CROKE, Sir John (c.1586-1640), of Studley, Oxon., Chilton, Bucks and Payne's Place, Motcombe, Dorset
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Family and Education
b. c.1586, 1st s. of Sir John Croke† of Chilton, Bucks. j.k.b. 1607-20, and Catherine, da. of Michael Blount† of Mapledurham, Oxon.; bro. of Henry* and Unton*.1 educ. Univ. Coll. Oxf. 1600, aged 14; I. Temple 1601.2 m. (1) Eleanor, da. and coh. of Jervase Gibbons of Benenden, Kent, s.p.;3 (2) 24 May 1609,4 Rachel, da. and h. of Sir William Webb of Motcombe, 3s. 1da.5 kntd. 18 Apr. 1609;6 suc. fa. 1620.7 d. 10 Apr. 1640.8
J.p. Oxon. 1614-c.20,9 Westminster 1618-c.20,10 Dorset 1619-39;11 ranger, forests of Shotover, Stowood and Barnwood, Oxon. and Bucks. 1621-?d.;12 commr. piracy, Dorset 1622,13 oyer and terminer 1626-31,14 martial law 1626,15 Forced loan 1627,16 complaints, Gillingham forest 1627;17 treas. E. Dorset 1629-30;18 commr. sewers, Kent and Suss. 1629,19 knighthood fines, Dorset 1630-1,20 sheriff 1637-8.21
Croke’s great-grandfather, one of the six clerks in Chancery, purchased Chilton in Buckinghamshire in 1529 and Studley, in Oxfordshire ten years later.22 His grandfather was the first of the family to sit in the Commons, as Member for Buckinghamshire in 1572, and his father was Speaker in 1601 and became a judge in 1607. Although Croke received a legal education and later inherited all his father’s law books, he preferred the life of a country gentleman. His first wife lived for less than two years after their marriage, ‘visited with such infirmity of continual sickness as the charge amounted to a great part of that portion she was to have’, and died some five months short of her sixteenth birthday.23
Returned for Oxfordshire in 1614, Croke played little part in the Addled Parliament, being appointed only to manage a conference with the Lords about a bill for the observance of the Sabbath on 1 June.24 After succeeding his father in 1620 he sold Studley to his uncle Sir George Croke†, and settled in Dorset on his second wife’s property at Motcombe, within two miles of Shaftesbury, which his brother Henry had represented in 1614. He gave evidence for the Crown at the inquiry into the enclosure of Gillingham forest in 1627,25 when he professed contentment with his own allotment, as well he might, since at a later inquiry it was alleged that he had been allowed to encroach up to 16 feet along the highways.26 He was elected for Shaftesbury in 1628, but left no trace on the records of the third Caroline Parliament.
Croke’s donation of 14 volumes to the Dorchester library sometime before 1631 exceeded all others in number; the books included the History of Tithes (1617) by John Selden* and Richard Montagu’s reply.27 As sheriff of Dorset in 1637 he was responsible for collecting Ship Money.28 He made no contribution towards the cost of the First Bishops’ War,29 and was still trying to collect Ship Money arrears in February 1640, when he excused his non-appearance before the Council, ‘as my weakness is such that I cannot travel to London without peril of my life’.30 He died intestate on 10 Apr. following, leaving debts of £4,000, and was buried at Chilton; administration was granted to his son John.31 The latter, a royalist colonel, was created a baronet in or soon after 1642, and compounded for property in Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire valued at nearly £1,500 per annum in 1648.32 He nonetheless died in poverty and disgrace after alienating the family estates. No other member of the senior branch of the Croke family entered Parliament.33