CLIFTON, Sir Gervase, 1st Bt. (1587-1666), of Clifton-on-Trent, Notts.

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



1640 (Apr.)
1640 (Nov.) - 1 Jan. 1646
1644 (Oxf. Parl.)
1661 - 28 June 1666

Family and Education

b. 25 Nov. 1587, o. (posth.) s. of George Clifton (d.1587) of Clifton-on-Trent and Winifred, da. of Sir Anthony Thorold† of Marston, Leics.2 educ. privately (John Rawlinson); St. John’s, Camb. 1603, MA 1612; I. Temple 1607.3 m. (1) settlement Dec. 1612 (with £5,000), Penelope (d. 26 Oct. 1613), da. of Robert Rich†, 1st earl of Warwick, 1s.; (2) 7 Sept. 1615, Frances (d. 22 Nov. 1627), da. of Francis Clifford*, 4th earl of Cumberland, 1s. 4da.; (3) 5 May 1629, Mary (d. 19 Jan. 1630), da. of John Egioke of Egioke, Worcs., wid. of Sir Francis Leak† of Newark, Notts., s.p.; (4) 17 May 1632 (with £10,000), Isobel (bur. 10 July 1637), da. of Thomas Meeke of Wolverhampton, Staffs., wid. of John Hodges, grocer, of London, s.p.; (5) c.1638, Anne (bur. 1 June 1639), da. of Sir Francis South of Kelsterne, Lincs., s.p.; (6) 17 Feb. 1640, June (d. 17 Mar. 1656), da. of Anthony Eyre of Rampton, Notts., 2s. 3da. (2 d.v.p.); (7) 17 Dec. 1656 (with £4,000), Alice (bur. 29 Mar. 1667), da. of Henry, 5th earl of Huntingdon, s.p. suc. grandfa. Sir Gervase Clifton† 1588; cr. KB 25 July 1603; bt. 22 May 1611. d. 28 June 1666.4

Offices Held

J.p. Notts. by 1609-at least 1640, 1660-d.;5 liberties of Southwell and Scrooby 1615-41, 1664-d.; commr. oyer and terminer, Midland circ. 1610-42, 1660-d.;6 sheriff, Notts. 1610-11;7 commr. musters, by 1613-1626,8 swans, Notts. and Derbys. 1614, Midland counties 1627, Notts. 1663, sewers, Notts. 1615, 1626, Notts. Lincs and Yorks. 1616, 1629, 1634-7, Leics. and Notts. 1625, 1629, 1635;9 high steward, East Retford, Notts. 1616-d.;10 member, High Commission, York prov. 1620-at least 1628;11 commr. subsidy, Notts. 1621-2, 1624, 1641-2, Nottingham 1641-2,12 treas., N. Notts. 1625-6;13 collector, Privy Seal loan, Notts. 1625-6;14 dep. lt., Notts. 1626-at least 1640, 1660-d.;15 commr. charitable uses, Notts. 1626, 1629-30, 1634-40,16 Forced Loan 1626-7, Newark, Notts. 1627,17 recusants, Northern counties 1629-41,18 commr. and collector of knighthood compositions, Notts. 1630-4,19 freeman, St. Andrew’s, Scotland 1633;20 commr. exacted fees, Notts. 1634,21 perambulation, Sherwood Forest 1641,22 array, Lincs. and Notts. 1642,23 Newark garrison (roy.), by 1645,24 Poll Tax, Notts. 1660, assessment, Notts. 1660-d, Nottingham 1663-4, loyal and indigent officers, Notts. 1662;25 dep. justice in eyre, Sherwood Forest 5 Nov. 1662.26


Clifton has to be distinguished from a namesake who sat for Huntingdonshire in the last two Elizabethan parliaments before being raised to the peerage in 1608.27 His ancestors were holding the property from which they took their name, two miles from Nottingham, before the death of Henry II, and one of them represented Nottinghamshire in 1295.28 Clifton’s grandfather, nicknamed ‘gentle Sir Gervase’ by Elizabeth, was elected for the county in 1539, but in 1564 the archbishop of York reported that he was ‘in religion very cold’, which may explain why he was not re-elected in the Elizabethan period.29

