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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.[1] A powerful figure in the not-yet professionalised First English Empire, he was both "England's first colonial civil servant"[2] and at the same time "a typical office holder of the Restoration".[3] Both Samuel Pepys and William Berkeley, Governor of Virginia, railed at times against Povey's incompetence[4] and maladministration.


The son of Justinian Povey of London, he was educated at Gray's Inn. He was a cousin of Thomas Povey, Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, and of Sir John Povey, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.

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 with the Duke's affairs falling into confusion, Povey was relieved of his office, 27 July 1668, for a consideration of £2000.[5] 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 the 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.[6]

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.[7]

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 on 8 February 1665.[8]

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.[9] Povey presented a report on Louis XIV's Hôtel des Invalides,[10] 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...[11]

Pepys noted with approval Povey's neatly fitted up stables, lined with washable Delft tiles.[12] 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.[13] He donated to the Royal Society the portrait that he asserted was of the historian George Buchanan and by Titian.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16]


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.


  1. ^ 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).
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Herbert L. Osgood, The American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century, vol. III:145f.
  4. ^ Pepys found him a "wretched accountant".
  5. ^ "Thomas Povey", The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 1893 text
  6. ^ Eleanore Boswell, "Footnotes to Seventeenth-Century Biographies. Samuel Pepys" The Modern Language Review 26.2 (April 1931:176–178).
  7. ^ Bernard Bailyn, "Communications and trade: the Atlantic in the seventeenth century", Journal of Economic History, 1953.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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).
  10. ^ C.I. Ritchie, "The hostel of the Invalides by Thomas Povey (1682)(Lambeth Palace Library MS. 745)", Medical History, 1966.
  11. ^ Evelyn, Journal, 1 July 1664.
  12. ^ 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).
  13. ^ Daniel Lysons, 'Heston', The Environs of London: volume 3: County of Middlesex (1795:22–45): accessed 6 August 2010.
  14. ^ William Carruthers, "On the so-called portrait of George Buchanan by Titian", The Scottish Historical Review 6.24 (July 1909:337–342).
  15. ^ 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]).
  16. ^ B.L. Add. Mss 11411.

External links

1893 text

Thomas Povy, who had held, under Cromwell, a high situation in the Office of Plantations, was appointed in July, 1660, Treasurer and Receiver-General of the Rents and Revenues of James, Duke of York; but his royal master’s affairs falling into confusion, he surrendered his patent on the 27th July, 1668, for a consideration of 2,000_l._. He was also First Treasurer for Tangier, which office he resigned to Pepys. Povy, had apartments at Whitehall, besides his lodgings in Lincoln’s Inn, and a villa near Hounslow, called the Priory, which he had inherited from Justinian Povy, who purchased it in 1625. He was one of the sons of Justinian Povy, Auditor-General to Queen Anne of Denmark in 1614, whose father was John Povy, citizen and embroiderer of London.

This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

13 Annotations

First Reading

language hat  •  Link

L&M Companion:

Povey, Thomas (1615-c.1702). Pepys's colleague on the Tangier Committee... A close friend of Sir Martin Noell, Cromwell's principal financier, he was active in the Interregnum in the promotion of colonial and trading ventures. He is said to have proposed the establishment of the Committee of Trade in Nov. 1655, and to have been the most effective member of the Council for America (1657). In 1660 he was made Treasurer of the Duke of York's Household, a member of the Council of Trade, and in 1661 secretary and receiver-general of the Committee of Foreign Plantations. He also held other posts and when he was appointed Treasurer of Tangier in 1663 Pepys came to know him well, and found him incapable (perhaps because of his other commitments) of keeping his accounts in order. In 1665 he resigned his duties to Pepys, making an arrangement whereby they shared the profits equally. In 1686 he tried, without success, to apply the same rule to Pepys's successor, Will Hewer... At the same time he complained that Pepys had not always paid him his share.

He was an original FRS, skilled in mechanics, a man of taste, and well known for the elaborate formality of his speech and manners. His London house, which Pepys greatly admired, was one of the smaller ones in Lincoln's Inn Fields built in 1657...

Pedro  •  Link

Thomas Povey

In 1656 was also on a standing committee for the affairs of “his Highness in Jamaica and the West Indies.”

Later having known the Court of Oliver, would criticize that of Charles: here was now “no faith, no truth, no love, nor any agreement between man and wife, no friends.”

