LOWE, Sir Thomas (c.1546-1623), of Broad Street, London and Putney, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. c.1546,1 2nd s. of Simon Lowe alias Fifield (d.1577/8), Merchant Taylor of Bromley, Kent and London bridge and Margaret (d.1595), da. and co-h. of Christopher Lacy. educ. ?appr. Thomas Aldersey†, Haberdasher c.1561; G. Inn 1599, M. Temple 1614. m. c.1575, Anne (d. 28 Jan. 1626), da. of Gabriel Colston of London, Grocer, 4s. 6da. (4 d.v.p.).2 kntd. 26 July 1603.3 d. 11 Apr. 1623. sig. Thomas Lowe.
Freeman, Haberdashers’ Co. 1572,4 asst. 1592,5 renter warden 1593-4, master 1594-5, 1602-3, 1604-5, 1608-9, 1612-13, 1615-16, 1618-19;6 Merchant Adventurer by 1579,7 gov. by 1612-14, 1616-at least 1621;8 gov. Levant Co. 1605-d.9
Capt. militia ft. (East Regt.) London, by 1588, col. by 1608-at least 1616;10 trustee, Gresham Coll., London 1589-at least 1622;11 alderman, Billingsgate ward, London 1594-1609, Broad Street ward 1609-d., sheriff (jt.) 1595-6, mayor 1604-5;12 gov. St. Bart.’s hosp. 1596-d., almoner 1596-8, surveyor 1597-8, pres. 1610-d.;13 collector (jt.), Privy Seal loans, London 1597-8,14 1601 (Dutch merchants),15 1604;16 asst. to piracy commrs., London 1601;17 commr. subsidy, London 1604, 1608-10, 1621,18 sewers, Surr. and Kent 1603, Mdx. and London 1606-d., Surr. 1613,19 gaol delivery, Newgate, London 1603-d.,20 oyer and terminer, Mdx. and London 1605-at last 1621,21 gaol delivery, London 1605-at least 1621,22 aid for Prince Henry, London 1609,23 Princess Elizabeth 1612-13,24 to compound with landowners for building New River 1609,25 to build New River 1610-at least 1611,26 annoyances, Surr. 1611, Mdx. 1613,27 inquiry, goods of Alexander Bradshaw, London 1612, goods of Agnes Phillips, Surr. 1620-at least 1622.28
Lowe should be distinguished from a Buckinghamshire namesake who resided at Clifton Reynes,32 and from the Thomas Lowe who redeemed English captives from slavery in Algiers in 1599.33 His father, Simon Lowe, was a Merchant Taylor, and served as the Company’s third warden in 1549-50.34 Lowe himself joined the Haberdashers’ Company, probably as an apprentice to Thomas Aldersey, through whom he received his freedom in 1572. He also became a Merchant Adventurer. Following his father’s death he inherited 12 London properties which Simon had purchased for more than £620 from the Merchant Taylors. By 1579 he was living in Nuremberg, where he and fellow Haberdasher Henry Parvish, the husband of his wife’s sister, set up business, bringing in cloth from England and exporting silk, knives and other small wares. Thereafter he occasionally returned to London, commanding a foot band in 1588 and paying £100 in subsidy in 1589.35 He did not resettle in England until about November 1592, when he was appointed to the Haberdashers’ court of assistants. It was not long before he joined the ranks of London’s governing elite, for in 1594 he became an alderman, sheriff of London and master of the Haberdashers. That same year he also gained an important contact at Court, as his sister-in-law, Elizabeth Parvish married Sir Michael Hicks*, secretary to lord treasurer Burghley (Sir William Cecil†). This helps to explain why Lowe was chosen by the Exchequer in 1597 to collect a Privy Seal loan in London. Lowe’s services remained in demand following Burghley’s death and Hicks’ retirement from public life. In 1601 one of the participants in the 2nd earl of Essex’s rising was placed in his custody,36 and he also collected another loan for the Crown, this time from the City’s Dutch merchants. By now Lowe was living in the parish of St. Peter le Poor, in a ‘great messuage’ rented from the Grocers’ Company. This property evidently needed extensive repairs, but Lowe paid for the work himself in return for an extension to his lease, and remained there for the rest of his life.37
Lowe was one of 19 London aldermen to be knighted at the Coronation in July 1603. When Parliament was summoned to meet in 1604, Lowe was instructed by London’s corporation to use his influence with the government, for eight days after the election writs were issued he and six others were appointed to attend Lord Cecil (Robert Cecil†) and the duke of Lennox about ‘the especial affairs of this City’.38 It seems likely that this was a veiled reference to purveyance, for shortly before Parliament met the corporation sent a petition from the Poulterers complaining about the misdemeanours of the royal purveyors to the privy councillor Sir John Fortescue, who had recently been elected to the Commons.39 Lowe himself did not stand for election, nor was he a member of the City committee appointed in October 1605 to consider which bills to lay before Parliament when it reassembled in the following month. However, his standing continued to rise. In 1604-5 he served as mayor of London, and by 1606 was one of only three merchants who, between them, had all but cornered the market in the export of northern kersies.40 Moreover, in 1605 he was elected governor of the Levant Company, an office which he continued to hold for the rest of his life. However, his grip on the Company was evidently shaky, for only three years later one member of the Company observed that, amongst the rank and file of Levant merchants ‘his words are of little weight’ and that effective leadership had passed to Maurice Abbot* and Nicholas Leate.41
