BARHAM, Nicholas (d.1577), of Maidstone and Boxley, Kent.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

1st s. of Richard Barham of Wadhurst, Suss. by his w. Alice Cradock. educ. ?an inn of chancery; G. Inn 1540, called 1542. m. Mary, da. of John Holt of Cheshire, 1s. 1da.1

Offices Held

Ancient, G. Inn 1552, Lent reader 1558; of counsel to Maidstone by 1561, recorder and town clerk 1562; j.p.q. Kent 1562; serjeant-at-law 1567; justice of assize in Leics. and Lincs. 1569; Queen’s serjeant by Jan. 1572.2


The Barhams had long been settled at Barham Court in Teston, near Maidstone. Barham himself was born into the Sussex branch of the family but appears to have lived entirely in Kent. Between 1555 and 1561 he bought the manor of Chillington, a house in Maidstone, and his main residence, a mansion called Digons in Knightrider Street in the town. Most of the property, which included the chapel of St. Faith, where Barham built five pews, had formerly belonged to the Maplesden family. Barham seems to have had no doubt of his legal title to possession, but after his death it was claimed that the two estates were concealed land, having been forfeited after Wyatt’s rebellion. Peter Osborne approached Burghley on behalf of Barham’s widow and her son Arthur, and judgment was apparently given in their favour, as Arthur was still in possession of the whole property in 1608.3

By January 1572 Barham was prominent enough to be entrusted, as Queen’s serjeant, with the opening of the Crown’s case against the Duke of Norfolk, speaking forcefully, and showing ingenuity in his cross-examination of the prisoner. On several points, as for instance over the question of evidence obtained by torture, he openly contradicted Norfolk. A few weeks later Barham was the chief prosecutor in the Queen’s bench trial of Norfolk’s servant Robert Higford. From 1569 onwards there are many references to him on circuit in Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Sussex, and he was one of the three commissioners appointed in December 1573 to investigate the bishop of Chichester’s quarrel with Sir Thomas Palmer, George Goring and other Sussex gentry.4

He served the corporation of Maidstone as legal counsel for nearly 20 years, in 1562 succeeding Henry Fisher in the joint offices of recorder and town clerk, with a salary of 20s. Fisher was his colleague in the 1563 Parliament, the return, the first since March 1553, describing them as two ‘worthy and discreet burgesses’ of the town. The only reference found to Barham in the House is as a member of the succession committee in October 1566. During the first session the corporation sent a letter to him in London, whether on legal or on parliamentary business is not stated. Some time after his return he received a present of ‘two capons and a turkey’—one of a number of gifts, mainly of poultry or game, which the town made to him. In 1571 and the first two sessions of the 1572 Parliament he assisted in the work of the House of Lords, and there are frequent references to his bringing bills and messages to the Commons from the Upper House.5

What little information survives about Barham’s character and private life suggests that he was a puritan. About 1573 he signed a petition on behalf of John Strowde, a Kent minister who had been forbidden by the archbishop to preach.6 His will has a devout preamble, disclaiming any faith in his own works, since his corrupted flesh was always bent to wickedness, and asking that he should be buried ‘without all vain and frivolous pomp of the earth, which nothing profiteth’.

The will was made the day before his death, which occurred on 25 July 1577 as the result of gaol fever contracted at the Oxford assizes. It is a detailed document, valuing even his wife’s gold chain and estimating the amount of wheat, fruit and rabbits which she would need for housekeeping. Among other legacies Barham left her all his bedding at Serjeant’s Inn. The heir, Arthur, was to have valuable plate, including a covered bowl which the Earl of Leicester had given Barham, and leases in Boxley and Romney Marsh. About £200 in debts remained to be settled by the executors, who were the widow and a relative, Thomas Barham of Teston.7

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. lxxiv), 25; Woolrych, Lives of Eminent Serjeants-at-Law, i. 170; DNB.
  • 2. Maidstone Recs. 14; J. M. Russell, Hist. Maidstone, 187; CPR, 1566-9, pp. 425-6; Howell, State Trials, i. 958 seq.
  • 3. C142/178/9, 189/94(2); HMC Hatfield, xiii. 1550; Hasted, Kent, iv. 296-7, 300-1; Russell, 127, 340-1, 355.
  • 4. HMC Hatfield, i. 542-3; Murdin, State Papers, 95; APC, viii. 70, 114, 166, 240-1, 243-4; ix. 3, 87-8.
  • 5. Maidstone Recs. 188, 189, 224; D’Ewes, 127, 144, 145, 146, 178, 180, 188, 199, 200, 214, 221, 228; CJ, i. 85-7, 93, 97, 100, 103, 113, 114, 115.
  • 6. A. Peel, Seconde Parse of a Register, i. 115.
  • 7. C142/178/9; PCC 46 Daughtry; Camden, Annales (1717), p. 316.