Thomas was born around 1558, probably In London, the son of Thomas Smythe and Alice (Judde) Smythe. The precise date and place of his birth is unknown. Unlike 11 of his twelve siblings, his baptism was not recorded in the parish register of All Hallows, Lombard Street, London. Thomas was recorded in the Visitation of London in 1568 as the son of Thomas Smythe esq. and Alice, daughter of Sir Andrew Judde, aged 8 years and 9 months and hence born perhaps in 1558 or 1559. However, his brother John, was recorded as being less than 9 months older suggesting the ages may not be particularly accurate. However, as John was baptised in Sep 1557 and Thomas' younger sister, Joan, was baptised in Oct 1560, Thomas was most likely born in 1558 or 1559.
Thomas Smythe was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School.
Trade was in his blood and he joined the Haberdashers’ Company and Skinners’ Company. He became a captain of the Trained Bands of London (the London Militia) and was appointed one of the Sheriffs of London Nov 1599 to Feb 1600/1601. However, his office as Sheriff was curtailed in the aftermath of the attempted insurrection against the Crown by the Earl of Essex at which point Smythe was committed to the Tower.
It is presumed that he was the Thomas Smith of Kent who was knighted on 13 May 1603 at the Tower of London. NB Others have suggested that Thomas was the Thomas Smyth knighted on the Cadiz Expedition in 1596.
A particularly interesting episode in the life of Thomas occurred in 1604-1605 when he acted as the English Ambassador to Russia to encourage the nascent trade with Russia. The journey was captured in a travelogue of the day.
He met King James I at Greenwich on 10 Jun 1604 and then embarked with his party on the 'John' and other ships at Gravesend on 12 Jun. The journey to Archangel took 40 days. The Ambassador's party traveled south by river and then by land, reaching the city of (Yerri-Slave) Yaroslavl on 19 Sep 1604. The party then entered Moscow on horseback on 04 Oct 1604 and a grand meeting took place with the Emperor of Russia (Boris Feodorovich Godunov, Boris I) on Oct 11th. However, a rebellion in Russia commenced shortly after the meeting which would have occupied much of the Emperor's time leaving the Ambassador’s party to overwinter in Moscow. The rebels were defeated (temporarily) on 08 Feb 1604/1605. A second meeting with the Emperor took place on 10 Mar 1604/1605 in which it was established that peaceful relations and trade between Russia and England were to continue.
On 20 Mar the Ambassador departed from Moscow (‘almost weeping’) to begin the journey north to Archangel. After passing through Yaroslavl and arriving at Vollagde they heard the news of the Emperor’s sudden death. The story is then told how the Emperor’s son committed suicide as the rebels gained support with Dimitriy Ioannovich (known as false Dimitry) becoming the new Emperor. The new Emperor wrote to the English party to indicate his support for peace and trade between Russia and England. On the 28 May 1605 the Ambassador’s party took to the ships at Archangel and, after an eight day wait for the wind, they were able to set sail and return to England.
Archer described Thomas Smythe's extensive mercantile activities.
The East India Company was granted its first charter in 1600. Thomas Smythe became its first Governor and was involved with the company through to 1621.
Smythe was the leading mover of the Virginia Company, as Treasurer, raising funds for the colonization of this new land. This aspect of career has been well documented elsewhere. Interestingly, between 1613 and 1616, three 'Virginians out of Sir Thomas Smith's howse' were buried at St Dionis Backchurch, London.
Smythe also participated in trading with Russia (Muscovy company) and the Levant.
Thomas Smythe was involved in many other aspects of society. He was a member of Parliament on a number of occasions . In 1604 he and his brother Richard were appointed receivers for the Duchy of Cornwall. For a period he acted as Commissioner for the Royal Navy and was involved in maintaining a fleet for the suppression of piracy.
His extensive involvement in trade appears to have led to his interest in exploration and he is remembered for posterity in the names of places around the world.
