Wilkes, Thomas (DNB00)

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WILKES, Sir THOMAS (1545?–1598), diplomatist, born about 1545, is said by Wood (Fasti, i. 188) to have been a native of Sussex. The Oxford registers do not supply his father's name, and the family occurs in many counties and in many forms, such as Wikes, Wylkes, Weekes, Wyckes, and other variations. A Richard Wilkes (d. 1556) was master of Christ's College, Cambridge, from 1548 to 1553 (Cooper, Athenæ Cantabr. i. 162, 548); a Thomas Wilkes represented Chippenham in the ‘reformation’ parliament of 1529–35 (Official Return of Members of Parl. i. 370), and another Thomas Wilkes, haberdasher, of London, was fined 200l. in 1551 for refusing to serve as sheriff (Wriothesley, Chron. ii. 51–4). The diplomatist commenced in 1564 to travel on the continent, and after spending eight years in France, Germany, and Italy, he returned to England and settled at Oxford, where in 1572 he became probationer-fellow of All Souls', graduating B.A. in February 1572–3 (Wilkes's statement in Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1591–4, p. 398; Reg. Univ. Oxon. ii. iii. 25). On 19 March following Dr. Valentine Dale [q. v.], an ex-fellow of All Souls', was appointed ambassador to France, and he invited Wilkes to become his secretary. Some objection to his absence was raised by the fellows on the ground that Wilkes was ‘not a fellow, only a probationer;’ but a letter from the privy council, sent on 24 May at Dale's request, produced the requisite license of absence (Cal. State Papers, For. 1572–4, No. 904; Acts P. C. 1571–5, p. 107; Lansdowne MS. 892, f. 201).

From the first Wilkes was employed on important and delicate negotiations at Paris. In April 1574 he was instructed by Elizabeth to convey assurances of her support to Henry of Navarre and the Duc d'Alençon, who had been arrested by the queen-mother, Catherine de' Medici (Cal. State Papers, For. 1572–4, Nos. 1390, 1395). In July Alençon revealed the negotiation to Catherine, who would have arrested Wilkes but for the intervention of the king of Navarre; as it was, Wilkes had to leave France, and on 10 July Catherine wrote to Elizabeth bitterly accusing him of instigating Alençon and Navarre to rebel. Elizabeth, as usual, threw the whole responsibility on her agent; and in August sent Wilkes back to Catherine with an order ‘to clear himself or never see her face again.’ He had an interview with Catherine at Lyons on 7 Sept., and attempted to allay her suspicions. He was allowed to remain in France, though he distrusted Catherine and was alarmed for his safety (ib. Nos. 1540 sqq.; Harl. MS. 1582, f. 13).

In February 1574–5 Wilkes was summoned to England, where, on the 16th, he received ‘letters and instructions to Count Frederick, palatine of the Rhine;’ the object of this secret embassy was to induce the elector to send an army into France in aid of the Huguenots under Condé. He returned in April, but in August was again sent to Heidelberg to accompany the elector's invading army. Before it started Wilkes was requested by the elector and Condé to lay their plans in person before Elizabeth (ib. 1574–7, Nos. 27, 69; Hatfield MSS. ii. 119, 120). Having accomplished this mission, Wilkes returned to Germany and followed the invading army into France, being ‘mounted and armed at his own charge’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1591–4, p. 399). He remained with the Huguenot army during its various movements until the conclusion of peace between Catherine and the Huguenots in June 1576 (ib. For. 1574–7, Nos. 801, 811); he then returned to England with the commendations of Condé and Alençon, and on 18 July was sworn one of the four clerks of the privy council (Acts P. C. 1575–7, p. 166). Soon afterwards he was granted the office of queen's printer, which he sold to Christopher Barker [q. v.] (cf. Hatfield MSS. ii. 187).

