Crisp, Nicholas (DNB00)

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CRISP, Sir NICHOLAS (1599?–1666), royalist, was descended from a family possessing estates in Gloucestershire and engaged in trade in London. His father, Ellis Crisp, was sheriff of London in 1625, during which year he died (Collections relating to the Family of Crisp, ii. 3). He was a widower, age 29, when he married Sara Spenser 28 June 1628 (Chester, Marriage Licenses, ed. Foster, p. 355). He was, therefore, probably born in 1598 or 1599. Frequent mentions of Nicholas Crisp in the 'Colonial State Papers' show him actively engaged in the African trade from 1625 onwards. In 1629 he and his partners petitioned for letters of reprisal against the French, stating that they had lost 20,000l. by the capture of one of their ships. On 22 Nov. 1632 Charles I issued a proclamation granting to Crisp and five others the exclusive right of trading to Guinea, which was secured them by patent for thirty-one years. Nevertheless in 1637 Crisp's company complained that interlopers were infringing their monopoly of transporting ‘nigers’ from Guinea to the West Indies (Cal. of State Papers, Col., 1574–1660, pp. 75, 114). The wealth thus acquired enabled Crisp to become one of the body of customers who contracted with the king in 1640 for the two farms of the customs called the great and petty farm. The petition of the surviving contractors presented to Charles II in 1661 states that they advanced to the king on this security 253,000l. for the payment of the navy and other public uses (Somers Tracts, vii. 512). Crisp was knighted on 1 Jan. 1639–40. He was elected to both the Short and Long parliaments for Winchelsea, but was attacked as a monopolist directly the latter parliament opened. On 21 Nov. 1640 he was ordered to attend the committee of grievances and to submit at once to the House of Commons the patents for the sole trade to Guinea and the sole importation of red-wood, also that concerning copperas stones and that for the monopoly of making and vending beads (Rushworth, iv. 53). For his share in these he was expelled from the house on 2 Feb. 1641. At the same time he and the other customers were called to account for having collected the duties on merchandise without a parliamentary grant, and only obtained an act of indemnity on payment of a fine of 150,000l. (Gardiner, History of England, ix. 379; Commons' Journals, May 25–6, 1641). In the civil war Crisp not unnaturally took the side of the king, but remained at first in London and secretly sent money to Charles. His conduct was discovered by an intercepted letter of Sir Robert Pye's, and his arrest was ordered (Sanford, Studies of the Great Rebellion, p. 547). But he succeeded in escaping to Oxford in disguise, and was welcomed by the king with the title of his ‘little, old, faithful farmer’ (Special Passages, 14–21 Feb. 1643). From Oxford Crisp continued to maintain his correspondence with the king's partisans in the city, and his name was placed at the head of the commission of array which was issued by the king on 16 March 1643, and afterwards conveyed to London by Lady Aubigny (Husband, Ordinances of Parliament, fol. p. 201; Clarendon, Rebellion, vii. 59, 61). He was also implicated in Ogle's plot in the winter of 1643, and the estate of his brother, Samuel Crisp, was sequestrated by the parliament for the same business (Camden Miscellany, vol. viii.; A Secret Negotiation with Charles I, pp. 2, 18). On 3 July 1643 Crisp obtained a commission from the king to raise a regiment of five hundred horse, but before it was complete it was surprised at Cirencester by Essex, on his march back from Gloucester, and captured to a man (15 Sept. 1643, Bibliotheca Gloucestrensis, pp. lxxiv, clxxiv). Crisp himself was not present with his regiment at this disaster. A few days earlier he had been involved in a quarrel with Sir James Enyon of Northamptonshire, which led to a duel in which the latter was mortally wounded. Crisp was brought to a court-martial for this affair, but honourably acquitted on the ground of the provocation and injury he had received from his antagonist (2 Oct. 1643, Sanderson, Charles I, p. 666). In the following November Crisp received a commission to raise a regiment of fifteen hundred foot (17 Nov., Black, Oxford Docquets), but it does not appear that he carried out this design. For the rest of the war his services were chiefly performed at sea. On 6 May 1644 he received a commission to equip at his own and his partner's charge not less than fifteen ships of war, with power to make prizes (ib.) He was granted a tenth of the prizes taken by his ships, and also appointed receiver and auditor of the estates of delinquents in Cornwall (Cal. Clarendon State Papers, i. 264, 294). As the royal fleet was entirely in the hands of the parliament, the services of Crisp's squadron in maintaining the king's communications with the continent and procuring supplies of arms and ammunition were of special value. He also acted as the king's factor on a large scale, selling tin and wool in France, and buying powder with the proceeds (Husband, Collection of Orders, fol. pp. 842, 846). These services naturally procured him a corresponding degree of hostility from the parliament. He was one of the persons excluded from indemnity in the terms proposed to the king at Uxbridge. His pecuniary losses had also been very great. When Crisp fled from London the parliament confiscated 5,000l. worth of bullion which he had deposited in the Tower. They also sequestered his stock in the Guinea Company for the payment of a debt of 16,000l. which he was asserted to owe the state (Camden Miscellany, vol. viii.; A Secret Negotiation with Charles I, pp. 2, 18). His house in Bread Street was sold to pay off the officers thrown out of employment on the constitution of the New Model (Perf. Diurnal, 16 April 1645). He is said also to have lost 20,000l. by the capture of two ships from Guinea, the one by a parliamentary ship, the other by a pirate (Certain Informations, 30 Oct.