Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gresham, Thomas
GRESHAM, Sir THOMAS (1519?–1579), founder of the Royal Exchange, second son of Sir Richard Gresham [q. v.], by his first wife, Audrey, was born in London. The foolish story of his being a foundling, and of his having adopted his well-known crest because his life was saved by the chirping of a grasshopper, is disproved by the fact that the crest was used by his ancestor James Gresham in the fifteenth century (cf. Notes and Queries, 5th ser. x. 134-5). The year of his birth has not been determined. The inquisition upon his father's Yorkshire estates, taken in 1551, shows that John, Thomas Gresham's elder brother, there stated to be aged 34, was born in 1517 (Leveson-Gower, Genealogy of the Family of Gresham, p. 140). Gresham could not, therefore, have been born before 1518, or later than 1522, when his mother died. Holbein (or more probably Girolamo da Treviso) painted his portrait in 1544, when he was stated to be twenty-six years old. Hence the end of 1518 or the beginning of 1519
appears to be the most probable date of his birth. Against this, however, must be placed his own statement, in a letter to Walsingham dated 3 Nov. 1575, that he was sixty-two years of age, blind and lame (State Papers, Dom. 1547-80, p. 505). On leaving school he was sent at an early age to the university of Cambridge, which he entered as a pensioner of Gonville and Caius College. He there made the acquaintance of Dr. John Caius (1510-1573) [q. v.], who mentions him in his annals as one of the earliest members of his re-founded college. On leaving Cambridge Gresham was apprenticed by his father (about 1535) to his uncle, Sir John Gresham [see under Gresham, Sir Richard], and he gratefully ascribes to this training his wide commercial knowledge (Letter to Duke of Northumberland, 16 April 1553). He was also a student of Gray's Inn, but the date of his admission is not preserved (Douthwaite, Gray's Inn, 1886, p. 203). Gresham assisted his father both in his public and private duties. Sir Richard wrote to Cromwell, 29 Aug. 1538, requesting that a son of his (probably Thomas) might be admitted to the royal service, and mentions that the youth had been chosen for his knowledge of French to attend to Dover certain French lords whom he had entertained at Cromwell's request (Letters, &c., Hen. VIII, 1538). In 1543 Gresham was admitted to the freedom of the Mercers' Company ; in June of that year he was apparently acting in the king's behalf in the Low Countries. Seymour and Wotton, writing from Brussels, state that some gunpowder bought for the king had been delivered 'to yonge Thomas Gresham, solycitor of the same (State Papers; Burgon, i. 48). On 3 March 1544-5 Secretary Paget wrote from Brussels that Gresham, then trading for himself, was one of the English merchants whose goods had been seized by order of Charles V (ib. p. 49). On 25 Nov. 1545 the lord treasurer was ordered by the council to pay certain foreign mercenaries at Calais with money which he had received from Gresham (Acts of the Privy Council, new ser. ed. Dasent, 1890; Rolls Ser. i. 274).
In 1544 Gresham married. At this time he probably resided with his father in Milk Street, where he largely assisted in his father's business, but on Sir Richard's death in 1549 he seems to have removed to a house in Lombard Street, at the sign of the Grasshopper, his family's emblem. This has been identified by Mr. Martin with No. 68, now occupied by the banking firm of Martin & Co.
Gresham's private business often required his presence abroad, and in December 1551, or the following January, he obtained the important office of royal agent or king's merchant, which necessitated his residence at Antwerp at very frequent intervals for many months at a time. The chief duties of this ancient office were to negotiate loans for the crown with the wealthy merchants of Germany and the Netherlands, to supply the state with any foreign products that were required, especially with military stores, such as gunpowder, saltpetre, and arms, and to keep the privy council informed of all matters of importance passing abroad. Gresham had been assistant to his predecessor, Sir William Dansell, who, in April 1551, after a serious disagreement with the privy council, was `revoked from his office of agent by reason of his slacknes.' On Dansell's dismissal Gresham and other merchants were consulted as to the king's financial position, and through the influence of John Dudley [q. v.], duke of Northumberland (Burgon, i. 101), Gresham was appointed to the vacant post. In giving an account of his consultation with the council Gresham adds that the post was conferred `without my suit or labour for the same' (Cotton MS. Otho E. x. fol. 43).
At Antwerp Gresham lived at first in the house of Gaspar Schetz, his 'very friend,' who was royal factor to Charles V. Gresham did not spare himself in the discharge of his duties. Forty times did he cross the Channel (he tells us) within the first two years of his holding office at Antwerp, and often at the shortest notice. He employed as his London agents John Elliot and Richard Candeler, and during his frequent visits to London his affairs at Antwerp were directed by his factor, Richard Clough [q. v.], a very capable man of business. Gresham had also agents in many parts of Europe who sent him regular intelligence. The financial difficulties he had to deal with were considerable. Henry VIII's expensive wars with France and the extravagance of the protector Somerset had raised the interest on the king's foreign bonds to 40,000l. annually. By the management of foreign capitalists the rate of exchange, over which no English merchant had hitherto had any control, was reduced to 16s. Flemish for the pound sterling. An enormous rate of interest was also demanded by the money-lenders on the renewal of a debt, and the king was compelled to purchase jewels and other wares at exorbitant prices from the Fuggers or other foreign traders who furnished the loan. Within two or three years Gresham raised the exchange at Antwerp for the pound sterling from 16s. to 22s., and discharged the king's debts at this favourable rate. In March 1551-2 he repaid the Fuggers 63,500l., and soon afterwards arranged for the repayment to them of 14,000l. Early in August he came to London to present to King Edward an account of his payments during the previous five months, which amounted to 106,301l. 4s. 4d. (ib. ff. 184, 185, 188). They include a charge of 26l. for a banquet to the Fuggers, Schetz, and other creditors of the king. Such banquets formed part of Gresham's policy, and one of them was the subject of a costly contemporary painting which belonged to the Earl of Leicester (Burgon, i. 83-6, 462). On 15 Sept. 1552 the Earl of Pembroke wrote to Cecil urging that speedy payment should be made to Gresham for his services (State Papers, Dom. 1547-80, p. 44).
