EDMONDES, Thomas (c.1563-1639), of Albyns, Romford, Essex and Holborn, London.
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Family and Education
b. c.1563, 5th s. of Thomas Edmondes of Fowey, Cornw., head customer of Plymouth, by Joan, da. of Anthony Delabere of Sherborne, Dorset. m. (1) May 1601, Magdalen (d.1614), da. of Sir John Wood, clerk of the signet, 1s. 3da.; (2) Sept. 1626, Sara (d.1629), da. of James Harington I of Exton, Rutland, wid. of Francis, Lord Hastings, Sir George Kingsmith and Edward, 11th Baron Zouche. Kntd. 1603.3
Agent or ambassador in France 1592-6, Apr.-June 1597, July 1598-June 1599, 1600, June-Aug. 1601, 1610-16, 1617, June-Sept. 1629; envoy to Brussels Dec. 1599; ambassador to Brussels 1604-9; secretary for the French tongue May 1596; clerk of PC 1600; comptroller of the Household Dec. 1616; PC Dec. 1616; treasurer of the Household Jan. 1618; custos rot. Mdx. 1619; clerk of the Crown, King’s bench 1620.4
The younger son of an obscure west country family, Edmondes apparently began his career as secretary to Sir Henry Unton.5 Physically small, Edmondes was sometimes called ‘the little man’, though without disrespect, for he made up in character what he lacked in stature, and he came to be regarded with something like awe in diplomatic circles. He understood the French too well for their own liking, and once even the veteran secretary Villeroy, described by George Carew as ‘the dean in chapter of all the statesmen in Christendom’, expressed the hope that Edmondes would be employed elsewhere, a compliment he would have appreciated. Sir Robert Cecil described him laconically as ‘trusty and sufficient’, and he received many other tributes in the course of his long career. His correspondence still testifies to his achievements. Twelve manuscript volumes survive among the Stowe mss, providing a valuable source for diplomatic affairs and for the internal history of France.6
Edmondes’s first embassy to France, which began in 1592, was both strenuous and costly, for, while Henri IV was striving to subdue the kingdom, the ambassadors were constrained to follow him from camp to camp, sharing the dangers and discomforts of a civil war, even campaigning in the winter. Edmondes received a diet of only 20s. a day, and even this was not regularly paid. As early as 1593 he complained to Burghley that he had not ‘the means wherewith to put a good garment on my back, to appear in honest company; my horses the most part spoiled and spent, what by accidents and the length of time; and generally [I] never suffered in my poor particular the like extremity of penury’. Ottiwell Smith supplied him with £2,000, and £200 over and above the Queen’s allowance, but Edmondes’s correspondence contains pitiful complaints of his debts, his miserable state, his ‘unableness to subsist’, and his inability to serve longer. Finally recalled, he was rewarded with the post of secretary for the French tongue, at a salary of £66 13s. 4d., and received a testimonial from Henri IV, who wrote to the Queen, ‘I recommend him to you with all my heart, which is more yours than mine’. This was not the only occasion on which the French King praised him to Elizabeth.7
During this four-year embassy in France, Edmondes wrote frequently to the Earl of Essex as well as to Burghley, for it was at least in part due to Essex that he did not suffer even greater penury there. Nevertheless, in November 1595 he was said to be more a servant of the lord treasurer than of Essex, and for this reason one of the Earl’s supporters styled him ‘a mere Judas’ and ‘more corrupt than any Jesuit’. Edmondes is alleged to have held the opinion that
the Earl would spoil everything and ruin himself, as being much more proper for throwing a court into disorder, than contributing to its order; and never was nor would be long without being involved in some troubles at court.8
Though Edmondes had returned home praised by Henri IV and rewarded by Queen Elizabeth, Burghley greeted him with a ‘chastisement’ so that he ‘was fain to beg for compassion’. He protested that he had
ever borne as reverend a mind towards him [Burghley] as any man can do, and although in seeking to avoid that charge which he knew to be too much for him, he incurred Burghley’s displeasure, yet he [had] never carried himself undutifully or lewdly, nor ... participated in other factions.
He wished to be excused from returning to France, because ‘the misery of the times’ had compelled him to spend all he possessed and all that his friends could raise. In this letter Edmondes describes the minimum equipage with which an ambassador could follow the King of France, driving home the point that it cost far more than the Queen allowed. Later that summer he again applied to Burghley, ‘being otherwise undone and a miserable wretch’. Nevertheless, Edmondes went back to France in October, and again in 1597 and 1598.9
He was returned to Parliament for Chippenham in 1597 at the instance of Sir Walter Mildmay, but when he was ordered abroad another man was substituted, apparently without a formal by-election. When Edmondes returned to England in June 1599, it was again with the highest recommendation, this time from Sir Henry Neville, who wrote to the Queen:
I should be very ungrateful if I should not yield a true testimony unto this gentleman [about] his knowledge of the affairs of this state, which I assure your Majesty to be very exquisite, and his judgment and sufficiency such withal, as I hold him to have been a worthy minister of your Majesty’s here, and to be very able to do you good service wheresoever it shall be your gracious pleasure to make further use of him.
The Queen’s gracious pleasure was to send him to Brussels, as a ‘messenger of peace’ to the Archduke Albert, governor of the Netherlands. The Duke being unwilling to send peace commissioners to England, as the Queen desired, Edmondes went to France and arranged for a peace conference to be held at Boulogne. He was himself one of the commissioners who spent from May to July at Boulogne in an attempt to end the long war with Spain, but the negotiations foundered at the outset over a question of precedence.10
It was during this attempt to arrange a peace conference that Edmondes was appointed a clerk of the Privy Council. The rest of his diplomatic career—which was considerable—falls outside the Elizabethan period. Between his various embassies he was frequently a Member of Parliament. His election for Liskeard in 1601 was evidently due to the patronage of Sir Robert Cecil, who was probably given the nomination by Jonathan Trelawny, steward of the borough.
Through his first wife Edmondes acquired Albyns, near Romford, where Inigo Jones built him a house. His wife died while they were in Paris in 1614, and his only son was an alcoholic. Edmondes spent ten years in retirement before he died on 28 Sept. 1639, aged about seventy-six.11