LAMBARDE, William (1536-1601), of Lincoln's Inn and Westcombe, near Greenwich, Kent.

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. 18 Oct. 1536, 1st s. of John Lambert or Lambarde, draper, alderman and sheriff of London, by his 1st w. Julian, da. and h. of William Horne of London. educ. ?Jesus, Camb. 1549; L. Inn 1556, called 1567. m. (1) 11 Sept. 1570, Jane (d.1573), da. of George Multon of St. Clere, Ightham, Kent, s.p.; (2) 28 Oct. 1583, Sylvestra or Sylvestria (d.1587), da. and h. of Robert Deane or Dene of Halling, Kent, wid. of William Dallison, 3s. 1da.; (3) 13 Apr. 1592, Margaret, da. of John Payne of Frittenden, Kent, wid. of John Meryam of Boughton Monchelsea, Kent, and Richard Reder, s.p. suc. fa. 1554.

Offices Held

Commr. sewers, Kent 1568; assoc. bencher L. Inn 1579, bencher 1597; j.p. Kent by 1579, q. c.1584, dep. to Lord Burghley at alienations office 1589; member, Antiq. Soc. c.1591; master in Chancery extraordinary 1592, master in ordinary 1597; dep. keeper of rolls 1597; keeper of recs. in the Tower 1601.1


There was a Lambert family in Yorkshire in Elizabeth’s reign, and several Williams are shown in sixteenth-century pedigrees, but there can be no doubt that the Aldborough Member was the antiquary William Lambarde of Kent. Up to the time that he entered Parliament, comparatively little is known of him. He was a minor when his father died, and for a short time the ward of Edmund Hensley. When he came of age he was in comfortable circumstances, since he inherited the manor of Westcombe near Greenwich, as well as property in Shoreditch, in the city of London and perhaps in Wiltshire. He had no known Yorkshire connexions and obviously owed his return to Sir Ambrose Cave, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, who perhaps nominated him at the request of some great man such as Cecil. Although at the time of his election he was not yet a barrister, he had been at Lincoln’s Inn a favourite pupil of Laurence Nowell, brother of the dean of St. Paul’s. Nowell encouraged him to publish as his first known work a collection made by Nowell himself of Anglo-Saxon laws, with added Latin translations. This was not published until 1568, but work on it must have begun considerably earlier, and Lambarde’s name was presumably known to Cecil, Cave and their scholarly friends. Lambarde’s strong protestantism shows in a number of his writings. Interestingly enough Lambarde mentions Aldborough in his Dictionarium Anglia Topographicum et Historicum, ‘notable for no other thing than that it sendeth burgesses to the Parliament’. He made a ‘learned oration’ during the debate of 8 Nov. 1566, after the Queen had sent a message refusing to accede to the House’s petition to settle the succession. In this he showed courage, since three Privy Councillors had reported Elizabeth’s decision to the Commons, and the House had at first expressed no disapproval. To re-open the matter was to risk forfeiting government favour. His own account is brief:

Which suit was in a sort moved to be reiterated by a speech of this writer ... but that they should satisfy themselves with her promise. And then P[aul] Wentworth and James Dalton moved, whether this did not restrain the liberties of the House.

In later years Lambarde seemed to have little in common with firebrands like Dalton and the Wentworth brothers, but on this occasion his intervention almost precipitated a major clash between Crown and Commons. His own account of the proceedings leaves out an important stage—that on the day following his speech and the ensuing debate, the Queen sent a stronger message, expressly forbidding the House to continue with their petition. It was this which brought Paul Wentworth to his feet to ask ‘whether her Highness’s commandment, forbidding the Lower House to speak or treat any more of the succession ... be a breach of the liberty of the free speech of the House, or not?’2

After his appearance in the two sessions of the 1563 Parliament, Lambarde took little part in public affairs for some time. Until 1579, when he was placed on the Kent commission of the peace, he divided his time between the common law and the writings for which he quickly became famous. The Lincoln’s Inn records between 1558 and 1567 name him as one of those from whom minor officials—master of the revels or steward for readers’ dinners—were to be chosen, but there is no evidence of his actually performing any of these offices: indeed, in 1574 he paid £8 in order not to act as steward. Five years later it was said of him, as a new associate bencher, that he ‘hath deserved universally well of his commonwealth and country, and likewise of the fellowship and society of this house, and is like hereafter to win greater credit to himself and the society’. In the last year of his life he was appointed one of the four ‘censors or visitors for ... religion and good life’ at his Inn.3

His legal studies apparently left him plenty of time for other activities. It was in 1570 that he finished his first popular work, the Perambulation of Kent. Both Archbishop Parker and Lord Burghley read the manuscript, and Camden, in the preface to the Kent section of his Britannia, paid a warm tribute to Lambarde as ‘a person of great learning and character, and so happy in his researches that he has left very little for others’. In a letter of 1585 Lambarde modestly deprecated this eulogy:

One thing that of all the rest I mislike, I mean the first few lines of your ‘Kent’, the which you must either moderate or omit, if you will have me think that you deal so plainly with me as I mean to do with you.

