CROKE, John III (1553-1620), of Holborn, London and Studley, Oxon.; later of Serjeants' Inn, London and Chilton, Bucks.
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Family and Education
Freeman, New Windsor 14 Nov. 1584; bencher, I Temple 1592, Lent reader 1596, treasurer 1597; recorder, London 1595-1603; member, council in the marches of Wales 1594-1607; j.p. Brec., Rad., Glam. from c.1594, q. by 1599; j.p. Bucks. 1591-3, Mdx. 1596, q. 1601; serjeant-at-law and King’s serjeant 1603; commr. eccles. causes 1603; sub-steward of Oxf. Univ. 1603; justice, King’s bench from 1607.
Speaker of House of Commons 1601.
Croke, in his own words, was ‘brought up in the plain study and learning and profession of the law’, though he was a slow starter. One of the first appointments was to the ‘brotherhood’ of New Windsor two days before he was returned MP for the borough through the agency of an unknown patron. Perhaps the Earl of Leicester, the high steward, was responsible, or Sir Henry Neville I whose son was Croke’s fellow-Member, or even Croke’s mother’s family, the Untons. However he got in, he is not named in the journals, oddly enough for an ambitious lawyer in a comparatively well reported Parliament. The turning point in his career was his appointment as recorder of London, and he represented the city in the last two Parliaments of the period. He was an active committeeman in 1597, his committees concerning the following topics: privileges and returns (5, 7 Nov.), benefit of clergy (7 Nov.), armour and weapons (8 Nov.), clerical subsidy (12 Nov.), workhouses (18 Nov.) and houses of correction (19, 22 Nov.), the hospital at Warwick (18 Nov.), private bills (21, 24 Nov., 6 Dec.), tellers and receivers (5 Dec., 23 Jan. 1598), the Tower of London (12 Dec.), letters patent for the Exeter merchant adventurers (12 Dec.), lewd and wandering persons (20 Dec.), Aylesbury highways (11 Jan. 1598), malt (12 Jan.), defence (16 Jan.), legal matters (27 Jan., 7 Feb.) and pawnbrokers (7 Feb.). He is recorded as speaking in a debate on returns (12 Nov.), and reporting bills concerning rogues and beggars (20 Dec.) and Lord Mountjoy (5 Dec.). On ?17 Nov. he thought a bill was ‘nought in itself as it is penned ... for it is like a piece of timber, knotted and rough, and it is given to us, who be the chief carpenters of the kingdom, to fashion and carve, to bring from a rude to a polished form’. As Member for London he was eligible to serve on committees concerning regrators (7 Nov.), penal laws (8 Nov.), monopolies (10 Nov.), the rebuilding of Langport Eastover (10 Nov.), navigation (12 Nov.), cloth (18 Nov.), imports of wool (8 Dec.), mariners (9 Dec.), merchant strangers (13 Dec.), bread (13 Dec.), charitable uses (14 Dec.), mariners (26 Dec.), wine casks (3 Feb.) and Lady Wentworth’s jointure (7 Feb.). In 1601 the London MPs were appointed to at least 18 committees, but it is unlikely that Croke attended any of these as he was Speaker during that Parliament. He was chosen Speaker on the motion of Sir William Knollys, comptroller of the Household, who described him as ‘very religious, very judicious, of a good conscience, and well furnished with all other good parts’. The city of London made him a gift of 40 marks on the occasion. When he was presented to the Queen on 30 Oct., Croke ‘made a vehement invective’ against
the tyranny of the King of Spain, the Pope’s ambition, and the rebels of Ireland ... which were like a snake cut in pieces, which did crawl and creep to join themselves together again.
After ‘he with the rest of the said Commons House returned back to their own House’ he declared ‘after some good pause of time’ that
in regard of some matters of great importance her Highness had adjourned this court till Thursday next [whereupon] the Members of this House did rise and depart ... by reason of the adjournment, taking the same to extend as well to this House as to the ... Upper House; but were mistaken, as upon the next morning further ... appeared upon advertisement of the ... lord keeper to Mr. Speaker.
