Portrait of an Elizabethan: the Career and Character of Sir Michael Hickes

Alan G.R. Smith describes how, in the system of government organized by the Cecils, Hickes, the ambitious son of a London tradesman, became a rich and influential figure.

Michael Hickes was a self-made man. His family was of Gloucestershire yeoman stock but, some time before his birth, his parents, Robert and Juliana Hickes, dug up their west-country roots and went to London, where they set up a mercer’s shop in Cheapside. Michael, the eldest of their family of six sons, was born in October 1543 and therefore grew to adolescence during the violent Marian reaction to the Edwardian church settlement.

The martyrdoms of Cranmer and other Protestant leaders during the years 1555-8 probably had a considerable effect on his mind. By the autumn of 1559, when he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, he was very receptive to the Puritan influences that were so important in the university during the 1560’s.

Hickes seems to have been a conscientious student and won praise for diligence and “forwardness” in his studies. It is true that he failed to take a degree, but this was common practice at the time and was no reflection on his abilities. His college tutor, George Blythe, who became deputy Regius Professor of Greek in the university in 1562, was a scholar of some distinction who seems to have exercised considerable influence over his pupil. It was probably from him that Hickes acquired the extensive knowledge of the classics that he demonstrated in later life.

After leaving Cambridge, Hickes studied law at Lincoln’s Inn. Instruction was only partly by lectures. Students also listened to disputations among senior members of the Inn. The education thus given not only supplied a superb foundation of practical law for men who intended to practise at the bar, but provided an excellent general training for the minds of those, like Hickes, who followed other careers.

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