Gresham had returned to Antwerp on 20 Aug. with instructions to postpone the payment of 56,000l. due at the end of the month. The council on this occasion declined to purchase jewels or merchandise as a fee-penny for the obligation. In a long letter to his patron Northumberland, written a day after his arrival, Gresham for the first of many times strongly condemns the English government's want of punctuality, which he declares will in the end 'neyther be honnorable nor profitable to his Highnes.' He then suggests a new plan for discharging the king's debts. He asks for 1,200l. or 1,300l. weekly, with which he would take up at Antwerp 200l. or 300l. every day by exchange. By this means he was confident of discharging all the debt (then amounting to 108,000l.) within two years (Cotton. Galba B. xii. ff. 209-12: Burgon, i. 88-94). The scheme was adopted by the council, but the payments lasted only for eight weeks. A further suggestion, at the close of his letter, that the king should seize all the lead in the kingdom, make a staple of it, and prohibit its exportation for five years, was wisely rejected by the council. Gresham's methods were often very high-handed and unjust to his fellow-merchants. Twice during Edward's reign, apparently by his advice, the English merchant fleet was detained when on the point of sailing for Antwerp until the owners of the goods agreed to advance certain sums of money to be repaid within three months in London at a high rate of exchange fixed by the crown. On 3 Oct. 1552 a loan of 40,000l. was thus obtained from the merchant adventurers. On 28 April 1553 Gresham, in a letter to the council, boasts that he has so plagued foreign merchants and intimidated English merchants that they will both beware of meddling with the exchange for London in future.
Gresham's increasing reputation at court procured him in 1552 some delicate diplomatic employment. He sounded Charles V's ambassador as to that monarch's disposition towards England; obtained from the regent of the Netherlands some intercepted letters from Mary, queen of Scotland, to the French king; and discussed the possibility of a marriage between Edward VI and a daughter of the king of the Romans (Haynes, State Papers, 1740, pp. 132-42).
With King Edward Gresham was always on good terms. He presented him with a pair of Spanish silk stockings, described by Stow as 'a great present.' Three weeks before his death the king gave Gresham lands worth 100l. a year, and assured him that he should know he had served a king. Gresham was also granted by Edward VI Westacre Priory in Norfolk, and the manor of Walsingham with other manors in the same county.
The accession of Mary brought Gresham a temporary reverse of fortune. His patron Northumberland died on the scaffold. Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, was, according to his own account, a bitter enemy. Gresham was undoubtedly a protestant, and on intimate terms with Foxe, the martyrologist, but he was sufficiently alive to his own interests to make no obnoxious display of his religious opinions under a catholic sovereign. For a time he was removed from the position of royal agent, and Alderman William Dauntsey took his place, but the result was disastrous to the queen's credit. Dauntsey negotiated a loan with an Antwerp money-lender at a rate of interest two per cent, higher than that at which Gresham had freely obtained credit. In August Gresham addressed a memorial to the council (printed by Burgon, i. 115-20), recounting his services to Edward VI, and complaining that 'those who served before him, and brought the king into debt, and took wares and jewels up to his great loss, are esteemed and preferred for their evil service.' His suit was assisted by Sir John Legh, a Roman catholic gentleman who had great influence with the queen, and early in November the council inquired of him on what terms he would resume office. On the 13th he was reinstated. Until the end of the reign he was constantly passing to and from Antwerp and London. He was allowed for his 'diet' 20s. a day, besides all expenses incurred for messengers, letters, and the carriage of treasure.
The exportation of bullion was prohibited by the Low Countries as strictly as in England, and, to circumvent the authorities in the Low Countries, Gresham, with the council's approval, contrived various subterfuges. Not more than 1,000l. was to be sent in one vessel, and Gresham proposed to secrete the money in bags of pepper, but afterwards decided to convey it in dry vats containing one thousand demi-lancers' harness, which he asked permission to buy for the defence of the realm (State Papers, 6 Dec. 1553). Similarly Gresham was not averse to taking part in the heavy carousals of the Flemish custom-house officials, and often made them costly presents. By these means the gates of Gravelines were always open to his servants at night for the exportation of treasure (Burgon, i. 144). He refers in his letters of 31 Jan., 6 and 15 Feb. 1554 to the panic produced on the Antwerp exchange by the news of Wyatt's rebellion, whereby the queen's credit was for a time seriously affected (ib. pp. 166-8). On 15 March the queen appointed commissioners to examine his accounts and pay what was due to him.
