Thomas Wilkes

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Sir Thomas Wilkes (c.1545 2 March 1598 (N.S in Rouen)) was an English civil servant and diplomat during the reign of Elizabeth I of England. He served as Clerk of the Privy Council, Member of Parliament for Downton and Southampton, and English member of the Council of State of the Netherlands, and on many diplomatic missions for the English government. [1]

Rouen Prefecture and commune in Normandy, France

Rouen (Rouen in French ; is a city on the River Seine in the north of France. It is the capital of the region of Normandy. Formerly one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe, Rouen was the seat of the Exchequer of Normandy during the Middle Ages. It was one of the capitals of the Anglo-Norman dynasties, which ruled both England and large parts of modern France from the 11th to the 15th centuries.

Diplomat person appointed by a state to conduct diplomacy with another state or international organization

A diplomat is a person appointed by a state to conduct diplomacy with one or more other states or international organizations. The main functions of diplomats are: representation and protection of the interests and nationals of the sending state; initiation and facilitation of strategic agreements; treaties and conventions; promotion of information; trade and commerce; technology; and friendly relations. Seasoned diplomats of international repute are used in international organizations as well as multinational companies for their experience in management and negotiating skills. Diplomats are members of foreign services and diplomatic corps of various nations of the world.

Elizabeth I of England Queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until 1603

Elizabeth I was Queen of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death on 24 March 1603. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor.


Personal life

Little is known of Wilkes' early years. He may have been a native of Sussex. Apparently he spent eight years in Continental Europe on the Grand Tour after 1564, before he became a probationer-fellow at All Souls College, Oxford in 1572, where he graduated B.A. in February 1573 (N.S.). Wilkes married Margaret Smith, daughter of Ambrose Smith (a London Mercer) and Joan Coe, about 1578, with whom he had a daughter. After her death in 1596 he remarried with Frances Savage, daughter of Sir John Savage. [2] [3]

Grand Tour Journey around Europe for cultural education

The term "Grand Tour" refers to the 17th- and 18th-century custom of a traditional trip of Europe undertaken by upper-class young European men of sufficient means and rank when they had come of age. Young women of equally sufficient means ("debutantes"), or those of either gender of a more humble origin who could find a sponsor, could also partake. The custom—which flourished from about 1660 until the advent of large-scale rail transport in the 1840s and was associated with a standard itinerary—served as an educational rite of passage. Though the Grand Tour was primarily associated with the British nobility and wealthy landed gentry, similar trips were made by wealthy young men of other Protestant Northern European nations, and, from the second half of the 18th century, by some South and North Americans. By the mid 18th century, the Grand Tour had become a regular feature of aristocratic education in Central Europe, as well, although it was restricted to the higher nobility. The tradition declined as enthusiasm for neo-classical culture waned, and with the advent of accessible rail and steamship travel—an era in which Thomas Cook made the "Cook's Tour" of early mass tourism a byword.

All Souls College, Oxford college of the University of Oxford

All Souls College is a constituent college of the University of Oxford in England.

A Bachelor of Arts is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, sciences, or both. Bachelor of Arts programs generally take three to four years depending on the country, institution, and specific specializations, majors, or minors. The word baccalaureus should not be confused with baccalaureatus, which refers to the one- to two-year postgraduate Bachelor of Arts with Honors degree in some countries.


Shortly after graduation, and still a probationer of All Souls, he joined the embassy of dr. Valentine Dale to France as Dale's secretary. (This caused some difficulty with the College that had to be resolved by Sir Francis Walsingham). [3] In 1574 Queen Elizabeth instructed him to secretly contact the Prince de Condé and the Duke d'Alençon, who had been arrested by the French Queen-mother, Catherine de Medici, to reassure them of her support. Catherine found out and tried to apprehend Wilkes. When he managed to escape to England Queen Elizabeth ordered him to resolve the diplomatic incident or never come back. He returned to France and managed to convince Catherine of his innocence which allowed him to remain in France as an English diplomat. [1] :251

Valentine Dale was an English jurist and diplomat. He served as Judge of the High Court of Admiralty from 1584 to 1589.

Francis Walsingham English spy, diplomat and politician

Sir Francis Walsingham was principal secretary to Queen Elizabeth I of England from 20 December 1573 until his death and is popularly remembered as her "spymaster".

