Gerbier, Balthazar (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 21
Gerbier, Balthazar

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GERBIER, Sir BALTHAZAR (1591?–1667), painter, architect, and courtier, born about 1591 (State Papers, Dom. xl. 133) at Middelburg, in Zeeland, was the son of Anthony Gerbier, by his wife, Radigonde Blavet, protestant refugees from France. ‘My Great Grand-father,’ he gave out, ‘was Anthony Gerbier, the Baron Doully,’ and he at one time assumed in England the title of Baron Douvilly, though his claims are doubtful (ib. xxv. 68). His father dying, he accompanied one of his brothers into Gascony, where he picked up a knowledge of drawing, architecture, fortifications, and ‘the Framing of Warlike Engines,’ which brought him the favour of Prince Maurice of Orange. The prince recommended him to Noel de Caron, the Dutch ambassador in London, with whom he passed over to England in 1616. He entered the service of George Villiers, afterwards duke of Buckingham, and was employed ‘in the contriving of some of the Duke of Buckingham's Houses,’ particularly York House, of which he was appointed keeper, and in painting miniatures. The Jones collection in the South Kensington Museum contains a miniature portrait of Charles I, done in grisaille by Gerbier, dated 1616. He was also employed in collecting for the duke (cf. Goodman, James I, ii. 260, 326, 369). In 1623 he followed Prince Charles and Buckingham to Spain, where he made a portrait of the Infanta, which was sent over to King James; and in 1625 he went with Buckingham to Paris. He was equally ready at devising machines for a mask or the mines ‘which were to have blown up the Dycke at Rochell,’ and at conducting a state intrigue at some foreign court. He now kept the ciphers of the duke's foreign correspondence; and his pamphlets contain numerous allusions to his frequent missions abroad. His first public employment, he tells us, was in Holland, probably in connection with the negotiation carried on by Weston at Brussels in 1622. In 1625 Gerbier met Rubens in Paris, who had then spoken to Buckingham of the advantages of a peace with Spain. In January 1627 Rubens repeated these proposals to Gerbier, who was again in Paris. Gerbier was sent to Brussels to carry out negotiations founded on these proposals, while ostensibly buying pictures. The negotiations, however, failed. Gerbier shared Buckingham's unpopularity, and a bill for his naturalisation was in danger of being thrown out by the commons in the summer of 1628 (ib. cviii. 52). On 3 Dec. 1628 he took the oath on entering the service of the king after Buckingham's assassination, and was knighted in the same year. In 1629 and 1630 his name is mentioned in connection with contracts for pictures and statues (ib. cxxxiii. 29, cxli. 82, clviii. 48, 54). It must have been about this time that Vandyck painted the family piece of Gerbier, his wife, and his nine children, now at Windsor.

In 1631 Gerbier was appointed ‘his Maties Agent at Brussels,’ and on 17 June he sailed with his wife and family. Charles put special trust in him, and sent him direct orders, occasionally in contradiction to those sent through the secretary of state (cf. Hardwicke, State Papers, ii. 54). But in November 1633 Gerbier betrayed to the Infanta Isabella, for the sum of twenty thousand crowns, the secret negotiations of Charles with the revolutionary nobles of the Spanish Netherlands.

During 1636–7 the court at Brussels, instigated, as he thought, by the ‘Cottingtonian faction,’ asked for his removal; but Rubens supported him, and Charles's confidence remained unbroken. While in London towards the end of June 1641, having, without the king's leave, let himself be drawn into a lawsuit before the House of Lords, he accused Lord Cottington of betraying state secrets, and, though his commission was signed for his departure to Brussels, he was detained and examined by the lords. The charge broke down, and Gerbier was superseded at Brussels. Upon the death of Sir John Finet [q. v.] he succeeded to the place of the master of the ceremonies, which had been granted to him by patent, 10 May 1641. He was impoverished by debts incurred abroad, and could only with difficulty bring over his family from Brussels (ib. cccclxxxii. 3, 4, 5, 8, 104, cccclxxxiii. 10, &c.). He was accused of giving shelter to papist priests; and in September 1642 his house at Bethnal Green was attacked by a mob. He immediately published a pamphlet entitled ‘A Wicked and Inhumane Plot … Against Sir Balthazar Gerbier, Knight,’ &c., in which he declares himself a protestant. After repeated petitions for the money due to him (ib. cccclxxxix. 67, ccccxci. 101, ccccxcvii. 88, &c.) he obtained from the king, at the suit of the elector palatine, permission to retire beyond the seas, together with letters to Louis XIII, who died (14 May 1643) before Gerbier landed at Calais.