Clifton’s father died of consumption before Clifton was born, and his mother married a Norfolk recusant. Clifton subsequently accused his stepfather of trying to defraud him of lands in Nottinghamshire conveyed to his mother and father on their marriage by his maternal grandmother. His stepfather had allegedly exploited a legal loophole in the conveyance, enabling him to alienate parts of the property, making nearly £10,000 in the process. On 15 Dec. 1606 a bill was introduced in the Commons by Clifton to confirm his grandmother’s conveyance and close the loophole. The following day Sir John Savile* moved that Clifton’s stepfather should be notified of the bill to enable him to make objections, but there were no subsequent proceedings in the matter.30

Clifton’s wardship was purchased for £200 by his grandfather’s executors Francis Beaumont† and (Sir) John Harpur*, together with his uncle William Thorold† and Philip Tyrwhitt, the father of (Sir) Edward*.31 His education was supervised by Harpur and Tyrwhitt, who appointed John Rawlinson as his tutor. Rawlinson was a proficient Calvinist theologian and ‘a fluent and florid preacher’, although his connections with Archbishop Bancroft and lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†) suggest he was no puritan. By the summer of 1602 Harpur and Tyrwhitt were agreed that Clifton should proceed to Cambridge University, but whereas Tyrwhitt wanted him to enter Trinity College, Harpur favoured St. John’s, where Harpur’s patron the 7th earl of Shrewsbury (Gilbert Talbot†), had procured a fellowship for Rawlinson. Shrewsbury wrote to the master of the Court of Wards, Sir Robert Cecil†, commending Clifton as ‘of a rare and excellent wit’, and arguing that he should continue in Rawlinson’s care. Cecil, who had himself attended St. John’s, thereupon intervened, ensuring that Clifton went to his college.32

Clifton probably followed Rawlinson’s lead in religion, becoming a Calvinist upholder of the established church. In 1606 he was described as ‘very conformable and well affected in religion’ and ten years later he appointed William Fuller to a rectory in his patronage, who subsequently became a royal chaplain and dean of Ely.33 He had some puritan contacts, most notably Francis Cheynell, a staunchly anti-Arminian minister who subsequently supported Presbyterianism in the 1640s. Clifton corresponded with Cheynell and in 1633 even offered him a living (which was refused). However, it should be noted that Cheynall was the nephew of Clifton’s third wife and that the connection between the two men does not necessarily indicate shared religious beliefs.34

According to his physician and friend, the antiquarian Robert Thoroton, Clifton was a benevolent landlord whose ‘port and hospitality exceeded very many of the nobility’, and who entertained everyone ‘from the king to the poorest beggar’. Gervase Holles† described him as ‘having lived with as much lustre and love in his country as any in my time whatsoever, being of a nature ... most affable and courteous, of a disposition most noble, of good erudition and ... of a most unshaken and unsullied loyalty’. He also commented on Clifton’s remarkable accomplishment in marrying seven times, a number which he believed to be a record. The last of Clifton’s wives, married when Clifton was in his seventieth year, was described by the marquess of Newcastle (Sir William Cavendish II*) as ‘a pretty tough hen ... with no eggs’.35

Clifton was wealthy enough to purchase one of the first baronetcies, paying the £1,095 fee in three equal annual portions between June 1611 and June 1613.36 He was returned for his native county at the first election after he came of age, probably with the support of the 7th earl of Shrewsbury (Gilbert Talbot†), one of the most powerful magnates in the Midlands, for at Shrewsbury’s funeral in 1616 Clifton helped bear the canopy.37 Clifton was only mentioned once in the surviving records of the 1614 Parliament, when he was nominated on 28 May to the committee sent to the king to explain the Commons’ cessation of business.38 He made no recorded speeches, either then or in any of the later parliaments of this period in which he sat. Clifton contributed £26 13s. 4d. to the Benevolence levied by James I to compensate for the failure of the Addled Parliament to vote subsidies.39

