PLAYER, Sir Thomas (d.1686), of Hackney, Mdx. and Basinghall Street, London.
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Family and Education
o.s. of Thomas Player, hosier, of Mare Street, Hackney by w. Rebecca. m. lic. 16 Apr. 1641, Joyce, da. of William Kendall, Merchant Taylor, of London, s.p. Kntd. 5 Aug. 1660; suc. fa. 1672.1
Member, Haberdashers’ Co. 1659; col. white auxil. regt. of militia ft. London Apr. 1660; j.p. Mdx. July 1660-80; commr. for assessment, Mdx. 1661-80, London 1673-80; dep. lt. London 1662-77; leader, Hon. Artillery Co. 1669-70; asst. R. Africa Co. 1672-5; lt.-col. orange regt. of militia ft. London by 1672-4, col. 1674-7, common councilman 1672-82, chamberlain 1672-83, deputy 1675-83; commr. for recusants, Mdx. 1675.2
Commr. for disbandment 1679.
Player was the grandson of a linen draper in Canterbury. His father was captain in the trained bands sent by Parliament to the relief of Gloucester in 1643, and became Chamberlain of London for life in 1651. He and his father were knighted together by the King in recognition of his father’s services in the collection of the loans granted by the City to the crown at the Restoration. His own election as common councilman and as chamberlain in succession to his father, was greeted with enthusiasm by (Sir) John Robinson I, the leader of the court party in the corporation. He soon became an influential member of the common council, and was appointed to the committees administering the city lands, the markets and the Ulster plantation. However, he displeased the Court in the summer of 1673 by promoting together with Thomas Pilkington an address in the common council setting out the grievances of the City, and asking for a reduction in the London assessment. He and Sir Robert Clayton were deputed to present it to the King. Player sent a copy to (Sir) Joseph Williamson, his father’s old friend, adding
for this I was charged with carrying on seditious designs in London. That I was the contriver of it, I do own, but I dare stand or fall by your judgment as to what is contained in it. ... The next court of aldermen, after the common council, it was resolved to lay the address aside, and this was such a breach upon the common council as hath not been known.
Player was closely involved with two dissenting bankers, Thompson and Nelthorpe, who sat on the common council. They came into collision with the lord mayor about the appointment of the judge in the sheriffs’ court in March 1675 and continued the debate after the lord mayor had dissolved the court. They were later summoned before the Privy Council when they
acknowledged their error, that they had put any question after the lord mayor had risen, and excused it upon the heats and passions roused by the debates, and further acknowledged that the sole power of calling common councils and dissolving them rested in the lord mayor, and renounced all pretences to precedents in the late ill times.
They went bankrupt not long afterwards, and Player is said to have lost heavily in the crash. When Shaftesbury was sent to the Tower in February 1677 Player declared ‘it was a hard thing when a man had placed part of his fortune in trade to be thus forced away from his business. ... If trade was thus destroyed, they would all think of retiring.’ However, he had not yet severed all contacts with the Court, and still came to ‘drink now and then with the King at Will Chiffinch’s’, though not as often as formerly. In the following October he won ‘great applause’ for himself in London by promoting a petition to the common council complaining of the decay of trade in the City. At the common hall in June 1677 the court party made an attempt to ‘out Sir Thomas Player’ by holding the meeting on a Sunday, ‘imagining that the fanatics might be absent upon scruple of profaning the Sabbath’, but the move failed, and Player was re-elected by a huge majority. Though politically allied to the dissenters, Player proclaimed himself ‘a devout son of the Church of England’. The same year, the Duke of York prevented the re-election of Player as leader of the Hon. Artillery Company, saying ‘he had behaved himself so that no honest man ought to countenance him’, and the post was abolished. Player was also removed from the lieutenancy. This was believed to have been the origin of the deep hatred Player thereafter had for the duke. As an avowed opponent of the Court, who was said to take his instructions from Shaftesbury, he was able to use his position as chamberlain to block at least one of the loans Danby was seeking from the City in 1678.3
Returned for London to the Exclusion Parliaments, Player was classed as ‘honest’ by Shaftesbury. A very active Member in 1679, he was appointed to 34 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges and the committee of secrecy to investigate the Popish Plot. He made 11 recorded speeches. On 27 Mar. he opposed the bill sent down from the Lords to banish Danby, declaring that ‘sending him away from a country he loves not is no punishment’, and he was appointed to manage a conference with the Lords. After helping to examine the disbandment accounts he was nominated as one of the four commissioners. He also helped to consider the habeas corpus bill and the bill to regulate elections, to draw up an address for the execution of the convicted Popish priests, and to inquire into the miscarriages in the navy. On 27 Apr., in a debate on the dangers of Popery, he urged that it was
absolutely necessary to alter the oath in the Militia Act about taking up arms against such as one commissioned by the King. Under this King we are not under any temptation to break that oath. I believe nobody will plunder me, or cut my throat. A Popish successor may send Popish guards, and we shall not have the honour of ancient martyrdom in flames, but die like dogs and have our throats cut, and I must not take up arms to defend myself against such rogues! Considering how near we are to that danger, let us do something speedily, that we poor Protestants may be secured from Popish successors.
