BANESTER, Thomas (by 1529-71), of London.
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Family and Education
b. by 1529, ?yr. s. of Richard Banester of Eccleston, Lancs. m. 3s. 3da.1
Warden, Skinners’ Co. 1558, master warden 1563; commr. sewers, Essex, Herts. and Mdx. 1566.2
Thomas Banester’s parentage is not certain. When admitted to the freedom of London on 25 Oct. 1551 he was described as the son of Richard Banester of ‘Crossom’ (probably Croston, Lancashire) and the apprentice of Gilbert Banester, a citizen and cloth-worker. Of the several families of this name in or near Croston, Banester does not appear to have belonged to the main one, that of Bank, but he may have been the son of Richard Banester of Fairhurst in the neighbouring parish of Eccleston; if so, he could have served his apprenticeship under his grandfather or even his elder brother, both named Gilbert.3
In 1548 Banester entered the yeomanry of the Skinners’ Company and two years later was admitted to the livery. That he was not a skinner by trade is shown both by his appearance in the Company’s records as a ‘brother’, not one of the ‘art’, and by his trading activities. None the less, he rose to be a considerable figure in the Company. In 1557 he was one of the liverymen in whom the Copped Hall, the Company’s headquarters, was vested, and Sir Andrew Judd appointed him a governor of the Skinners’ School at Tonbridge, Kent.4
Banester’s wide and varied commercial activities involved him in several international incidents. As an exporter of cloth to Danzig he was caught by the Danes in 1551 trying to pass off his wares as Dutch to avoid paying the toll levied on English merchants at the Sound. When he made a belated attempt to pay the toll, the ship carrying his money was impounded by the Danes, whereupon its Danzig owners took reprisals against him. In September 1551 the Privy Council instructed the King’s agent in Danzig to secure the release of 96 cloths belonging to Banester which had been seized there. The resulting lawsuit, which was transferred from the Danish to the Danzig courts, served to worsen relations between that town and England: on 7 Sept. 1552 the King of Poland complained to Edward VI of Banester’s retaliatory action against the Danzig consuls in London. Fresh incidents followed, and in 1555 the King of Denmark was refusing King Philip’s request that more of Banester’s cloth, seized two years earlier for evasion of duty, should be handed back.5
From the Iberian peninsula Banester imported a variety of wares, felts and Bilbao iron from Spain and figs from Portugal, and he seems to have kept a servant or factor in both countries. In 1561 he became involved in a lawsuit which was heard at Valladolid and Corunna; Queen Elizabeth directed Sir Thomas Chamberlain†, the English ambassador in Spain, to look after Banester’s interests and complained to King Philip of his ill-treatment. An award in his favour was reversed by a new judge who, according to Banester, had taken as his mistress the wife of the wrongdoer. In view of the losses he was sustaining Banester urged Chamberlain: ‘it is time to look to it, or else it is in vain for any man to go thither, unless he be contented to be robbed of all he has by one practice or another.’ By that time he had himself begun to look further afield. He was one of the promoters of the third Guinean voyage of 1558 and a part owner of the Christopher Bennett, which was lost on the return from Guinea.6