By the time of the next Parliament Clifton had acquired electoral patronage in the Nottinghamshire borough of East Retford. He owned significant property near the town, was on good terms with the corporation, to which he gave two silver salts sometime between 1603 and 1611, and after the death of Shrewsbury, Clifton was elected to succeed the earl as high steward of the borough, being a ‘near neighbour from whom the town has had many favours’. Consequently, the borough accepted his nomination of his first wife’s kinsman, Sir Nathaniel Rich, at the parliamentary election in 1620.40

In the 1621 Parliament Clifton, who once again served for Nottinghamshire, was appointed to five committees, including the committee for privileges (5 February). He was among those instructed to consider bills for the avoidance of lawsuits (6 Feb.) and the canalization of the Ouse from the Humber to York (3 Mar), and was named to attend conferences with the Lords on recusancy (15 Feb.) and the Sabbath bill (24 May). Most of his appointments occurred in the early stages of the Parliament, which may indicate that he attended less frequently as the session continued. He is not mentioned in the surviving records of the second sitting.41 In February 1622 he contributed £50 towards the Benevolence for the recovery of the Palatinate.42

Clifton again successfully nominated Rich for East Retford in 1624, but the latter opted to serve for Harwich, where he had also been returned. Clifton subsequently wrote from Westminster to the corporation proposing instead John Darcy*, the son of John, 3rd Lord Darcy and nephew of Clifton’s close friend Sir Peter Freschville*, but Darcy was opposed by (Sir) Edward Wortley*, who was nominated by his mother, the countess of Devonshire, owner of property near the borough. Wortley’s supporters argued that Clifton was actually ‘indifferent’ to the outcome of the election. This prompted Clifton, anxious not to lose influence as a result of his absence or to disappoint Lord Darcy, to inform the borough that he was fearful ‘to hazard my Lord Darcy’s honour and his son’. They also attacked Clifton’s status, claiming that he was ‘not great enough [to be high steward] for he could not speak to the king for the town if need be’. Clifton’s support among the corporation, however, ensured that his candidate triumphed at the election on 9 Mar., and he subsequently wrote to his supporters in the town, promising them his aid ‘whensoever your occasions present an opportunity’ and thanking them for ‘preserving my reputation withal which hath ever been of more esteem with me then all I possess’. He seems to have been particularly aggrieved by the rumours that he had not sincerely supported Darcy. However, after Darcy died on 21 Apr. Clifton was unable to stop the election of Wortley’s elder brother, Sir Francis*, and he did not regain his patronage in the borough until 1628.43

In 1624 Clifton again served for Nottinghamshire, and was once more named to five committees. These were to consider bills against usury (8 Mar.); to establish Prince Charles’s title to a Yorkshire manor (15 Mar.); to reverse a Chancery decree obtained by corruption against another Nottinghamshire gentleman Sir Percival Willoughby* (17 Mar.); to raise the fine imposed on lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*) out of his estates (19 May); and to confirm Buckingham’s acquisition of York House (19 May).44

Re-elected to the first Caroline Parliament Clifton was appointed to the committee for privileges on 21 June but subsequently received no further committee nominations. Nevertheless he certainly attended the Oxford sitting, for on 1 Aug. a group of Nottinghamshire magistrates, including Sir Thomas Hutchinson* and Robert Sutton*, wrote to him asking him to insert a clause in the bill to regulate clerks of the market, which had received its first reading on 27 June. However, Clifton was unable to comply with this request, as the bill never received a second reading.45

After the dissolution of the 1625 Parliament Clifton was appointed collector of the Privy Seal loan in Nottinghamshire, and on 22 Jan. 1626 he reported to the Privy Council that of the 45 Nottinghamshire men assessed for the loan he had secured payment from 34.46 The previous December Lord Houghton (Sir John Holles*) had recommended him for a second term of office as sheriff in place of Sir Edward Osborne*, who was then overseas, which would have rendered Clifton ineligible for election to the 1626 Parliament, but in the event Timothy Pewsey was appointed instead.47