On 10 May, when Charles Bertie was questioned by the House about secret service payments made by him, Player suggested that he should be prosecuted ‘for embezzling public money’. The next day he moved the first exclusion bill, being appointed to the committee to draft it, and naturally voting for it at the committee stage. After the dissolution Player and Pilkington, with whom he was hand in glove, began to revive the tactics of the country party in 1641 by organizing a citizens’ petition to put pressure on the King. In September Player, accompanied by ‘several hundreds of the principal citizens of London’, attended the court of aldermen, when he made an inflammatory speech declaring that the return of the Duke of York to London was such a threat to the safety of the citizens that the city guards should be doubled, and forcing the lord mayor to deny a report that he had promised to proclaim James had the King’s illness proved fatal. The French ambassador commented that Player’s conduct ‘would be criminal in any other country’. Some Whig leaders were believed to think it too extreme, and designed merely ‘to get fame among the people’. Re-elected in October, he organized a citizens’ petition for the meeting of Parliament presented to the common council, who refused to adopt it by one vote on 20 Jan. 1680. When the second Exclusion Parliament did meet, Player was again very active, being appointed to 38 committees and making 13 recorded speeches. On 26 Oct. he moved for an inquiry into abhorring, and was appointed to the committee. On 2 Nov. he declared that the City of London wanted exclusion pure and simple:
in Coleman’s letters that we read we see that all the Catholics in England depend upon the Duke, and those abroad too. Take away the general, and the army will be weak and useless. Let the Duke be removed.
He was appointed to the committee to draw up the second exclusion bill. On 13 Nov. he was named to the committee to receive information about the Popish Plot. The same day he supported a motion for the removal of Jeffreys as recorder of London, saying that he had threatened petitioners in the common council with the loss of their charter, and had represented to the King ‘as good a people as those of London’ as seditious. He was a member of the committee to draw up the address for Jeffreys’ removal four days later. On 18 Nov. he spoke in favour of an address to the King to grant a free pardon to Turberville and other witnesses in the plot, otherwise once Parliament was dissolved ‘you shall have witnesses blasted in their evidence, as they were formerly, and the Plot stiffled’. The same day in the debate on Sir Robert Peyton he declared: ‘I think him not fit to sit in the House, that holds correspondence with the Duke. Pray clear the House of him.’ On 26 Nov. he was appointed to the committee to prepare the impeachment of Edward Seymour, and on 6 Jan. 1681 to that on the bill to repeal the Corporations Act. In the Oxford Parliament, he was appointed to the committee of elections and privileges, and helped to manage a conference on the loss of the bill of ease for Protestant dissenters in the previous Parliament. On the Fitzharris case he said:
it is plain that Justice Godfrey was murdered by the Papists, and that the army mustered on Blackheath was raised with intentions to destroy the Protestants in Holland, and to awe the City of London. When Fitzharris gave intimation that he would discover what he knew of this plot, and that two or three honourable Members of this House had examined him, this man was fetched the next day to Whitehall and from thence hurried to the Tower and so we were deprived of all farther hopes of discovery from him. We now revive the information for an impeachment and now this man must not be brought hither to be tried: he must be tried by an inferior court, that his mouth may be stopped, and put out of capacity to discover. This being the case, I move that if any judges, justices of the peace, juries etc. shall proceed upon the trial of this man, that you will vote them guilty of his murder and betrayers of the rights of the commons of England.4
