Gresham, Richard (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 23
Gresham, Richard

by Charles Welch
Contains subarticle: Sir John Gresham (Richard's younger brother).

GRESHAM, Sir RICHARD (1485?–1549), lord mayor of London, was descended from an ancient family which long resided in the village of Gresham in Norfolk. In the fifteenth century John Gresham or his son James, eleven of whose letters are preserved in the Paston collection, moved to Holt, three miles distant. James's son John married Alice, a lady of fortune, daughter of Alexander Blyth of Stratton, and resided chiefly in London, where their four sons, William, Thomas, Richard, and John, were brought up to trade. Richard, born at Holt about 1485, was apprenticed to John Middleton, an eminent London mercer and merchant of the staple at Calais, and was admitted to the freedom of the Mercers' Company in 1507, being then of age. He lived chiefly in London, occasionally visiting Antwerp and the neighbouring towns. As early as 1511 he advanced money to the king, and bought goods on his own account (Cal. State Papers, Henry VIII, ii. 80). In November 1514 Gresham and William Copeland, a fellow-merchant of London, received 33l. from Henry VIII for the hire of their ship, the Anne of London, trading to Prussia (ib. i. 957), and in 1515 they were in turn hiring vessels from the crown. In the spring of the same year the king's ship, the Mary George, was lent them for a voyage ‘beyond the Straits of Morocco,’ and in the autumn they paid 300l. for the freight of the Anne of Fowey, employed on two voyages, the one to Eastland or Prussia, the other to Bordeaux (ib. ii. 1487-8). In March 1516 Gresham, acting by himself, bought for the crown sixty-nine cables at a cost of 656l. 2s. (ib. p. 1550).

Gresham's relations with the court soon grew closer. In 1516 he was appointed a gentleman-usher extraordinary in the royal household (ib. p. 873), and during the two following years his name appears several times among both the debtors and creditors of the crown, his indebtedness, jointly with his brothers William and John, amounting at one time to more than 3,438l. (ib. pp. 994, 1476, 1483). On 14 Oct. 1520 Gresham wrote to Wolsey that he was arranging with foreign workmen, at the cardinal's request, for making tapestries for Hampton Court. He had taken the measure of eighteen chambers, and on his arrival at ‘parties beyonde the see’ would cause the hangings to be made with diligence. He adds that the cost will exceed a thousand marks (666l. 13s. 4d.), and, since the artificers are poor men, it will be necessary for him to advance money ‘for proveycion of ther stuffe’ (Ellis, Orig. Letters, 3rd ser. i. 232-8). In March 1520-1 Gresham informs the cardinal that eight pieces of cloth of gold are ready (Letters, &c., Hen. VIII, iii. 449; for the subjects of some of these tapestries see inventory of Wolsey's household stuff, ib. iv. 2764). On 11 Jan. 1521 Gresham asked Wolsey to obtain for himself and his two brothers a license to export and import goods, the custom duty on which might amount to 2,600l., to be paid at the rate of three hundred marks per annum. Gresham offered in return to cancel a debt of 280l. due to him from the cardinal (Ellis, Orig. letters, 3rd ser. i. 233). A similar license to the extent of 2,000l. had been granted to Gresham alone about four years before (ib. ii. 491). On 9 March 1520-1 Gresham complained to Wolsey of the seizure by Margaret, duchess of Savoy, of four ships laden with wheat, which he had despatched to England in anticipation of a scarcity. He enclosed the draft of a letter of remonstrance to the duchess, written in Wolsey's name, for which he begs his signature (ib. iii. 405). In June 1521 he supplied 1,050 yards of velvet to the king at 12s. 8d. a yard (ib. iii. 1541). Early in 1524 he received 1,165l. 19s. for ‘cables, running glasses, compasses,’ &c., for the use of the navy in the war with France (ib. iv. 85). At the end of May he attended the funeral of Sir Thomas Lovell, a knight of the Garter, at the priory of Holywell, Shoreditch (ib. p. 149). In October 1525 Gresham, by a timely advance of 50l., saved Sir Robert Wingfield, deputy at Calais, from selling his plate; the money was repaid by Wolsey (ib. pp. 765, 825; Cott. MS. Galba B. viii, 210, 216).

