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Thomas Smythe, Knight

Also Known As: "Sir Thomas Smith"
Birthdate: (67)
Birthplace: of, Westenhanger, Kent, England
Death: September 04, 1625 (63-71)
Sutton-at-Hone, Kent, England ("probably" the plague )
Place of Burial: Sutton-At-Hone, Kent, England, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas "Customer" Smythe, MP and Alice Smythe
Husband of Joan Smythe; Judith Smythe and Sarah Blount, Countess of Leicester
Father of Robert Smythe; Elizabeth Randolph; Margaret Smythe; Sir John Smythe, MP, of Sutton-at-Hone and Thomas Smythe
Brother of Sir Arthur Smith, Kt.; Mary Davy; Ursula Boteler; Andrew Smythe; Alice Harris and 10 others

Occupation: merchant, politician and colonial administrator
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Sir Thomas Smythe, MP

SMYTHE, Sir Thomas (c.1558-1625), of Philpott Lane, London and Bounds Place, Bidborough, Kent

Sir Thomas Smythe or Smith (c.1558 – 4 September 1625),[1] was an English merchant, politician and colonial administrator. He was the first governor of the East India Company and was treasurer of the Virginia Company from 1609 to 1620.

His full title was Sir Thomas Smythe of North Ash, of Bidborough and of Sutton at Hone Kent, Haberdasher, Sheriff of London, Knight.

Smith's Hundred or Smythe's Hundred, colonial English settlement in Virginia, was one of the original James River plantations named after the treasurer of the Virginia Company, Sir Thomas Smith. It was settled by the English in 1617 and after 1620, was known as Southampton Hundred in honor of the Earl of Southampton.[1]


b. c.1558,1 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Thomas Smythe† (d.1591) of London and Westenhanger, Kent; bro. of Sir John I* and Sir Richard*.2 educ. Merchant Taylors’ 1571.3 m. (1) by 1586 (with £1,000), Judith, da. and h. of Richard Culverwell, Mercer of London, s.p.;4 (2) 21 Apr. 1588, Joan, da. and coh. of William Hobbs, Draper of London, s.p.;5 (3) 20 Dec. 1594, Sarah (d. 12 Mar. 1655), da. of William Blount of London, 3s. incl. Sir John III* (2 d.v.p.) 1da. d.v.p.6 kntd. 13 May 1603.7 d. 4 Sept. 1625.8 sig. Tho[mas] Smythe.

family life

His London household was multi-racial, with two Virginia Indians and a homesick Kaffir boy, who was eventually returned to the Cape.48

From Tonbridge Historic Society - Sir Thomas Smythe:

Sir Thomas Smythe's life was one of great adventure and responsibility, in his patronage of the great expeditions of the day. His family life however, was rather turbulent. He was married three times and had four children of his third marriage to Sarah Blount. 1618 was an eventful year for his family: his eldest son, Sir John Smythe of Bidborough married in that year as did his third son who married against the wishes of his parents and cut himself off from the family. Still in that same year his second son Thomas died, and his daughter also died young.


To add to these problems, Sir Thomas was not without his critics and some questioned his accounting of Virginia Company funds. It is not clear how much these claims affected him but he was then 60 and began to take stock of his life, wanting to ensure that his wealth was properly deployed. The following year Sir Thomas composed a long letter to the Master and Wardens of the Skinners' Company requesting them to manage his estate as they were doing for his grandfather, Sir Andrew Judde, and outlined his plans for relieving the poor of West Kent, and the scholars and staff of Tonbridge School. His strong religious faith is apparent in the conditions he attached to the distribution of money from his estate. The contents of this 1619 letter were updated by him each year until in 1625 they were formalised in his Will. ...

