Mary Clarke (née Jepp; died 1705) was the wife of an English MP, who had eleven children, managed the family estate, and was a prolific letter writer. She married Edward Clarke on 13 April 1675 and had eleven children with him. Whilst he spent time in London as a Member of Parliament, she ran the estate at Chipley in Somerset and raised their children. Clarke corresponded frequently with her husband by letter and also exchanged messages with philosopher John Locke.

Early life

Mary Clarke was born to father Samuel and mother Elizabeth Jepp (née Buckland). Her birth date is not recorded and her parents died when she was young. She was then brought up by her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Baber. When Baber died in 1672, Clarke inherited an annual income of £400.[1][2]


Mary Jepp married Edward Clarke on 13 April 1675. She gave birth to a boy in May 1676, who died in infancy. The following two children also died, and then Clarke had eight more, called Edward (Ward), Elizabeth (Betty), Anne (Nanny), John (Jack), Mary (Molly), Jepp, Samuel (Sammy) and Jane (Jenny).[2][3]:234 The Clarkes first lived in London, then moved to the Chipley Park estate in Chipley, Somerset, where they rebuilt the manor house.[1][4] Edward Clarke became Member of Parliament for Taunton in 1690 and spent most of his time in London when Parliament was sitting, leaving Mary Clarke to bring up the children and run the estate.[1] For a certain time, her husband was unwelcome in the countryside as a result of his participation in the Great Recoinage of 1696.[5]

Clarke was a committed letter writer and communicated prolifically with her husband. Many letters are held by the Somerset Archives and Local Studies.[1] Her witty letters show a keen mind which was engaged with the social and political issues of the time, as well as matters of personal interest such as farming and estate management.[6] Much was written about their children, discussing their studies, health and progress in life. As the children matured, the parents wrote to each other about their plans. For example, Jack wanted to be a merchant and Betty's marriage was discussed in detail.[7]

The Clarkes also wrote to John Locke, who was a family friend. His replies in their three-way discussions concerning the education of Edward Junior were later published in 1693 as Some Thoughts Concerning Education.[1] This was concerned solely with the upbringing of young men, but Locke also wrote privately to the Clarkes about young women and their daughter Elizabeth became a favourite of his.[8][1] Clarke's practical concerns sometimes clashed with Locke's idealistic view of parenting, for example she used servants to help with childcare despite him declaring it would be better not to and she was unable to find the time to read Latin to her son for two hours every day.[3]:238 He believed that every child could be moulded in the same way, but Edward appeared slow-witted and one of his tutors asked to be released, saying he had taught him as much as was possible. Clarke was concerned, writing to Locke that Edward seemed "a sort of downe right honest Blockheaded boy".[3]:240 Locke believed in home education and recommended a Huguenot tutor, however in the end all the Clarke children attended schools at some point.[9][3]:241

Death and legacy

Clarke died at Chipley on 10 January 1705. She was buried on 8 February in Chew Magna.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Clarke [née Jepp], Mary". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/66720. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b Clarke, Bridget (1998). The Life and Correspondence of Edward Clarke of Chipley 1650-1710, Volume 1.
  3. ^ a b c d Mendelson, Sara H. (April 2010). "Child Rearing in Theory and Practice: the letters of John Locke and Mary Clarke". Women's History Review. 19 (2): 231–243. doi:10.1080/09612021003633994. S2CID 143063841.
  4. ^ "Clarke, Edward [called Edward the Grave, Standard Clarke]". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/37290. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ "Clarke, Edward I (1650-1710), of Chipley, Som". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  6. ^ Ostovich, Helen; Sauer, Elizabeth; Smith, Melissa (2004). Reading Early Modern Women: An Anthology of Texts in Manuscript and Print, 1550-1700 (eBook). Psychology Press. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-415-96646-7. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  7. ^ O'Malley, Andrew (2018). Literary Cultures and Eighteenth-Century Childhoods. Springer. p. 79. ISBN 978-3-319-94737-2. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  8. ^ Hutton, Sarah; Schuurman, Paul (2008). Studies on Locke: Sources, Contemporaries, and Legacy: In Honour of G.A.J. Rogers. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 248. ISBN 978-1-4020-8325-9. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  9. ^ Dunan-Page, Anne (2006). The Religious Culture of the Huguenots, 1660-1750. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. pp. 155–156. ISBN 978-0-7546-5495-7. Retrieved 28 July 2020.