1657, Sir Thomas Vyner and Edward Backwell seek to mitigate financial losses resulting from a contract to import low grade bullion from Spain

Transcription from ‘Petitions in the State Papers: 1650s’, in Petitions in the State Papers, 1600-1699, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, Sir Thomas Vyner, knight, and Edward Backwell of London, goldsmith. SP 18/153 f. 32 (1657).

To his highness Oliver Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England Scotland and Ireland etc and to the right honourable the counsell.

The humble petition of Sir Thomas Vyner knight and Edward Backwell of London goldsmith

Humbly sheweth that your petitioners did on the 30th of October last contract for all the Spanish barrs, peices of eight, and plate brought to Portsmouth by Generall Mountague, (before they had any sight thereof) by which contract your petitioners are to pay 5 shillings 4 pence the ounce for the Spanish assay of 2380 which is to bee eighteene penyweight better, and so in proporcion as the fineness shall be marked upon the severall barrs. 

That your petitioners were informed that the Spanish assayes were reformed, which made your petitioners so willing to embrace this bargaine; but this silver contrary to expectacion was marked by their assay three yeares since; so that may it please your highness your petitioners finde many of the said assaies upon the barrs falsefied, from one penny, to six pence on the ounce, and in one great barr neere one quarter of the whole barr, and in the whole quantity but two barrs that are the full fineness eighteen penny weight better, which is 2380, by which finest silver wee can not make one penny in the ounce; towards advance of money and provision.

That your petitioners have already paid into your highnes Exchequer, one hundred and thirty thousand pounds, being at great charge in procuring, and paying interest for the same, for the speedy supply of your highnes. In consideration whereof.

Your petitioners most humbly pray your highnes to graunt your petitioners a warrant to transport ten thousand pound in peices of eight, and fifty of the worst barrs custom free, (without which your petitioners will suffer great damage) and your petitioners will give their security to bring the full quanty of silver to your highnes mynt within six months.

And your petitioners shall pray etc.

Report by Barbara Prynn

In their petition Vyner and Backwell explained they had contracted to buy ‘Spanish bars, pieces of eight and plate’ that General Montague was bringing to Portsmouth. They did so without sight of the prize, confident that it had been properly assayed. On taking delivery, they found the silver was not of the expected quality. They had already paid £130,000 (£13m in today’s money), which they had borrowed at interest. The value of the cargo they had received was such that they could not make ‘one penny in the ounce’.

They asked now that they be allowed to transport £10,000 in pieces of eight and 50 of the worst bars customs free, with an undertaking to deliver the silver to the Mint within six months.

Sir Thomas Vyner

Sir Thomas Vyner, 1st Baronet (1588–1665) was a wealthy English goldsmith, businessman and politician who served as the Lord Mayor of London. He supplied gold bullion to two English kings and to the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. He was born at North Cerney, Gloucestershire on 15 December 1588, the son of Thomas and Anne Vyner and died in Hackney on 11 May 1665. He was buried in St Mary Woolnoth church in Langbourn ward, though his monument was moved by his great-nephew Robert Vyner to Gautby. Vyner had three wives, four daughters, and two sons. He was succeeded in the baronetcy by his son, George.

After his father’s death in 1600, Vyner was sent to London to live with his sister and brother-in-law, Samuel Moore. Moore introduced Vyner to the goldsmith trade and he soon became a member of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and later became its prime warden. In 1622 Vyner purchased a mansion in what was then the village of Hackney. On 8 July 1624, James I appointed Vyner to the office of comptroller of the mint. Under Oliver Cromwell, Vyner supplied large quantities of gold bullion to, and created coinage for, both the English government and the East India Company.