In May 1641 Gerbier had made proposals to Charles for the erection of ‘mounts’ or banks, combining pawnbroking with banking business (ib. cccclxxviii. 96). He made similar proposals at Paris in three pamphlets, ‘Remonstrance tres humble … touchant le mont-de-piété, et quelques mauvais bruits que nombre d'usuriers sèment contre ce pieux, utile et nécessaire establissement,’ 1643; ‘Justification particulière des intendants de monts-de-piété,’ &c., 1643. ‘Exposition … sur l'establissement des monts-de-piété,’ 1644. Gerbier states that he was favoured by the Duke of Orleans. The duke and the old Prince of Condé were to be protector-generals of the establishment. He received a patent under the great seal of France. The queen regent was thereupon accused of protecting a protestant. One ‘Will Crafts [Crofts] immediately whipt in,’ alleging that Gerbier was not the father of the children in his family, and had made them protestants by force. Gerbier's project was stopped; three of his daughters were carried to an English nunnery called Sion, and he himself constrained to quit France. His papers and money were seized between Rouen and Dieppe by seven cavaliers. Crofts, with whom Gerbier associates Davenant, spread their calumnies even to England. Gerbier forthwith printed at Paris, in May 1646, a rambling defence of himself in English, entitled ‘Baltazar Gerbier Knight to all men that Love Truth;’ and ‘A Letter from Sr Balthazar Gerbier, Knight. To his Three Daughters inclosed in a Nunnery att Paris.’ Both were distributed in England, and copies, it would seem, were sent to the speaker of the House of Commons. To the Countess of Clare he sent, in manuscript, ‘his last Admonitions to his Daughters,’ dated Paris, 24 Nov. 1646 (Harl. MS. 3384). Eventually his daughters appear to have returned to him.

