Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smith, Thomas (1513-1577)
SMITH, Sir THOMAS (1513–1577), statesman, scholar, and author, eldest son of John Smith (d. 1557), by his wife, Agnes Charnock (d. 1547), a native of Lancashire, was born at Saffron Walden, Essex, on 23 Dec. 1513 (Archæologia, xxxviii. 104). The father, who claimed descent from Sir Roger de Clarendon, an illegitimate son of the Black Prince (Essex Visitations, Harl. Soc. pp. 710–11), was a man of wealth and position. In 1538–9 he served as sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire, and in 1545 the grant of a coat-of-arms was confirmed to him (Strype, Life of Sir T. Smith, pp. 2–3; see many references to him in Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, esp. vol. iv.). A younger brother, John, was mainly instrumental in procuring a charter of incorporation for Saffron Walden in 1549.
From Thomas's circumstantial account of his own infancy (extant in Addit. MS. 325), he appears to have been a child of weak health, but was strongly addicted to reading history, to painting, writing, and even to carving. He was educated at a grammar school (Letters and Papers, iv. 1314), probably at Saffron Walden, and before May 1525 was placed under the care of Henry Gold of St. John's College, Cambridge. Among other instructions as to his education, his father desired Gold to teach him ‘plain song, which, afore he went to grammar school, he could sing perfectly, and had some insight in his prick-song’ (ib.) In 1526 he entered Queens' College, and about Michaelmas 1527, apparently through Cromwell's influence, he was appointed king's scholar (ib. p. 3406). On 25 Jan. 1529–30, being then B.A., he was elected fellow of Queens'. He graduated M.A. in the summer of 1533, and in the following autumn, having been appointed a public reader or professor, he lectured on natural philosophy in the schools, and on Greek in his own rooms. Among his pupils were John Ponet [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Winchester, and Richard Eden [q. v.] In 1538 he became public orator, and soon afterwards came under the notice of Henry VIII, before whom, shortly after Queen Jane's death, he and his friend John Cheke [q. v.] declaimed on the question whether the king should marry an Englishwoman or a foreigner. In the same year he was sent by the university to ask the king to grant it one of the dissolved monasteries, and to found a college ‘as an eternal monument of his name’ (ib. XIII. ii. 496).
In May 1540 Smith went abroad to pursue his studies; he was not therefore, as Tanner says, the Thomas Smith, clerk of the council to the queen, who, with William Gray, late servant to Cromwell, was on 4 Jan. 1540–1 committed to the Fleet ‘for writing invectives against one another’ (Nicolas, Acts of the Privy Council, vii. 105, 107; Letters and Papers, xv. 21). After visiting Paris and Orleans, Smith proceeded to Padua, where he graduated D.C.L. On his return in 1542 he was incorporated LL.D. at Cambridge. Smith now took a leading part in reforming the pronunciation of Greek. The early renascence scholars had adopted, from modern Greeks, the corrupt method of pronouncing ἢ, ἔ, and ἴ all as ἴ, and Smith sought to restore the correct pronunciation of ἢ and ἔ. The attempt caused a prolonged agitation in the university; Smith, Cheke, and their adherents were called ‘etists,’ and their opponents ‘itists’ (Rowbotham's pref. to Comenius, Janua Linguarum; Hallam, Lit. of Europe, i. 340; A. J. Ellis, English Pronunciation of Greek, 1876, pp. 5–6). Gardiner, as chancellor of the university, ordered a return to the old pronunciation, and in reply Smith wrote an epistle to him dated 12 Aug. 1542, and subsequently published (Paris, 1568, 4to) under the title ‘De recta et emendata Linguæ Græcæ Pronuntiatione.’ To it was appended Smith's tract advocating a reform of the English alphabet, and extending the number of vowels to ten, a scheme of which is printed in the appendix to Strype's ‘Life of Smith,’ p. 183.
In January 1543–4 Smith was appointed regius professor of civil law at Cambridge; in the same year he served as vice-chancellor of the university, and became chancellor to Goodrich, bishop of Ely, by whom, in 1545, he was collated to the rectory of Leverington, Cambridgeshire, and in 1546 was ordained priest (Archæologia, xxxviii. 106). According to Smith's own statement, which is not confirmed by Le Neve, he received a prebend in Lincoln Cathedral. Shortly before the end of Henry's reign he was deputed by the university to secure Queen Catherine Parr's influence in preventing the acquisition of college property by the king.