It was probably his maritime interests which brought Banester his seat in the last Marian Parliament, for the patron of Reigate was William, 1st Baron Howard of Effingham: a founder member with Banester of the Russia Company of 1555, Howard is likely to have maintained the connexion in his capacity of admiral. It was the Russian trade which was to absorb Banester’s attention in his closing years and he was to die in Persia while engaged in its promotion. Despatched by the Company, with Geoffrey Duckett, in 1568 to accompany the ambassador to the Tsar, Thomas Randolph, Banester and his companions arrived at the Company’s headquarters only to fall foul of its agents and to spend several months in confinement. Released and allowed to travel to Persia, Banester and Duckett made the adventurous journey to Samarkand and Teheran, ‘where never any English travelled before’. After securing favourable terms of trade from the Shah, Banester was buying silk at Arrash in July 1571 when he and several other Englishmen sickened and died. Duckett retrieved Banester’s goods, with the special permission of the Shah who would otherwise have taken them himself. The rest of the company finally returned to England in 1574.7
Banester had made his will on 20 June 1568 before embarking on his journey. He took with him the rings which he bequeathed to his friends and it is not clear whether they were ever bestowed: one of the recipients was to have been his ‘cousin’ Thomas Nichols, clerk of the Merchant Adventurers. He had appointed as executors his sons John and Philip and his ‘dear friend’ Anthony Gamage, another Muscovy merchant. John was to have the lease of a garden near the church of St. Mary Axe, and the ‘mansion house’ to be sold ‘to the most advantage’ and the proceeds divided among the children, unless the eldest daughter Mary wanted the house and would give a good price for it: it was probably the house in Cornhill and Broad Street which the executors had sold by 1581. Banester’s wife was dead and he gave his daughter Mary ‘her mother’s gold bracelets and her book of gold’: Mary Banester may have been a Mackworth of Shropshire, for her husband left a ring to his ‘mother Ellen Mackworth’ and one of the three apprentices he took in 1549 was Richard Mackworth of Bracemeale. The firmly Protestant preamble to his will in which he dedicated his soul to God, ‘trusting only to be saved through the merits of Jesus Christ, and by no other way or mean’, is echoed in one of his letters to Cecil from Persia in 1570: the news which had reached the Turks of a ‘woman King’ who had defied the Pope and captured ships full of treasure had, he wrote, ‘much relieved my spirits in this troublesome journey’. The will was proved on 18 Feb. 1576.8
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: S. R. Johnson
- 1. Date of birth estimated from admission to livery of Skinners’ Co. VCH Lancs. vi. 175; PCC 1 Carew.
- 2. J. F. Wadmore, Skinners’ Co. 281; Recs. Skinners’ Co. ed. Lambert, 216; CPR, 1569-72, pp. 218-19.
- 3. C. Welch, Reg. London Freemen (London and Mdx. Arch. Soc.), 5; VCH Lancs. vi. 103, 105, 155, 175; Chetahm Soc. iii. 200; lxxxii. 23; Cal. Standish Deeds, ed. Porteus, 194.
- 4. E. M. Veale, The Eng. Fur Trade in the Later Middle Ages, 189; Recs. Skinners’ Co. 67, 216-17; Wadmore, 281; Parker Corresp. (Parker Soc.), 211.
- 5. APC, iii. 365; CSP For. 1547-53, pp. 220-1; 1553-8, p. 168; W. Sharpe, ‘Corresp. of Thomas Sexton, Merchant of London and his factors in Danzig’ (London Univ. M.A. thesis, 1952), 69; W. K. Jordan, Edw. VI, ii. 486-7.
- 6. CSP For. 1561-2, pp. 113-14, 176, 307-8; T. S. Willan, Muscovy Merchants of 1555, pp. 26, 77; City of London RO, Guildhall, rep. 12(2), f. 456v; HCA 24/31/206.
- 7. W. Hooper, Reigate, 116; CPR, 1554-5, p. 55; Willan, Muscovy Merchants of 1555, pp. 31, 77; Russia Co. 23, 100-2, 107, 130, 145-7, 202; Royal 13 B,1, ff. 226v-28, 243; CSP For. 1566-8, pp. 518-19; 1569-71, pp. 90-91, 221-2, 439-40; CSP Col. ii. 16-18; Early Voyages to Russia and Persia (Hakluyt Soc.), i. pp. xxxvi, lxxiii-lxxvi; ii. 426-31.
- 8. PCC 1 Carew; Willan, 15; London IPMs (Brit. Rec. Soc. xxxvi), 42; Skinners’ Hall, ‘Apprentices and Freedoms 1496-1602’, p. 144; CSP Col. ii. 18.