John Lambarde, his father, was three times Master of the Drapers' Company (1547, 1550 and 1552), an alderman and a sheriff of London.
Some time in the late 1550s early 1560s he embarked on an ambitious project to learn Anglo-Saxon, encouraged by another early antiquarian, Laurence Nowell. In 1568 he published the first results of his work. A collection of Anglo-Saxon laws, Archaionomia.
He then went on to to produce the Perambulation of Kent (1570) the first history of a British county. It circulated in manuscript before being printed in 1576. Lambarde considered writing a similar work for all of Britain, but he set the idea aside when he learned that William Camden was already working on the same project.
His legal works include Eirenarcha: or of the Office of the Justices of Peace (1581) a manual that became the standard work on the subject. He later wrote Archeion, or, A Discourse Upon the High Courts of Justice in England (1591), another important legal work.
Lambarde probably served as a Member of Parliament for Aldborough in the Parliament of 1563-1567. He was also a bencher of Lincoln's Inn, and a Justice of the Peace for Kent. Elizabeth made him Keeper of the Records in the Tower in 1601. He died that same year.
He was a great benefactor to the Drapers’ Company and founded the Queen Elizabeth College almshouse in Greenwich in 1576.
Lambarde, as part of a small group of antiquarians, re-discovered Anglo-Saxon England. They did so by collecting together manuscripts that had been dispersed following the Dissolution of the Monasteries and teaching themselves how to read them. The Archaionomia is written with the laws typeset in Anglo-Saxon script with, to most modern readers, a somewhat unhelpful Latin translation on the facing page.
This laborious but intellectually thorough activity, very similar to modern academic analysis, revealed the many continuities between Anglo-Saxon England and more modern times. In particular, Lambarde demonstrated the unique development of English Common Law derived from Anglo-Saxon foundations. In later work Lambarde’s claim that everything derived from our Anglo-Saxon forebears was clearly untrue but this does not in any way detract from his ground-breaking antiquarian discoveries and the methods he used to discover them.