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Thomas Povey (1613/14 – in or before 1705) FRS, was a London merchant-politician. He was active in colonial affairs from the 1650s, but neutral enough in his politics to be named a member from 1660 of Charles II's Council for Foreign Plantations. A powerful figure in the not-yet professionalised First English Empire, he was both "England's first colonial civil servant" and at the same time "a typical office holder of the Restoration". Both Samuel Pepys and William Berkeley, Governor of Virginia, railed at times against Povey's incompetence and maladministration.
Povey became Member of Parliament for Liskeard in 1646, Bossiney in 1659 and held under Oliver Cromwell a high post in the Office of Plantations. Following the Restoration he was appointed in July 1660 Treasurer to the king's brother James, Duke of York, but the Duke's affairs falling into confusion, Povey was relieved of his office, 27 July 1668, for a consideration of £2000. He was First Treasurer to the Lords Commissioner for Tangier, a lucrative post in which he was followed by the conscientious Samuel Pepys, organiser of the English navy. Povey made an agreement with Pepys in 1665, touching the profits expected from that office by 17th-century convention. Years later, in 1691, Povey brought suit against Pepys and William Hewer at the Court of Chancery with reference to a breach of the agreement; it seems to have been settled out of court.
Povey family interests in the English Caribbean were extensive: Thomas's brother Richard Povey looked after the family interests in Jamaica, where he was officially Commissioner General for Provisions, while another brother, William, attended to affairs in Barbados, where he was officially Provost-General.
Povey was one of the original members of the Royal Society in May 1663 and had acted in the interests of its less formalised predecessor at Gresham College. Povey proposed Samuel Pepys for membership, 8 February 1665.
John Evelyn, a fellow member of the Royal Society, found Povey "a nice contriver of all elegancies and exceedingly formal". As a Fellow, Povey offered the Royal Society a dissertation in 1693 on the manufacture of brass. Povey presented a report on Louis XIV's Hôtel des Invalides, which Charles II emulated in the Royal Hospital Chelsea, under a Royal Warrant of 22 December 1681.
Povey had apartments in Whitehall Palace by virtue of his Crown posts. Robert Streater painted a ceiling in Povey's London house, on the west side of Lincoln's Inn Fields; there John Evelyn visited him in July 1664:
Went to see Mr Povey's elegant house in Lincolns-Inn-Fields , where the perspective in his court, painted by Streater, is indeed excellent, with the vases painted in imitation of porphy and fountains...
Pepys noted with approval Povey's neatly fitted up stables, lined with washable Delft tiles. Povey also inherited from his father Hounslow Priory, situated in a suburban village west of London; it was sold in 1671, and by the end of the 18th century only the chapel remained. He donated to the Royal Society the portrait that he asserted was of the historian George Buchanan and by Titian. In his court appointment as Master of Requests, 1675–85, he received petitions and presented them for consideration by the Privy Council.
Povey advanced the early career of his nephew William Blathwayt, and it is surely due to his influence that his son-in-law Giles Bland was sent to Virginia as customs collector. Some of the paintings from Povey's collection, which hung in his London house or at Hounslow, remain in Blathwayt's house, Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire. Povey's letter books are conserved in the British Library.
He married Mary, daughter of John Adderly and widow of John Agard of King's Bromley, Staffordshire. His daughter Sarah married another member of the Staffordshire gentry, Robert Leveson of Wolverhampton and had three sons, including the soldier and politician Richard Leveson. Another daughter Sarah married Giles Bland, who was executed for treason in Virginia in 1677, having played a leading part in Bacon's Rebellion the previous year.
- Povey was one of the four eminent London merchants— the others being Martin Noell, Sir Nicholas Crispe and Sir Andrew Riccard— among the courtiers on the board, whose restrictions on colonial trade were resisted from the first by Virginia planters (Joan de Lourdes Leonard, "Operation Checkmate: The Birth and Death of a Virginia Blueprint for Progress 1660–1676", The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 24.1 (January 1967:44–74).
- Lillian M. Penson, The Colonial Agents of the British West Indies: A Study in Colonial Administration, Mainly in the Eighteenth Century, 1924: S.S. Webb, "William Blathwayt, Imperial Fixer: From Popish Plot to Glorious Revolution", The William and Mary Quarterly 1968.
- Herbert L. Osgood, The American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century, vol. III:145f.
- Pepys found him a "wretched accountant".
- "Thomas Povey", The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 1893 text
- Eleanore Boswell, "Footnotes to Seventeenth-Century Biographies. Samuel Pepys" The Modern Language Review 26.2 (April 1931:176–178).
- Bernard Bailyn, "Communications and trade: the Atlantic in the seventeenth century", Journal of Economic History, 1953.
- Norman J.W. Thrower, "Samuel Pepys FRS (1633–1703) and the Royal Society" Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 57.1 (January 2003:3–13) p. 6.
- Povey, "The Method, Manner and Order of the Transmutation of Copper into Brass, etc. by Thomas Povey, Esq; Brought into the Royal Society, of Which He is a Fellow", Philosophical Transactions (1683–1775), Vol. 17, (1693:735–736).
- C.I. Ritchie, "The hostel of the Invalides by Thomas Povey (1682)(Lambeth Palace Library MS. 745)", Medical History, 1966.
- Evelyn, Journal, 1 July 1664.
- Pepys, "His stable, where was some most delicate horses, and the very racks painted, and mangers, with a neat leaden painted cistern and the walls done with Dutch tiles like my chimnies" (Diary); Povey admired the Duke of Newcastle's stabling on a tour of the grand houses of Derbyshire that Povey made in 1688, when he saw "that considerable Prince, the Duke of Newcastle, and his Pallace, Stables, riding Houses and Horses, which are more extraordinarie then are to bee seene in Europe, if the Curiositie and Excellencie of their Manège, Discipline and Methods are to be considered." (quoted in Lucy Worsley and Tom Addyman, "Riding Houses and Horses: William Cavendish's Architecture for the Art of Horsemanship", Architectural History 45 [2002:194–229], p. 194).
- Daniel Lysons, 'Heston', The Environs of London: volume 3: County of Middlesex (1795:22–45): accessed 6 August 2010.
- William Carruthers, "On the so-called portrait of George Buchanan by Titian", The Scottish Historical Review 6.24 (July 1909:337–342).
- Bland soon got into trouble with Governor Berkeley and in Bacon's Rebellion served as Bacon's lieutenant in the attack upon Berkeley at Accomack (Wilcomb E. Washburn, "Sir William Berkeley's 'A History of Our Miseries'" The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 14.3 [July 1957:403–413]).
- B.L. Add. Mss 11411.
- "The hostel of the Invalides by Thomas Povey", (1682) (Lambeth Palace Library MS.745). I. Med Hist. 1966 January; 10(1): 1–22.