Sir Thomas was mindful of his extended family in his Will and donated sums of money to his nephews and nieces of whom there were many. In addition, he provided money for specific purposes such as to buy a ring or a horse and in one case a coach and horses, depending on their needs and his inclination. He freely distributed money for rings among friends and relatives to ‘show his love' and so that they might remember him. Apart from the many and varied small sums given to relatives and friends, Sir Thomas bequeathed money to his business colleagues at home and abroad. Some money was to be used to pay off debts incurred by some of his colleagues and some to benefit the plantations, most notably by the building of two churches, one in Virginia and one in the Bermudas, to which £100 each was given.

global interests

Smythe’s epitaph indicates the global reach of his business ventures:

  • From those large kingdoms where the sun doth rise,
  • From that rich new-found world that westward lies,
  • From Volga to the flood of Amazons,
  • From under both the Poles and all the zones,
  • From all the famous rivers, lands, and seas,
  • Betwixt this place and the Antipodes,
  • He got intelligence what might be found
  • To give contentment through the massy round.

He engaged in negotiations with the Dutch over commercial rivalry in the Spice Islands and the Greenland whaling trade. He sent out an expedition to Senegal, and he was ‘the prime undertaker (in the year 1612) for that noble design, the North West Passage’.49


Sir Thomas Smythe (1558-1625) - The son was therefore the namesake of a very powerful and well connected family. He also must have been quite brilliant. The deeds of both father and son seemed to ge combined but the son did have several notable accomplishments which can be attributed to him. 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.

He was the Governor (Director) of the very successful and famous East India Company which contributed vast revenues to England after 1609. He was a member of the Levant Company, organized the Bermuda and Hudson Companies. He incorporated the Turkey Company in 1581, was a member of the Russian Company in 1587, succeeded his father as Master of Customs in 1591, sent exploratory ships to East India.

In 1596, he was knighted for bravery by Lord 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. This friendship would lead Smythe to the Tower of London with Essex in 1600 because he apparently had pledged to support Essex in London with 1,000 men, but apparently reniged at the last moment. While Essex was beheaded, Smythe was released. Smythe became the Governor of the East India Company at this time, and the new King James I knighted Sir Thomas Smythe at the Tower of London in 1603. He was soon appointed to many commissions, was generally recognized as the best business man in England, and made Treasurer of the London Company of Virginia.

Sir Thomas Smythe is buried in St. John the Baptist Church at Sutton-at-Hone,Kent. It is located about one mile east of the M-25 (the beltway around London). The effigy of Sir Thomas in alabaster exhibits a family likeness to that of his father (The Customer) in Ashford. As you enter the church, you see a mound of soil on each side,and according to the Vicar,contains the remains of plague victims. It is believed by some that Sir Thomas died of the plague also. Marie Gay Washington map Society member Douglas McNaughton recently traveled to the Canadian north in an effort to retrace the last voyage of Henry Hudson and to reconcile it with a mysterious Dutch chart that appeared immediately after the return of Hudson's mutineers to England.

By Douglas McNaughton

On September 1611 the bark Discovery sailed in among an English fishing fleet off the Southwest coast of Ireland like a ghost ship. At first no fisherman would venture anywhere near the tattered vessel in answer to the mournful cries of her meager crew. The ship had last been seen in April 1610 when it left England under the command of Henry Hudson, master navigator and explorer. Twenty-two men, including Hudson and his son John, had left

England. A year later only six souls called from the Discovery's deck for help, and the group did not include Hudson, his son, or any of his experienced Arctic seamen.

For centuries many thought Hudson made TABVLA NAVTICA, but practically nothing from Hudson's voyage appears on this map (the first printing appeared in a 1611 book by Hessel Gerritsz). The Dutch text on the verso states that the mutiny occurred on the west coast of the (Hudson) bay at around 63 degrees. This location was independently confirmed in 1612 by the voyages of Captains Button and Ingram, who sailed across the bay with two of the surviving mutineers. More than 250 years later, English historians began to create different locations for the mutiny, some seven hundred miles away, as part of the Victorian mythology about Hudson.