In May Gresham carried despatches to Charles V from Simon Renard, the emperor's ambassador in England, and next month set out for Spain to obtain a loan of five hundred thousand ducats. He had previously secured the emperor's passport and license for exporting the amount, and was allowed 30s. a day for his ' dietts.' Gresham was detained in Spain for several months, and found difficulty in procuring so much bullion. One of the oldest banks in Seville suspended payment in consequence of his operations (cf. his instructions for this commission in Burgon, App. xi.) But he finally obtained the sum of 97,878l. 15s. (ib. App. xiii.),and returned in the beginning of 1555 to find his duties at Antwerp placed in other hands. In May, however, he was again in regular correspondence with the government, taking up loans and purchasing military stores as before. In June he received Sir William Cecil, who was his intimate friend, at his house in Antwerp. He was present, 25 Oct., at the abdication of Charles V at Brussels. On 12 April he wrote to Secretary Boxall, and on 1 May to the queen, praying for an audit of his accounts, which he says was always granted to his master and uncle, Sir John Gresham, by Henry VIII 'under his broad seall of England' (ib. i. 198-201).
Mary died on 17 Nov. 1558. Her ministers, unlike the ministers of her predecessor, had corresponded with Gresham on formal business terms, which show that he never stood very high in their personal regard. One of them, John Paulet, marquis of Winchester, was a bitter enemy, and it has been inferred that a gap in Gresham's correspondence, extending from March 1556 to March 1558, is due to his being without regular official employment owing to Winchester's influence with the queen. But it is fairly certain that Mary never shared her minister's dislike of Gresham. By the advice of Boxall he regularly sent the queen all the news he could procure of the health and employments of her neglectful husband. At times he corresponded directly with her (ib. pp. 157-60, 181-4), and Mary appears to have sent replies in her own hand (ib. p. 161). In January 1555-6 he exchanged new-year's presents with her, and received substantial marks of her favour. She made him liberal grants of land, including the priory of Austin Canons at Massingham in Norfolk, and the manors of Langham, Merston, and Combes (ib. pp. 189-90).
On the accession of Elizabeth, Gresham's friend Cecil became secretary of state. His predecessor, Boxall, on resigning office (18 Nov.), explained to him the present condition of Gresham's monetary relations with the crown, and mentioned how two bonds for the repayment of loans contracted by Gresham were, while waiting for the late queen's signature, used for `cering' her body after death (ib. p. 215). Gresham was present at Elizabeth's first council, held at Hatfield on 20 Nov., three days after the death of Mary. Elizabeth received him graciously, and continued him in his office, promising him ample rewards for future services (ib. pp. 216-18). Gresham soon suggested plans for improving the royal finances. He insisted that it was desirable (1) to restore the purity of the coinage, (2) to repress the Steelyard merchants, (3) to grant few licenses, (4) to borrow as little as possible beyond seas, and (5) to maintain good credit with English merchants (ib. App. xxi.)
For the first nine years of Elizabeth's reign Gresham still divided his time between London and Antwerp, raising, as before, loans in the Low Countries, and exporting thence to England, as well as he was able, weapons of war and ammunition. He was also in the habit of bringing over for friends such commodities as Bologna sausages, salt tongues, or paving-stones. On one occasion he sent wainscoting and glass to the Earl of Ormonde, and 'rollers' for 'her headpieces or silke' for the queen. His house at Antwerp was now in the Long New Street, then the principal thoroughfare of the city. His clerk, Richard Clough, continued to represent him at Antwerp when he himself was in London. On one occasion Gresham stayed abroad for nearly a year continuously ; but his customary sojourns in the Low Countries did not exceed two or three months at one time. His letters to Cecil are often full of valuable political intelligence, warning him of the designs of Philip, of the dangers of a catholic coalition against England, and of the necessity of supporting the protestants in France and the Low Countries. Gresham's influence was great on 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 an audit of his account, and for four warrants for bucks 'against the Mercers' feast.' The first request was not rapidly complied with. He spent the following August and September in Antwerp, and his letters deal with the same topic. On 23 Sept. he sent word that he had despatched large quantities of warlike stores, which he had insured at five per cent. He spent the winter of 1561-2 in London, and on New-year's day he and his wife exchanged gifts with the queen. His present was 10l. in angels, enclosed in a knitted purse of black silk and silver.
Gresham was now inquiring into the management of the customs in London, and obtained from Clough (31 Dec. 1561) full particulars of the system in use at Antwerp, which he had so often successfully evaded. Clough showed that the queen's revenue from the customs might be increased by at least 5,000l. a year. Gresham was again in Antwerp for a few weeks in March 1562. On the 27th he appealed to the queen to reward his services as she had promised. Once more in Antwerp in the summer of 1562, he entertained there, from 7 to 16 Aug., Cecil's eldest son Thomas and his tutor, Thomas Windebank. They had come from Paris to see the principal towns of the Low Countries and Germany. He furnished them with money, and promised to look after the young man as if he were his own son. On a later visit to Antwerp (September 1563) he managed to satisfy all the queen's creditors except two, Brocktropp and Rantzom,who threatened him with arrest unless they received payment in cash. Gresham accordingly asked for 20,000l. to be sent to Antwerp by 20 Nov. to be coined there, a plan which he now considered more advantageous than paying by exchange. In the same letter, dated 3 Oct., he strongly remonstrates with Cecil upon a proposed reduction of his `diets,' detailing his various services to the queen, and not forgetting to mention his broken leg (ib. pp. 29-35). On the same day he addressed a petition on the subject to the queen.