(Cromwell…Antonia Fraser.)

sdore  •  Link

Thomas Povey was the uncle and mentor of William Blathwayt, a prominent civil servant under James II, William and Mary and Queen Anne. (He had learnt Dutch early in his career which helped him remain in favour after 1688.) Blathwayt's country house, Dyrham Park, near Bath (now National Trust), contains large numbers of items either inherited or bought from Thomas Povey, including the Samuel Van Hoogstraten "perspective piece", A View Down a Corridor, which is probably the one that Pepys mentions admiring in his diary.

Terry F  •  Link

"As a London merchant-lawyer, Thomas Povey by about 1664-1666 was surveyor-general of the Victualling Dept., and by then he had already been interested as a [Charles Howard, 1st Earl of] Carlisle place-man in deals concerning West Indian islands....Povey was a barrister of Gray's Inn and a merchant with widespread interests, "well-known for exerting his influence". His brother Richard was secretary and commissary general of provisions at Jamaica; another brother was William Povey, provost marshal at Barbados."…

Thomas Povey was one of the great merchants in whose career may be traced "[t]he history of the interlocking directorates in the companies of expansion and in the political control of empire...." Root, Winfred T., "The Lords of Trade and Plantations, 1675-1696."

Terry F  •  Link

Thomas Povey was an Original Fellow of the Royal Society (20/05/1663), and in 1693 would publish The Method, Manner and Order of the Transmutation of Copper into Brass, etc. By Thomas Povey, Esq; Brought into the Royal Soc. of Which He is a Fellow. Thomas Povey, Philosophical Transactions (1683-1775), Vol. 22, 1700 - 1701 (1700 - 1701), pp. 474-475.…

Pedro  •  Link

More information concerning Povy that may not be in the above...

He had a love of pictures and is described by Evelyn as "a nice contriver of all elegancies and exceedingly formal." His interests ranged from the "qualities of the herb tea or Chee" to an invention for raising water. He presented rarities from the West Indies to the Royal Society and "curiosities of silk works" for the repository.

In August 64, as a member of the Committee of Correspondence which included Moray, Slingsby, Wilkins, Hooke and Oldenburg he looked at "books of voyages to be pursued for inquires, to be sent onto all parts of the world" with particular ones for the East India Company. Povy's activities suggest that the virtuosi were eager to combine the curious with the useful.

In April 66 he presented a paper to the Society on the method of painting by Robert Streater who had painted the hall of his Lincoln Inn mansion so that it produced no glare. Streator's recipe was to combine 3 or 4 eggs with one or two green figs or their branches...although the process had been understood by the ancients; Povy maintained that it had been forgotten.

Painting "hath been the study, delight and ornament of all ages and nations where peace or a civility has not been abandoned.'' He suggested a volume that combined history with practice, to look at artists' "several ways of working, the degrees of improvement of this art, and the rarity of their colours." He suggested that lesser arts such as bronzing, staining, engraving and etching could be combined as an appendix.

Pedro  •  Link

The above information from Darley's biography of Evelyn.

Pedro  •  Link

Correction to the above source it should read...

Consuming Splendor by Linda Levy Peck.

CGS  •  Link

From Parliament :

Auditor Povey, a Protection.

Ordered, That Mr. Auditor Povey shall have the Protection of this House, for the securing his Goods and Horses at Hounsloe, he keeping One of them for a Light Horse; and shall have Liberty to pass and re-pass from London to Hounsloc.…

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

Thomas Povy, who had held, under Cromwell, a high situation in the Office of Plantations, was appointed in July, 1660, Treasurer and Receiver-General of the Rents and Revenues of James, Duke of York; but his royal master's affairs falling into confusion, he surrendered his patent on the 27th July 1668, for a consideration of 2000l. He was also First Treasurer for Tangier, which office he resigned to Pepys. Povy had apartments at Whitehall, besides his lodgings in Lincoln's Inn, and a villa near Hounslow, called the Priory, which he had inherited from Justinian Povy, who purchased it in 1625. He was one of the sons of Justinian Povy, Auditor-General to Queen Anne of Denmark in 1614, whose father was John Povy, citizen and embroiderer of London. Justinian obtained a grant of arms: table, a bend engrailed between six cinque-foils, or, with an annulet for difference. Thomas Povy had two brothers — Richard, who was Commissioner-General of Provisions at Jamaica; and William, Provost-Marshal at Barbadoes. Evelyn describes Thomas Povy, then one of the Masters of Requests [Diary, 29th February, 1675-6], as "a nice contriver of all elegances, and exceedingly formal." By Pepys's report, he was "a wretched accountant." His letter-books are in the British 'Museum.
---Diary and correspondence of Samuel Pepys, the diary deciphered by J. Smith. 1854.

