Heathcote, Gilbert (DNB00)

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HEATHCOTE, Sir GILBERT (1651?–1733), lord mayor of London, born at Chesterfield about 1651, and descended from an ancient Derbyshire family, was eldest son of Gilbert Heathcote, alderman of Chesterfield, by Anne, daughter of Thomas Dickens. He graduated B.A. in 1669 and M.A. in 1673 from Christ's College, Cambridge (Grad. Cantabr. 1823, p. 227), and was living in London in 1682 in the parish of St. Dunstan's-in-the-East. He afterwards carried on business as a merchant in St. Swithin's Lane; traded in Spanish wines and other produce in 1690–2 (Cal. of Treasury Papers, 1556–1696, pp. 112, 244), and had large transactions with Jamaica, furnishing remittances on behalf of the government for the troops there (ib. 1702–7, pp. 448, 491–2). His trade with the East Indies was equally extensive. In 1693 the ship Redbridge, of which he was part owner, being detained at the instance of the East India Company, which claimed a monopoly of the trade with India, he asserted at the bar of the House of Commons his right to trade wherever he pleased, unless restrained by parliament. The house declared by resolution against the company's monopoly (Macaulay, Hist. of England, iv. 476). Heathcote actively promoted the bill for a new East India Company, subscribed 10,000l. of its capital, and served both as a director and as one of a committee of seven to arrange matters with the old company (Hatton, New View of London, 1708, pp. 603–4; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 403, 485). Strype relates that at a meeting, held in London about 1698, of the company of Eastland merchants (of which Heathcote was governor in 1720), Peter the Great was present, and was addressed by Heathcote ‘in high Dutch’ with reference to the importation of tobacco into his dominions (Stow, Survey of London, ed. Strype, 1720, bk. v. p. 262).

Heathcote was one of the founders of the Bank of England, and in 1694 was elected by ballot one of its first board of directors (Luttrell, iii. 342). By the act of parliament extending the Bank's charter to 1710, Heathcote's gain as a capitalist was stated to be 60,000l. (Francis, Hist. of the Bank of England, i. 69, 80, 94). He was appointed one of nine trustees in 1710 of the city loan to the emperor of 250,000l. for carrying on his war against France, himself contributing 4,000l. (Marlborough Dispatches, ii. 396; Luttrell, vi. 9, 24, 28). On the dismissal of Sunderland from the secretaryship in 1710, Heathcote, as governor of the Bank of England, headed a deputation to the queen to represent the injurious effects which any further changes in the ministry would have upon public credit, an intention which the queen disclaimed in her reply (Stanhope, Queen Anne, pp. 426–7; Luttrell, vi. 594).

Heathcote's ample fortune gave him leisure for public work. He was a common councilman for Walbrook ward in 1690 (A List of the Names of the Court … of Common Council, for the year 1690), and became alderman of the same ward 30 June 1702. At the following lord mayor's feast (29 Oct.) he was knighted by the queen, who dined at Guildhall (Maitland, Hist. of London, i. 503). He was elected sheriff on midsummer-day 1703, having been fined in 1698 for declining to serve the office (Luttrell, iv. 401). In 1710, being next in seniority for election as lord mayor, he was strongly opposed by the court party, who objected to the remonstrance he addressed to the queen, but the court of aldermen finally elected him (ib. vi. 637). On account of his unpopularity the procession to Westminster on 30 Oct. was curtailed, and he rode on horseback, the livery companies attending him by water in their barges (ib. p. 648; Noorthouck, Hist. of London, p. 299). During his mayoralty he unsuccessfully opposed a motion in the court of common council to address the crown in congratulation upon the negotiations which resulted in the treaty of Utrecht (ib. p. 302). He removed on 16 March 1724 to the ward of Bridge-Without, becoming senior alderman and father of the city. He was also colonel of the blue regiment of the trained bands (Luttrell, vi. 188), treasurer and vice-president of the Honourable Artillery Company, president of St. Thomas's Hospital, and master of the Vintners' Company in 1700. He was appointed a commissioner for the colony of Georgia in October 1732, and obtained much support for the proposal from his fellow-directors of the Bank of England (Gent. Mag. 1732, pp. 975, 1032). On 17 Jan. 1732–3 he was created a baronet.