From the beginning of 1606 Lowe was required to take a more active interest in parliamentary affairs. In February he and several other leading Londoners were instructed by the corporation to attend Parliament concerning a bill that it was preparing to introduce. The king had recently challenged the City’s right to collect the duties payable on the measurage of coal in London, and consequently Lowe and his colleagues were instructed to sound out Parliament. They evidently received an encouraging response, for in April a bill was preferred, but in the event the measure failed to gain a reading in either House.42 Lowe was also given the task of considering another bill himself. Common Council was contemplating moving the market-place for selling the New Draperies from Blackwell Hall to Leadenhall, an alteration which would require statutory authority, and Lowe’s opinion, as a leading Merchant Adventurer, was certainly needed. His advice is unknown, but instructions were subsequently given to lay a bill before Parliament.43 Lowe remained on the fringes of parliamentary life until November 1606, when the London Member Sir Henry Billingsley* died. Like Lowe, Billingsley had been a Merchant Adventurer and a Haberdasher, and it is therefore not surprising that at the ensuing by-election Lowe was chosen as his replacement.
Lowe was not formally returned to Parliament until 2 Dec., but the election itself probably occurred several days beforehand, for as early as 29 Nov. Lowe was appointed to serve on the Commons’ committee to consider the articles for the proposed Union with Scotland.44 As far as the Crown was concerned, the Union was the main business of the 1606-7 session, and to the extent that the Union would affect trade Lowe was certainly interested in the project. Indeed, one of his first tasks as a new Member was to carry a message to the masters of Trinity House and various shipwrights and merchants ordering them to come to the Commons to discuss the implications for shipping the following day (7 Dec. 1606).45 However, Lowe’s own main preoccupation throughout the session was with London and her interests. He was named to discuss two bills designed to curb unnecessary building in and around London (6 Dec. 1606 and 27 Apr. 1607), and evidently spoke on the subject on 19 June 1607. On 9 Dec. 1606 he was named to the committee for a bill to explain a clause in the 1604 Tanners’ Act. This new measure may have originated with individual members of the Leathersellers’ Company, and certainly induced the mayor of London to write to the Commons.46 On 13 Mar. 1607 Lowe was appointed to consider repealing a clause in the 1604 Watermen’s Act, and on 1 May following he was named to the committee for the bill to allow the town of Southampton to prevent outsiders from selling goods within its precincts. This latter measure was fiercely opposed by the City as being prejudicial to its charter, but neither Lowe nor his fellow London Members proved capable of defeating it.47 Concern that London should be adequately provided with corn undoubtedly explains Lowe’s earlier membership of a committee to consider a bill to prevent wheat from being turned into starch (26 Feb. 1607), and why, too, he was subsequently named to the starch commission (23 Dec. 1607). London’s interests also formed the subject of Lowe’s first recorded speech in Parliament, which he delivered on 25 Feb. 1607. In it Lowe produced an account and petition on behalf ‘of certain merchants of London’ of ‘the injuries and cruelties’ inflicted on English merchants trading in the Mediterranean and West Indies. In particular, he recounted the torture of the purser of the Tryall of London by the Spaniards, who, he claimed, had been hung up by his arms and had weights and a live goat attached to his feet. He also complained that Englishmen in the West Indies had been told that ‘we may not trade in those parts’, and had been cast overboard or condemned to the galleys.48
