PARKINS (PERKINS), Christopher (c.1545-1622), of London.
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Family and Education
b. c.1543. educ. Winchester 1555; Oxf. BA 1565; DCL presumably abroad. m. 1617, Anne, da. of Anthony Beaumont of Glenmore, Leics., wid. of James Brett of Hoby, Leics., s.p. Kntd. 1603.1
Intelligence agent in Poland 1588/9; envoy to Poland, Prussia, and the princes of Eastland 1590, to Denmark 1591, 1592, to the Empire 1593, to Denmark 1598 and 1600.2
Dean, Carlisle 1596; master of requests extraordinary 1598; member of two commissions for piracy 1599; Latin sec. 1601; commr. suppressing unauthorized books 1603; member, Doctors’ Commons ?1605; master of requests 1617; member, Clothworkers’ Company.3
The career of Christopher Parkins was unusual enough to arouse comment in his own time. It was summed up by the letter writer John Chamberlain, who in 1622 recorded the death of ‘Sir Christopher Parkins, Jesuit, doctor, dean, master of requests and what not’.4
Though usually said to have belonged to the family of Parkins of Bunny, Nottinghamshire, Christopher was clearly one of another branch of the family, the Parkins or Perkins of Ufton Court, Berkshire, a well-known place of concealment for priests. The only precise information we have about his family background is that he was, in his own words, a ‘near kinsman’ of the recusant Francis Parkins, who succeeded his childless uncle Richard to the manor of Ufton in 1560. In 1599 Christopher petitioned Sir Robert Cecil for the proceeds of Francis’s recusancy fines.5
When Parkins went as a scholar to Winchester in 1555, he was said to be 12 years old and to have come from Reading. This was only six miles away from the family seat at Ufton. He went on to Oxford—probably New College—graduated in 1565, and then went abroad for over 20 years. He is said to have become a Jesuit in Rome in at the age of 19, but he himself stated that he was over 20 when he left England. This is borne out by another statement relating to his age, namely that he was 50 in 1594. It is clear that he must have continued his studies abroad, and his doctorate was presumably obtained at a foreign university, for he was certainly described as doctor when he returned to England, and was said, in 1597, to have held the degree for 30 years. Parkins acquired an excellent reputation for learning, particularly as a Latin scholar, and is supposed to have written some plays in Latin. Bishop Goodman wrote of him in his Court of James I: ‘Truly he had a great understanding and I have sometimes sat by him when he hath read his petitions and epitomized them, as master of requests, and therein he had an excellent faculty’. Little is known for certain about Parkins’s long period abroad: the evidence is confused. However, it is definite that he went to Rome and Venice and that he became both a priest and a Jesuit. He is also believed to have lived in Germany and, according to Strype, was working as a Jesuit in Prague in 1587. About 1585 he had met William Cecil, grandson of Lord Burghley, in Italy. Unknown to Parkins, young William Cecil took home a copy of a pamphlet which Parkins had composed in Venice. Writing to Sir Robert Cecil some years later, the author said that the pamphlet was about the Jesuits and ‘written with the respect of the Pope and his church, necessary for my own safety ... though I had for some years before been resolved in those points, and was then working some good means to extricate myself from them’.6
Parkins and William Cecil are said to have returned to England together, Cecil repaying help which Parkins had given him on the continent by smoothing the way for his friend in England. However, the little evidence we have suggests rather that Parkins entered Walsingham’s service without having first returned to England. They were evidently in touch not later than 1588, since on 16 May 1589 Parkins wrote to Walsingham acknowledging his letter of the previous October, which had only just arrived. He said that he was engaged in business ‘in behalf of the Queen’s subjects’, and was about to go to the court of Poland to confer with the King and nobles, who were favourable to him. He claimed to have been well received—presumably at Elbing—‘as coming from the Queen of England’, and said that the citizens there had asked him to deliver certain letters to the King of Poland.7
