GRESHAM, Sir Richard (by 1486-1549), of London.
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Family and Education
b. by 1486, 3rd s. of John Gresham of Holt, Norf. by Alice, da. of Alexander Blyth of Stratton, Norf. m. (1) Audrey (d. 28 Dec. 1522), da. of William Lynne of Southwick, Northants., 2s. 2da.; (2) Isabella, da. of John Warsop of London, wid. of one Taverson. Kntd. by 16 Nov. 1537.3
Warden, Mercers’ Co. 1524-5, master 1532-3, 1538-9, 1548-9; auditor, London 1530-2, 1538-40, sheriff 1531-2, alderman 1536-d., mayor 1537-8; gent. usher extraordinary by 1533; j.p. Norf. 1538-d., Yorks. (E. and W. Ridings) 1540-d., Suff. 1543-d.; commr. of Admiralty in Nov. 1547.4
In 1507 Richard Gresham was admitted to the freedom of the Mercers’ Company after completing his apprenticeship under John Middleton, the son of a 15th-century Member for London of that name. He immediately began to export cloth, starting with 17 cloths in his first year but steadily increasing his trade both inwards and outwards until in 1519-20 he imported customable goods worth nearly £5,000. Although he sometimes dealt directly with more distant countries, his commercial activity centred on the Netherlands. There he became one of the most prominent of English merchants, a man important enough to receive a safe conduct in 1528 when Englishmen and their ships were arrested in reprisal for the arrest of the imperial ambassador in England. It does not appear that he was ever governor of the Merchant Adventurers. A reference in the Mercers’ Company records, which has been taken as evidence of his governorship in 1522, should probably not be so interpreted; and while it appears from the repertories of the City that he was elected in 1527, there was such dissension ‘whether that the election of Richard Gresham to be governor be good or not’ that the mayor and aldermen were forced to intervene to keep the peace.5
Some of the Merchant Adventurers clearly distrusted Gresham’s subservience to Wolsey. His ties with the cardinal and support for the Amicable Grant in 1525 had also made him unpopular with his own Company, of which he was nevertheless three times master. His whole public career was to be based on close contact with successive regimes. In the 1520s and early 1530s he provided tapestries for Hampton Court and York Place as well as silks and satins for the royal household and ropes and cables for the navy. Later he acted as financial agent for the crown, advising on matters of exchange in 1538, transmitting funds to royal servants in the Netherlands, providing bills for half of the 40,000 ducats promised by the King to the Emperor in 1543 and raising money in Antwerp for the French war.6
Early in 1536 Gresham was one of those who helped Paul Withypoll to promote the Act (27 Hen. VIII, c.12) regulating the manufacture of woollen cloth which was passed in the last session of the Parliament of 1529, and when five years later John Winchcombe alias Smallwood* and other clothiers complained of the Act the Council summoned Gresham and the other ‘setters forth’ of the measure to argue in its defence. His share in its promotion, and the inclusion of a proviso safeguarding his purchase of two manors from the 5th Earl of Northumberland in an Act of the same session (27 Hen. VIII, c.47), raise the possibility that Gresham had been by-elected to Parliament by the beginning of 1536. He could scarcely have sat for London, for although the name of Sir Thomas Seymour I’s replacement is not known, Seymour had occupied a seat reserved for an alderman, and Gresham had yet to become one; but he could have come in for one of the boroughs where the names of the Members by-elected are unknown. If he did join the Parliament for its last session, he is likely to have reappeared in its successor of June 1536 in accordance with the King’s request for the re-election of the previous Members. By then, moreover, he had become an alderman and thus eligible for the seat previously unavailable to him, so that he could have transferred to it if for any reason its previous occupant did not retain it.7