Although London’s interests dominated Lowe’s parliamentary agenda in 1606-7, other issues also attracted his attention. As a merchant it is not surprising that on 5 June 1607 he was named to the committee for the bill regarding merchants’ debts, and as a magistrate he was naturally interested in bills to repress drunkenness (8 Dec. 1606) and punish the parents of illegitimate children (7 May 1607). His Cecil connections probably explain why he was appointed to committees for bills to assure Cheshunt vicarage to the earl of Salisbury (12 Dec. 1606) and Theobalds House to the king (30 May 1607). On 28 May 1607 Lowe was added to the committee for privileges, which was instructed to consider the problem of the recent low attendance in the Commons. Judging from his committee appointments, Lowe himself seems to have attended the House regularly until the end of the session. Indeed, on 3 July 1607, the day before Parliament was prorogued, he was instructed to help consider how the Benevolence collected from among the House’s Members should be spent.49 The only time his continued attendance was threatened was in May 1607, when he was ordered by King’s Bench to serve as a juror. However, the matter was brought to the attention of the Speaker, and he was granted parliamentary privilege.50
Parliament did not reassemble until 1610. In the interim Lowe served a fourth term as master of the Haberdashers and acquired a small plot of land in the manor of Barking, Essex, where Sir Michael Hicks held the office of Crown steward.51 In July 1609 he was appointed a commissioner to compound with those men across whose land the New River was to be dug, and in the following April he was named to another royal commission on the same project. The aim of the New River was to bring a fresh supply of water to London, but when Parliament reassembled in 1610 its opponents introduced legislation to repeal the Act upon which it was based. Lowe himself was naturally named to consider the measure when it was placed in committee, and may have helped prevent it from reaching the statute book.52 As in 1607, London’s interests figured prominently in Lowe’s committee appointments during the fourth session. These included, for instance, bills to confirm the Brewers and Salters in possession of their lands (20 Feb.); to uphold the power and authority of London’s Horners to regulate their craft (23 Feb.); and to redress the abuses of the silk-dyers (2 March). In the latter instance Lowe, a silk importer himself, headed the list of those named to the committee, which may suggest that he served as the committee’s chairman.53 Many of the trade measures which came before the Commons were not exclusively concerned with London interests, of course, although they nevertheless had a bearing on the capital’s trade. Among those which fell within this category and which Lowe was required to consider were bills on shipping and mariners (28 Feb.), piracy (3 Mar.), the assignment of debts (15 Mar.), exports (16 Mar.) and the import of wine (22 March). It is not known why Lowe opposed the first of these measures.54
Lowe played only a minor role in the negotiations for the Great Contract. On 15 Feb. 1610 he was named to the conference with the Lords at which Salisbury outlined the parlous state of the royal finances and requested supply, and on 26 May he was one of the Members appointed to attend the king two days later. He sympathized with James’ demand for financial assistance, for on 13 June, after urging his colleagues to be neither ‘mercenary nor sparing’, he seconded the demand made by Sir Julius Caesar, the chancellor of the Exchequer, for a vote of two subsidies and four fifteenths.55 Among Lowe’s remaining committee appointments were measures to suppress unlicensed alehouses and punish the parents of illegitimate children, subjects which had also attracted his interest in 1607.56 There is no trace of Lowe in the scanty records of the brief fifth session of Parliament.
By the time he served a fifth term as master of the Haberdashers (1612-13), Lowe owned a house in Putney. He was also a money-lender, and in November 1613 belonged to a syndicate which lent around £3,000 to a Gray’s Inn lawyer.57 Following the summons to a fresh Parliament in 1614, Lowe was once again returned for London, being chosen the most senior of the capital’s four Members. Shortly thereafter it was reported that he had been selected by the king to serve as Speaker, but it seems unlikely that there was any truth in this rumour as previous Speakers had all been lawyers.58 However, the belief that Lowe had been chosen to serve as Speaker perhaps explains why the City initially refused to return its recorder, Sir Henry Montagu for London’s second seat. Under normal circumstances Montagu’s election would have been uncontroversial, but the recorder had recently been promoted to king’s serjeant. Were London to elect him as well as Lowe it would mean that its two most senior Members would both owe their main loyalty to the king rather than the City. However, at some point over the next two weeks the City must have learned that Sir Ranulphe Crewe rather than Lowe would be serving as Speaker, thereby smoothing the way for Montagu’s election.
