Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Chiffinch, Thomas

CHIFFINCH, THOMAS (1600–1666), keeper of Charles II's jewels and his majesty's closet, comptroller of the excise, &c., born at Salisbury in 1600, was brought to the court of Charles I by Brian Duppa, bishop of Salisbury (1641). In 1644 Sir E. Walker, Garter king-at-arms, gave a grant of arms gratis to Chiffinch, who was at that time one of the pages of his majesty's bedchamber and holding other offices. Duppa, tutor to the Prince of Wales, and afterwards bishop of Winchester (1660), was zealously careful about the character of the prince's companions, as was shown at Barnstaple in 1645, when he caused the expulsion of Wheeler (Clarendon, History, bk. ix. par. 53, note). From this date Chiffinch continued in attendance on Prince Charles. He appears to have belonged to the Chiffinches of Staplehurst in Kent, and married Dorothy Thanet of Merionethshire, by whom he had one son, Thomas. They went abroad with Charles II after his father's execution, and continued with him until the Restoration. Thus we find record that from 22 April 1656 until 7 Feb. 1657–8 he was at Bruges, his name and allowance being entered on a list at the hôtel de ville: ‘Le Seignieur Hugh Griffith et Le Sr. Thomas Chiffinch, Pages de la Chambre du Lict du Roy’ (Archælogia, xxxv. 242, 1853). At the Restoration Chiffinch was appointed keeper of the king's jewels, &c., and his wife Dorothy became laundress and sempstress to the king on 30 May 1660. On 9 April or 9 Sept. 1663 the king granted to him, conjointly with Thomas Ross, the office of receiver-general of the revenues of the foreign plantations in America and Africa (Egerton MS. 2395, fol. 370). He was trusted fully in delicate money matters, and seems to have been honest and loyal in all transactions, far more so than his brother William, with whom he is often confounded, each being successively closet keeper and page of the backstairs [see Chiffinch, William]. His autograph appears on his receipt for 3,000l. from Sir John Shaw, 9 Aug. 1661 (Addit. MS. 23199, Plut. ccccxlvii. E). A still more interesting document, but in another hand, is the list of twenty-two pictures received for the king's use, at stated prices, signed by him, ‘Thomas Chiffinch,’ to the value of 600l. Among them were an ‘Adoration of the Shepherds,’ and three others, by Tintoretto, one being the painter's own portrait; works by Giorgione, Palma, Guido Reni, Spagnoletto, Vandyke, Teniers, Paul Brill, and Holbein's Henry VIII when young. Chiffinch's name is also appended to another list of fifty pictures, purchased for his majesty, costing 2,086l., 20 Aug. 1660 (ib.) He consulted John Evelyn as to the arrangement in ‘fit repositories of those precious treasures and curiosities committed to Chiffinch's charge’ at Whitehall, so as to preserve the collection entire, and render it accessible ‘to great princes and curious strangers’ (see the answer of Evelyn in his Correspondence attached to the Diary, iii. 283, 1879 ed.) Evelyn dined with Chillinch at his house-warmingin St. James's Park on 28 Nov. 1661, and notes in his ‘Diary’ that Chiffinch was ‘his majesty's closet-keeper, and had his new house full of good pictures,’ &c. (ib. ii. 139). He died on 6 April 1666. Samuel Pepys was startled by the event: ‘The court full this morning of the newes of Tom Cheffin’s death, the king's closett-keeper. He was well last night as ever, playing at tables [i.e. backgammon] in the house, and not very ill this morning at six o'clock, yet dead before seven: they think of an imposthume in his breast. But it looks fearfully among people now-a-days, the plague as we hear encreasing everywhere again’ (Diary, iii. 422, ed. 1876). Chiffinch was buried under a gravestone in Westminster Abbey, not far removed from Chaucer’s monument, with the following inscription: 'Hic situs est Thomas Chiffinch, serenissimi Caroli Secundi a teneris annis, in utraque fortunii Fidus Assecla, ac proinde a Regis cimeliis primo constitutus, Vir notissimi caudoris et probitatis. Obiit vi. Id. April. A.D. 1666] His widow was also buried there, 3 April 1680. His son and only grandson of the same name were in turn appointed searchers at Gravesend, one dying in 1681, and the other in 1764.

[Inedited MSS. at the British Museum, Egerton 2395, fol. 370; Addit. MSS. 23199 and 5520, fol. 4; Crull’s Antiquities of St. Peter's, or the Abbey Church of Westminster, edited by J. R., 3rd ed. ii. 60, 1722; Memorials preserved at Bruges of Charles II's residence at that city, referred to in a letter by George Steinman-Steinman, F.S.A., in Archæologia, xxx. 242, 1853; Hasted’s Hist. and Topog. Survey of Kent, 2nd edit. 1797, iii. 307 et seq.; Pepys’s Diary; John Evelyn's Diary and Correspondence, &c.]

J. W. E.