WAKE, Sir Isaac (c.1581-1632), of London

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. c.1581, 2nd s. of Arthur Wake (d.1596), chaplain of Mont Orgueil, Jersey 1574-92, and Christian, da. of Sir William Wigston† of Wolston, Warws.1 educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1593, aged 12, BA 1597, MA 1603; M. Temple 1605, Padua 1625.2 m. 18 Dec. 1623, Anne (d. 1642), da. of Edward Bray of Barrington, Glos., s.p.3 kntd. 16 Feb. 1619.4 d. June 1632.5

Offices Held

Fell. Merton, Oxf. 1598-21; public orator, Oxf. Univ. 1604-21;6 sec. to (Sir) Dudley Carleton* 1610-15.7

Member, embassy to Venice 1610-15;8 resident agent, Savoy 1615-24;9 amb. Venice 1624-31,10 France 1631-d.;11 gent. of the privy chamber 1624.12


Wake’s ancestors first represented Northamptonshire in 1300, though none had sat in the Commons since 1478.13 His father, a younger son, was rector of Great Billing, Northamptonshire and a canon of Christ Church, Oxford, until deprived for puritan nonconformity in 1573, whereupon he retired to Jersey as chaplain to the staunchly Calvinist Amyas Paulet†. A friend of the earl of Leicester, he was permitted to retain the emoluments of St. John’s hospital in Northampton without providing for any of the warden’s duties.14 Thus Wake’s early childhood was spent in a bilingual puritan community. By the time he and his elder brother went up to Oxford, his father had been restored to his former position at Christ Church.15 Wake himself became a classics don at Merton under the wardenship of Henry Savile†, and seems to have made a name for himself beyond the confines of academia, for in July 1604 he was granted 4d. on every affidavit taken before the Council in the Marches of Wales.16 A few months later he was elected public orator of the university, to which he welcomed James I in 1605; he later produced a published account of the royal visit under the title Rex Platonicus.17 The king recognized Wake’s ability as a scholar and orator, but could not resist observing that the gravity of his delivery was ‘apt to make him sleep’, whereas the liveliness and wit of Slepe (deputy-orator at Cambridge) kept him awake.18 In 1607 Wake delivered a funeral oration for John Rainolds, the puritan president of Corpus Christi, and received a reversionary grant of the keepership of Ewelme hospital in Oxfordshire.19

Soon after leaving Oxford in 1609, Wake undertook a grand tour of France, the Low Countries, and Italy. At Venice, where he resided for the next five years, he became the secretary of the newly appointed ambassador, Sir Dudley Carleton, to whom he had probably been recommended by Savile and by his own kinsman, Sir John Digby*, ambassador to Spain.20 He spent the rest of his life in diplomatic employment.21 In 1615 he transferred to a post at Turin, the capital of Savoy, and during a brief trip back to England in 1619 James knighted him for his services there. Wake made an unsuccessful bid, supported by Prince Charles and the 3rd earl of Pembroke (chancellor of Oxford University), for the wardenship of Merton in 1622; the fellows preferred Nathaniel Brent†, but as Archbishop Abbot informed Sir Thomas Edmondes*, Charles took the snub personally and was ‘not well pleased’.22 Wake obtained leave from Turin early the following year to settle his affairs and to marry the stepdaughter of Sir Edward Conway I*.23

Early in 1624 Chamberlain wrote that Wake was to return to Italy as ambassador to Venice, ‘with a large commission for all Italy’, but his precise instructions would depend upon how Parliament responded to the failure of the Spanish Match; as Chamberlain shrewdly observed, ‘his employment is at the stake to stand or fall as matters pass there, though he have received his letters and instructions, and lords it handsomely already’. It was thus not simply as a Crown servant, but as one with a special task to perform, that Wake was returned to the Parliament of 1624 for Oxford University. Chamberlain commented upon Wake’s regular attendance in the House, and it is clear that he made a significant contribution to the revelations of Spanish treachery.24 On 3 Mar. he was among those appointed to manage the conference on negotiations with Spain, and on the following day he recounted the deceptions practised by the Spaniards over a match with the duke of Savoy.25 He was then added to a sub-committee to confer with the Lords on breaking off all treaties with Spain, and on 5 Mar. he filled out the report made by Sir Edwin Sandys*, saying that intercepted letters showed that the Vatican was determined to prevent the restoration of the Palatinate.26 He was among those appointed to attend the conference of 11 Mar. on the kingdom’s readiness for war, and to a sub-committee to draft an answer to the king’s demands for supply (20 March).27 On 25 Mar. Sir Edward Coke* unsuccessfully proposed that Wake and Sandys should be joined with the two secretaries and the earls of Pembroke and Southampton to prepare a declaration of the Spanish negotiations.28 After lingering through April ‘to see if all goes well between the king and his people’, and perhaps to assist the military entrepreneur Count Mansfeld to win the king’s confidence, Wake left for Italy on 11 May, some two-and-a-half weeks before the adjournment.29 Shortly before his departure the Venetian ambassador observed that ‘in Parliament he attacked the Spaniards vigorously, and earned no small hatred from them nearby. Certainly he goes to his charge an honourable man’. Wake’s Venetian friend, Fra Fulgenzio Micanzio, described him at about this time as ‘a man of great capacity in business, and of great learning and piety’.30