The promised plain dealing is of the gentlest and most courteous kind, limited to disagreement with various isolated items. Of the main body of Camden’s writing, Lambarde wrote appreciatively that it was so well done that he was himself giving up the idea of a similar work covering the whole of England, ‘sorrowing that I may not now (as I would) dwell in the meditation of the same things that you are occupied withal’. Even on his own specialist subject, Kent, he was equally generous: ‘I learnt many things by you, that I knew not before ... To be plain, I seem to myself not to have known Kent till I knew Camden’. He added a warm invitation to ‘come down into Kent and look amongst my papers’, and an assertion of his sincerity in all that he wrote. He was not flattering a fellow author: ‘I am far from such clawing of any man.’

Between 1576—when after six years’ delay the Perambulation of Kent was published—and his death, Lambarde wrote a number of other important works. One of his best known was his Eirenarcha: or of the office of Justice of the Peace. He ‘gathered’ the materials for this in 1579, the year in which he himself was placed on the Kent commission. It was written in a clear, attractive style and at once became popular. First published in January 1582, it was reprinted seven times in the next 30 years, and remained for long the standard authority on the subject. The last three editions contained sections on other local officials, such as churchwardens and surveyors of highways. Another of Lambarde’s writings, Archeion, a collection of commentaries largely completed in 1591, remained in manuscript until 1635, when his grandson Thomas published it. Many of his notes survive, on local government and other matters (some of them for uncompleted works), and the Cotton, Lansdowne, Stowe and additional manuscripts in the British Library contain his treatises on Parliament and Chancery, together with letters and other material. His legal knowledge and clear, lucid style of writing made him useful to the government in drafting or amending parliamentary bills: his annotated copy of at least one, to ‘restrain the printing of hurtful books’, survives. In December 1588 he was one of a committee of lawyers instructed to examine existing statutes and report to the Privy Council on those found unnecessary or defective. As good a speaker as a writer, he was chosen on a number of occasions to deliver the annual charge to the grand jury at the Kent quarter sessions.4

Lambarde was apparently over 50 before he held a regular government post. His surviving letters show that he was on friendly terms with Burghley, at whose request he collected some historical notes on Lincoln and Stamford: these he described with his habitual modesty as inadequate and ‘rudely tumbled together’. In 1587 he wrote to thank the lord treasurer for unspecified favours, which he appreciated even more during his sorrow over the recent death of his second wife. Another letter, of October 1589, expressed gratitude for a government appointment, that of Burghley’s deputy at the recently established alienations office. Lambarde was highly successful in his new post, bringing financial benefit both to the treasury and to the Cecils, and typically produced a treatise on the ‘newly erected’ office, a work commended by Francis Bacon. In 1591 he showed his appreciation of the favours he had received from Burghley and his son by presenting Robert Cecil, on his admission to the Privy Council, with the collection known as the Archeion, mentioned above.

Both Sir John Puckering, the lord keeper, and Thomas Egerton, the attorney-general, were contemporaries of Lambarde at Lincoln’s Inn, and Egerton, a close friend, may have persuaded the new lord keeper to appoint Lambarde a master in Chancery—presumably the one assigned to the alienations office for the taking of oaths. In 1596 Egerton himself became lord keeper and soon afterwards made Lambarde his deputy as keeper of the rolls. Judging from the Archeion, the author was in complete agreement with Egerton’s schemes for reforming Chancery procedure, especially by limiting equitable jurisdiction:

Equity should not be appealed unto but only in rare and extraordinary matters, [lest its too frequent application] bring upon men such a confusion and uncertainty, as hardly any man should know how, or how long, to hold his own assured to him.

Another matter on which the two men agreed was that Chancery should make more use of the common law practice of following precedents, and Lambarde drew up a collection of Chancery cases suitable to be used in this way.5

In 1596 when the office of Latin secretary fell vacant, Lambarde is said to have refused ‘the offer’. However, early in 1601 he accepted a new post—that of keeper of records in the Tower. The appointment had been promised, on the death of Michael Heneage, to Dr. John James, who died less than a month after Heneage, and on 3 Feb. John Chamberlain wrote that ‘Lambert of Lincoln’s Inn hath the executing of it, but not the grant’. Lambarde was now by Elizabethan standards an old man, and his eyes were failing (as early as 1587 he had apologised to Egerton for the ‘foul workmanship’ of a Christmas gift, a manuscript which his poor eyesight had forced him to have copied), and he seems to have left a good deal of the routine work to his assistant Peter Proby. However, he must have enjoyed the opportunity of research which his new appointment offered. Early in August 1601 he had an audience with the Queen, for whom he had drawn up a descriptive account of the documents under his charge. He had asked the Countess of Warwick to present the ‘book’, but Elizabeth required him to bring it in person, and talked to him for some time in the privy chamber at Greenwich. She discussed the meanings of various Latin terms, courteously, and perhaps unnecessarily, asking the old man to explain them. Essex’s rebellion and execution were obviously still preying on her mind, and a mention of Richard II led her to refer to it: ‘I am Richard II: know ye not that? ... This tragedy was played forty times in open streets and houses’. Later on in Lambarde’s historical explanations she commented sadly, ‘In those days force and arms did prevail; but now the wit of the fox is everywhere on foot, so as hardly a faithful or virtuous man may be found’. She thanked him warmly for his gift, saying:

