Thomas Smith (diplomat)

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Sir Thomas Smith (23 December 1513 – 12 August 1577) was an English scholar, parliamentarian and diplomat.

Early life

Born at Saffron Walden in Essex, Smith was the second son of John Smith of Walden by Agnes, daughter of John Charnock of Lancashire. He was educated at Queens' College, Cambridge, where he became a fellow in 1530,[1] and in 1533 was appointed a public reader or professor. He lectured in the schools on natural philosophy, and on Greek in his own rooms. In 1540 Smith went abroad, and, after studying in France and Italy and taking a degree in law at the University of Padua, returned to Cambridge in 1542.

He now took the lead in the reform of the pronunciation of Greek, his views being universally adopted after considerable controversy. He and his friend, Sir John Cheke, were the great classical scholars of the time in England. In January 1543/4 he was appointed the first Regius Professor of Civil Law. He was vice-chancellor of the university the same year. In 1547 he became provost of Eton College and dean of Carlisle Cathedral.

Sir Thomas was an early convert to Protestantism, which brought him into prominence when Edward VI came to the throne being appointed Secretary of State. During the protectorate of Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, he entered public life and was made the Secretary of State, and was sent on an important diplomatic mission to Brussels. In 1548 he was knighted. On the accession of Queen Mary I he lost all his offices, but in the reign of her sister, Elizabeth I, was prominently employed in public affairs.

He was returned as Member of Parliament for Liverpool in 1559. It became clear that he supported the religious settlement and Confessions of Westminster (1560) sitting on two committees of Inquiry. When an expert handler of the son of the King of Sweden visiting Westminster, he was sent in 1562 as ambassador to France as an emerging diplomatic talent; remaining in France from September 1562 with experienced envoy Sir Nicholas Throckmorton; and in 1572 Smith again went to France in the same capacity for a short time. However Smith came to dagger blows with Throckmorton over character and policy differences. He finally returned home in disgrace after suffering illness in April 1566.

All was not lost because Smith remained one of Elizabeth's most trusted Protestant counsellors. He had long been a friend of Sir William Cecil. Ennobled as Lord Burghley, Cecil appointed Smith to the Privy Council, only a month before he was elected to Commons as MP for a knight of the shire for Essex. Smith, a prime mover behind the Conformity bills sought to restrain extremism and secure a subsidy from his fellow members. But when he suggested the bishops be consulted, the puritan William Fleetwood defeated his motion. As a Privy Councillor he was influential on a number of committees. he spoke on hthe Treason bill on the floor of the house, and examined witnesses to the Catholic plot led by the Duke of Norfolk. He was noted as upholding a religious objection to torture. His oustanding work elevated him to the higher ministerial echelons; being appointed in 1572 Chancellor of the Order of the Garter and in July, Principal Secretary.[2]

Failed colony in Ireland

In 1571, Elizabeth I, a great believer in colonization, granted Smith 360,000 acres (150,000 ha) of East Ulster to plant English settlers in an effort to seize control of the Clandeboye O’Neill territory and control the native Irish. The grant included all of the area known today as North Down and the Ards, apart from the southern tip of the Peninsula which was controlled by the Anglo-Norman Savage family.

Unfortunately for Smith, the booklet he printed to advertise his new lands was read by the Clandeboye O'Neill chief, Sir Brian MacPhelim, who just a few years earlier had been knighted by Elizabeth. Furious at her duplicity in secretly arranging for the colonization of O'Neill territory, he burned down all the major buildings in the area, making it difficult for the plantation to take hold. Launching a wave of attacks on these early English settlers, the O'Neills scorched the land Smith claimed, burning abbeys, monasteries and churches, and leaving Clandeboye "totally waste and void of inhabitants".[3]

Smith, who was also a Member of Parliament for Essex in 1571 and 1572, died on 12 August 1577 at Hill Hall in Essex.[2][4]

Marriages and heirs

Smith married firstly, on 15 April 1548, Elizabeth Carkeke (died 1553), the daughter of a London printer.[5]

He married secondly, on 23 July 1554,[6] Philippa Wilford (died 15 June 1578), widow of Sir John Hampden (died 20 December 1553) of Great Hampden, Buckinghamshire, and daughter of the London merchant Henry Wilford.[7][8]

File:Thomas Smith, The Common-wealth of England (1609, title page).jpg
The title page of the 1609 edition of Smith's work[9]

Smith had no issue by either marriage. His heirs were his younger brother, George, and George's son, Sir William Smith (died 12 December 1626) of Theydon Mount, Essex.[10] Sir William Smith's daughter, Frances Smith, married Sir Matthew Brend, owner of the land on which the first and second Globe Theatres was built.[11] Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was brought up in Smith's house and tutored by him.[12]


Sir Thomas Smith's book De Republica Anglorum: the Maner of Gouernement or Policie of the Realme of England,[13] written between 1562 and 1565, was first published in 1583. In it, he described England as a mixed government and a commonwealth, and stated that all commonwealths are of mixed character.

Smith also authored De recta & emendata lingvæ Anglicæ scriptione, dialogus (Correct and Improved English Writing, a Dialogue, 1568).[14]


  1. "Smith, Thomas (SMT526T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value)..
  3. "Theme: Pre Ulster Scots", Ulster Scots Heritage Trail, archived from the original on 13 December 2013, retrieved 10 September 2012<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  4. Richardson II 2011, p. 333.
  5. Dewar 1964, pp. 34, 75.
  6. Richardson II 2011, p. 333.
  7. Dewar 1964, p. 77.
  8. Richardson states that she was the daughter of John Wilford, a gentleman, of London. Richardson II 2011, p. 333.
  9. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value)..
  10. Dewar 1964, pp. 202–8.
  11. Collins 1741, p. 344; Berry 1987, pp. 95–8, 113.
  12. Mark Anderson (2005), "Shakespeare" by another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man who was Shakespeare, New York, N.Y.: Gotham Books, p. 6, ISBN 978-1-59240-103-1<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  13. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value)..
  14. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value)..


  • Armitage, David (2000), The Ideological Origins of the British Empire, p. 238<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Berry, Herbert (1987), Shakespeare's Playhouses, New York: AMS Press, pp. 82–8<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Collins, Arthur (1741), The English Baronetage, III, Part I, London: Thomas Wotton, p. 344, retrieved 18 April 2013<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Dewar, Mary (1964), Sir Thomas Smith; A Tudor Intellectual in Office, London: The Athlone Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Richardson, Douglas (2011), Everingham, Kimball G., ed., Magna Carta Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, II (2nd ed.), Salt Lake City, ISBN 1449966381<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value)..

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Howard of Effingham
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
Sir Francis Walsingham