Sir Thomas Smythe, MP

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Thomas Smythe, MP

Also Known As: "Thomas Smith"
Death: Died in Sutton at Hone, Kent, England, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas "Customer" Smythe and Alice Smythe
Husband of Sarah Sidney
Father of Sir John Smythe
Brother of Sir Arthur Smith, Kt.; Ursula Smythe; Sir John Smythe, MP, of Westenhanger; Alyce Harris; Sir Richard Smythe, MP and 8 others

Managed by: Adam Robert Brown
Last Updated:

About Sir Thomas Smythe, MP

SMYTHE, Thomas II (c.1558-1625), of Fenchurch Street, London and Sutton-at-Hone, Kent.

Family and Education

b. c.1558, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Thomas Smythe I of Westenhanger, Kent by Alice (d.1593), da. of Sir Andrew Judd; bro. of John I and Richard. educ. Merchant Taylors’ 1571. m. (1) Judith, da. and h. of Richard Culverwell, s.p.; (2) Joan, da. and h. of William Hobbs, s.p.; (3) Sarah, da. and h. of William Blount, 3s. 1da. Kntd. 13 May 1603.2

Offices Held

  • 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 1619.3


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 Judd, 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.4

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.).5

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 February 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. The principal evidence against him related to Essex’s visit to his house in Fenchurch Street on the morning of Sunday, 8 Feb., the day on which the Earl attempted to seize power. When examined, several of Essex’s followers claimed that the Earl expected Smythe, using his position as captain of the trained bands, to raise the city in his support. Sir Christopher Blount, later executed for his part in the plot, reported that Essex had received sympathetic messages from the city on the previous evening and that he, Essex, had often mentioned that Smythe could bring him 1,000 loyal men when he needed them. It was claimed by other witnesses that Smythe visited Essex House on the evening of the 7th, that he had also reiterated his loyalty to the Earl through Edward Bromley, and that he knew of the rising by 5 o’clock on the Sunday morning at the latest. A number of people saw Essex’s arrival at Smythe’s house and observed them talking in the street outside. Some of these claimed that the sheriff urged Essex to go and seize Ludgate and Aldgate, where he would send him arms very shortly. Clearly there was much for Smythe to explain. 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 the conversation with Bromley and disclaimed prior knowledge of the plot. When pressed about the meeting with Essex at his house—an incident witnessed by many—he told them that he merely passed on a message from the lord mayor and then left home by the back door. It is surprising that he escaped with a period in prison and a heavy fine.6

With the new reign his return to favour was rapid. Knighted 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 Sept. 1625.7

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Arch. Cant. xx. 76 seq.; Nichols, Progresses Jas. I, i. 120.
  • 3. DNB; Arch. Cant. xx. 82 seq.; G. E. Cokayne, Ld. Mayors and Sheriffs of London, 1601-25, pp. 4-5; Beaven, Aldermen, ii. 47; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 72; 1603-10, pp. 93, 112, 114; CSP Col. ii. 238; W. Scott, Jt. Stock Cos. to 1720, ii. 250, 257, 262; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 185-6; xvii. 69, 433; APC, 1618-19, pp. 174, 434; Voyages of Wm. Baffin, ed. Markham (Hakluyt Soc. lxiii), intro. ii-ix.
  • 4. Camb. Hist. British Empire , i. 75; APC , xxvi. 451-2; DNB; HMC Hatfield , x. 236, 329; CSP Col. ii. 100, 117; APC , xxx. 732; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 72.
  • 5. D’Ewes, 561, 577, 578, 579, 583, 592.
  • 6. APC , xxxi. 155, 157, 158, 196; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, 1601-3, passim; SP12/278/57, 58, 59, 60, 68, 75, 83, 93; 279/3, 8, 10, 30, 58; HMC Hatfield , xi. 48-9.
  • 7. Camb. Hist. British Empire , i. 75


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Thomas Smith (East India Company) From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia "Thomas Smythe" redirects here. For other uses, see Thomas Smythe (disambiguation).

Sir Thomas Smith or Smythe (1558?–4 Sep 1625)[1], was an English merchant and politician. He was the first governor of the East India Company.

Sir Thomas Smythe

Early life

Smith, born about 1558, was the second surviving son of Thomas "Customer" Smythe of Ostenbanger (now Westenhanger) in Kent, by his wife Alice, daughter of Sir Andrew Judd.

His grandfather, John Smythe of Corsham, Wiltshire, is described as yeoman, haberdasher, and clothier. His father carried on the business of a haberdasher in the city of London, and was ‘customer’ of the port of London. He purchased Ostenhanger off Sir Thomas Sackville and much other property from Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and was buried at Ashford, where there is a beautiful monument to his memory[2]. His elder son, Sir John Smythe or Smith (1556?–1608) of Ostenhanger, was high sheriff of Kent in 1600, and was father of Thomas Smythe, 1st Viscount Strangford.

