BARKER, Robert (by 1565-1618), of Monkwick, Colchester, Essex; Parham, Suff. and Serjeants' Inn, Fleet Street, London

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

b. by 1565,1 3rd s. of John Barker (d.1584/5) of Bildeston, Suff., clothier, and Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Edward Bestney of Soham, Cambs. educ. ? St. John’s, Camb. 1577; Clifford’s Inn; I. Temple 1579, called 1587. m. by 1586, Margaret, da. of Robert Coke of Mileham, Norf. 2s. 4da. (at least 1 d.v.p.).2 d. 5 Apr. 1618.3

Offices Held

Auditor, treas.’s accts. I. Temple, 1598, 1600, steward, reader’s dinner 1602, bencher 1601-3, reader 1603;4 town clerk, Colchester by 1599-d.,5 fee’d counsel, Ipswich, Suff. by 1610,6 Harwich, Essex by 1614,7 recorder, Aldeburgh, Suff. 1610;8 sjt.-at-law 1603.9

Freeman, Colchester 1597;10 commr. gaol delivery, Colchester by 1599-d.,11 Melton, Suff. 1603, Orford, Suff. 1604;12 j.p. Suff. 1599-at least 1614, Harwich 1601-at least 1603, Essex 1607-d., Bucks. 1614;13 commr. piracy, Suff. 1604, 1614,14 oyer and terminer, Norf. circ. 1607,15 subsidy, Colchester 1608-9, Suff. and Orford 1608,16 charitable uses, Essex 1611-14, Suff. 1617-d.,17 sewers, Colchester 10 Feb. 1618-d.18


Barker should be distinguished from a namesake who was embroiled in a dispute over the Buckinghamshire manor of Upton during the early years of James’s reign,19 and from Sir Robert Barker KB of Grimston Hall, Trimley, Suffolk, who represented Ipswich in 1593. He should also be differentiated from the man whose father died in 1589 seised of property in Manningtree, Essex.20 Barker was actually the younger son of a clothier settled at Bildeston, five miles north of Hadleigh, Suffolk, which estate descended to his elder brother John.21 In May 1585, four months after his father’s will was proved, Barker obtained a grant of arms while training for the law.22 He was evidently eager to qualify as a barrister, but was informed in July 1587 by the governors of the Inner Temple that he would not be permitted to take silk until the following October, by which time he would have completed eight years at the inn.23

During the second half of the 1580s Barker lived at Higham, Suffolk,24 close to the Essex border, but by November 1592 he had acquired the Monckwick estate, north-east of Colchester.25 After representing Colchester in the 1597 Parliament, he was, presumably on the nomination of the recorder, Sir Robert Cecil†, appointed the borough’s town clerk, a largely honorific position whose duties were mainly carried out by a deputy.26 In February 1603 his brother-in-law, the attorney-general Sir Edward Coke*, ensured his inclusion on the list of lawyers called to the serjeantcy. Though described by Cecil as ‘a grave and learned man, held sufficient by all’, Barker’s abilities were doubted by one fellow lawyer, who remarked that it was appropriate that ‘among so many biters there should be one barker’.27 Barker’s relationship with Coke presumably explains his appointment as a magistrate and standing counsel at Harwich, where Coke was high steward.

Barker was again returned to Parliament for Colchester in 1604. During the opening session he twice participated in debates concerning the proposed adoption of the style ‘Great Britain’ (16 and 23 April). His views went largely unrecorded, although on the second occasion he reportedly advised the House to seek the opinion of the Lords before reaching a decision.28 Barker was named to just three legislative committees during the first session, of which one reflected his East Anglian background as it concerned a bill to allow Henry Jernegan the younger to sell land in Norfolk and Suffolk (7 June). The other two committees concerned bills to naturalize Sir Edward Bruce (4 May) and prevent the release of Edward Penning (8 June).29 Barker was no more conspicuous in the affairs of the second session. His East Anglian roots perhaps explains why he was named to consider the bill to relieve and maintain the clergy of Norwich (13 Feb. 1606), but he may have had a wider interest in clerical matters, as he was also appointed to the committee for the bill regarding non-resident clergy (22 January). His sole remaining appointment dealt with a bill to prohibit married men from living with their wives and families in college (25 January).30 He addressed the House twice during the session. The first occasion followed the third reading of the bill to prevent Convocation from introducing canons not confirmed by Parliament (5 Mar.), when he commented, quite reasonably, that the legislation was needless: if Convocation sought to enact anything which ran counter to the Common Law it would automatically be void, while if the Church attempted to enforce unconfirmed canons it would be guilty of praemunire. In his second speech, delivered the following day, Barker argued that the House should do nothing ‘but by bills’ according to ‘the ancient order of Parliament’.31 He was evidently concerned at the manner in which the king was receiving information about the House’s proceedings.