As Vyner became more successful in business he also ventured into politics. In 1646 he was elected alderman for Billingsgate ward of London, a post he held until 1651. In 1651 Vyner ran for election as alderman in the Langbourn ward and in 1653 he became the Lord Mayor of London. That same year Vyner was knighted by Cromwell. In 1660, with the loss of his post as alderman, Vyner appears to have retired from public service. On 18 June 1661 Charles II made Vyner a baronet.[1]

Edward Backwell

Edward Backwell was born in about 1618 and died in 1683. He was the son of Barnaby Backwell of Leighton Buzzard and came to the City of London in 1635 when he was apprenticed to Thomas Vyner. Backwell received the freedom of the Goldsmith’s Company in 1651 and had his goldsmith’s shop at the sign of the Unicorn in Lombard Street. He became a  goldsmith-banker and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1673 and 1683. He has been called ‘the principal founder of the banking system in England’ and ‘far and away the best documented banker of his time’.

Like other goldsmith-bankers of the era, Backwell played a role in state finance. During the time of the English Republic (1649-1660) he was deeply involved in credit finance and dealt in former Crown property that had been put on the market. During this period he bought the park at Hampton Court and then resold it to the government at a profit.

Following the capture of Dunkirk in 1658 by Anglo-French forces, Backwell was appointed Treasurer of Dunkirk, which was ceded to England by Spain. After the Restoration, he kept this position. Together with Sir Thomas Vyner he was responsible for provision of money to the royal household and with handling bullion brought in for coinage at the Royal Mint.

In 1660, just before the Restoration, Edward Backwell was elected alderman of the City of London, but the following year he paid the customary fine to be excused from this position. He is the most frequently referred to financier in Samuel Pepys’s Diary, which is perhaps indicative of his importance. Trading from his premises in Lombard Street he was alderman for the City ward of Bishopsgate in 1660 and 1661, and the greatest banker of the early years of the Restoration. Among many others Samuel Pepys was one of his customers. In 1662 Backwell married Mary Leigh who died in 1669 and by whom he had three sons and two daughters. His son, John, was from a previous marriage.

Edward Backwell continued to operate in finance during the reign of Charles II. He took deposits, lent money and provided foreign exchange services during the years leading up to the Stop of the Exchequer of 1672, which almost ruined him. However, in 1671 with his son John he had been appointed comptroller of customs in the port of London and, with his old master Vyner, he was from 1671 to 1675 a commissioner of the customs and farmer of the customs revenue.

Backwell owned land in Buckinghamshire and Huntingdonshire. In 1671 he was elected as a Member of Parliament for Wendover. He was re-elected in 1679 and again in 1681. He went bankrupt in 1682 and went to the Netherlands where he died, his body being brought back to London and buried on 13 June 1683.[2]

Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich

Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich was born on 27 July 1625 and died on 28 May 1672. He was the only surviving son of Sir Sidney Montagu by his first wife Paulina Pepys  of Cottenham (who died in 1638 and was the great-aunt of Samuel Pepys) and he was brought up at Hinchingbrooke House. After his mother’s death his father married Anne Isham who died in 1676. She was the daughter of Gregory Isham and widow of John Pay of Westminster. The Montagu marriage was happy and relations between Anne and her stepson were cordial. Sidney Montagu died in 1644.

Edward Montagu was an English landowner, infantry officer, and later naval officer. He served Parliament by raising a regiment of infantry in June, 1643. In 1645 he was elected Member of Parliament for Huntingdonshire as a recruiter to the Long Parliament. He was nominated MP for Huntingdonshire in 1653 for the Barebones Parliament, and was elected MP for Huntingdonshire in 1654 for the First Protectorate Parliament. He continued to serve in the army for the Commonwealth of England, and in 1656 he became General-at-Sea, serving jointly with General-at-sea Admiral Robert Blake in the Mediterranean, Portugal and Spain.

