CLITHEROW, Christopher (c.1578-1641), of Leadenhall Street, 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

b. c.1578, o.s. of Henry Clitherow, Ironmonger of London, and 1st w. Bridget, da. of Thomas Hewett. educ. St. John’s, Oxf. 1593, aged 15. m. (1) by 1601, Catherine (bur. 15 Apr. 1606), da. of Thomas Rowland, Draper, of St. Mary-le-Bow, London, 3s. 1da.; (2) by 1608, Mary (bur. 17 Dec. 1646), da. of Sir Thomas Cambell of London, Ironmonger and E.I. Co. merchant, 4s. 4da.1 suc. fa. 1608; kntd. 15 Jan. 1636.2 d. 11 Nov. 1641. sig. Christopher Clitherow.

Offices Held

Freeman, Ironmongers’ Co. 1601,3 asst. by 1604,4 warden 1611-12,5 master 1618, 1624;6 freeman, E.I. Co. 1601,7 cttee. 1614-15, 1619, dep. gov. 1624-35, feoffee 1627, gov. 1638-41;8 freeman, Spanish Co. 1604;9 member, Virg. Co. by 1609-at least 1622, auditor 1621;10 member, French Co. 1611,11 N.W. Passage Co. 1612,12 Hon. Art. Co., London 1614;13 treas. New Merchant Adventurers 1615-16;14 asst. Levant Co. 1616-17,15 Irish Soc. 1628-9, by 1631-at least 1632;16 freeman, Eastland Co. by 1620,17 gov. by 1631-at least 1639;18 member, Somers Is. Co. by 1622,19 Muscovy Co. by 1623-at least 1624.20

Churchwarden, St. Andrew Undershaft, London 1612,21 feoffee by 1612-at least 1617;22 commr. assurances, London 1614-15;23 gov. Christ’s hosp., London by 1616-at least 1624,24 pres. 1637-d.;25 common councilman, London by 1623,26 sheriff 1625-6, alderman, Aldersgate ward 1626-8, Billingsgate ward 1628-d., mayor 1635-6;27 commr. charitable uses, London 1626-at least 1637,28 Forced Loan 1627,29 sewers 1629-at least 1632, oyer and terminer 1629,30 subsidy 1641-d.31

Commr. Algiers expedition debts 1628,32 St. Paul’s Cathedral repair 1633,33 regulation of gold and silver thread business 1636;34 treas. (jt.) for disbanding the armies 14 July 1641-d.35


Clitherow was probably descended from either Richard Clitheroe I† (d.1420), a wealthy Kent landowner who moved to London in the mid-1380s from the Lancashire town from which he took his name, or from Richard’s (presumed) brother, William† (d.1421), who also settled in Kent. Clitherow’s paternal grandfather became a junior warden of the Merchant Taylors’ Company in 1521,36 while his father, Henry, served several times as master of the Ironmongers’ Company.37 The latter’s extensive business interests involved trading cloth to Hamburg and Lübeck,38 importing wine,39 providing the Navy with cordage, and investment in privateering.40

Clitherow followed his father into the Ironmongers’ Company in 1601 and shared his varied commercial interests. He invested £240 in the East India Company in October 1601,41 and in 1609 was instructed by the Ironmongers’ to buy shares worth £50 in the Virginia Company, towards which he personally contributed £6 5s.42 Membership of the Levant Company (by 1616), the Eastland Company (by 1620) and the Muscovy Company (by 1623) all followed. Like his father, the only major London trading company to which he apparently did not belong was the Merchant Adventurers.43 When the latter organization was dissolved in 1615, Clitherow helped found its short-lived successor, the New Merchant Adventurers, serving as the Company’s treasurer. Clitherow was also a founder member of the Spanish (1604), French (1611) and North-West Passage (1612) companies, and he owned a single share in the Somers’ Island Company, enabling him to import Bermudian tobacco.44

