White, Thomas (1492-1567) (DNB00)

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WHITE, Sir THOMAS (1492–1567), founder of St. John's College, Oxford, born at Reading (for the site, see Coates's Reading, p. 405 n.) in 1492, was the son of William White of Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, clothier, and his wife Mary, daughter of John Kebblewhite of South Fawley, Buckinghamshire (Chauncey, Antiquities of Herts, p. 481 a, gives Rickmansworth as his birthplace, erroneously). He was probably taught first at the Reading grammar school, founded by Henry VII, to which he gave two scholarships; but he was brought up ‘almost from infancy’ in London. He was apprenticed at the age of twelve to Hugh Acton, a prominent member of the Merchant Taylors' Company, who left him 100l. on his death in 1520. With this and his small patrimony he began business for himself in 1523. In 1530 he was first renter warden of the Merchant Taylors' Company. From this he passed on to the senior wardenship about 1533, and was master probably in 1535 (Clode, History of the Merchant Taylors' Company, ii. 100).

He appears in 1533 as one of those to whom the nun of Kent made revelations (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, vi. 587). In 1535 he was assessed for the subsidy at 1,000l., which shows him to have been by this time a prosperous clothier (for note on the exact nature of his trade, see Clode's History of the Merchant Taylors' Company, vol. ii. App. p. 4). In 1542 and 1545 he made large loans to the cities of Coventry and Bristol. He resided in the parish of St. Michael, Cornhill, and in 1544 was elected by the court ninth alderman for Cornhill. On his refusing ‘to take upon himself the weight thereof,’ he was committed to Newgate, and the windows of his shop were ordered to be ‘closed so long as he should continue in his obstinacy’ (17 June, 36 Hen. VIII, Repertory 11, f. 78 b). He was not long recalcitrant. In the same year, being then alderman, he contributed 300l. to the city's loan to the king. In 1547 he was sheriff. In 1549–50 he aided his guild with money to purchase the obit rent charges. In 1551 the trust-deed between his company and the city of Coventry was drawn up, by which large sums became available after his death for the charity loans, &c. In 1553 he was one of the promoters of the Muscovy Company (Macpherson, Annals of Commerce, ii. 114). On 2 Oct. 1553 he was knighted in the presence of the Queen Mary by the Earl of Arundel, lord steward (MS. Coll. Arms, I. 7, f. 74; see Machyn, pp. 46, 335). He was elected lord mayor on 29 Oct. 1553. Machyn records the splendour of his pageant.

He sat on 13 Nov. on the commission for the trial of Lady Jane Grey and her adherents. On 3 Jan. 1553–4 he received the Spanish envoys, and ten days later restored the custom of going in procession to St. Paul's for the high mass. On the breaking out of Wyatt's rebellion he arrested the Marquis of Northampton on 25 Jan. 1553–4. He received Mary on 1 Feb. when she made her appeal to the loyalty of the citizens, and on the 3rd repulsed the rebels from the bridge-gate, Southwark. His prudence and sagacity preserved London for the queen. On 10 Feb. he presided over the commission to try the rebels. In the further suppression of tumult, he seems to have come into conflict with Gardiner in the Star-chamber (cf. Clode, ii. 128, 138). On 7 March 1554, in pursuance of the queen's proclamation, he issued orders to the aldermen to admonish all residents of their wards to follow the catholic religion, which he repeated with special application in April. The unpopularity caused by this possibly led to an attempt to assassinate him as he was hearing a sermon at St. Paul's on 10 June. On 19 Aug. he received Philip and Mary at their entry in state into the city. His mayoralty was marked by several sumptuary regulations, and by a proclamation (May 1554) against games, morris-dances, and interludes.

At the end of his year of office White devoted himself to acts of benevolence outside the city. His friend Sir Thomas Pope (1507?–1559) [q. v.] had recently founded a college (Trinity) in Oxford. White already held land in the neighbourhood of Oxford (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, xv. 296), and the example of Pope turned his thoughts to the endowment of a college. He is said to have been directed by a dream to the site of the dissolved Cistercian house of St. Bernard outside the city walls (Taylor, manuscript History of College; Plot, Natural History of Oxfordshire, p. 169; Griffin Higgs's manuscript Nativitas, and Coates's Reading, p. 409). On 1 May 1555 he obtained the royal license to found a college for ‘the learning of the sciences of holy divinity, philosophy, and good arts,’ dedicated to the praise and honour of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. John Baptist (the patron saint of the Merchant Taylors' Company). The society was to consist of a president and thirty graduate or non-graduate scholars (royal patent of foundation in college manuscripts). In 1557 the scope and numbers of the foundation were enlarged (5 March, 4 & 5 Philip and Mary; the statutes were further revised under Dr. Willis, cf. Taylor's manuscript History). The endowment of the college connected it closely with the neighbourhood of Oxford, but it was not a rich foundation. The statutes given were based on those of William of Wykeham for New College. Many letters among the college manuscripts show White's constant care of the college he had founded. In 1559 he purchased Gloucester Hall, Oxford, where he is said to have resided in his later years. He was frequently entertained at Trinity College (Warton, Life of Pope, p. 123 n.). Gloucester Hall he made into a hall for a hundred scholars. It was opened on St. John Baptist's day, 1560. Sir Thomas White's association with Cumnor is emphasised by the fact that in this hall the body of Amy Robsart lay before burial at St. Mary's. His interest in education was not confined to his own college. He took a considerable part in the foundation of the Merchant Taylors' school, for which Richard Hilles was mainly responsible. In 1560 he sent further directions and endowments to his college. But from 1562 he suffered severely from the falling-off in the cloth trade. He was unable to fulfil the obligation of his marriage contract. He was still able, however, to settle some considerable trusts on different towns, the London livery companies, and his own kindred. These arrangements were finally completed in his will, dated 8 and 24 Nov. 1566 (full detail in Clode, ii. 176–81). At the beginning of the next year (2 Feb. 1566–7) he made further statutes for his college, by which he ordered that forty-three scholars from the Merchant Taylor's school should be ‘assigned and named by continual succession’ to St. John's College by the master and wardens of the company and the president and two senior fellows of the college.