Barker made no known speeches during the third session of Parliament, but the number of committees to which he was named rose to nine, and included the prestigious committee for privileges (19 June 1607). Their subjects were the sale of beer to unlicensed alehousekeepers (3 Dec. 1606); the relief of Mary Cavendish (4 Dec.); a proposed sale of lands by William Waller (6 Mar. 1607); disorders among church ministers (9 Mar.); the lands of the London livery companies (4 May); the restoration in blood of Edward Windsor’s children (18 May); and a proposal to abolish High Commission (26 June).32 He was also included on the committee for a bill to force Members to attend more frequently (28 May), but failed to turn up to either of the committee’s two meetings. Like many lawyers, against whom this measure was principally directed, Barker was probably too busy plying his trade to attend the Commons regularly. On 3 May 1610 he was certainly in the Court of Wards representing a client when he should have been in the House.33

Barker was added to the Essex bench in 1607. The following year he purchased the Suffolk manor of Ufford from Sir Michael Stanhope, Member for Orford, for an undisclosed sum.34 On returning to Westminster in 1610 he again made only a slight impression on the parliamentary records, being named to just five legislative committees. The first three dealt with forcible entries (24 Feb.), alehousekeepers (31 Mar.) and copyholders (31 March). His fourth appointment saw him added to the committee for the shipping and mariners’ bill (8 May), a measure which presumably interested him as a Member for a port town.35 The fifth concerned the Rochester bill (22 June), and is of interest because the recent death of his uncle Reginald Barker had given Barker a reversionary interest in nearby Chatham manor, and perhaps also in Reginald’s Rochester house.36 As well as these nominations, it seems likely that Barker attended the committee for the bill to permit east coast fishermen to sell and buy herrings freely, which was appointed on 13 March. Directed against the corporation of Great Yarmouth, the measure had been warmly welcomed by Colchester’s fishermen, who had written to Barker and his fellow Member for Colchester, Edward Alford, asking for their support.37 Barker made only two speeches during the course of the session. In the first he reported the findings of the privileges’ committee regarding the recent election of Sir Francis Lacon at Bridgnorth (9 March). In the second, he proposed a vote of a single subsidy to prevent the king from demanding any further Privy Seal loans (14 June). On 31 Mar. he rose during the middle of a division, but was apparently not permitted to voice his objection to the departure from their seats of those who intended to vote against the motion under discussion.38

Barker’s name does not appear in the rather scanty records of the final session of the first Jacobean Parliament. In September 1613 he obtained a lease for 29 years of the Suffolk manor of Parham from Lord Willoughby of Parham, thereby storing up trouble for himself and his heir, as the agreement rode roughshod over the jointure rights of Willoughby’s wife.39 He established his country seat at Parham, but continued to reside in Colchester, which he again represented in Parliament in 1614. Reappointed to the privileges’ committee (9 Apr.), his most noteworthy contribution to the House’s proceedings was to introduce a bill to restrict cart-taking purveyors, which was rejected at its first reading (18 April). He was named to just one legislative committee, whose remit was to consider a bill for building and repairing bridges (7 May),40 and apparently never addressed the House. A speech by ‘Mr. Serjeant’ on the final day of the Parliament (7 June), attributed to him by one historian, was almost certainly made by the recorder of London, Sir Henry Montagu.41