Indeed, while Archer concentrates on Thomas Smythe as one of the great merchants of his day, he concludes his lecture with “Smythe’s place in the intellectual life of early modern London is worth thinking about. He can be seen as a patron of applied science. Not only did he sponsor Hood’s mathematical lectures, but he was also the dedicatee of John Woodhall’s treatise on naval surgery. Just what kind of house did he preside over? By the 1610s his mansion in Philpot Lane was thronged with the investors in the Virginia Company and prospective colonists, who would also have seen the city tycoons who ran the trading companies whose boards met under his roof. What did they make of the exotica of international travel, like the Inuit canoe suspended from the ceiling of the great hall? And what kind of colonial encounters took place in the exchanges between the English visitors, and the Hottentot and native Americans receiving instruction? We can but speculate, but the evidence puts Smythe among London’s thirsters for knowledge and seekers after curiosity.”
Thomas Smythe was committed to charitable causes and continued to support the Judd School at Tonbridge (see the will of Sir Thomas Smithe) founded by his grandfather, Sir Andrew Judde.
Thomas Smythe married three times. His first marriage was to Judith Culverwell, daughter of Richard Culverwell a wealthy merchant of the City of London. The will of Richard Culverwell, Mercer of London, made on 01 Dec 1584, with a Codicil of 01 Feb 1585/1586 and proved on 18 Feb 1585/1586 indicated that his daughter, Judith, was unmarried on 01 Dec 1584 but had married by 01 Feb 1585/1586. In the Codicil the Testator recorded that he had promised to pay his son in law, Thomas Smith, gent, £1000, for the preferment of his daughter, Judith. It is probable that Thomas married Judith Culverwell at St Martin in the Vintry, the City of London parish of Richard Culverwell. There are no known records for St Martin in the Vintry prior to 1617.
Thomas married secondly Jeene Hobbes on 21 Apr 1588 at St Michael Bassishaw, City of London.
There is no known issue from the first two marriages.
In the will of his father, the will made on 22 May 1591 and proved on 29 October 1591 Thomas was bequeathed £100.
Thomas was a co-Executor of the will of his mother, Alice, the will made on 10 Jul 1592. This detailed will made no reference to any children of Thomas and hence it is assumed that he had no living children at this time. His mother made a charitable bequest to the Company of Skinners for support of six almshouses founded by her father, Sir Andrew Judde (six times Master of the Skinners), at St Helen's Bishopsgate, London. Thomas himself became an important benefactor of the school at Tonbridge, Kent, which Sir Andrew Judde had founded.
His third marriage was to Sara Blount on 20 Dec 1594, also at St Michael Bassishaw, City of London. The marriage to Sarah Blount is known to have yielded two sons, John (the eldest) and Thomas. They were recorded in the will of Sir John Smythe, elder brother of Sir Thomas Smythe, the will made on 16 Mar 1607/1608 and proved on 25 May 1609.
However, in the will of Sir Thomas Smythe, John Smythe was the only issue of Sir Thomas Smythe that was recorded suggesting that his second son, Thomas, had predeceased him. Indeed, A "Mr Thomas Smyth, son of Sir Thomas Smith, Knight", was buried at St Dionis Backchurch, London in 1618.
Stocker suggested that Sir Thomas Smythe had a further son and a daughter but as yet no evidence has come to light to substantiate this.
Sir Thomas Smythe was recorded in the Smythe pedigree taken during the Visitation of Kent in 1619 in which he was noted as having been married to Judith Culverwell and Sarah Blount. Thomas was also recorded in the Smyth pedigree taken in London in 1633-1635.
NB There are trees elsewhere that link Sir Thomas Smythe as the father of Christopher Smith of Burnley, Lancashire. However, there is no evidence at all that Sir Thomas Smythe had a son Christopher.
A portrait of Thomas Smythe as a young man, painted by Ketel in 1579, is believed to exist in a private collection.
