LUCAS, John (1512-56)
of the Inner Temple, London and Colchester, Essex.
John Lucas Constituency
COLCHESTER Mar. 1553
COLCHESTER Oct. 1553
Family and Education
born by 1512, 3rd s. of Thomas Lucas of Little Saxham Hall, Suff[olk]. by Elizabeth, da. of John Kemeys of Raglan, Mon. educ. I. Temple, adm. July 1526. m. (1) Mary, da. of John Abell of Essex, 2s. inc. Thomas†; (2) by 1550, Elizabeth, da. of John Christmas of Colchester, 1s. 2da.
Bencher I. Temple 1542, Autumn reader 1542, Lent 1551.
Jt. (with Thomas Pope) clerk of the crown in Chancery Feb. 1538-44; j.p. Essex 1538-d., Suff. 1547; dep. steward, ct. augmentations, lands north of the Trent by 1542-4; town clerk, Colchester 1543-8, 1550-d.; member, council of John, 16th Earl of Oxford by 1545; commr. relief, Essex, Suff. 1550, canon law 1551, goods of churches and fraternities, Essex 1553; master of requests by 1552-3; steward, manors of Fingrinhoe and Pete Hall in West Mersea, Essex by 1553, lands of Sir Thomas Darcy, 1st Baron Darcy of Chiche by 1553, manor of Dovercourt by 1555.
John Lucas’s father had been secretary to Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke and Duke of Bedford, after whom he named his eldest son, who predeceased him. Solicitor-general and member of the Council learned in the law, he was one of the chief agents for the financial exactions of Henry VII, and although he escaped the fate of Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley he seems to have taken no further part in public affairs, apart from remaining on the bench, until his death in 1532. He settled in Suffolk and does not appear to have owned any property in Essex.
Although Thomas Lucas had been educated at Cambridge and remembered that university generously in his will, his son does not appear to have attended either university. He was admitted to his father’s inn in 1526, the year in which Thomas Audley I was Autumn reader there; it was to Audley, an Essex man, that Lucas was to owe his first advancement. His beginnings in the law were not promising. In 1529 he petitioned the King to order the return to him of a law-book which an Irish fellow-student had borrowed from him: the student had died of the sweating sickness and his executor refused to restore the book. It may have been dissatisfaction with the inn’s handling of the case which led Lucas to foment a revolt against its governors in 1533. In punishment for this the benchers gave him the option of expulsion or payment of a fine of £5. Evidently he chose the fine and the incident did not count against him, his rebellion being different in degree rather than in kind from similar happenings in the inns at that time; he himself later became a bencher and on two occasions was reader. His son Thomas in due course followed him not only in entering the Inner Temple but also in flouting the inn’s authority.
Between 1533 and 1537 Lucas probably practised as a barrister. Audley thought well enough of his abilities to recommend him to Cromwell in 1537 as fit for the office of solicitor of the augmentations when it fell vacant, but Walter Hendley was appointed. In the following February Lucas became joint clerk of the crown in Chancery, and it was doubtless his new standing which led to his appointment to the Essex bench four months later. It may have been about the same time that he settled in Colchester, perhaps when he married into an Essex family. He is known to have given legal advice to the 15th Earl of Oxford, who died in 1540. By the following year he was steward of the new Earl of Oxford’s manor of Harwich and he was to become the earl’s trusted counsellor and seemingly his personal friend. The de Veres were hereditary keepers of Colchester castle and owners of extensive lands within the borough and county: their patronage would have been more than enough to procure Lucas a place on the Essex bench, the town clerkship of Colchester and finally a seat in Parliament for the borough. In November 1539 he was one of the three prosecuting counsel at the trial of the abbot of Colchester and a year later he served for the first time on the commission for the delivery of Colchester gaol. In September 1540 Audley had succeeded the attainted Cromwell as high steward to the court of augmentations for lands north of the Trent and had named Lucas his deputy, at a fee of £20 a year; Lucas kept the post until Audley’s death in 1544.
In September 1543 Lucas was appointed town clerk of Colchester, an office he was to hold, with only a short interval, until his death. A year earlier he had purchased Fordingham manor and other properties there jointly with his father-in-law John Abell, and in May 1544 he purchased from the Earl of Oxford lands in the borough, together with the manor of Mile End, Essex, and property in Somerset and Wiltshire. When the earl was short of money Lucas helped him with loans: perhaps his purchases of lands from Oxford during the next few years were really loans against security. How Lucas came to have at his disposal at this stage the very large sums needed for these purchases remains obscure: even a flourishing legal practice supplemented by a patrimony, a few minor offices and perhaps an advantageous marriage hardly provide an explanation.
