CLERKE, Henry (-d.1652), of Crow Lane, Rochester, Leybourne, Kent and the Middle Temple; later of Ulcombe, Kent and Serjeants' Inn, Chancery Lane, London

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

2nd s. of Edward Clerke of Willoughby, Warws. educ. M. Temple 1604, called 1611. m. by 1607, Grace (bur. 23 Mar. 1645), da. and h. of George Morgan of Rochester, 2s.1 bur. 25 Apr. 1652.2 sig. Henr[y] Clerke.

Offices Held

Recorder, Rochester by ?1616-at least 1637,3 town clerk c.1617;4 reader, M. Temple 1629; sjt.-at-law 1637; treas. Serjeants’ Inn, Chancery Lane 1642-4.5

Commr. charitable uses, Kent by 1616-33, 1637-at least 1640, Rochester 1635;6 gov. Sir John Hawkins’ hosp. Rochester by 1617-at least 1646;7 commr. bankruptcy, Rochester 1618;8 j.p. Kent 1621-?d.;9 commr. inquiry, lands of Elizabeth Highwood, Kent 1621,10 recusants’ lands 1622/3,11 subsidy, Rochester 1621, 1624, Kent 1621, 1624, 1641,12 Forced Loan 1626,13 oyer and terminer, Kent, Canterbury and the Cinque Ports 1627, Home circ. 1637, Kent 1644,14 sewers, Kent 1628,15 inquiry, Chatham Chest 1635-7,16 piracy, Cinque Ports 1639;17 asst. bridge warden, Rochester 1639-40;18 commr. array, Kent 1642,19 gaol delivery 1644.20


Clerke is said to have been born in 1580,21 and was descended from a Warwickshire family whose roots can be traced to Henry VII’s reign. He should not be confused with a namesake who was an esquire of the Body at Elizabeth’s funeral.22 On his admission to the Middle Temple in August 1604, he was described as a former servant of Francis Morgan, a master of the bench, who lived at Kingsthorpe in Northamptonshire, where Clerke’s brother, the clergyman Dr. Samuel Clerke, was also settled.23 By 1607 he had married the daughter of George Morgan of Rochester, a kinsman of Francis Morgan, and so acquired a house outside Rochester’s East Gate.24 He subsequently extended his property interests in north Kent, purchasing Leybourne manor and some marshland from Richard Leveson*, and leasing two tenements in St. Margaret’s from Rochester Cathedral and further marshland on the Isle of Grain.25 He was called to the bar in 1611, and by 1614 held reversions to the stewardship of the bishop of Rochester’s court and the town clerkship of Rochester. When the latter became vacant in about June 1617, Clerke sold his interest, preferring to serve solely as recorder of Rochester, a position he acquired sometime between 1616 and 1619.26

Clerke was returned for Rochester to the third Jacobean Parliament. According to a petition drafted by ‘diverse citizens and freemen’ of the city, he and Sir Thomas Walsingham II were secretly chosen by a small group of freemen led by the mayor against the wishes of the majority, who were not given advance notice of the election.27 However, the Commons did not order a fresh election. Though this was his first Parliament, Clerke introduced a bill for ‘improving and better ordering’ of waste ground and common land ‘for the good of the poor commoners’ (7 Mar.), which was rejected at its second reading (7 May).28 On 25 Apr. he spoke ‘confidently’ in defence of Chancery’s power to impose fines, even taking issue with Sir Edward Coke, asserting that unless fines were permitted, Chancery’s proceedings would be ‘fruitless’.29 On 9 Feb. he supported the first reading of Sir Walter Earle’s bill for punishing Sabbath-breakers.30 In his two other recorded speeches he disapproved of overcharging by the patentees for lighthouses (26 Mar.), and hoped that the grace bills of 1614 would be swiftly reintroduced (27 February).31 He was appointed to legislative committees for preventing the bribery of judges (27 Apr.) and stopping actions from failing as a result of minor clerical errors in legal documents (2 May).32

Clerke donated £2 towards the recovery of the Palatinate in May 1622.33 In February 1625 he was accused in Chancery of colluding with Henry Reive to defraud the north Kent estate of Reignold Pottman, a minor, for whom they were trustees. Pottman’s mother claimed that the estate’s revenues were being diverted from Reignold’s education for personal gain, and Chancery ordered the trustees to be replaced.34

Clerke was at Rochester to greet Charles I and his new queen on their journey to London from Dover in June 1625, when he gave ‘a most learned and eloquent oration’.35 He was again returned for Rochester in 1625 and 1626, but cannot generally be distinguished from other Members of the same surname. However, on 23 Feb. 1626 ‘Sir’ Henry Clerke was named to a committee concerned with recusancy.36 In October 1626 Clerke was given a piece of silver plate by Rochester’s corporation for his service in the House.37 He did not represent the city thereafter.