The second Caroline parliament marked the nadir of Clifton’s electoral career in this period, for having already lost control of East Retford he also failed to secure re-election for Nottinghamshire, the first time he had done so since coming of age. It is possible that he decided to withdraw after Henry Stanhope secured the first place, which he himself had enjoyed in 1625. He found an alternative seat at Nottingham, from whose corporation he leased waters mills on the river Trent.48 He was appointed to two committees, one for a Derbyshire estate bill (1 Mar.) and the other for the bill to regulate the London Apothecaries’ Company (4 March).49 The latter appointment may reflect a personal interest in medicine, as he had previously corresponded with the physician Thomas Ridgley about the sexual potency of a mercury derivative.50 In addition his interest in this subject may have been heightened by the serious illness of his second wife, as a result of which he was given leave to go into the country on 6 June, but ‘to return with all speed’. In fact she survived for another 18 months.51

After the dissolution of the 1626 Parliament the newly appointed lord lieutenant of Nottinghamshire, Viscount Mansfield (Sir William Cavendish II*), appointed Clifton one of his deputies. The following year Clifton was one of the county’s most active Forced Loan commissioners. This does not seem to have adversely affected his electoral prospects, however, as he was re-elected for Nottinghamshire in 1628, when he was also probably responsible for the election of (Sir) Henry Stanhope and Sir Edward Osborne at East Retford.52 During the Parliament Clifton received his usual five committee appointments, the first, on 20 Mar., being to the committee for privileges. The following day he was named to attend a conference on the proposed fast, and on 12 May he was added to the committee for the presentment of recusants. His legislative committees were for a private bill to settle the estate of Sir Edward Wortley’s stepbrother the 2nd earl of Devonshire (Sir William Cavendish I*) on 21 Apr., and the Medway navigation bill (12 May).53 On 8 Apr. Sir Henry Wotton* invited Clifton, his brother-in-law, Henry, Lord Clifford*, and Clifton’s friend Sir Thomas Wentworth*, whom he termed the ‘medley triplicity’, to visit him at Eton, where Wotton was provost, although Clifton does not seem to taken up the offer until the following December.54 When Parliament met again he was presumably already courting his third bride, for on 7 Feb. 1629 he was given leave to testify in the House of Lords in a dispute with her stepson, Francis, 1st Lord Deincourt. This is the only occasion on which Clifton was mentioned in the surviving records of the 1629 session.55

Marriage followed a few weeks after the dissolution, but lasted only nine months. Again a widower, Clifton sought unsuccessfully to retire from public life in favour of his eldest son, another Gervase, just returned from his travels under the care of Thomas Hobbes. He wrote to Wentworth seeking to have himself removed from the Nottinghamshire bench in favour of his son. However Wentworth refused to pass on the first part of Clifton’s request, arguing that ‘laying aside so able a minister’ would do Charles I ‘a great disservice’.56 Clifton remained on the bench and was elected for East Retford in 1640 for the Short and Long Parliaments. During the Civil War he was active on the commission of array, contributed substantially to the royalist war-coffers, and attended the Oxford Parliament. His delinquency fine, originally set at the enormous sum of £12,120 on an estate valued at £3,000 p.a., was reduced after the king’s execution to £7,625 and promptly paid.57 After the Restoration he was elected a sixth time for Nottinghamshire. He drew up his will on 2 Oct. 1662 but survived until 1666, being buried at Clifton on 2 Aug. ‘with great solemnity’. His second son Clifford sat for East Retford in 1659 and again in the Cavalier Parliament.58