Like other agents of Walsingham, Parkins moved on from intelligence work to the direct service of the Queen. It is difficult to say when the change took place. He was granted an annuity of 100 marks in or before December 1591, but in May of the previous year he had received £300 when he was ‘sent on her Majesty’s necessary affairs to Poland, Prussia and other parts of the East Country’. At this time he was given an official safe conduct, and as many as ten government letters to deliver to rulers, influential statesmen and local officials in eastern Europe. But he was still not in regular employment. As late as August 1594 he asked Sir Robert Cecil that ‘now after five years’ proof I may be admitted to her Majesty’s service ... These four years I have been used extraordinarily for Latin dispatches ... My suit is that I may do with order what I do already extraordinarily, with some ability for my convenient maintenance’.8
It was evidently his religious position which was at first a hindrance to finding government employment. In May 1589 he wrote to Walsingham that he could not approve the religious laws in his home country, though he admired English political institutions and ‘would enjoy them’. Among his other troubles at this time, the notorious Edward Kelley, whom he had met in Prague, accused him of being implicated in a plot to murder the Queen. It is not clear by what date he had definitely renounced Catholicism, but he was back in England by the end of 1589. It may have been at this time that he sustained ‘undeserved imprisonment and suspicion’. Robert Beale later referred to having had Parkins a prisoner in his house ‘on no small charges’. Apparently it was Beale himself who ‘showed Mr. Secretary Walsingham the contrarieties and unlikelihoods’ of the accusations against Parkins, ‘and so was some means that he got the more favour’. Once accepted as an official agent of the government, Parkins was used on a number of foreign missions, in the course of which he sent home valuable accounts of the places he visited. He acquired some notoriety on the continent, and in March 1596 stated that during his last voyage to Poland the Pope offered ‘near £2,000 for his life’, because, he alleged, he had ‘boldly resisted the insolent proceedings’ of the clergy and the Pope’s legate against the dignity of her Majesty. In 1598, before being sent on a mission to Denmark in the company of Lord Zouche, he was appointed an honorary master of requests. He twice wrote to Cecil in this year defending his reputation abroad.9
Though the annuity granted him in 1591 kept him from sinking, Parkins was disappointed of being ‘settled in her Majesty’s service’, and he now began to write regularly to Burghley and Cecil asking for preferment. During these years, he also served the government as economic adviser on commercial affairs concerned with Denmark, the Empire, the Hanse towns, Muscovy, Turkey and Poland. Letters to the Queen were sent to him for translation and comment, and were frequently returned by him together with draft replies. This was why, in 1594, he complained to Robert Cecil that for four years he had been used ‘extraordinarily’, pointing out that there had formerly been two Latin secretaries, ‘one for countenance and one for labour’. When the office actually fell vacant in 1596, Parkins became more insistent, pleading that for years he had written ‘some good part of the Queen’s Latin letters’, and that the office should rather be given to ‘such as have long laboured in the same, than to interlopers’. He felt that there was prejudice against him for having been a Catholic, and it was ‘no small disgrace’ that he was rejected. Unable to live on his annuity, which he bestowed upon his servants ‘for occasions of her Majesty’s service’, he could not afford suitable lodgings at court, and had to rely on the hospitality of Alderman Ratcliffe, who had a house in London and another at Harrow. Furthermore, upon at least one of his foreign missions, he had had ‘to ground the means of his provision’ upon Alderman Ratcliffe’s credit. He wanted some ‘spiritual living’, such as the deanery of York or Eton, Durham or Carlisle, because he had renounced the chance of employment in other parts of the world, had spent his time in ‘books and politics’, and had given up everything for the Queen’s service. But there were some who ‘urged’ her that it was not honourable to employ him on account of his