LAKE, Thomas II (1561-1630), of Southampton, Westminster and Canons, Mdx.

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

bap. 11 Oct. 1561, s. of Emery Lake of Southampton. educ. King Edw. VI g.s., Southampton. m. bef. February 1597, Mary, da. and coh. of Sir William Ryder, ld. mayor of London, 3s. 4da. Kntd. 20 May 1603.1

Offices Held

Clerk to Sir Francis Walsingham by Feb. 1586; clerk of the signet 1589-1616; Latin sec. 1596-1619; clerk of York castle and Yorks. county courts from 1599; jt. keeper of the recs. at Whitehall by 1597; PC 1614; sec. of state 1616-19.2

J.p. Mdx. temp. Jas. I, custos rot. c.1608.3


Lake’s father (whose christian name Emery became transmuted into Almeric) was a burgess and petty customer of Southampton, and it was there that the future secretary of state passed the first 25 years of his life. He and his brother Arthur both attended the local grammar school, whose headmaster at the time, the Walloon refugee divine Hadrian à Saravia, may have owed his later preferment to their friendship; but whereas Arthur Lake went on to Winchester and New College, Thomas does not appear to have been at either university, and the MA which he received at Oxford during the Queen’s visit in September 1592 was honorary. It says much for Lake’s schooling that he became Latin secretary and, apparently, read Latin and French to the Queen, though his translation of the French marriage contract at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth in 1612 evoked mirth. Nothing is known of Lake until 1584 when he was chosen to succeed Richard Waterton, town clerk of Southampton, who was believed to be on his deathbed. However, as Waterton was still in office in 1586, and alive in 1594, Lake’s appointment was doubtless shelved; and by the time the place did become vacant he was no longer interested.4

It may have been Thomas Wilkes, clerk of the council and friend of Sir Francis Walsingham, who brought Lake to the notice of the principal secretary: Wilkes was a freeman of Southampton and represented the borough in the Parliaments of 1589 and 1593. Lake was at court, and engaged in business for Walsingham, by February 1586, and he quickly established himself in favour. When, in April 1588, Walsingham replied to Southampton’s plea for a reduction of its naval quota, his letter was delivered to the town by Emery Lake, who had perhaps been chosen as the corporation’s messenger in view of his son’s nearness to the minister. Nicknamed ‘Swiftsure’, after the well-known ship, in tribute to his efficiency, Lake obtained, within four years of his advent at court, a grant of one of the clerkships of the signet. It was as ‘Mr. Secretary’s man’ that Captain Francis Allen described him when announcing the appointment to Anthony Bacon; but within nine months Walsingham was dead and Lake in quest of a new patron.5

It was to the Cecils that he next attached himself. In the factional balance of power which Lake himself observed and described so shrewdly it was a safe choice of allegiance, and one which, strengthened by the favour first of the Queen and then of James I, was to stand him in good stead for the next 20 years. ‘Old Saturnus’, he wrote of Burghley in October 1591, ‘is a melancholy and wayward planet but yet predominant here’. His combination of offices involved Lake in a variety of duties, chiefly foreign affairs. In August 1591 he had been sent on a brief mission to Ostend, and in 1600 he was one of those who inquired into the economic consequences of a peace with Spain. He moved regularly with the court and was frequently a channel of communication between the Queen and Robert Cecil.6

Lake’s two appearances in the Commons during these years of ascendancy he clearly owed to Cecil. In 1593 he sat for Malmesbury with Sir Henry Knyvet, who had the disposal of the second seat there. That he gave it to Lake was undoubtedly a gauge of his devotion to Cecil; it was also perhaps not unconnected with Knyvet’s recent imprisonment and loss of favour at court, which made both Cecil and his rising protégé worth cultivating. So far as is known Lake played no part in the business of the House in 1593, though, as a burgess for a borough in Wiltshire he was technically a member of a committee on cloth (15 Mar.). After an absence in 1597, when his place at Malmesbury was filled by a Gloucestershire lawyer, he was returned in 1601 for New Romney. There he was the nominee of the warden of the Cinque Ports, who was struggling with those towns for the control of the one seat at each which he claimed as his due. Cobham was Cecil’s brother-in-law, and in 1601, as in 1597, he possibly passed the nomination to the secretary, who this time awarded it to Lake. He is not known to have spoken in the Commons and on his second appearance he was named to only two committees, privileges and returns (31 Oct. 1601) and the main business committee (3 Nov.). As a baron of the Cinque Ports he was a member of the committee dealing with the proposed Severn harbour (21 Nov.).7

Lake’s career after 1603, which brought him the secretaryship of state, and then, through his own and his children’s indiscretions, imprisonment, loss of office and an embittered retirement, lies outside the scope of this biography. He died at Canons 17 Sept. 1630 and was buried in the parish church there, the so-called ‘Whitechurch’.8

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: S. T. Bindoff


  • 1. DNB (Lake, Sir Thomas; Ryder, Sir William); Third Bk. of Remembrance (Soton Rec. Ser. iii), ii. 147; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, ii. 233.
  • 2. HMC Hatfield, iii. 131; vii. 431; PRO ms index patent roll; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 224; 1603-10, p. 575; 1619-23, p. 215.
  • 3. SP14/33.
  • 4. Soton Court Leet Recs. (Soton Rec. Soc.), pt. 2, pp. 264, 281; Letters of 15th and 16th Cents. (Soton Rec. Soc.), 98, 108; Third Bk. of Remembrance, ii. 112, 117, 120, 121, 126, 147, 158, 160, 167-8; DNB ; J. S. Davies, Hist. Soton, 187; Soton Ass. Bks. (Soton Rec. Soc.), ii. 4, 9.
  • 5. HMC Hatfield, iii. 131, 389; iv. 35; xiii. 443; Letters of 15th and 16th Cents. 134; Birch, Mems. i. 57.
  • 6. HMC Hatfield, v. 382, 448; vi. 31-2; vii. 135, 148, 431; ix. 177-8, 209; x. 152; xi. 341, 394-5, 561; xii. 579; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, ii. 122, 159, 168, 189, 199, 202-3, 227, 233, 275, 443; iii. 121, 122; APC, xxx. 118-19; CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 685, 689; 1591-4, pp. 98, 138, 231-2, 237, 493; 1595-7, pp. 6, 89, 93, 149, 159, 168, 337, 442, 564; 1598-1601, pp. 16, 45, 82, 158, 186, 224, 241, 283, 421; 1601-3, pp. 167, 198, 284, 493; Add. 1580-1625, p. 214.
  • 7. APC, viii. 137, 235, 238, 345; D’Ewes, 622, 624, 647.
  • 8. DNB ; M. Robbins, Mdx. 332-3; C142/589/97.