Sutton, Thomas (1532-1611) (DNB00)

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SUTTON, THOMAS (1532–1611), founder of the Charterhouse, son of Richard Sutton of the parish of St. Swithun in Lincoln, steward of the courts of that city, and Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Brian Stapleton (Chetwynd-Stapylton, The Stapeltons of Yorkshire, pp. 154, 158), was born at Knaith, Lincolnshire, in 1532, and, according to tradition, received his school education at Eton. It is improbable that he is identical with the Thomas Sutton who was admitted a sizar of St. John's College, Cambridge, 3 Nov. 1551, and matriculated on the 27th day of the same month, but did not graduate (Cooper, Athenæ Cantabr. iii. 49). He was, however, a student of Lincoln's Inn, but during Queen Mary's reign was abroad, visiting Holland, France, Spain, and Italy. His father made a nuncupative will, dated 27 July 1558, and probably died soon afterwards. By this will he bequeathed to his son Thomas his lease of Cockerington, and also half the residue of his goods. As the will was not proved until 22 Feb. 1562–3, it is probable that Sutton was up to that date travelling on the continent or engaged in military service at home or abroad. He had friends among the nobility, and he may possibly have been distantly related to the Sutton family to which belonged the Lords Ambrose and Robert Dudley, alias Sutton, afterwards Earls of Warwick and Leicester respectively. He is said to have been in early life secretary to each of these noblemen, as well as to Thomas Howard, fourth duke of Norfolk [q. v.] On 12 Nov. 1569 the Earl of Warwick and the Lady Anne, his wife, granted to their well-beloved servant Thomas Sutton for life an annuity of 3l. 1s. 8d. out of the manor of Walkington, Yorkshire, and subsequently granted him a lease of the manor for twenty-one years at the rent of 26l.

But his early ambition was to follow a military career, and he saw some active service in the north. Doubtless he was the Captain Sutton who, from December 1558 to November 1559, formed part of the garrison of Berwick. His wages were 4s. a day, and he had under him a petty captain, an ensign-bearer, a sergeant, a drum, forty-six armed soldiers, and fifty-four harquebusiers. Although during 1566–7 he was acting in the civil capacity of estreator of Lincolnshire, he was apparently an officer in the army sent for the suppression of the rebellion in the north in 1569. There is a letter from him in the record office, dated Darlington, 18 Dec. 1569, narrating the flight of the rebels on the preceding night from Durham to Hexham (State Papers, Dom. Add. xv. 107). Promotion to a military post of high responsibility followed.

On 28 Feb. 1569–70 Sutton was by patent appointed for life—it is said on the nomination of the Earl of Warwick—master and surveyor of the ordnance in the northern parts of the realm (Border Papers, i. 19, 85, 86). By the terms of the patent his wages were computed from the Lady-day preceding. His experience as an artillery officer was put to the test at the siege of Edinburgh Castle in May 1573, when he commanded one of the batteries. He retained the mastership of the ordnance until 27 May 1594, when he surrendered it to the queen. But the siege of Edinburgh was his last military engagement.

During his residence in the north Sutton seems to have noted the abundance of coal in Durham, and he obtained, first from the bishop and afterwards from the crown, leases of lands rich in coal. These possessions proved a source of great wealth and the foundation of an immense fortune. It is as one of the richest Englishmen of the day that he won his reputation. In 1580, with a view doubtless to increasing his already vast resources, he settled in London.

On 17 Sept. 1582, being then described as ‘of Littlebury, Essex, esq.,’ he obtained a license to marry Elizabeth, the wealthy widow of John Dudley, esq., of Stoke Newington (Chester, London Marriage Licences, col. 1304). She was daughter of John Gardiner, esq., of Grove Place in the parish of Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire. Her daughter by her first husband, Ann Dudley, married Sir Francis Popham [q. v.] Stoke Newington, the site of his wife's property, was Sutton's ordinary residence for many years, though he occasionally resided in London, at Littlebury, and at Ashdon, Essex, and at Balsham, Cambridgeshire. At a somewhat later period he had a residence at Hackney and also lodgings at a draper's near the nether end of St. Dunstan's Church in Fleet Street. One Sutton of Newington, esq., appears in a return of 28 Nov. 1595 of the names of gentlemen of account, not being citizens of London, in the ward of Farringdon Within. Sutton has been inaccurately represented as a merchant in London. He was not even a freeman of that city. Possibly he increased his means by lending money, but there is no proof that he was, as has been stated, one of the chief victuallers of the navy and a commissioner of prizes. He has been claimed as a freeman of the Girdlers' Company, but the records of the company relating to his time are not accessible. The Durham coal mines and his wife's possessions were the chief sources of Sutton's great wealth.

On 18 Feb. 1587–8 Sutton contributed 100l. towards the defence of the realm, then threatened with invasion from Spain. One of the many vessels fitted out to resist the Spanish armada was called the Sutton. It has been suggested that it belonged to Sutton, and more than one author has stated that he commanded it in person. The Sutton was a barque of seventy tons and thirty men; it belonged to Weymouth, with which port Sutton is not known to have been connected, and it was commanded by Hugh Preston. No reliance can be placed on the assertion that this small ship captured for Sutton, under letters of marque, a Spanish vessel and her cargo estimated at the value of 20,000l., nor is there any mention of the Sutton taking any part in the defeat of the armada (see Laughton, Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1894).