Smith had early adopted protestant views, and had distinguished himself in protecting reformers at Cambridge from Gardiner's hostility. The accession of Edward VI accordingly brought him into greater prominence, and in February 1546–7 he entered the service of Protector Somerset, whose brother-in-law, Sir Clement Smith of Little Baddow, Essex [see under Smith, Sir John, (1534?–1607)], was perhaps a relative of Thomas Smith. The latter was made clerk of the privy council, steward of the stannary court, and master of the court of requests which the Protector set up in his own house to deal with the claims of poor suitors. Smith set out with Somerset on the Scottish expedition (August–September 1547), but was laid up at York with a fever. Before the end of the year he became provost of Eton and dean of Carlisle. On 17 April 1548 he was sworn one of the two principal secretaries of state in succession to Paget, his colleague being Sir William Petre [q. v.] In the following June he was sent on a special mission to Flanders, to negotiate for the levy of mercenaries, and to secure as far as possible the support of the emperor in the impending war with France. He reached Brussels on 1 July, but met with little success, and returned in August. In October he was employed in formulating the English claims of feudal suzerainty over Scotland. In the following January he took an active part in the examinations of Sir William Sharington [q. v.] and Thomas Seymour, lord Seymour of Sudeley [q. v.] Soon afterwards he was knighted. He was likewise consulted about the reform of the coinage, and advised the prohibition of ‘testons.’ He was a member of the commissions appointed to visit the universities (November 1548), to examine Arians and anabaptists (April 1549), and to deal with Bonner (September 1549). His proceedings on the latter were especially obnoxious to Bonner, who was imprisoned in the Tower for his behaviour to Smith.
Smith remained faithful to the Protector to the last. He was with him at Hampton Court in October, and accompanied him thence to Windsor, where, on the 10th, he was removed from the council and from his post of secretary, and deprived of his professorship at Cambridge. On the 14th he was imprisoned in the Tower, whence he was released on 10 March 1549–50, on acknowledging a debt of 3,000l. to the king. In the same year he was summoned as a witness against Gardiner, and, with Cecil, drew up the articles for the bishop to sign; but he seems to have used his influence in Gardiner's favour, a service which Gardiner repaid under Mary's reign. In May 1551 Smith accompanied Northampton on his embassy to the French court. He returned in August, and in October was placed on a commission to ‘rough-hew the canon law.’ But for the most part he lived at Eton, where his relations with the fellows were somewhat strained. Early in 1552 he was summoned before the council to answer their complaints; but in the following autumn Northumberland and his principal adherents dined with Smith at Eton and decided the dispute in his favour. In October he was selected to discuss with the French commissioners the claims for compensation on the part of French merchants.
In August 1553, a month after Mary's accession, Smith was summoned before the queen's commissioners, but Gardiner's friendship secured him from molestation, and he even obtained an indulgence from the pope (Strype, p. 47). On 8 Sept. he was returned to parliament as member for Grampound, Cornwall. In the following year, however, he resigned the provostship of Eton and deanery of Carlisle quasi sponte, as he says himself, and perhaps in order to marry his second wife. For the remainder of Mary's reign he lived in retirement, busy with his studies and building. The accession of Elizabeth once more brought him public employment. On 22 Dec. 1558 he was placed on a commission ‘for the consideration of things necessary for a parliament,’ and on 6 Jan. 1558–9 was elected member for Liverpool. He was also a member of the ecclesiastical commission to revise the Book of Common Prayer, which met at his house in Cannon Row, Westminster. In the following year he was in attendance on John, duke of Friesland, son of the king of Sweden, during his visit to England, and in 1560 wrote a dialogue on the question of the queen's marriage, which is extant in Addit. MS. 4149, Ashmole MS. 829, and Cambr. Univ. MS. Gg. 3, and is printed in the Appendix to his life by Strype (pp. 184–259).
In September 1562 Smith was sent ambassador to France, a post of great difficulty and some danger, owing to the civil war between the Guises and the Huguenots. Elizabeth had decided to help the latter and herself at the same time by seizing Havre, and Smith's position at Paris was threatened by the Guise party. From 28 Aug. to 17 Sept. 1563 he was even imprisoned at Melun. His task was rendered more difficult by the retention of Sir Nicholas Throgmorton [q. v.] as joint ambassador, and the lack of confidence with which the two were treated by Elizabeth, coupled with mutual jealousy, led on one occasion to a violent outbreak between them (Lettres de Catherine de Médicis, ii. 171; Henry M. Baird, Rise of the Huguenots, ii. 128). At length, on 12 April 1564, the peace of Troyes was signed between England and France. Smith remained two years longer in France, following the court. In May 1564 he set out to visit Geneva; in November he was at Tarascon, and in January 1564–5 was ill at Toulouse. He returned to England in May 1566. Between three and four hundred letters from him describing his embassy are calendared among the foreign state papers, and these are supplemented by numerous references in the ‘Lettres de Catherine de Médicis,’ 5 vols., printed in ‘Collection de Documents inédits,’ 1880–95. On 22 March 1566–7 Smith was again sent to France to make a formal demand for the surrender of Calais, returning in June.
