Wroth I. From 1597 until Wroth’s death in 1606, they corresponded frequently and Hickes was a constant visitor to Wroth’s seat at Loughton. There he had plenty of opportunity to play bowls, a game he loved. The one surviving portrait of him is a mirror of the man’s character. Painted when he was advanced in years, the unwrinkled face is full of vitality and life. The eyes sparkle under the skull cap which he wore to cover his bald head. The portrait is clearly that of a man who enjoyed a full life.

Hickes died at Ruckholt 15 Aug. 1612, aged 69,

of a burning ague, which came, as is thought, of his often going into the water this hot summer, which though it might seem to refresh him for the time, yet was thought unseasonable for a man of his years.12

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: A.G.R.S.


  • 1. Harl. Soc. Reg. xliv. 128; Vis. Glos. (Harl. Soc. xxi), 81-2; M. McDonnell, Annals St. Paul’s Sch. 94; Lansd. 5, f. 111; 77, f. 186; S. E. Hicks Beach, Cotswold Fam. 167 seq.; PCC 9 Noodes.
  • 2. Lansd. 46, f. 29; 51, f. 2; 89, f. 179; 90, f. 210; 108, f. 147; Wards 9/275; SP14/60/2; SP38/7; patent rolls 3 Jas. I, pt. 20; 7 Jas. I, pt. 34; E315/323/54-5; PRO Index 9982.
  • 3. Hicks Beach, op. cit. 29 seq., 52-4; PCC 9 Noodes; McDonnell, 94; Harl. Soc. Reg. xliv. 128, 285; Lansd. 5, f. 111; 12, ff. 117, 217; 18, f. 35; 21, f. 26; 23, f. 179; 25, f. 135; 31, f. 40; 36, f. 212; 46, f. 29; 51, f. 2; 61, f. 170; 69, f. 101; 79, f. 174, 101, f. 138; 107, f. 170; 108, f. 147.
  • 4. Lansd. 84, ff. 125, 131; 88, f. 23; 89, f. 169; 90, ff. 2, 42, 67; 91, ff. 45, 63, 143; 92, ff. 59, 64, 163.
  • 5. Lansd. 73, f. 130; Statutes, iv. 847-9; Neale, Parlts. ii. 363; Bull. IHR, xii. 20; CJ, i. 185, 259, 260, 262, 301, 330, 338, 342, 365, 377, 397, 399, 400, 416, 417, 420; D’Ewes, 555.
  • 6. Lansd. 76, f. 180; 82, f. 134; 107, f. 162. For a detailed exposition of the evidence see A. G. R. Smith, ‘Sir Michael Hickes and the Secretariat of the Cecils, c. 1580-1612’ (London Univ. PhD thesis, 1962), ch. 5.
  • 7. Lansd. 64, f. 147; 65, f. 192; 77, ff. 36, 40, 147, 153, 174, 192; 78, f. 40; 79, f. 108; 107, ff. 66, 76, 80; HMC Hatfield, v. 7, 48, 49, 79; 121-2.
  • 8. Lansd. 90, f. 143; 92, f. 203.
  • 9. J. Hurstfield, Queen’s Wards, 275-6, 312-13; Wards 9/160/39-44; LR2/214, ff. 210-351; E101/1/2; Guiseppi, Guide to PRO, i. 258.
  • 10. C142/327/132, 261/59; PCC 9 Noodes; patent roll 2 Jas. I, pt. 15; close rolls 3 Jas. I, pts. 17, 29; 4 Jas. I, pt. 10; 5 Jas. I, pt. 27; 6 Jas. I, pt. 14; patent rolls 43 Eliz., pt. 1; 2 Jas. I, pt. 2; 5 Jas. I, pt. 5; 8 Jas. I, pt. 28;Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Trans. xvii. 253; Lansd. 87, ff. 87, 117; 88, ff. 123, 125, 147, 167; 90, ff. 58, 202; 91, ff. 45, 119, 141; 92, ff. 8, 12, 62, 173; 107, f. 173; HMC Bath, ii. 54; iv. 347; LC4/195/111; Spedding, Bacon, ii. 28, 205-6; iii. 14; iv. 40, 87, 95.
  • 11. Lansd. 108, f. 86.
  • 12. Lansd. 85, f. 51; 86, f. 79; 87, ff. 167, 218, 220; 88, ff. 59, 75, 89, 187; 89, ff. 36, 121, 127, 187; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, i. 379.