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Edward Backwell

Edward Backwell (ca. 1618–1683) was an English goldsmith-banker, and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1673 and 1683. He has been called "the principal founder of the banking system in England",[1] and "far and away the best documented banker of his time".[2]


Backwell was the son of Barnaby Backwell, of Leighton Buzzard. He migrated to the City of London, where he was apprenticed to Thomas Vyner, a prominent London goldsmith-banker, in 1635. Like other goldsmith-bankers of the era, he was also played a role in State finance. He received his freedom of the Goldsmith's Company in 1651 and had his goldsmith's shop at the sign of the Unicorn in Lombard Street.[3] During the time of the English Republic (1649-1660), Edward was deeply involved in credit finance, and dealt in former Crown property that had been put on the market. During the Commonwealth, he bought the park at Hampton Court and then resold it to the government, at a profit.[4]

Blackwell was a rich merchant of the City of London. Following the capture of Dunkirk in 1658 by Anglo-French forces, Blackwell was appointed Treasurer of Dunkirk, which was ceded to England by Spain. After the Restoration of the monarchy he kept the position. In 1662 he was involved in the negotiations that led to the Sale of Dunkirk to France.[4][5]

In the 1650s he was involved in bullion transactions and in 1657 helped Thomas Vyner to handle captured Spanish plate. He was also very actively involved as treasurer for the Dunkirk garrison, from the time of its capture and establishment as an English base in 1657 until its sale back to France in 1662. Together with Sir Thomas Vyner he was responsible for provision of money to the royal household and with handling bullion brought in for coinage at the Royal Mint.[5]

In 1660, just before the Restoration, Edward was elected alderman of the City of London, but the following year he paid the customary fine to be excused from continuing to serve. He is the most frequently referred to financier in Samuel Pepys's Diary, which is perhaps indicative of his importance. Trading from his premises in Lombard Street, he was alderman for the City ward of Bishopsgate and the greatest banker of the early years of the Restoration. Among many others, Samuel Pepys was one of his customers.[6]

He continued to operate in finance during the reign of Charles II. He was selected an alderman for Bishopsgate 1660–1661.[7] Edward was a signatory to The Several Declarations of The Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading into Africa, a document published in 1667 which led to the expansion of the Royal Africa Company.[8][9][5]

One of the most prominent financiers of his time, Blackwell took deposits, lent money and provided foreign exchange services during the years leading up to the Stop of the Exchequer of 1672,[3] which almost ruined him.[10] However, in 1671 with his son John he had been appointed comptroller of customs in the port of London, and with his old master Vyner, he was from 1671 to 1675 a commissioner of the customs and farmer of the customs revenue.[3][5]

Backwell owned land in Buckinghamshire and Huntingdonshire. In 1671 he was elected as a Member of Parliament for Wendover in a by-election to the Cavalier Parliament. He was re-elected a Member for Wendover in the second election of 1679 and again in 1681.[11] He went bankrupt in 1682 and went to the Netherlands, where he died, his body being brought back to London and buried on 13 June 1683.

In 1657 Backwell married firstly Sarah Brett and had one son, John Backwell. In 1662, he married secondly Mary Leigh, who died in 1669, by whom he had three sons and two daughters.


  1. ^ Henderson, Thomas Finlayson (1885). "Backwell, Edward" . In Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 2. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  2. ^ G. E. Aylmer, ‘Backwell, Edward (c.1619–1683)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, accessed 18 Sept 2010
  3. ^ a b c Moshe Arye Milevsky, The Day the King Defaulted: Financial Lessons from the Stop of the Exchequer, pp. 56–59
  4. ^ a b Jenny Uglow, A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration (Faber and Faber, 2009), p. 204
  5. ^ a b c d Aylmer, G.E. (3 January 2008). "Backwell, Edward". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/986. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8. Archived from the original on 9 December 2021. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  6. ^ James Smith McMaster, McMaster's Commercial Cases: Current Business Law from the Decisions of the Highest Courts of the Several States, Volume 18 (1915), p. 476
  7. ^ Aldermen of London
  8. ^ Davies, K. G. (Kenneth Gordon) (1999). The Royal African Company. London: Routledge/Thoemmes Press. ISBN 0-415-19072-X. OCLC 42746420.
  9. ^ Pettigrew, William A. (William Andrew), 1978-. Freedom's debt : the Royal African Company and the politics of the Atlantic slave trade, 1672-1752. Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture. Chapel Hill [North Carolina]. ISBN 978-1-4696-1183-9. OCLC 879306121.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ J. P. Kenyon, Stuart England (Allen Lane, 1978), p. 223
  11. ^ History of Parliament Online - Backwell, Edward

