Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Edmondes, Thomas
EDMONDES, Sir THOMAS (1563?–1639), diplomatist, fifth son of Thomas Edmondes of Fowey, Cornwall, was born at Plymouth about 1563. His father was head-customer of the port of Plymouth, was mayor in 1582, and was himself the son of Henry Edmondes of New Sarum, Wiltshire, by Juliana, daughter of William Brandon of the same place (cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. 263 b, 277 b). His mother was Joan, daughter of Antony Delabare of Sherborne, Dorsetshire. Another Sir Thomas Edmondes is stated by Anthony à Wood to have been controller of Queen Elizabeth's household, and to have brought his namesake to court at a very early age (cf. Athenæ Oxon. ii. 322–3). But there is no proof of the presence of an elder Sir Thomas Edmondes about the court, and his existence is shadowy. Sir Francis Walsingham patronised young Edmondes, and in 1592 he was appointed English agent to Henry IV at Paris, at a salary of twenty shillings a day. The money was paid so irregularly that in 1593 Edmondes asserted that he had ‘not the means wherewith to put a good garment on my back to appear in honest company.’ For a short period Edmondes contemplated allying himself with the Earl of Essex, but his correspondence with the earl ceased on 31 Dec. 1595. Thenceforth he was faithful to the Cecils, and was denounced as ‘a Judas’ by Essex's following. To Don Antonio he was always opposed, and declined to aid his intrigues in France or England. On 17 May 1596 he was appointed secretary to the queen for the French tongue, and was recalled from Paris soon afterwards. He resumed his office as agent at the French court for a short time in October 1597, and for a third time between July 1598 and June 1599. Sir Henry Neville, who was then ambassador at Paris, wrote of his diplomatic abilities in the highest terms. In the following December he was sent to make arrangements for a conference between English envoys and Archduke Albert in the Netherlands: the archduke was unwilling that the conference should take place in England, as Edmondes was instructed to propose; the envoy therefore journeyed to Paris and arranged that the meetings of the commissioners for negotiating the peace should take place at Boulogne. He returned to England on 17 Feb. 1597–8; left for Brussels 11 March; saw the archduke again eleven days later; obtained his assent to take part in the negotiations; and was received with special favour by Elizabeth in April. Edmondes was one of the commissioners to treat in behalf of England at Boulogne. He stayed there from 16 May to 28 July 1598, but a dispute as to precedence between the representatives of the negotiating powers, Spain and England, brought the meeting to an abortive ending. Edmondes was rewarded for his exertions with a clerkship of the privy council. In June and August 1601 he was sent to France to protest against the bad treatment to which the French subjected English merchants, and to suggest an active alliance between Elizabeth and Henry IV for the purpose of attacking Spain in the Netherlands. On 29 Sept. 1601 he was elected M.P. for Liskeard. On 10 Feb. 1602–3 he was in London supping with his friends Winwood, Chamberlain, and others at the Mermaid tavern (Chamberlain, Letters, p. 178). The death of Elizabeth did not interfere with Edmondes's diplomatic work. He was knighted by James I, 20 May 1603; on 13 March 1603–1604 became M.P. for Wilton; and after the conclusion of peace between Spain and England, 18 Aug. 1604, became ambassador to the archduke at Brussels. He left England to take up his office 19 April 1605, after being granted a reversion to the post of clerk of the crown. Edmondes chiefly directed his energies at Brussels to keeping the peace between Spain and the States-General, and found Prince Maurice difficult to deal with. He was recalled in the autumn of 1609. In April 1610 he acted as an assistant-commissioner in the negotiations for a defensive alliance between France and England, and in May following was hastily sent to Paris as English ambassador in order that he might report on the consequences of Henry IV's assassination. The French government did what it could to prevent Edmondes's appointment to Paris. M. de Puisieux, Henry IV's chief minister, complained that he knew too much about France, and Villeroi, a secretary of state, feared ‘his spirit and courage.’ Edmondes was, however, well received. Early in 1611 friends of the elector palatine consulted him as to the reception likely to be accorded in England to the elector's offer of marriage with Princess Elizabeth, and he was soon instructed to open negotiations for the marriage of Prince Henry with Princess Christina, Louis XIII's sister. Prince Henry's death (6 Nov. 1612) brought the proposal to nothing, and on 9 Nov. he received instructions to propose Prince Charles as the Princess Christina's suitor in his dead brother's place. Edmondes deemed this haste indecent, and suppressed the despatch. James I subsequently approved his action, and explained that it had not been intended that Edmondes should open the proposal, but should entertain it if suggested by others. In 1613 some dispute arose as to precedency between him and the Spanish ambassador. Edmondes is said to have privately journeyed to Rome, and obtained proof from the papal archives of England's right to precede Castile (Lloyd, State Worthies). In December 1613 he applied for his recall, but the request was refused on the ground that he was best