Clerke’s legal business mostly concerned his Kentish neighbours. In 1627-8 he was enlisted by Lord (Sir Nicholas) Tufton* of Hothfield to help resolve a dispute among the sewer commissioners of Kent and Sussex,38 while in 1637 he represented Sir Thomas Walsingham II in Chancery over some woods in Croydon, Surrey.39 During the 1630s he was retained by Thomas Stanley* of nearby Maidstone and West Peckham,40 although the two men subsequently fell out: in 1643 Stanley complained that the inhabitants of Oxnoath borough, which included West Peckam, were over-rated by Clerke, whom he suspected to have instigated several legal actions against Oxnoath regarding the scope of Hoo’s manorial court.41 Clerke’s interest in this court probably stemmed from his lease of around 700 acres of marshland near Hoo, bought for £600 sometime between 1625 and 1630.42 During the 1630s Clerke assisted in prosecuting the rector of Stone, in north Kent, by whom he was allegedly ‘most despitefully traduced’.43

In 1634 Clerke was granted use of the Middle Temple chambers formerly occupied by serjeant Bramston;44 three years later he was called to the coif himself. Under Charles he continued to acquire property in Kent, including marshland at Hoo and the manors of Islingham (in Frindsbury) and Ulcombe, six miles south-east of Maidstone.45 Perhaps the wealthiest of Rochester’s inhabitants, he contributed more than any other (£2) towards the relief of distressed Irish Protestants in September 1642.46

Clerke was an executor of the widow of Sir John Fortescue* between 1621 and 1637,47 and of his Rochester neighbour, Sir John Hayward*, who died in 1636.48 His friends included Sir John Smith* of nearby Sutton-at-Hone.49 A Kent commissioner of array in August 1642, he nevertheless sided with Parliament during the first Civil War, contributing 10s. towards the defence of Rochester and providing three cavalrymen for the county militia in January 1644.50 In his will, drafted on 4 Mar. 1652, he declared that his debts were few and made generous provision for his servants. He died shortly thereafter, and was buried on 25 Apr. in the church at Ulcombe, where he had purchased a vault.51 His house in Rochester, considerably developed in his lifetime, is now known as Restoration House. His eldest son John subsequently represented Rochester in the Short Parliament, while his youngest son, Sir Francis, was returned for the city three times after the Restoration.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. liv), 36; Arch. Cant. xv. 112; P. Parson, Monuments and Painted Glass in Kent (1794), p. 393; M. Temple Admiss.; Soc. Gen. transcript St. Margaret’s, Rochester par. reg.
  • 2. Order of Sjts.-at-Law ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. v), 505.
  • 3. Medway Archives, ‘Customal’, ff. 79r-v, 81; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. xlii), 22; CSP Dom. 1635, p. 246; Cal. Assize Recs. Kent Indictments, Chas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 299.
  • 4. REQ 2/423/127.
  • 5. MTR, 743; A.R. Ingpen, M. Temple Bench Bk. 186; Order of Sjts.-at-Law, 505.
  • 6. C93/7/7; 93/9/11; 93/10/25; 93/14/17; C192/1, unfol.
  • 7. Hawkins’ Hosp. Rochester, min. bk. 50, 159.
  • 8. C66/2133, m. 14d.
  • 9. C231/4, f. 119; Cal. Kent Indictments, Chas. I, 537.
  • 10. C181/3, f. 44v.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 449 (misdated).
  • 12. C212/22/20, 23; SR, v. 152.
  • 13. Medway Archives, RCA/N5/72.
  • 14. C181/5, ff. 65, 236.
  • 15. C181/3, f. 248.
  • 16. CSP Dom. 1635, p. 543; 1636-7, p. 568.
  • 17. C181/5, p. 262.
  • 18. Traffic and Pols. ed. N. Yates and J.M. Gibson, 295.
  • 19. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 20. C181/5, f. 236v.
  • 21. F.F. Smith, Rochester in Parl. 108-9.
  • 22. Parson, 393; LC2/4/4, f. 65.
  • 23. PROB 11/130, f. 403v; REQ 2/423/127.
  • 24. S.T. Aveling, ‘Hist. of Restoration House’, Arch. Cant. xv. 118. The house is depicted on Richard Smith’s map of the Medway area at Alnwick Castle, Northumb.; see the reproduction at Rochester Guildhall Mus.
  • 25. E. Hasted, Kent, iv. 502; E134/13Chas.I/East.30; SP28/355/3, ff. 21v, 22v.
  • 26. REQ 2/423/127.
  • 27. Surr. Hist. Cent. LM/1331/28.
  • 28. CD 1621, v. 277; CJ, i. 611b.
  • 29. CD 1621, v. 96, 348; CJ, i. 590b.
  • 30. CD 1621, ii. 46.
  • 31. CJ, i. 529a, 573b.
  • 32. Ibid. 595a, 602b.
  • 33. SP14/156/15.
  • 34. C2/Chas.I/P68/52 (damaged); Glynde Place Archives ed. R.F. Dell, 59.
  • 35. Smith, 344-5.
  • 36. Procs. 1626, ii. 102.
  • 37. Smith, 259.
  • 38. N. Powell, A Remonstrance of some decrees and other procs. of the commrs. of sewers ... in Kent and Suss. (1659), pp. 24-5, 28-9.
  • 39. CSP Dom. 1636-7, p. 390.
  • 40. Cent. Kent. Stud. U522/A3, f. 3v.
  • 41. Arch. Cant. xvii. 363-4.
  • 42. C2/Jas.I/C16/65.
  • 43. Procs. in Kent ed. L.B. Larking (Cam. Soc. lxxx), 207.
  • 44. MTR, 821.
  • 45. Hasted, iii. 534; v. 391.
  • 46. E179/128/663.
  • 47. PROB 11/137, f. 87; C54/3089/1.
  • 48. PROB 11/171, f. 209v.
  • 49. Ibid. 195, f. 310.
  • 50. SP28/157, unnumb. item.
  • 51. PROB 11/222, f. 194r-v.