JANSSEN, Sir Theodore, 1st Bt. (c.1654-1748), of Wimbledon, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. c.1654, 1st s. of Abraham Janssen of Angoulême, France by Henrietta Manigaut. m. 26 Jan. 1698, Williamsa (with £12,000), da. of Sir Robert Henley, M.P., of the Grange, Hants, 5s. 3da. Kntd. 26 Feb. 1698, cr. Bt. 11 Mar. 1715.
Director, Bank of England, with statutory intervals, 1694-9, 1700-1, 1707-11, 1718-19; director, South Sea Co. 1711-18, 1719-21.
Theodore Janssen, of a Flemish Protestant family settled in France, came to England in 1680, and was naturalized in 1684. He became one of the most eminent merchants and financiers of his time, a founding director of both the Bank of England and its rival, the South Sea Company, as well as a founder of the new East India Company. From 1695 he was among the chief contractors for remittances to the army abroad.
Janssen was over 60 when he entered the House of Commons as a Whig in 1717, voting for the Government on the repeal of the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts but against them on the peerage bill in 1719. He was defeated at the election of South Sea directors in 1718, but unfortunately for himself was reinstated on the board in 1719. When the frauds began to come out in 1721 he and the other directors with seats were expelled from the House, committed to the custody of the serjeant-at-arms, and examined by the committee set up to investigate the affair. Questioned as to an account showing that £574,000 South Sea stock had been disposed of to unnamed persons, he said that when the account in question had been laid before the Company’s committee of treasury, of which he was a member,
an objection being made that blanks were left for the names of the buyers of this stock, the late sub-governor and Mr. Knight [the cashier] said there were reasons for passing the account in that manner; and that the stock was disposed of to persons whose names were not proper to be known to a great many; but at a fit time a perfect account thereof should be made up; and that, if the bill did pass, the stock would be well sold.
On the introduction of the bill confiscating the property of the directors and other guilty parties for the relief of their victims, Janssen petitioned the House for lenient treatment on the ground that
he had by his industry acquired an estate of near £300,000 before the late scheme was thought of; that he had no hand in the contriving or carrying on the said scheme; but often opposed the methods of proceeding in the execution thereof; that he knew nothing of taking in or holding any stock for any person, without a valuable consideration paid, or secured, or of any difference paid upon such stock.1
He also applied to Walpole, asking for his ‘kind and powerful assistance’, and to Humphry Morice:
I little expected to give trouble to my friends upon so doleful an occasion as I now find myself involved in, but my case is so very hard, even beyond that of any other of the directors, having a numerous family unprovided for, and given an account of my whole estate without concealing any part of it, hoping thereby to have better quarter, that I am under a necessity to implore my friends’ kind assistance and to beg the favour of them to be next Thursday at the House of Commons when my case is like to come under consideration. You’ll oblige me, therefore, to be there and to concur with those who shall endeavour to procure me a subsistence something answerable to the number of my children and to the estate I was possessed of before this unhappy undertaking.2
When his case came up on 2 June 1721, Walpole’s brother, Horace, seconded by Sir Richard Steele, proposed that he should be allowed to keep £50,000 out of an estate valued at £243,000, which was carried after some debate by 134 to 118. In fact he appears to have kept £100,000 out of an estate worth £300,000.3
Besides losing most of his fortune Janssen, with the other directors, was statutorily disqualified from sitting in Parliament or holding public office. He died 22 Sept. 1748, aged 94.