LOWE, George (c.1569/71-1639), of the Poultry, London; later of Lime Street, London.
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Family and Education
b. c.1569/71,1 2nd s. of William Lowe (d.1587/8) of Shrewsbury, Salop, draper and Isabel, da. of Thomas Bromshall of Cheshire; bro. of Richard†.2 educ. ?Shrewsbury g.s. Salop c.1577;3 appr. Draper, London. m. (1) 6 Nov. 1609, Anne (bur. 16 July 1611),4 da. of Sir Thomas Bennett of London, Mercer and alderman,5 wid. of William Duncombe (d.1608) of St. Stephen’s, London, Haberdasher,6 2s. (1 d.v.p.);7 (2) by Apr. 1625, Katherine (d. 8 June 1629), da. of Sir John Smythe of Ostenhanger, Kent, wid. of Sir Henry Baker of Sissinghurst, Kent, s.p.8 bur. 10 Feb. 1639.9 sig. George Lowe.
Factor to John Quarles at Stade by 1593-at least 1601;10 freeman, Drapers’ Co. 1599,11 liveryman 1604,12 renter warden 1620-21, 2nd warden 1627-8, master warden 1628-9, master 1632-3;13 member, E.I. Co. to 1618;14 dep.-gov. Merchant Adventurers’ Co. by 1632-at least 1638;15 member, Fishery Soc. by 1633.16
Commr. buildings, London 1615;21 collector, tobacco duties 1608-15;22 collector and treas. wine licences 1610-at least 1614;23 farmer silks 1612,24 customs [I] 1613-19,25 alum works 1614-19;26 ?dep. v.-adm. Munster 1616-?at least 1626;27 esq. of the Body extraordinary, 1628.28
Not to be confused with the 40-year old widower of the Inner Temple who remarried in 1612, nor with the Inner Temple lawyer of the same name who was called to the bar in 1635,29 Lowe belonged to a Shropshire family which originally came from Cheshire. His father, William (d.1587/8), was a Shrewsbury draper and burgess,30 and should be distinguished from the William Lowe (d.1579) who became a freeman of the London Drapers’ Company in 1540 and later served as one of its wardens.31 Lowe himself, a younger son, followed in the footsteps of this second William Lowe, who may have been a kinsman as he was apprenticed to John Quarles, twice master of the Drapers’ Company, for whom he acted as factor at Stade for much of the 1590s.32
Lowe had returned to London by 1608, when he was sued for debt in Chancery by Quarles’s brother-in-law, William Beecher.33 Now a liveryman of the Drapers’ Company, but in 1606 he was running his own cloth export company. This proved highly successful, for by 1614 it was one of three businesses which, together, accounted for more than half of all England’s exports of dyed and dressed cloths.34 Lowe’s significance in the cloth trade was acknowledged by the Crown in 1616, when he was one of the merchants appointed to consider a revision of the Book of Rates.35
In 1608 Lowe expanded his commercial interests when he became a collector of the duties on tobacco. Among his fellow collectors were (Sir) Lionel Cranfield*, with whom he had already had dealings in the cloth trade,36 and Arthur Ingram*. In the short term Lowe’s association with both men undoubtedly proved profitable, for two years later they again joined forces as collectors of the fines paid for licences to sell wine, in which enterprise Lowe acted as treasurer. Moreover, in 1613 Lowe and Ingram formed part of the syndicate which obtained the farm of the Irish customs duties for nine-and-a-half years, while in 1614 Ingram persuaded Lowe to join him in managing the alum farm. As well as these business ventures, in 1612 Lowe became partnered with Sir John Swinarton* in the farm of the duties on velvets, satins and silks. Lowe’s other commercial activities included dealing in Crown lands, in which he worked in partnership with the Exchequer clerk Edmund Sawyer* from about 1615,37 and money-lending.38
Lowe’s decision to expand his commercial interests beyond the sale of cloth, and in particular his association with Ingram in the alum farm, almost ruined him. In 1615 or 1616 Lowe left London39 to become the resident manager of the alum works in Yorkshire while Ingram remained in London with the object of raising funds and securing credit in order to finance essential capital improvements. As late as July 1616 he remained confident of large profits from the alum farm, for in that month he paid £3,000 in cash towards the cost of purchasing the manor of Charlton, Somerset, and agreed to pay the vendor, James Gilbert, a further annuity of £300 for 21 years out of the farm’s profits.40 However, disappointments following experiments to produce alum using kelp, coupled with Ingram’s failure to ensure an adequate supply of