In December 1577 Wilkes was sent on another important mission; he was to convey to Philip II ‘a clear and simple statement of Elizabeth's intentions and designs’ in the Netherlands (Cal. Simancas MSS. 1568–79, pp. 550, 558; Lansd. MS. 982, f. 201). He was to represent that the queen's efforts had been always directed towards keeping the Netherlands loyal to Philip, but that the only remedy was conciliation and the recall of Don John of Austria. If Philip adopted these recommendations, Elizabeth would join with him in putting down the rebels; but if not, she would not be able to refrain from helping them. Wilkes was received with more consideration than might have been expected, but the only reply he got was that Mendoza, the new ambassador to England, would bring Philip's answer. Wilkes returned by way of France, reaching England on 16 Feb. 1577–8 (Walsingham's ‘Diary’ in Camden Miscellany, iv. 35; Cal. State Papers, Venetian, 1558–80, No. 698, Dom. Addenda, 1564–77, pp. 532–3). On 4 April he was sent to Don John to offer Elizabeth's mediation between him and the Netherlands and advocate a cessation of hostilities; in case of refusal he was to threaten that she would give all the aid in her power to the insurgents. On the way he conferred at Antwerp with the Prince of Orange and the council of state. Don John refused the proffered mediation, and on 29 April Wilkes returned (ib.; Cal. Simancas MSS. 1568–79, pp. 573, 579).

For the next seven years Wilkes was occupied in matters of domestic policy. In January 1578–9 an agreement was made between the four clerks of the privy council by which each clerk should only be in attendance for six months in the year, Wilkes's months being May–August and November–December. In October 1581 he was employed in examining prisoners in the Tower, and in March 1581–2, as a reward for his services, the queen induced the warden and fellows of Winchester College to grant her, in Wilkes's behalf, a lease of the parsonage and rectory of Downton, Wiltshire; they reluctantly agreed to this singular proposal on condition that it was not made a precedent (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1581–90, p. 47; Hoare, Modern Wilts, vol. iii. ‘Downton,’ pp. 32–5). Wilkes appointed as his vicar his cousin, Dr. William Wilkes (d. 1637), fellow of Merton College, and afterwards chaplain to James I, and author of ‘Obedience, or Ecclesiastical Union’ (London, 1605, 8vo), and of ‘A Second Memento for Magistrates’ (London, 1608, 8vo) (see Wood, Athenæ, ii. 46–7; Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Brodrick, Mem. of Merton, pp. 270–2; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1591–4, p. 189). In November 1583 he was staying with Sir Thomas Lucy at Charlecote inquiring into the conspiracy of Somerville, Arden, and Hall, and on 25 Oct. 1584 he was returned to parliament for Downton.

In July 1586 Wilkes was sent to report on the state of the Netherlands. Leicester had urged the selection of as wise a politician as could be found for this important mission, and on 7 Aug. he wrote: ‘Wylkes hath exceedingly wisely and wel behaved himself. Her majestie doth not know what a iewel she hath of him. I would I suffered a great payne I had such a one to join with all here’ (Leycester Corresp. pp. 360, 383). Wilkes returned to England early in September, but he was immediately selected to succeed Henry Killigrew as English member of the council of state of the Netherlands (ib. p. 432; Acts P. C. 1586–7, p. 239; his instructions are in Cotton. MS. Galba cx. 79, and Addit. MS. 14028, f. 66). ‘Always ready to follow the camp and to face the guns and drums with equanimity, and endowed beside with keen political insight, he was more competent than most men to unravel the confused skein of Netherland politics’ (Motley, United Netherlands, ii. 90). He was strongly in favour of breaking entirely with Spain and of Elizabeth's acceptance of the sovereignty of the Netherlands; a ‘Discourse’ which he wrote in August 1587 against the proposed treaty with Philip, urging that ‘the true policy of England is to maintain the independence of the United Provinces,’ is extant in the record office (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1581–1590, p. 439). But he came into collision with Barneveld by saving the life of ‘the violent democrat and Calvinist’ Reingault, and by maintaining Leicester's authority as governor (Motley, ii. 107 n., 221–5). Leicester ill requited this service; he quarrelled with all his subordinates, Buckhurst, Sir John Norris, and others, and his enmity to Wilkes was especially bitter because Wilkes had made a very candid exposure of Leicester's mistakes and intrigues in his reports to the English government. In consequence Leicester circulated malicious reports to the effect that Wilkes had spoken evil of Burghley and Davison. The suspicious proceedings of Sir William Stanley (1548–1630) [q. v.] and Rowland Yorke [q. v.], Elizabeth's parsimony, her support of Leicester in his most foolish acts, and the hatred of Leicester, determined Wilkes to leave the Netherlands with Sir John Norris in July 1587. On their arrival in England Norris was forbidden the queen's presence, and Wilkes was thrown into the Fleet prison. ‘Surely,’ wrote Leicester, ‘there was never a falser creature, a more seditious wretch, than Wilkes. He is a villain, a devil, without faith or religion’, (Motley, ii. 160–5, 185–7, 235–7, 252, 277–9).