The six survivors claimed to be innocent victims of a bloodless mutiny led by a hungry passenger who had taken over the ship and forced Hudson into another boat in the icy Northwest Passage. The survivors said that during the mutiny they were either asleep or too sick to assist their captain. But the wounds of the group's leader, Habbakkuk Prickett, and the blood stains on the deck so frightened the fishermen that they initially refused to assist the wretched men. Within days of the Discovery's return, word of Hudson's abandonment among the ice floes raced through the seaports of Europe. After hearing Prickett's story, the Masters of Trinity House in England declared that all the survivors should be hung for mutiny. But Sir Thomas Smythe, governor and treasurer of the Virginia Company and the English East India Company, who sponsored Hudson's voyage, never brought mutiny charges against anyone. Many in Europe considered Hudson a slain hero. Some even pointed out that the mutiny occurred on June 22, Saint Alban's Day, which commemorates the first English Christian martyr. A rumor spread throughout London that before the mutiny Hudson had discovered the "Northwest Passage." The source of the report seemed to be Smythe, a man who had a lot to gain from the passage's discovery. But Hudson himself never wrote anything to suggest he had found the long-searched-for route to Asia. Smythe immediately formed a royal-chartered company under King James I called "Discoverers of the Northwest Passage," which granted him a percentage of all trade revenue through the "Passage." Hundreds rushed to invest, 270 of England's wealthiest and most powerful persons along with surviving crew member Habbakkuk Prickett. In Amsterdam the cartographer and author Hessel Gerritsz heard one version of the Hudson story from his friend Peter Plancius, a Calvinist priest and first official cartographer of the Dutch East India Company. Gerritsz had met Hudson in Amsterdam in 1609 and had discussed with him the notion that the northern European countries could reach Asia faster by sailing over the top of North America - through a Northwest Passage - than by sailing all the way around Africa. Hudson thought a promising area to explore might be a strait at approximately 61 degrees north latitude on the Labrador coast. The English called it "Lumley's Inlet," but Plancius knew the region as "Gulfo de Merosro" from his own charts, which were based on early-sixteenth-century Portuguese sources. Gerard Mercator had charted this strait better than anyone in his highly accurate 1569 map of the world.

Plancius made his best representation of the region in his world map of 1590. But over time maps showing the strait became less and less accurate. By 1609 published charts seemed to suggest that no explorers had been to the region. Yet Portuguese explorers had sailed deep into Hudson Strait (as it's now called) and carefully recorded it, though what lay at the western end remained a state secret. Officially the Portuguese said the strait terminated, but the English did not believe this claim, because they had heard other accounts that the strait opened into a great sea. As early as Sir Humfry Gilbert's A Discourse of a Discoverie for a New Passage to Cataia of 1576, England was speculating that the Portuguese were keeping a secret about the strait. Rumors circulated from Spain and Portugal that it was an entrance to the Northwest Passage. Hudson publicly entered the search for a northern passage to China in 1607, when he tested the direct route north, over the Pole, and proved it wrong. A popular European belief held that the North Pole was warm due to the midnight sun; only the presence of ice kept the latitudes south of the Pole cold. If Hudson could just get beyond the ice, he would enter the warm waters. On his 1607 journey he sailed north of 80 degrees latitude, farther north than anyone would in the next 150 years. But he found he could not get beyond the ice, that it only grew thicker, and thus disproved the theory of a direct northern passage. In 1608 Hudson tested the more popular belief of a northeast passage, over the top of Russia, to China and proved to his own satisfaction that it was impassable by ship, again due to heavy ice. In 1609 Hudson and his crew, by now the most experienced Arctic explorers in the world, left England for Amsterdam and were hired by the Dutch East India Company to search for the northeast route again - the only known case in which the navigator and his crew were retained together. For contractual reasons related to the Dutch East India Company's charter, Hudson's search for a passage was limited to the northeast; the charter only permitted trade via a route east of Africa's Cape of Good Hope. A good Dutch sea lawyer would have argued that a passage over Russia was east of the cape, making that trade route technically legal. Others in the Dutch East India Company, particularly Calvinist members, wanted Hudson to search for a passage in the west, a route that would lie outside the charter altogether and allow for the launching of a new, Calvinist-centered corporation (indeed, the formation of the Dutch West India Company in 1621 and the founding of the colony of New Amsterdam in 1626 fulfilled this wish). Hudson reexplored the northeast with a fleet of two ships but then sent one Dutch vessel home and sailed west for the New World.

