Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lake, Thomas

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LAKE, Sir THOMAS (1567?–1630), secretary of state, son of Almeric Lake of Southampton, and brother of Arthur Lake [q. v.], was born in St. Michael's parish, Southampton, about 1567. He was educated in the grammar school of his native town, while Hadrian a Saravia [q. v.] was head-master there, and is said to have subsequently proceeded to Cambridge. One ‘Mr. Lake’ of Clare Hall, who took the part of Trico in the performance of ‘Ignoramus’ at Cambridge in 1614, has been identified very doubtfully with Sir Thomas (Ruggles, Ignoramus, ed. Hawkins, pp. xxiv, xxv). The actor is more likely to have been Sir Thomas's son. The father took no degree at Cambridge. On leaving the university he became amanuensis to Sir Francis Walsingham, and his dexterity and despatch gained for him in that capacity the nickname of ‘Swiftsure,’ after a well-known ship. He displayed some interest in antiquities, and joined the Elizabethan Society of Antiquaries, founded by Archbishop Parker. A paper on sterling money, read to the members by Lake, appears in Hearne's ‘Curious Discourses,’ i. 10. Queen Elizabeth took notice of his abilities, and about 1600 made him clerk of the signet. On 27 Sept. 1592 he was created M.A. at Oxford during the queen's visit. In her last days he is said to have read Latin and French to her. Three days after her death (27 March 1603) he and George Carew were sent by the council to James in Scotland, to acquaint him with the position of affairs in England. He impressed the new king favourably, and after James's arrival in London he was appointed the king's secretary of the Latin tongue, and was knighted (20 May 1603). On 1 June following he was made keeper of the records at Whitehall, and on 9 March 1603–4 was elected M.P. for Launceston. He was returned to parliament for the county of Middlesex in 1614.

Lake justified the royal favour by steadily championing the interests of the king's Scottish friends at court, and thus incurred the enmity of many English courtiers. He ‘had no pretensions to be anything more than a diligent and ready official’ (Gardiner), but despite his modest qualifications he was a recognised candidate for the post of secretary of state on Salisbury's death in 1612, and offered a bribe to secure the appointment. The king finally determined, for the time at least, to fill the office himself. Lake, however, performed the official duties of secretary at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth to the elector in December 1612, and he incurred much ridicule by his reading aloud with a very bad accent and translating into very poor English the French contract of marriage. In 1613, when the question of choosing a secretary of state was again discussed, the Howard influence at court was openly cast in Lake's favour. In 1614 he was made a privy councillor, and at the meeting of the council in September 1615, when the king's financial position called for serious consideration, Lake pressed on James the necessity of staying his hands from gifts, and recommended some modifications in the levy of the disputed impositions. About the same time Lake became a pensioner of Spain, and entered into intimate relations with Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador. But James had no obvious ground for depriving him of his confidence, and on 3 Jan. 1615–16 conferred on him the coveted post of secretary of state. It was reported that James soon afterwards said of him that he was a minister of state fit to serve the greatest prince in Europe. In 1617 Lake and his son Thomas accompanied the king to Scotland. Early in 1619 Lake imperilled his position by communicating to his patron Howard, earl of Suffolk, some severe remarks which James I made to him about the venal character of Suffolk's wife. Buckingham had been introduced to James I's notice in 1614, in part through Lake's agency, and Lake, perceiving the insecurity of his relations with the king, flung himself on the favourite's mercy. He offered Buckingham a bribe of 15,000l. if he could help him to regain the full favour of the king. Buckingham at first was obdurate, but Lake gained the ear of Lady Compton, and Buckingham was induced by her to act in accordance with Lake's wishes.

