OSBORNE, Sir Edward (?1530-92), of St. Dionis Backchurch, London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. ?1530, 1st s. of Richard Osborne of Ashford, Kent by Jane, da. of John or Richard Broughton of Broughton, Cumb. educ. travelled abroad 1554-62. m. (1) 1562, Anne (d.1585), da. and h. of Sir William Hewett of London, 2s. 3da.; (2) 15 Sept. 1588, Margaret Chapman of St. Olave’s, Southwark, s.p. suc. fa. 1584. Kntd. 2 Feb. 1584.

Offices Held

Alderman, London 1573, sheriff 1575-6, ld. mayor 1583-4; gov. Levant Co. 1581; treasurer, St. Thomas’s hosp. 1571-3, pres. 1586-d.; surveyor gen. of London hospitals 1590-2.


The son of a minor country gentleman, Osborne was apprenticed to a leading London merchant whose only child he rescued from drowning when a careless nurse allowed her to fall into the Thames from her father’s house on London Bridge. When she was of marriageable age her father contracted her to Osborne, although she had many suitors of superior status, and at Hewett’s death in 1567, Osborne came into possession of his estates in Yorkshire and London. At the end of his apprenticeship in 1554, Osborne was made free of the Clothworkers’ Company, travelled abroad, and became a merchant and financial agent. He was assessed for the 1589 subsidy at £250 and was himself one of the subsidy commissioners. His principal export was cloth, and in the early part of his life his main trading interests were with Spain and Portugal, though he also exported cloth to the Baltic and was concerned in re-establishing English trade with the Levant. In 1575 he and Richard Staper despatched agents to Turkey at their own expense, as a preliminary to the signing of a treaty, granting trading privileges to English merchants. The charter of the Levant Company—granted in 1581—recognised their pioneering work, and Osborne, ‘as the principal setter forth and doer in the opening and putting to use’ of the Levant trade, was made governor of the Company then and when it was granted a second charter in 1592. Another example of his enterprise may be found in the expedition of Ralph Fitch to India in 1583, which he and Staper helped to finance.

Osborne was frequently appointed by the Privy Council to act as arbitrator in commercial disputes. In 1576, for example, he had to deal with an insurance matter, ‘the case so strange as requireth the advice and consultation of such as be experienced in these kind of dealings’. Three years later he was among those instructed to investigate the closure of a mineral works recently started by a German in the north of England, and the possibility of raising the capital to re-open it. Later in 1579 he arbitrated between the clothiers, and the artificers and weavers of Taunton.

Osborne’s own commercial career was not without blemish. In 1576 William Villiers, a London merchant, complained to the Privy Council that he had paid insurance of 100 nobles due on a cargo belonging to Osborne and Staper that had been taken by the Portuguese. To indemnify themselves they had subsequently impounded the goods of certain Portuguese merchants in England, but had refused to repay the money. In a dispute with two poor men, John and Thomas Castlyn, Osborne and Staper were believed by the Council to have lengthened the suit unnecessarily. In a letter to the Admiralty judges in 1592 the Council wrote, ‘We do understand that the said Sir Edward Osborne and Staper have gone about to weary the said poor men’ and ordered the judges to settle the dispute arbitrarily. Sir Edward sat in only one Parliament, as the senior Member for London, and the only known record of his activities in the House is the addition of his name, at the last minute, to the large committee to attend the Queen, 11 Nov. 1586, to present reasons for executing Mary Queen of Scots. He died intestate on 4 Feb. 1592, and was buried on 15 Feb. in St. Dionis Backchurch in London. His heir was Hewett Osborne, his son by his first wife. His widow soon after his death married Robert Clarke of Pleshey, Essex, a baron of the Exchequer.

DNB; Vis. London (Harl. Soc. cix, cx), 82, 161; R. E. C. Waters, Gen. Mems. Chester of Chicheley, i. 237; Reg. St. Dionis Backchurch (Harl. Soc. Regs. iii), 6, 11, 198, 201; A. B. Beaven, Aldermen of London, i. 82; ii. 39; A. C. Wood, Hist. Levant Co. 7, 8, 17; Lansd. 29, f. 125; Hakluyt, Voyages (1903-5), v. 192, 195, 465; vi. 73 seq.; CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 59; APC, ix. 90, 118; xi. 58, 168; xxiii. 33-4; D’Ewes, 399.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: A. M. Mimardière