Business career

Thomas, one of thirteen children, was brought up to his father's business. In 1580 he was admitted to the freedom of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers and also of the Worshipful Company of Skinners. He rapidly rose to wealth and distinction. He was Auditor fro the city from 1597 to 1598 and Treasurer of St Bartholomew's Hospital from 1597 to 1601. In 1599 he was elected alderman for Farringdon Without ward and was chosen one of the sheriffs of London.[3] When the East India Company was formed in October 1600, he was elected the first governor, and was so appointed by the charter dated 31 December, though at this time he held the office for only four months[4]. In February 1600–1 Smith was believed to be a supporter of the Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, who on 8 February went to his house in Gracechurch Street. Smythe went out to him, laid his hand on his horse's bridle, and advised him to yield himself to the Lord Mayor of London[disambiguation needed ]. As Essex refused to do this and insisted on coming into the house, Smythe made his escape by the back door and went to confer with the lord mayor. Afterwards he was accused of complicity with the earl's rebellion, was examined before the privy council, was discharged from his office of sheriff, and was committed to the Tower of London[5]. His imprisonment was for but a short time; and on 13 May 1603, on the accession of James I, he was knighted. In 1604 he was appointed one of the receivers for the Duchy of Cornwall[6], and, in June, to be special ambassador to the tsar of Russia[disambiguation needed ]. His grandfather, Sir Andrew Judde, Lord Mayor in 1550, was one of the founders of the Muscovy Company, and he himself would seem to have been largely interested in the Muscovy trade. Sailing from Gravesend on 13 June, he, with his party, arrived at Archangel on 22 July, and was conducted by way of Kholmogori and Vologhda [cf. Jenkinson, Anthony] to Jaroslav, where the emperor then was. In the course of the winter he obtained a grant of new privileges for the company, and in the spring went on to Moscow, whence he returned to Archangel and sailed for England on 28 May.

Smith was knighted on 13 May 1603 and in the same year was re-elected governor of the East India Company, and, with one break 1606–7, continued to hold the office till July 1621, during which time the company's trade was developed and established. In January 1618–19 he was appointed one of the commissioners for the settlement of the differences with the Dutch, which, however, after some years of discussion, remained, for the time, unsettled[7]. His connection with the East India Company and the Muscovy Company led him to promote and support voyages for the discovery of the North-West Passage, and his name, as given by William Baffin to Smith's Sound, stands as a memorial to all time of his enlightened and liberal energy.

Smythe financed numerous Elizabethan era[8] trade ventures and voyages of exploration during the early 17th century. In 1609 he obtained the charter for the Virginia Company, of which he was the treasurer, an office which he held till 1620, when, on being charged with enriching himself at the expense of the company, and on a demand for inquiry, he resigned. The charges against him, which were urged with great virulence, were formally pronounced to be false and slanderous, though Smythe was not held to be altogether free from blame[9]; and the renewed inquiry was still going on, when he died at Sutton-at-Hone in Kent on 4 September 1625. He was elected Member of Parliament for Saltash i 1622.[3]

Smith was buried at Sutton, where, in the church, there is an elaborate monument to his memory. The charges against him had met with no acceptance from the king; to the last he was consulted on all important matters relating to shipping and to eastern trade[10], and for several years was one of the chief commissioners of the navy, as also governor of the French and Somer Islands companies.

Private life

Smythe amassed a large fortune, a considerable part of which he devoted to charitable purposes, and, among others, to the endowment of the free school of Tonbridge, which was originally founded by his grandfather, Sir Andrew Judd. He also established several charities for the poor of the parish of Tonbridge. He was three times married. The first two wives must have died comparatively young and without issue. He was already married to the third, Sarah, daughter of William Blount, when he was sheriff of London. By her he had one daughter (died unmarried in 1627) and three sons, two of whom seem to have predeceased their father. The eldest son, Sir John Smythe of Bidborough, married and had issue. The family, in the male line, ended with his great-great-grandson, Sir Sidney Stafford Smythe (1705–1778). The name, which is often spelt Smith, was always written Smythe by the man himself, as well as by the collateral family of Strangford.

A portrait belonging to the Skinners' Company has been identified with Smythe, though it has been supposed to be rather that of Sir Daniel Judd. An engraving by Simon Pass is inserted in the Grenville copy of Smith's ‘Voiage and Entertainment in Rushia’ (London, 1605, 4to). It is reproduced in Wadmore's memoir (1892).


  • ^ "Sir Thomas Smythe". Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition.
  • ^ engraved in Gent. Mag. 1835, i. 257
  • ^ a b 'Chronological list of aldermen: 1601-1650', The Aldermen of the City of London: Temp. Henry III - 1912 (1908), pp. 47-75. Date accessed: 16 July 2011
  • ^ Stevens, Court Records of the East India Company, 1599–1603
  • ^ Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1601–3, 13, 18, 24 Feb.
  • ^ ib. 11 April
  • ^ Cal. State Papers, Dom. 8 Jan. 1619, 6? Dec. 1624
  • ^ "Portrait of Sir Thomas Smythe from Memoirs of the Court of Queen Elizabeth". Sarah, Countess of Essex, 1825.
  • ^ Cal. State Papers, North American, 16 July 1622, 20 Feb., 8 Oct. 1629, 23 April, 13 May, 15 June 1625
  • ^ Cal. State Papers, Dom. 11 Dec. 1624
  • This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "Smith, Thomas (1558-1625)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.


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Sir Thomas Smythe, MP's Timeline

September 4, 1625
Age 37
Sutton at Hone, Kent, England, United Kingdom
1st husband