Elizabeth I’s most well-known favourites were bellicose types like Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Ralegh or Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, whose head in the end was too hot for his own impatient, impetuous shoulders. They smote the queen’s enemies and filled her coffers using fire and sword.
Far more considered and cerebral ways of benefiting the Exchequer were employed by an altogether lesser-known servant: Sir Thomas Gresham (1518/9 – 1579). From a family of Norfolk merchants, this London-born entrepreneur gave the City not one but two great institutions: the Royal Exchange and Gresham College.
Gresham achieved better results than most by more peaceful means.
His upbringing was a privileged one. He was the younger son of Sir Richard Gresham, a successful merchant and Lord Mayor of London 1537. Born at his father’s house in Milk Lane in 1518/9, Thomas’s boyhood remains obscure but he spent…
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