In August 1566, Gresham, on his customary visit to Antwerp, took up loans amounting to 10,000l., and deferred the payment of others amounting to 32,000l. On this visit the Prince of Orange entertained him at dinner, and sounded him as to the likelihood of obtaining Elizabeth's support for his party ; but Gresham was too wary to commit himself. Before leaving Antwerp Gresham entertained the prince and princess at his house ` a little out of the town.' His acknowledged influence at court and his popularity with the citizens of Antwerp is shown by a memorial which the reformed church of that town addressed to him on 1 Feb. 1566-7. They asked his good offices with Elizabeth to avert the ruin with which the Low Countries were threatened by the wrath of Philip, and entreated that the latter might be brought to grant their request for liberty to worship God without molestation. On 2 March 1566-7 Gresham arrived at Antwerp on his final visit. He carried a large sum of money for the discharge of loans, and had interviews on his arrival with Marcus Perez, the chief of the protestant church, the Prince of Orange, and Count Horn. Perez inquired of him whether the protestant community would be tolerated as refugees in England. Gresham, when reporting the conversation to Cecil, added: 'If this religione hath not good success in this towne, I will assure you the most of all this towne will come into England.' On 14 March Gresham sent home a graphic account of the first battle, on the previous day, between the protestants and the forces of the Spanish regent, and of the general rising of the citizens of Antwerp (with the poet Churchyard at their head) which followed. He wrote again on the 17th, continuing the history of the disturbances. He seems to have finally left Antwerp on the 19th. Clough remained behind, and kept his master informed of all that went on until the spring of 1569, when he left Gresham's service to become deputy-governor of the merchant adventurers at Hamburg.
Gresham had many residences in England, where he henceforth resided permanently. His finest country house was at Mayfield, Sussex, once a palace of the archbishops of Canterbury, which he purchased early in life. The value of its furniture was estimated at 7,550l. On this estate he had some iron-smelting works. Another elaborate house, 'a fair and stately building of brick,' was at Osterley, Middlesex, standing in a park abundantly wooded and well watered. He came into possession of this property in 1562, but was long occupied in embellishing it. Before 1565 he set up mills on the estate for paper, oil, and corn, the paper-mills being the earliest of the kind in England. Subsequently Gresham purchased the manor of Heston, in which Osterley House stood. He had other houses at Intwood and Westacre, Norfolk, and Ringshall, Suffolk. The goods at Westacre were valued at 1,655l. 1s. In London Gresham lived at Gresham House, Bishopsgate Street, which he built a few years before 1566. The furniture there was valued at 1,127l. 15s. 8d. At Gresham House he dispensed a lavish hospitality, of which all classes were glad to take advantage. Cecil and his wife were Gresham's guests there in the summer of 1567. In September 1568 the Huguenot leader, Cardinal Châtillon, fled for safety to England, and Grindal, bishop of London, being unable to comply with the council's request to entertain him at Fulham Palace, Gresham received the cardinal and his suite at Gresham House, to which he conducted him from Gravesend on 12 Sept., accompanied by many distinguished citizens. Gresham proposed to take the cardinal to Osterley, but after a week the cardinal removed by the queen's appointment to Sion House.
At this time (1568) a quarrel was proceeding between the Spanish and English courts on account of the seizure by English merchants of large cargoes of Spanish treasure in English ports. The Duke of Alva, by way of reprisals, placed all Englishmen at Antwerp and elsewhere on Spanish soil under arrest, and in January 1569 sent over an agent named Dassonleville to demand restitution. The agent was committed to the custody of Alderman Bond in Crosby House; he requested to see the Spanish ambassador, who was also under arrest, and Gresham was directed to bring them together. On 22 Feb. 1568-9 an unsuccessful conference took place between Cecil, Sir Walter Mildmay, and Dassonleville at Gresham's house. To prevent the Spanish treasure falling into Alva's hands, Gresham proposed that the money should be coined for the merchants, and then borrowed of them by the government for two or three years on loan. This advice was acted on, and Gresham made the needful arrangements. A final settlement of the dispute was not arrived at till five years later, when it was arranged by Gresham and others to restore to Spain the arrested goods (ib. p. 308).
In April 1569 Gresham was requested by foreign protestants to go over with an English merchant fleet then sailing for Hamburg, which from this time took the place of Antwerp as a mercantile centre, and assist to take up a loan in their behalf in that city. The Prince of Orange and his party again sought Gresham's help in the summer of 1569, and asked him to raise a loan of 30,000l. on the queen of Navarre's jewels . The French ambassador, La Mothe, who had prevented any assistance being sent by the queen and her ministers, was alarmed, and saw no means of resisting Gresham's interference. La Mothe states that Gresham also secretly supplied the merchants in London with money, so that the greater part of the value of two cloth fleets sent to Hamburg (estimated at 750,000l.) never returned to this country in specie or merchandise, but remained in Germany to strengthen Elizabeth's credit on the continent. Gresham now advised the council to endeavour to obtain from the London merchants the loans for which they had hitherto depended upon foreign money-lenders. He was accordingly authorised to negotiate with the merchant adventurers, who, after some dilatory excuses, refused to comply. But a sharp letter, written by the council at Gresham's instance, procured in November and December a loan for six months of about 22,000l., in sums of 1,000l. and upwards, subscribed by various aldermen and others. An absolute promise of repayment, with interest at twelve per cent., was made, and bonds were given to each lender in discharge of the Statute of Usury, which forbade higher rate of interest than ten per cent. These loans when due were renewed for another six months, and the operation proved mutually advantageous. In 1570 and 1571 Gresham repeatedly complained, without much success, of the government's unpunctuality in paying off their loans. On 26 May 1570 he advised the raising of a loan of a hundred thousand dollars in Germany. On 7 March following he pointed out that if the queen's credit with the citizens were maintained by greater punctuality in discharging her debts, she could easily obtain 40,000l. or 50,000l. within the city of London. He also proposed that 25,000l. or 30,000l. of the Spanish money that still lay in the Tower should be turned into English coin. Gresham was henceforth compelled by increasing infirmity his leg was still troubling him to leave to agents the transaction of his foreign business. On 3 May 1574 he ceased to be the queen's financial agent. He sold his house at Antwerp on 14 Dec. 1574 for a cargo of cochineal, valued at 624l. 15s. (Relations politiques des Pays-Bas, vii. 386-7, Coll. de Chron. belges in-édites). He was only once again, in 1576, publicly associated with finance, when he was placed on a commission of inquiry into foreign exchanges. He contributed 80l. to the expenses of Frobisher's voyage in 1578 (State Papers, Dom. 1547-80, pp. 615, 621).