External links

1893 text

Alderman Edward Backwell, an eminent banker and goldsmith, who is frequently mentioned in the Diary. His shop was in Lombard Street. He was ruined by the closing of the Exchequer by Charles II. in 1672. The crown then owed him 295,994_l. 16_s. 6_d., in lieu of which the King gave him an annuity of 17,759_l. 13_s. 8_d. Backwell retired into Holland after the closing of the Exchequer, and died there in 1679. See Hilton Price’s “Handbook of London Bankers,” 1876.

Edward Backwell, goldsmith and alderman of the City of London. He was a man of considerable wealth during the Commonwealth. After the Restoration he negotiated Charles II.’s principal money transactions. He was M.P. for Wendover in the parliament of 1679, and in the Oxford parliament of 1680. According to the writer of the life in the “Diet. of Nat. Biog. “his heirs did not ultimately suffer any pecuniary loss by the closure of the Exchequer. Mr. Hilton Price stated that Backwell removed to Holland in 1676, and died therein 1679; but this is disproved by the pedigree in Lipscomb’s “Hist. of Bucks,” where the date of his death is given as 1683, as well as by the fact that he sat for Wendover in 1679 and 1680, as stated above.

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

10 Annotations

First Reading

vincent  •  Link

A banker who was involved in payment of the Dunquerke Garrison :
history of…
Portrait of the banker…

"...Statements as to money received for pay of the garrison; May-June 1660 Records the remittance of £ 62,400 by Alderman Edward Backwell for the pay of the garrison and its receipt, by order of the Governor, Colonel Harley, by Mr Thomas Browne, Commissary. …"

[Changed the first link from… 27 Sep 2009. P.G.]

Terry F  •  Link

Ald Bishopsgate, 13 Jan 1659/60- 13 Jun 1661, disch, F £720 (1) Co Co Langborn, 1676-81 'The Unicorn', Exchange Alley, Lombard Street, 1650, 1672, St Mary Woolnoth, 1652-81, dwelling house in Mark Lane, AH Barking, by 1676 (2) GOLD, appr, 1635, to Thomas VYNER, fr, 1651, PW, 1660 (3) d 13 Jun 1683, bur St Mary Woolnoth, re-bur Tyringham, Bucks (4) Will copy in CRO dated 29 Dec 1679 (5) f Barnaby Backwell of Backwell, Som, m Jane, da of John Temple of Burton Dassett, Warw, and -, Bucks, esq, mar (A) 1657, at St Andrew Undershaft, Sarah, da of - Brett, merchant, (B) Mary, da of Richard Leigh of - Warw (6) Goldsmith, banker, and State financier to Cromwell and Charles II (7) He had £295,995 involved in Stop of Exchequer, 1672 This was paid back at the rate of £17,759 3s 8d p a He possibly broke in 1682 EIC stock £2,000, RAC stocks £1,000 of original stock, 1671 (8) City property, land Bucks, Hunts (9) MP Wendover, 1672/3 (unseated), 1679-81 (10) Commsr for Lieut, 1660, 1676, 1681 Son John (mar only da of Sir Edward Tyringham), MP Wendover, 1689-90, 1695, 1698 G's Tyringham Backwell mar da (? Elizabeth) of Francis CHILD (11)

(1) Beaven, I, p 40 (2) Heal, London Goldsmiths, p 98, Hilton Price, Handbook, p 182, Boyd 15726, VBk, St Mary Woolnoth, will, will of Henry MOSSE (3) Beaven, II, p 90, GOLD, Appr Reg, I, f 300, Index of Appr (4) Boyd 15726 (5) CRO, Deed 121 5 There is no indication of court or date of probate (6) DNB, Boyd 15726 (7) No attempt can be made here to indicate the scope of Backwell's financial activities R D Richards, Economic History, III (1928), pp 334-55, surveys some sources for a study of Backwell's dealings There is an article in DNB Backwell's ledgers are now in the possession of Messrs Glyn-Mills, the London bankers See S Pepys, Diary, passim (8) DNB, will, R D Richards, loc cit (9) Will, see VCH, Buckinghamshire, II, p 324, III, pp 337-8, IV, p 482, for some of his Bucks property (10) Lipscombe, Buckinghamshire, II, p 478+n, Beaven, II, p 90 (11) Beaven, II, p 187, DNB, will of Francis CHILD, Boyd 15726