cash, hampered production to such an extent that both men agreed in 1617 to sub-let the works to Sir John Brooke* and Brooke’s agent, Thomas Russell, who promised to cut costs and increase production.41 Lowe initially pinned his hopes on Russell, but in January 1619 he accused Russell of deliberately concealing the true cost of his project, of wasting scarce resources and of setting the unpaid workforce against him. Consequently he obtained the king’s agreement to sequester the works.42 For his part Russell complained that Lowe had caused production costs to increase by £2 a ton by withholding funds, that he had seized control of the works and that, with ‘a blast of his foul mouth’ and ‘big, roaring words’ he had stirred up the workmen against him.43
Russell was undoubtedly mistaken in believing that Lowe had withheld funds. On the contrary, Lowe claimed to have sunk £20,000 of his own money into the alum farm.44 Moreover, in December 1618 he unsuccessfully endeavoured to call in a debt of £1,000 owed to him by Cranfield from their earlier association in the sale of wine licenses as ‘I am so far drawn out of my estate and credit by the alum business that I am enforced to get in such monies as are owing unto me by others’.45 The strain on his finances forced Lowe to sell his shares in the East India Company, worth £2,000, earlier that same year.46 By the spring of 1619 his resources were so exhausted that he was forced to quit the alum farm.47 He returned to London where, for the next six years, he lived with his former partner in the cloth trade, John Kendrick. The latter was fabulously wealthy, and provided his friend with free board and lodging.48 During this time Lowe attempted to restore his failing finances by applying to Cranfield, who was now lord treasurer, for a share in the great farm of the customs, but without success.49
As well as putting a roof over his head, Kendrick may have helped Lowe in other ways. In February 1620 Lowe sold to Kendrick and his brother-in-law Richard Bennett Spridlington manor, in Lincolnshire.50 This transaction was, in all probability, fictitious, designed to prevent Lowe’s property from falling into the hands of his creditors. In 1622 these included James Gilbert, who sued Lowe for failing to pay the annuity he had been promised as part of the purchase price for Charlton manor. However, Lowe was in no position to pay Gilbert £300 a year, and therefore the court reduced the size of the annuity to £100.51 Lowe received equally generous treatment from the king, whom he petitioned in January 1622. Unable to honour an agreement to underwrite the huge debts of a fellow London merchant named John Male, Lowe was given successive royal protections until 1624, when he was also granted the goods of a man who had been outlawed because he owed Lowe money.52
By 1624 Lowe appears to have shaken off his creditors, but his financial difficulties were far from over. In 1609 he had married Anne, the widow of a London Haberdasher named William Duncombe,53 whose estate included property in Bedfordshire and Warwickshire.54 When Anne died in 1611, Lowe was granted authority to administer the Duncombe estate,55 out of which he would eventually have to provide dowries for Anne’s five daughters by her first marriage. Unfortunately for him, the Duncombe estate may not have been sufficient for this purpose, as it partly consisted of an annuity granted to Duncombe out of the revenues arising from the sale of wine licences, for which Cranfield was liable and which was still unpaid as late as 1623.56 It was thus a further blow to Lowe that, in the spring of 1624, he was obliged to promise £2,000 as a jointure for one of his step-daughters. Somehow he managed to scrape the money together, for in May 1625 he received a release acknowledging payment.57 However, the following month he petitioned Cranfield, now earl of Middlesex, for settlement of his debts, which he calculated at around £3,000, ‘because I want money to make up her portion that is yet to marry and I owe some hundreds to her that was last married’. Although he preferred to receive cash, Lowe was prepared to accept as part payment several houses, which he would then sell off.58 However, even though Lowe had testified to the House of Lords in 1624 on his behalf during his impeachment,59 Middlesex responded by selling these properties to two other men for a higher price than the one offered by Lowe. He also refused to acknowledge