Sir Thomas Smythe (1513-1577)
Sir Thomas Smythe was one of the most upright statesmen of his era. He was born at Saffron Walden, Essex, 23 Dec 1513, the eldest son of John Smith (d. 1547) and Agnes Charnock (b. Lancashire; d, 1547). His father was wealthy; served as Sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire in 1538/9 and had the grant of arms confirmed to him in 1545. In About 1550, he was granted the former lands of the dissolved Ankerwycke Priory by Edward Vl for his service as Secretary of State.
Thus, it seems, Thomas was following in the tradition of many other Smyth family members - inter alia in Cornwall and Yorkshire - with Abbeys/Priories being 'granted' to them by the monarch or by powerful families such as the Nevilles. Thomas Smyth also became Provost to Eton College and built the first Ankerwycke House which was eventually inherited by the Harcourt family in 1725.
His principal heir was his nephew Sir William Smythe (died 1626), son of his brother George Smythe, a London draper. See Carrington & some English Smith/Smyth lines of note - Cressing Temple - This Sir William Smythe had a son Thomas Smythe who was created Baronet in 1661. Descendants of this family often carried the name Smijth.
For a direct line leading from the 1400s through to the Victorian era, see the Pedigree link at top of page.
Sir Thomas Smythe - Marriages - (1) 15 Apr 1548 to Elizabeth, daughter of William Carkett (Karkek) born 29 Nov 1529. She died childless in 1552. (2) 23 Jul 1554 to Philippa, daughter of John Wilford of London, widow of Sir John Hampden of Theydon Mount, Essex who died 21 Dec 1553. Philippa outlived her husband (she died in1584) but they had no children. Sir Thomas demolished the original house, which came to him through his marriage to Philippa (Wilford) Hampden and built Hill Hall, in Essex.
Hill Hall - If the fabric of this building could speak, there might well be heard a tale or two to question the plot of the film "Shakespeare In Love" and perhaps even solve the long-standing Shakespeare vs. Oxford "who wrote?" debate once and for all! There is a pleasant irony in the fact that the director of that film and the writer of this article were contemporaries at Clifton College in the 1960s. For a short biography of Edward de Vere - Earl of Oxford, see (new window) details of a work, co-written in 1976 by this same writer, which tells the story (fiction based on fact) of the young Chapel Royal chorister and celebrated child actor, Salomon Pavey. The adult Earl of Oxford became an important patron of "The Children of the Chapel Royal" - revenue rivals to the "common players" at the Globe. For a quirky aside entertainment on the above topic, see also The Private E-mails of William Shakespeare - Smith - Smyth - Smythe and the Tudor Internet - proof at last - through the Smith/Smyth/e families - as to who wrote Shakespeare and how it all came about. The "lost years" of William Shakespeare can now be explained through Smith genealogy.
Oxford became an orphan when he was twelve years old and so became a Ward of the Crown. After an earlier spell in the household of Queen Elizabeth's Secretary, William Cecil, (Lord Burleigh) he was settled at Hill Hall in the household of Sir Thomas, who then became his guardian. Edward's closest childhood friend was his cousin, the young Earl of Rutland. This family (Manners) forms a strand of the maternal line of this site as does the family of William Smyth - Apothecary of Shrewsbury whose daughter, Corbetta Smyth, became the mother of the children of Lord William Manners, 2nd son of the 2nd. Duke of Rutland. Thomas Smythe was also known for his interest in the physical world and in 'alchemy'.
Edward de Vere "lived with Sir Thomas at his home, Hill Hall, in the countryside of Essex County, where Smith was indeed, respected and perhaps loved by all his neighbors, both for his importance and for his efforts to beautify and raise the standard of living in his community." This forms part of an interesting essay - which favours the Oxford side of the debate - by Stephanie Hopkins Hughes and which may be read in full here. As her work also declares, Thomas was "an expert in English Civil Law ... often called upon to advise the Privy Council on legal matters, and later would serve for a time as Her Majesty's Principal Secretary." Tour through A Potted Who's Who - (Shakespeare's era) - where may also be found several of the families mentioned on this site.
In Pigot's Directory of Essex for 1832/3 a descendant (Sir) Thomas Smyth is listed as the owner. A major change in the Hall's history must have taken place in 1925 since the contents of the Hall are recorded as being sold in that year. During World War II the Hall was a transit camp and was also occupied by The East End Maternity Hospital (founded in 1884 as the Mother's Lying-in Hospital in Glamis Road, Shadwell); additionally, the grounds saw the location of Prisoner of War Camp 116.
