SCAWEN, Thomas (c.1649-1730), of St. Stephen Walbrook, London, and Carshalton, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. c.1649, 7th s. of Robert Scawen† of Horton, Bucks. by Catherine, da. of Cavendish Alsop of London, merchant; bro. of Sir William Scawen*. m. 8 Sept. 1691, Martha (d. 1766), da. of Abraham Wessell, Eastland merchant, of London, 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 6da. (1 d.v.p.). Kntd. 25 Sept. 1714.
Apprentice, Fishmongers’ Co. 1671, freeman 1679, livery 1685, asst. 1704, prime warden 1708–10; alderman, London 1712–d.
Member, Russia Co. 1699; dir. Bank of England 1705–d. (with statutory intervals), dep.-gov. 1719–21, gov. 1721–3.1
Trustee, receiving loan to Emperor 1706.
Although taking second place in commercial circles to his elder brother William, Scawen established himself as a considerable merchant in his own right. Like his brother, his fortune was made in the textile trade, particularly that to the Low Countries. By 1694 he was sufficiently wealthy to subscribe £6,000 to the Bank of England, and four years later advanced £4,000 to the inaugural fund for the New East India Company. These investments suggest firm support for the Whig administration, and thus he may plausibly be identified as the brother of Sir William Scawen whom, in April 1698, the Treasury earmarked for immediate preferment. Thomas Scawen failed to gain office, however, and did not seek to serve in any noteworthy public capacity until 1704, when he was ‘prevailed upon by the W[hig]s’ to stand election for the London shrievalty. He was duly returned as sheriff, but fined off, and actually paid £100 to escape the burdens of this office for life. In contrast, he was elected in 1705 for the first time to the board of the Bank, and remained a director, statute permitting, until his death.2
Scawen finally revealed parliamentary ambitions in 1708 by standing for Grampound, the Cornish borough which both his father and elder brother had represented. He secured an unopposed return, and his success was cited as a Whig ‘gain’ by Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*). In the ensuing Parliament he proved a most inactive member, failing to make any significant contribution to Commons business. He maintained the party line, however, backing the naturalization of the Palatines in early 1709, and a year later voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. Also in 1710, he signed an address from the London lieutenancy to the Queen which was strongly Whiggish in tone. At the general election of 1710 he appears to have relinquished his seat with little concern, since his replacement at Grampound, Thomas Coke*, who had been firmly identified with the Whigs during the 1708 Parliament, was returned without challenge. This, and Scawen’s vote in favour of the Whig candidates at the City poll of 1710, indicate that political considerations seem not to have influenced his decision to stand down.3
Although now out of the House, Scawen actually gained greater prominence under the Tory ministry of Robert Harley*. In April 1711 he comfortably retained his seat on the Bank’s directorate despite the administration’s campaign to undermine Whig control. His City prestige was further enhanced when he became alderman for Cornhill ward in January 1712, defeating Samuel Ongley* by 14 votes at the wardmote. However, his prior refusal to serve as sheriff ensured that he never gained the mayoralty, even though he later became the senior alderman below the chair. In 1713 the Board of Trade twice acknowledged his commercial prowess by seeking his advice on the settlement of Dutch trade. At the London election of that year he stood as one of the anti-ministerial candidates, lauded as one of the ‘wealthy and eminent merchants’ opposed to the French commerce treaty. Despite amassing 3,625 votes, he finished bottom of the poll, and, alongside his electoral allies, petitioned the Commons against the return, but without success.4
The accession of George I saw an immediate change in Scawen’s political fortunes. He quickly gained recognition at court, being honoured with a knighthood in September 1714, and successfully contested the City election of 1715, finishing fourth. A parliamentary list subsequently identified him as a Whig, and he became involved with the London club which sought to advance the party’s electoral interest in the capital. Thereafter, he generally supported the administration, but did not seek re-election in 1722. In that year, on the death of his brother Sir William, a ‘vast estate’ passed to his eldest surviving son, Thomas†, which commanded a significant electoral interest in Surrey. Scawen himself moved to Sir William’s Carshalton home, whence he vigorously promoted his son’s political career, investing in Surrey properties, and actively supporting Thomas’ candidacy for the Surrey contest of 1727. Scawen died on 22 Sept. 1730 at Carshalton, but was buried at Horton, Buckinghamshire, where his family had held the manor since 1658. His fortune ensured his offspring much prestige, and among his sons-in-law he counted John Trenchard†, Sir John Shelley, 4th Bt.†, and (Sir) Nathaniel Mead†. Furthermore, his heir Thomas married the daughter of Hon. James Russell*, and their son James† also represented Surrey.5
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Perry Gauci
- 1. IGI, Cornw. London, Surr.; College of Arms mss K.9, pp. 136–7; G. W. J. Gyll, Wraysbury, 223; Guildhall Lib. ms 5576/2, p. 223; 5587/1 (unfol.); Trans. Amer. Phil. Soc. li. 109; N. and Q. clxxix. 60; Boyer, Anne Annals, iv. 127.
- 2. G. S. De Krey, Fractured Soc. 145; De Krey thesis, 500; Cal. Treas. Bks. xiii. 74; Add. 70076, newsletters 27, 29 June 1704.
- 3. Add. ch. 76120; London Poll of 1710.
- 4. Daily Courant, 14, 16 Apr. 1711; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 715; Hist. Reg. Chron. 1730, p. 60; Jnl. Commrs. of Trade and Plantations 1708–14, pp. 406, 461; Boyer, Pol. State, vi. 189–90, 287.
- 5. London Rec. Soc. xvii. 45; Boyer, Pol. State, xxiv. 541–2; xl. 337; PCC 223 Marlborough, 290 Auber; HMC 14th Rep. IX, 518; Gyll, 219–20, 263.