CLARKE, Sir Thomas (1703-64), of Hampstead, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 1703, 2nd s. of Thomas Clarke, carpenter of Holborn. educ. Westminster, 10 Jan. 1715, aged 11; Trinity, Camb. 10 June 1721, aged 18; fellow of Trinity 1727; G. Inn 1727, called 1729. unm. Kntd. 25 May 1754.
K.C. 1740; master of the rolls May 1754- d.; bencher, L. Inn 1754; P.C. 21 June 1754.
Clarke was a protégé of Lord Chancellor Macclesfield; and afterwards of Hardwicke, who in 1747 recommended him to a seat at Mitchell on the Scawen interest. When in 1753 it became clear that there would be a contest at Mitchell at the forthcoming general election, Clarke declined to stand because of the expense. ‘I think a contested election one of the greatest evils that could befall me’, he wrote on 2 Nov. 1753 to Hardwicke,1 who arranged with Pelham for Clarke to come in at Lostwithiel on the Edgcumbe interest.
On 15 Mar. 1754 Lord Dupplin informed Newcastle ‘that each man brought in by Lord Edgcumbe would cost near £1500 a Member’; Clarke, however, was to be brought in without expense to himself. On 21 Mar. Edgcumbe had reduced his price at Lostwithiel to £1000 a seat; Clarke was to pay £500 and Government the rest.2
Shortly after the general election Clarke was made master of the rolls at Hardwicke’s recommendation. In November 1756 he declined to become a commissioner of the great seal, because it would conflict with his parliamentary duties; and in July 1757 refused the great seal itself. The 2nd Lord Hardwicke wrote that he was ‘of no use in Parliament’,3 and there is no record of his having spoken in the House.
In December 1760 he informed Newcastle that an offer had been made to bring him in for Ashburton, ‘without one sixpence of expense’, at the forthcoming general election. Newcastle discouraged him from standing, and Clarke refused the offer. He expected to be returned again for Lostwithiel, but was indignant when he found the seat was to cost him £2000. In a letter of 16 Mar. 1761 he upbraided Newcastle, and claimed that by withdrawing at Ashburton he had earned the right to come in for nothing at Lostwithiel:
I will not comply with those terms and ... if I was to do so I should be so far from being fit to fill the station I have the honour to serve in, that on the contrary I should rather be a fit object for a commission of lunacy.4
And to Charles Yorke on 31 Mar. 1761:5
I suppose you know the Duke of Newcastle does not think of bringing me into Parliament ... Are you able to account for this? I own I am not, though I can’t avoid my conjectures.
He never stood again; and died on 13 Nov. 1764, said to be worth £200,000. He left the bulk of his fortune to the 3rd Earl of Macclesfield, the grandson of his first patron. The 2nd Earl of Hardwicke later wrote on the letter to his father in which Clarke had solicited the mastership of the rolls:6 ‘I cannot say that this (upon the whole) worthy man in the latter part of his life acted up to his obligations.’