Lowe made no recorded speeches during the Addled Parliament, but behind the scenes he may have actively promoted the City’s extensive legislative agenda. Among the bills that the corporation of London laid before the Commons was a measure to facilitate the speedy recovery of small debts. This bill, or a similar measure drafted by the Bristol Member John Whitson, received a second reading on 11 May and was committed to Lowe and several other Members. Lowe was also appointed, as one of London’s Members, to consider a bill drafted by the corporation to redress the abuses in silk-dyeing (24 May). This measure, or one like it, had been considered four years earlier by a committee whose members had included Lowe. Prior to the new bill’s commitment, the Bristol Member Richard James affirmed that legislation was needed as one London alderman had grown rich by mixing cruel with silk, a barb which may, perhaps, have been directed at Lowe himself.59
Apart from those measures introduced by London’s corporation, Lowe must have taken an interest in the bill to confirm the erection by the Haberdashers of an almshouse and grammar school at Monmouth; certainly he was named to the committee along with the rest of London’s Members on 16 May. He must also have been anxious to debate in the Commons a scheme to place the dyeing and dressing of English cloth in the hands of a syndicate led by his fellow London alderman Sir William Cockayne. As this project would necessarily involve the dissolution of the Merchant Adventurers’ Company, of which he was still the governor, Lowe undoubtedly shared the view of his fellow London Member Robert Middleton, who condemned the proposal on 20 May as being like a sepulchre: ‘fair without, dead bones within’.60 However, though representatives from both sides were summoned at the beginning of June, Parliament was dissolved before the Commons was able to commence its investigation.
Shortly after the Parliament ended Lowe, sensing perhaps that the dissolution of the Merchant Adventurers’ Company was now inevitable, unsuccessfully attempted to oust Sir Thomas Smythe* as governor of the East India Company.61 However, Cockayne’s new Company failed to live up to expectation, and in the summer of 1615 the Merchant Adventurers, with Lowe at their helm, were restored to their former privileges. Over the next five years Lowe served twice more as master of the Haberdashers, and took a prominent part in negotiating with the Privy Council London’s contribution to the Algiers expedition.62 In 1618 he supported Robert Heath*, a client of the king’s favourite, the marquess of Buckingham, for the recordership of London against Sir James Whitelocke*.63 This may explain why the king, determined to prevent the election of Sir Edwin Sandys*, listed him as a candidate for the governorship of the Virginia Company in May 1620.64
Lowe was re-elected as senior knight for London in December 1620. When Parliament assembled a few months later, one of his chief grievances was the damage to trade caused by the Cockayne Project. On 13 Mar. he supported Sir Lionel Cranfield, who asserted that Cockayne’s scheme had led to a substantial reduction in cloth exports. In the year before Cockayne and his colleagues had been granted their patent, Lowe claimed, English merchants had sold 65,000 cloths, whereas ‘this last year they uttered but 35,000 cloths; so by that wicked and unfortunate project we have lost half our trade of clothing’.65 There was widespread sympathy in the House for this view, as the collapse in the cloth trade had plunged the whole country into recession. However, Lowe met a less encouraging response when he opposed a bill to restore the right of free trade to the Merchants of the Staple, for in a Parliament hostile to monopolies, few Members were prepared to tolerate the Merchant Adventurers’ stranglehold over the cloth trade. At the second reading debate on 7 May, Sir Thomas ‘Rowe’ complained that the bill ‘overthroweth the company of Merchant Adventurers’, but he was unable to prevent it from being committed.66 When the measure received its third reading, Lowe again went onto the attack, delivering the most forceful speech of his entire parliamentary career. Speaking on 24 Nov., he declared that the destruction of the Merchant Adventurers’ monopoly would occasion
a great fall of the prices of the cloth; for when the cloths are sold only in one town beyond sea, there will come merchants from all parts to buy cloth there, and must needs buy, because they cannot have of it elsewhere; whereas if we carry our cloth home to them, then we must sell the same [for as much] as they will give us.