foreign education, an imputation he refuted with a scholar’s care, claiming that he had studied at Winchester and Oxford, and had received no education abroad but ‘what might stand with good English duty’. In the end he was given his deanery, and the next year 1597 marked his entry—presumably honorary—into Gray’s Inn, and his first appearance in Parliament, for Ripon, a seat presumably made available to Cecil by the archbishop of York. He was named to committees on the penal laws (8 Nov.), the deprivation of bishops at the beginning of the reign (3 Dec.), the double payment of debts on shop books (which he reported to the House 5 Dec.), a legal matter (11 Jan. 1598) and the pawnbrokers bill (7 Feb.). In September and October 1601, he wrote to Cecil asking to be nominated ‘a burgess for the coming Parliament’, and was again returned for Ripon. This time he served on committees concerned with the penal laws (a hardy perennial in this period), 2 Nov.; the painter-stainers, 24 Nov.; and on either 26 or 27 Nov. he reported to the House a bill concerned with merchants and customs, recommending that it should not ‘be any more dealt in by this House’. In this year he quarrelled—apparently over precedence—with his friend and associate Robert Beale.10
Parkins eventually obtained the official appointments he sought, and he was no longer poor at the time of his death, having acquired a London house of his own in Cannon Row, perhaps through his late and curious marriage to a widowed sister of the Countess of Buckingham. It is possible that she was his second wife as a ‘Lady Parkins’ is mentioned in the State Papers for 1612 about whom nothing is known. In his will, dated 30 Aug. 1620, he said that he was 'confident to be saved by Jesus Christ, our only Saviour’. He commended his soul to God, and his body to be buried ‘without solemnity in private manner’ at Westminster, if he should die there, in some decent place in the collegiate church of St. Peter, to which he left £50, with £20 to the poor of the parish. To the University of Oxford he left an annuity of £25 to increase the salary of the lecturer in divinity. He also left £10 each to Gray’s Inn, Doctors’ Commons and the Clothworkers’ Company. He mentioned no relatives except his wife, and the children of his sister—all unnamed—to whom he left £10 each. He referred to a sum of £1,000 due to him from the Merchant Adventurers, which he divided among three men for their good services. Also in consideration of long service, he constituted Anthony Bright his heir and sole executor, leaving him a small estate. The archbishop of Canterbury was made supervisor, and received a ‘great gilt cup with the cover shutting thereunto’. Parkins died at the end of August 1622, and was buried in Westminster abbey.11
Ref Volumes: 1558-1603
- 1. HMC Hatfield, vi. 122; Chester, Reg. Westminster Abbey, 119.
- 2. CSP Ven. 1592-1603, pp. 78 n, 83, 99, 116, 410 n; HMC Hatfield, iii. 411; iv. 324; v. 90-1; viii. 187, 235; x. 129; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 664; 1591-4, pp. 138, 232; 1595-7, p. 64; 1598-1601, pp. 54-5, 57, 130, 134, 135, 415.
- 3. Chester, 119; W. B. J. Allsebrook, ‘Court of Requests in reign of Eliz.’ (London MA thesis 1936), pp. 28-30, 34; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 147, 271; APC, xxxii. 179, 499; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, i. 323; PCC 84 Savile; DNB.
- 4. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 449.
- 5. Wood, Fasti, i. 166-7; DNB; VCH Berks. iii. 441; HMC Hatfield, ix. 76.
- 6. Kirby, Winchester Scholars, 133; Wood, Fasti, i. 166-7; Al. Ox. iii. 1117; HMC Hatfield, vi. 122; vii. 404; A. M. Sharp, Hist. Ufton Court, 235; Strype, Annals, pt. ii. 599; CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 547; 1595-7, p. 126.
- 7. DNB; Wood, Fasti, i. 166-7; HMC Hatfield, iii. 411.
- 8. E403/1693, f. 9d; PRO Index 6800, ff. 400-4; HMC Hatfield, iv. 576.
- 9. HMC Hatfield, iii. 411; vi. 122; vii. 405, 516-17; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 49, 53, 54-5, 57.
- 10. CSP Dom. 1591-4, pp. 138, 232, 547; 1595-7, pp. 115, 117-18; HMC Hatfield, iv. 239, 324, 576; v. 369; vi. 92, 122, 248, 432-3; vii. 404-5, 516-17; xi. 390, 444; Kirby, 133; D’Ewes, 567, 568, 578, 594, 622, 650, 654, 657; Townshend, Hist. Colls. 254.
- 11. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 107; PCC 84 Savile; Chester, 119.