In 1969, the building was burned out and left a ruin - now described by English Heritage as "a fine Elizabethan mansion which features some of the earliest external Renaissance architectural detail in the country and rare period wall paintings of mythical and biblical subjects." Hill Hall has now been divided into private homes, but parts remain open to the public.
Hill Hall is a particularly interesting building for that series of fine wall paintings - discovered after the fire. Modern analysis of these has taken place and may be read via the Tobit Curteis Associates image link (.pdf file) adjacent. Much of the research centres on the style (or styles) of the works and on the paint materials used. As much as Thomas Smythe may have been known for his skills in herbal medicine it is more than likely that his considerable "laboratory" at Hill Hall would also have been used to experiment with mixing the various ingredients - stains, dyes and pigments, from plants and elsewhere - that were used to execute these wall paintings. There is also some conjecture as to whether he carried out some of the work himself - although it is acknowledged that he was probably a finer statesman than draughtsman!
The dating of the paintings is suggested as being from around the last few years of Thomas' life. He died in 1577. As to the subject matter , it is interesting to note that one of the themes is the biblical story of King Hezikiah. Hezikiah fell ill and prayed - pleading with God to 'save' him. As a result, his life was extended. It is known that Thomas Smythe became ill himself and developed what is now thought to have been a form of cancer - of the throat - and it may be conjectured, perhaps, that there was some significance in the Hezikiah story for him. Under note (it will have to be searched now as the site exists only in index form) 48028 Patrick Allen Payne a modern-era expert on the Smith/Smyth/e family lines notes - in addition to the illness mentioned above - that "In September 1576 he was at Bath taking the waters, but returned home shortly afterwards, dying 12 Aug. 1577 at Hill Hall ... "
The Somerset based firm of Nimbus Conservations was responsible (inter alia) for the renovation of the fireplace in the Great Hall and it would appear that the central coat of arms of the fireplace shows an impaling of Smith/Smyth arms similar to those of Bishop William Smith/Smyth of Lincoln (qv below). As opposed to being Tudor roses above and below the chevron the motif seem to be of "pards" as found in Smith of Bermuda/America arms. A closer view of the actual Hill Hall arms will clarify this conjecture. If there is a star motif involved in the Hill Hall Smyth arms, it will tie in with the stars associated in the same configuration with the chevron as depicted in the Bristol Smyth arms shown on this site.
To the extent that the photographic image can be manipulated - allowing for the age of the sculpture and the shades of the working photograph - and if this is actually Sir Thomas - then it may be possible to say he has - or seems to have - Smyth/e descendant characteristics - deep-set eyes under heavy brows - perhaps even a rather prominent chin; until an image of one of his contemporary portraits becomes available to this site, we will have to conjecture with this somewhat "ghostly" image!
And ghosts there are (or were) indeed at Hill Hall ...
From the 1920s onwards, a large black dog was seen on several occasions, laying across the beds. After the destruction (1969) of the building, it was never seen again. At the very end of May, on the stroke of midnight, a mustard coloured coach is believed to drive down the driveway. Its owner is thought to be Duke de Morrow, who lived in the building at the beginning of the twentieth century. Another haunting - recorded from the 1960s - runs "Having 7 brothers fall in love with her, a local beauty convinced them all to fight a duel for her hand in marriage. All 7 died as a result of this fight, and now the woman's ghost walks in remorse of her actions. Another version of this tale states that the local beauty was the sister of the seven brothers, and they died fighting her fiancÚ." Yet another defines this latter as "A beautiful maiden was said to have resided in Hill Hall, Theydon Bois, Essex in the 16th Century. Seven local brothers were soon to become extremely enamoured with the lady who, flattered by the attention, could not decide which of the youths to take as a husband. One day all seven came a courting at once and in their frustration and fury a quarrel arose. Within a short time the situation dramatically escalated and, in the presence of the shocked young woman, the seven brothers bloodily slaughtered each other. Despite vigorous scrubbing, it is said that many years passed before the stains of their battle were finally removed."