Gresham's desire to serve the court brought him into trouble in the city in 1525. The common council were then resisting Wolsey's demand for a benevolence. Gresham spoke in the council in its favour, and was with two others threatened with expulsion (Hall, Chronicle, ed. Ellis, 1809, p. 699). He was elected warden of the Mercers' Company in 1525, and served the office of master in 1533, 1539, and 1549. On 5 March 1526 he wrote to Wolsey from Nieuport that all Englishmen with their ships and goods, including the writer and his brothers William and John, were under arrest there, because the emperor's ambassadors and divers ships were arrested in England. A safe-conduct, which proved of no avail, had been obtained for the Greshams through Joachim Hochstetter of Augsburg, the bearer of the letter, whom Gresham recommends to the cardinal's favour as one of the richest and most influential merchants of Germany, and a great importer of wheat to London (Letters, &c., Hen. VIII, iv. 1784; Ellis, 3rd ser. ii. 80). Gresham soon regained his liberty, and in the following August solicits Wolsey's favour in a dispute with Hochstetter, who, he said, had failed in an agreement with himself and his brother John to deliver eleven thousand quarters of grain in the port of London, and when pressed to fulfil his contract ‘eloyned himself beyond sea.’ The Greshams proceeded against his factor; Hochstetter complained to Cromwell and to Henry himself, alleging that the detention of the grain was by order of the authorities of Nieuport, and that the Greshams had injured his credit on the continent, by which he had suffered a loss of 30,000l. In December and the following months business relations with Hochstetter were resumed, Gresham bargaining to supply kerseys and other kinds of cloth in exchange for cereals, quicksilver, and vermilion (Letters, &c., Hen. VIII, iv. 2026-8). In 1527 he lent 333l. 6s. 8d. to the Earl of Northumberland, and in 1528 received a warrant from the royal treasury for supplying ten pieces of arras wrought with gold, containing the story of David (ib. iv. 1534, v. 304). There are also payments to him for tapestries, velvets, and satins, and 700l. to provide ropes beyond sea (ib. p. 325).

There is no evidence that Gresham was appointed to the office of royal agent in the Low Countries, as some have asserted, but he frequently acted as the state's financial agent, and was the confidential correspondent of Wolsey and Cromwell in matters of foreign policy. By the death in 1530 of Wolsey, to whom he remained faithful to the last, he lost a valued friend and patron. When the cardinal was dying at Leicester, he told Sir William Kingston, his custodian, that for a large sum of money then claimed by the crown he was indebted to Richard Gresham and others, and had borrowed it mainly for burial expenses (Cavendish, Life of Wolsey, ed. Singer, 1825, i. 316). Gresham afterwards applied to the crown for the payment of this debt, stated to amount to 226l. 13s. 4d. (Good Friday, 1533, cf. Ellis, Orig. Letters, 3rd ser. ii. 204-6).

On midsummer day 1531 Gresham was elected sheriff of London and Middlesex, with Edward Altham as his colleague. He carried out the sentences against William Tewkesbury (20 Dec. 1531) and James Bainham [q. v.] (30 April 1534), who were burnt as heretics at Smithfield (Letters, &c., Hen. VIII, v. 272). The king gave Gresham as a New-year's gift (1531-2) a gilt cup and cover. In the following January (1532-3) Gresham presented the king with three pieces of cambric (ib. vi. 14, vii. 5). His charges for this year (1531-2) were great, he wrote, ‘because of his office of sheriff’ (ib. vi. 623). The close of 1532 saw him in much domestic trouble. His wife's eldest daughter died in October, and a son and his wife were at the time lying very ill (ib. v. 606).