Though obliged to disburse more than £215 towards settlement of the Muscovy Company’s debts in 1624,45 trade evidently made Clitherow wealthy. When the Crown demanded £50,000 from 140 of London’s wealthiest citizens in the autumn of 1640, he contributed £500. In the following spring he advanced £1,000 as part of a second City loan to help pay the costs of the defeated English army.46 A sizeable fortune enabled him to purchase the Essex manors of Highams and Follifaunts in 1615 (for £1,680),47 and the Oxfordshire manor of Bensington in 1630 (for £386).48 Sometime before 1640 he also bought the Middlesex manor of Ruislip, with a house at Pinner.49 He leased a number of tenements in London,50 including a town-house in Leadenhall Street. This cost him £60 a year in rent,51 but shrewdly he realized a profit on this property by making it available for board meetings of the East India Company in return for a yearly allowance of £150 after the East India Company directors were obliged to vacate their Crosby Street premises in 1638.52 Clitherow’s substantial wealth reputedly made him a generous donor. In 1668 one writer claimed that he had been ‘a great benefactor’ to the Church and had divided ‘much of his estate among those that were indigent’.53 This may be an exaggeration, as the charitable bequests contained in his will amounted to just £42.54 On the other hand, he certainly granted annuities of £4 to the poor of his parish of St. Andrew Undershaft in April 1625, and £10 in scholarships to Oxford for two poor scholars of Christ’s hospital.55

Clitherow’s father had been fined 400 marks in 1593 for refusing to serve as one of London’s sheriffs, but in 1625-6 Clitherow himself discharged the office, and as sheriff presided over the 1626 parliamentary election in London.56 A member of the City committee which negotiated the Ditchfield Contract with the Crown early in 1628,57 he went on to become mayor in 1635. During his mayoral term he was reportedly ‘much intent upon the clearing and cleansing’ of the Thames.58 He also achieved high Company office, holding the governorships of the East India and Eastland companies simultaneously in the late 1630s. Nevertheless, his rise to prominence was not always unhindered. Short-listed by the king for the vacant treasurership of the Virginia Company in May 1622, he was decisively defeated by the earl of Southampton in the subsequent election.59 In the following year he was nominated, but not elected, to the deputy governorship of the East India Company.60 Finally, he was defeated in elections for the presidency of Christ’s hospital in both 1632 and 1637, and was only voted into office in 1637 on a second ballot after Sir Thomas Moulson* declined to serve.61

Clitherow was warned to attend the Privy Council in January 1622 for failing to contribute towards the Palatinate Benevolence, and was persuaded to donate £50.62 He may have proved equally reluctant to pay the Forced Loan in 1627, despite being one of the commissioners for its collection, for in February 1628 London’s electors chose him to serve in Parliament rather than the recorder of London, Sir Heneage Finch, who had paid his own contribution with alacrity.63 However, once in the Commons Clitherow showed more interest in trade than in the Loan. Indeed, throughout the 1628 session he acted as a spokesman for the interests of commerce. In general this meant that he was critical of Crown policy, but on one occasion at least he found himself taking the side of the government. On 26 Mar. secretary of state Sir John Coke tried to persuade the Commons to vote a generous grant of supply in order to finance a 14-point plan for military action. This plan, which included the provision of a naval squadron for the Baltic and 6,000 troops to bolster the ailing Danish war effort, was initially poorly received, but Clitherow regarded it as vital to preserve England’s trade. In his maiden speech, delivered on 4 Apr., he disregarded the doubters and declared that ‘there is no man doubts but that these propositions are of great consequence’. He added:

I can speak it of my own knowledge, there is none of them more nearly concerns us, nor on which our good or ill doth more depend, than on that of the king of Denmark and the defence of the Baltic sea. For put the case that they be taken from us, our chiefest strength decays; our ships can no more put out to sea. Besides the transporting of our staple commodities, all our provisions for sea service are quite laid aside, and we are altogether confined to our own country.64

There was undoubtedly an element of exaggeration in these claims, for even were the Baltic to fall England would still be able to pursue its trade with the East Indies and the Levant. However, the threat of imperial domination of the Baltic was undoubtedly serious, as the Navy relied upon the region for tar, pitch and cordage. Were the emperor to prevail ‘he will master us all, and that he will easily do if we take not part in defence of it’.65 There is no direct evidence that Clitherow was acting in concert with Secretary Coke, but the latter certainly received information on Baltic affairs from Clitherow, who was probably already a senior member of the Eastland Company before the Parliament assembled.66 Clitherow returned to the theme of England’s reliance on the Baltic for her own defence on 4 June, when he commented that one reason why gunpowder was scarce was that the supply of saltpetre from Poland had stopped while supplies in Germany were no longer accessible.67