After an ineffectual suit for the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster, which was given to Sir Ralph Sadler [q. v.], and after spending three years in retirement in Essex, Smith was on 5 March 1570–1 readmitted a member of the privy council. In the autumn of that year he was commissioned to inquire into the conspiracy of the Duke of Norfolk, and in the examination of two of the duke's servants torture was used, much to Smith's disgust. Early in 1572 Smith was once more sent as ambassador to France to discuss the marriage of D'Alençon with Elizabeth, and the formation of a league against Spain. During his absence he was in April made chancellor of the order of the Garter in succession to Burghley, and on the 15th of that month was elected knight of the shire for Essex. Soon after his return he was on 13 July appointed secretary of state. In the same year he persuaded Elizabeth to send help to the Scottish protestants. During the following years, besides his official work, Smith was engaged in his project for a colony at Ards, co. Down (cf. A Letter … wherein is a large discourse of the peopling … the Ardes … taken in hand by Sir T. Smith, 1572), and his experiments for transmuting iron into copper. For the latter purpose he formed a company, called the ‘Society of the New Art,’ which was joined by Burghley and Leicester, but was soon abandoned, after involving all the parties in considerable loss. In 1575 he accompanied the queen in her progress, and in the same year procured an act ‘for the better maintenance of learning’ (Fuller, Hist. Cambr. p. 144). His health failed in March 1575–6, when his attendance at the council ceased, and he died at Theydon Mount, Essex, on 12 Aug. 1577. He was buried in the chancel of the parish church, where a monument was raised to his memory, with inscriptions printed by Strype. By his will, dated 18 Feb. 1576–7, and printed in Strype, he left his library (of which Strype prints a catalogue) to Queens' College, Cambridge, to which he had in 1573 given an annuity for the maintenance of two scholars. Verses to Smith are in Leland's ‘Encomia’ (p. 87), and Gabriel Harvey [q. v.], apparently a kinsman, published in 1578 a laudatory poem on him, entitled ‘Gabrielis Harveii Valdinatis Smithus vel Musarum Lachrymæ pro obitu clarissimi Thomæ Smyth’ (cf. Harvey's Letter-book, Camden Soc. 1884).
A portrait of Smith, by Holbein, is at Theydon Mount, and a copy made in 1856 by P. Fisher was presented to Eton College by Lady Bowyer Smijth. An engraving by Houbraken was prefixed to Birch's ‘Lives,’ another by James Fittler, A.R.A., after a drawing by William Skelton, to Strype's Life, 1820, and a third to Gabriel Harvey's ‘Lachrymæ pro Obitu,’ 1578. Another portrait is at Queens' College, Cambridge.
Smith was twice married, first, on 15 April 1548, to Elizabeth, daughter of William Carkek or Carkyke, who, born on 29 Nov. 1529, died without issue in 1552; and, secondly, on 23 July 1554, to Philippa, daughter of John Wilford of London, and widow of Sir John Hampden (d. 21 Dec. 1553) of Theydon Mount, Essex; she survived him, dying without issue in 1584. Smith's principal heir was his nephew William (d. 1626), son of his brother George, a draper of London. It has been suggested that he was the ‘W. Smithe’ to whom has been attributed the authorship of ‘A Discourse of the Common Weal,’ 1581; but there is no evidence to support the conjecture (Lamond, Discourse, p. 35; cf. art. Stafford, William, (1554–1612)). William's son Thomas was created a baronet in 1661, and was ancestor of the present baronet, whose family adopted the spelling Smijth. Sir Thomas's illegitimate son Thomas, born on 15 March 1546–7, accompanied his father on his French embassies, and was subsequently placed in charge of his father's colony at Ards, where he was killed, in an encounter with the Irish, on 18 Oct. 1573, leaving no issue.
