Thomas Smith (diplomat)

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A c. 19th-century line engraving of Sir Thomas Smith. Sir Thomas Smith, ob. 1577 (c. early 19th century).jpg
A c. 19th-century line engraving of Sir Thomas Smith.

Sir Thomas Smith (23 December 1513 – 12 August 1577) was an English scholar, parliamentarian and diplomat.

Kingdom of England Historic sovereign kingdom on the British Isles (927–1649; 1660–1707)

The Kingdom of England was a sovereign state on the island of Great Britain from 927, when it emerged from various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms until 1707, when it united with Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.


Early life

Born at Saffron Walden in Essex, Smith was the second son of John Smith of Walden by Agnes, daughter of John Charnock of Lancashire. He was educated at Queens' College, Cambridge, where he became a Fellow in 1530, [1] and in 1533 was appointed a public reader or professor. He lectured in the schools on natural philosophy, and on Greek in his own College. In 1540 Smith went abroad, and, after studying in France and Italy and taking a degree in law at the University of Padua, returned to Cambridge in 1542.

Queens College, Cambridge college of the University of Cambridge

Queens' College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England. Queens' is one of the oldest and the largest colleges of the university, founded in 1448 by Margaret of Anjou, and has some of the most recognisable buildings in Cambridge. The college spans the river Cam, colloquially referred to as the "light side" and the "dark side", with the Mathematical Bridge connecting the two.

Natural philosophy ancient philosophical study of nature and physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science. It is considered to be the precursor of natural science

Natural philosophy or philosophy of nature was the philosophical study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science. It is considered to be the precursor of natural science.

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

He now took the lead in the reform of the pronunciation of Greek, his views being universally adopted after considerable controversy. He and his friend, Sir John Cheke, were the great classical scholars of the time in England. In January 1543/4 he was appointed the first Regius Professor of Civil Law. He was vice-chancellor of the university the same year[ 43 or 44? ]. In 1547 he became Provost of Eton College and Dean of Carlisle Cathedral.

John Cheke English politician and scholar

Sir John Cheke (Cheek) was an English classical scholar and statesman. One of the foremost teachers of his age, and the first Regius Professor of Greek at the University of Cambridge, he played a great part in the revival of Greek learning in England. He was tutor to Prince Edward, the future King Edward VI, and also sometimes to Princess Elizabeth. Of strongly Reformist sympathy in religious affairs, his public career as Provost of King's College, Cambridge, Member of Parliament and briefly as Secretary of State during King Edward's reign was brought to a close by the accession of Queen Mary in 1553. He went into voluntary exile abroad, at first under royal licence. He was captured and imprisoned in 1556, and under threat or apprehension of execution by the fire made a forced public recantation and affiliated himself to the Church of Rome. He died not long afterwards, filled with remorse for having forsworn his true belief from the infirmity of fear. His character, teaching and reputation were, however, admiringly and honourably upheld.

Old Style and New Style dates changes in calendar conventions from Julian to Gregorian

Old Style (O.S.) and New Style (N.S.) are terms sometimes used with dates to indicate that the calendar convention used at the time described is different from that in use at the time the document was being written. There were two calendar changes in Great Britain and its colonies, which may sometimes complicate matters: the first was to change the start of the year from Lady Day to 1 January; the second was to discard the Julian calendar in favour of the Gregorian calendar. Closely related is the custom of dual dating, where writers gave two consecutive years to reflect differences in the starting date of the year, or to include both the Julian and Gregorian dates.

The Regius Professorship of Civil Law is one of the oldest and most prestigious of the professorships at the University of Cambridge.

Sir Thomas was an early convert to Protestantism, which brought him into prominence when Edward VI came to the throne. During the protectorate of Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, he entered public life and was made the Secretary of State, and was sent on an important diplomatic mission to Brussels. In 1548 he was knighted. On the accession of Queen Mary I he lost all his offices, but in the reign of her sister, Elizabeth I, he was prominently employed in public affairs.

Edward VI of England 16th-century Tudor King of England

Edward VI was the King of England and Ireland from 28 January 1547 until his death. He was crowned on 20 February at the age of nine. Edward was the son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, and England's first monarch to be raised as a Protestant. During his reign, the realm was governed by a regency council because he never reached maturity. The council was first led by his uncle Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset (1547–1549), and then by John Dudley, 1st Earl of Warwick (1550–1553), who from 1551 was Duke of Northumberland.

Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset Nobleman

Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, was Lord Protector of England during part of the Tudor period from 1547 until 1549 during the minority of his nephew, King Edward VI (1547–1553). Despite his popularity with the common people, his policies often angered the gentry and he was overthrown. He was the eldest brother of Queen Jane Seymour (d. 1537), the third wife of King Henry VIII.

Secretary of State (England) appointed position within the government of England

In the Kingdom of England, the title of Secretary of State came into being near the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603), the usual title before that having been King's Clerk, King's Secretary, or Principal Secretary.

He was returned as Member of Parliament for Liverpool in 1559. It became clear that he supported the religious settlement and Confessions of Westminster (1560), sitting on two committees of Inquiry. When an expert handler[ clarification needed ] of the son of the King of Sweden visiting Westminster, he was sent in 1562 as ambassador to France as an emerging diplomatic talent; he remained in France from September 1562 with experienced envoy Sir Nicholas Throckmorton; and in 1572 Smith again went to France in the same capacity for a short time. However Smith came to dagger blows with Throckmorton over character and policy differences. He finally returned home in disgrace after suffering illness in April 1566.

Nicholas Throckmorton 16th-century English diplomat and politician

Sir Nicholas Throckmorton was an English diplomat and politician, who was an ambassador to France and later Scotland, and played a key role in the relationship between Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots.

All was not lost: Smith remained one of Elizabeth's most trusted Protestant counsellors. He had long been a friend of Sir William Cecil. Ennobled as Lord Burghley, Cecil appointed Smith to the Privy Council, only a month before he was elected to Commons as a knight of the shire for Essex. Smith, a prime mover behind the Conformity Bills, sought to restrain extremism and secure a subsidy from his fellow members. But when he proposed that the bishops be consulted, the puritan William Fleetwood defeated his motion. As a Privy Councillor he was influential on a number of committees. He spoke on the Treason Bill on the floor of the house, and examined witnesses to the Catholic plot led by the Duke of Norfolk. He was noted as upholding a religious objection to torture. His outstanding work elevated him to the higher ministerial echelons: in 1572 he was appointed Chancellor of the Order of the Garter and in July, principal secretary. [2]

William Fleetwood was an English lawyer and politician. He was Member of Parliament for Marlborough in 1558, Lancaster in 1559 and 1567, and for the City of London several times between 1572 and 1592, but his most significant position was as Recorder of London from 1571 to 1591. A lawyer of the Middle Temple, he was a Queen's Serjeant in 1592.

Chancellor of the Order of the Garter

The Chancellor of the Order of the Garter is an officer of the Order of the Garter.

Failed colony in Ireland

In 1571, Elizabeth I, a great believer in colonisation, granted Smith 360,000 acres (150,000 ha) of East Ulster. The empty lands were to be used to plant English settlers in an effort to control areas claimed by Clandeboye O'Neill territory and thus control the native Irish. The grant included all of the area known today as North Down and the Ards, apart from the southern tip of the Ards peninsula which was controlled by the Anglo-Norman Savage family.

Unfortunately for Smith, the booklet he printed to advertise his new lands was read by the Clandeboye O'Neill chief, Sir Brian MacPhelim, who just a few years earlier had been knighted by Elizabeth. Furious at what he saw as her "duplicity" in secretly arranging for the colonisation of unsettled areas claimed by O'Neill, he burned down all the major buildings in the area. The owners objected, but could do nothing. This made it difficult for the plantation to take hold. Then launching a wave of attacks on these early English settlers when they arrived, the O'Neills scorched the land Smith was to develop, burning abbeys, monasteries and churches, and leaving Clandeboye "totally waste and void of inhabitants". [3]

Smith, who was also a Member of Parliament for Essex in 1571 and 1572, died on 12 August 1577 at Hill Hall in Essex. [2] [4]

Marriages and heirs

Smith married twice. First he wed Elizabeth Carkeke, daughter of a London printer, April 15, 1548; she died in 1553. [5] His second marriage, which took place July 23, 1554, [4] was to Philippa Wilford, the widow of Sir John Hampden of Great Hampden, Buckinghamshire, and the daughter of the London merchant Henry Wilford. [6] [7] She died 15 June 1578.