Wake remained in Italy, even matriculating at the university of Padua in 1625, until his transfer to the Paris embassy in 1631. Early the following year he threw his hat in to the competition to succeed Carleton as secretary of state; but he died intestate ‘of a burning fever’ at Paris in June 1632.31 His body was brought back to England and buried at Dover Castle.32 Although he had lived in some style, keeping the port and table of an ambassador while still only an agent, Wake was never a rich man, and depended on advances from the international financier Burlamachi for his living expenses in Venice.33 All that Wake had to leave to his nearest kinsman, a nephew, were ‘a choice collection of papers’, some of which were posthumously published.34

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Irene Cassidy


  • 1. VCH Northants. Fams. 325-6; M. Syvret and J. Stevens, Jersey, 85.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; M. Temple Admiss; J.A. Andrich, De Natione Anglica et Scota Juristarum Universitatis Patavinae, 139.
  • 3. E.A. Webb, Recs. St. Bartholomew’s Smithfield, ii. 279; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 533.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 171.
  • 5. C115/105/8095.
  • 6. G.C. Brodrick, Merton Mems. (Oxf. Hist. Soc. iv), 70, 267, 277.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 125; CSP Ven. 1613-15, p. 215; HMC Downshire, iii. 393.
  • 8. Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives comp. G.M. Bell, 290.
  • 9. J.W. Stoye, Eng. Travellers Abroad, 155-7; Handlist, 229.
  • 10. APC, 1623-5, p. 212; Handlist, 291-2.
  • 11. APC, 1629-30, p. 291; Handlist, 110.
  • 12. CSP Ven. 1623-5, p. 244.
  • 13. VCH Northants. Fams. 313-14.
  • 14. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1566-79, p. 495; P. Collinson, Eliz. Puritan Movement, 143, 151-2; VCH Northants. ii. 158-9.
  • 15. P. Gordon, Wakes of Northants. 78-92.
  • 16. Lansd. 1217, f. 60v.
  • 17. I. Wake, Rex Platonicus, STC 24939.
  • 18. A. Wood, Fasti, i. 345.
  • 19. Brodrick, 70; VCH Oxon. ii. 156; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 362.
  • 20. SP99/11, f. 139; 99/18, f. 23; Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton ed. L. Pearsall Smith, i. 501; HMC 10th Rep. I, 578.
  • 21. HMC Downshire, iii 393, iv. 427; Bell, 105, 142, 230, 281; V. Larminie, ‘The Jacobean Diplomatic Fraternity and the Protestant Cause: Sir Isaac Wake and the View from Savoy’, EHR, cxxi. 1300-26.
  • 22. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 425; Stowe 176, f. 221.
  • 23. Ibid. ii. 478, 495, 528.
  • 24. Ibid. 540, 547, 558; R. Ruigh, Parl. of 1624, p. 85.
  • 25. Ruigh, 191; HMC Buccleuch, iii. 231; CJ, i. 676b, 727b.
  • 26. CJ, i. 728b, 729a; CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 179; Ferrar Diary, 53, 59.
  • 27. CJ, i. 683a, 744b.
  • 28. Ibid. 750b.
  • 29. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 223; T. Cogswell, Blessed Revolution, 243.
  • 30. CSP Ven. 1623-5, p. 292; Add. 11309, f. 82v.
  • 31. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, ii. 169; CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 349; C115/105/8095.
  • 32. HMC Cowper, i. 463; ii. 70.
  • 33. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 139; HMC 4th Rep. 282, 299.
  • 34. CSP Dom. 1634-5, p. 525.