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. New writ.
  • 2. CB, i. 19.
  • 3. HMC Hatfield, xii. 276; Al. Cant.; CITR, ii. 29.
  • 4. P.R. Seddon, ‘Marriage and Inheritance in the Clifton Fam. during the Seventeenth Century’, Trans. Thoroton Soc. lxxxiv. 33-43; J. W. Clay, ‘Clifford fam.’, Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xviii. 397; CB, i. 19; Shaw, Knights of Eng. i. 154.
  • 5. Notts. County Recs. comp. H.H. Copnall, 9, 10; C66/2858; C193/12/13, f. 79v.
  • 6. C181/2, ff. 115v; 221; 181/5, ff. 216, 220; 181/7, ff. 15, 302, 347.
  • 7. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 104.
  • 8. SP14/72/92; E401/2586, pp. 203-5.
  • 9. C181/2, ff. 201v, 224v, 255v; 181/3, ff. 162, 199, 226v; 181/4, ff. 16v, 23v, 174; 181/5, ff. 16v, 87; 181/7, f. 210.
  • 10. HMC Var. vii. 390; D. Marcombe, English Small Town Life, 85.
  • 11. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 3, p. 173; SP16/123/46i.
  • 12. C212/22/20-1, 23; SR, v. 64, 154-5.
  • 13. Notts. County Recs. 13
  • 14. APC, 1626, p. 168; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 231.
  • 15. HMC Var. vii. 395, 424; SP29/11/297; 29/60/147.
  • 16. C93/10/19; 93/13/3; 93/18/15; C192/1, unfol.
  • 17. Rymer, viii. pt. 2, p. 145; C193/12/2, ff. 44, 88v.
  • 18. Rymer, viii. pt. 4, p. 47; ix. pt. 2, p. 162.
  • 19. E178/7154, f. 326; 178/5571, f. 5; E198/4/32.
  • 20. Nottingham UL, CL/D1634.
  • 21. C181/4, f. 159.
  • 22. C181/5, f. 210.
  • 23. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 24. CSP Dom. 1644-5, p. 313.
  • 25. SR, v. 217, 336, 383, 463, 536.
  • 26. Notts. RO, DD4P 75/42.
  • 27. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 617-18.
  • 28. A.C. Wood, ‘Notes on the Early Hist. of the Clifton Fam.’ Trans. Thoroton Soc. xxxvii. 26.
  • 29. HP Commons, 1509-58, i. 660-1; G. Holles, Mems. of the Holles Fam. ed. A.C Wood (Cam. Soc. ser. 3. lv), 165, 180-1; ‘Collection of Original Letters from the Bishops to the Privy Council’ ed. M. Bateson, 72, Cam. Misc. ix (Cam. Soc. n.s. liii).
  • 30. Thoroton, Notts. (1790), i. 107; CJ, i. 331a; Bowyer Diary, 206; Harl. 6803, f. 50.
  • 31. Nottingham UL, CL/D1443-7.
  • 32. HMC Hatfield, xii. 276, 540; Ath. Ox. ii. 505; Oxford DNB sub Rawlinson, John.
  • 33. Harl. 6803, f. 50; Oxford DNB sub Fuller, William.
  • 34. Lansd. 238, ff. 145-8; Oxford DNB sub Cheynall, Francis.
  • 35. Thoroton, Notts. i. 103-9; Holles, 181; CSP Dom. 1656-7, p. 279.
  • 36. SCL, EM 1284(a).
  • 37. J. Hunter, Hallamshire ed. A Gatty, 102.
  • 38. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 377.
  • 39. E351/1950.
  • 40. P.R. Seddon, ‘Parlty. Election at East Retford, 1624’, Trans. Thoroton Soc. lxxvi. 28; E.A. Jones, ‘Old Plate of the Corp. of Retford’, Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, lxxi. 227; Nottingham UL, CL/LP51.
  • 41. CJ, i. 507b, 511a, 522b, 605b, 626a.
  • 42. SP14/156/14.
  • 43. Nottingham UL, CL/LP51, CL/C378; Seddon, ‘Parlty. Election’, 28, 30.
  • 44. CJ, i. 679b, 686a, 688, 705b.
  • 45. Procs. 1625, pp. 206, 252. 639; Nottingham UL, CL/C360.
  • 46. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 231.
  • 47. HMC Cowper, i. 236.
  • 48. Recs. of Bor. of Nottingham ed. W.H. Stevenson, iv. 287.
  • 49. Procs. 1626, ii. 158, 194.
  • 50. Lansd. 238, ff. 149-50.
  • 51. Procs. 1626, iii. 377.
  • 52. R. Cust, Forced Loan, 290, 314.
  • 53. CD 1628, ii. 29, 42; iii. 4, 367, 369.
  • 54. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 45; Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton ed. L. Pearsall Smith, ii. 313.
  • 55. CJ, i. 927a.
  • 56. HMC Var. vii. 399-400;
  • 57. M.F. Keeler, Long Parl. 135-6; CCC, 1318; CTB, i. 47.
  • 58. Borthwick, Reg. Test. 48, f. 225; Thoroton, i. 109.