Smyth/e Family - Smith family - later Bowyer Smijth The British NRA details list as follows: seats: Hill Hall, Essex and Attleborough, Norfolk. It is significant that the Smyth family associated with Dame Ethel Smyth, composer and suffragette, was also associated with Hill Hall. Her family line is descended from Irish Smyth family with a progenitor named "William Smithdike" (in the service King Henry VIII) who was granted the lease of the Neville-owned estates of Rosedale Abbey in Yorkshire at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Through the biography of a lesser known American female architect, Theodate Pope Riddle - an acquaintance of the novelist, Henry James - it transpires that "On their first encounter, Henry James had suggested that they drive the very next day to Hill Hall, near Epping, northeast of London, to have tea with Mrs. Charles Hunter. Mary Hunter, the wife of a wealthy coal mine owner, was one of five Smyth sisters, the best known being the composer and militant suffragette, Dame Ethel Smyth. Theodate relates that she and James almost missed tea, as Mrs. Hunter was out when they arrived, Henry James not having notified her of their coming. However, Mr. Hunter caught them as they were leaving, invited them to tea, and they stayed on for dinner where Theodate met another Smyth sister who became a close friend. This was Nina Hollings. She invited Theodate to lunch at her house, Watchetts, in Frimley, Surrey, asking her to bring along Helena Gleichen, a painter of horses and landscapes."
Sir Thomas Smythe's Children - He married twice but had no children within marriage. Just a year after taking priest's orders, Thomas had an illegitimate son, Thomas, born in 1547. The son accompanied him to France and then was placed in charge of his father's colony at Ards in Ireland. He was killed by the Irish 18 Oct 1573. Thomas Smythe (his son) (b.1547) had no children. A descendant of Sir Thomas Smythe - named Sir Edward - was appointed Chief Justice in Ireland as, too, was another Sir Edward. Access the article which treats on these two legal men. The Edward Smythe debate ...
Link Right: - Sir Thomas Smythe was born in 1513. Use the link to access the story and background of William Smyth, Bishop of Lincoln, who died in 1513/14. Possible connection with this Smyth/e family of Essex?
Sir Thomas Smythe (1513-1577) enjoyed reading, writing and painting from a young age. Before May 1525 he "was placed under the care of Henry Gold of St. John's College, Cambridge." He entered Queen's College, Cambridge in 1526, was appointed King's scholar the following year, was elected fellow on 25 Jan 1529/30, and graduated M.A. in 1533. He then lectured on natural philosophy and Greek. In May 1540 he went abroad, visiting Paris and Orleans before studying in Padua. Back home, he sought to restore the correct pronunciation of Greek, quite a controversial matter at the college, and he also wrote a tract advocating extending the English alphabet to include 10 vowels.
His university career advanced in 1544 when he was appointed regius professor of civil law and served as vice-chancellor of Cambridge. He also became chancellor to the Bishop of Ely, Goodrich. He was ordained priest in 1546 and claimed to have received a prebend in Lincoln Cathedral. (Where William Smyth (qv) had been Bishop in the early 1500s.)
Smythe was early a protestant, "had distinguished himself in protecting reformers at Cambridge from Gardiner's hostility," and retained moderate protestant views all his life. After Edward VI's accession, he entered the service of Protector Somerset, to whom he always remained loyal, in February 1546/7, and later that year became Provost of Eton and Dean of Carlyle. He and Sir William Petre were made the two principal secretaries of state in April 1548, succeeding Paget. The next summer Smythe was sent on a special mission to Flanders, negotiating for mercenaries and for support against France, but it didn't go well. That autumn he worked on the English feudal claim over Scotland. In 1549 he was knighted.
After serving on the commission to deal with Bonner in September 1549, he was with Protector Somerset at Hampton Court and accompanied him to Windsor where Smythe lost his major offices: the council, the post of secretary, and his professorship at Cambridge. He was imprisoned in the Tower for close to five months. Shortly afterwards, summoned as a witness against Gardiner, he seems to have used his influence rather in Gardiner's favour - which stood him in good stead in Mary's reign.
May 1551 took Smythe back to France, accompanying Northampton on his embassy to the court. Most of this year and the next he was at Eton, where he had a hard time with the other fellows until Northumberland stepped in on his side. Then in 1553, after Mary's accession he was summoned before her commissioners, but Gardiner protected him and he even obtained an indulgence from the pope.
In September 1553 Smythe was Member of Parliament for Grampound, Cornwall. He spent the rest of Mary's reign in private study, but returned to public life on Elizabeth's accession. He was again M.P. in 1558/9, this time for Liverpool. Smythe was a member of the ecclesiastical commission reviewing the Book of Common Prayer, and their meetings were held in his house in Cannon Row, Westminster.
