Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/North, Dudley (1641-1691)

NORTH, Sir DUDLEY (1641–1691), financier and economist, was born in King Street, Westminster, on 16 May 1641. He was the fourth son of Dudley, fourth baron North [q. v.], by Anne, daughter of Sir Charles Montagu [q. v.] In his childhood he was stolen by a beggar-woman for the sake of his clothes, but was soon recovered from her clutches. He was sent to school at Bury St. Edmunds under Dr. Stevens, who took a strong dislike to the boy, and treated him so harshly that he continued through life to entertain for his old schoolmaster a feeling of deep animosity. He showed no taste for books, and was early intended for a mercantile life, and, after spending some time at a ‘writing school’ in London, he was bound apprentice to a Mr. Davis, a Turkey merchant, who appears to have been in no very large way of business, though trading with Russia and in the Mediterranean. In 1661 North was sent as supercargo in a vessel bound for Archangel. On the return voyage she sailed for Leghorn, and finally to Smyrna, where he took up his residence for some years as agent or factor for his master's firm, and soon made himself so necessary, and managed the business so adroitly, that he contrived not only to increase his employer's trade, but to add materially to his own small capital. In consequence of some disagreement with his partner he came back to England to make new friends, and shortly after his return to Smyrna, about 1662, he received an offer to take the management of an important house of business in Constantinople, and rapidly became the leading merchant in the Turkey Company, of which he was elected treasurer. His influence at Constantinople was so great that there was at one time some likelihood of his being appointed ambassador at Constantinople, in the room of Sir John Finch (1626–1682) [q. v.], whose mission was not a success. He came back to England finally in the autumn of 1680, having taken care previously to commit his business to the charge of his brother Montagu, and he appears to have already realised a large fortune, though he was not yet forty years old. His brother Francis was at this time chief justice of the common pleas, and looking forward to the woolsack, and Dudley may well have thought that a career at home was open to himself. He arrived to find his mother still alive, though his father had died three years before, and his eldest brother, Charles, had succeeded to the peerage. He took a large house in Basinghall Street, and at once became a leading man in the city of London. When in the judgment of the court party it became desirable that at least one of the sheriffs of London should be a supporter of the crown, it was resolved that, to insure this end, the custom should be revived of allowing the lord mayor to appoint one of the sheriffs, while the choice of the other was left to the livery. The king determined that Dudley North should be nominated by the lord mayor, and, after much turmoil and violent opposition, he was sworn sheriff accordingly in June 1682 (Examen, pp. 598–610). He conducted himself in his year of office with remarkable courage and tact, and the hospitalities of his position were unbounded. During his shrievalty he was knighted, and about the same time he married Ann, the widow of Sir Robert Gunning of Cold Ashton, Gloucestershire, and only child of Sir Robert Cann, a wealthy merchant of Bristol. This lady brought him a large accession of fortune. In 1683 he was appointed one of the commissioners for the customs, and subsequently was removed to the treasury. In both these departments of the public service he was enabled to carry out important administrative reforms. On the death of Charles II it was thought advisable that he should return to the commission of the customs, and he then entered parliament as member for Banbury. During the next three years he found need for all his caution and vigilance; but he continued to be respected by James II, though Lord Godolphin found him by no means as pliable as he desired, and quarrelled with him accordingly. When William of Orange landed, and the majority of the tories who had been more or less compromised as Jacobites fled across the Channel, North refused to leave London; he even increased his trading ventures, and retained his post at the customs for some time after the new king's election to the throne had become an established fact. When the ‘murder committee’ began its inquiries (Macaulay, Hist. of England, chap. xv.), Sir Dudley was subjected to a severe examination for the part which it was assumed he had taken in packing the juries who condemned Algernon Sidney, lord Russell, and other prominent whigs in 1682. No evidence was forthcoming, and the inquiry was allowed to drop. From this time till his death he appears to have occupied himself chiefly in commercial ventures on a large scale, and in managing the money matters of the lord-keeper's children. Roger North gives an amusing account of the two brothers' way of life in those years when both were practically shelved men, and yet found ample occupation for their time. He died in what had been formerly Sir Peter Lely's house in Covent Garden on 31 Dec. 1691. He was buried in Covent Garden church, whence twenty-five years later his body was removed to Glemham in Suffolk, where he had purchased an estate and spent large sums in rebuilding the house and improving the property. His widow survived him many years, and never married again. By her he had two sons. The younger died early and unmarried, while the elder, Dudley, of Little Glemham, Suffolk, succeeded to the family property, and left sons, who died without issue, and two daughters, Ann and Mary.

Macaulay, though entertaining a fierce bias against the Norths, cannot withhold the tribute of admiration for Sir Dudley's genius, and pronounces him ‘one of the ablest men of his time.’ The tract on the ‘Currency,’ which he printed only a few months before his death, anticipated the views of Locke and Adam Smith, and he was one of the earliest economists who advocated free trade. In person he was tall, and of great strength and vigour. He was a remarkable linguist, with a perfect command of Turkish and the dialects in use in the Levant. A younger son of a father of very straitened means, his career was of his own making. By sheer ability and force of character he had won for himself a place in English politics before he was forty, after being absent in the east for more than twenty years; and had he been anything but the staunch jacobite he was, his place in history would have been more conspicuous, though hardly more honourable.

A portrait by Sir Peter Lely was engraved by G. Vertue in 1743 for the ‘Lives of the Norths.’

[Roger North's Examen and Lives of the Norths, and the sources given in the Life of the Lord-keeper Guilford. See also Roger North's Autobiography; Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, ii. 342 et seq., iii. 598 et seq.; Burnet's Hist. of his Own Time, pp. 621, 622; Complete Hist. of England, fol., 1706, vol. iii.; Howell's State Trials, ix. 187; McCulloch's Discourses, p. 37.]

A. J.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.207
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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152 ii 10 North, Sir Dudley: for third son read fourth son