The 'Servant' Extraordinary: Some Account of the Life of Thomas Beauchamp (1623-C1697), Clerk to the Trustees for the Sale of King Charles I's Collections

By Beauchamp, Peter | British Art Journal, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview
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The 'Servant' Extraordinary: Some Account of the Life of Thomas Beauchamp (1623-C1697), Clerk to the Trustees for the Sale of King Charles I's Collections


Beauchamp, Peter, British Art Journal


From a family background in the City Founders' Livery Company, Thomas Beauchamp early demonstrated precociousness that propelled him into the position of Clerk to the Trustees for the Sale of the Late King Charles I's Art Collections. Here, his dealings were under critical national gaze, even being discussed in Cromwell's Parliament. Following the Restoration, his meticulous inventories proved invaluable to a Committee to retrieve these goods for the new King. He petitioned that he had already bought back at least twelve paintings at his own expense and identified many other goods that would otherwise have been lost to the Crown's collections, while also discovering bartered State valuables. Eventually, after early honours from the Queen Mother and payments from the Crown, he resumed his family calling when chosen to build the new Hall for the Founders following the Great Fire of London, which was then used by that Company for 170 years.

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References to Thomas Beauchamp as Clerk Registrar to the Cromwellian Trustees for the Sale of the late King Charles I's Goods, and later with Charles II's committees for their reassembly, are incidental to very comprehensive studies of the late King's enormous and highly valuable art collections and the detailed work of these Trustees. (1) Such studies would not have been possible without the meticulous industry of the Clerk. The Trustees were appointed under the Act of 1649 (2) because Cromwell's Council had realised that the royal estate was now extremely vulnerable and needed an immediate stocktaking. Their work would be to locate, inventory, value and secure the goods and a quorum of the Trustees was authorised to go to any place in which royal goods were to be found, to carry this out. They also had to help the six Sales Contractors as the Act required them to sell part of the goods to provide 30,000 [pounds sterling] as a loan to the Navy. But with some of the remaining balance, they were to work, through their Treasurers, as paymasters to deal with the unpaid servants wages and debts of the royal family, owing over the four years of the Civil War.

The team of Trustees appointed under the Act consisted initially of George Wither (Pamphleteer) and John Humphreys both of Westminster, Michael Lempriere and Philip Carteret both of Jersey, Jan van Belcamp (Keeper of the King's Pictures) together with four Citizens of London, Henry Creech (Skinner), Colonel John Foch (Haberdasher), Ralph Grafton (Draper and Upholsterer), David Powell and, on rare occasions Edward Winslow (Governor of Plymouth Colony, who had returned to England in 1646) and later, Antony Mildmay (Governor of the Privy Chamber to Charles I). The two Treasurers were John Hunt (formerly Linen Draper to the Queen) and Humphrey Jones of Whitefriars. The Trustees were empowered to appoint their own Clerk.

But almost the first public mention of the Trustees was in March 1645, well before the Parliamentary enactment of their appointment in 1649. This was when one of the grandest pieces of regalia from the Order of the Garter ceremony, a George and Garter, was discovered hidden beneath the floor of the Treasury Chamber at St George's Chapel, Windsor (PI 1). The enquiry had evidently been started by Cornelius Holland, Member of Parliament for New Windsor and, a regicide, who also reported 2,500 [pounds sterling] had been similarly hidden. His officers in the Windsor garrison had concern that their soldiers had not been paid and were also asking permission to sell the bronze statues sited there. No mention was made of whether the money was discovered but the George and Garter was quickly passed to the Treasurer of the Trustees who 'sold it to Thomas Beauchamp, clerk', (3) a procedure whereby it entered their great Sale catalogue.

This Garter had previously been awarded to Gustavus Vasa, King of Sweden, and returned at his death, and there must have been few ceremonial decorations in England to rival its splendour, with the exclusion of the Coronation regalia.

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