Of a series of paintings produced by Brangwyn in the first decade of the 20th Century for the great hall in London of the worshipful Company of Skinners one depicts the departure of Sir James Lancaster for the East Indies in 1594. "In front, upon the steps of a jetty at Deptford, near the home of Sir Thomas Smythe, that worthy skinner, is bidding ‘good voyage’ to his brother of the Guild, Sir James Lancaster".
The image of Sir Thomas Smythe attached to this profile is from an engraving by Simon de Passe in 1616 which was published in John Woodall's The Sirgion's Mate (1617).
Sir Thomas Smythe died on 04 Sep 1625 and was buried in the parish church of Sutton-at-Hone in Kent.
There is a substantial monument within the church at Sutton at Hone to Sir Thomas Smythe. The inscription reads:
To the glorie of GOD and to ye pious Memorie of the honble Sr THOMAS SMITH, Kt, late GOVERNOR of ye East Indian, Moscovia, French, & Sommer Iland Companies; Treasurer for the Virginian PLANTATION, Prime VNDERTAKER (in the year 1612) for that noble Designe the Descoverie of the NORTH WEST PASSAGE. Principal COMMISSIONER for the London expedition against ye PIRATES, & for a Voiage to ye Ryver SENEGA upon ye Coast of AFRICA. One of ye cheefe Commissioners for ye NAVIE ROIAL, & sometyme AMBASSADOVR from ye Matie of Gr. Brit. to ye Emperovr and Great Duke of RVSSIA & MOSCOVIA &c. Who having judiciously conscionably, & with admirable facility managed many difficult & weighty Affaires to ye honour & profit of this NATION, rested from his labour the 4th day of Septem. 1625, and his Soul returning to Him that gave it, his body was here laid up in ye hope of a blessed Resurrection.
On a slab below:
From those large KINGDOMES where the SVNN doth rise: From that rich newe found world that Westward lies: From VOLGA to the flood of AMAZONS: From under both the POLES, on all the ZONES: From all the famous RYVERS, LANDES & SEAS, Betwixt this PLACE and our ANTI=PODES He gott intelligence what might be found To give contentment through the massie ROVND. But finding Earthly things did rather tire His Longing SOVL, then answer her desire: To this obscured VILLAGE he with drewe, From hence his Heavenlie VOIAGE did persue. Here summed up all, And when his GALE of Breath Had left Becalmed in the PORT of DEATH The Soul's fraile BARK (and safelie landed her, Wher FAITH his FACTOR and his HARBINGER, Made place before) he did no doubte obtaine That wealth wch here on Earth we seek in vain.
In his will made on 30 January 1621/1622 (with a codicil of 04 Sep 1624) and proved 12 October 1625, he was recorded as Sir Thomas Smithe of London, Knight.
The first part of the will was concerned with charitable bequests. He granted lands, messuages tenements etc. in Paulesgate at the west end of Watling Street in the City of London, and messuages/tenements in Lynestreete, London to the Company of Skinners. He willed that the rents from these bequests should be used for particular charitable purposes. He specified that the Skinners should provide monies to parsons or churchwardens in three parishes in Kent, who in turn should provide one loaf of bread per week to the poor of their respective parishes; namely to six poor people in Bidborough, twelve in Tunbridge, and six in Spelhurst. The Skinners should also each year provide good cloth to the 24 poor people to make winter garments.
He similarly required the Skinners to provide monies for a weekly loaf of bread for six poor people in the parish of Otford, six in Sutton at Hone, and five in Durrant, parishes also in Kent.
He required ten pounds to be paid annually to the chief Schoolmaster of the free school of Tunbridge and five pounds to the Usher of the same school.
He specified that ten pounds per year should be paid to each of six scholars from the free school of Tunbridge to study divinity at the Universities.
