Thomas Smith (diplomat)

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A c. 19th-century line engraving of Sir Thomas Smith.

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

Education and career[edit]

Born at Saffron Walden in Essex, Smith 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.

He was an early convert to Protestant views, which brought him into prominence when Edward VI came to the throne. 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 became a Member of Parliament, and was sent in 1562 as ambassador to France, where he remained till 1566; and in 1572 he again went to France in the same capacity for a short time. He remained one of Elizabeth's most trusted Protestant counsellors, being appointed in 1572 Chancellor of the Order of the Garter and a secretary of state.

Failed colony in Ireland[edit]

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".[2]

Smith was a Member of Parliament of the Parliament of England for Marlborough in 1547, Grampound in October 1553, Liverpool 1559, and Essex 1571 and 1572.

He died on 12 August 1577.[3]

Marriages and heirs[edit]

Smith married firstly, on 15 April 1548, Elizabeth Carkeke (died 1553), the daughter of a London printer.[4]

He married secondly, on 23 July 1554,[5] 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.[6][7]

The title page of the 1609 edition of Smith's work[8]

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.[9] 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.[10] Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was brought up in Smith's house and tutored by him.[11]


Sir Thomas Smith's book De Republica Anglorum: the Maner of Gouernement or Policie of the Realme of England,[12] 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).[13]


  1. ^ "Smith, Thomas (SMT526T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ "Theme: Pre Ulster Scots", Ulster Scots Heritage Trail, archived from the original on 13 December 2013, retrieved 10 September 2012 .
  3. ^ Richardson II 2011, p. 333.
  4. ^ Dewar 1964, pp. 34, 75.
  5. ^ Richardson II 2011, p. 333.
  6. ^ Dewar 1964, p. 77.
  7. ^ Richardson states that she was the daughter of John Wilford, a gentleman, of London.Richardson II 2011, p. 333.
  8. ^ Thomas Smith (1609), The Common-vvealth of England, and the Maner of Gouernement thereof. Compiled by the Honovrable Sir Thomas Smith, Knight, Doctor of both Lawes, and One of the Principall Secretaries vnto two moſt Worthy Princes, King Edvvard, and Queene Elizabeth. With New Additions of the Chiefe Courts in England, and the Offices thereof by the ſaid Author. Alſo a Table Added thereto, of All the Principall Matters Contained in this Treatiſe. Newly Corrected and Amended, London: Printed [by John Windet] for Iohn Smethwicke, and are to be ſold at his Shop in S. Dunstones Church-yard, vnder the Diall, OCLC 20191820 
  9. ^ Dewar 1964, pp. 202–8.
  10. ^ Collins 1741, p. 344; Berry 1987, pp. 95–8, 113.
  11. ^ 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 .
  12. ^ Thomas Smith (1583), De Repvblica Anglorvm: The Maner of Gouernement or Policie of the Realme of England, Compiled by the Honorable Man Thomas Smyth, Doctor of the Ciuil Lawes, Knight, and Principall Secretarie vnto the Two Most Worthie Princes, King Edward the Sixt, and Queene Elizabeth. Seene and Allowed, London: Printed by Henrie Midleton for Gregorie Seton, OCLC 78473435 .
  13. ^ Thomas Smith (1568), De recta & emendata lingvæ Anglicæ scriptione, dialogus: Thoma Smitho equestris ordinis Anglo authore [Correct and Improved English Writing, a Dialogue: Thomas Smith, knight, English author, Paris: Ex officina Roberti Stephani typographi regij [from the office of Robert Stephan, the King's Printer], OCLC 20472303 .


  • Armitage, David (2000), The Ideological Origins of the British Empire, p. 238 .
  • Berry, Herbert (1987), Shakespeare's Playhouses, New York: AMS Press, pp. 82–8 .
  • Collins, Arthur (1741), The English Baronetage, III, Part I, London: Thomas Wotton, p. 344, retrieved 18 April 2013 .
  • Dewar, Mary (1964), Sir Thomas Smith; A Tudor Intellectual in Office, London: The Athlone Press .
  • 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 .

External links[edit]

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