In 1562, during the struggle between the Guises and the Huguenots, he went to France in the role of Ambassador. Sir Nicholas Throgmorton was joint ambassador, an unhappy arrangement as there was jealousy between them and some mistrust from Queen Elizabeth. This was a difficult assignment, given that Elizabeth was interested in helping the Huguenots, and also used the occasion to seize Le Havre; Smythe was even imprisoned at Melun for 3 weeks in 1563. He stayed in France two years beyond the signing of the peace of Troyes in April 1564, returning to England in May 1566.
Having failed to obtain the chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster, he spent the next three years in retirement in Essex. March 1570/1 saw him readmitted to the privy council. In April 1572 he was made chancellor of the Order of the Garter, succeeding Burghley, then was elected knight of the shire for Essex, and in July appointed secretary of state. That year he persuaded Queen Elizabeth to send help to Scottish protestants.
In his last years, besides much official work, he was involved in establishing a colony at Ards, county Down, where he left his illegitimate (?and only) son in charge, only to lose him quickly, in 1573. All parties lost their investments as well. His health declined in early 1576 and he died at home at Theydon Mount, Essex, 12 August 1577. He was buried in the parish church. By his will, his library went to Queens College.
Smythe was an accomplished "physician, mathematician, astronomer, architect, historian and orator" whose friends included the leading scholars of his time. His most notable work - of many - was De Republica Anglorum; the Maner of Governement or Policie of the Realm of England, called "the most important description of the constitution and government of England written in the Tudor age."
There is a portrait of Sir Thomas Smythe by Holbein at Theydon Mount and a portrait at Queens College, Cambridge. A (.jpg 261Kb) scanned pedigree of the family from the mid 1400s through to the early Victorian era has been generously supplied by historian, Phil Curwood, of England. He has made a particular study of the family of Sir Edward Smijth (aka Smith/Smythe) who married Jane Vandeput. Sir Edward Smijth shares a particular distinction with another, slightly earlier, Sir Edward Smythe. Click on the Smijth link adjacent to access an article about these two men.
Set into the above text section is an image of the arms of the Reverend Sir William Smyth of Hill Hall, Essex, who died in January 1777. He is buried at Theydon Mount and his tomb lies among many such graves which bear witness to the lives of members of this family. Gratitude is expressed to Julie and Rob Summers for their research. Features on the above arms contain echoes of the earlier devices as seen in the "Nimbus" collection, as one would expect. However, there are additions that cannot be distinguished here. In heraldic terms, it is significant that the helm is front facing with visor raised. The crest appears to be a hart or hind, perhaps, with head turned back and sideways - certainly, a quadruped.
The Smythe of Whitchurch shield (right) is impaled. It has Smythe as three ? hammers ? set two above and one below a chevron. There is a single star between the top two icons. This image is a "negative" which brings out the content of the shield more effectively. The impaling with Smythe is of three fish and it is clear there are other symbols as well, which seems to be three sets of three "crosses".
The arms on the left depict a mixture of details - the "bend" which may also be seen in some Smyth of Ireland heraldry - with three (? crows - choughs?) on it, one of which possibly figures in the arms impaled with those of Sir Thomas Smythe as seen in the Nimbus collection. That single bird appears there, too, with three symbols in the shape of a cross.
In some of the Irish Smyth arms, there are three lozenges where the 'birds' are placed here. Normally a lozenge indicates a female line. Significantly, there are three pards in this shield. Consider the helm. Questions: Is that a fish "impaled" on a "horn" - and are those peacock feathers?
A unicorn's horn would be significant for some Irish Smyth heraldic devices - as would that of an ox. The fish device may be seen in the arms of Sir Edward Smythe - of a Smythe family possibly related to Sir Edward Smijth of this same Hill Hall line (see text link above to see context of these arms) ... and peacock feathers are heraldic devices associated with Carrington Smith/Smyth.
The coat of arms appears in conjunction with the two brass rubbings below ... Smyth associated with the families of Blount and Motte.
These two images are adapted from brass-rubbings at Thames Ditton. The above is accompanied by the following text: "Hereunder lyeth the bodyes of Robert Smythe Gentleman and Katheryn his wyfe dawghter to Syr Thomas Blounte of Kinlett knight, whiche Robert dyed the (?) daye of September 1539. And the cayd Katherin died the (?) daye of July . 1549 ."
"Hereunder lyeth the bodyes of William Notte Esquire & Elizabeth his wife dawghter to the above named Robert Smyth & Katheryn his wife Whiche William dyed the ? daye of November . 1576 . and the cayd Elizabeth dyed the ? of May . 1587 ."