From: ‘Backwell - Byfield’, The Rulers of London 1660-1689: A biographical record of the Aldermen and Common Councilment of the City of London (1966), pp. 21-42. URL:…. Date accessed: 18 September 2005.

Pauline  •  Link

from L&M Companion
(?1618-83). The most important goldsmith-banker of his day, and (with the Vyners) one of the founders of the modern banking system in England....He had acted as the government's principal financial agent under the Commonwealth, and performed a similar function under Charles II....

Michael Robinson  •  Link

Per L&M Companion (continuing Pauline's annotation):

M.P. for Wendover 1673 - March '81. Pepys always refers to him as an alderman , although he held office only for about a year (1660-1). He had acted as the government's principal financial agent under the Commonwealth, and performed a similar function under Charles II. He arranged foreign exchange transactions (such as the sale of Dunkirk, the payment of war subsidiaries and after 1670 the transfer of Louis XIV loans to Charles); managed the disposal of secret service money; above all advanced cash and credit. During the war the government relied largely upon him. At the time of the 'Stop of the Exchequer' in 1672 his loans to the government amounted to over 250,000 L. Apart from his considerable property in Lombard Street (Greatly extended after the Fire), he had , at different times, country houses in Middlesex, Huntingdonshire and Buckinghamshire.

Pepys dealt with him as a goldsmith, but principally in arranging his noticeably reluctant loans for the Tangier garrison. Blackwell's assistant Robert Shaw was an old friend of his. Some of the Blackwell ledgers survive in the archives of Messrs Williams & Glyn, successors to the business.

Michael Robinson  •  Link

Customer ledger of London goldsmith Edward Backwell, 1671-72
Customer account ledger of Edward Backwell, goldsmith banker of Lombard Street, London, 1671-72. 600mm x 400mm x 170mm.
Bound in leather, written on handmade paper by quill pen. 666 folios detailing 400 customers’ accounts using double-entry book-keeping.…

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

Edward Backwell, alderman of London, was a banker of great ability, industry, and integrity; and what was a consequence of his merit, of very extensive credit. With such qualifications, he, in a trading nation, would in the natural event of things, have made a fortune, except in such an age as that of Charles the Second, when the laws were overborne by perfidy, violence and rapacity; or in an age when bankers become gamesters instead of merchant-adventurers; when they affect to live like princes, and are, with their miserable creditors, drawn into the prevailing and pernicious vortex of luxury. Backwell carried on his business in the same shop which was afterwards occupied by Child, an unblemished name, which is entitled to respect and honour; but was totally ruined upon the shutting up of the exchequer. He, to avoid a prison, retired into Holland, where he died. His body was brought for sepulture, to Tyringham church, near Newport Pagnel, in Buckinghamshire.
--A biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1779.

Bill  •  Link

BACKWELL, EDWARD (d. 1683), London goldsmith and banker at Unicorn, Lombard Street; probably chief; originator of system of banknotes; had financial dealings with Cromwell; alderman for Bishopsgate ward, 1667; sent to Paris to receive money for sale of Dunkirk to French, 1662; after treaty at Dover, 1670, was a frequent intermediary in money transactions between Charles II and Louis; sued by several creditors, a large sum being due to him from the exchequer, which Charles II had just closed, 1672; took refuge temporarily in Holland after judgment had been given against him; M.P. for Wendover, 1679 and 1680.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

London June 2019 — A recently discovered banking ledger kept by Edward Backwell, whose banking business in the second half of the 17th century was the immediate forerunner to the Bank of England, leads Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts sale in London on Wednesday 26 June. It is estimated at £100,000-150,000.