Lucas’s name was too common for it to be certain that he was the John Lucas of Essex who served with four footmen in the vanguard of the army in France in 1544, but no such doubt attaches to his activity on the commission of May 1546, which included Bishop Bonner and Sir Richard Rich, to enforce the Act of Six Articles in Essex, a county notably disaffected towards Catholicism. He reported to the King upon the examination of various persons who denied the real presence, most of whom were executed for this heresy. Nothing is known of Lucas’s own beliefs, but they must have been as easily adjustable to changing requirements as Rich’s, to judge from the part he was to play in the following reign. In August 1546 Lucas bought from Sir Thomas Darcy lands in Copford and Aldham, Essex, and 200 acres of woodland within the liberty of Colchester. He had already been assessed for the subsidy of 1545 as owning lands worth more than £400 in Colchester alone. In July 1548 he purchased the property of the dissolved chantry of Sible Hedingham, and lands at Great and Little Horkesley, Essex, but the culmination of his estate-building had come with his purchase in the previous month of the freehold reversion of the site, lands and buildings of St. John’s abbey, Colchester, from Sir Francis Jobson. There is no evidence to support the suggestion that the sale was forced upon Jobson by the Earl of Warwick, nor is Jobson known to have harboured any ill-feeling towards Lucas, whose son Thomas he appointed an executor of his will.
The climax of Lucas’s career was reached in Edward VI’s reign and ended with that King’s death. He had been returned for Colchester to Henry VIII’s last Parliament (his connexion with the earls of Oxford suggests that he may also have sat in 1539 and 1542, for which Parliaments the names of the town’s Members are lost) and was to sit in both those of his son. (The borough’s return to the second Edwardian Parliament is mutilated so that only the name of the senior Member Sir Francis Jobson remains, but the committal of the subsidy bill to ‘Mr. Lucas’ after its second reading on 10 Mar. 1553 makes it all but certain that John Lucas was the other.) In 1550 and 1551 Lucas was charged by the Council to search out the authors of seditious libels published in Colchester, and in the latter year he served with one other layman and six clergy on the commission appointed by the King to revise the ecclesiastical laws of the kingdom. Perhaps by this time, and certainly before March 1552, Lucas had been appointed one of the two masters of requests. The court was then at the height of its power and the masters equal in standing to the judges of the common law courts, whom they probably exceeded in both industry and probity. During Lucas’s mastership the court seems to have got through at least as much work in any year as it had done under Henry VIII, partly because the ostensible limitation of its services to poor men or royal household officers was increasingly ignored.
In 1548 Lucas was one of the trustees of the settlement made by the Earl of Oxford in contemplation of the proposed marriage between the earl’s daughter Catherine and Henry Seymour, son of the Protector Somerset. Oxford was to survive Lucas but his gratitude for Lucas’s aid is reflected in a draft will in which Lucas is called Oxford’s ‘trusty friend and counsellor’ and given a legacy of £40 and a horse. Lucas continued to accumulate lands, acquiring no less than 5,120 acres in Wiltshire from the earl in May 1552, 460 acres in and around Colchester from George Christmas and others in February of that year, and in his last recorded purchase, crown lands in Berkshire, Essex and Wiltshire for which he paid £1,095 in July 1553. His purchases by fine between 1542 and 1552 from vendors other than Oxford, alone or with his father-in-law, totalled over £1,600.
Lucas was one of the 24 persons whom the Duke of Northumberland persuaded to sign the device altering the succession in favour of Lady Jane Grey. This step, and his part in the Edwardian Reformation, made him obnoxious to Queen Mary. On her accession he was committed to the Fleet prison, but released five days later and commanded to keep to his house until the Council gave further order. The house arrest was lifted after a fortnight, in consideration of his ill health, although he still had to hold himself ready to appear before the Council at any time to answer such charges as might be formulated against him. It was against this background that he made his last appearance in the Commons a few months later: his master Oxford was in favour with the Queen and evidently like the earl Lucas was careful not to give further offence by supporting the Protestant opposition in Parliament. Despite this he was deprived of his mastership of requests, and the three years remaining to him were spent mostly in local administration.11
Lucas was a sick man on 10 May 1556 when he made his will in London. After remembering the poor and prisoners in the capital and at Colchester, he provided for his wife, children, relatives including a sister married to John Grenville, and servants. He left rings and other small mementoes to Anthony Stapleton and several others, and appointed as executors his sister Anne Barnardiston and three friends, Roger Amyce, Anthony Crane and Guy Wade. He died on the following 13 Sept. and was buried two days later in the parish church of St. Peter the Poor, London. His youngest son John subsequently married his ward Mary Roydon, whom Lucas had mentioned in his will: according to a story current after his death Lucas, ‘being a great gamester’, had won her wardship of the Earl of Oxford at dice.12