Bill  •  Link

POVEY, THOMAS (fl. 1633-1685), civil servant; sat in the Long parliament as M.P., Liskeard, 1647; M.P., Bossiney, 1659; after the Restoration was much favoured at court; held many offices and was a master of requests from 1662 till the accession of James II; friend of Evelyn and Pepys.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

Robert Harneis  •  Link

Robert Harneis 2 days ago • Link • Flag
'God deliver me in my owne business of my bill out of his hands, and if ever I foul my fingers with him again let me suffer for it!' Just as well he continued to put up with the 'foole' Povey. Long after the diary it was Povey who saved his bacon after an attempt to frame him during the Popish plot which caused hime to spend six weeks in the Tower of London.

From Pages 91 & 93, The Letters and the Second Diary of Samuel Pepys F.R.S. J.M.Dent and sons London 1932


Ash Wednesday night, February 25, 1679-80


An occasion offers itself wherein you may exercise that kindness which you have sometimes exchanged with me; and it is this. You may, I doubt not, have heard that one James, who had sometimes been my servant, has been made use of as my accuser. He is now upon his sickbed, and, as I am told, near the point of death, and has declared himself inclined to ease his conscience of something wherein I may be nearly concerned, with a particular willingness to open himself to you, whom he says he has known and observed during his serving the Duke of Buckingham and me. You may please, therefore in charity to me as well as to the dying man, to give him a visit tomorrow morning, when I shall appoint one to conduct you to his lodging. It may be you may hesitate herein, because of the friendship which I no less know you to have with Mister Harbord than you know him to have of ill will against me, and of the effects of it under which I still remain, of being held obnoxious to others, to whom you bear great reverence. But that makes me rather to importune you to the taking this trouble upon you, because your candour is such, that, with a fair and equal indifferency, you will hear and represent what that dying man shall relate to you, who, it is likely, will reveal nothing at this hour but truth; and it is truth only, and the God thereof, to which I appeal, and which will, I hope, vindicate my reputation, and free me from the misunderstandings which I find many ingenuous and worthy persons have had of me, from their being seduced by the false testimonies which have engained and improved to my disadvantage, even to the hazard of my life and estate, and no less to the disturbing of the government, than to the raising injurious reflections upon those public trust in which I have (much to your knowledge) carried myself diligently, and (I am sure) faithfully. And in this I the rather take the liberty of opening myself thus freely and amply to you upon this occasion, because I would move you the more strongly, to take upon you this just and charitable office, so much importing others, as well as

Your most humble servant


James died March 20, 1680

Robert Harneis 2 days ago • Link • Flag
This is a the letter he sent to his father after James died letting him know how it all turned out - and indirectly how he was back in favour with the King.

Robert Harneis  •  Link

S.PEPYS to JOHN PEPYS (Sam’s father) March 27th 1680, York Buildings


it is long since I have expressed my duty to you, and truly everyday has followed one another with some new occasion of care, so as that, though I have been in a great measure restored to the liberty of my person, my mind has continued still in thralldom, till now that it has pleased God, in a miraculous manner, to begin the work of my vindication by laying his hand upon James my butler, by a sickness whereof he is some days since dead, which led him to consider and repent the wrongs he had done me in accusing me in Parliament, which he has solemnly and publicly confessed upon the holy Sacrament to the justifying of me and my family to all the world in that part of my accusation which relates to religion; and I question not but God Almighty will be no less just to me in what concerns the rest of my charge, which he knows to be no less false than this. In the meantime his holy name be praised for what he has done in this particular.

What I have to add is the letting you know that I am commanded to attend the King the next week at Newmarket, and, by the grace of God, will go and wait on you one day in my going or return, which I presume will be either Tuesday or Saturday next, I designing to set forth hence on Monday and shall rather choose to call upon you in my going (which will be on Tuesday), for fear lest I should be commanded to accompany the court to London, where the King designs to be this day seven nights. In the meantime trusting in God to find you in good health, and with my most humble duty presented to yourself, and my kind love to my brother and sister, and their family,

I remain

Sir, your ever obedient son,

S. P.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.