Wilkes did not remain in prison long, but the queen's displeasure forbade his resuming his duties as clerk of the council. In January 1587–8, and again on 13 July, he petitioned for restoration to favour (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1581–90, pp. 457, 502). In August he was sent on a mission to Alexander of Parma (Acts P. C. 1588, p. 213), and on 29 Oct. he was returned to parliament for Southampton. The death of Leicester removed his bitterest foe, and on 4 Aug. 1589 he resumed his place as clerk of the council (ib. 1589–90, p. 11). In May 1590 he was again sent to the Netherlands to renew and amend the treaties with England (instructions in Cotton. MS. Galba D, vii. 131, 143). He remained there four months, making various proposals to the states and receiving their answers in October (Harl. MS. 287, ff. 166, 173, 176, 179, 183; Collins, Letters and Memorials, i. 301–16). On 1 Jan. 1590–1 it was reported that he was to be sworn secretary of state (Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. app. p. 335). From March to July 1592 he was employed in an embassy to France to obtain some towns in guarantee for the help sent to Henry of Navarre by Elizabeth; during this mission Henry, remembering Wilkes's early services, knighted him. On 19 Feb. 1592–3 he was returned to parliament for Southampton, and in July he was once more sent to the French king ‘to dissuade him from revolt in religion, and, in case his conversion should be performed, to deal with him for a continuance of his conjunction with her majesty against Spain, and for matters concerning her troops in Brittany, in which negotiation he obtained an alliance with her majesty, offensive and defensive, against the king of Spain’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1591–4, pp. 399–400; instructions in Cotton. MS. Cal. E, ix. 35–41). In September 1594 he was selected for an important embassy to the archduke at Brussels ‘relating to the Spanish power in the Netherlands;’ he was also to complain of the treasons of Dr. Lopez and others, and to demand the extradition of Sir William Stanley, Charles Paget, Holt, Gifford, and Dr. Worthington. On 14 Oct. the archduke granted him a passport, couched in such terms that on the 30th the English council declined to proceed with the negotiation. This seems to have been a pretext, the real reason being the hostility of the Dutch and French to Elizabeth's proposals (see Cotton. MS. Vespasian C, viii. 234–40; Hatfield MSS. v. 11–12, 19).

For the next three years Wilkes was occupied with his duties as clerk to the council and matters of domestic policy, but in February 1597–8 he was despatched on another embassy with Sir Robert Cecil to the French king (instructions in Cotton. MS. Julius F, vi. 94). They landed at Dieppe and proceeded to Rouen, where Wilkes, who had been ill for some time, died on 2 March 1597–8 (Collins, Letters and Memorials, ii. 94), leaving a widow, Margaret, daughter of Ambrose Smith of London, by his wife Joan, daughter of John Coe of Coggeshall, Essex (Visit. Leicestershire, 1619, p. 66). In addition to Wilkes's voluminous despatches in the record office, Cottonian and other manuscripts in the British Museum, he wrote ‘A Briefe and Summary Tractate shewing what apperteineth to the Place, Dignity, and Office of a councellour of estate in a Monarchy or other Commonwealth,’ dedicated to Sir Robert Cecil, and extant in British Museum Stowe MS. 287.

[Brit. Mus. Cotton., Harl., Lansdowne, and Addit. MSS. passim; Cal. State Papers, Dom., For., and Spanish Series; Acts of the Privy Council, ed. Dasent; Hatfield MSS. vols. ii–vii.; Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. app. passim; Leycester Corresp. and Camden Miscellany, vol. iv. (Camden Soc.); Collins's Letters and Memorials, i. 273, 325–7, 329, 350; Digges's Compleat Ambassador; Corresp. of Sir Henry Unton (Roxburghe Club); Official Ret. Memb. of Parl.; D'Ewes's Journals; Camden's Annales; Wood's Fasti, i. 188; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Meteren's Hist. van der Nederlanderen, 10 vols. Breda, 1748–63; Wagenaar's Vaterlandsche Hist. 21 vols. Amsterdam, 1749–59; Kervyn de Lettenhove's Relations politiques des Pays-Bas et de l'Angleterre, 10 vols. 1882–91; Motley's United Netherlands, vol. ii.; Froude's Hist. of England.]

A. F. P.