CLERKE, Thomas (c.1485-1555), of Wookey, Som. and London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. c.1485, 2nd s. of Clement Clerke of Great Livermere and Bury St. Edmunds, Suff., by Alice. educ. ?Bury St. Edmunds g.s.; ?Camb. m. by 1523, Antonia, 2s. inc. John II, 2da.2

Offices Held

Servant of Richard Pace by 1519-22 or later, of Cromwell 1537-40; overseer-gen. of temporalities to Bp. John Clerke of Bath and Wells by 1525, receiver-gen. and surveyor of estates, Devon and Som. by 1539-d.; j.p. Som. 1526-d.; bp.’s bailiff, Wells 1541-d.; commr. benevolence, Som. 1544/45, relief 1550, prices 1551; escheator, Som. and Dorset 1545-6.3


Thomas Clerke’s father, a clerk of the crown in Chancery, gave at least the first and second of his eight sons a good start in life. His first son John studied at Cambridge and Bologna before becoming chaplain to Wolsey about 1514 and dean of Windsor in 1519; after serving Henry VIII and Wolsey on political missions abroad between 1519 and 1522 he succeeded his patron as bishop of Bath and Wells in 1523. Thomas Clerke may have attended the grammar school at Bury St. Edmunds before proceeding to Oxford, or more probably Cambridge, but he cannot be identified with certainty among graduates of his name at the time. It was doubtless through his brother John that Clerke met the diplomatist Richard Pace, whose servant he became. From 1519 to 1522 Clerke accompanied Pace on missions to Germany and Italy, and acted as courier between his master and Wolsey. He may well have visited Rome during 1521 and 1522 while his brother was the King’s ambassador there: his service abroad perhaps continued until Pace’s return from Italy in 1525, for it was not until the following year that he was named to the Somerset bench. At about the same time he paid 20s. for a chamber in the new building of Lincoln’s Inn, and at Trinity 1527 this chamber was assigned to him for his life and that of his son John or any other of his sons.4

Clerke’s connexion with Somerset had begun during Wolsey’s tenure of the bishopric. As Master Thomas Clerke he was instituted by proxy to the vicarage of Woolavington in 1518. This living he resigned in 1523, to be instituted in person to the vicarage of Spargrove in the following year. He was perhaps the man assessed at Wookey, an episcopal manor two miles from Wells, on goods worth £10 for the subsidy of 1523, although another family of this name lived in Wookey during the 15th and 16th centuries. Since Bishop Clerke is not known to have appeared at Wells before September 1530, his brother doubtless had the care of his temporalities during his absence and made his home in the old palace at Wookey: he was certainly at Wookey by January 1534 when he wrote to the lord chancellor about a Star Chamber case in which he was involved as an arbitrator. During the next six years he must have become closely associated with Cromwell, to whom he bore letters from Bishop Clerke and sent reports of his own examinations into sedition in Somerset. He carried his brother’s New Year gift to the King and delivered the clerical tenth due from the diocese of Wells. In 1535 Bishop Clerke described him as ‘my servant’; two years later he was called a servant of Cromwell, but the nature of this relationship is not known unless it arose from Cromwell’s tenure of the deanery of Wells from 1537.5

Clerke used his connexions to acquire many benefices in Somerset and by the Dissolution he was a pensioner of two abbeys and a college there. In 1539 he told Cromwell that the dissolved abbey of Bath owed him £62, an annuity of £2 13s.4d. and a fee of £12 as keeper of its park at Dogmersfield in Hampshire, but he would compound for the manor of Combe, worth £18 yearly. His administrative posts in the bishopric and other offices netted him fees of £109 a year. In 1542 he bought the manor of Locking from Sir John St. Loe for £808, having held it for some months as mortgagee: the rectory and advowson were added in 1545. Meanwhile he had established himself more securely in Wookey by leasing the manor for life from Bishop King in 1544, in exchange for a lease of some closes under Wells Tor. Clerke also had the income from six water-mills which he rented or farmed in and around Wookey. His income from all sources, including the residue of his brother’s estate bequeathed to him in 1541, earned him a subsidy assessment at Wookey in 1546 of £100 on lands and £200 on goods. In 1536 he had been summoned to attend the King with 40 men against the northern rebels: he was also among the Somerset gentry mustered for the French campaign of 1544.6

