LOK, Henry (?1557-?1609), of London and Acton, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. ?1557,2 3rd s. of Henry Lok, mercer of London, by his w. Anne Vaughan. m. Anne, da. of one Moyle of Cornwall, at least 7ch., at least 2s.3

Offices Held

English agent in Scotland by 1590-4.


Lok had a puritan upbringing, his mother being the friend and correspondent of John Knox. When she went to join Knox’s congregation in Geneva in 1557, she took him with her. After Knox had left Geneva in 1559 he wrote to Anne Lok:

as touching the remembrance of you, it cannot be, I say, the corporal absence of one year or two that can quench in my heart that familiar acquaintance in Christ Jesus, which half a year did engender, and almost two years did nourish and confirm.

She returned to London by way of Frankfurt in the spring of 1559, having written to Knox from Geneva expressing qualms at participating in what Knox called a ‘bastard religion’, and she retained her radical religious views throughout her life. Her second marriage was to the puritan Edward Dering. Her third, to Richard Prowse, provided her son with west country connexions, and a period of residence there would explain his wish, in 1594 and 1597, to obtain the collectorship of the diocese of Exeter, and his ability to furnish two lists of securities, in 1594, from among the gentlemen of Devon, Dorset and Cornwall. One of the lists contained the name of two of the members of the Prowse family. His connexion with the south-west was strengthened by his and his sister’s marriage into the same Cornish family.4

After some time at Oxford Lok went to court, possibly finding a place in the entourage of the 2nd Earl of Bedford, which would explain his later friendship with the Countess of Warwick. He is first mentioned as an agent in Scotland in February 1590. His mother’s religious beliefs, and her friendship with Knox had perhaps caused him to become sympathetic towards the presbyterian cause in Scotland, and made him a useful choice as a go-between in the English negotiations with the 5th Earl of Bothwell. In 1590 he was already employed in this manner. His immediate superior was Robert Bowes I, the English ambassador in Scotland, by whom he was employed on a mission to Glasgow in April 1591, and by whom he was sent in May of that year to report on the Scottish situation to Burghley. Later Lok received his instructions directly from Burghley.5

It was the mysterious affair of the Spanish blanks that caused Elizabeth to increase her support for Bothwell. The luggage of a Spanish agent leaving Scotland was found to contain blank papers signed by the principal Catholic peers of Scotland, presumably to be filled in later, pledging the peers to a treasonable design. One of Lok’s chief contacts in the Bothwell group was John Colville, who became his personal friend. It was presumably his desire for the success of the protestant cause, together with his friendship for Colville, that led him to ally himself more openly with Bothwell than was wise for an English agent. Cecil reprimanded him in March 1594 for acquiescing in a plan to capture James VI, to remove him from his Catholic ministers. In any event his identification with Bothwell meant that Lok lost his usefulness as an agent in Scotland, for James naturally hated him. Thus Lok returned to England, though continuing to give advice on Scottish affairs, and in November 1594 it was even rumoured that he might become ambassador in Scotland. Two years later he was referred to as ‘Mr. Secretary for Scotland’.6

From his first employment in Scotland Sir Robert Cecil had been his protector, but by 1596 Lok was in financial trouble. Danger of arrest made him less useful as an agent, but Cecil continued to employ him as late as 1598. After the death of Burghley, Lord Willoughby, the governor of Berwick, wrote to Lok, asking him to use his good offices in bringing Cecil’s attention to disorders in the Berwick garrison.7

At this point in his career Lok published a version of Ecclesiastes ‘compendiously abridged, and also paraphrastically dilated into English poesy’, dedicated to Elizabeth. To it he appended sonnets to courtiers, including Privy Councillors and the Countess of Warwick. Obtaining further employment as an agent, he was at Bayonne in 1599, waiting to pass into Spain, but he bungled the assignment. In 1600 he was employed on another short mission to the Continent.8