On 12 Jan. 1567 he had written a touching letter to his college, of which he desired that each of the fellows and scholars should have a copy, counselling brotherly love, in view doubtless of the religious differences which had already caused the cession of two, if not three, presidents.

Later letters concerned the jointure of his wife and the performance of choral service in the college chapel (for these see Clode, pt. ii. chap. xiv.). He died on 12 Feb. 1566–7 either in the college or at Gloucester Hall. He was buried in the college chapel. Edmund Campion [q. v.] delivered a funeral oration (college manuscripts).

White died a poor man. Much of what he had intended for his college never reached it, and the provisions of his will in regard both to his property and the college would have been still less fully carried out but for the astute management (‘partly by pious persuasions, and partly by judicious delays’) of his executor, Sir William Cordell [q. v.], master of the rolls (college manuscripts; and cf. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, p. 417; cf. art. Roper, William).

White was a man of sane judgment and genuine piety; he has rarely, if ever, been surpassed among merchants as a benefactor to education and to civic bodies.

There are several portraits of Sir Thomas White, but it is doubtful if any were painted from life. A large picture in the hall of St. John's College is similar to those belonging to the Merchant Taylors' Company, to Leicester (see Coates, Reading, p. 410), and to nearly all of the towns to which he left benefactions (cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. Reading, p. 206, Lincoln, p. 88). Smaller portraits are in the bursary and the president's lodging at St. John's College. From one of these there is a mezzotint by Faber. Tradition says that for the original picture Sir Thomas White's sister (whose portrait is in the president's lodgings at St. John's College) sat. An early portrait on glass is in the east window of the old library of St. John's College, erected by Dr. Willis, president of the college 1577–90.

He was twice married. His first wife, Avicia, whose surname is unknown, died on 26 Feb. 1557–8, and was buried in the parish of St. Mary Aldermary (Machyn, Diary, p. 167). On 25 Nov. of the same year he married Joan, daughter and coheiress of John Lake of London, and widow of Sir Ralph Warren [q. v.] (ib.) He had no issue.

Sir Thomas White has frequently been confused (as by Ingram, Memorials of Oxford, St. John's College, p. 5) with a namesake, Sir Thomas White of South Warnborough, Hampshire [cf. art. White, John, 1511–1560], who was knighted on the same day, and whose wife's name, Agnes, is not uncommonly interchanged with Avicia. The confusion is rendered the more natural from the fact that the White property at South Warnborough eventually passed into the hands of St. John's College, Oxford. But this was by the gift of Archbishop Laud, who obtained it from William Sandys in 1636 (Laud, Works, vii. 306–7).

[Among the manuscripts of St. John's College, Oxford, are several early lives. Especially to be noticed are the History of the college by J. Taylor, D.C.L., the Nativitas Vita Mors honoratissimi illustrissimique viri Thomæ White, by Griffin Higgs, and copies of funeral verses. See also the Verses on the death of Mrs. Amy Leech (his niece), and Edmund Campion's Funeral Sermon on Sir Thomas. Many later manuscripts contain references to him (for list of St. John's College manuscripts, see Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. App. pp. 464–8). For letters of his, see Hist. MSS. Comm. Coventry, p. 100; Letters and Papers, For. and Dom. of the Reign of Henry VIII; Strype's Memorials; Machyn's Diary; Plot's Natural History of Oxfordshire; Fuller's Worthies, Hertfordshire, p. 30; Gutch's History and Antiquities of the University of Oxford; Ingram's Memorials of Oxford; Clode's History of the Merchant Taylors' Company; Coates's History of Reading; Warton's Life of Pope; Hutton's Hist. of S. John Baptist College, 1898; information kindly given by Reginald Sharpe, esq., D.C.L., librarian of the Guildhall. For list of White's benefactions, see Hist. MSS. Comm. Reports on manuscripts of towns of Southampton, Reading, Lincoln, and Coventry; Gough's Camden, ii. 345; Stow's Survey, ed. Strype, vol. i. bk. i. pp. 263–4; Clode's History of Merchant Taylors' Company, pt. ii. chap. xiv. Tennyson's ‘Queen Mary’ did not, as the poet afterwards admitted, do justice to the character of White (cf. Memoir of Tennyson, ii. 176).]

W. H. H.