In 1532 Hochstetter again complained of the Greshams to the king (ib. p. 728). On 6 Oct. 1533 Archbishop Cranmer begged of ‘Master Gresham’ (probably Richard) some respite for a debt until his next audit at Lambeth (ib. vi. 506). Sir Francis Bigod [q. v.], when begging Cromwell for help in paying his debts, wrote that ‘he dare not come to London for fear of Mr. Gresham and Mr. Lodge’ (ib. viii. 42, x. 18). On 30 Jan. 1534 Gresham was one of seventeen commissioners for London to inquire into the value of benefices previous to the suppression of the abbeys (ib. p. 49). About the same time he was assessed at 2,000l. for the subsidy to the king (ib. p. 184). On 26 Aug. 1535 Gresham offered Cromwell 100l. to buy a saddle if he would bestow the office of prior of Worcester on John Fulwell, ‘monk bailly’ of Westminster (ib. ix. 58). On 19 May 1536, the day of Queen Anne Boleyn's execution, Gresham, with two other London merchants, was engaged by Sir William Kingston to convey all strangers (thirty in number) out of the Tower. He was one of Queen Anne's creditors (ib. x. 381, 383).

On 22 May 1536 Gresham became alderman for the ward of Walbrook (City Records, Repertory 9, f. 178), and on 9 Oct. 1539 he was translated to Cheap ward, which he continued to represent until his death (ib. Repert. 10, f. 138b). He was elected lord mayor on Michaelmas day 1537, was knighted on 18 Oct. (Metcalfe, Book of Knights, p. 68), and on the 29th entered upon the duties of the mayoralty. In his invitation to Cromwell (Ellis, 3rd ser. iii. 120-2) to his ‘feastefull daye’ he dwells on his intention of dispensing the traditional hospitalities on a lavish scale. He asked Cromwell to move the king to give him ‘of hys Dooes’ for the feast. On 8 Nov. he informed Cromwell, on the death of Queen Jane Seymour (Cott. MS. Nero C.x.f. 2b; Burgon, i. 24-5), that he had caused twelve hundred masses to be said within the city ; proposed ‘that ther shullde bee allsoo at Powlles a sollem derige and masse,' and suggested a distribution of alms. On 30 Nov. an augmentation to his arms was granted him (Miscellanies Hist. and Phil. 1703, p. 175; Aubrey, Surrey, v. 371). Soon afterwards he petitioned the king as an act of charity to grant three hospitals or spitals, viz. those of St. Mary, St. Bartholomew, and St. Thomas, and the ‘new abbey of Tower Hill,’ for the benefit of ‘pore, sykk, blynde, aged, and impotent persons, … tyll they be holpen and cured of theyr diseases and syknes.’ These buildings, he said, were originally endowed for the relief of the poor, and not for the maintenance of canons, priests, and monks ‘to lyve in pleasure, nothyng regardyng the miserable people liyng in every strete’ (Cott. Cleopatra, E. 4, f. 222; cf. Ellis and Burgon). These recommendations were practically carried out by Henry and his successor, Edward VI. Gresham was not equally successful with his project for the erection of a burse or exchange in London for the convenience of merchants, whose custom was to assemble twice a day in the open air in Lombard Street. The king suggested in 1534-1535 the removal of the place of meeting to Leadenhall, but this had not found favour (Stow, ed. 1720, ii. 152). In 1537 Gresham submitted to Cromwell a design for a building in Lombard Street on the model of the Antwerp burse (Burgon, i. 31-3). He estimated, 25 July 1538, the cost of his design at 2,000l., one half of which he hoped to collect before the expiration of his mayoralty, and asked for a letter from Cromwell to compel Alderman Sir George Monoux to sell him certain houses which formed part of the proposed site. But it was Gresham's son, and not Gresham himself, who carried out this design. Gresham opposed rigorously the issue of a proclamation forbidding merchants to make exchanges, by which it was thought the exchequer suffered loss. He showed that the order would lead to the exportation of gold from England, and maintained that ‘merchants can no more be without exchanges and rechanges than the ships in the sea can be without water’ (Ward, Lives of the Gresham Professors, App. i.) It appears that the draft of this proclamation was, by Cromwell's order, submitted to Gresham for his opinion. Gresham in reply (2 Aug. 1538) asked that a new proclamation might be made to meet his views, and this seems to have been done (Burgon, i. 33-4). On 11 Aug. he told Cromwell that he had received the king's proclamation, and published it throughout the city ‘and also in Lombard Street amongst all the merchants.’ In the same letter he suggested an act to oblige every householder in the city to provide himself with one suit of ‘harness’ and one halberd, or more according to his means, for the defence of the city. He also asks permission for himself, the sheriffs, and six aldermen to visit the infant prince Edward, and petitions for redress for some ill-treatment sustained at Dublin by some London merchants.