Clerke’s return for Wells in 1547 answered to his position as bailiff of the bishop’s manor there and as a prominent figure in Somerset. Contrary to the usual practice at Wells, Clerke and his fellow-Member John Aylworth agreed to take nothing for their services. His admission as a freeman on payment of a 10s.fine four days after election was meant to comply with the residential qualification for the city’s representatives. The Journal does not mention him, but he is likely to have promoted the passage through the House of the Acts for the deanery of Wells (1 Edw. VI, c.16) and for the cathedral (3 and Edw. VI, c.27). His Membership of only one Parliament, and that towards the end of his life, suggests that he was not favoured by the citizens: their feelings are perhaps reflected in a quarrel with a millowner arising from Clerke’s attempt to monopolize the milling trade, and in a request case in which he was accused of depriving Patrick White of the office registrar through the ‘extort power’ and authority he had obtained through his brother, the late bishop.7

Clerke sued out a pardon in January 1549 as late of London, gentleman, alias of Wookey. He conveyed his interest in the manor of Locking to his son Henry and daughter-in-law Elizabeth, a month before making his will on 24 Nov. 1554. After commending his soul to God and the Virgin Mary, he left money for prayers to be said in the churches of Kingston Seymour, Locking, Wells and Wookey, not forgetting his family’s connexion with Great Livermere, Suffolk, as well as for the poor and for the maintenance of the road between Wells and Wookey. He provided for his family and servants, and remembered several of his friends, including Bishop Bourne and John Mawdley II. As executors he named his wife and son-in-law Hamond Claxon of Norwich. Clerke died on 2 Mar. 1555 and the will was proved two months later.8

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: M. K. Dale


  • 1. Wells act bk. 2, p. 496; Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from that of elder brother and number of children named in order of birth in father’s will of 1498, PCC 21 Holgrave, 26 More. Som. Med. Wills (Som. Rec. Soc. xxi), 62; Add. 19123, f. 157.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, iv, v, ix, xii-xxi; M. L. Robertson, ‘Cromwell’s servants’ (Univ. California Los Angeles Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 465-6; CPR, 1547-8, p. 76; 1550-3, p. 142; 1553, p. 359; 1553-4, pp. 23, 36; Wells act bk. 2, p. 533; HMC Wells, ii. 278, ch. 762; P. M. Hembry, Bps. Bath and Wells, 1540-1640, pp. 36, 55.
  • 4. CCR, 1485-1500, no. 545; 1500-9, no. 698; PCC 21 Holgrave; DNB (Clerk, John and Pace, Richard); Al. Cant. i. 342; Camb. Univ. Grace Bk. B, ed. Bateson, 167-8, 193, 201, 223; LP Hen. VIII, iii, iv; Black Bk. L. Inn, i. 214, 217.
  • 5. Regs. Bps. Bath and Wells, 1518-59 (Som. Rec. Soc. lv), 4, 153, 195, 206; E179/169/156; T. S. Holmes, Wookey, 145; LP Hen. VIII, vii, ix, xii-xv; Elton, Policy and Police, 332; Hembry, 54-58.
  • 6. Som. Enrolled Deeds (Som. Rec. Soc. li), 19; Regs. Bps. Bath and Wells, 1518-59, pp. 330-70 passim; HMC Wells, ii. 243, 251, 258, 260, ch. 762; W. A. J. Archibald, Som. Rel. Houses, 32, 145, 150, 160; LP Hen. VIII, xi, xiv, xvii, xix, xx; Holmes, 57, 59; Hembry, 36, 75-76; E179/170/199, 200.
  • 7. Wells act bk. 2, pp. 496-7.
  • 8. CPR, 1548-9, p. 162; 1554-5, p. 209; Som. Med. Wills, 159-60; Add. 19123, ff. 198-210; Holmes, 146-7; PCC 27 Tirwhite.