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The ROYAL'EXCHANGE, being our point of direction to what is peculiarly denominated the City, as it were, a sun, whence every ray expands life and spirit to the remotest èorner of the metropolis, the country, and the world !
-of course claims priority of description.
ROYAL EXCHANGE. Mr. Malcolm, in his Londinium Redivivus, has observed, that “a commercial city, destitute of an Exchange, would be thought as improper a residence for merchants, as a parish without a church for that of religious people. Our ancestors judged otherwise, and the merchants of London traded for centuries without a rallying point, or place where men of business might find each other at certain hours; and where, abstracted from all other subjects, the conversation turned wholly upon profit and loss.”
So just an observation being premised, we are led to wonder why a place of commercial resort was not suggested long before the time of queen Elizabeth ; and that London, in this, as well as in other respects, did not rival other marts. of commerce.
It appears that so late as the year 1531, the merchants met in Lombard Street, where they were exposed to the open air and all inclemencies of the weather. Sir Richard Gresham, the king's mercbant *, being then sheriff, considering the
• The origin of the title KING'S MERCHANT not being generally ynderstood, an account of that honour and trust is subjoined :
That this dignity was of early date, is deducible from the fact, that William De La Pole, knight banneret, was King's Merchant in the 14th of Edward III. and that his son Michael De La Pole, earl of Suffolk, bad the same honour from Richard II. The duties imposed by this office, are better understood by the following documents from various autho. rities :
Charles V. emperor of Germany, being reduced to great distress by the unhappy expedition of Tunis, experienced a powerful succour in money from the Fuggers, a single family of merchants only, but at that time the most opulent and distinguished traders in his dominions. For the security of re-payment of those large sums, wherewith they had
inconveniences under which his fellow citizens laboured, and willing to do all in his power to render them more comfortable, he wrote a letter to Sir Thomas Audley, lord privy
supplied the government, his Imperial majesty gave them written oblia gations, under his royal hand and seal.
To give a demonstration of their zeal to the interest of their country, and their inviolable attachment to the person of his majesty, those merchants requested the emperor, as he was one day taking an airing by their house, to do them the honour of regaling himself, to which his majesty readily condescended. After the collation was over, they desired permission of the emperor to burn a faggot of cinnamon in the hall, where the entertainment was made, not only with intent to administer all they could to his majesty's delight, but to give further proof of their hearty affection to his person and government; which they did by bunda ling up the bonds of security they had taken for their money, with the faggot, and set fire to them before the emperor's face.
Mr. afterwards Sir Thomas Greshamn, is another instance well deserving notice, as it manifests how far it is in the power of merchants to support government under the greatest emergency.
Sir William Dansell having succeeded Sir Richard Gresham as king's merchant to Edward VI. upon his dismissal Mr. Thomas Gresham was put in his place; and it was his business to take up money of the merchants of Antwerp. It seems that the mode by which that business had deen formerly managed, was greatly to the prejudice of the crown of England, as well by giving a very large interest for the money borrowed, as other inconveniences, when the principal was not paid within the time of the contract. Mr. Gresham was sent to Antwerp on that account; and the money, which had been taken up in his agency, not being paid at the time agreed on, gave him great uneasiness, his business being then to get it prolonged. The method taken by the creditors in such cases, was to insist upon the king's purchasing jewels, or some other commodities, to a considerable value, as a consideration for prolonging the debt, besides continuing the interest. A remarkable instance of this is mentioned in the Journal of king Edward the VI. which we shall here recite, from the original manuscript.
“ 1537, April 25th. A bargaine made with the Foulcare for aboute sixty thousand pounde, that in May and August should be paid. For the deferring of it, First, that the Foulcare should put it os for ten in the hundred. Secondly, that I shall buy twelve thousand marc waight, ac six shillings sh' ounce, to be delivered at Antwerpe, and so conveyed over. Thirdly, I shall pay an hundred thousand crownes for a very faire juel of his, fower rubies marvellous bige, an orient and great diamount, VOL. II. No. 32,
seal, acquainting him, “ that there were certain houses in that street belonging to Sir George Monoux, which if purchased, a handsome house might be built on the ground;
and one great pearle.” And in another minute, dated 1551, January 24th, it is said, “ Gresham was sent over into Flaunders to shew to the Fulker, to whom I ought money, that I would differ it; or if I paid it, pay it in Englishe, to make them kepe up their French crownes, with which I minded to pay them." This way of proceeding, Gresham neither thought for the honour of his majesty, nor his own credit, as his agent; and therefore he proposed the following scheme to bring the king wholly out of debt in two years. “ In case the king and council would assign him twelve or thirteen hundred pounds a week, to be secretly received at one man's hands, that so it might be kept secret, he would so usc that matter in the town of Antwerpe, that every day he would be seen to take up in his own name two hundred pounds sterling by exchange, which would amount in one year to seventy-two thousand pounds. And thus, doing, it should not be perceived, nor administer occasion to make the exchange fall. He projected also a great benefit to the king, if all the lead were in the king's hands, and the king to make a staple thereof, and to make a proclamation, or to shut up the Custom House, that none should convey out of the land any parcels of lead for five years; whereby the king might cause it to rise, and feed them at Antwerp from time to time, as they should have need thereof, by which means he might keep his money within his realms, and bring himself out of the debts which his father and the late duke of Somerset had brought him into."
