HEATHCOTE, Sir Gilbert (1652-1733), of Low Leyton, Essex, and Normanton, Rutland.
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Family and Education
b. 2 Jan. 1652, 1st s. of Gilbert Heathcote of Chesterfield, Derbys. by Anne, da. of George Dickons of Chesterfield. m. 30 May 1682, Hester, da. and h. of Christopher Rayner, London merchant, 3s. 4da. suc. fa. 1690. Kntd. 29 Oct. 1702; cr. Bt. 17 Jan. 1733.
Vintner 1681, master of Vintners’ Co. 1700; director, E.I. Co. 1698-1704, 1705-9; director, Bank of England 1694-1709, gov. 1709-11, director 1711-23, gov. 1723-5, director 1725-d. (with statutory intervals); alderman, London 1702, sheriff 1703-4, ld. mayor 1710-11; col. Blue regt. 1707-10, 1714-d.; pres. Hon. Artillery Co. 1720-d.; pres. St. Thomas’s Hospital 1722-d.
Apprenticed to a merchant at 15, Heathcote traded in London as a Spanish wine merchant, having large transactions with the East Indies and with Jamaica, where he handled government remittances. He played an active part in founding the Bank of England of which he was twice governor. A staunch Whig under Queen Anne, in 1710 he was appointed one of the nine trustees of the Silesian loan to the Emperor for carrying on the war against France, to which he contributed £4,000. Shortly afterwards, he headed a deputation from the city against the dismissal of the Whig ministry.1
In the list of the 1715 Parliament prepared for George I, Heathcote is classed as a government supporter with the comment:
Homme fort riche. Il étoit lord maire de Londres du temps de procès de Sacheverell. C’est un homme fameux dans son espèce. Il est fort haï des Tories.
Informations were laid before the Government that in May 1715 Jacobite mobs planned to murder him and the other Whig magistrates and set fire to their houses.2 A frequent speaker on the government side, principally on trade matters, he said in the debate on the Address of 23 Mar. 1715 that, since the peace, imports from but not exports to France had increased, by which Britain was the loser. On 4 Apr. 1717, he supported Stanhope’s request for a vote of credit against Sweden, declaring that the King of Sweden had seized British ships, had refused to make satisfaction, and was now fomenting civil war in England. He supported the Address on 11 Nov. 1718, and on 7 Jan. 1719 he spoke for the repeal of the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts. In December 1721, while opposing the bill for prohibiting commerce with countries infected with the plague, he declared, in allusion to the Jacobites, that ‘he believed the plague has always been more or less in London; he was very sure it had been always so, since he came to it’. He seconded a motion on 18 Mar. 1725 to recommit the articles of impeachment against Lord Macclesfield, the father-in-law of his nephew William.3 In March 1731 he was given leave to introduce a bill to prevent suits for tithes, which reached a second reading, and in April he opposed a proposal to take off the duty on Irish yarn. He was instrumental in the foundation of the colony of Georgia, speaking in favour of its establishment in May 1732, and obtaining support for the proposal from his fellow directors of the Bank.
One of the richest commoners of his time, with a fortune estimated at £700,000,4 he purchased large estates in the counties of Lincoln and Rutland, including Normanton, where he built the manor house. He was not ‘curious to inquire’ into his ancestors, believing it ‘more a man’s business to look forward and retrieve, than to look backward and repine’.5 A plain-speaking, self-made man, with a reputation for avarice,6 he incurred the hatred and ridicule of some of his contemporaries. Pope wrote in his Moral Essays:
The grave Sir Gilbert holds it for a rule
That every man in want is knave or fool,
and put him into the Dunciad as starting
From dreams of millions; and three groats to pay.
The 1st Lord Egmont remarked that the Ostend Company would never have been set up (in 1722) ‘had it not been for the avarice ... of Sir Gilbert Heathcote and the rest’ of the East India Company assistants, who refused the Emperor a reduced rate of interest on the Silesian loan.7 Made a baronet in January 1733, he died a week later on 25 Jan., ‘the father of the City’.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. E. D. Heathcote, Heathcote Fam. 79-80, 238; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxi. 88; Marlborough Dispatches, ii. 396; Luttrell, vi. 9, 24, 28, 594; Wentworth Pprs. 120.
- 2. Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1714-19, p. 235.
- 3. Chandler, vi. 14-15, 117-18; Stuart mss 56/32A; Knatchbull Diary.
- 4. HMC Egmont Diary, i. 163, 184, 274; Gent. Mag. 1732, p. 975; 1733, p. 47.
- 5. Heathcote Fam. 238-9.
- 6. See Swift, Corresp. v. 9; Pope, A Master Key to Popery.
- 7. HMC Egmont Diary, iii. 322.