An investigation into the financial relations between Gresham and the government, made in the light of the pipe and audit office accounts, shows that Gresham incurred little or no personal risk as a government financier, that his profits were very large, and that his conduct was often open to serious misconstruction (cf. Mr. Hubert Hall's analysis of Gresham's accounts for 1562-3 in his Society in Elizabethan Age, pp. 65-9, App. pp. 161-2). Personal expenses were allowed on a generous scale, and he seems to have been permitted at times to apply government money in his hands to private speculations. When Gresham's employment ceased in 1574, his accounts had not been passed for eleven years. The subsequent audit at the treasury showed that he had received in the last ten years in behalf of the government 677,248l. 4s. 8¾d., and had expended 659,099l. 2s. l½d. Several items of personal expenditure were disallowed or reduced by the official auditor; but certain sums owing to Gresham at the last audit (in 1563) were acknowledged, and he finally found himself about 10,000l. in debt to the government. Gresham tried to wipe off this debt by claiming interest at twelve per cent., and exchange at 22s. 6d. on the sums admitted to be due to him from the previous audit. On this calculation he represented that the crown was in his debt to the large extent of 11,506l. 18s. 0¼d. This exorbitant demand was at once disputed by the commissioners. Gresham promptly obtained a duplicate copy of his accounts, and caused a footnote to be added to the document acknowledging the impudent claim for interest and exchange which had already been practically rejected. With this paper he set out for Kenilworth, where the queen was staying as the guest of Leicester. Through the good offices of her host Elizabeth was induced to allow the claim, and, fortified by the royal endorsement, Gresham obtained the signatures of the commissioners to his duplicate account, with its deceitfully appended note. The evidence is too complete to admit of a favourable construction being placed on this transaction.
During 1564 Gresham had suffered a crushing misfortune in the death of his only son, Richard, a young man twenty years old, who was buried in St. Helen's Church, Bishopsgate. This bereavement seems to have disposed him to devote his wealth to schemes for the public benefit. His father had contemplated erecting a bourse or exchange for the London merchants as early as 1537, and on 31 Dec. 1562 Clough had urged him to fulfil this object. But it was not till 4 Jan. 1564-5 that Gresham offered to the court of aldermen, through his servant, Anthony Strynger, to build at his own expense a burse or exchange for the merchants of London, if the city would provide a site. The offer was thankfully accepted, a committee was appointed to consider a site, and Gresham's intention of employing `strangers' in erecting the building was approved. The situation first selected was between Cornhill and Lombard Street, the old meeting-place of the merchants, but this was afterwards rejected in favour of the site occupied by the present structure on the north side of Cornhill. The wardens of the twelve principal livery companies were summoned to meet, and the aid of the merchant adventurers and staplers was also enlisted to raise the necessary funds for the purchase of the land, the latter companies being required to contribute four hundred marks within two months. The total cost of the ground was 3,532l. 17s. 2d., towards which twenty of the principal companies contributed 1,685l. 9s. 7d., subscribed by 738 of their members between March 1565 and October 1566, in sums rising from 10s. to 13l. 6s. 8d. Notice was served in Christmas 1565 upon the occupiers of the property required, and on 9 Feb. Gresham, while at the house of Alderman Ryvers, promised in the presence of many citizens that within a month after the burse should be fully finished he would present it in equal moieties to the city and the Mercers' Company. The foundation-stone of the new burse was laid by Gresham on 7 June 1566, and the timber used in its construction came from Battisford, near his house at Ringshall in Suffolk. The great bulk of the materials required, stone, slate, wainscot, glass, &c., were obtained by Clough at Antwerp, and a Flemish architect, named Henryke, whom Gresham in 1568 recommended to Cecil to build his house at Burleigh, was engaged to design the building and superintend its erection. The statues employed for the decoration of the interior were the work of English artists, with the exception of Queen Elizabeth's,which was procured from Antwerp (ib. pp. 107-21, 500-3). By November 1567 Stow tells us the building was covered with slate, and shortly afterwards fully finished.
The building was ready for the use of merchants on 22 Dec. 1568. Two contemporary engravings of the exterior and interior of the structure are reproduced by Burgon (pl. 8 and 9), and exhibit a striking likeness to the burse at Antwerp. It was built, like Gresham's own house in Bishopsgate Street, over piazzas supported by marble pillars, and forming covered walks opening into an open square inner court. On the first story there were also covered walks (known as the 'pawn'), lined by a hundred small shops, from the rents of which Gresham proposed to reimburse himself for the cost of the erection. A square tower rose beside the south entrance, containing the bell which summoned the merchants to their meetings at noon and at six o'clock in the evening. Outside the north entrance was also a lofty Corinthian column. On each of these towers and above each corner of the building was the crest of the founder, a huge grasshopper, and the statues already mentioned, including one of Gresham himself, adorned the covered walks. According to Fuller, Clough contributed to the expense of building the burse to the extent of some thousands of pounds; but his provision of the building materials from Antwerp on Gresham's behalf may have been mistaken by the writer for a personal outlay.
