Thomas Spert

Last updated

Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Spert
Born abt 1483
Died December 1541
Stepney, London, England
Buried St Dunstan's and All Saints, Church, Stepney, London, England
AllegianceFlag of England.svg  England
Service/branch Navy Royal
Years of service 1512–1541
Rank Vice-Admiral
Commands held Vice-Admiral of England
Clerk Comptroller of the Navy
Master of the Mary Rose
Master of the Henry Grace a Dieu

Vice-Admiral of England Sir Thomas Spert (spelled in some records as Pert) (died December 1541) was a mariner who reached the rank of vice admiral in service to King Henry VIII of England. He was sailing master of the flagships Mary Rose and Henry Grace a Dieu . He served as the first Master of Trinity House, the private corporation for maritime affairs in London. Spert Island off the coast of Antarctica is named for him.

<i>Mary Rose</i> Carrack-type warship of the English Tudor navy

The Mary Rose is a carrack-type warship of the English Tudor navy of King Henry VIII. After serving for 33 years in several wars against France, Scotland, and Brittany and after being substantially rebuilt in 1536, she saw her last action on 19 July 1545. While leading the attack on the galleys of a French invasion fleet, she sank in the Solent, the straits north of the Isle of Wight.

Trinity House private corporation governed under a Royal Charter

The Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Strond, known as Trinity House, is a private corporation governed under a Royal Charter.

Spert Island

Spert Island is an island lying off the west extremity of Trinity Island, in the Palmer Archipelago. Charted by the Swedish Antarctic Expedition under Nordenskjold, 1901-04. Named by the United Kingdom Antarctic Place-Names Committee (UK-APC) in 1960 for Sir Thomas Spert, Controller of the King's Ships in the time of Henry VIII, founder and first Master of the Mariners of England, which later became the Corporation of Trinity House.


The Henry Grace a Dieu AnthonyRoll-1 Great Harry.jpg
The Henry Grace a Dieu

Early life and career

Thomas Pert (as his name was at times recorded) or Spert [1] was born in England. He entered the service of Henry VII as a mariner, carrying dispatches between England and Spain.

Henry VII of England King of England, 1485–1509

Henry VII was the King of England and Lord of Ireland from his seizure of the crown on 22 August 1485 to his death on 21 April 1509. He was the first monarch of the House of Tudor.

Spert served, evidently with credit, in the navy of Henry VIII during the Anglo-French War of 1512-14. In 1512-15 he was master of the Mary Rose, one of the most important warships in the Crown's fleet. On 10 November 1514, Spert was granted an annuity of £20, which was confirmed in January 1516.

He next was assigned as master to the Henry Grace a Dieu , the largest vessel constructed up to then in England. On 10 July 1517, Spert was granted the office of ballasting ships in the Thames River, which office he was to hold 'during pleasure' at a fee of £10 a year. Historian James A. Williamson in his work of 1913 thought this fact aided an argument against Richard Eden's statement that Spert's misconduct had spoiled the success of the 1516-1517 voyage of discovery undertaken with Sebastian Cabot. Williamson said that the ballasting office apparently provided opportunity for profit, and would not have been granted to a man who had recently disgraced himself. [2]

James Alexander Williamson was a prominent English writer on maritime history and expert on the John Cabot voyages. He also wrote many other books on explorers, exploration and discovery. James Williamson wrote of James Cook: the greatest explorer of his age and the greatest maritime explorer of his country in any age.

Richard Eden was an English alchemist and translator. His translations of the geographical works of other writers helped to foster enthusiasm for overseas exploration in Tudor England.

Sebastian Cabot (explorer) explorer, born in the Venetian Republic

Sebastian Cabot was an Italian explorer, likely born in the Venetian Republic. He was the son of Italian explorer John Cabot and his Venetian wife Mattea.

A document in the Public Record Office is found in a manuscript book showing the issues of various stores to the masters of the king's ships. Entries detail Spert's presence on the Henry Grace a Dieu on 7 April and 5 July 1516, and on 28 April and 17 September 1517. Together with the grant made to him on 10 July 1517, Williamson argued that these appear to be conclusive evidence that Spert was not traveling with Sebastian Cabot in a voyage of discovery in 1516-1517 to the southern coast of North America. [2]

What is known of the remainder of Spert's career shows that he continued in high favour with the king. He served in the war of 1522-5 and was consulted by the admiral as to the best way of cutting out some Scottish privateers in Boulogne harbour.