Cecil had suggested that Lok might like to sit in the 1597 Parliament, but although he agreed to be nominated for Westminster or elsewhere, he was not returned until 1601. In September he craved ‘to be remembered in some vacant room’, and was returned for Bramber at the by-election, after (Sir) Thomas Shirley II had chosen to serve for Hastings. Lok spoke (16 Nov.) on the bill against pluralities of benefices, disagreeing with Thomas Crompton I, who had suggested that clerical pluralism should be dealt with after the laity had been deprived of plurality of offices. In answer Lok thought ‘bare silence is not an exoneration of a man’s conscience’. What belonged to the state and what appertained to God could not be equated. However, if the clergy ‘begin first, we shall follow in avoiding pluralities’.9

Lok retained his interest in Scottish affairs, occasionally sending Cecil snippets of information, and continuing his correspondence with Bothwell. But by 1600 his fortunes were declining, and with the accession of James I he fled to Paris, whence he pledged his allegiance to James and suggested that however much his actions might have been disliked by a Scottish king they were worthy of the regard, and possibly of the reward, of an English king.10

The following years saw a number of pleas for employment or help:

As to the world’s eye it is alike evil to be really or supposed criminous, so to me not to receive some favour now is a manifest commination of disgrace and ruin.

Gradually his creditors closed in, and in 1605 he was sold out of his house to pay for the debts of John Killigrew II for whom he had stood surety. Next he sold his goods to provide ‘me a harbour ... for my wife and many children; she sickly as of long and now ready to be delivered of child’. In March 1606 he was in the Gatehouse and in May 1608 in the Clink in Southwark. In 1609 he at last received some sort of employment, as an English agent to visit Prague. This is the last known reference to him, and he may have died that year before setting out.11

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: A. M. Mimardière


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Wood, Ath. Ox. i. 661 states that Lok was born ‘in the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth’, and Lok in the dedication to his Ecclesiastes (1597) says that he first ‘received the breath of this life’ in Elizabeth’s reign. However, on her arrival in Geneva in May 1557 Anne Lok had her son ‘Harry’ with her (Knox, Works, ed. Laing, iv. 240 n. 1.). If he was born in 1556 or 1557 (instead of 1553 as the DNB suggests) he would have been rather young to enter Cambridge in 1569, making it unlikely that the Henry Lok who matriculated in that year was the MP.
  • 3. DNB ; Collinson thesis 815; HMC Hatfield, v. 33; xvii. 319; Misc. Fuller Worthies’ Lib. ed. Grosart, ii. 72.
  • 4. Knox, Works, iv. 91, 219, 237-9, 240 n. 1.; vi. 11, 30, 83; HMC Hatfield, v. 33-4; viii. 382, 406, 422; SP12/251/45; DNB; Vis. Cornw. (Harl. Soc. ix), 151.
  • 5. Wood, i. 661; Roberts thesis; Lansd. 163, f. 373; CSP Scot. x. 244, 492, 518; xi. 44, 143, 175.
  • 6. D. H. Willson, King James VI and I, 112; CSP Scot. xi. 282, 291, 484; H. G. Stafford, Jas. VI of Scotland and the Throne of England, 104-5; HMC Hatfield, VI. 446-7, 567.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 348; HMC Hatfield, v. 334; vii. 347; xiv. 186; Border Pprs. ii. 552, 555.
  • 8. Lok, Ecclesiastes; CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp. 348-9; 1598-1601, pp. 201, 209, 246, 263; HMC Hatfield, vii. 146; ix. 247, 296-7, 305-6; x. 457.
  • 9. HMC Hatfield, vii. 519; xi. 391; D’Ewes, 640; Neale, Parlts. ii. 407.
  • 10. HMC Hatfield, x. 40, 354-5; xi. 383; xii. 185; xv. 141-2; Original Letters of John Colville 1582-1603 (Bannatyne Club, 1858), pp. xxvii, 303-5; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 25.
  • 11. HMC Hatfield, xi. 151, 497; xii. 169, 548; xv. 142; xvii. 12; xviii. 418; Lansd. 108, f. 1; Grosart, 85-6; CSP Dom. Add. 1580-1625, p. 521.