For more than two years the shops remained, according to Stow, 'in a manner empty;' but when Elizabeth signified to Gresham her intention of visiting him, and of personally inspecting and naming his edifice, Gresham busied himself to improve its appearance for the occasion. By personal visits to the shopkeepers in the upper `pawn,' he persuaded them to take additional shops at a reduced rent, and to furnish them with attractive wares and with wax lights. On 23 Jan. 1570-1, says Stow, the queen, attended by her nobility, made her progress through the city from Somerset House to Bishopsgate Street, where she dined with, Gresham. Afterwards returning through Cornhill, Elizabeth entered the burse, and having viewed every part, especially the 'pawn,' which was richly furnished with all the finest wares of the city, 'she caused the same burse by an herralde and a trompet to be proclaimed the Royal Exchange, and so to be called from thenceforth, and not otherwise' (Survey, ed. 1598, p. 194). Contemporary notices of this event occur in the accounts of the churchwardens of various London parishes. In those of St. Margaret's, Westminster, payments are recorded to the bell-ringers 'for ringing when the Queen's Majesty went to the burse' (cf. Nichols, Illustrations, &c., 1797). The ceremony forms the subject of a Latin play (Tanner MSS., Bodleian Library, No. 207), in five acts, entitled 'Byrsa Basilica, seu Regale Excambium a Sereniss. Regina Elizabetha in Persona sua sic Insignitum, &c.' The characters are twenty in number. The first on the list, `Rialto,' is intended for Sir Thomas Gresham ; Mercury pronounces the prologue and epilogue. The piece appears to be of contemporary date, and is signed I. Rickets. Another play, written by Thomas Heywood, describes the building of the burse. It is in two parts, entitled respectively, 'If you know not me, you know nobody, or the Troubles of Queen Elizabeth,' 4to, 1606 ; and `The second part of Queen Elizabeth's Troubles. Doctor Paries treasons: The building of the Royall Exchange, and the famous victory in ann. 1588,' 4to, 1609. The play is full of fabulous stories of Gresham, including the tale of his drinking the queen's health in a cup of wine in which a costly pearl had been dissolved. Another scene, for which there is probably more foundation, describes a quarrel between Gresham and Alderman Sir Thomas Ramsay, and their reconciliation by Dean Nowell (Gent. Mag. 1826, pt. i. pp. 219-21). The exchange soon became a fashionable lounge for citizens of all classes, and the shops in the upper walk or pawn fetched high rents, and were regarded as one of the sights of London. A record exists in the Inquest Book of Cornhill ward of the `presentment' of the exchange in 1574 for the disturbance occasioned there on 'Sondaies and holy daies' by the `shoutinge and hollowinge' of young rogues, that honest citizens cannot quietly walk or hear themselves speak (Burgon, ii. 355). Gresham's exchange was destroyed in the fire of 1666.
Gresham also contributed from his vast fortune to other public objects. At the close of 1574 or the beginning of 1575 he announced the intention, which he had long entertained, of founding a college in London for the gratuitous instruction of all who chose to attend the lectures. This roused the jealousy of his own university of Cambridge, and Richard Bridgewater,the public orator, wrote to Gresham on 14 March 1574-5, to remind him of a promise to present 500l. to his alma mater, either for the support of one of the old colleges, or the erection of a new one. This was followed by another letter on the 25th, with one of the same date to Lady Burghley (whose husband was chancellor of their university), asking her to use her influence with Gresham to prevent the establishment of a rival university in London. But Gresham did not change his plans. His town residence, Gresham House, was bequeathed to the college upon the death of Lady Gresham (cf. Gresham's will, dated 5 July 1575). The rents of the Royal Exchange were, with Gresham House, to be vested in the hands of the corporation of London and of the Mercers' Company, who were to appoint seven lecturers. The lecturers' salaries were fixed at 50l. per annum, and they were to lecture successively on the sciences of divinity, astronomy, geometry, music, law, medicine, and rhetoric. The professors were required to be unmarried men, and each was to be provided with a separate suite of apartments. The college did not prove very successful. Lady Gresham sought to divert its endowment after Gresham's death. In 1647 complaints of its management appeared (cf. Sir T. Gresham's Ghost, a whimsical tract). The fire of London, which destroyed the Royal Exchange, deprived it of its source of revenue; but the college escaped destruction, and there the corporation and other public bodies took temporary refuge. It was the first home of the Royal Society. In 1707 complaints of its management were renewed, and in 1767 the building, then in a ruinous condition, was sold under an act of parliament to the government for an excise office, for the small annuity of 500l. The Gresham lectures were thenceforth delivered at the Royal Exchange, till in 1841 the present Gresham College was erected at the corner of Gresham and Basinghall Streets. Gresham also built during his lifetime eight almshouses immediately behind his mansion, for the inmates of which he provided liberally in his will.
