KIRKHAM, Robert (c.1580-1638), of Richmond, Surr.

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. c.1580, 1st s. of Edward Kirkham, yeoman of the revels 1586-1617, of The Savoy, Mdx.; bro. of Roger†.1 educ. Westminster sch.; Christ Church, Oxf. 1598, aged 18, BA 1601; L. Inn 1601.2 unm. suc. cos. in Richmond property 1611, fa. 1617.3 bur. 13 Nov. 1638.4

Offices Held

Servant to 1st earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) 1607-12;5 sec. to Treas. commrs. 1612-14; clerk of the signet 1614-d.;6 sec. of embassy, Paris 1629-30;7 commr. malting and brewing 1637.8

J.p. Mdx. and Surr. 1625-9;9 commr. charitable uses, Surr. 1626,10 sewers, river Welland 1634, river Gleane 1638;11 surveyor of saltworks, North and South Shields 1636-d.12


Named after his godfather, Sir Robert Cecil, Kirkham composed an elegy for Lady Cecil while still a pupil at Westminster school.13 After progressing to Oxford and completing his education at Lincoln’s Inn, he became personal secretary to Cecil, now 1st earl of Salisbury, and within a few years was entrusted with the most confidential and important matters, as Salisbury was both secretary of state and (from 1608) lord treasurer.14 Kirkham was sent to Paris in May 1610 to furnish his master’s heir, Viscount Cranborne (William Cecil*) with all necessaries to follow Henri IV in his campaign in the Low Countries, an endeavour thwarted by the French king’s assassination.15 By this time it was reported that ‘all foreign correspondence is wholly conferred on Mr. Kirkham’, who also took sole responsibility for Salisbury’s lucrative customs farm.16 Second only to Sir Walter Cope*, Kirkham was reckoned to control access to the lord treasurer, though the gossip John Chamberlain found reason to complain that he did not always give value for the gratuities bestowed upon him.17 Granted a reversion to the clerkship of the signet in April 1611, Kirkham was, by the end of the year, widely expected to succeed John Corbet* as clerk of the Privy Council ‘if he be willing to accept it’. He was still handling Salisbury’s correspondence when his master died five months later, naming him as one of his executors.18 On announcing the death of Salisbury to William Trumbull*, Kirkham gave instructions that thenceforth correspondence from Brussels should be addressed to the king, ‘who will be content for a time to be his own secretary’.19 He stayed on in the Exchequer, acting as secretary to the newly appointed treasury commissioners until he was sworn in some two years later as clerk of the signet in succession to Sir Thomas Lake I*.20

Kirkham was returned for St. Albans to the 1628 Parliament on the recommendation of the 2nd earl of Salisbury, to whose household his younger brother Roger had been admitted the previous year.21 In the first session he was named to nine bill committees, whose subjects included recusancy (23 Apr.), the procuring of judicial places for reward (23 Apr.), and the naturalization of George Kirke* and another Scottish courtier (25 April).22 He was also among those named to examine the anti-Calvinist vicar of Witney (19 May) and to hear petitions concerning taxes on Somers Island [Bermuda] tobacco (4 June) and the monopoly of foreign postage (14 June), to which he held a reversion.23 Together with several senior Members, Kirkham was ordered to view privately a letter found sealed up under the door of the House, and to deliver it to the king once it was found to be the product of ‘some jesuitical spirit ... unfit for any subject’s ear’.24 He was named on 24 June to draft an address for the encouragement of shipbuilding, but the resultant bill was killed by the prorogation.25 In the 1629 session Kirkham was appointed to consider a bill to permit attendance at sermons in churches outside the parish of residence (5 Feb. 1629), and was again named to the inquiry into the postmaster’s monopoly (9 February).26

Shortly after the dissolution Kirkham was preferred at the instance of the 1st earl of Carlisle to the post of secretary of the Paris embassy, and it was reported that he might succeed Sir Isaac Wake* as ambassador.27 However, he seems to have been in some financial difficulty, for he petitioned for a monopoly of hallmarking silver plate in around 1631, and in 1633 surrendered his reversion to the postmastership in order to pay off a debt of £200.28 Of his official income of £190 a year, £150 was assigned to the financier Burlamachi.29 In March 1638 he was one of the suitors for the office of private secretary to Queen Henrietta Maria, but she selected instead Sir John Winter, a Catholic.30 Kirkham was buried at Richmond on 13 Nov. 1638, and Philip Warwick†, his successor as clerk of the signet, was sworn in on the same day.31 No will or administration has been found.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. E.K. Chambers, Eliz. Stage, i. 96, 99; ii. 45, 52.
  • 2. Rec. of Old Westminsters comp. G.F.R. Barker, A.H. Stenning, i. 541; HMC Hatfield, vii. 170; Al. Ox.; LI Admiss.
  • 3. PROB 11/122, f. 230; Richmond Par. Reg. (Surr. Par, Reg. Soc. i), 175.
  • 4. Richmond Par. Reg. 193.
  • 5. HMC Hatfield, xix. 108; A.G.R. Smith, ‘Secretariat of the Cecils, 1580-1612’, EHR, lxxxiii. 482, 494-5, 504.
  • 6. C66/1902; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 359; HMC Downshire, iv. 371; CSP Dom. 1638-9, p. 103.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1628-9, pp. 551, 571.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1636-7, p. 404.
  • 9. C231/4, ff. 192-3; C66/2527.
  • 10. Cal. of Docquets of Ld. Kpr. Coventry 1625-40 ed. J. Broadway, R. Cust and S.K. Roberts (L. and I. Soc. spec. ser. xxxiv), 51.
  • 11. C181/4, f. 161v; 181/5, f. 101v.
  • 12. T. Rymer, Foedera, ix. pt. 2, p. 36; Cal. of Docquets of Ld. Kpr. Coventry 1625-40, p. 199.
  • 13. HMC Hatfield, xiv. 10.
  • 14. Smith, 494-5, 504.
  • 15. Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, iii. 80, 154.
  • 16. HMC Downshire, ii. 220, 269.
  • 17. Chamberlain Letters, i. 307, 311, 326.
  • 18. Ibid. 351.
  • 19. HMC Downshire, iii. 311.
  • 20. C66/1902; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 348.
  • 21. HMC Hatfield, xxii. 382; HALS, OFF ACC 1162/164.
  • 22. CD 1628, iii. 43-4, 70, 465.
  • 23. Ibid. iv. 82, 307.
  • 24. Ibid. 424.
  • 25. Ibid. 446.
  • 26. CJ, i. 926a, 927b.
  • 27. C115/106/8384; CSP Dom, 1628-9, pp. 551, 571.
  • 28. CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 217; 1634-5, p. 388.
  • 29. G.E. Aylmer, King’s Servants, 163, 204; PROB 11/198, f. 84v.
  • 30. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, ii. 152.
  • 31. Richmond Par. Reg. 193.