After the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament, an informer reported to the Government that there were frequent meetings held at night at Player’s house near the Guildhall, attended by Clayton, Pilkington and Sir Patience Ward. Player, like Clayton, was said to be ‘for a free state and no other government’. On 28 Apr. 1681 Player presented to the court of aldermen a citizens’ petition setting out the necessity of calling a Parliament to continue the investigation of the Popish Plot, and the dangers threatening Protestants. Despite strenuous efforts on the part of the Court ‘to disappoint Sir Thomas Player’s evil designs’, the common council voted on 13 May an address for the calling and sitting of Parliament, and appointed Player on the committee to draw it up. Next month the Government arrested Brian Haines, one of Shaftesbury’s witnesses in the Popish Plot, who gave evidence against him, and revealed that Player was ‘treasurer’ of a Whig fund to maintain the witnesses in the plot, and that John Rous, his agent in City elections, distributed allowances to them. There were rumours that Player’s arrest would follow, but on 18 Oct. when Rous was tried for high treason on the evidence of informers previously used by Shaftesbury, a jury packed by Pilkington returned an ignoramus verdict. An all-Whig jury brought a similar verdict in Shaftesbury’s case, and, perhaps for this reason, no action was taken against Player. Nicknamed ‘Sir Thomas Cresswell’ by the Tories on account of his intimacy with Mother Cresswell, the keeper of London’s most notorious brothel in Moorfields, where he was said to owe £300, he appeared in Absalom and Achitophel as ‘railing Rabshakeh’,
A saint that can both flesh and spirit use,
Alike haunts conventicles and stews,
Of whom the question difficult appears,
If most i’ th’ preachers or the bawds arrears.
On 18 Jan. 1682, he was appointed to the committee of the common council to prepare the defence of the London charter against the writ of quo warranto. He took an active part in the common hall in the summer of 1682 to promote the election of two Whigs as sheriffs of London. On 19 Sept., the day two Tories were returned as sheriffs, Player asked a prominent London Tory ‘what need is there of doubling the militia guard this morning?’, to which the other replied, ‘I wonder, Sir Thomas, that you should ask that question since you know the Duke of York is in town’. Player was defeated at the common council elections in December. In February he was fined 500 marks as one of the promotors of the riot at the sheriffs’ election of 1682. Rous, who had been arrested after the Rye House Plot, offered to turn King’s evidence against Player to save his own life, but without avail. He was said to have declined nomination as chamberlain at the common hall on 5 Sept. 1683. Next month he was reported to be ‘making strong application’ for a pardon from the Court. During James II’s Parliament Player was examined about a deficiency of £3,246 in the £13,859 paid to him as disbandment commissioner. His estate was forfeited until the deficiency was made up. He died on 14 Jan. 1686, and was buried at Hackney.5
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. Soc. of Genealogists, Boyd’s London Units, 35759; London Mar. Lic. (Index Lib. xlii), 220.
- 2. J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London, 131; Parl. Intell. 2 Apr. 1660; Sel. Charters (Selden Soc. xxviii), 189; SP29/61/5.
- 3. DNB; Archaeologia (ser. 2), ii. 129-44; CSP Dom. 1671-2, p. 40, 1672-3, p. 159; 1673-4, pp. 32-33; 1675-6, pp. 26-27, 537; 1676-7, pp. 22, 388, 562-3: Williamson Letters (Cam. Soc. n.s. viii), 113-14; Marvell ed. Margoliouth, ii. 236-7; London’s Choice of citizens to represent them ... in Parliament, 7 Oct. 1679; G. Gould Walker, Hon. Artillery Co. 78; K. W. D. Harley, Shaftesbury, 491; HMC 7th Rep. 470.
- 4. Grey, vii. 61-62, 151-2, 233-4, 406, 465; vii. 31-32, 140, 337-8; An Account of the proceedings at the Guildhall in the City of London on Saturday 13 Sept. 1679; PRO 31/3, bdle. 147, f. 41; Leics. RO, Finch mss; HMC 7th Rep. 475.
- 5. CSP Dom. 1680-1, pp. 232, 256, 295, 331; 1682, p. 584, Jan.-June 1683, p. 356; July-Sept. 1683, p. 374; State Trials, ix. 638, 640; HMC Ormonde, n.s. vi. 89, 90-91, 110-11; Reresby, Mems. 233-4; Bodl. Carte mss 216, f. 173; Poems on Affairs of State, ii. 433-4; iii. 294-5; HMC 10th Rep. IV, 134; HMC Downshire, i. 19; HMC Portland, viii. 367; An impartial account of the proceedings at the Guildhall, 5 Sept. 1683; CJ, ix. 751-2; Luttrell, i. 369; Lysons, Environs, ii. 497.