Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 23.djvu/154

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Gresham
Gresham
146

both sides of the Channel. In 1563-4 the regent of the Netherlands forbade the importation of English cloths and wools, or the lading of English ships in the Flemish ports. The trade between the two countries was thus interrupted. Thereupon the Antwerp merchants appealed to Gresham to use his influence in re-establishing free commercial intercourse.

When in London Gresham was in constant personal communication with Cecil, and his financial suggestions were always well received. Writing on 1 March 1558-9, he proposed to repeat the plan (adopted by Edward VI at his suggestion) of forcing a loan from the merchant adventurers by detaining their fleet of exports when ready to sail (ib. pp. 257-62). In August 1559 Sir Thomas Chaloner, the English ambassador to the Low Countries, was accredited to the Spanish court; Gresham was temporarily appointed in his place as ambassador to the court of the Duchess of Parma, regent of the Netherlands. He was knighted before leaving England, and his instructions were dated 20 Dec. 1559. Anticipating a prolonged absence, Gresham before starting recommended his `poor wife' to the queen's notice, 25 Feb. 1559-60. He afterwards, when abroad, begged Cecil to look after her, quaintly adding that he knew she 'molests him dayly for my coming home, suche is the fondness of women.'

While Gresham was acting temporarily as ambassador, his letters to Cecil dealt almost entirely with foreign complications. He perceived the impending storm between the Spanish government and their Flemish subjects. He bribed Spanish officials to obtain information, and with the knowledge of the council took into his pay his friend Gaspar Schetz, Philip's factor at Antwerp. He kept a watchful eye upon the Spanish king's movements, and reported his suspicions that a force of 4,400 Spaniards, stationed at Zealand, would be despatched to the assistance of the French garrison at Leith, then besieged by the English and Scotch. He assured Cecil of the popularity of Elizabeth and her people with the Netherlander, although the queen's credit had suffered by delaying the payment of her debts. The English merchants at Antwerp were in constant fear of the seizure of their goods, and Gresham had increasing difficulty in procuring the military stores, which Elizabeth's government ordered on an immense scale. He urged the council to set up powder-mills in England, and advised Cecil to keep all English ships and mariners within the realm, adding that he had spread the report that the queen had two hundred ships in readiness well armed (ib. pp. 294-5). After he had procured large quantities of ammunition and weapons, which he disguised in his despatches under the name of ‘velvets,’ he still found much difficulty in exporting them to England. More than once he complains of the want of secrecy at the Tower in unloading his consignments, whereby the authorities at Antwerp were informed of his acts, and both Gresham himself and the Flemish custom-house officers, whom he had bribed, put in considerable danger (ib. pp. 318-25). On one occasion he abstracted some two thousand corslets from the king of Spain's armoury at Malines (Letter to Cecil, 19 April 1560; Relations Politiques des Pays Bas, ii. 333-5). Gresham was strictly enjoined by Cecil to communicate only with him, or in his absence with Sir Thomas Parry, and the secrecy with which his correspondence was conducted excited some suspicion at court. His old enemy the Marquis of Winchester charged him before the queen in council with using his position to enrich himself at the expense of the state, and with holding 40,000l. of the queen's money. Gresham replied by letter that he had not 300l. remaining in his hands, and Parry led the queen to discountenance the accusation. But Gresham's financial dealings were not always above suspicion.

The raising of loans was still Gresham's main occupation. Count Mansfeld, a German nobleman, who owned silver and copper mines in Saxony, offered through him in 1560 to lend the English government 75,000l. The council referred the offer to Gresham, who sent his factor, Clough, into Saxony to arrange the terms. Clough was magnificently entertained, and concluded the bargain at ten per cent., returning to Antwerp on 2 July 1560. But from Gresham's letter to Parry of 26 Aug. it appears that the count did not keep his word. The government had, therefore, to fall back upon Gresham's old device of procuring a compulsory loan from the merchant adventurers and staplers by detaining their fleet (Burgon, pp. 335-7, 347-53). In the important work of restoring the purity of the English coinage Gresham took an active part. He recommended that Daniel Wolstat should be entrusted with the work of refining the base money (July 1560). In October 1560 he broke his leg in a fall from his horse, and was lamed for life. On 13 Feb. 1560-1 the queen summoned him home, in order to accelerate his ‘recovery,’ and to obtain ‘intelligence of his doings.’ He arrived in March 1561, after nearly a year's absence.

On 5 July 1561 Gresham asked Cecil for