Sir Thomas Gresham

by Unknown

Letter A.

Among the worthies of this country who, after a successful and honourable employment of their talent in life, have generously consulted the advantage of generations to come after them, few names appear more conspicuous than that of Sir Thomas Gresham, the founder of Gresham College, and of the Royal Exchange, London. He was born in that city about the year 1518, the second son of Sir Richard Gresham, who served the office of sheriff in 1531, and that of Lord Mayor in 1537. He received a liberal education at the University, and is mentioned in high terms as having distinguished himself at Cambridge, being styled "that noble and most learned merchant." His father at this time held the responsible position of King's merchant, and had the management of the Royal monies at Antwerp, then the most important seat of commerce in Europe; and when his son Sir Thomas succeeded him in this responsible appointment, he not only established his fame as a merchant, but secured universal respect and esteem. After the accession of Queen Elizabeth, his good qualities attracted the peculiar notice of her Majesty, who was pleased to bestow on him the honour of knighthood; and at this time he built the noble house in Bishopsgate-street, which after his death was converted to the purposes of a College of his own foundation.

In the year 1564, Sir Thomas made an offer to the Corporation of London, that, if the City would give him a piece of ground, he would erect an Exchange at his own expense; and thus relieve the merchants from their present uncomfortable mode of transacting business in the open air. The liberal offer being accepted, the building, which was afterwards destroyed in the Great Fire of London, was speedily constructed, at a very great expense, and ornamented with a number of statues. Nor did Gresham's persevering benevolence stop here: though he had so much to engross his time and attention, he still found leisure to consider the claims of the destitute and aged, and in his endowment of eight alms-houses with a comfortable allowance for as many decayed citizens of London, displayed that excellent grace of charity which was his truest ornament.

In person Sir Thomas was above the middle height, and handsome when a young man, but he was rendered lame by a fall from his horse during one of his journeys in Flanders. Sir Thomas Gresham's exemplary life terminated suddenly on the 21st of November, 1579, after he had just paid a visit to the noble building which he had so generously founded.

Sir Thomas Gresham.