Clitherow’s concern to defend the interests of trade in Parliament naturally extended to the East India Company, of which he was then deputy governor. Anxious to dispel ‘the aspersions that lie on the Company’, the East India merchants threatened to dissolve their Company until they received ‘encouragement from the House’. On 21 Apr. Clitherow informed his fellow directors that he had spoken to Sir Dudley Digges, chairman of the committee for trade, ‘who relished the motion very well’. Encouraged by this news, the directors asked Clitherow to present Digges with a copy of their petition.68 A week later Clitherow was requested ‘to use his best means’ to have the petition read to the House in two days time.69 However, Clitherow failed to present the petition until 7 May, when it was referred to Digges’s committee.70 Thereafter Clitherow continued to convey information between Digges and the Company. On 30 May he informed the latter’s directors that, because a full committee could not be assembled, Digges had postponed consideration of their Remonstrance, but had assured him that the committee, on being informed of the value of the East Indian trade, ‘would so countenance the same as the Company will be encouraged to prosecute the same’.71 Shortly after presenting the petition, however, Clitherow’s role as the vital link between the Company and the Commons was put in jeopardy. On 20 May a group of disgruntled shareholders attacked the directors in writing over the Company’s trading losses. In response Clitherow ‘represented that, being a burgess of Parliament by favour of the City, and their Remonstrance to be heard on Thursday next, it would be a great disreputation to the court, and himself in particular, and call in question the truth of the Remonstrance, if these aspersions be not publicly cleared’.72 However the accusations against the directors were not withdrawn.

Just as Clitherow provided a valuable service to the East India Company in lobbying Parliament, so too the Commons made use of him to convey messages to the City’s trading companies. On 12 Apr. Clitherow was instructed to approach the East India Company to allow bail to Samuel Warner, a grocer who had been committed by the Privy Council following the seizure of goods which, it was alleged, he had illegally bought from the master of one of the Company’s ships.73 Warner was required by the Commons to settle his differences with the Company, but on 25 Apr. the latter’s directors instructed Clitherow ‘to assure the House that it was through Warner’s perverse disposition that a peaceable end was not made’.74 One month later, Clitherow and his fellow London Member, Thomas Moulson, were ordered to approach the Greenland Company ‘as of themselves’ over whaling rights. The Greenland Company leased from the Muscovy Company the monopoly to fish for whales off the Greenland and North American coasts, but had come into conflict with ships owned by the fishermen of Hull and York. A deal had been brokered in 1627 by the Privy Council which allowed the Hull and York fishermen to put 600 tons of shipping to sea, and now the Commons asked Clitherow and Moulson to do the same. Clitherow, who had been named to the Commons committee established on 17 May to consider the answers of the Muscovy merchants to the demands of the Hull and York fisherhmen,75 was well placed to put pressure on the Greenland Company, since he was, or recently had been, a member of the Muscovy Company.

Clitherow made a major contribution to the trade debate of 9 June, when he addressed the committee of the Whole House. After presenting a petition from the merchants trading to Hamburg he told his listeners that he had been ‘desired by the merchants of London to inform you of the miserable losses at sea’. He went on:

The last year 12 English merchants’ ships, great ones, were taken. This year one ship laden with masts and worth £80,000 was taken and carried to Dunkirk; after that, nine ships more, six English and three Hollanders. The five of the English were taken and one burnt, all laden with flax and cordage to the value of £50,000.

