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).