He also claimed that the provision in the bill to allow anyone to trade in cloth on payment of a fee ‘will discourage gentlemen from putting their sons apprentices, if for £10 it may be lawful for any man to be as free of the [proposed new] Company as they who have served seven years for their freedom’. Moreover, by permitting anyone to trade for a fee ‘men of all sorts shall be brought in, as shopkeepers unskilful in that course’. His final argument rested on the uncontroversial theme of the need for orderly government: ‘There can never be a good government in trade when there are two companies for the sale of one kind of merchandise and they have several orders’. Indeed, the bill, were it to be enacted, would lead to the dissolution of ‘all companies and government’ and so destroy trade.67 It was a cleverly crafted speech, but despite Lowe’s best efforts the measure was allowed to pass.
Trade was not Lowe’s only concern during the Parliament. He remained anxious to protect London’s supply of corn, even if this harmed the interests of English farmers, and in April 1621 he therefore opposed a bill to prohibit the import of corn. Were the bill to pass he feared that it would be difficult to obtain corn from abroad in times of dearth. As each shire would also hang on to its grain supplies under such circumstances, London’s population might well starve.68 London’s interests were of such importance to Lowe that, in May 1621, he asked of one particular piece of proposed legislation ‘how far this bill extendeth, to the prejudice of London and corporations?’.69
During the 1621 Parliament Lowe defended his former son-in-law, Sir John Bennet,* who was accused of corruption. On 20 Apr. he persuaded the House to give Bennet copies of ‘five things proved’, and three days later he argued that there was no need to expel Bennet or have him seized as he was gravely ill. However, his plea was gently brushed aside by Sir Robert Phelips: ‘If I had the last gentleman’s particular interest I should speak with his affection’.70 In the following division, only Lowe voted against Bennet’s expulsion. Although he subsequently refused to allow Bennet to be committed to his care ‘in respect of the fullness of his house’,71 Lowe stood bail for him, providing a bond for £1,200.72 Bennet was not the only malefactor for whom Lowe showed concern during the Parliament, for on 2 June he urged his colleagues to instruct the warden of the Fleet to treat his prisoners better.73
By 1621 Lowe was a parliamentary veteran, and consequently his skills as a draftsman were often in demand. On 12 Feb. 1621 Lowe was appointed to help draft the petition to the king demanding the right of free speech, and four days later he was instructed to assist in penning the subsidy bill. He was also ordered to help draft the grievances petition on 16 May. As in the previous parliaments in which he had sat, he took an interest in bills to curb drunkenness, suggesting on 28 Feb. that two bills on this subject should be entrusted to the same committee.74 In November 1621 Lowe delivered a sealed letter to the Speaker which urged Parliament to ‘take from the kingdom all papists and favourites from the king’. There is no evidence that Lowe was aware of the contents of this letter, which were dismissed as ‘frivolous and vain’.75
Lowe was evidently ill by 15 Mar. 1623, for he was not present at a meeting of the Levant Company held in his London house.76 In his will, drafted nine days earlier, he left his London and Putney residences, together with the rents from various scattered properties worth £400 a year, to his widow. However, he expressed regret that ‘my estate will not afford me to make her a larger proportion of maintenance, being so loving and kind a wife’. Although he lived in the London parish of St. Peter le Poor, he asked to be buried at Putney or at his Gloucestershire manor of Osselworth, ‘where my eldest son now dwelleth’. His bequests included £20 to pay for a dinner at St. Bartholomew’s hospital, of which he was president. They also included his portrait, which he gave to the Haberdashers’ Company, who were instructed to set it up ‘on the right hand of the hall as you go in’.77 This picture, by an unknown artist, remains in the possession of the Company. Lowe died on 11 Apr. 1623 and, despite his wishes, was buried four days later in the church of St. Peter le Poor, where a monument was erected.78 No subsequent member of the family sat in Parliament.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Andrew Thrush
Mar. Lics. issued by Bp. of London, 1520 to 1610 ed. G.J. Armytage i. 265; GL, ms 11588/2, p. 353.