There were never any naval warships available to protect merchant vessels, he complained. On the contrary, the Navy exacerbated the problem by impressing both merchant ships and their crews. When, in desperation, the merchants trading to Hamburg built their own 20-gun warship to protect their fleet on the homeward journey, they had it taken from them by the Navy, which pressed it into service for the Ré expedition. Not surprisingly, Clitherow claimed, ‘all merchants are disheartened’. This was distressing news, not merely for merchants, but for the entire country. It was ‘an exceeding dishonour to the nation’, he added, that ‘the Dunkirk[er]s who took our last ships in disgrace trailed our colours in the face of one of the king’s ships’. He ended by warning his listeners that ‘though we only suffer now at sea, in time you must suffer at land’. Indeed, his hearers would ‘shortly ... be fetched out of your beds’.76 Later that morning Clitherow informed the House that the crews of English merchantmen attacked by the Dunkirkers generally refused to fight, ‘for if they be taken they have good quarter and are let go’. ‘In Dunkirk’, he added, ‘they want no Englishmen’, for those who served in the king’s ships ‘have no pay’ whereas those who volunteered to serve the Dunkirkers ‘have always good entertainment’.77

Despite this important speech Clitherow was added to the committee for preparing a schedule of shipping losses only as an after-thought (14 June). His inclusion was perhaps prompted by the fact that on the same day he announced that ‘one Company’ - meaning the Eastland - ‘has lost £100,000’.78 This information was included in the final version of the schedule submitted to the House on 16 June, unlike Clitherow’s further claim that the merchants trading to France had lost £70,000, which he evidently made only after the committee had reported.79 The schedule was presented to the king the following day as part of the House’s Remonstrance. In itself it did nothing to protect English merchantmen from the Dunkirkers. Clitherow was fully aware of this, of course, and therefore on 24 June he expressed dismay at Charles’s decision to prorogue Parliament. ‘Now is the time to think on trade’, he asserted, for otherwise ‘we shall forever neglect it’. He warned his fellow Members that ‘if you rise and do nothing, I fear not a decay only but an utter extirpation’.80 The return of peace in 1630 must have been a source of considerable relief to Clitherow.

Clitherow played only a marginal role during the 1629 session. He made no speeches and was named to just two committees, of which the first concerned the illegal export of corn and other victuals to Spain (26 Jan.) and the second the information presented by John Rolle*, whose goods had been seized by London’s customs officials after he failed to pay Tunnage and Poundage.81 During the 1630s the internal divisions within the East India Company, which had been exposed in 1628, continued to fester. In 1632 he urged his fellow directors ‘to take notice of that godly advice given by that learned man that preached this morning, that peace, unity and concord may be amongst them, whereby God may give a blessing to their labours’.82 Though a close ally of the beleaguered governor Sir Maurice Abbot, he retained the confidence of the majority of the Company’s shareholders, who elected him to succeed Abbot on the latter’s resignation in 1638.

Towards the end of his life Clitherow’s relations with the king appear to have been strained. In July 1638 a clerk named Charles Forbench deposed that Clitherow had attempted to obstruct the admission to the Eastland Company of Forbench’s brother-in-law, Henry White, who had the king’s letter of recommendation. In order to secure White’s admission, Charles had promised to do the Company a favour, to which Clitherow is said to have replied ‘in an unseemly, slighting manner, that they all knew well enough what the king’s good turns were when they came to seek them, or words to that effect’.83 Further evidence of tension between the king and Clitherow dates from January 1641, when Clitherow, then governor of the East India Company, was brow-beaten by Charles into ordering the withdrawal of a petition to Parliament complaining of a royal favourite, Endymion Porter†, whose associates were alleged to have committed acts of piracy in the Red Sea in 1630.84

Clitherow’s religious views are obscure. It has been argued that he may have been an anti-Calvinist, as the Arminian preacher John Gore dedicated a Paul’s ross sermon to him in December 1635. It has also been claimed that he was ‘probably part of a ... London group of Arminian sympathisers’ which may have included his brothers-in-law and fellow aldermen Henry Garway and Anthony Abdy, both of whom were remembered in his will.85 In 1668 the royalist writer David Lloyd recalled that Clitherow had been ‘a great stickler for the Church’, and ‘a great honourer of clergymen in the best of times, to whom some of his nearest relations were married in the worst’.86 This was undoubtedly a reference to Clitherow’s daughter, Rachel, who in the mid-1630s married one of the king’s chaplains, William Paul.87