She had not received since her first coming to the Crown any one thing that brought therewith so great delectation unto her ... And so being called away to prayer, she put the book into her bosom, having forbidden me from the first to the last to fall upon my knee before her, concluding: ‘Farewell, good and honest Lambarde’.6

The devout protestantism which Lambarde professed found expression in various ways. He endowed an almshouse or ‘college’ at East Greenwich, which the Queen allowed him to call by her name, and in the instructions which he drew up for the inmates—20 poor people, men or women—he made detailed arrangements for daily worship. No pensioners might be admitted unless they could recite the Lord’s prayer, the creed and the ten commandments in English. The Drapers’ Company provided the two governors, who were also required to take the same religious test. In 1597, as an executor of Lord Cobham’s will, Lambarde was made partly responsible for organizing a similar institution at Cobham, Kent, a medieval foundation which Lord Cobham left money to restore. Again the regulations laid stress on religious observance, and it was doubtless Lambarde who replaced the former seal (showing the Virgin, holding a lily, with the Christ-child and a kneeling figure) by a new one depicting Rochester bridge and a lion representing Cobham’s crest.7

He died at Westcombe on 19 Aug. 1601, only a fortnight after his audience with the Queen, and was buried at Greenwich: his body was later removed to the Lambarde chapel in Sevenoaks church. His will, drawn up in 1597, ‘with the blessed favour of the only and one God, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost’, has a devout preamble, committing his soul to Christ, through whose ‘bloodshedding and intercession, for without blood there could be no propitiation’, he hoped to be forgiven and ‘to joy with Him everlastingly’. He required the overseers, (Sir) John Leveson, George Byng, and John Tyndall, to see that his funeral was without ‘blacks’ or feasting. His only daughter, Margaret, was to receive £800 for her marriage if it was approved ‘in writing’ by her stepmother and by ‘Lady Mary Burgavenny’, Lady Christian Leveson, and ‘my good friends whom I call sisters, Mistress Margery Wyndham and Mistress Audrey Multon’. Lambarde’s sons, Multon (the heir), Gore and Fane, were provided for, the overseers being asked to direct their education, and see that their father’s books, ‘instruments of learning’ and maps, were kept by the Drapers’ Company until the boys were able to make good use of them. Then the heir was to have the ‘reckonings’ and accounts, while the learned works and maps were to be given to ‘such of them’ [the sons] as in the judgment of the overseers should be then ‘able to make the best use of them for his or their learning’. Egerton, who was asked to ‘afford his conscionable aid’ to the execution of the will, was bequeathed three old rose nobles and a gold, ruby and diamond ring which ‘as I have been credibly informed’, had once belonged to the mother of Henry VII. The Drapers’ Company received £10 for plate (the Lambarde cup is still among their treasures), and an odd section of the will deals with 5s.‘parcels’ of clothes and other goods which the overseers were to sell to the widow and children: they were ‘to sell in like sort to Master John Tyndall my golden tablet enamelled and spectacles therein’. In addition to details about the Greenwich almshouses, Lambarde gave instructions concerning his responsibilities as executor for Lord Cobham and Ralph Rokeby. After 12 years his three sons were to administer his property. On 5 Oct. 1601 administration was granted to Sir John Leveson.8

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. DNB; Arch. Cant. v. 247-53; Black Bk. of L. Inn, i. 356, 412, 457; ii. 51; Harvard Lib. Bulletin, vii(3) (1953), 271-99 passim; C216/1, m. 1; W. J. Jones, Eliz. Ct. of Chancery, 68, 111-12, 116-17.
  • 2. CPR, 1554-5, p. 76; 1557-8, p. 79; 1569-72, pp. 144, 220; Dictionarium (1730), 3-4; CJ, i. 76, 78; D’Ewes, 128; Neale, Parlts. i. 151-2, 161; Add. 5123, ff. 10-11.
  • 3. Black Bk. i. 325, 327, 331, 388, 392, 412; ii, 66.
  • 4. Lansd. 17, f. 90; 43, f. 187; 155, f. 437 seq.; Cott. Julius C. v. 9, p. 25; C. ix. 105; Vesp. A. v. 1; Stow, 415; Camden, Britannia (1806), i. 307; EHR, xli. 260-73; C. Read, William Lambarde and Local Govt. 3, 8, 55 seq.; APC, xvi. 417.
  • 5. Lansd. 43, f. 44; 54, f. 172; 61, f. 163; Strype, Annals, iii(1), pp. 723-4; (2), 501-2; Works of Francis Bacon, ed. Montagu, xiii. 364-85; Harvard Lib. Bulletin .
  • 6. HMC Hatfield, vi. 248; xi. 350; Nichols, Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica, i. 493 seq.; App. vii. 525.
  • 7. A. H. Johnson, Hist. Drapers’ Co. ii. 146, 158; Arch. Cant. xi. 214-15; xxvii. 83.
  • 8. PCC 63 Woodhall; Arch. Cant. v. 247-53.