fitted to carry on the negotiations for a marriage between Prince Charles and Princess Christina. James I was enthusiastic for the match; his council opposed it. The French court gave no positive indications of its intentions. Edmondes came to England in January 1613–1614, but returned to Paris in the following July, with a view to aiding the marriage scheme, which came to nothing. Edmondes attended the conference between the French protestants and the government at Loudun in 1616, and recommended the former to accept the latter's terms, although his displays of hostility to Roman catholicism had often jeopardised his friendly relations with the French court. At the close of 1616 he was ordered to England, but directed to hold himself in readiness to return to France. On 21 Dec. James I made him controller of his household, and admitted him next day to the privy council. In January 1616–17 he and Winwood arranged with Scarnafissi, the Savoyard envoy, that Raleigh should attack Genoa in the interests of Savoy against Spain; but the scheme broke down, and in 1618 Raleigh, just before his execution, charged Edmondes, among others, with having instigated him to attack Spain on his last voyage. He returned to France in April 1617, but retired from the embassy before the year closed. On 19 Jan. 1617–18 he became treasurer of the royal household, and in 1620 succeeded by reversion to the clerkship of the crown in the king's bench court. He was elected M.P. for both Dorchester and Bewdley in December 1620, and chose to sit for the latter constituency. In February 1623–4 he was elected for Chichester, and for Oxford University on 16 April 1625. He was re-elected at Oxford 23 March 1625–6, but the return was declared void. He was elected for Penryn, Cornwall, on 3 March 1627–8. He spoke frequently in the House of Commons in behalf of the government, and irritated the opposition by his insistence on Charles I's honesty and good intentions. In the third parliament of Charles I he proposed the appointment of Sir John Finch as speaker (March 1628), and in the famous sitting of 2 March 1628–9 tried to protect the speaker from the assaults of the parliamentary leaders. His last official work was to visit Paris in June 1629 as English ambassador to ratify a new peace treaty between France and England. This business ended in September, and after ten years' retirement from public life, he died 20 Sept. 1639, aged about seventy-six.
Edmondes married twice. His first wife, whom he married, according to Chamberlain, in May 1601, was Magdalen, daughter and coheiress of Sir John Wood, clerk of the signet; she was dead on 23 Nov. 1614. His second wife was Sara, daughter of Sir James Harington of Exton, and sister of the first Lord Harington of Exton. She had been twice previously married: first to Francis, lord Hastings, eldest son of George, fourth earl of Huntingdon (d. 1596); secondly to Edward, eleventh baron Zouche (d. 1625). The license for Edmondes's marriage to this lady, who was sixty years old, is dated 11 Sept. 1626 (Foster, Marriage Licenses, p. 441; Burke, Peerage, s. v. ‘Huntingdon’). Through his first wife Edmondes acquired the manor of Albyns, Romford, Essex, where Inigo Jones built a mansion for him. He had one son and three daughters by his first marriage. The son, Henry, was born in July 1602, is said to have become knight of the Bath, and died in 1635, an inveterate drunkard. The Earl of Shrewsbury and Sir Robert Cecil were his godfathers (Chamberlain, p. 146). The eldest daughter, Isabella, whose godmother was the Archduchess of Austria, was born at Brussels in November 1607, and married, about March 1624–5, Henry, lord Delawarr; Mary, the second daughter, married Robert Mildmay, by whom she had, among other children, a son, Benjamin, who became Baron Fitzwalter; Louisa, the youngest child, was baptised 15 Sept. 1611, her godfather being Louis XIII, and her godmother the queen-regent. In March 1635–6 she married one of her father's servants.
Edmondes was very short in stature, and was known to his contemporaries as the ‘little man.’ His reputation as a diplomatist was very great. Sir Robert Cecil described him as ‘very trusty and sufficient,’ and the enemies of England never concealed their fear of him. The style of his despatches is clear and pointed, and all his letters, whether on private or public topics, are eminently readable. A very valuable collection of Edmondes's correspondence, in twelve folio volumes, is now among the Stowe MSS. (707) in the British Museum. It has been successively in the possession of Secretary Thurloe, Lord-chancellor Somers, the Hon. Philip Yorke, the Marquis of Buckingham, and the Earl of Ashburnham. Nearly fifteen hundred letters from and to Edmondes are here extant, and all political persons of note of the time are represented. A portrait in oils was at one time prefixed to the first volume, but this unhappily is now missing.[Much of Edmondes's official correspondence was printed by Dr. Thomas Birch in his Historical View of the Negotiations between the Courts of England, France, and Brussels from the year 1572 to 1617, Lond. 1749, and in his Memoirs of Queen Elizabeth, Lond. 1754. Lodge's Illustrations of British History, 1791, and Winwood's Memorials, 1725, also contain many of Edmondes's despatches. See also Biog. Brit., ed. Kippis; Gardiner's Hist.; Forster's Sir John Eliot, vols. i. ii.; Chamberlain's Letters, temp. Eliz. (Camd. Soc.); Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1590–1639; Lloyd's State Worthies.]