In the August of 1538 he entertained the ‘French lords’ at Cromwell's request, caused the ‘ymages in powlles’ to be taken down, and requested that his son might be appointed the king's servant. Gresham was probably the governor of the Company of Merchant Adventurers this year (1538); he appears to have been deputy-governor in 1536 (Letters, &c. Hen. VIII, xi. 484). On 19 Sept. he informed Cromwell that certain persons had eaten flesh on an Ember-day, and asked if he should commit them. At the close of his mayoralty the Mercers' Company acquired through his interposition with the king the hospital of St. Thomas of Acon, which was surrendered to the Mercers on 21 Oct. 1538, and conveyed by deed on 21 April 1542.

In 1539 Gresham was employed abroad on the king's business, and advanced money to Thomas Wriothesley and other servants of the state (Burgon, i. 34-5). He was one of the ‘captayns of the Bylls’ in the celebrated military muster of the citizens of London before Henry VIII (Guildhall Library MS. ii. 7), and received 100l. 13s. 9d. for a chain of fine gold, which he supplied for an envoy from the Duke of Bavaria (Burgon, i. 13). He sat with his brother John on the commission under Bishop Bonner for enforcing the Six Articles (Strype, Eccl. Mem. i. 565-6). Gresham was, to use his own words, ‘conformable in all things to his Highness's [i.e. the king's] pleasure.’ He also dissolved the monastery of Walsingham, and brought the prior to submission (Burgon, i. 36-7); but he recommended Cromwell to make the prior, who was impotent and lame but of good reputation, ‘parson’ of Walsingham (Letters, &c. Hen. VIII, 1538). In 1540 Gresham, with John Godsalve, a clerk of the signet, examined Henry Dubbe, a stationer, of London, who was suspected of publishing ‘a naughty booke made by Philipp Melanchton against the King's Acts of Christian religion’ (Privy Council Proc. and Ord. ed. Nicolas, vii. 101). On 3 March 1544-5 Secretary Paget mentioned Gresham's name among those of English merchants abroad whose goods had been seized by order of Charles V (State Papers). This is the latest reference to Gresham. He died at his house in Bethnal Green on 21 Feb. 1548-9, and was buried on 24 Feb. at the church of St. Lawrence Jewry against the east wall. The tomb perished with the church in the fire of London. His monumental inscription, preserved by Stow, was not set up until after 1559, and is inaccurate in its date of his death and family history. Gresham was first married to Audrey, daughter of William Lynn of Southwick, Northamptonshire, who died 28 Dec. 1522 and was buried at St. Lawrence Jewry. By her he had two sons and two daughters: John, who was knighted by the Protector Somerset on the field of Musselburgh on 28 Sept. 1547, and was ancestor to Lord Braybrooke; Thomas [q. v.]; Elizabeth, who died unmarried 26 March 1552; and Christian, who married the wealthy Sir John Thynne of Longleat in Wiltshire, and ancestor to the Marquis of Bath. He married secondly Isabella Taverson, née Worpfall, a widow, who survived him, dying in April 1565.

