Lambarde was born in London on 18 October 1536. His father was a draper, as well as an alderman and a sheriff of London, but he died while William was still a minor. When he came of age, though, William was in comfortable circumstances, since he inherited the manor of Westcombe near Greenwich, as well as property in Shoreditch. He studied law and old English, and was called to the bar in 1567.
Lambarde spent the next two decades largely on county administration (starting with his appointment as a commissioner of sewers for Kent), his estates, and scholarship. In 1568, he published a collection of Anglo-Saxon laws, Archaionomia. Two years later he completed his Perambulation of Kent, the first history of a British county; and in 1576, he founded Queen Elizabeth’s College almshouses at Greenwich.
Lambarde served as an MP for Lincoln’s Inn, and a Justice of the Peace for Kent. This latter position led him to write a manual for Justices of Peace which became a standard work on the subject. He also wrote A Discourse Upon the High Courts of Justice in England. Lambarde married twice, and had four children by his second wife. Queen Elizabeth made him Keeper of the Records in the Tower in 1601, but he died shortly thereafter. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required) says he had ‘an unparalleled reputation for learning, piety, civic virtue, and trustworthiness’. Further information is available at Wikipedia, Archives Hub, The History of Parliament.
For the first eight years working as a justice of the peace, Lambarde kept a diary, he called An Ephemeris of the Certifiable Causes of the Peace, in which he recorded out-of sessions activities. These were mainly exercises of the magistrate’s office which needed to be reported to the quarter sessions or to assizes - see Prosecuting Crime in the Renaissance: England, Germany, France by John H. Langbein (The Lawbook Exchange, 2005) at Googlebooks. Lambarde’s diary, Langbein says, preserves mention of numerous examinations and bailments in cases of felony, together with a run of lesser matters, such as summary orders about alehouse keeping and bastardy and bindings over to keep the peace.
The diary itself has been published (by Cornell University Press for The Folger Shakespeare Library in 1962) in William Lambarde and Local Government: His “Ephemeris” and Twenty-nine Charges to Juries and Commissions, as edited by Conyers Read. According to Giles E. Dawson, who provides a preface to the book, ‘The importance of these manuscripts lies in the nature of William Lambarde’s activities and abilities. He was one of the foremost expositors of the Elizabethan judicial system, and for this task he was admirably fitted by training, by the scholarly bent of his mind, perhaps also by his social status among the new gentry sprung from London trade.’ Here are several examples from the diary.
1 April 1582
‘My father-in-law and I bound John Swan of Wrotham to the good behavior, to be kept till Easter 1584, in 20 li., for whom William Lever and Henry Lever of Wrotham, yeomen, did understake, in 10 li. every of them.’
21 May 1583
‘There was holden at Maidstone a special session of the peace for the rogues, where divers were bound and whipped. I have signed a license for Thomas Godfrey to beg till Allhallontide (for his house burnt) within the limits of the Lord Cobham only.’
23 June 1583
‘I bound Francis Whitepaine of Yalding, yeoman, to the peace against Richard Acton of Yalding, clothier, with four manucaptors, by force of a supplicavit out of the Chancery.’
13 July 1583
‘At Cobham Hall my Lord and I licensed Edward Doret of Cobham to keep an alehouse. He was bound, in 20 li., and Thomas Harris and William Waite of Cobham, in 10 li. either of them, as his sureties, with the common condition. The same day we wrote to such of other parishes as occupied lands in Allhallows to contribute after the rate of 2 d. in the pound of their said lands towards the relief of the poor of Allhallows.’
29 August 1586
‘I sent to the gaol Thomas Cockes, late of Strood, tinker, for robbing the house of Alice Fuller, widow, and bound her, in 5 li., to give evidence, etc.’
25 April 1587
‘At the quarter sessions at Maidstone we certified all the said recognizances for peace, alehouses, etc., and delivered in the record of the said riot, etc.’
23 June 1587
‘We of this division sent out towards the Low Countries thirteen men for our part of fifty men allotted to this lathe of Aylesford; given to every one 2 s. press money and to the captain 10 d. for each one towards coat and furniture; the whole shire made out three hundred.’
2 August 1587
‘I bound Nevil Reeve of Aylesford, gentleman, 200 li., with Henry Warcop of the same, gentleman, 100 li., and Richard Reeve of Maidstone, innholder, 100 li., that Nevil shall appear at the next general gaol delivery, etc., and in the meantime be of good port and behavior. It was for the hurting of Thomas Reynes of Burham, yeoman, with a stone, to the peril of death, as it is said, etc. Released by Reynes.’
14 September 1587
‘Mungra Russel, a Scot, charged to beget a woman child upon Rebecca Gore of East Mailing, was by me sent to the gaol for not finding sureties for his good behavior and appearance, etc. Send for old Gore, her father, etc. He is escaped. Send for James Dowle, the borsholder.’
The Diary Junction