Meanwhile a quarrel in Lake's family was hastening his ruin. His eldest daughter had married in 1616 William Cecil, lord Roos, a grandson of Thomas Cecil, first earl of Exeter [q. v.] The union proved unhappy, and husband and wife soon separated. But Roos had previously mortgaged to Lake his estates at Walthamstow, and after the separation Lake intimidated him into an agreement that the mortgaged estates should become the property of his wife. Roos's grandfather, the Earl of Exeter, declined to assent to the alienation of the lands. The dispute accordingly grew hotter, and Lady Roos's brother Arthur brutally assaulted Roos, and she and her mother threatened to charge him with an incestuous connection with the Countess of Exeter, his grandfather's young wife. The persecution drove Roos to take refuge in Rome, and he died at Naples in 1618. Lady Roos thereupon turned her artillery against the young Countess of Exeter. Forged letters were forthcoming to show that the countess, besides committing offences against morality, had attempted to poison Lake and his daughter. Late in 1618 Lady Exeter charged Lake, his wife, son, and daughter with defamation of character in the Star-chamber, and a host of witnesses were examined for five days together early in February 1618–19. The evidence showed that Lake had imprisoned one Gwilliams for refusing to swear falsely against the countess, and although less blameworthy than his fellow-prisoners he had undoubtedly sanctioned the circulation of his daughter's libels, and that in spite of a warning from the king that it would be safer for him to withdraw them. On 13 Feb. 1618–19 James pronounced sentence against the defendants. All were ordered to be imprisoned during the king's pleasure, and Lake and his wife were also to pay a fine of 5,000l. each, with 1,000l. damages to Lady Exeter; Lady Roos was fined ten thousand marks, and Arthur Lake 300l.

Chamberlain reported on 14 Feb. 1618–19 that Lord Digby and Bacon extenuated Lake's guilt, and that the success of his cause had been prayed for by the catholics generally, and especially by those at Louvain. Lady Roos confessed her guilt on 19 June 1619, and was released. Lake himself admitted the justice of his sentence on 28 Jan. 1619–20, and was thereupon liberated. His wife did not gain her freedom till 2 May 1621. The fines were afterwards commuted to one payment of 10,200l., in addition to the damages awarded to Lady Exeter.

The proceedings necessarily led to Lake's dismissal from the office of secretary. He spent the remainder of his life in retirement, chiefly at his estate of Canons, in the parish of Little Stanmore or Whitchurch, Middlesex, which he had purchased in 1604. He seems to have renewed his friendly relations with Buckingham, who visited him apparently in London in July 1621. He was elected M.P. for Wells in 1625, and for Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, in 1626. He died at Canons on 17 Sept. 1630, and was buried at Whitchurch on 19 Oct. following. The erroneous statement that he was a benefactor to St. John's College, Oxford (Hearne, Discourses, ii. 436), seems to have arisen from his purchase of a picture hanging in the president's lodgings there in 1616.

Lake married Mary, daughter and coheiress of Sir William Ryder, alderman of London. She was buried at Whitchurch on 25 Feb. 1642–3. By her he was father of three sons and four daughters. The eldest son, Thomas, and the second son, Arthur, were both knighted in 1617. The former was elected M.P. for Wells in 1625, and died in 1653. The latter was M.P. for Bridgwater in the parliaments of 1625 and 1626, and died in 1633. The third son, Lancelot (d. 1646), left a son, Lancelot, who was M.P. for Middlesex in the convention of 1660 and in the parliament of 1661, and was knighted at Whitehall on 6 June 1660, and died in 1680. Sir Lancelot had two sons, Thomas, and Warwick, the ancestor of Gerard, lord Lake [q. v.] The elder son, Thomas, who was knighted on 4 Dec. 1670, married Rebecca, daughter of Sir John Langham of Cotesbrooke, and had a daughter Mary, first wife of James Brydges, first duke of Chandos [q. v.], to whom the estate of Canons ultimately passed.

[Le Neve's Pedigrees of Knights (Harl. Soc.), pp. 243–4; Lloyd's State Worthies, 1766, ii. 63, 75; Wood's Fasti Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 260–1; Return of Members of Parliament; Goodman's Court of James I; Court and Times of James I; Weldon's Court of James I; Brydges's Peers of England; Saunderson's James I; Fuller's Worthies; Spedding's Bacon; Gardiner's History, vols. ii. and iii.; Lysons's Environs, iii. 405, 412; Cal. State Papers, Dom.; Nichols's Progresses of James I; Burke's Extinct Peerage, s.v. ‘Lake;’ notes kindly supplied by J. Willis Clark, esq., registrary of the university of Cambridge, by L. Ewbank, esq., of Clare College, and by the Rev. W. H. Hutton, of St. John's College, Oxford.]

S. L.