In June 1569 Gresham was entrusted with the custody of Lady Mary, sister of Lady Jane Grey [see Keys, Lady Mary], who had offended the queen by an imprudent marriage, in August 1565, with Martin Keys, the serjeant-porter, and had been in the custody since that date first of Mr. Hawtrey of Chequers, Buckinghamshire, and afterwards of the Duchess of Suffolk. Gresham, the lady's third gaoler, performed his duties strictly. He even asked Cecil's permission to allow his prisoner to put on mourning on the occasion of her husband's death. The restraint thus imposed on his movements and those of his wife became very irksome, and Gresham begged the queen to relieve him of the charge. He repeatedly requested Cecil or the Earl of Leicester to bear in mind his (and his wife's) 'sewte for the removing of my Lady Marie Grey.' On 15 Sept. 1570 he pleads that his wife `would gladly ride into Norfolk to see her old mother, who was ninety years old, and very weak, not like to live long.' His appeals cease in 1573, when it may be presumed that he obtained the sought-for relief (cf. Gresham's letter to the Earl of Leicester, 29 April 1572, Notes and Queries, 4th ser. x. 71).
Clough died at Hamburg in the summer of 1570, and left two wills. By the second he bequeathed to his master, Sir Thomas Gresham, all his movable goods, to discharge his conscience of certain gains which he had acquired when in his service. It is satisfactory to find that Gresham did not take advantage of this bequest, but that an earlier will was proved by which the property was left to Clough's relations.
Queen Elizabeth visited Gresham in August 1573 at his house at Mayfield. About May 1575 Gresham entertained her again at his house at Osterley. For her entertainment he exhibited a play and pageant written by his friend and Antwerp comrade, Thomas Churchyard (Churchyard, The Devises of Warre, and a play at Awsterley: her Highness being at Sir Thomas Gresham's), Fuller relates a well-known anecdote in connection with this visit. The queen 'found fault with the court of the house as being too great,' affirming that it would 'be more handsome if divided with a wall in the middle.' Thereupon Gresham sent at night for workmen from London, who worked so quickly and silently during the night that 'the next morning discovered that court double, which the night had left single before' (Worthies, ii. 35). During the queen's visit four 'miscreants' were committed to the Marshalsea for burning Sir Thomas's park pale.
One of Gresham's latest acts was to receive Casimir, prince palatine of the Rhine, on his visit to this country on 22 Jan. 1578-9. Stow describes his reception at the Tower by a party of noblemen and others, who conducted him, by the light of cressets and torches, to Gresham House. Gresham welcomed him with 'sounding of trumpets, drums, fifes, and other instruments,' and here he was lodged and feasted for three days.
Gresham died suddenly on 21 Nov. 1579, apparently from a fit of apoplexy, as he returned from the afternoon meeting of the merchants at the exchange. He was buried on 15 Dec. in the church of St. Helen, Bishopsgate, beneath a tomb which he had prepared for himself during his lifetime. According to the directions of his will his body was followed to the grave by two hundred poor men and women clothed in black gowns. His funeral was conducted on a scale of unusual splendour, the expenses amounting to 800l. His altar-shaped tomb of alabaster, with a top slab of black marble, is in the east corner of the church. Until 1736 it bore no inscription, but the following entry in the burial register was then cut into the top of the tomb: ` Sr Thomas Gresham, Knight, buryd Decembr the 15th 1579.' A large stained-glass window close by contains his arms and those of the Company of Mercers.
Gresham's character exhibits shrewdness, self-reliance, foresight, and tenacity of purpose, qualities which, coupled with great diligence and an inborn love of commerce, account for his success as a merchant and financial agent. Sir Thomas Chaloner describes him as 'a Jewell for trust, wit, and diligent endeavour' (Haynes, State Papers, 1740. p. 236). His conciliatory disposition is proved by the confidence reposed in him by ministers of state, and by his successful dealings with the Antwerp capitalists. His patriotism and benevolence are attested by his disposition of his property. As we have seen, he was not over-scrupulous in his commercial dealings. He profited by the financial embarrassments of his sovereign, and with the connivance, sometimes by the direct authority, of his own government made it his practice to corrupt the servants and break the laws of the friendly power with which he transacted his chief business. Gresham's culture and taste are displayed in the architecture of the exchange and of his private residences, and in his intimacy with the learned. Hugh Goughe dedicated to him, about 1570, his `Ofspring of the House of Ottomano,' and Richard Rowlands his translation of 'The Post for divers Parts for the World' in 1576. Gresham was author of 'Memorials' to Edward VI and Queen Mary, a manuscript journal quoted by Ward (Gresham Professors; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. vii. 416), and his letters are numerous. He also left a manuscript containing musical lessons and songs in English and Italian (Millington, Bibliotheca Massoviana, 1687, p. 63). In person he seems to have been above the middle height, and grave and courteous in his deportment.
Gresham married in 1544 Anne, the daughter of William Ferneley of West Creting, Suffolk, and widow of William Read, also of Suffolk, and a citizen and mercer of London. Read, who had died but a few months before, had been intimate with Sir Richard Gresham, whom he made overseer of his will. By his marriage Gresham became closely related, to the Bacons, his wife's younger sister Jane having married Sir Nicholas Bacon [q. v.], the lord keeper. Gresham's only son, Richard, was baptised on 6 Sept. 1544 at St. Lawrence Jewry, and died unmarried in 1564. In a letter from Antwerp, dated 18 Jan. 1553-4, Gresham mentions his 'powre wiffe and children,' but, with the exception of a natural daughter Anne, the name of no other child has been recorded. This daughter, whose mother is said to have been a native of Bruges, was well educated by Gresham, and brought up in his family, being afterwards married to Sir Nathaniel Bacon, Gresham's wife's nephew.
Lady Gresham, who, according to Fuller, was not on very amicable terms with her husband, died at Osterley House on 23 Nov. 1596. She was buried with unusual pomp at St. Helen's, Bishopsgate, on 14 Dec., the heralds who attended receiving 40l. as their fee.
