The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Gresham, Thomas (c1519–1579)

  • Eleanor G. Powell
Reference work entry


The second son of Sir Richard Gresham, merchant, Sir Thomas Gresham was educated at Gonville Hall, Cambridge, apprenticed to his uncle Sir John Gresham, also a merchant, and admitted a member of the Mercers’ company in 1543. In 1551 or 1552 he became royal agent or king’s factor at Antwerp, in which post he received 20 shillings a day, and which he retained with few intervals during three reigns until 1574, employed in spite of his Protestant views even by Mary. His business was to negotiate royal loans with Flemish merchants, to buy arms and military stores, and to smuggle into England as much bullion as possible. He succeeded in raising the rate of exchange from 16 s. to 22 s. in the £, and is said to have saved in this way 100,000 marks to the crown and 300,000 to the nation. His operations greatly benefited English trade and credit, though the government could not be induced to pay its debts as punctually as Gresham would have liked. He did not hesitate to remonstrate with and advise Elizabeth and Cecil; but he was so useful and trustworthy that he was never seriously out of favour, except just after Mary’s accession. On Mary’s death he advised Elizabeth to restore the base money, to contract little foreign debt, and to keep up her credit, especially with English merchants. Later he taught her how to make use of these English merchants when political troubles in the Netherlands curtailed her foreign resources; at his suggestion the Merchant Adventurers and Staplers were forced by detention of their fleets to advance money to the state; but as they obtained interest at 12 per cent instead of the legal maximum of 10, and the interest no longer went abroad, the transaction proved advantageous to all parties and increased Gresham’s favour. His journeys to and from Antwerp were very frequent, but in his later years he entrusted most of his public work to his agent, and is not known to have been at Antwerp after 1567. In 1554 he was sent to Spain to procure bullion, a very difficult task in which he was only partially successful; and in 1559 he was employed as ambassador to the Duchess of Parma, regent of the Netherlands; it was on this occasion that he was knighted.


Gresham, T. 

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eleanor G. Powell
    • 1
  1. 1.