SOAME, Sir Stephen (c.1544-1619), of London.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. c.1544, 2nd s. of Thomas Soame of Bestley, Norf. by Anne, da. and h. of Francis Knighton of Little Bradley, Suff., wid. of Richard Le Hunt of Little Thurlow. m. Anne, da. of William Stone of London and of Segenhoe, Beds., 4s. 5da. Kntd. 25 Apr. 1599.1
Master, Girdlers’ Co. ?1568; alderman, London 26 June 1589, sheriff 1589-90, ld. mayor 1598-9, president, Bethlehem and Bridewell hospitals 1598-9; surveyor-gen. of London hospitals 1609-10, comptroller-gen. 1610-d.2
Soame came from a minor Norfolk family, established there since the fifteenth century. He was at first a member of the Girdlers’ Company, but, when he was elected lord mayor he transferred to the Grocers’ Company, to the chagrin of the Girdlers, who removed his arms from their hall. From his early years in London his main interest was probably the cloth trade. In November 1589 the Privy Council wrote on his behalf to the Merchant Adventurers, asking that he should either be admitted to the Company, or be made at least a temporary member for five years, so that he could regain the losses he had suffered in exporting cloth to the Low Countries. As his wealth increased he began moneylending. He was one of the creditors of Sir Walter Leveson and in 1590, was instrumental in having him imprisoned for debt.3
Soame was named to the committee for the assurance of certain manors, 9 Dec. 1601; to that concerned with policies of assurance used amongst merchants (11 Dec.) and to that about prisoners in Ludgate (12 Dec.). He spoke thrice: on St. Bartholomew’s hospital (17 Nov.); on the painters and plasterers of London (12 Dec.) and in support of a bill to give the city power over the liberty of St. Katharine’s (14 Dec.):
Mr. Speaker, I say to you, these privileges are the very sink of sin, the nursery of naughty and lewd people, the harbour of rogues, thieves and beggars, and maintainers of idle persons; for when our shops and houses be robbed, thither they fly for relief and sanctuary, and we cannot help ourselves.
In addition, as one of the London Members, he could have sat on the committees to consider the penal laws (2 Nov.), the order of business (3 Nov.), setting watches (7 Nov.), customs regulations (10 Nov.), procedure (11 Nov.), cloth workers (18 Nov.), monopolies (23 Nov.), felt makers (26 Nov.), the local government of London (4 Dec.), cloth (4 Dec.), the relief of Theophilus Adams (5 Dec.), the assize of fuel (7 Dec.), Thames watermen (8 Dec.), iron ordnance (8 Dec.), the maintenance of the navy (9 Dec.), silk weavers (10 Dec.), and printers and printing (17 Dec.).4
By the end of the sixteenth century Soame was principally an Eastland merchant. As lord mayor he was chairman of the first meeting of merchants to discuss the formation of the East India Company; he promised £200 on his own behalf for the first voyage, and a further £400 in conjunction with Richard Carter. With the decline of the Eastland trade in the first decade of the seventeenth century, he transferred his main interests to the Levant. As a cloth exporter looking for new markets he was a leading supporter of Cokayne’s project, which was aimed at breaking the monopoly of the Merchant Adventurers. But, although he was an early adherent, he failed to take up his quota of cloths immediately. He had been allotted 300 cloths, but by September 1616 had bought only 80 of them; he made good his default in the following months by exporting 716 cloths, but by then the project was failing.5
A large part of the profit Soame gained from trade must have been invested in land. At his death in 1619 he had accumulated enough land in the six counties of Cambridge, Essex, Hertford, Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk to provide each of his four sons with a landed estate. He chose as his own seat Little Thurlow in Suffolk, where he built and endowed nine almshouses, and a free school. The school was to be open to Suffolk children, who were to be taught English, Latin, writing and arithmetic. In his will he also left money to be used for charitable works in London. He bequeathed £100 to enable the Grocers’ Company to provide 24 wheaten loaves each Friday for the poor prisoners in the Poultry Counter, and further small sums to provide bread weekly, for a year, for the prisoners in the other London prisons. During his lifetime he ‘re-edified and newly glazed the great north window of St. Paul’s cathedral’, and he spent £500, in 1617, on re-roofing the Grocers’ hall. ‘Sir Stephen Soame, our ancientest alderman’ wrote John Chamberlain, ‘died on Trinity Sunday [23 May 1619] and left a great estate behind him of better than £6,000 land and £4,000 goods’. This estimate of Soame’s landed wealth may be correct, but his personal estate was worth more than Chamberlain believed. Soame thought that if all his ventures abroad were successful, and his debts in London collected, his personal estate would be above £40,000. His will was proved on 26 Jan. 1620. He was buried in Little Thurlow church, where a monument was erected to him. His heir was his son Sir William.6