Concerning the rest of his manors, messuages, houses, lands, tenements etc. one half was granted to his wife, dame Sara Smithe for and during the term of her natural life, and after her decease unto his son Sir John Smithe. The other half was granted to his son, Sir John Smithe. If Sir John Smithe should die without issue then he willed that various parts of the estate should pass to particular nephews. The lands etc. were mostly in Kent in the parishes of Bidborough, Tunbridge, Pentherst, Spelhurst, and Lewisham with his estates of Otford Park (in Otford Sevenoaks and Seale) and Cottington (near Sandwich), with additional estates of Saltang Grange (in Kinningham, Yorkshire) and Halstead in Essex. The nephews named were:
Thomas Smithe of Ostenhanger, Kent, son and heir of Sir John Smithe his late brother, deceased;
Thomas Smith son of his brother Sir Richard Smithe, Knight;
John Smith son of his late brother Robert Smith, deceased;
Thomas Ffanshawe son of Lady Ffanshawe ;
Sir Thomas Butler and Oliver Butler, sons of his sister Ursella Butler;
Sir Arthur Harris son of his late sister Alice Harris, deceased;
Thomas Ffanshaw and William Ffanshaw sons to his sister Joane Fanshaw.
As concerning the rest of his personal estate including goods, chattels, leases, plate, jewels, ready money, debts etc. he specified that, in accordance with the custom of the City of London, these should be divided into three parts: one part to his wife dame Sara Smithe; one part to his son Sir John Smithe and the third part to be divisible by Sir Thomas Smithe himself. This third part was used for a number of bequests including that at the time of his burial the executors of his will should provide good cloth to the value of £100 to be given to poor people in most need; sums were bequested to the four hospitals in or near the City of London, namely St Bartholomews hospital, Christe hospital, the hospital of Bridewell, and St Thomas hospital in Southwark; and bequests to his servants. Bequests were also made to family members as follows:
to the children of his sister Mistress Joane Ffanshawe to each of them a ring of five pounds price;
to the children of his late sister Ursula Butler to each of them a ring of five pounds price;
to his sister the Lady Ffanshawe the sum of twenty pounds, and to her children to each of them a ring of five pounds price except her son Richard Ffanshaw his godson to whom he gave the sum of ten pounds;
to Lady St Leger his goddaughter the sum of twenty pounds, and to every one of the rest of the children of his late sister the Lady Katherine Hayward alias Scott to each of them a ring of five pounds price;
to the children of his late sister the Lady Alice Harris, deceased to each of them a ring of five pounds price;
to his nephew Thomas Smith of Ostenhanger, son and heir of his late brother Sir John Smith, Knight, deceased, the sum of two hundred pounds to buy him a coach and coach horses, and to his two sisters Katherine the Lady Baker and Elizabeth the Lady Nevell fifty pounds each;
to the children of his late brother Henry Smithe, deceased, to each of them a ring of five pounds price;
to his brother Sir Richard Smith the sum of twenty pounds, and to his wife the Lady Smith the sum of ten pounds;
to Sir John Smith the son of his brother Sir Richard Smith, the sum of ten pounds, and to the other children of his brother Sir Richard Smith, to each of them a ring of five pounds price;
to his nephew John Smith, son of his late brother Robert Smith a ring of five pounds price.
He concluded with bequests to various other persons and organizations including the sum of £500 to the “company of merchants in London for discovery of new trades commonly knowne by the name of the Muscovia Company, who have testified their love for me many yeeres” for and toward the payment of such debts that were due by the said company upon the old joint stock, and £100 to the companies for the “plantacon in Virginia and the Somer Ilands commonly called the Virginia companie and the Bermudaes Company” to be equally divided between those two companies towards the building of two churches, one for each plantation.
All the rest and residue of his personal estate was to pass to his wife dame Sara Smith and his son Sir John Smith.
His wife dame Sara Smith, son Sir John Smith, brother Sir Richard Smith and friends Sir David Watkins and Mr Nicholas Crispe, were nominated executors.
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