Clarke, Thomas (1703-1764) (DNB00)

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CLARKE, Sir THOMAS (1703–1764), master of the rolls, was the younger son of a carpenter in St. Giles's parish, Holborn, whose wife kept a pawnbroker's shop. Through the influence of Zachary Pearce, afterwards dean of Westminster, Clarke was admitted on the foundation of St. Peter's College, Westminster, in 1717, being then fourteen years of age. In 1721 he obtained his election to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was admitted on 10 June, then aged eighteen, as the son of Thomas Clark of London (Foster, Admissions to Gray's Inn, p. 155). He graduated B.A. 1724, M.A. 1728, and became a fellow of his college in the preceding year. He was admitted a member of Gray's Inn on 20 Oct. 1727, and appears to have been called to the bar on 21 June 1729. Being introduced by his friend Dr. Pearce to Lord Macclesfield, the ex-lord chancellor, Clarke collated his lordship's copy of ‘Fleta’ with Selden's edition, and in 1735 published anonymously his only work, ‘Fleta seu Commentarius Juris Anglicani.’ By Lord Macclesfield he was strongly recommended to the favour of Sir Philip Yorke. Favoured with such powerful patronage, Clarke's ultimate success was assured, and in January 1740 he was appointed a king's counsel. In 1742 he was admitted to Lincoln's Inn ‘from Gray's Inn.’ In June 1747 Clarke was returned for the borough of St. Michael's, Cornwall, and at the succeeding general election in April 1754 was elected member for Lostwithiel. On the death of Sir John Strange he was appointed master of the rolls, 25 May 1754, and was knighted on the same day (London Gazette, 1754, No. 9374). The question as to whom this appointment should have been given to is discussed in an interesting letter from Thomas Holles, duke of Newcastle, the prime minister, to Lord-chancellor Hardwicke (George Harris, Life of Lord-chancellor Hardwicke, 1847, iii. 10–13). On 21 June following Clarke was admitted to the privy council (London Gazette, 1794, No. 9382), and in the month of December was re-elected for Lostwithiel, which he continued to represent until the dissolution of parliament in March 1761. He was not returned to the following parliament, and there is no record of any speech which he may have made while in the house. After holding the office of master of the rolls for a little more than ten years, he died on 13 Nov. 1764, aged 61, and was buried in the Rolls Chapel. From the dates of his admission to St. Peter's College, Westminster, and to Trinity, it is clear that he was not the son of Sir Edward Clarke, lord mayor of London in 1697, who was called to the bar by the Middle Temple on 8 Feb. 1705, as suggested in Foss; while the evidence of his old schoolfellow Bishop Newton is sufficient to disprove the notion that he was an illegitimate son of Lord Macclesfield. On the resignation of his friend Lord Hardwicke in 1756, Clarke is said to have refused the vacant office of lord chancellor. In 1754 he became a fellow of the Royal Society. Reference is made to Clarke in the ‘Causidicade, a panegyri-satiri-serio-comic Dramatical Poem on the Strange Resignation and Stranger Promotion’ (1743, p. 25), from which it would appear that he had a greater knowledge of Roman than of common law. He left a large fortune behind him, which he had acquired solely by the practice of his profession, the greater part of it being bequeathed by him to the third earl of Macclesfield, the grandson of his old benefactor. He also left a legacy of 30,000l. to St. Luke's Hospital. Some doubt is thrown on Clarke's sanity when the will was made, but it was never contested (Nichols, Literary Anecdotes, 1814, viii. 507).

[Works of Thomas Newton, late Lord Bishop of Bristol, with some account of his life (1782), i. 8, 80–1; Welch's Alumni Westmon. (1852), pp. 254, 269, 275–6, 286, 545, 575; Foss's Lives of the Judges (1864), viii. 259–60; Parliamentary Papers (1878), vol. lxii. pt. ii.; Cole's MSS. xlv. 245, 343; Annual Register, 1764, pp. 125, 126; Gent. Mag. (1754) xxiv. 244, 530, (1764) xxxiv. 546.]

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