Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 23.djvu/151

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

pears 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