–6 Nov. 1643). Nevertheless his remaining estates must have been considerable, for on 6 May 1645 the House of Commons ordered that 6,000l. a year should be paid to the elector palatine out of the properties of Crisp and Lord Cottington (Journals of the House of Commons). On the final triumph of the parliamentary cause Crisp fled to France (Whitelocke, Memorials, f. 200), but he does not seem to have remained long in exile. He was allowed to return, probably owing to the influence of his many puritan relatives in London, and appears in the list of compounders as paying a composition of 346l. (Dring, Catalogue, ed. 1733, p. 25). In the act passed by parliament in November 1653 for the sale of the crown forests the debt due to Crisp and his associates in the farm of the customs was allowed as a public faith debt of 276,146l., but solely on the condition that they advanced a like sum for the public service within a limited period. The additional sum advanced was then to be accepted as ‘monies doubled upon the act,’ and the total debt computed at 552,000l. to be secured on the crown lands. But though Crisp and his partners were willing to take up this speculation, they could not get together more than 30,000l., and their petitions for more time were refused (Cal. of State Papers, Dom. 1653–4, pp. 265, 353, 357). Other speculations were equally unfortunate. Crisp had advanced 1,500l. for the reconquest of Ireland, but when the lands came to be divided among the adventurers the fraud of the surveyors awarded him his share in bog and coarse land (Petition in Prendergast, Cromwellian Settlement, p. 241). The prospect of the Restoration gave him hopes of redress, and he forwarded it by all means in his power. He signed the declaration of the London royalists in support of Monck (24 April 1660), and was one of the committee sent by the city to Charles II at Breda (3 May 1660, Kennet, Register, pp. 121, 133). In the following July Crisp petitioned from a prison for the payment of some part of the debt due to him for his advances to the state; his own share of the great sum owing amounted to 30,000l. (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1660–1, p. 122). In the next three years he succeeded in obtaining the partial reimbursement of these debts, and the grant of several lucrative employments as compensation for the rest. In May 1661 he obtained for his son the office of collector of customs in the port of London, and in June he became himself farmer of the duty on the export of sea coal. He obtained 10,000l. for his services in compounding the king's debt to the East India Company, and two-thirds of the customs on spices were assigned to him until the remaining 20,000l. of his own debt was repaid (ib. 1661–2, pp. 14, 25, 331, 608). Once more in partnership with the survivors of the old customers he became a contractor for the farm of the customs, and Charles allowed them a large abatement in consideration of the old debt (ib. 1663–4, pp. 123, 676). On 16 April 1665 Crisp received a baronetcy, which lapsed on the death of his great-grandson, Sir Charles Crisp, in 1740. Crisp died 26 Feb. 1665–6. His body was buried in the church of St. Mildred, Bread Street, but his heart was placed in a monument to the memory of Charles I, which he erected in the chapel at Hammersmith. On 18 June 1898 his body was re-interred in the churchyard of St. Paul's, Hammersmith. His widow, Anne, daughter and heiress of Edward Prescott, salter (and apparently goldsmith), of London, signed 31 May 1669 her will, which was not proved till 6 Oct. 1699. The magnificent house built by Crisp at Hammersmith was bought in 1683 by Prince Rupert for his mistress, Margaret Hughes, and became in the present century the residence of Queen Caroline (Lysons, Environs of London, Middlesex, 402–9). Besides his eminent services in the promotion of the African trade Crisp is credited with the introduction of many domestic arts and manufactures. ‘The art of brickmaking as since practised was his own, conducted with incredible patience through innumerable trials and perfected at a very large expense. … By his communication new inventions, as water-mills, paper-mills, and powder-mills, came into use’ (‘Lives of Eminent Citizens,’ quoted in Biographia Britannica).

[Crisp's Collections relating to the Family of Crispe; Cal. of State Papers, Dom.; Clarendon's Hist. of the Rebellion; Burke's Extinct Baronetage; Lloyd's Memoirs of Excellent Personages; Biog. Brit. ed. Kippis, vol. iv.]

C. H. F.