Francis, Duke of Anjou duke

Francis, Duke of Anjou and Alençon was the youngest son of Henry II of France and Catherine de' Medici.

In February 1575 he was tasked with a mission to the Elector Palatine to convince him to send an army into France to aid the Huguenots under the Prince de Condé. Wilkes followed this army on its campaign in France until the Peace of Monsieur in 1576. He returned to England highly recommended by both Condé and Alençon. He became a Clerk of the Privy Council in July 1576, which office he would hold intermittently till his death. [1] :251

Frederick III, Elector Palatine Elector Palatine

Frederick III of Simmern, the Pious, Elector Palatine of the Rhine was a ruler from the house of Wittelsbach, branch Palatinate-Simmern-Sponheim. He was a son of John II of Simmern and inherited the Palatinate from the childless Elector Otto-Henry, Elector Palatine (Ottheinrich) in 1559. He was a devout convert to Calvinism, and made the Reformed confession the official religion of his domain by overseeing the composition and promulgation of the Heidelberg Catechism. His support of Calvinism gave the German Reformed movement a foothold within the Holy Roman Empire.

The Edict of Beaulieu was promulgated from Beaulieu-lès-Loches on 6 May 1576 by Henry III of France, who was pressured by Alençon's support of the Protestant army besieging Paris that spring.

Privy Council of England Body of advisers to the sovereign of the Kingdom of England

The Privy Council of England, also known as HisMajesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, was a body of advisers to the sovereign of the Kingdom of England. Its members were often senior members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, together with leading churchmen, judges, diplomats and military leaders.

Soon afterward he was awarded the office of Queen's printer, which he quickly sold to Christopher Barker to augment his income of 40 pounds a year. Later he would receive similar privileges as a reward, which he often quickly sold on. Examples are the salt monopoly for the English east coast he received in 1585 [4] and the lease of Downton rectory, that he eventually sold on to the Raleigh family. [3]

Christopher Barker (printer) English printer

Christopher Barker (c.1529–1599) was the printer to Queen Elizabeth I. He was also the father of a printing dynasty that included his son Robert Barker, his grandsons Robert Constable and Francis Constable, and Richard Constable who is believed to be his grandson. He is most well-known for printing many editions of English Bibles during the Elizabethan Age, notably the Geneva Bible and the so-called Bishop's Bible. He was the official printer of the court of Elizabeth I of England and held exclusive patents to print Bibles.

Walter Raleigh English aristocrat, writer, poet, soldier, courtier, spy, and explorer

Sir Walter Raleigh, also spelled Ralegh, was an English landed gentleman, writer, poet, soldier, politician, courtier, spy and explorer. He was cousin to Sir Richard Grenville and younger half-brother of Sir Humphrey Gilbert. He is also well known for popularising tobacco in England. Raleigh was one of the most notable figures of the Elizabethan era.

In 1577 Wilkes was sent to Spain and The Netherlands in connection with an attempt to intervene in the Dutch Revolt. He was to assure king Philip II of Spain of Elizabeth's good intentions and to convince him that the new governor-general in the Habsburg Netherlands, Don Juan would best be recalled. Though he was received cordially at the Spanish court, his advice was not taken. On the return voyage he visited both Don Juan and the Prince of Orange in the Netherlands to receive their respective views and report back to Elizabeth. [1] :252

Dutch Revolt war in the 16th century

The Dutch Revolt (1568–1648) was the revolt of the northern, largely Protestant Seven Provinces of the Low Countries against the rule of the Roman Catholic Habsburg King Philip II of Spain, hereditary ruler of the provinces. The northern provinces (Netherlands) eventually separated from the southern provinces, which continued under Habsburg Spain until 1714.

Philip II of Spain King of Spain who became King of England by marriage to Queen Mary I

Philip II was King of Spain (1556–98), King of Portugal, King of Naples and Sicily, and jure uxoris King of England and Ireland. He was also Duke of Milan. From 1555 he was lord of the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands.

Habsburg Netherlands Historical region in the Low Countries, 1482–1581

Habsburg Netherlands is the collective name of Holy Roman Empire fiefs in the Low Countries held by the House of Habsburg and later by the Spanish Empire, also known as the Spanish Netherlands. The rule began in 1482, when after the death of the Valois-Burgundy duke Charles the Bold the Burgundian Netherlands fell to the Habsburg dynasty by the marriage of Charles's daughter Mary of Burgundy to Archduke Maximilian I of Austria.