In April 1656 Robert Blake, with a fleet of around forty warships, fireships and supply vessels, sailed to blockade the Spanish port of Cadiz.  The Spanish remained on the defensive and took no aggressive action against the English fleet. In mid-June Captain Edward Blagg sailed with eight ships to raid ports in northern Spain. On 24 June Blagg raided Vigo, where a number of ships in the harbour were destroyed. While here he replenished his water supplies on the African coast, and a detachment of five frigates under a Captain Smith raided Malaga in southern Spain on 19 July. He sank nine Spanish ships, spiked the harbour guns, and bombarded the town. A similar raid on Alicante was unsuccessful but the threat of attack disrupted trade all along the coast of Spain. On the evening of 8 September one of Blake’s captains, Richard Stayner, intercepted a Spanish treasure fleet and captured or sank all but two of its ships. The loss of the cargoes of the ships captured or sunk by the English was a serious blow to the economy of Spain with an estimated loss of £2m (over £200m to-day). For the first time in naval history, Blake kept the fleet at sea throughout an entire winter in order to maintain the blockade against Spain.[3]

Vyner and Backwell contracted to purchase their Spanish bullion in October 1656. It was undoubtedly part of the prize obtained as a result of Blake’s actions.

Later, as principal General-at-Sea, Montagu blockaded Dunkirk before the Battle of the Dunes. He enjoyed the trust and confidence of Cromwell who appointed him to his Council of State. Montagu never lost his admiration and respect for Cromwell, and was prepared to defend his record even after the Restoration. In 1656 he was re-elected MP for Huntingdonshire in the Second Protectorate Parliament. In 1658 he served in Cromwell’s short-lived Upper House.

He was a member of the influential group known to their opponents as ‘the Kinglings’ who strongly, but without success, urged Cromwell to proclaim himself King. Montagu was prepared to support a Cromwell dynasty, and in the confusion which followed Cromwell’s death remained loyal to his son, Richard, during his brief and disastrous rule as Lord Protector.

Although he had served Oliver Cromwell loyally in the 1650s, Montagu went on to play a considerable part in the Restoration of King Charles II and was rewarded with several court offices. He served as the English ambassador to Portugal from 1661 to 1662 and the ambassador to Spain from 1666 to 1668. He later became an admiral, serving in the two Anglo-Dutch Wars during the reign of Charles II. He was killed at the Battle of Solebay.[4]

The petition

The petition was not ignored. On its receipt a report was requested.[5]  In March 1657 those charged with reporting were asked to consider ‘Sir John Barkstead’s certificate concerning an allowance to Sir Thos. Vyner and Edw. Backwell in respect of water soaked into the pina silver, part of their late contract; also Backwell’s petition to export 400l. value of plate’.[6] Sir John Barkstead was a goldsmith. Active in the Parliamentary cause he was appointed as one of the judges at Charles II’s trial. He was executed after the Restoration as a regicide.[7] It appears that the cargo the petitioners bought was revalued. In May ‘the book prepared and presented to Council by […] Mint officers […] containing an account of the prize plate and bullion taken from the Spaniards, and contracted for by Vyner and Backwell’ was transmitted to the Treasury Commissioners for them ‘to examine and take order that the money due thereon be answered to the State’.[8] Whether Sir Thomas and Edward were now able to make a profit from their contract is not known.


[1] ‘Sir Thomas Vyner, 1st Baronet’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Thomas_Vyner,_1st_Baronet.

[2] ‘Edward Backwell’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Backwell.

[3] ‘Anglo-Spanish War (1654-1660)’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Spanish_War_(1654%E2%80%931660).

[4] ‘Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Montagu,_1st_Earl_of_Sandwich.

[5] ‘Volume 153: January 1657’, in Mary Anne Everett Green (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1656-7(1883), pp. 223-258. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/interregnum/1656-7/pp223-258.

[6] ‘Volume 154: March 1657’, in Mary Anne Everett Green (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1656-7 (1883), pp. 297-324. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/interregnum/1656-7/pp297-324.

[7] ‘John Barkstead’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Barkstead.

[8] ‘Volume 155: May 1657’, in Mary Anne Everett Green (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1656-7 (1883), pp. 362-390. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/interregnum/1656-7/pp362-390.

This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the Interregnum, 1649-1660’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.