Next, on 5 Nov., there was confusion over the handling of the Rutland election dispute, and Cecil’s curious slip of the tongue in suggesting that ‘Mr. Speaker should attend my lord keeper’ over the Denbighshire election. The status of the Speaker was low and Croke was too diffident: ‘I was commanded by you to send forth a warrant ... so that in my doing thereof I hope I have done rightly’, he said when the matter recurred on 13 Nov. and then, on 20 Nov.
The Speaker gave the clerk a bill to read, and the House called for the Exchequer bill. Some said yea, some said no, and a great noise there was. At last Mr. Lawrence Hyde said: ‘Mr. Speaker, to end this controversy because the time is very short, I would move the House to have a very short bill read entitled an Act for the explanation of the common law in certain cases of letters patents’. All the House cried aye, aye, aye.
The great debate on monopolies had begun. Croke was le cul entre deux chaises—see for example the incident of 18 Nov. related in Gregory Donhault’s biography. On the one hand Cecil told him
and you, Mr. Speaker, should perform the charge her Majesty gave unto you in the beginning of this Parliament, not to receive bills of this nature,
but when Croke attempted to have the clerk read the subsidy bill, the House ‘cried it away’ in favour of the report on monopolies. ‘Never did’ Secretary Cecil ‘see the House in so great confusion’. It was ‘more fit for a grammar school than a court of Parliament’. On 24 Nov. Croke saw the Queen and next day transmitted to the House her message conceding the Commons case.
Down came Sir John Croke And said his message on his book
said Michael Hickes, crediting him with a knighthood still 18 months away. On 30 Nov. Croke led ‘some sevenscore’ from the Commons to the council chamber in Whitehall, to thank the Queen and received in reply her ‘golden Speech’. This was not, however, the end of the session. On 9 Dec. ‘Mr. Serjeant [Thomas I] Harris’ said ‘Ubi non est ordo, ibi est confusio’, and complained of the ‘confused sound’ caused by ‘divers gentlemen’ standing ‘before the door’. Later that day Cecil lectured the House, ‘error hath so crept in amongst us that we know not what is order and what is disorder’. Still, in large measure any increased disorder was, perversely, as much the result of the House growing up as of Croke’s own shortcomings. The Queen’s judgment of him was ‘you have proceeded with such wisdom and discretion that it is much to your commendation’, but the Commons remembered and ‘greatly murmured at’ his final lapse, a broken promise to mention the transportation of ordnance in his closing speech to the Queen on 19 Dec. 1601, the last day of her last Parliament.
It was not until 1607 that Croke received the usual reward for ex-Speakers at this time—an appointment to the bench. He died at Holborn 20 Jan. 1620 and was buried at Chilton. He had lived beyond his means as recorder of London, alienating Studley to his three brothers in 1598 and mortgaging his manor of Easington. He redeemed Studley in 1610 and acquired possession of Chilton in 1611 on the death of his mother, but he was always in low water financially and never realised his ambition to redeem Easington.
DNB; A. Croke, Hist. Croke Fam. i. 459-83; P. H. Williams, Council in the Marches of Wales, 141, 291-3, 295, 346-7; Lansd. 47, ff. 2, 6; 78, f. 161; HMC Hatfield, xv. 224; CSP Dom.1601-3, p. 290, 293; VCH Berks. iv. 406-7, 413; VCH Oxon. v. 63; VCH Bucks. iv. passim; PCC 17 Soame; Bodl. Ashmole 1126, f. 38; D’Ewes, 552, 553, 555, 556, 558, 559, 561, 562, 570, 571, 575, 577, 578, 580, 581, 586, 588, 589, 592, 594, 617, 621, 623, 625, 627, 632, 635, 636, 639, 641, 644, 651, 652, 655, 657, 658, 659, 660, 662, 664, 673, 675, 676, 689; Bull IHR, xii (34), p. 19; Townshend, Hist. Colls. 102, 103, 104, 106, 107, 112, 115, 118, 175, 186, 187, 191, 196, 203, 205, 206, 209, 210, 211, 212, 216, 217, 220, 224, 229, 248, 256, 258, 261, 262, 265, 270, 271, 272, 276, 293, 297, 301, 306, 309, 329, 334, 335; London ct. of aldermen rep. 25, f. 296b; Stowe 362, f. 60, Hayward Townshend’s jnl.