that he owed Lowe more than £600.60 Precisely how Lowe managed to extricate himself from his difficulties over his step-daughters’ dowries is unclear, but it may be significant that by April 1625 he had married Lady Katherine Baker, a well-to-do widow, whose jointure amounted to £600 and whose eldest son stood to inherit £3,000 on reaching his majority. Lady Katherine’s uncle was so alarmed at his niece’s match with Lowe, ‘a man much inferior to herself in quality, condition and fortune’ that he applied to the Court of Wards for an injunction to prevent the couple from interfering with the eldest son’s estate. However, he appears to have been only partly successful.61
Lowe was elected to Parliament for Calne in 1625 following the death in the previous year of his brother Richard, who had represented the borough on three earlier occasions. He also sat in Parliament for the same borough in 1626 and 1628. During the course of his brief Commons career, Lowe played little recorded part in proceedings. However, being a merchant, he was named to committees concerned with bills to increase the wages of mariners and other maritime matters (23 Mar. and 15 Apr. 1626). On 8 July 1625 he was also appointed to consider the land bill of the 4th earl of Dorset (Sir Edward Sackville*),62 who had recently become his kinsman by marriage. Lowe would later leave the earl £20 in his will ‘in remembrance and testimony of my humble service and thanks for his noble favours towards me’.63 His only other committee appointment (13 June 1628) concerned a bill of naturalization. Lowe made just one recorded speech, on 25 June 1628, when he reminded his listeners that the assay-master of the Mint had been summoned by the House ‘to see what is the reason he does project the alteration of the coin, and has so many new stamps’.64 Lowe’s concern to protect the coinage was of long-standing, for some years earlier he had petitioned the Privy Council about this subject.65
Although he was not a particularly active Member, Lowe was careful to keep the disgraced earl of Middlesex informed of proceedings at Westminster. He presumably hoped thereby to please Middlesex and so induce the earl to pay him the debt he was owed. On 1 July 1625 he wrote to Middlesex after several merchants trading with France petitioned the Commons seeking the removal of an imposition on wine that had been introduced by Middlesex as lord treasurer. Lowe reassured him that, although the merchants’ complaint would be added to the House’s petition of grievances, ‘no man in the House replied with any invective against your lordship’.66 When the matter was again raised in the Commons in March 1626, Lowe again sought to allay Middlesex’s fears, assuring him that neither in the Commons’ petition to the king nor in committee was there ‘any further touch of your lordship’.67
By 1627 Lowe’s finances had sufficiently recovered to enable him to purchase Fisherton manor, in Wiltshire, and to lend some money to Judith Quarles, a kinswoman no doubt of his former master. 68 He was also able to take on the office of second warden of the Drapers, and not long after he rose to become master of the Company as well as deputy governor of the Merchant Adventurers. By 1633 he could afford to invest £100 in the newly formed Fishing Association.69 Nevertheless he continued to press Middlesex for full settlement of his account. Indeed, when Middlesex’s health deteriorated in February 1637 Lowe threatened to go to the king, for ‘if it shall please God to call you I should lose my debt owing by your lordship which my estate cannot afford’.70 Eight months later he threatened to take legal action within 14 days unless Middlesex answered his letters.71 Whether this ultimatum produced the desired effect is unclear, but the letter containing this threat is the last one from Lowe to be found among Cranfield’s correspondence.72