In 1579 an arrangement was made for a six-monthly rotation of the clerks of the Privy Council, Wilkes' turns being May–August and November–December, but he was available for special commissions during the remainder of the year. [3] In his capacity of clerk of the Privy Council Wilkes undertook many tasks, big and small. In 1581 for instance, he engaged in the interrogation under torture of the Jesuit priest Edmund Campion in this context, and in 1583 he investigated the conspiracy of Arden, Somerville and Hall. [1] :252

In the mid-1580s Wilkes embarked on a career as a Member of Parliament. In 1584 he was returned by Downton and in 1586 Southampton offered him a seat, though he had himself reelected by Downton that year (possibly because he was about to be sent abroad again). Southampton elected him in 1589 and 1593, however. Apparently he did not attend the first three Parliaments he was elected to (or no activity is known), but in 1593 he was put on several committees, among which the subsidy committee. [3]

In 1586 Wilkes was sent to the Dutch Republic to accompany the Earl of Leicester and keep an eye on him. Wilkes maintained a secret correspondence with the Queen's Secretary of State and spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, in which Leicester was known as Themistocles, that grew increasingly critical of the policies of the Earl. [5] In 1587 Wilkes was appointed to the Dutch Council of State [6] as the successor to Henry Killigrew. In his capacity of member of the Council he addressed the States of Holland with a "Remonstrance" in which he defended the policy of the Earl to oppose the Regenten and promote the democratic (and extreme Calvinist) factions with an appeal to popular sovereignty "by default of a legal Prince." This prompted the States to a response, written by François Vranck, that would become an important ideological statement of the principles of the (largely unwritten) "constitution" of the Dutch Republic. Though Wilkes' approach was rejected, his intervention thus occasioned an important development in the founding of the Dutch Republic. [7] Meanwhile, relations with Leicester (who had become aware of the criticism behind his back from Wilkes and his colleague Lord Buckhurst) grew increasingly tense and in June, 1587, Wilkes returned to England without permission from the Queen, who had him imprisoned for a while in the Fleet Prison. Though he was soon released his disgrace lasted for two years. [3]

Only in August 1589 was Wilkes able to take up his work as clerk of the Privy Council again (apparently he was even briefly considered as Secretary of State after the death of Walsingham in 1590. [1] :253 In the last years of his life he was often sent on important diplomatic missions. So was he employed in a mission to France in March–July 1592 during which the new king Henri IV (formerly the Prince de Condé) knighted him for his services (his was therefore a foreign knighthood). At the end of this mission he managed to conclude an alliance with France despite the conversion of the king to Catholicism. [1] :253

In September, 1594 he was entrusted with a mission to Brussels to obtain from the government of the Spanish Netherlands the extradition of a number of people implicated in the conspiracy of the Queen's physician, dr. López, but this mission was aborted for diplomatic reasons. [1] :253


In February 1598 Wilkes was sent on another diplomatic mission to France with Sir Robert Cecil. Before he left for France he made his will, which shows that despite (or maybe because of) his sale of the offices he had been awarded, he had not been able to amass a great fortune. He left only small bequests to his infant daughter and servant, the residue of the estate going to his new wife. [3]

Wilkes was already ill (possibly of an accident) when Cecil and he landed at Dieppe. Wilkes died from his illness a few weeks later, on 2 March 1598 (N.S.) in Rouen. [1] :253

Besides the Remonstrance referred to above, Wilkes left 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, as a work of political philosophy. [1] :253

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Wikisource:Wilkes, Thomas (DNB00)
  2. "The National Archives Probate" (PDF). 11/67, fol. 108. p. 2. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Hasler (ed)., P.W. "The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603" . Retrieved 15 February 2013.
  4. Hughes, Edward (1934). Studies in Administration and Finance 1558-1825. U. of Manchester Press. pp. 46 ff.
  5. Hammer, Paul E.J. (1999). The Polarisation of Elizabethan Politics: The Political Career of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, 1585-1597. Cambridge U.P. pp. 76, fn. 5.
  6. On the basis of the Treaty of Nonsuch the English government could appoint two members of the Council.
  7. Van Gelderen, Martin (1993). The Dutch Revolt. Cambridge U.P. pp. xxvii–xxviii.