English Dreams

Propaganda published by the Virginia Company - a colonization company charted by King James I in 1606 - promoted the notion that Virginia was only about seventy miles wide, bordered by an ocean to the west. If one sailed up the Chesapeake Bay or carefully explored around 40 degrees north latitude, the company maintained, one could find a passage to Asia. During his 1609 voyage Hudson searched for this route, by invitation of his friend Captain John Smith. In the process he explored and charted almost the entire half of the eastern seaboard and traveled, most famously, up the Hudson River - thus laying the groundwork for later Dutch claims in New Amsterdam. Hudson easily disproved the existence of a passage to China through Virginia. Only the Northwest Passage remained for Hudson to prove or disprove. He'd already received a retainer from the Dutch to explore in the northwest the following year. As Hudson sailed back across the Atlantic from the New World, he decided to make a few changes in his crew and to seek a larger vessel for the northwest expedition. He anchored his ship, the Half-Moon, in Dartmouth, England, and wrote the Amsterdam directors of the Dutch East India Company about his plans for the 1610 voyage. Even today Dartmouth is a small port, and the mayor soon learned of Hudson's Virginia exploits. He sent word to Smythe that Hudson was in Dartmouth with a Dutch ship and that he had explored and charted the Virginia Company's lands for the Dutch. By coincidence Smythe had recently learned of the tragedy that befell the fleet he had sent to Virginia the previous spring. It was the largest effort at colonization in English history to date - some six hundred men aboard more than seven ships had sailed from Plymouth. But a storm had scattered the fleet led by Smythe's close friends George Somers and Thomas Gates, and hundreds went missing. Smythe and the rest of England feared the worst. It was a terrible blow to the Virginia Company and to English dreams.

That Hudson had sailed up into the Chesapeake (and beyond), taking soundings and mapping it for the Dutch, compounded England's terrible loss. To make matters worse, Hudson had charted the coastal area around Cape Cod, where the Virginia Company's Plymouth group planned a northern colony. If not an actual act of treason to the crown, it certainly must have seemed an act of personal betrayal to Smythe, who knew Hudson and his family from the earliest days.

