Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 23.djvu/152

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Gresham
Gresham
144

to London to present to King Edward an account of his payments during the previous five months, which amounted to 106,301l. 4s. 4d. (ib. ff. 184, 185, 188). They include a charge of 26l. for a banquet to the Fuggers, Schetz, and other creditors of the king. Such banquets formed part of Gresham's policy, and one of them was the subject of a costly contemporary painting which belonged to the Earl of Leicester (Burgon, i. 83-6, 462). On 15 Sept. 1552 the Earl of Pembroke wrote to Cecil urging that speedy payment should be made to Gresham for his services (State Papers, Dom. 1547-80, p. 44).

Gresham had returned to Antwerp on 20 Aug. with instructions to postpone the payment of 56,000l. due at the end of the month. The council on this occasion declined to purchase jewels or merchandise as a fee-penny for the obligation. In a long letter to his patron Northumberland, written a day after his arrival, Gresham for the first of many times strongly condemns the English government's want of punctuality, which he declares will in the end 'neyther be honnorable nor profitable to his Highnes.' He then suggests a new plan for discharging the king's debts. He asks for 1,200l. or 1,300l. weekly, with which he would take up at Antwerp 200l. or 300l. every day by exchange. By this means he was confident of discharging all the debt (then amounting to 108,000l.) within two years (Cotton. Galba B. xii. ff. 209-12: Burgon, i. 88-94). The scheme was adopted by the council, but the payments lasted only for eight weeks. A further suggestion, at the close of his letter, that the king should seize all the lead in the kingdom, make a staple of it, and prohibit its exportation for five years, was wisely rejected by the council. Gresham's methods were often very high-handed and unjust to his fellow-merchants. Twice during Edward's reign, apparently by his advice, the English merchant fleet was detained when on the point of sailing for Antwerp until the owners of the goods agreed to advance certain sums of money to be repaid within three months in London at a high rate of exchange fixed by the crown. On 3 Oct. 1552 a loan of 40,000l. was thus obtained from the merchant adventurers. On 28 April 1553 Gresham, in a letter to the council, boasts that he has so plagued foreign merchants and intimidated English merchants that they will both beware of meddling with the exchange for London in future.

Gresham's increasing reputation at court procured him in 1552 some delicate diplomatic employment. He sounded Charles V's ambassador as to that monarch's disposition towards England; obtained from the regent of the Netherlands some intercepted letters from Mary, queen of Scotland, to the French king; and discussed the possibility of a marriage between Edward VI and a daughter of the king of the Romans (Haynes, State Papers, 1740, pp. 132-42).

With King Edward Gresham was always on good terms. He presented him with a pair of Spanish silk stockings, described by Stow as 'a great present.' Three weeks before his death the king gave Gresham lands worth 100l. a year, and assured him that he should know he had served a king. Gresham was also granted by Edward VI Westacre Priory in Norfolk, and the manor of Walsingham with other manors in the same county.

The accession of Mary brought Gresham a temporary reverse of fortune. His patron Northumberland died on the scaffold. Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, was, according to his own account, a bitter enemy. Gresham was undoubtedly a protestant, and on intimate terms with Foxe, the martyrologist, but he was sufficiently alive to his own interests to make no obnoxious display of his religious opinions under a catholic sovereign. For a time he was removed from the position of royal agent, and Alderman William Dauntsey took his place, but the result was disastrous to the queen's credit. Dauntsey negotiated a loan with an Antwerp money-lender at a rate of interest two per cent, higher than that at which Gresham had freely obtained credit. In August Gresham addressed a memorial to the council (printed by Burgon, i. 115-20), recounting his services to Edward VI, and complaining that 'those who served before him, and brought the king into debt, and took wares and jewels up to his great loss, are esteemed and preferred for their evil service.' His suit was assisted by Sir John Legh, a Roman catholic gentleman who had great influence with the queen, and early in November the council inquired of him on what terms he would resume office. On the 13th he was reinstated. Until the end of the reign he was constantly passing to and from Antwerp and London. He was allowed for his 'diet' 20s. a day, besides all expenses incurred for messengers, letters, and the carriage of treasure.

The exportation of bullion was prohibited by the Low Countries as strictly as in England, and, to circumvent the authorities in the Low Countries, Gresham, with the council's approval, contrived various subterfuges. Not more than 1,000l. was to be sent in one vessel, and Gresham proposed to secrete the money in bags of pepper, but afterwards decided to convey it in dry vats containing one thousand