Barker died intestate at his house in Colchester on 5 Apr. 1618, shortly after visiting Suffolk.42 Letters of administration were granted to his eldest son Bestney, who was subsequently imprisoned in the Fleet during the course of litigation with Lord Willoughby of Parham’s widow over the lease granted in 1613.43 None of his descendants subsequently sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Age calculated from poss. date of admiss. to university.
  • 2. Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 341; Vis. Suff. ed. Metcalfe, 183; F.S. Growse, Materials for a Hist. of Bildeston, Suff. 48; Al. Cant.; CITR, i. 346; I. Temple admiss. database; IGI, Suff. One of Barker’s ch. was named Philip (d.1601), aft. Barker’s step-mother (PROB 11/68, f. 28), and so was probably female.
  • 3. C142/371/114.
  • 4. CITR, i. 424, 435, 446, 441 (name mis-spelt ‘Baker’), 453.
  • 5. Essex RO, D/B5 Sr12-13; C181/1, f. 9v; 181/2, ff. 296v, 329v.
  • 6. N. Bacon, Annals of Ipswich, 442.
  • 7. Harwich bor. recs. ms 98/3, f. 25; ms 99, unfol. 1613-14 chamberlain’s acct.
  • 8. C66/1708, m.26
  • 9. Order of Sjts.-at-Law ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. v), 498.
  • 10. Essex RO, D/B5 Gb1, f. 132.
  • 11. Essex RO, D/B5 Sr12-13; C181/1, f. 9; 181/2, f. 329v.
  • 12. C181/1, ff. 63, 86.
  • 13. C231/1, ff. 72, 108; C181/1, f. 50; C66/1988; Cal. of Assize Recs. Essex Indictments, Jas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 14, 197.
  • 14. C181/1, f. 83; 181/2, f. 174.
  • 15. C181/2, f. 26.
  • 16. SP14/31/1; E115/48/104.
  • 17. C93/4/4; 93/5/7, 16; 93/6/6; 93/9/4.
  • 18. C181/2, f. 308.
  • 19. For the dispute, see HMC Hatfield, xvii. 340; Lansd. 167, f. 248; CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, p. 464.
  • 20. The entry on Barker in HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 395-6 is consequently confused. For the Manningham Barker, see P. Morant, Hist. and Antiqs. of Essex (1768), i. pt. 2, p. 462; C142/227/207.
  • 21. PROB 11/68, f. 28r-v.
  • 22. Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 14.
  • 23. CITR, i. 345-6. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 395, confuses the education details of both Barkers. The biography of the Knight of the Bath (‘Robert Barker II’) states that its subject did not purchase Grimston Hall until 1597, but IGI ‘Suff.’ suggests that he was actually born there in c.1546.
  • 24. IGI ‘Suff.’ baptismal recs. for Bestney (1586) and Mary Barker (1588).
  • 25. E115/23/81.
  • 26. For the recorder’s right of appointment, see Essex RO, D/Y 2/8, p. 69. For his use of a deputy, see ibid. D/Y 2/9, p. 67.
  • 27. CSP Dom. 1601-3, p. 285. Harris’s jest was widely reported: Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 185; Diary of John Manningham ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. xcix), 117; Gawdy Letters ed. I.H. Jeayes, 126.
  • 28. CJ, i. 173a, 182b, 955b.
  • 29. Ibid. 198b, 233b, 988b.
  • 30. Ibid. 258a, 260a, 267b.
  • 31. Ibid. 1026b, 1041b.
  • 32. Ibid. 327a-b, 349b, 350b, 368b, 385b, 387b, 1045b.
  • 33. Ibid. 376a; Harl. 6806, f. 270; WARD 9/532, f. 38.
  • 34. Copinger, Manors of Suff. 276.
  • 35. CJ, i. 399a, 417a, 426a.
  • 36. Ibid. 443a; PROB 11/115, ff. 273v-4v; Autobiog. of Phineas Pett ed. W.G. Perrin (Navy Recs. Soc. li), 16.
  • 37. Harl. 6838, ff. 226v-7.
  • 38. CJ, i. 408a, 417b, 439b.
  • 39. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, p. 659.
  • 40. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 41, 99n. 26, 102, 171.
  • 41. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 417-18. Foster argues that it was probably Barker who spoke because Montagu is usually described as Mr. Recorder, but Montagu was referred to as ‘Serjeant Montagu’ by the anonymous diarist on 6 June: Procs. 1614 (Commons), 432.
  • 42. C142/371/114; Cal. Assize Recs. Essex, Jas. I, 197.
  • 43. Index to PCC Admons. 1609-19 ed. M. Fitch (Brit. Rec. Soc. Index Lib. lxxxiii), 9; WARD 9/538, pp. 405, 422, 541, 557.