His knighthood has been disputed by historians, but Williamson notes two official documents that refer to him as Sir Thomas Spert (Letters and Papers, vi, No. 196 ; xvii, No. 1258). [3]

Spert made his will 28 November 1541, naming his wife Mary (Fabian) as executrix, and died at Stepney in December. According to Baldwin, his monument at St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney, is in error in stating that he died on 8 September 1541. [4] He left his pasturage in Blackwall to his widow until his son Richard reached the age of majority. He also made bequests to his daughter and to his cousin Margaret Spert, who was married to 'the famous Guinea seaman, John Lok'. [4]

Marriages and issue

Spert married a woman named Margery, whose surname is unknown. He married as his second wife Anne Salkell, but appears to have had no children by either marriage. [4]

He married thirdly Mary Fabian, the daughter of John Fabian (nephew of the chronicler, Robert Fabyan) and Anne Waldegrave. They had two children. Their son Richard Spert married Grissell Salkell of King's Wood, Wiltshire. Their daughter Anne Spert married firstly Thomas Brook, and secondly John Skott. [4]

Legacy and honors

Spert Island off the coast of Antarctica is named for him.


  1. Patrick J. Murphy, Ray W. Coye, Mutiny and Its Bounty: Leadership Lessons from the Age of Discovery, Yale University Press, 2013, p. 248 note 12. Quote: "Some contemporary sources use "Pert" for his name but most primary sources use "Spert". The ending of his given name, Thomas, may have been a phonetic factor in the use of the "s"."
  2. 1 2 James A. Williamson, Maritime Enterprise 1485-1558, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913, pp. 241-245
  3. Williamson (1913), Maritime Enterprise, p. 244
  4. 1 2 3 4 Baldwin 2004.

Related Research Articles

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk English politician

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, was a prominent Tudor politician. He was an uncle of two of the wives of King Henry VIII of England, namely Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, both of whom were beheaded, and played a major role in the machinations affecting these royal marriages. After falling from favour in 1546, he was stripped of the dukedom and imprisoned in the Tower of London, avoiding execution when King Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547.

Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk English Duke

Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, 3rd Marquess of Dorset, was an English courtier and nobleman of the Tudor period. He was the father of Lady Jane Grey, known as "the Nine Days' Queen".

William Knight was the Secretary of State to Henry VIII of England, and Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Robert Fabyan was a London draper, Sheriff and Alderman, and author of Fabyan's Chronicle.

Edward Clinton, 1st Earl of Lincoln English admiral

Edward Fiennes de Clinton, 1st Earl of Lincoln, KG was an English nobleman and Lord High Admiral.

Tudor navy

The Tudor navy was the navy of the Kingdom of England under the ruling Tudor dynasty (1485–1603). The period involved important and critical changes that led to the establishment of a permanent navy and laid the foundations for the future Royal Navy.

Richard Cecil (courtier) English courtier and high sheriff of Rutland

Sir Richard Cecil was an English nobleman, politician, courtier, and Master of Burghley (Burleigh) in the parish of Stamford Baron, Northamptonshire. His father Sir David Cecil, of Welsh ancestry, rose in favour under King Henry VIII of England, becoming High Sheriff of Northamptonshire in 1532 and 1533, and died in 1541.

Sir Christopher Hales was an English judge and Master of the Rolls.

Events from the 1510s in England.

Sir John Baldwin was an English lawyer and Chief Justice of the Common Pleas.

Sir Edward Bayntun, of Bromham, Wiltshire, was a gentleman at the court of Henry VIII of England. He was vice-chamberlain to Anne Boleyn, the King's second wife, and was the brother-in-law of Queen Catherine Howard, Henry VIII's fifth wife.

Sir John Tregonwell was an English jurist, a principal agent of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell in the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He served as Judge of the High Court of Admiralty from 1524 to 1536.

Brian Tuke English knight

Sir Brian Tuke, was the secretary of Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey. He became treasurer of the household.

Sir Robert Wingfield was an English diplomat.

Nicholas Wadham (1472–1542) English politician

Sir Nicholas Wadham of Merryfield in the parish of Ilton, Somerset and Edge in the parish of Branscombe, Devon was the grandfather of Nicholas Wadham (1531–1609), posthumous co-founder of Wadham College, Oxford whose wife Dorothy Wadham outlived him and, in her advanced old age, saw the project through to completion.

Sir William Browne served as Master of the Worshipful Company of Mercers from 1507 to 1514, and as alderman, auditor, Sheriff and Lord Mayor of London. He died in office on 3 June 1514 while serving his term as Lord Mayor.

Sir William Lok was a gentleman usher to Henry VIII and a mercer, alderman, and sheriff of London. He was the great-great-great-grandfather of the philosopher John Locke (1632–1704).

John Lok was the son of Sir William Lok, the great-great-great-grandfather of the philosopher John Locke (1632–1704). In 1554 he was captain of a trading voyage to Guinea. An account of his voyage was published in 1572 by Richard Eden.

Sir Thomas Wyndham of Felbrigg was an English sea captain and Vice-Admiral of England.