Thomas Smith (diplomat)

Last updated
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.


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. The Smiths of Essex are said to be descendants of Sir Roger de Clarendon, an illegitimate son of the Black Prince. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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]

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

Related Research Articles

Sir Richard Baker was a politician, historian and religious writer. He was the English author of the Chronicle of the Kings of England and other works.

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1583.

William Brandon (standard-bearer) English soldier

Sir William Brandon of Soham, Cambridgeshire was Henry Tudor's standard-bearer at the Battle of Bosworth, where he was killed by King Richard III. He was the father of Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk.

Edwin Sandys (bishop) Archbishop of York

Edwin Sandys was an English prelate. He was Anglican Bishop of Worcester (1559–1570), London (1570–1576) and Archbishop of York (1576–1588) during the reign of Elizabeth I of England. He was one of the translators of the Bishops' Bible.

The Earl of Tyrone is a title created three times in the Peerage of Ireland.

Portavogie Human settlement in Northern Ireland

Portavogie is a village, townland and fishing port in County Down, Northern Ireland. It lies within the Ards and North Down Borough and is the easternmost settlement in Ireland. It had a population of 2,122 people in the 2011 Census.

Sir John Tyrrell lord of the manor of Heron in the parish of East Horndon, Essex, was Knight of the Shire for Essex, Speaker of the House of Commons, and Treasurer of the Royal Household.

Francis Knollys (the elder) 16th-century English courtier and politician

Sir Francis Knollys, KG of Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire was an English courtier in the service of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I, and was a Member of Parliament for a number of constituencies.

John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford English noble, born in Wales

John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain KGPC was an English peer and courtier.

Saffron Walden Free Grammar School was a school in the Essex town of Saffron Walden, which for over four hundred years educated the boys of the town and surrounding villages in a manner designed to be after the model of Eton College and Winchester. It was notable for its longevity and for some of its illustrious alumni.

Elizabeth Trussell, Countess of Oxford English noblewoman

Elizabeth de Vere, Countess of Oxford was an English noblewoman. As a young child she became a royal ward. She married John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford, and by him was mother of the 16th Earl and grandmother of Sir Francis and Sir Horace Vere, the 'fighting Veres'.

Sir Thomas Stanhope was the son and heir of Sir Michael Stanhope, and a Member of Parliament for Nottinghamshire.

Sir Brian McPhelim Bacagh O'Neill was a lord of Clandeboye, a Gaelic lordship in north-eastern Ireland during the Tudor period.

John Neville, 3rd Baron Latimer English politician and Baron

John Neville, 3rd Baron Latimer was an English peer. His third wife was Catherine Parr, later Queen consort of King Henry VIII.

Sir Nicholas Malby (1530?–1584) was an English soldier active in Ireland, Lord President of Connaught from 1579 to 1581.

Richard Edgcumbe (died 1562) English courtier and politician (1499-1562)

Sir Richard Edgcumbe was an English courtier and politician.

William Piers was an English constable, who spent most of his life in Ireland. He was the first mayor and practical founder of Carrickfergus. He was noted in particular for his attempts to drive out the Scots from Ulster and the great lengths that he went to in attempting to enhance the power of local chiefs at the expense of the Scots. Granted Tristernagh Abbey as a reward for his military services, he made it into his family home from the late 1560s until his death in 1603.

Events from the year 1573 in Ireland.

Adrian Poynings military commander and administrator

Sir Adrian Poynings was a military commander and administrator. The youngest of the illegitimate children of Sir Edward Poynings, he played a prominent role in the defence of the English garrison at Le Havre in 1562–63.

The Betrayal of Clannabuidhe in 1574 was a massacre of the O'Neills of Clannaboy by the English forces of The 1st Earl of Essex. It took place during an attempted English colonisation of Ulster as part of the Tudor conquest of Ireland. The lord of Clannaboy, Sir Brian McPhelim O'Neill, had invited Lord Essex to parley at his castle in Belfast. At the end of the feast, the English forces turned on the O'Neills and killed up to 200 of them. Essex ordered Sir Brian O'Neill, his wife and brother to be seized and executed for treason. Note they also killed the women and children.