Clerk of the Crown in Chancery - Introduction

A provisional list compiled by J C Sainty, April 2001


The origins of the office of Clerk of the Crown in Chancery are obscure. The first individual to be so designated was Benedict Normanton who occurs in 1331. (1) In 1350 John Tamworth, Clerk of the Crown, was granted by letters patent under the great seal a salary of £20 payable at the Hanaper. (2) Thereafter it was the regular practice for salaries to be granted in this fashion to holders of the office. In 1380 a smaller salary of 10 marks, raised in 1384 to £10, was granted to a second Clerk of the Crown, Edmund Brudenell. (3) In 1396 the holder of this office, James Billingford, was promoted to the other office and on this occasion he and his newly appointed colleague, John Clerk, were designated Chief and Secondary Clerk of the Crown respectively. (4) These designations were not, however, continued and the holders of both officers were thereafter described simply as 'one of the Clerks of the Crown in Chancery'. Nevertheless there seems at first to have been an expectation that the clerk occupying the office to which the lower salary was attached would be promoted to that which enjoyed the higher. This is illustrated by the cases of John Clerk (1409) and Richard Sturgeon (October 1415). (5)

In 1443 and 1446 reversions were granted to both offices and from then on it was the practice for the offices and not merely the salaries attached to them to be granted by letters patent. (6) In 1465 the remuneration of the two offices was equalized when Thomas Ive's salary was raised from £10 to £20. (7) There continued to be two Clerks of the Crown until 1471 when the offices were occupied by Thomas Ive and John Bagot. The latter disappears thereafter and was not replaced. The last trace of the second Clerk occurs on 19 September 1485 when Gilbert Bacheler was appointed at a salary of £10. However, it seems clear that this appointment was made in error as he received another patent dated the same day granting him the office of Clerk of the Crown with a salary of £20 in survivorship with Richard Ive. (8) Thereafter all appointments were made to a single office with a salary of £20, raised in 1556 to £60. (9)

The political conditions of the period of the Civil War and Interregnum inevitably interrupted the orderly succession to the office. On the outbreak of the War the Clerk of the Crown was Thomas Willis. According to his own account he remained in London until August 1643 when he was detained by Royalist troops while on a visit to his estate in Hampshire and conveyed to Oxford where he was obliged to serve the King until 1646. (10) However, in December 1643 Parliament required the services of a Clerk of the Crown in connection with its own great seal and accordingly appointed John Bolles, Willis's deputy who had remained in London, to carry out the necessary duties. (11) He appears to have occupied the post until at least April 1654 when Willis attempted to displace him. (12) It is not clear what the outcome of this dispute was but in the event the Protector Oliver Cromwell ignored the claims of both when he appointed Nathaniel Taylor Clerk of the Commonwealth in Chancery in November 1655. (13) On Willis's death in the following year his younger son, Valentine, who had been granted the reversion of the office by the King in 1641 sued Taylor for possession. The case dragged on for three years. (14) Eventually in February 1660 Valentine Willis was admitted Clerk of the Commonwealth. (15) At the Restoration three months later he was recognized as Clerk of the Crown. (16)

In March 1688 Henry Barker, the then Clerk of the Crown, was suspended by Lord Chancellor Jeffreys for disobeying his order to issue dedimus potestatems to enable the oath to be administered to newly appointed justices of the peace and Sir Robert Clarke was ordered to execute the office during the King's pleasure. Barker was not restored to office until December of that year. (17)

The history of the office was uneventful from the Revolution until 1832. In that year it was provided that it should be abolished from 20 August 1833 saving the rights of those in possession or reversion who had been appointed before 1 June 1832. (18) Consequently Earl Bathurst, who had been granted a reversion as long ago as 1771, was enabled to remain in office until his death in July 1834. William Scott, who had been granted a reversion in 1805, died in July 1832. In 1833 the office was reprieved and it was provided that future appointments should be made by warrant under sign manual and not by letters patent under the great seal and that an annual allowance of £800 for salary and expenses should be substituted for the salary of £60 and the variable income from fees which had previously formed the remuneration attached to the office. (19) In the following year a net salary of £500 was substituted for the allowance. (20) In 1844 this was raised to £1000. (21) In 1874 it was provided that the remuneration of future Clerks should be fixed by the Treasury. (22) In February 1885 the office was conferred on the then Principal Secretary to the Lord Chancellor. The two posts have been held concurrently ever since.

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1 Calendar of Patent Rolls (CPR) 1330-4, p. 159. The office has never been the subject of a comprehensive study. See, however, B. Wilkinson, The Chancery under Edward III (Manchester, 1929), pp. 85-6; A.F. Pollard, 'The Clerk of the Crown', English Historical Review, lvii (1942), pp. 312-33 (concerned with the office until the end of the reign of Elizabeth I); W. J. Jones, The Elizabethan Court of Chancery (Oxford, 1967), pp. 131-4; Report of the Select Committee of the House of Lords on the Petition of the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery, H.L. 1844, xix, 1-18; Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery, H.C. 1844, xiv, 111-70; H.C. Maxwell Lyte, Historical notes on the use of Great Seal of England (1926).

2 CPR 1348-50, p. 470.

3 CPR 1377-81, p. 537; CPR 1381-5, p. 388.

4 CPR 1391-6, pp. 684, 711.

5 CPR 1408-13, p. 46; CPR 1413-16, p. 362.

6 CPR 1441-6, pp. 197, 461.

7 CPR 1461-7, p. 388.

8 CPR 1485-94, pp. 4, 5.

9 CPR 1555-7, p. 548.

10 Calendar of State Papers Domestic (CSPD) 1654, pp. 135-6. See also G.E. Aylmer, The State's Servants (1973), pp. 87-8.

11 Lords Journals, vi, 338; ibid. vii, 113.

12 CSPD 1654, pp. 135-6.

13 Public Record Office, C 66/2914, letters patent 15 Nov. 1655.

14 CSPD 1659-60, p. 33.

15 Public Record Office, C 216/3 no. 68.

16 Lords Journals, xi, 5.

17 G.W. Sanders, Orders of the High Court of Chancery and the Statutes of the Realm relating to Chancery from the earliest period to the present time (1845), pp. 381-2; N. Luttrell, A Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs (Oxford, 1857), i, 436, 484; Dr. Williams' Library, Morrice Entring Book, MS QQ, pp. 251, 341.

18 Act 2 & 3 Will. IV, c. 111.

19 Act 3 & 4 Will. IV, c. 84. In 1833 the total income of the office was £1245 1s 9d (Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Sinecure Offices, H.C. 1834, vi, 485).

20 Act 4 & 5 Will. IV, c. 47.

21 Act 7 & 8 Vict., c. 77.

22 Act 37 & 38 Vict., c. 81, s. 8.

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