The title page of the 1609 edition of Smith's work Thomas Smith, The Common-wealth of England (1609, title page).jpg
The title page of the 1609 edition of Smith's work

Smith had no issue by either marriage, although he had one illegitimate son named Thomas, who was killed during the failed Ards settlement. His heirs were his younger brother, George, and George's son, Sir William Smith (died 12 December 1626) of Theydon Mount, Essex. [9] Sir William Smith's daughter, Frances Smith, married Sir Matthew Brend, owner of the land on which the first and second Globe Theatres were built. [10] Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was brought up in Smith's house and his early education was supervised by him. [11]


Sir Thomas Smith's book De Republica Anglorum: the Maner of Gouernement or Policie of the Realme of England, [12] written between 1562 and 1565, was first published in 1583. In it, he described England as a mixed government and a commonwealth, and stated that all commonwealths are of mixed character.

Smith also authored De recta & emendata lingvæ Anglicæ scriptione, dialogus (Correct and Improved English Writing, a Dialogue, 1568). [13]


  1. "Smith, Thomas (SMT526T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. 1 2 S[tanley] T. Bindoff, ed. (1982), "SMITH, Thomas I (1513–77), of Ankerwyke, Bucks and Hill Hall, Theydon Mount, Essex", The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1509–1558, 3, London: Secker and Warburg, OCLC   917616757, archived from the original on 10 September 2015.
  3. "Theme: Pre Ulster Scots", Ulster Scots Heritage Trail, archived from the original on 13 December 2013, retrieved 10 September 2012.
  4. 1 2 Richardson II 2011 , p. 333.
  5. Dewar 1964 , pp. 34, 75.
  6. Dewar 1964 , p. 77.
  7. Richardson states that she was the daughter of John Wilford, a gentleman, of London. Richardson II 2011 , p. 333.
  8. Thomas Smith (1609), The Common-vvealth of England, and the Maner of Gouernement thereof. Compiled by the Honovrable Sir Thomas Smith, Knight, Doctor of both Lawes, and One of the Principall Secretaries vnto two moſt Worthy Princes, King Edvvard, and Queene Elizabeth. With New Additions of the Chiefe Courts in England, and the Offices thereof by the ſaid Author. Alſo a Table Added thereto, of All the Principall Matters Contained in this Treatiſe. Newly Corrected and Amended, London: Printed [by John Windet] for Iohn Smethwicke, and are to be ſold at his Shop in S. Dunstones Church-yard, vnder the Diall, OCLC   20191820 .
  9. Dewar 1964 , pp. 202–8.
  10. Collins 1741 , p. 344; Berry 1987 , pp. 95–8, 113.
  11. Nelson, Alan H. (2003), Monstrous Adversary: the life of Edward de Vere,17th Earl of Oxford, Liverpool University Press, ISBN   978-0-85323-678-8, p. 25.
  12. Thomas Smith (1583), De Repvblica Anglorvm: The Maner of Gouernement or Policie of the Realme of England, Compiled by the Honorable Man Thomas Smyth, Doctor of the Ciuil Lawes, Knight, and Principall Secretarie vnto the Two Most Worthie Princes, King Edward the Sixt, and Queene Elizabeth. Seene and Allowed, London: Printed by Henrie Midleton for Gregorie Seton, OCLC   78473435 .
  13. Thomas Smith (1568), De recta & emendata lingvæ Anglicæ scriptione, dialogus: Thoma Smitho equestris ordinis Anglo authore [Correct and Improved English Writing, a Dialogue: Thomas Smith, knight, English author, Paris: Ex officina Roberti Stephani typographi regij [from the office of Robert Stephan, the King's Printer], OCLC   20472303 .



Further reading

Government offices
Preceded by
William Honnyng
Sir Thomas Chaloner
Clerk of the Privy Council
With: William Honnyng
Sir Thomas Chaloner
Succeeded by
William Honnyng
Sir Thomas Chaloner
Armagil Wade
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir William Paget
Sir William Petre
Secretary of State
With: Sir William Petre
Succeeded by
Nicholas Wotton
Sir William Petre
Preceded by
Sir William Cecil
Secretary of State
With: Sir Francis Walsingham 1573–1576
Succeeded by
Sir Francis Walsingham
Preceded by
The Lord Howard of Effingham
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
Sir Francis Walsingham

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