CLERKE, William (d.1587), of Ponsbourne, Herts.
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Family and Education
Nothing certain has come to light about the origins of William Clerke, apart from his claim to gentle birth: he did not come from Wilton, nor is he known to have been related to either the Clerkes of Shaw, near Melksham, in north-west Wiltshire, or the family of John Clerke, bishop of Bath and Wells, whose brother Thomas and nephew John II sat in the Parliament of 1547. It is possible that he was the supplicant for a degree at Oxford in 1528 who a year later was charged with abusing an Oxford alderman and his wife: the style esquire occasionally accorded him lends support to this identification, and the committal of a bill to him in 1555 also points to a grounding in the law. In view of the Earl of Pembroke’s dominance of Wilton, he was almost certainly the William Clerke who was associated with Pembroke in several grants of land during the last weeks of Edward VI’s reign; he was probably also the esquire of that name who accompanied the earl’s expeditionary force to France in 1557, where he was paid for commanding 100 footmen at the battle of Saint Quentin.4
This William Clerke is described as a gentleman of Ponsbourne in Hertfordshire, a county where there were several families bearing the name. George Clerke of Bennington, which lay in the same hundred as Ponsbourne, died in December 1554 and was succeeded by his eldest son William, of Chesfield and Walkern, who lived until 1591, styled himself a yeoman in his will, and is unlikely to have been a protégé of Pembroke. Hardly more promising is the William Clerke of Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire, who was sued in the court of requests by Margaret, widow of (Sir) John Brocket, and her son Edward for forcibly entering the manor of Wheathampstead and taking its profits from Michaelmas 1558; he was said to be ‘strongly allied and friended in the county and also a common juror and leader of juries’. There is a good deal more to be said in favour of an identification with William Clerke of Friern Barnet, Middlesex, who made his will on 6 Jan. 1587. He had married Anne, sister of Thomas Tyndale of Thornbury, Gloucestershire, and widow of John Perte, who had been tenant of Ludgrave Farm, Middlesex; and the references in his will to a son-in-law William Perte and a grandson Tyndale Perte show that he maintained his connexion with his wife’s family. Ludgrave Farm had been among the lands granted in April 1553, after John Perte’s death, to the Earl of Pembroke and William Clerke of Ponsbourne, and its nearness to both Friern Barnet and Ponsbourne strongly suggests that the earl’s associate and the testator of 1587 were one and the same.5
If this conclusion is correct, it also helps to furnish a glimpse of Clerke’s career before he entered the service of Pembroke. Early in 1549, following the execution of Admiral Seymour, a list was prepared by (Sir) Hugh Paulet and John Berwick of such of his servants as were ‘meet men for my lord’s grace’, that is, for transfer to the retinue of his brother the Protector Somerset. Standing next to each other on this list are the names of John Perte and William Clerke, who it can hardly be doubted were the successive husbands of Anne Tyndale. In what capacity either had served Thomas Seymour is not stated, but in Clerke’s case it seems to have been combined with a customs post: on 16 Feb. 1548 a gentleman of that name was appointed searcher of the port of Bristol, an appointment which, in view of the admiral’s influence there, could well have gone to his servant of that name. It is almost as certain that Clerke did pass into the service of the Protector and that he was the man who in December 1551, after Somerset’s second arrest, had a council order for payment for his master’s provisions.6
It was, then, from the Seymours that Clerke switched to Pembroke. They are first found acting together on 27 Apr. 1553, when the crown sold a number of manors in Dorset, Somerset and Wales to the earl, William Clerke and the earl’s heirs. In the course of the next two months they received several other large grants of property, as well as permission to alienate some of their new estates. The last acquisition was made on 25 June 1553, after which the names of the two men are not linked again until 1 Feb. 1556, when they were licensed to sell lands in Herefordshire. Pembroke had surrendered the presidency of the council in the marches of Wales in 1553 only to be reappointed two years later, which makes it likely that his servant was the William Clerke, gentleman, who obtained a 21-year lease of lands in Cardiganshire on 24 Apr. 1555.7
It was clearly as Pembroke’s nominee that Clerke sat for Wilton in four of Mary’s five Parliaments. On the first occasion his fellow-Member was another ex-servant of Somerset, Matthew Colthurst, and Clerke was joined in the House by Thomas Tyndale, perhaps already his brother-in-law, who may have enjoyed Pembroke’s support at Marlborough: for the other three Parliaments Clerke’s fellow-Member was Henry Creed, a merchant friendly with Pembroke. Clerke was to quit the Parliament of November 1554 before its dissolution, thereby incurring prosecution in the King’s bench, although after the despatch of a venire facias to the sheriff no further action was taken against him. In the Parliament of 1555 the unsuccessful measure for carrying of herring from the haven at Yarmouth to any part of the realm was committed to him after its second reading.8
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: T. F.T. Baker
- 1. The indenture (C219/23/150) is torn; full name supplied from Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.
- 2. Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-40, p. 119; B. W. Greenfield, Gen. Tyndale Fam. (1843), unpaginated; PCC 9 Spence.
- 3. CPR, 1553, passim; HMC Bath, iv. 109; APC, iii. 440.
- 4. C193/32/2; 219/22/92, 24/177; Harl. 888, f.14; CPR, 1553, pp. 112, 121, 169, 175, 177, 221, 268-70; HMC Foljambe, 6.
- 5. Vis. Herts. (Harl. Soc. xxii), 42; Clutterbuck, Herts. ii. 300-1; PCC 9 Spencer, 53 Sainberbe; Chauncy, Herts. 367; Al. Cant. i(1), 348; Req.2/102/120; CPR, 1553, p. 170.
- 6. HMC Bath, iv. 109; CPR, 1553, p. 327; APC, iii. 440.
- 7. CPR, 1553, pp. 112, 121, 169-71, 175, 177-8, 221, 270; 1554-5, p. 280; 1555-7, pp. 89, 413.
- 8. KB29/188, r. 48; CJ, i. 44.