In 1649, while he was in France, his house at Bethnal Green was broken into by order of the parliamentarians, and his papers relating to his foreign negotiations carried to the paper room at Whitehall (State Papers, Dom. xl. 132), and on 12 Nov. of the same year it was agreed by the council that those of Gerbier's papers ‘taken to be used at the trial of the late king,’ which do not concern the public, be re-delivered to him. He appears to have returned to England shortly after the execution of the king. He now proposed a scheme for an ‘Academy’ on the model of Charles I's ‘Museum Minervæ,’ which had ceased with the civil war. He issued a prospectus in some four or five different forms (1648, 4to). It was to give instruction in all manner of subjects, from philosophy, languages, and mathematics, to riding the ‘great horse,’ dancing and fencing. It was opened on 19 July 1649 at Gerbier's house at Bethnal Green. Many of the lectures were printed: ‘The First Lecture, of an Introduction to Cosmographie …’ 1649; ‘The Second Lecture being an introduction to Cosmographie …’ 1649; ‘The First Lecture, of Geographie …’ 1649; ‘The Interpreter of the Academie for forrain Langvages, and all noble sciences, and exercises …’ 1649; ‘The First Lecture touching Navigation …’ 1649; ‘The Interpreter of the Academie … concerning military architecture …’ 1649; ‘A Publique Lecture on all the Languages, Arts, Sciences, and noble Exercises …’ 1650; ‘The Art of Well Speaking …’ 1650; ‘The Academies Lecture concerning Justice …’ 1650. Walpole says of one of these tracts that ‘it is a most trifling superficial rhapsody,’ which is equally true of all Gerbier's writings. Gerbier was the object of many unfavourable reports, absurd and undeniable. He protested that he was an honest patriot, in a little book entitled ‘A Manifestation by Sr Balthazar Gerbier, Kt,’ 1651, containing some autobiography; but the ‘Academy’ broke down. He now published several political pamphlets: ‘Some Considerations on the Two grand Staple-Commodities of England …’ 1651; ‘A new-year's result in favour of the Poore …’ 1652; ‘A Discovery of Certain Notorious Stumbling-Blocks …’ 1652. There is also attributed to him an attack on the late king, entitled ‘The nonesuch Charles, his Character, extracted out of original Transactions, Dispatches, and the Notes of several public Ministers …’ 1652. In 1652 an order was passed by the committee for trade and foreign affairs to request the council to give Gerbier a pass to go beyond the seas, and to bestow 50l. on him, because he had waited on them for a long time, ‘to acquaint them with some particulars relating to the service.’ The following year he published at the Hague a small book entitled ‘Les Effects pernicieux de Meschants Favoris et Grands Ministres d'Estat …’ 1653. A few years afterwards he was at the Hague, engaged in a project concerning a gold and silver mine in America, described in ‘Waerachtige Verklaringe nopende de Goude en Silvere Mijne,’ &c., and ‘Tweede Deel van de Waerachtige Verclaringe nopende de Goude en Silvere Mijne,’ &c. These were followed by ‘Derde Verclaringe aengaende de Goude ende Silvere Mijne aenghewesen door den Ridder Balthazar Gerbier, Baron Douvily, dienende tot wederlegginghe van een Fameux Libel uytgespogen tegens de Waerheyd van de saecke ende zyn Persoon.’ These three tracts are dated ‘In 's Gravenhage, 1656,’ a fourth appearing at the Hague in November 1657: ‘Waarachtige Verklaringe van den Ridder Balthazar Gerbier, B. Douvilij; noopende sijn saeke van Goude en Silvere Mijnen,’ &c. He had made some proposals to the English committee for trade and foreign affairs (Proceedings, 28 May 1652), but they would grant him no monopolies. In 1658 he offered his assistance to the English government during the war with Spain, promising to get up a revolt in the towns of the Spanish Netherlands (Thurloe, vii. 275). He now obtained a patent from the States-General, and styled himself ‘Patroon ende Commandeur van de Geoctroyeerde Guiaense Colonie’ in his ‘Gebedt,’ or prayer for the success of the undertaking, published in 1659 at Amsterdam. He sailed from Texel to carry out his mining schemes in Guiana with his wife and family and a number of colonists. He touched at Cayenne, where a mutiny took place, 7 May 1660, among his followers. They killed his daughter Katherine and wounded another. He was saved by the arrival of the governor. On 9 Sept. 1660 he had returned to Amsterdam, and was making his depositions of the murder before the magistrates there, publishing two tracts: ‘Informatie voor de Rechtsgeleerde die van wegen d'Edele Heeren Bewinthebbers van de Gheoctroyeerde West-Indische Compagnye gherequireert syn hare advisen te geven op den Moorde in Cajany begaen, en waervan gemelt is in het Sommier Verhael door den Baron Douvily in druck contbaer gemaeckt,’ and ‘Sommier Verhael van sekere Amerikaensche Voyagie, gedaen door den Ridder Balthasar Gerbier,’ &c. Upon the restoration he resolved to return to England, sending before him a pamphlet he printed at Rotterdam, entitled ‘A Sommary Description, Manifesting that greater Profits are to bee done in the hott then in the could parts off the Coast off America,’ &c., with a second, headed, ‘Advertissement for men inclyned to Plantasions in America.’ He also addressed to Charles II, on 5 Dec. 1660, ‘An Humble Remonstrance concerning expedients whereby his sacred Matie may increase his revenue, with greate advantage to his Loyall subjects.’ On 10 Dec. 1660 a warrant was issued to suspend him from the office of the master of the ceremonies. In 1661 he came to England and petitioned the king for the restitution of his appointment, and the payment of moneys owing to him by Charles I; at the same time presenting various schemes for increasing the revenue and beautifying London.

Being unable to regain his position at court, he once more turned to architecture, and in 1662 supplied the designs for Lord Craven's house at Hampstead Marshall, in Berkshire, since destroyed by fire. In the same year he published ‘A Brief Discourse concerning the Three chief Principles of Magnificent Building,’ &c., and in the following year, 1663, ‘Counsel and Advise to all Builders,’ &c.; the most interesting of his pamphlets from incidental references to English architecture in the seventeenth century. There are forty dedicatory epistles, addressed to various eminent persons, from the queen-mother and the Duke of York to Sir Kenelm Digby. His last piece was called ‘Subsidium Peregrinantibus. Or an Assistance to a Traveller,’ &c., Oxford, 1665. He died at Hampstead Marshall in 1667 while superintending the building of Lord Craven's house, and was buried in the chancel of the church there.

Besides the family piece at Windsor, Vandyck painted a half-length of Gerbier himself; two engraved portraits, are prefixed to some of his pamphlets. Some of his drawings are in the Pepysian Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge. He had three sons, George, James, and Charles, and five daughters, Elizabeth, Susan, Mary, Katherine, and Deborah. George Gerbier wrote a play and other literary pieces, and seems to be identical with George Gerbier D'Ouvilly [q. v.] Three of Gerbier's daughters in great distress petitioned the king for the payment of 4,000l., owing to their father by Charles I (State Papers, Dom. lxxix. 68).

[Works cited; Walpole's Anecdotes of the Painters, ed. Wornum, 1849; Sainsbury's Papers illustrative of the Life of Sir Peter Paul Rubens, 1859; Gardiner's Hist. of England; Brit. Mus. Cat.]