CLARKE (CLERK), Matthew (1564-1623), of Nicholas Street, King's Lynn, Norf.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

b. 1564,1 1st s. of Richard Clarke† of King’s Lynn, alderman and searcher and Joan, da. of Thomas Boston of Norwich, Norf.2 educ. Christ’s, Camb. 1581, BA 1585, MA 1588; G. Inn 1591.3 m. (1) 8 Aug. 1588, Sarah (d. 16 June 1604), da. of Richard Leach of King’s Lynn, 2s. 5da. (2 d.v.p.);4 (2) bef. 1606, Triphosa, wid. of George Estey, 4s. suc. fa. 1603. d. 1 May 1623.5 sig. Mat[thew] Clarck.

Offices Held

Freeman, King’s Lynn 1589,6 common cllr. 1594-9, coroner 1595-9, alderman 1603-d.,7 mayor 1605-6, 1613-14,8 auditor 1606-8, 1610-d.,9 commr. subsidy 1608,10 searcher by 1608, commr. lic. passage overseas 1610;11 j.p. Norf. 1605-d.12


Clarke’s father was an alderman and searcher of King’s Lynn, involved in the coastal shipping trade with London. Clarke himself, after being educated at Cambridge and Gray’s Inn, was elected to Lynn’s common council in 1594, and established himself as a successful wine merchant and brewer with trade links to London, Newcastle, Great Yarmouth, Bordeaux, and Middelburg. However, he was deprived of his membership of the corporation in 1599 after slighting the mayor at a council meeting and then refusing to pay the fine imposed on him. The following year he became embroiled in a legal dispute with a Peterborough innkeeper, who owed him money for wine. Clarke had foreclosed after buying up the innkeeper’s wine licences and debts, and obtaining the mortgage to his inn, but the innkeeper had complained to the Northamptonshire justices and the Privy Council. The outcome of the case, which was eventually heard in the Court of Requests, is unknown.13

Following his father’s death, Clarke rejoined the corporation as an alderman in 1603, and served as mayor two years later. Over the next ten years he was the town’s senior representative and negotiator on virtually every matter which concerned its interests. For instance, he successfully obtained the removal of a levy of 2d. per chaldron of coal imposed on Lynn merchants by the hostmen of Newcastle.14 Town business frequently took him to London - he made four trips there in 1608 alone - but he also visited Cambridge, Mintwood, Norwich, Snettisham, and Stourbridge. His activities on these trips varied considerably, from purchasing lead to repair a church roof to pleading the town’s case before King’s Bench over the removal of an alderman for buggery and child molestation.15 As well as being an active member of the Lynn corporation, Clarke also served as searcher of King’s Lynn for the Crown, an office previously occupied by his father, for which he received an annual fee of £12.16 In January 1614 Clarke was summoned before the Privy Council to answer allegations that as searcher he had not ‘performed that duty ... which His Majesty’s service required’.17

Clarke was subsequently returned for Lynn to the 1614 Parliament, although as mayor he was technically ineligible. His only recorded speech in the Commons was to defend himself after the validity of his election was challenged. On 19 Apr. he ‘declared that forasmuch as he had considerable business committed unto him that much concerned the town’s good, his fellow burgess [Thomas Oxborough] not yet come up, he might be continued in the House till the next session of Parliament’. He also promised ‘to make his affairs known to the House’ and protested that ‘he had rather continue to be a scholar in this school of wisdom than governor of the best town in the realm’. The Commons, apparently much taken by his speech, referred the matter to the consideration of a committee, but it never reported and Clarke continued to sit. The corporation’s records do not indicate the nature of the ‘considerable business’ that Clarke had been instructed to pursue. Clarke was not named to any committees but was eligible, as a burgess for Lynn, to attend the bill committee which sought to restrain the appointment of brewers as magistrates.18

Clarke again represented Lynn in the 1621 Parliament. He made only one recorded speech, in which he condemned the controversial lighthouse patents (26 May), and was not individually named to any committee.19 While in London, Clarke and his fellow Lynn Member, John Wallis, were instructed by the corporation to buy a piece of plate ‘not exceeding’ £15 to bestow on Samuel Harsnett, bishop of Norwich.20 The gilt cup they subsequently purchased was at first disparaged by the aldermen, but was later presented to Harsnett.21 The Lynn Members were also instructed to pay the town’s contribution towards the Palatinate ‘Benevolence’, and received £100 for this purpose.22 Clarke was handsomely rewarded for his services in Parliament, receiving wages of 10s. per day in both 1614 and 1621.23

Clarke continued to attend corporation meetings until his death on 30 Dec. 1623.24 His will left most of his possessions, including a ship named the Thomas, to his widow Triphosa and his six sons. The corporation received £10 for the relief of 20 poor widows of the borough, and £5 to provide interest-free loans to ‘poor beginner[s] or artificer[s]’. In a codicil he gave the two town preachers 20s. apiece and ordered that his books be sent to his two sons and a stepson, then studying at Cambridge.25 His monument, in St. Nicholas Chapel, King’s Lynn, depicts him and the members of his family in elaborate splendour.26 None of his descendants sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Chris Kyle


V. Parker, Making of King’s Lynn, 97.

  • 1. Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), unnumb. John Greene ms, from MI, St. Nicholas’ Chapel, King’s Lynn.
  • 2. J. Peile, Bio. Reg. Christ’s, i. 162-3.
  • 3. Al. Cant.; GI Admiss.
  • 4. Norf. RO, St. Margaret’s par. reg., King’s Lynn; MI, St. Nicholas’ Chapel, King’s Lynn.
  • 5. MI, St. Nicholas’ Chapel, King’s Lynn; Norf. RO, St. Nicholas’ Chapel par. reg. King’s Lynn.
  • 6. Cal. Lynn Freemen, 122.
  • 7. Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), KL/C7/8, ff. 44, 83, 278.
  • 8. Ibid. f. 349v; C7/9, f. 41v.
  • 9. Ibid. KL/C7/8, 9, passim.
  • 10. SP14/31/1.
  • 11. C193/6, no. 167.
  • 12. Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), KL/C2/48.
  • 13. G.A. Metters, ‘Rulers and Merchants King’s Lynn’ (Univ. East Anglia Ph.D. thesis, 1982), p. 33, 351-2; APC, 1599-1600, p. 366.
  • 14. Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), KL/C7/8, ff. 352v, 357v, 382, 393v, 403, 415, 429; KL/C4/17; see also KL/C45/12.
  • 15. Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), KL/C7/8, ff. 44v, 377, 482; KL, unnumb. ms, pprs. relating to case against Alderman Baker.
  • 16. E315/618.
  • 17. APC, 1613-14, p. 318.
  • 18. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 103,107, 394.
  • 19. CD 1621, ii. 396.
  • 20. Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), KL/C7/9, f. 169.
  • 21. Ibid. f. 170r-v.
  • 22. Ibid. ff. 172a, 173.
  • 23. Ibid. ff. 56v, 167v.
  • 24. Ibid. f. 193v.
  • 25. PROB 11/141, ff. 345-6v.
  • 26. Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), unnumb. John Greene ms.