Croke, George (DNB00)

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CROKE, Sir GEORGE (1560–1642), judge and law reporter, younger son of Sir John Croke, by Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Alexander Unton, and brother of Sir John Croke (1553–1620) [q. v.], was educated at the parish school of Thame and at Christ Church, Oxford. He became a student of the Inner Temple in November 1575, was called to the bar in 1584, was autumn reader in 1599 and 1608, and was treasurer of his inn in 1609. In 1597 he was returned to parliament as member for Beeralston, Devonshire. Before 1615 he purchased the estate of Waterstock, Oxfordshire, and in 1621 he bought Studley of his nephew.

As early as 1581 he began reporting law cases, but does not seem to have acquired any practice before 1588. In 1623 he was made serjeant-at-law and king's serjeant. The dignity had been refused before, because Croke declined to purchase it on the usual terms (Whitelocke). He was knighted 29 June 1623. On 11 Feb. 1624–5 he became justice of the common pleas, and on 9 Oct. 1628 was removed to the king's bench to take the place of Sir John Doddridge [q. v.] . In the great constitutional cases which came before him in the following years Croke resisted royal interference with judicial procedure. He, with Hutton, did not sign the collective judgment of his companions on the bench justifying the extension of the ship-money edict to inland towns, but gave a guarded opinion, that ‘when the whole kingdom was in danger the defence thereof ought to be borne by all’ (1635). On 7 Feb. 1636–7, when the same question was again formally presented to the judges, Croke and Hutton signed the judgment in favour of the crown on the express understanding that the verdict of the majority necessarily bound all. When Hampden was tried for resisting the ship-money tax in 1638, Croke spoke out boldly, and declared that it was utterly contrary to law for any power except parliament to set any charge upon a subject, and that there was no precedent for the prosecution. His judgment, with his autograph notes, has been edited by Mr. S. R. Gardiner in the Camden Society's seventh ‘Miscellany’ (1875), from a manuscript belonging to the Earl of Verulam. It was first printed, together with Hutton's argument, in 1641. In 1641 Croke's age and declining health compelled him to apply for permission to retire from active service on the bench. The request was granted, and his title and salary were continued to him. He withdrew to his estate at Waterstock, Oxfordshire, where he died 16 Feb. 1641–2. An elaborate monument was erected above his grave in Waterstock Church. Croke's reports, extending over sixty years (1580–1640), were written in Norman-French, and were translated into English for publication by Sir Harbottle Grimston, his son-in-law. A selection of cases heard while Croke himself was judge was published in 1657. The earlier reports appeared in two volumes, published respectively in 1659 and 1661. Collected editions were issued in 1683 and 1790–2 (3 vols.) An abridgment appeared in 1658 and 1665. Grimston's prefaces give Croke a high character.

Croke was a wealthy man, and made good use of his wealth. He gave 100l. to Sion College in 1629, and erected and endowed almshouses at Studley (1639). By his will, dated 20 Nov. 1640 and proved 3 May 1642, he left many charitable legacies. Sir Harbottle Grimston inherited the law library. Croke's portrait by Hollar is extant, and another by R. Vaughan precedes the third volume of the ‘Reports’ (1661). A painting is described by Sir Alexander Croke [q. v.] as in his possession in 1823, and Granger mentions two other engraved portraits by Gaywood and R. White respectively.

‘Mr. George Croke's wife was Mary Bennet, one of the daughters of Sir Thomas Bennet, late mayor of London. She was married [about 1610] to Mr. George Croke, being an ancient bachelor within a year or thereabouts of 50, and she being 20 years of age. This fell out unexpected to his friends, that had conceived a purpose in him never to have married’ (Sir James Whitelocke's Liber Famelicus, 21). To Lady Croke's influence was ascribed her husband's firm stand in the ship-money case. She died 1 Dec. 1657. By her Croke had a son, Thomas, who studied law at the Inner Temple 1619, and inherited Studley under his father's will; but he seems to have died soon after his father. Wood calls him ‘a sot or a fool or both.’ Croke's eldest daughter, Mary, married Sir Harbottle Grimston; the second daughter, Elizabeth, married first Thomas Lee of Hartwell, Buckinghamshire, and second, Sir Richard Ingoldsby; and Frances, the third daughter, was wife of Richard Jervois, esq.

[Croke's Hist. of Croke Family, i. 552–605; Wood's Athenæ, iii. 269; Foss's Judges; Gardiner's Hist. of England, viii.; Whitelocke's Liber Famelicus (Camd. Soc.); Cal. State Papers, 1625–41; State Trials.]

S. L. L.