In 1607 Sutton purchased the manor of Castle Camps, Cambridgeshire, for 10,800l. The transaction was instigated by Sir John Harington, who had lent Sir John Skinner, the former owner of Castle Camps, 3,000l. The claims of Skinner and others on the estate involved Sutton in much litigation. In the same year (1607) Harington in vain endeavoured to persuade Sutton to bequeath his estate to Charles, duke of York (afterwards Charles I), in exchange for a peerage (see correspondence on this proposal in Haig Town, The Charterhouse Past and Present, pp. 41–50).

With patriotic magnanimity Sutton resolved to devote a portion of his great property to public uses. On 20 June 1594 he by deed conveyed, but with power of revocation, to Sir John Popham, lord chief justice, Sir Thomas Egerton (afterwards Lord Ellesmere) [q. v.], master of the rolls, and others, all his manors and lands in Essex, in trust, to found a hospital at Hallingbury Bouchers in that county. In 1610 an act of parliament was passed to enable him to found a hospital and free school at Hallingbury Bouchers. On 9 May 1611, however, he purchased from Thomas, earl of Suffolk, for 13,000l., Charterhouse in Middlesex, then called Howard House. The original Charterhouse, founded by Sir Walter Manny [q. v.] in 1371, had been dissolved in 1535, the last prior, John Haughton [q. v.], being executed. The house passed successively into the hands of Thomas, lord Audley, Edward, lord North, the Duke of Northumberland, Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk, and Thomas Howard, earl of Suffolk. On 22 June following letters patent were granted authorising Sutton to erect and endow his hospital and free school within the Charterhouse instead of at Hallingbury. He had intended, if his health permitted, to be the first master of the hospital, but on 30 Oct. he conferred the post on John Hutton, M.A., vicar of Littlebury, and on the following day executed the deed of endowment. The exact object of the foundation seems to have been left for the government to determine, and Bacon wrote a paper of advice to the king on the subject (printed in Works, ed. Spedding, vol. iv.) The scheme finally adopted was that there should be, first, a hospital for poverty-stricken ‘gentlemen,’ soldiers who had borne arms by land or sea, merchants who had been ruined by shipwreck or piracy, and servants of the king or queen. The number was limited to eighty; those who had been maimed could enter at forty years of age, others at fifty. Secondly, there was established a school for the education and maintenance of forty boys. In 1872 the school was moved from London to Godalming, the vacant premises being purchased by the Merchant Taylors' Company for their school. The hospital remains in its original home.

Sutton died at Hackney on 12 Dec. 1611, and his bowels were buried in the church of that parish. His embalmed body remained in his house at Hackney till 28 May 1612, when it was removed in solemn procession, with heraldic attendance, to Christ Church, London, where the funeral was solemnised. Thence his body was, on 12 Dec. 1614, carried by the poor brethren of his hospital to the chapel in Charterhouse, and deposited in a vault on the north side. Over his remains a magnificent tomb was erected in 1615 by Nicholas Stone [q. v.]

His wife died in June 1602 at Balsham, and was buried at Stoke Newington, where there is a monument to her and her first husband, John Dudley.

He had a natural son, named Roger Sutton, whose name does not figure in his will. On 8 June 1611–12 Sir John Bennet wrote to Carleton that there was ‘much talk about rich Sutton's bequest of 200,000l. [sic] for charitable uses, which is so great that the lawyers are trying their wits to find some flaw in the conveyance’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1611–18, p. 110). In June 1613 the judges by ten to one decided in favour of its validity, but James I then commanded the executors to make Roger Sutton a competent allowance out of his father's estates (ib. p. 188).

Sutton was esteemed the richest commoner in England. His real estate was computed at 5,000l. per annum and his personalty at 60,410l. 9s. 9d. Besides numerous other charitable bequests, he left five hundred marks each to Magdalene and Jesus Colleges, Cambridge. A portrait of him is in the master's room at the Charterhouse school, Godalming. It was engraved by Vertue. There are also several other engraved portraits (cf. Bromley).

[Addit. MSS. 4160 art. 76, 5754 ff. 68, 72, 74; Cal. State Papers, Dom. and Add. passim; Border Papers, vols. i. and ii.; Canon Haig Brown's Charterhouse Past and Present, 1879; Adlard's Sutton—Dudleys, p. 155; Life by Bearcroft; Biogr. Brit.; Brand's Newcastle, ii. 268, 269; Chron. of Charterhouse; Coke's Reports, ix. 1; Collect. Top. et Geneal. viii. 206; Fuller's Worthies (Lincolnshire); Gent. Mag. 1839 i. 340, 1843, i. 43; Herne's Domus Carthusiana, 1677; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. iii. 84, 3rd ser. x. 393, 5th ser. ii. 409, 455, 492, v. 27; Robinson's Hackney, i. 257; Robinson's Stoke Newington, pp. 31, 49, 159, 192; Sadler State Papers, i. 386, 658, ii. 5; Sharpe's Northern Rebellion, p. 109; Smythe's Charterhouse; Cal. State Papers, Dom.; Stow's Annales, 1615, pp. 675, 940; Strype's Annals, iii. 27, fol.; Wilford's Memorials, p. 617.]

T. C.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.262
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
185 i l.l. Sutton, Thomas (1532-1611): for St. Swithin read St. Swithun
185 ii 4  for Snaith read Knaith