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Barham, Nicholas (DNB00)

BARHAM, NICHOLAS (d. 1577), lawyer, was a native of Wadhurst, Sussex. His family had been settled there for some generations, being a branch of the Barhams of Teston House, Teston, Kent, descended from Robert de Berham, upon whom the estates of his kinsman, Reginald Fitzurse, notorious as one of the murderers of Thomas Becket, devolved upon his flight into Ireland after the murder. Nicholas Barham was called to the bar at Gray's Inn in 1542, became an ‘ancient’ of that society 24 May 1552, Lent reader in 1558, and was made serjeant-at-law in 1567, having previously (1562–3) been returned to parliament as member for Maidstone, of which town he also appears to have been recorder. Dugdale does not place him in the list of queen's serjeants until 1573. He is, however, so designated in certain papers relating to the trial of the Duke of Norfolk for high treason in conspiring with the Queen of Scots to depose Elizabeth, under date 1571–2. He was entrusted with the conduct of that famous prosecution, and seems to have displayed therein considerable ability and energy and some unscrupulousness. Thus it is perfectly clear, from a letter from Sir Thomas Smith to Lord Burghley, that the rack was employed in eliciting evidence from a witness, Banister by name, one of the duke's agents. Yet, on the duke, after the confession of the witness had been read, remarking ‘Banister was shrewdly cramped when he told that tale,’ Barham, who had been present at the examination, replied without hesitation, ‘No more than you were.’ The trial of the duke took place in Westminster Hall 16 Jan. 1571–2. In the following February Barham was engaged in prosecuting a less illustrious offender, the duke's secretary, Robert Higford, at the Queen's Bench, on the charge of adhering to and comforting the queen's enemies. Higford was found guilty and, like his master, condemned to death. After this we see no more of Barham until 1577, when we find him present at the Oxford assizes during the prosecution of a malcontent bookbinder, Rowland Jencks by name, a Roman catholic, and vehemently opposed to the existing order of things. Apparently he had been guilty of little more than speaking evil of dignities and keeping away from church; but the university authorities, judging it necessary to make an example, had him arrested and sent to London to undergo examination, whence he was returned to Oxford to stand his trial. This took place 4 July, when he was sentenced to lose his ears, as in due course he did. Jencks, however, was amply avenged. ‘Judgment being passed,’ says Wood, ‘and the prisoner taken away, there rose such an infectious damp or breath among the people that many there present were then smothered, and others so deeply infected that they lived not many days after.’ There was a sudden outbreak of gaol-fever of a more than usually virulent kind, which destroyed within a few hours, if Wood is to be credited, besides Barham and Sir Robert Bell, baron of the exchequer, the high sheriff and his deputy, Sir William Babington, four justices of the peace, three gentlemen, and most of the jury, and in the course of the next five weeks more than five hundred other persons. Wood gives a minute account of the symptoms, the chief of which were violent pain in the head and stomach, frenzy, hæmorrhage, and total inability to eat or sleep. Barham was survived by his wife, Mary, daughter of John Holt, of Cheshire, and one son, Arthur. He was the owner of two estates, one of which, known as Bigons or Digons, he had acquired by grant from the crown in 1554, the former proprietor having been implicated in the insurrection of Sir Thomas Wyatt; the other, the manor of Chillington, he purchased about the same time. Both estates were sold by his son Arthur. In the records of the corporation of Hastings is preserved a letter from one Nicholas Barham to the Right Hon. Lord Cobham, lord warden of the cinque ports, relative to a dispute between Hastings and Pevensey as to the title to some wreckage cast upon the shore in the neighbourhood of the latter town, as to which the opinion of the writer had been taken by the lord warden. The letter was read to the corporation of Hastings 29 April 1599, and, though undated, must have been written about that time. The author of a paper in the ‘Sussex Archæological Collections’ identifies this Nicholas Barham with the serjeant; but the contemporary evidence of Camden—who notes the epidemic at Oxford in 1577, and places Barham amongst the victims, and whose account Wood, while adding fresh details, follows in all essential particulars, together with the absence of any mention of Barham by Dugdale after 1573, though had he lived he would in all likelihood have been raised to the bench—appears to be conclusive against the identification, while there is nothing surprising in the coincidence of name, the Barhams being a numerous clan in Kent and Sussex, and Nicholas a name much affected by them. The Sussex branch of the family was largely concerned in the business of ironfounding, of which the county was, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the seat. Wadhurst Church contains many mural tablets of iron inscribed with the names and arms of the gentry who were engaged in the manufacture, to some of whom the decay of the industry was very disastrous. The Barhams in particular suffered severely, sinking gradually into the position of handicraftsmen. An engraving of one of these iron mural tablets, dedicated to one John Barham, Esq., of Great Butts, who died in 1648, may be seen in the ‘Sussex Archæological Collections,’ ii. 200.

[Froude's Hist. ix. 396, x. 290–3; Hasted's Kent, ii. 111, 290; Horsfield's Sussex, i. 414; State Trials, i. 958–1042; Philipot's Vill. Cant. 229; Burghley State Papers (Murdin), 86, 100, 109, 113; Lower's Sussex, ii. 220; Harleian Miscellany, vi. 416; Dugdale's Chron. Ser. 93, 95; Foster's Collect. Gen. Reg. Gray's Inn, 39; Willis's Not. Parl. iii. (2), 73; Wood's Annals of Oxford, ii. 188–92; Camden's Annals for 1572 and 1577; Sussex Arch. Coll. ii. 200, xix. 33; Cal. State Papers, Dom. (1547–1580), 295, 532; Woolrych's Lives of Eminent Serjeants-at-Law, i. 170; Cat. Harl. MSS. iii. 334, c. 6164, a. 1.]

J. M. R.