Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Henshaw, Thomas

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HENSHAW, THOMAS (1618–1700), scientific writer, son of Benjamin Henshaw, and brother of Nathaniel Henshaw [q. v.], was born in Milk Street, city of London, on 15 June 1618. After attending school at Barnet and then in Cripplegate, London, he was entered as commoner at University College, Oxford, in 1634, and remained there five years without taking a degree. He entered the Middle Temple, and on the commencement of the civil war joined Charles I at York. Soon afterwards he ‘went to London to recruit himself,’ and being taken prisoner by the parliamentarians, was allowed to pass out of the country on his giving good security not to join the king's army again. Henshaw sailed to Holland, and afterwards entered the French army, in which he became major. He subsequently travelled through Spain. Passing thence to Italy, he lived in succession at Rome, Padua, and Venice, till a ‘ little before the murther of King Charles I,’ when he got leave to return to England. In 1654 was printed at Spa a ‘Vindication of Thomas Henshaw, sometime Major in the French King's service, in justification of himself against the Aspersions throwne upon him.’ In this he repudiates any share in the plots on behalf of Charles II, but calls Cromwell ‘the greatest murtherer.’

On his return to England Henshaw was called to the bar, but discontinued the practice of the common law on account of ‘the sowre complexion of the times.’ After the Restoration Henshaw was appointed the king's under-secretary of the French tongue and gentleman of the privy council in ordinary. He was chosen one of the fellows of the Royal Society at its first constitution in 1663. Henshaw continued as French secretary under James II and William III (see inscription on his tombstone at Kensington). In 1672 Henshaw attended the Duke of Richmond, ambassador extraordinary to the court of Denmark, as secretary of the embassy and assistant to the duke. The latter died on 12 Dec. of the same year, and Henshaw was commanded to remain in Denmark as envoy extraordinary, and held the office for two years and a half.

Henshaw spent the last years of his life at his house in Kensington, where he died on 2 Jan. 1699–1700. According to his tombstone in the chancel of the parish church there, a daughter Anne, his sole survivor, married Thomas Halsey of Gaddesden, Hertfordshire.

Henshaw published, from the Italian of F. Alvarez Samedo, ‘History of the Great and Renowned Monarchy of China, to which is added a History of the late Invasion and Conquest of the flourishing Kingdom of the Tartars, with an exact account of the other Affairs of China,’ London, 1655. After the Restoration appeared several unimportant papers by him in the ‘Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society,’ and two small treatises on making ‘Salt Peter’ and ‘Gunpowder.’ He edited with an epistle to the reader Dr. Stephen Skinner's ‘Etymologicon Linguæ Anglicanæ,’ 1671, and is referred to in the preface to Elias Ashmole's ‘Way to Bliss’ (printed 1658) as an expert in the occult science of the time.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 794, iv. 444; books quoted above.]

R. E. A.