Hudson, it seemed, was surveying Virginia for possible takeover by the Dutch East India Company - Smythe's greatest rival - at a time when the Virginia Company was most weak. Smythe took swift action. Hudson was brought to London and placed under a form of house arrest with his family. They were quartered in the Royal Peculiar of Saint Katherine's precinct next to the Tower of London. Neither the city of London nor its sheriffs had authority in St. Katherine's, nor did the bishop of London. By tradition, the queen oversaw life in Saint Katherine's, and the royal chamberlain, who happened to be a friend of Smythe's, administered it. Smythe decided that Hudson would sail to the region around 61 degrees north latitude on behalf of English interests. If Smythe could verify that the strait opened to the west, he stood to gain a fortune. The voyage would involve only surveying and charting, not passage through to Asia. Hudson's wife and remaining children would remain in Saint Katherine's under the watchful eyes of the royal chamberlain. No surviving documents suggest that Hudson was offered any payment or reward for his services. He would be given only a single small ship and no letters of introduction to the Oriental potentates from the king, no trade goods, no gold or coin for purchases in Asia, and no experienced East India men with local knowledge of the Asian waters and ports. Furthermore, Hudson would be given only eight months of rations for the twenty-odd men aboard the Discovery. Smythe also placed several of his men onboard the Discovery for the voyage, including Colburne, Bylot, and Habbakkuk Prickett, a man of mysterious talents and handy with the dirk. A prickett is the sharp point placed atop a candlestick for impaling the candle and keeping it from falling off. Prickett would be well rewarded for his role in the mutiny. An Erroneous Chart Near the end of 1611, in Amsterdam, Hessel Gerritsz made a map showing the Northwest Passage as "discovered by Master Henry Hudson." It was labeled tabvla navtica (Latin for a map showing the coastlines), and the first printing included Dutch text on verso describing what Gerritsz had heard of the voyage and the mutiny. The British Library holds the only known surviving copy from this first printing in a small book by Gerritsz, Beschyvinghe vander Samoyeden Landt en Tartarien, which describes Hudson's voyage and his "discovery" of the Northwest Passage. Gerritsz's chart shows an open area in the northwest where he believed the passage to extend. He locates the mutiny on the western side of Hudson Bay, consistent with the written sailing directions in a journal attributed to Prickett (but not published until after Smythe's death in 1625).

  1. "Sir Thomas Smythe". Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition.
  2. "SMYTHE, Sir Thomas (c.1558-1625), of Philpott Lane, London and Bounds Place, Bidborough, Kent". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  3. engraved in Gent. Mag. 1835, i. 257
  4. '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
  5. Stevens, Court Records of the East India Company, 1599–1603
  6. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1601–3, 13, 18, 24 Feb.
  7. ib. 11 April
  8. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 8 Jan. 1619, 6? Dec. 1624
  9. "Portrait of Sir Thomas Smythe from Memoirs of the Court of Queen Elizabeth". Sarah, Countess of Essex, 1825.
  10. Cal. State Papers, North American, 16 July 1622, 20 Feb., 8 Oct. 1629, 23 April, 13 May, 15 June 1625
  11. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 11 Dec. 1624

Date: 12 October 1625 Held by: The National Archives, Kew Legal status: Public Record

  • "Will of Thomas Smith" The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Volume 11. Page 314. Sir Thomas Smith of London, Knight. Will 30 January 1621-2; proved 12 October 1625. Skinners. Virginia Company. Wife Dame Sarah Smith. Son Sir John Smith. Nephew Thomas Smith of Ostenhanger, Kent, Esq., son and heir of my late brother Sir John Smith, deceased. Nephew Thomas, son of brother Sir Richard Smith. Nephew John Smith, son of late brother Robert Smith, deceased. Nephew Thomas Fanshawe, son of Lady Fanshawe. Sister Mrs. Joane Fanshawe. Nephew Sir Thomas Butler and Oliver Butler, sons of sister Ursula Butler. Nephew Sir Arthur Harris, son of late sister Alice Harris. Children of late sister Katharine Hayward als Scott. Children of late brother Henry Smith, deceased. Clarke, 107. [Sir Thomas Smith, the first treasurer of the Virginia Company, of London, and at the head of that corporation until May, 1619. He was born about 1558, and died September 4, 1625. For a careful and detailed biography of this distinguished man who had so much to do with the settlement of Virginia, see Brown's Genesis, II, 1012-1018.]

the son of Customer Smythe, was an English entrepreneur in the Virginia Company which founded the Colony and Dominion of Virginia, and Bermuda.

Smythe financed numerous Elizabethan era[2] trade ventures and voyages of exploration during the early 17th century. A member of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers and the Worshipful Company of Skinners in London from 1580, he accumulated a considerable fortune from commerce.

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


  • ______________________

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

Westenhanger, Kent, England
Age 31
Age 31
Biddenden, Kent, England
Age 37
Age 41
Bidborough, Kent, England
Age 42
September 4, 1625
Age 67
Sutton-at-Hone, Kent, England