Smith has generally been considered one of the most upright statesmen of his time. He adhered to moderate protestant views consistently through life, and his fidelity to Somerset is in striking contrast with the conduct of most of his contemporaries. That his morals were somewhat lax is proved by his confession that his illegitimate son was born just a year after he took priest's orders. He shared the prevailing faith in astrology, a volume of his collections on which subject is extant in Addit. MS. 325. Nor was he quite free from the prevailing passion for worldly goods. In a letter (Harl. MS. 6989, ff. 141 et seq.) written to the Duchess of Somerset, who had countenanced charges of rapacity and bribery brought against him, Smith gives an account of his income. From his professorship he derived 40l. a year, from the chancellorship of Ely 50l., and from the rectory of Leverington 36l.; but though he kept three servants, ‘three summer nags, and three winter geldings,’ he spent but 30l. a year, and saved the rest. His fee as secretary of state was 100l. a year, and his income from Eton varied from 80l. in one year to nothing in the next. On his resignation of it and the deanery of Carlisle, which produced 80l. a year, Queen Mary allowed him a pension of 100l. He purchased from the chantry commissioners the ‘college of Derby,’ worth 34l. a year. He built a new mansion at Ankerwick, near Eton, 1551–3, and commenced another, Hill Hall, Theydon Mount, Essex, with which his second wife was jointured.
As a classical scholar Smith was the rival of Cheke, and his friends included the chief scholars of the time both in England and on the continent. He was also an accomplished ‘physician, mathematician, astronomer, architect, historian, and orator.’ Besides his tracts on the reform of the Greek and English languages, and on the marriage of Elizabeth, mentioned above, and his voluminous diplomatic and private correspondence, selections of which were published in Digges's ‘Compleat Ambassador,’ 1655, and in Wright's ‘Queen Elizabeth,’ 1838, Smith translated ‘Certaigne Psalms or Songues of David,’ extant in Brit. Museum Royal MS. 17 A. xvii., and wrote tracts on the wages of a Roman foot-soldier and on the coinage, both of which are printed in Strype's Appendix. But his principal work was his ‘De Republica Anglorum; the Maner of Governement or Policie of the Realm of England,’ which he wrote in English during his first embassy in France. It is the most important description of the constitution and government of England written in the Tudor age. It was first printed at London in 1583, 4to; it passed through eleven editions in English in little more than a century, viz. 1584, 1589, 1594, 1601, 1609, 1621, 1633, 1635, 1640, and 1691. The editions from 1589 onwards have the title ‘The Common Welth of England.’ Latin translations were published in 1610? 1625, 1630, and 1641. A Dutch version of the portions dealing with parliament appeared at Amsterdam in 1673, and a German version at Hamburg in 1688.[Strype's Life of Sir T. Smith was first published in 1698. The edition quoted above is that published at Oxford in 1820. On this is mainly based the unusually full account in Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. i. 368–73. But neither Strype nor Cooper, though referring to it, made any use of Smith's volume of astrological collections extant in Addit. MS. 325. This contains valuable autobiographical details, which supplement and correct Strype in many essential particulars, e.g. the date of his birth, his ordination, &c. Attention was first directed to it by John Gough Nichols, who in 1859 published in Archæologia, xxxviii. 98–126, the principal additions thus supplied. Some information was added in the Wiltshire Archæol. Mag. xviii. 257 et seq., where Canon Jackson published some letters from Smith extant among the Longleat Papers. See also, besides authorities cited, Gairdner's Letters and Papers of Henry VIII; Cal. State Papers, Dom. Foreign and Venetian Ser.; Cal. Hatfield MSS.; Haynes and Murdin's Burghley Papers; Acts of the Privy Council, ed. Dasent, 1542–1577; Lettres de Catherine de Médicis, 1880–1895; Lit. Remains of Edward VI (Roxburghe Club); Wriothesley's Chron. (Camden Soc.); Parker Corr. (Parker Soc.); Corr. Polit. de Odet de Selve, 1886; Stow's Annals and Holinshed's Chron.; Camden's Elizabeth, ii. 318–19; Foxe's Actes and Monuments; Fuller's Church Hist. ii. 254; Burnet's Hist. Reformation, ed. Pocock; H. M. Baird's Rise of the Huguenots, 1880, vol. ii. passim; Hume's Courtships of Queen Elizabeth, 1897; Granger's Biogr. Hist.; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib.; Le Neve's Fasti, ed. Hardy; Official Return of Members of Parl; Harwood's Alumni Eton. pp. 4 et seq.; Maxwell-Lyte's Hist. Eton Coll.; Creasy's Eminent Etonians; Lloyd's State Worthies; Morant's Essex; Lipscomb's Bucks; Barrett's Highways, &c. of Essex, i. 158–159, ii. 171, 191; Burke's Peerage, s.v. ‘Smijth;’ Tytler's, Lingard's, and Froude's Histories; R.W. Dixon's Hist. of Church of England.]