Nine of Edward Backwell’s customer ledgers were already known to exist and are considered so important that they are included in the UK section of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) ‘Memory of the World’ register. UNESCO describes them as “uniquely significant in documenting the finances of Restoration England and the birth of modern banking,” and calls Backwell, “one of the financial giants of his age.”

The ledger offered by Bonhams is earlier than those listed on the UNESCO register and is different in three significant respects:

• it was compiled under the personal supervision of Backwell, and signed by him in a number of places
• it is a working document – unlike the nine later ledgers which were copies made by scribes – and bears the signatures of the people who received the money or their agents.
• it confirms that Backwell acted as banker to the government; and was performing some of the functions of a central bank fully three decades before the establishment of the Bank of England.

This ledger covers the period August - March 1660 shows Edward Backwell administering the finances of the Excise which collected duty on home-produced goods such as alcohol and imported commodities e.g. tobacco.
This involved paying the salaries and expenses of tax-collectors, making Backwell the HMRC of his day.

The ledger also shows that he acted as paymaster to the House of Commons, paying the wages of its staff.

Additionally, at the order of the Commons, he paid stipends to the great officers of state. These included George Monck (the soldier who played a key role in the restoration of the monarchy), and James, Duke of York.

When the Bank of England was established in 1694, Backwell’s cashier general Thomas Speed was appointed its Chief Cashier and was the first person authorized to issue bank notes. The newly-established central bank provided the resources to rebuild Britain’s navy. The consequent drive to develop new materials and manufacturing techniques acted as the catalyst for the Industrial Revolution and the founding of the modern economy.

Consultant Felix Pryor, who cataloged the ledger for Bonhams, said, “This ... document is an extraordinary and major discovery. It sheds new light on the crucial role of banking in the making of the modern state, and provides a deeper understanding of the origins of Great Britain’s global economic dominance during the 18th and 19th centuries.”…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Edward Backwell’s descent from an esquire who fought at Poitiers in 1356 and connection with the Temples of Stowe are probably fictitious.

In the 1670's he described himself to the electors of Wendover as ‘born and educated in these parts; when he was apprenticed to a London Goldsmith in 1635 his father was living at Leighton Buzzard, about 12 miles away.

Nothing is known of Backwell's career until 1650, when he became a naval victualler.
He began to acquire land in Buckinghamshire, although only as a speculator at first, and has been described as the principal banker to the Commonwealth.

His responsibility for remittances to the Dunkirk garrison enabled him to make the transition to Charles II's service, although in the Convention Thomas Rich attacked his charges as excessive, and a bill to reduce the maximum rate of interest to 6 per cent was introduced.

Edward Backwell took over the crown lease at Creslow forfeited by Cornelius Holland, the regicide, and when his credit seemed in danger in 1665, Sir George Carteret remarked that ‘the King and the kingdom must as good as fall with that man at this time’.

By 1670 Backwell had gained control of Tyringham Manor from Sir William Tyringham.
After the Treaty of Dover, he was a frequent intermediary in the transactions between Charles II and Louis XIV.

Backwell was badly hit by the Stop of the Exchequer in 1672 when he had £296,000 on deposit. His creditors pressed demands and he had to give up banking, but he continued as Charles II’s financial agent.

Backwell first stood for Wendover at a by-election in 1673. The election was declared void because the writ had been issued during the recess without the authority of the Commons.
In the re-election he narrowly defeated the Hon. Thomas Wharton, who petitioned.
He was was unseated in the following month.

Edward Backwell MP's financial difficulties eased in 1677 when the Government agreed to repay his loans at the rate of £17,760 p.a. out of the excise.
It was probably to escape creditors that he stood again for Wendover for the Exclusion Parliament, and was returned without a contest.
He became a moderately active Member of the 1st Exclusion Parliament, was appointed to 9 committees, including those to remedy abuses in the Post Office and to examine the excise laws.

According to Roger Morrice, he voted against exclusion.
Edward Backwell MP left no trace on the records of the 2nd and 3rd Exclusion Parliaments.

He visited Holland in 1680 ‘in the King’s special service to the States General’, and may have remained there to avoid arrest for debt.
In 1682, after Carteret’s death, Backwell’s lands were extended for over £60,000, which he had pledged to the navy in 1667 but had been unable to pay.

He died in Holland in 1683, His body was brought back and buried at St. Mary Woolnoth on 16 June.

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