Gresham's wills, dated 4 and 5 July 1575, were proved in the P. C. C. on 26 Nov. 1579, and are printed in Leveson-Gower's 'Genealogy of the Greshams' (pp. 80-5). He bequeathed Gresham House and the rents arising from his shops in the exchange to Lady Gresham during her life, and after her death to the corporation of London and the Mercers' Company in equal moieties for the support of his college. Besides provision for his almshouses, he also left 10l. a year to relieve poor debtors in each of the six London prisons, 100l. annually to the Mercers' Company for four quarterly feasts, and 10l. yearly to each of the four royal hospitals. Lady Gresham was left with a large annual income of 2,388l. 10s. 6½d., but she did her best to thwart her husband's intentions as to the subsequent disposition of his property. She refused to build a steeple for St. Helen's Church, which he had promised the parishioners, and twice attempted to saddle the rents of the exchange with charges for the benefit of her heirs.
The following are among the extant portraits of Gresham: 1. A full-length, traditionally ascribed to Holbein, but assigned by Scharf to Girolamo da Treviso. It was painted on the occasion of Gresham's marriage, and is inscribed with his age, his own and his wife's initials, and the date. Formerly in possession of the Thruston family, since presented to Gresham College, and preserved in the court-room of the Mercers' Company (Archæologia, xxxix. 54-5). Exhibited at Royal Academy (Cat. of Old Masters, 1880, 165). 2. A three-quarter length standing figure in Mercers' Hall, engraved by Delaram and others (cf. Lodge, Portraits). 3. By Sir Antonio More, engraved by Thew in 1792, now belonging to Mr. Leveson-Gower. 4. The Houghton portrait, also painted by More, and described by Horace Walpole as `a very good portrait.' It was engraved by Michel in 1779. The original is now in the Hermitage Gallery, St. Petersburg. 5. Similar to 3. From the Bedingfield Collection, now in the National Portrait Gallery. 6. In the possession of Sir John Neeld, and engraved in Burgon's 'Life of Gresham.' He is represented standing and holding in his left hand a pomander. 7. A small head and bust portrait in Mercers' Hall. 8. A half-length at Baynards, the seat of Mr. T. Lyon Thurlow. Exhibited at the Tudor Exhibition, 1890. 9. A small cabinet portrait at Audley End belonging to Lord Braybrooke, considered by some to represent Sir John Gresham, brother of Sir Thomas. 10. The Osterley picture, belonging to the Earl of Jersey, is said by Mr. Leveson-Gower not to be a portrait of Sir Thomas Gresham. 11-12. Two other portraits, belonging to Mr. Gower, are preserved at Titsey Place. 13. A small half-length, formerly belonging to Mr. Gresham, high bailiff of Southwark. Nos. 2, 3, and 4 are engraved in Leveson-Gower's 'Genealogy of the Family of Gresham.' There are full-length figures of Gresham in the stained-glass windows at the east end of Guildhall, in the Guildhall Library, and at Mercers' Hall. Lists of the engraved portraits of Gresham are given in Evans's 'Catalogue,' Nos. 4648-54, and in Granger's 'Biographical History,' i. 298. They include prints by Vertue (in Ward's 'Gresham Professors'), Faber, Hollar (in a view of the exchange), Benoist, Stent, Overtoil, J. T. Smith. Woodward, Picart, and a large number of smaller engravings, mostly taken from the Mercers' portrait. Besides the statue by Behnes in the tower of the Royal Exchange, and another at Mercers' Hall, there is a bust of Gresham, with an inscription, in the temple of British worthies at Stowe. A bust of Gresham occupies the obverse of the medal struck by W. Wyon in 1844 on the occasion of the opening of the third Royal Exchange. Gresham's steelyard, bearing his arms, is preserved by Mr. T. Lyon Thurlow at Baynards.
[Relations politiques des Pays-Bas et de l'Angleterre sous le règne de Philippe II … (Coll. de Chron. belges inédites), 1882-8, vols. i-viii., contain an extensive list of Gresham's letters and transcripts of or extracts from those of principal interest; Hall's Society in the Elizabethan Age, 1887, ch. v. and App. pp. 160-2, gives full references to sources of information in the Public Record Office; Leveson-Gower's Genealogy of the Family of Gresham, 1883, contains verbatim transcripts of wills and other family records; Hist. MSS. Comm., Cat. of the Hatfield MSS., passim; Davy's Suffolk MSS., Brit, Mus., lvii. 118 et seq.; Three Letters, written in 1560 and 1572, are printed in Notes and Queries, 4th ser. x. 71; Holinshed's Chronicle; Froude's Hist. of England, vols. v-x.; Extracts from the Records of the City of London … with other Documents respecting the Royal Exchange and Gresham Trusts, 1564-1825, privately printed, 1839; Extracts from the Journals of Parliament respecting the same, 1580-1768, privately printed, 1839; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabrigienses, 1858, i. 414-417,has a copious list of authorities; Fox Bourne's English Merchants, ii. 174-96; Ward's Lives of the Professors, 1740, the author's annotated copy in the British Museum; Gresham's Ghost, or a Tap at the Excise Office, 1784; The Life of Sir Thomas Gresham, 1845 (Knight's weekly volume); Richard Taylor's Letter to Sir R. H. Inglis on the Conduct of the Lords of the Treasury with regard to the Gresham Trusts, 1839; Burgon's Life and Times of Sir Thomas Gresham, 2 vols. 1839. This last work practically exhausts the information to be found in the State Papers, although it was published before the printed calendars appeared.]