In April 1627 a London merchant named Henry Smyth set aside in his will uncollected debts amounting to £10,000 for the ‘buying in of impropriations for the relief and maintenance of godly preachers and the better furtherance of knowledge and religion’, and named Lowe as one of the executors who were to administer the fund.73 This evidence might suggest that Lowe was a puritan, were it not for the fact that one of his fellow executors was the anti-puritan Richard Gurney, whom Lowe named as one of the overseers of his own will and described as ‘my ancient and dear loving friend’.74 Moreover, if Lowe considered himself one of the godly he must have been considerably embarrassed when, in 1635, he was convicted by the Court of Arches of adultery with Elizabeth Smith, for which offence he was fined £10 by Bishop Juxon.75 Following Smyth’s death in 1628, Lowe and his fellow executors conferred £200 on the corporation of Dorchester, Dorset for enlarging the stipends of the town’s three ministers.76 Through Lowe a further £200 of Smyth’s estate was donated to the borough of Calne, which he had formerly represented in Parliament, but interestingly the money was assigned for the maintenance of the poor rather than the support of a godly ministry.77
Shortly after his election as master of the Drapers’ Company in 1632, Lowe, as deputy governor of the Merchant Adventurers, was dispatched to Delft to arbitrate in a dispute between the resident deputy, Edward Misselden, and the English merchant community there, who were accused of having formed a classis. He and his fellow commissioners achieved only limited success, for although they rapidly reduced the alleged Presbyterians ‘to a conditional conformity’, shortly after Lowe’s return to England in January 1633 Misselden complained that ‘besides the neglect of the communion … many things are still amiss’.78
For much of the 1630s, Lowe was embroiled in a complex legal dispute with his former business partner, Sir Arthur Ingram.79 He died early in 1639, and was buried at St. Christopher-le-Stocks, the London parish in which he had resided ever since his first marriage and where he had served as a churchwarden. In his will of 18 Jan. 1639, he asked to be interred ‘in the vault which I there built at mine own charge’ and which contained the remains of his first wife and their eldest son. Despite all the financial hardships he had endured, Lowe died a wealthy man. His bequests included £2,000 to the sons of his deceased brother, Richard, bills and bonds worth £7,000, and £900 which he had placed in the hands of one Thomas Bushell for the purchase of ‘Potter’s ore’. He also gave £200 to the Merchant Adventurers’ Company, to serve as a revolving fund for the benefit of its younger members. His other charitable bequests, to the London prisons, Christ’s Hospital and the rebuilding of St. Paul’s, amounted to £95.80 He was succeeded by his only surviving son, George, who was named as his executor. One of his nephews, also named George, subsequently represented Calne in Parliament.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Andrew Thrush
HMC Sackville, i. 217.
- 1. C24/499/22; C24/506/35.
- 2. Wilts. Vis. Ped. (Harl. Soc. cv-cvi), 120-1; PROB 11/72, f. 158r-v.
- 3. Shrewsbury Sch. Regestum Scholarium comp. E. Calvert.
- 4. GL, ms 4423/1, f. 77v; ms 4399, unfol.; ms 4421/1, unfol. The marriage record gives his wife’s name as Agnes.
- 5. Wilts. Vis. (Harl. Soc. cv-cvi), 120-1; C24/499/22, f. 28.
- 6. Cal. Sherborne Muns. no ed. 20; PROB 11/112, f. 257v; HMC Sackville, ii. 200.
- 7. GL, ms 4421/1, unfol.
- 8. Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. xlii), 114; WARD 10/43, pt. i, bdle. ‘petitions’.
- 9. GL, ms 4421/1, unfol.
- 10. SP46/176, passim; C78/167/16.
- 11. Roll of Drapers’ Co. comp. P. Boyd, 118.
- 12. Drapers’ Hall, London, ‘Boyd’s list’ (unpublished typescript), ‘George Lowe’.
- 13. A.H. Johnson, Hist. of Drapers’ Co. iv. 418-19.
- 14. CSP Col. E.I. 1617-21, p. 230.
- 15. Add. 6394, ff. 55, 71; CSP Dom. 1635, p. 524; 1637-8, p. 176.
- 16. SP16/231/15.
- 17. GL, ms 4424, f. 88.
- 18. GL, ms 4425/1, f. 7.
- 19. GL, ms 4352/1, ff. 111v-12.
- 20. GL, microfilm, Bridewell Hosp. ct. mins. vii. f. 294v; viii. ff. 138v, 197v; PROB 11/179, f. 486.
- 21. APC, 1615-16, p. 122.
- 22. F.C. Dietz, Eng. Public Finance, 1558-1641, pp. 350-1.
- 23. HMC Sackville, i. 95, 100.
- 24. Ibid. 270.
- 25. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 195; C66/2181/21; 66/2187/9.
- 26. A.F. Upton, Sir Arthur Ingram, 115-16, 124, 126.
- 27. HCA 1/48, f. 104; CSP Ire. 1625-32, pp. 96, 101.
- 28. LC5/132, p. 12.
- 29. CITR, 226, 362; London Mar. Lics. ed. Foster.
- 30. Shrewsbury Burgess Roll ed. H.E. Fisher, 193; T.C. Mendenhall, Shrewsbury Drapers and Welsh Wool Trade, 39, n. 3.
- 31. Roll of Drapers’ Co. 118; Johnson, ii. 471; PROB 11/61, f. 289r-v.
- 32. Lowe’s business correspondence with Quarles is preserved in SP46/176 passim; SP46/19, ff. 103-74. See also SP46/21, ff. 130-1, 216-17, 221r-v. On Quarles see Johnson, ii. 471.