- 1. Lansd. 91, f. 29; C24/303/26; J. Stow, Survey of London (1720) ed. J. Strype, bk. 2, p. 113.
- 2. Vis. London (Harl. Soc. i.) 76; PROB 11/60 ff. 100-1v; PROB 11/141 ff. 245-6; G.E. Cokayne, Mayors and Sheriffs of London 1601-25, pp. 20-1; GI Admiss.; M. Temple Admiss.
- 3. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 128.
- 4. GL, ms 15857/1, f. 109v.
- 5. GL, ms 15482/1, f. 59v.
- 6. I. Archer, Haberdashers’ Co. 237-9.
- 7. W.R. Baumann, Merchant Adventurers and Continental Cloth Trade (1560s-1620s), 197.
- 8. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 119; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 204.
- 9. A. Friis, Alderman Cockayne’s Project and Cloth Trade, 82.
- 10. HMC Foljambe, 39; Lansd. 255, f. 493; G. Goold Walker, ‘Trained Bands of London’, Jnl. of Hon. Art. Co. xvi. no. 181, p. 3.
- 11. Mercers’ Hall, London, Gresham Reps. i. 1596-1625, pp. 94, 249.
- 12. A.B. Beaven, Aldermen of London, ii. 45.
- 13. St. Bart.’s Hosp. London, HA1/3, ff. 164, 181, 192v, 206; N. Moore, Hist. St. Bart.’s Hosp. ii. 801.
- 14. E401/2583, ff. 15v-19.
- 15. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 539.
- 16. E401/2585, ff. 5-6.
- 17. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 2, p. 15.
- 18. E115/277/2, 128; SP14/31/1; E315/524, f. 20; C212/22/20.
- 19. C181/1, f. 46; C181/2, ff. 20, 191; C181/3, f. 26v.
- 20. C181/1, f. 69; C181/3, f. 23.
- 21. C181/1, ff. 125v, 126; 181/3, f. 21, 46v.
- 22. C181/1, f. 127; C181/3, f. 23.
- 23. SP14/43/107.
- 24. C.M. Clode, Early Hist. of Merchant Taylors’ Co. i. 333; E403/2732, f. 173.
- 25. C193/6, no. 190.
- 26. C181/2, ff. 126v, 149.
- 27. Ibid. ff. 142, 199v.
- 28. Ibid. f. 167; 181/3, ff. 3v, 41v.
- 29. HMC Sackville, i. 155; CD 1621, vii. 438, 442.
- 30. CSP Col. E.I. 1513-1616, p. 394.
- 31. HMC Rutland, i. 458.
- 32. Vis. Bucks. (Harl. Soc. lviii.) 86-8; C54/1415; C54/1433.
- 33. Lansd. 142, ff. 46-7; APC, 1600-1, pp. 270-1.
- 34. Clode, ii. 341.
- 35. Vis. London, 157.
- 36. HMC Hatfield, xiv. 171.
- 37. M. Benbow, ‘Index to London Citizens’ (unpublished list deposited with the IHR), ii. 422; GL, ms 11588/2, p. 353.
- 38. CLRO, Reps. 26/1, f. 275.
- 39. P. Croft, ‘Parl., Purveyance and the City of London 1589-1608’, PH, iv. 14.
- 40. Friis, 130.
- 41. Travels of John Sanderson in the Levant, 1584-1602 ed. W. Foster (Hakluyt Soc. 1931), p. 252.
- 42. CLRO, Reps. 27, ff. 104v, 156v; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 154, 161.
- 43. CLRO, Jors. 27, ff. 26, 30.
- 44. CJ, i. 326b.
- 45. Ibid. 328a.
- 46. Ibid. 328b, 329a, 364a, 386a, 1039b.
- 47. Ibid. 352b, 365b; LONDON.
- 48. CJ, i. 340b-342a.
- 49. Ibid. 330a, 370b, 376a, 377a, 379b, 390b.
- 50. Ibid. 369b.
- 51. Lansd. 91, ff. 21, 27v-29.
- 52. CJ, i. 442a.
- 53. Ibid. 397b, 399a, 404a.
- 54. Ibid. 401b, 402a, 404b, 411b, 412a, 414a.