Sir Thomas SMYTHE of Fenchurch Street, Knight

Born: ABT 1558, Weston Hanger, Kent, England

Died: 4 Sep 1625, Sutton-at-Hone, Kent, England

Buried: St John The Baptist Church, Sutton-at-Hone, Kent, England

Father: Thomas "Customer" SMYTHE (Sir)

Mother: Alice JUDDE

Married 1: Joan HOBBS

Married 2: Judith CULVERWELL

Married 3: Sarah BLOUNT (C. Leicester)


1. John SMYTHE (Sir)

2. Robert SMYTHE

3. Margaret SMYTHE

4. Thomas SMYTHE

The details in this biography come from the History of Parliament, a biographical dictionary of Members of the House of Commons.

Born ABT 1558, third, but second surviving son of Thomas Smythe of Westenhanger, Kent by Alice, dau. of Sir Andrew Judde; brother of John and Richard. Educ. Merchant Taylors’ 1571. He married first Judith Culverwell, dau. and heiress of Richard Culverwell, s.p.; secondly Joan Hobbs, dau. and heiress of William Hobbs, s.p.; and thirdly Sarah Blount, dau. and heiress of William Blount, by whom he had three sons and one daughter. Sarah remarried Robert Sidney, 1nd Earl of Leicester. Kntd. 13 May 1603. Freeman, Skinners’ Co. by 1580, Haberdashers’ Co. by 1580, master, Haberdashers’ 1599-1600; customer of London, auditor 1597-8, alderman 1599-1601, sheriff Nov 1600-Feb. 1601; capt. of city trained bands; treasurer, St. Bartholomew's hosp. 1597-1601; trade commr. to negotiate with the Dutch 1596, 1598, 1619, with the Empire 1603; member of Merchant Adventurers; gov. Muscovy Co. by 1600; member of Levant Co., gov. by 1600; gov. E.I. Co. 1600-1, 1603-5, 1607-21; gov. North West Passage Co.; treasurer, Virginia Co. 1609-19; gov. of Somers Is. Co. 1615-d.; Ambassador to Russia 1604-5; jt. receiver of duchy of Cornwall Apr 1604; receiver for Dorset and Somerset May 1604; commr. for navy reform 1619.

In 1588, he lent £31,000 to Queen Elizabeth and raised the necessary funds for her to finance the English fleet which would destroy the Spanish Armada.

In the 30 years ending with the death of James I, Smythe was overseer of virtually all the trade which passed through the port of London. He had two outstanding examples: his maternal grandfather, Sir Andrew Judde, was a leading city merchant and lord mayor in the middle of the sixteenth century, and his father, "Customer" Smythe, whose shrewd judgment and financial acumen brought him a fortune in the city, and a position among the county families of Kent. Still, it is not easy to follow his career in the years before the turn of the century. As well as his father, who died in 1591, there was at least one other London merchant of the same name. It is clear, however, that he was already well established in his own business during his father's lifetime, presumably with the latter's financial backing. By the end of the century he had three strings to his bow. He occupied a prominent position in the city; he took the lead in the new trading and colonizing companies which were becoming such a marked feature of the commercial life of the period; finally, as his list of offices shows, he put his experience to use in the government's service.

In 1597 Smythe had his first experience of the House of Commons when he was returned for Aylesbury, a seat previously occupied by his father and his elder brother, through his family's long-standing friendship with the Pakingtons. He was named to a committee on the poor law, 22 Nov 1597, and could have served on one about the highways near Aylesbury, 11 Jan 1598. Others of his committees included those concerned with maltsters (12 Jan); two alien merchants (13 Jan); the sale of the lands and goods of one John Sharp presumably a merchant to pay his debts (20 Jan); and the reformation of abuses in wine casks (3 Feb).

In 1596, he was knighted for bravery by Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex at Cadiz, and served as sheriff of London from 1600-1601. Smythe also served with Essex in Ireland in 1599, and was an acknowleded friend of his.

In the midst of his many successes, Smythe's career nearly came to an abrupt and fatal halt: he found himself deprived of the shrievalty of London, after being in office for only three months, and in prison under suspicion of being implicated in Essex's abortive coup d'état of Feb 1601. On the 14th of that month the Privy Council informed the lord mayor that Smythe had ‘forgotten his duty to her Majesty’ and that the city would have to elect a new sheriff. On the same day he was placed in the custody of the Archbishop of Canterbury and a fortnight later, on 2 Mar, he was put in the Tower. His defence was a complete denial of the charges against him. He said that he had had no communication with the Earl for nine years until the day in question. He denied prior knowledge of the plot. It is surprising that he escaped with a period in prison and a heavy fine.

With the new reign his return to favour was rapid. James I knighted Sir Thomas Smythe at the Tower of London in May 1603, he was shortly afterwards employed as Ambassador to Russia. As well as recovering his position as governor of all the important trading companies, he played a leading part in new trading ventures in Virginia, in Bermuda and in search of the North West Passage, and financed several voyages of exploration. He was also a leading adviser to the government on commercial and naval matters. His activities during these years, both in furthering trade and in encouraging the foundation of colonies, has led one historian to allot to him a ‘unique position among the founders of the Empire’. He eventually retired to an estate he had purchased at Sutton-at-Hone, Kent, where he died 4 Sep 1625.


Nichols, Progresses

G. E. Cokayne, Lords Mayors and Sheriffs of London, 1601-25

Beaven, Aldermen
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