- 33. C78/167/16.
- 34. A. Friis, Cockayne’s Project and the Cloth Trade, 96, 130.
- 35. APC, 1615-16, p. 366.
- 36. HMC Sackville, ii. 198, 209.
- 37. C66/2027/8; C54/2242/7, 16, 27; 54/2244/15, 21, 31, 47.
- 38. STAC 8/270/4, f. 40. For further evidence of Lowe’s money-lending, see C78/247/6 and LC4/199, f. 39v.
- 39. The last reference to Lowe in the vestry minutes for St. Christopher-le-Stocks is dated 12 Nov. 1615: GL, ms 4425/1, f. 8.
- 40. C78/328/6, mm. 6-7.
- 41. Upton, 115-18.
- 42. HMC Var. viii. 11-12, 14-17, 19.
- 43. Ibid. 16-18.
- 44. Add. 12496, f. 183.
- 45. Cent. Kent. Stud., U269/1/OEt43.
- 46. CSP Col. E.I. 1617-21, p. 230.
- 47. Upton, 126.
- 48. GL, ms 4424, f. 184v.
- 49. LJ, iii. 359a.
- 50. C54/2414/43. Bennett was also Kendrick’s partner: Lansd. 168, f. 197.
- 51. C78/328/6, mm. 8-9.
- 52. APC, 1621-23, pp. 117-18, 299, 447; 1623-25, p. 100; C66/2259/15; C66/2271/31; C66/2310/5; C66/2313/9; C66/2334/3; CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 336. For Lowe’s prosecution of this man, see also SP46/70, ff. 192, 209.
- 53. Duncombe was also a founder member of the revived Spanish Co. and a member of the Eastland Co.: HMC Sackville, i. 88-9; HMC Hatfield, xii. 704; Spanish Co. ed. P. Croft (London Rec. Soc. ix), 96.
- 54. WARD 5/1/967.
- 55. PROB 11/112, f. 257v.
- 56. For the annuity, see HMC Sackville, i. 88, 91; Cent. Kent. Stud., U269/1/OEt3; W. Yorks. AS (Leeds), WYL100/PO/6/III/13. Regarding its non-payment, see Prestwich, Cranfield, 597.
- 57. Cal. Sherborne Muns. 20.
- 58. Cent. Kent. Stud., U269/1/CB139, 28 June 1625.
- 59. Prestwich, 449.
- 60. Cent. Kent. Stud. U269/1/CB139, 9 Mar. 1626; Prestwich, 480, 602. In 1623 and 1624 Middlesex reckoned he owed Lowe £1,500: Prestwich, 599, 601.
- 61. WARD 10/43, pt. i, bdle. ‘petitions’.
- 62. Procs. 1625, pp. 350; Procs. 1626, ii. 339, 446.
- 63. PROB 11/179, f. 486.
- 64. CD 1628, iv. 292, 475.
- 65. APC, 1619-21, pp. 74, 79.
- 66. HMC 4th Rep. 289; Cent. Kent. Stud., U269/1/CB139, 1 July 1625.
- 67. Cent. Kent. Stud., U269/1/CB139, 9 Mar. 1626.
- 68. VCH Wilts. vi. 185; LC4/200, f. 253v.
- 69. SP16/231/15.
- 70. Cent. Kent. Stud., U269/1/CB139, 6 Feb. 1637.
- 71. Ibid. 1 Oct. 1637.
- 72. Prestwich, 533.
- 73. PROB 11/153, ff. 8v-10v. For the executors’ recovery of part of this debt in the form of land, see CLRO, RCE sales bk. 1633-86, f. 14.
- 74. PROB 11/179, f. 486.
- 75. CSP Dom. 1635, p. 59.
- 76. Municipal Recs. of Bor. of Dorchester, Dorset ed. C.H. Mayo, 623n.
- 77. Guild Steward’s Bk. of Bor. of Calne ed. A.W. Mabbs (Wilts. Arch. and Nat. Hist. Soc. vii), 114.
- 78. Add. 6394, ff. 54-5, 73.
- 79. C2/Chas.I/L19/69; C2/Chas.I/J23/31; C33/174, f. 207; W. Yorks. AS (Leeds), WYL100/PO/8/V/14, 16; WYL100/PO/8/III, passim.
- 80. PROB 11/179, ff. 485-6v.