Gresham became mayor of London in 1537. At the election of sheriffs which preceded the mayoral election his brother John Gresham had been chosen, whereupon John Gostwick suggested to Cromwell that he should be mayor so that the two could serve together, ‘and as good for him to be mayor this year as the next year’. The King then wrote requiring the City to choose Gresham, and although he had been an alderman for only one year he was elected: it was to be seven years before so junior an alderman was again successful. Cromwell was one of the 400 guests invited to the mayoral dinner and within a few weeks Gresham received the knighthood customarily bestowed on the mayor.8
During his mayoralty Gresham revived the scheme to build a bourse in London. His plan to erect one in Lombard Street for £2,000 was blocked by George Monoux, who first refused to part with the land involved and then, after both the King and Cromwell had declared their support, delayed the transaction. The bill ‘for the bourse’ introduced in the Lords by Cromwell during the first session of the Parliament of 1539 failed after it had been sent to the Commons, where Gresham must have argued its case unsuccessfully, and the project had to wait for realization by his son. After the dissolution Gresham received a letter about the collection of the subsidy which he had helped to grant. He was also to sit in the Parliament of 1545, being elected on 10 Nov. after the resignation through ill-health of Sir William Forman, who had himself been elected in place of (Sir) William Roche. On both occasions Gresham had Paul Withypoll as one of his fellow-Members.9
By the end of his life Gresham had built up a landed estate valued at £800 a year. He had a house in Milk Street, in the parish of St. Lawrence Jewry, London, where he was assessed at 4,000 marks for the subsidy of 1540, and a mansion at Bethnal Green; he also kept a house furnished in each of the three counties, Norfolk, Suffolk and Yorkshire, in which most of his lands lay. Much of his property in Norfolk he bought privately, but elsewhere he acquired monastic land from the crown, including in 1540 the house and site of the dissolved abbey of Fountains in Yorkshire, and six years later property in the city of York. The Suffolk manor of Bavent Combes, which he had formerly leased from its monastic owners, he was granted in 1544, when he also acquired two manors in Cheshire and one in Shropshire which he disposed of to Sir Rowland Hill. By his will, made on 20 Feb. 1549, Gresham left one third of his estate to his wife and rather more to his elder son John, and to his younger son Thomas lands in Norfolk and Yorkshire worth £95 a year. He named as executors his brother Sir John Gresham, his son-in-law (Sir) John Thynne and Paul Gresham, and as overseer Sir Rowland Hill. He died on 21 Feb. 1549 and was buried three days later in the church of St. Lawrence Jewry. Two sardonic poems marking his death testify to the feelings aroused by his activities as a moneylender and land grabber.10
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: Helen Miller
- 1. E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
- 2. City of London RO, Guildhall, rep. 11, f. 244.
- 3. Date of birth estimated from admission to freedom of Mercers’ Company. G. Leveson-Gower, Fam. Gresham, 161-3; DNB; C1/930/2; LP Hen. VIII, xii.
- 4. Acts Ct. of Mercers’ Co. ed. Lyell and Watney, 684; Mercers’ Co. acts of ct. 1527-60, ff. 47v, 112, 222; City of London RO, jnl. 13, ff. 238, 280; 14, ff. 47, 102v, 148v; rep. 9, f. 178; LP Hen. VIII, ii, xiii-xxi; CPR, 1547-8 to 1548-9 passim; HCA 14/2.
- 5. List of freemen, T/S Mercers’ Hall; E122/80/4, 5, 81/8, 82/3, 9 ex inf. Prof. P. Ramsey; LP Hen. VIII, ii-iv; O. de Smedt, De Engelse Natie te Antwerpen, i. 176; ii. 76, 89, 404, 428, 469, 483; Bronnen tot de Geschiedenis van den Handel met England, Schotland en Ierland, ed. Smit, 229; Acts Ct. of Mercers’ Co. 537; City of London RO, rep. 7, f. 213v.
- 6. City of London RO, rep. 7, f. 213v; Hall, Chron. 699; G. Cavendish, Wolsey (EETS ccxliii), 176; LP Hen. VIII, iii-xxi; E36/171, f. 30; CSP Span. 1542-3, pp. 428, 444-5; APC, i. passim; de Smedt, ii. 87, 118, 389, 479, 544; Elton, Policy and Police, 307-8; Reform and Renewal, 119; S. T. Bindoff, The Fame of Sir Thomas Gresham (Neale Lecture in Eng. Hist. 1973), 8-9.