Although the exchange was then at sixteen shillings, Mr. Gresham so wisely managed his negotiation, that he paid off the king's debts as they sell due, at an exchange of twenty and twenty-two shillings per pound, whereby the king saved no less than an hundred thousand marks.
Nor did the advantage of the nation from the eminent skill of this great English merchant, terminate here; for, when the exchange was greatly to the disadvantage of England, gold and silver were daily exported out of the kingdom in great plenty; he by wisely raising it, in the course of his money negotiations for the service of the state, caused the coin to be brought back again, to the general emolument of the whole trading interest.
Thus the wisdom of Sir Thomas's counsels proved not only of the highest honour and advantage to king Edward's reign, but to those of his successors, queen Mary and queen Elizabeth; both these princesses having made choice of him for the management of their money, and their mercantile affairs, so that he was peculiarly named THE ROYAL MERCHANT. Stow, Maitland, Postlethwayte, Ward.
Sir Richard, therefore, desired his lordship to move king Henry VIII. that a letter might be sent to Sir George, requiring him to sell these houses to the mayor and commonalty for that purpose; he suppossd that the expence of erecting a burse would cost upwards of two thousand pounds, half of which he doubted not to raise before he went out of office.” In another part of the same letter, Sir Richard urged, " that whereas the liberty of banking was then granted by patent, how necessary it was, that all merchants, both subjects and foreigners, should be permitted to exercise exchanges and re-changes without restraint ; the want of which was a great detriment to trade, and occasioned the exportation of gold out of the kingdom; he, therefore, requested Sir Thomas to prevail on the king to issue his proclamation to that purpose," which the king wisely complied with. The consequence of these applications was, that several common councils were held, whether there should be a burse, or convenient place of meeting, for merchants to transact their mercantile concerns; and in 1534, king Henry VIII. sent his letters to the city for erecting a new burse at Leadenhall; but upon consideration of the circumstance, it was put to the vote, whether the proposed burse should be removed from Lombard Street; when being negatived, the merchants had their meetings and their inconveniences as usual.
What the father could not effect, the son accomplished. Sir Thomas Gresham proceeded with his fütber's design, and improving upon his spirit, proposed that if the corporation would give him a piece of ground in a commodious situation, he would build an Exchange at his own expeuce, with large and covered walks, where the merchants and traders of all sorts might daily assemble, and transact business at all seasons, without interruption from the weather, or impediment of any kind. This gracious offer was gratefully accepted, and in 1566, several buildings in Cornbill and the adjoining alleys, forming a square of eighty houses, were purchased for upwards of 3,5921. and sold for 4781. on condi
# This was in 1564, Sir Richard Mallory, being mayor, and Edward Jackman and Lionel Ducket, esquircs, sheriffs.
tion of pulling them down, and clearing away the materials. The ground plot having been then levelled at the expence of the city, and possession given to Sir Thomas, who in the deed is stiled “ Agent to the Queen's Highness ;" he, on the serenth of June, in the same year, laid the foundation; and the work was carried on with such expedition, that, in November 1567, the whole was covered in with slate, and the shell shortly after finished.
The plan which Sir Thomas adopted in the formation of this structure, was similar to that at Antwerp; being an oblong square, with a portico, supported by pillars of marble, ten on the north and south sides, and seven on the east and west; under which stood the shops, each seven feet and a half long, and five feet broad ; in all one hundred and twenty ; twenty-five on each side east and west; thirtyfour and an half north ; and thirty-five and an half south, each of which paid an average rent of 4l. 10s. per annum. Other shops were likewise fitted up in the lower vaults; but the darkness and damps rendered them so inconvenient, that they were compelled to be let out to other uses. the roof stood the crest of the founder, which was a grasshopper. The edifice being fully completed, the shops were opened in 1569. In the year 1579, according to Stow, on the 23d of January, queen Elizabeth, attended by her nobility, “ came from her house at the Strand, called Sommerset House, and entered the city, by Temple Bar, through Fleet Street, Cheape, and so by the north side of the burse, to Sir Thomas Gresham's, in Bishopsgate Streete, where she dined. After dinner, her majestie returned through Cornbill, entered the burse on the south side, and after that shee had viewed every part thereof above the ground, especially the pawne, which was richlie furnished with all sorts of the finest wares in the city; she caused the same burse by an herralde and a trompet to bee proclaimed the ROYALL EsCHANGE, and so to bee called from henceforth, and not otherwise *."
Book I. p. 283. edit. 1720. A tradition asserts that upon this occasion, Sir Thomas had a pearl of great cost reduced to powder, which he drank off in a bumper to the queen, in a glass of wine.