Heathcote served in parliament during four reigns. On his first election for the city of London in 1700 he was expelled the house for being concerned as a trustee for circulating exchequer bills contrary to an act of William and Mary (Commons' Journ. xiii. 351–2). He was re-elected in the following November, and represented the city until 1710. In 1714 he was elected for Helston, Cornwall, in 1722 for New Lymington, and in 1727 for St. Germans, Cornwall. He was a staunch whig, and used his influence with the merchants of London in support of Godolphin's administration. In 1731 he introduced without success a bill to lighten the pressure of tithes. (For contemporary criticism of the measure in the ‘Craftsman,’ ‘Fog's Journal,’ and other papers, see Gent. Mag. i. 240–1.) In a pamphlet entitled ‘An answer to the Remarks upon the Bill … concerning Tythes,’ 1731, and dedicated to Heathcote, his action was highly commended. Horace Walpole condemns Catherine Macaulay's praise of Heathcote, and calls him ‘a paltry, worthless Jacobite’ (Letters, v. 7, 42).

Despite his wealth Heathcote was noted for his parsimony. Writing to Strype the historian in December 1712 he complained of the charge of a few shillings as fees for the burial of his own brother (see Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. Cole, 5853, p. 270). Pope, who was opposed to him in politics, severely characterises him as ‘starting … from dreams of millions, and three groats to pay’ (Dunciad, bk. ii. 251–2). In the ‘Essay on Man’ (Ep. iii. 44), the line ‘The fur that warms the monarch warmed a bear’ had in the manuscript ‘Sir Gilbert’ for ‘the monarch.’ In his ‘Moral Essays’ (Ep. iii. 101–2) Pope again writes:

The grave Sir Gilbert holds it for a rule
That every man in want is knave or fool.

His unpopularity with the lower orders was thus increased. On 29 May 1715 the mob during disturbances in the city is said to have designed the murder of Heathcote and other magistrates, and the burning of their houses (Cal. Treasury Papers, 1714–19, p. 235). In 1728, when returning from the House of Commons, his coach was stopped in St. Paul's Churchyard, and he was robbed by thieves, who were lying in wait for Queen Caroline (Allen, Hist. of London, ii. 32).

Heathcote had a house called Forest House at Low Leyton, Essex, which was afterwards sold by his descendants (Lysons, Environs, 1796, iv. 164). He also purchased from the Mackworth family the seat of Normanton in Rutlandshire, described by Dyer in his ‘Fleece’ as ‘the selected walk of Heathcote's leisure.’ He died 25 Jan. 1733 at his house in St. Swithin's Lane in his eighty-third year. He was buried at Normanton, where a monument by Rysbrach, with an inscription, is erected to his memory (Betham, Baronetage, iii. 220).

His fortune was estimated at 700,000l., and he was reputed the richest commoner in England. He bequeathed 500l. to St. Thomas's Hospital and 500l. to the poor of Chesterfield, and a legacy to the Rev. Dr. Johnson, who cured him of an ulcer in his leg. He married in 1682 (license granted 30 May) Hester, daughter of Christopher Rayner, a London merchant, by whom he had a son, Sir John, his successor, and two daughters—Anne, married to Sir Jacob Jacobson, and Elizabeth, who married Sir Sigismond Trafford of Dunston Hall, Lincolnshire. His descendant, Sir Gilbert John Heathcote, was created Baron Aveland 26 Feb. 1856. Lady Heathcote died in 1714, and was buried on 6 Oct. in Low Leyton Church.

Heathcote's portrait in civic robes is preserved in the court-room of St. Thomas's Hospital, and another in three-quarter length is said to remain at Conington Castle, Huntingdonshire.

[Glover's Hist. of Derby, pt. i. vol. ii. p. 328; City records; Burke's Peerage; Gent. Mag. 1733, p. 47; Stow's, Maitland's, Allen's, and Noorthouck's Histories of London; Lysons's Environs of London, vol. iv.; Beauties of England and Wales, vol. xii. pt. ii. p. 122; Le Neve's Pedigrees of Knights (Harl. Soc.), viii. 481; Marriage Licences (Harl. Soc.), xxiv. 161; Hist. of Chesterfield, p. 269; Historical Register, vol. xviii. Chron. Diary, p. 10; Lives of the Lord Mayors, Guildhall Library MS. 18; London and Middlesex Archæological Society's Transactions, iii. 464–6; Raikes's Hist. of the Honourable Artillery Company, vol. i.; Pope's Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, ii. 403, iii. 139, iv. 332; Parliamentary Return of Names of Members of the House of Commons; Macaulay's and Stanhope's Histories of England.]

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