Clitherow died at his house in Pinner on 11 Nov. 1641 and was buried in the church of St. Andrew Undershaft seven days later, where a monument was erected. In his will, dated 14 Apr. 1640, he bequeathed £100 to his wife Mary, and settled Ruislip manor on his son James, together with some lands in Hertfordshire. Another son, Thomas, obtained a small-holding in Essex.88 The lion’s share of the estate passed to Clitherow’s eldest son, Christopher. No other member of the family subsequently sat in Parliament. A portrait of Clitherow, by Mark Garrard, depicts him wearing the robes of a lord mayor of London.89

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


V. Harding and P. Metcalf, Lloyd’s at Home, 61.

  • 1. Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), iii. 170; Al. Ox.; GL, ms 4107/2, unfol.; Mayors and Sheriffs of London 1601-25 comp. G.E. Cokayne, 45; IGI, ‘London’. For the identification of Thomas Rowland as the Draper of this name, see Mar. Lics. issued by Bp. of London ed. G.J. Armytage, 207; PROB 11/81, f. 39v; 11/110, ff. 384-5v.
  • 2. PROB 11/111, f. 84; Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 205.
  • 3. GL, ms 16978, f. 48.
  • 4. GL, ms 16367/2, f. 4.
  • 5. GL, ms 16986/1-4, p. 34.
  • 6. E. Glover, Hist. Ironmongers’ Co. 59; GL, ms 1697/3, ff. 118, 303v-4.
  • 7. Dawn of Brit. Trade to E. Indies comp. H. Stevens, 190.
  • 8. CSP Col. E.I. 1513-1616, pp. 303, 416; 1617-21, p. 283; 1622-4, p. 299; 1625-9, p. 350; 1630-34, p. 268; Cal. Ct. Mins. E.I. Co. 1635-9, xxvi, 72, 305.
  • 9. Spanish Co. ed. P. Croft (London Rec. Soc. ix), 11.
  • 10. Glover, 56; Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, i. 527; iii. 321, 593.
  • 11. Select Charters of Trading Cos. ed. C.T. Carr (Selden Soc. xxviii), 65.
  • 12. CSP Col. E.I. 1513-1616, p. 240.
  • 13. Ancient Vellum Bk. ed. G.A. Raikes, 23.
  • 14. Select Charters of Trading Cos. 82.
  • 15. SP105/147, ff. 72v, 78, 86v.
  • 16. CLRO, letter bk. KK, ff. 128v, 210; LL, ff. 90v, 180.
  • 17. Clitherow was exporting broadcloths in the Co.’s ships by then: R.W.K. Hinton, Eastland Co. 219. He was certainly a freeman by 1627, when he was granted administration of the estate and goods of his former servant, John Freshwater, see C2/Chas.1/S49/39 and J.H. Morrison, PCC Letters of Admon. 1620-30, p. 41.
  • 18. Memorials of Goldsmiths’ Co. comp. W.S. Prideaux, i. 152; J. Howell, Epistolae Ho-Elianae (1737), p. 246; CSP Dom. 1637-8, p. 549; 1639, p. 234.
  • 19. Rich Pprs.: Letters from Bermuda 1615-46 ed. V.A. Ives, 364.
  • 20. APC, 1623-5, pp. 154, 402.
  • 21. GL, ms 23737/13, no. 13.
  • 22. Ibid. no. 17; GL, ms 4115, p. 36.
  • 23. C181/2, ff. 215, 237v.
  • 24. GL, ms 12806/3, ff. 242v, 245, 252v, 272, 277v, 313, 326v.
  • 25. GL, ms 12806/4, pp. 94, 347.
  • 26. CLRO, letter bk. HH, f. 212v.
  • 27. A.B. Beaven, Aldermen of London, i. 6; ii. 59.
  • 28. C93/10/21; C192/1, unfol.
  • 29. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 142.