Gresham had a town house in Milk Street and other premises in Lad Lane, both in the parish of St. Lawrence Jewry. His principal mansion was at Bethnal Green, but he had also three country seats, at Ringshall in Suffolk, at Intwood Hall in Norfolk, and at Orembery in Yorkshire (see will). In each of these counties Gresham obtained large grants of monastic lands, in most cases by purchase. The chief of these possessions was Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, which he bought in 1540. The site and lands were valued at 300l. yearly, and Gresham offered 7,000l. He subsequently bought some adjoining lands, paying for all 11,737l. 11s. 8d. (Ellis, Orig. Lett. 3rd ser. iii. 270-1). References to property which he acquired in various counties are given by Burgon (i. 37-39, App. iii.) and Ellis (above), in the State Papers (Hen. VIII, x. 505, xi. 566), and in the licenses to alienate at the Record Office (33-6 Hen. VIII). Gresham's two wills are dated 20 Feb. 1548; that of his real estate (Chancery Close Roll, 3 Edw. VI, pt. v. No. 24) was proved 23 March 1549, and gives the annual value of his estates as 800l. 2s. 6d. The will of his personal estate was proved in the Prerogative Court, Canterbury, by his son Thomas on 20 May 1549 (Populwell, 31). No portrait is known.

Gresham, Sir John (d. 1556), lord mayor of London, younger brother of Sir Richard Gresham, was born at Holt. He was admitted to the Mercers' Company in 1517. In partnership with his brother Richard, and sometimes by himself, he acted as agent for both Wolsey and Cromwell. He appears as a gentleman-pensioner in 1526 (State Papers, Hen. VIII, iv. 871). In the subsidy of 1535 he was assessed at three thousand marks. His principal trade was with the Levant (Burgon, i. 11-12), and, besides being a merchant of the staple and a leading member of the merchant adventurers, he was one of the founders of the Russia Company in May 1555 (State Papers, Dom. 1601-3, p. 439). He was occasionally consulted by the council, and deputed by them to examine into disputes between English and foreign merchants (Acts of the Privy Council, new ser. 1890, i. 38, 59, 162). He was sheriff in 1537, the year of Richard Gresham's mayoralty, and was lord mayor ten years later, when he revived the costly pageant of the marching watch on the eve of St. John the Baptist, which had been suspended since 1524. He purchased the family seat at Holt from his brother William in 1546, and converted it into a free grammar school, which he endowed with freehold estates in Norfolk and London, and entrusted to the management of the Fishmongers' Company. He died of a malignant fever on 23 Oct. 1556, and was buried with great magnificence on the 30th at the church of St. Michael Bassishaw, in which parish he lived (Machyn, Diary, pp. 116-17). Gresham married, first, Mary, daughter of Thomas Ipswell, by whom he had eleven children, and, secondly, Catharine Sampson, widow of Edward Dormer of Fulham. A descendant, Marmaduke Gresham, was made a baronet in 1660, but the title became extinct in 1801, and the family estate at Titsey, Surrey, passed to William Leveson-Gower, a grandson of the last baronet, to whose representatives it still belongs.

[Authorities quoted; Leveson-Gower's Genealogy of the Family of Gresham, 1883, contains a full pedigree and transcripts of both wills, pp. 65-76, 147-8, 162; Fox Bourne's English Merchants, i. 167-72; Biog. Brit. 1757, iv. 2373-6; Privy Purse Expenses of Henry VIII, ed. Nicolas, 1827, iii. 7, 116, 261, 324-5; Acts of the Privy Council, new ser. 1890, vol. i. 1542-7; Davy's Suffolk Collections, British Museum, vol. lvii.; Stow; Weever; Ward's Lives of the Gresham Professors.]

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