  • 30. C181/3, f. 256; 181/4, ff. 129, 188v.
  • 31. E115/144/157.
  • 32. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 567.
  • 33. GL, ms 25475/1, f. 12.
  • 34. CSP Dom. 1635-6, p. 178.
  • 35. CJ, ii. 210b.
  • 36. H.L. Hopkinson, Rep. on Ancient Recs. of Merchant Taylors, 117. For his will, see PROB 11/30, ff. 253v-4v.
  • 37. GL, ms 16367/2, f. 4v.
  • 38. Sloane 320, ff. 2v-32; Harl. 167, f. 78v.
  • 39. E190/12/4, f.3.
  • 40. Eng. Privateering Voyages to W. Indies ed. K.R. Andrews (Hakluyt Soc. ser. 2. cxi), 50.
  • 41. CSP Col. E.I. 1513-1616, pp. 125, 129.
  • 42. GL, ms 16367/2, ff. 54v-5.
  • 43. Harl. 167, f. 78v.
  • 44. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 266; R. Brenner, Merchants and Rev. 154; Rich Pprs, 364.
  • 45. APC, 1623-5, p. 402.
  • 46. SP28/162, unnumb. accts.
  • 47. C2/Jas.1/C7/22.
  • 48. CLRO, RCE Sales 27 Sept. 1628-15 Feb. 1631, unfol.
  • 49. Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), iii. 171.
  • 50. CLRO, City Cash 1/1, f. 20; City lease bk., surrenders 1630-93, unfol.; City leases, grant bk. ii. ff. 52v, 53v.
  • 51. Inhabitants of London ed. T.C. Dale, i. 25.
  • 52. Cal. Ct. Mins. E.I. Co. 1635-9, pp. xxvi, 342-43.
  • 53. D. Lloyd, Memoires of the Lives (1668), p. 632.
  • 54. Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), iii. 171.
  • 55. GL, ms 4143/1, ex inf. Dr. V. Harding; GL, ms 13149.
  • 56. CLRO, Reps. 23, f. 79v.
  • 57. CLRO, RCE cttee. min. bk. 1627-32, f. 11.
  • 58. Lloyd, 632.
  • 59. Recs. Virg. Co. ii. 28-9.
  • 60. CSP Col. E.I. 1622-24, p. 261.
  • 61. GL, ms 12806/3, f. 431; GL, ms 12806/4, pp. 91-2, 94.
  • 62. SP14/127/48; SP14/156/14.
  • 63. R. Cust, Forced Loan, 309.
  • 64. CD 1628, ii. 305. For Coke’s propositions, see ibid. 121, 128, 136-7.
  • 65. Ibid. 300.
  • 66. HMC Cowper, i. 331.
  • 67. Ibid. iv. 98.
  • 68. CSP Col. E.I. 1625-29, p. 490.
  • 69. Ibid. 493.
  • 70. CD 1628, iii. 309-10. For the petition, see ibid. 319-21.
  • 71. CSP Col. E.I. 1625-29, p. 507.
  • 72. Ibid. 499-502.
  • 73. CD 1628, ii. 441. For the background to the Warner case, see CSP Col. E.I. 1625-29, pp. 449, 456-7.
  • 74. CSP Col. E.I. 1625-29, pp. 490-2.
  • 75. CD 1628, iii. 449, 611. For the background to the whaling dispute, see KINGSTON-UPON-HULL.
  • 76. CD 1628, iv. 200-1, 214, 216.
  • 77. Ibid. 203, 206.
  • 78. Ibid. 138, 327.
  • 79. Ibid. 339.
  • 80. Ibid. 456.
  • 81. CJ, i. 922a, 926a.
  • 82. CSP Col. E.I. 1630-34, p. 268.
  • 83. CSP Dom. 1637-38, pp. 549-50.
  • 84. Cal. Ct. Mins. E.I. Co. 1640-43, p. 130.
  • 85. N. Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists, 217, 219, 221. For Abdy’s views, see Brenner, 295.
  • 86. Lloyd, 632.
  • 87. Oxford DNB sub ‘William Paul’.
  • 88. Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), iii. 171 (for the original will, see PROB 11/187, ff. 278v-80); GL, ms 4107/2, unfol.
  • 89. In 1903 the portrait was at Boston House, Brentford, Mdx.: R.H. Ernest-Hill, ‘Sir Christopher Clitherow’, Home Cos. Mag. v. 216.