White, Sir Thomas

, founder of St. John’s college Oxford, was born at Reading in 1492, the son of William White, a native of Rickmansworth, by Mary, daughter of John Kiblewhite of South Fawley in Berkshire. His father carried on the business of a clothier, for some time, at Rickmansworth, but removed to Reading, before our founder was born. The former circumstance has given rise to the mistake of Fuller, Chauncey, and Pennant, who say that he was born at Rickmansworth. But this was rectified by Griffin Higgs, a member of this college, and afterwards | fellow of Merton, in his Latin memoir of the founder. Hearne appears to have been of the same opinion.

He is said to have been educated at Reading, but probably only in the elements of writing and arithmetic, as at the age of twelve he was apprenticed to a tradesman or merchant of London. His apprenticeship- lasted ten years during which he behaved so well that his master, at his death, left him an hundred pounds. With this, and the patrimony bequeathed by his father, who died in 1523, he commenced business on his own account, and in a few years rose to wealth and honours, and became distinguished by acts of munificence. In 1542 he gave to the corporation of Coventry 1000l. which, with 400l. of their own, was laid out ifi the purchase of lands, from/ the rents of which provision was made for twelve poor men, and a sum raised to be lent to industrious young men of Coventry. This estate in 1705 yielded 930l. yearly. He gave also to the mayor and corporation of Bristol, by deed, the sum of 2000l. and the same to the town of Leicester, to purchase estates, and raise a fund from which sums of money might be lent to industrious tradesmen,- not only of those but of other places specified, which were to receive the benefits of the fund in rotation, and by the same the poor were to be relieved in times of scarcity. These funds are now in a most prosperous state, and judiciously administered.

Sir Thomas White was sheriff of London in 1546, and lord mayor in 1553, when he was knighted by queen Mary for his services, in preserving the peace of the city during the rebellion of sir Thomas Wyatt. Of the rest of his history, or personal character, sentiments, and pursuits, no particulars have been recovered, except what may be inferred from his many and wise acts of liberality. He must have been no common man who showed the first example of devoting the profits of trade to the advancement of learning. He died at Oxford, Feb. 11, 1566, in the seventysecond year of his age, and was buried in the chapel of his college.

Some accounts relate that toward the latter-end of his life he fell into extreme poverty, a circumstance, Mr. Coates observes, that seems very improbable, as, by his will, he left 400 marks to his widow, and 3000l. to St. John’s, with legacies to the children of his brother Ralph, | and the Merchant Taylors’ Company of which he was a member, to a considerable amount.

He was twice married; first to a lady whose name was Avisia or Avis, but whose family is unknown. She died in 1557 without issue, and was buried, with great pomp and ceremony, in the parish church of St. Mary Aldermanbury. His second wife was Joan, one of the daughters and coheiresses of John Lake of London, gent, the widow of sir Ralph Warren, knight, twice lord mayor of London, by whom she had children. She survived sir Thomas, and died in 1573, and was buried by her first husband in the church of St. Bennet Sherehog, London. There is a portrait of him in the town-hall of Leicester, habited as lord mayor of London, with a gold chain, and collar of S S. a black cap, pointed beard, his gloves in his right hand, and on the little finger of his left, a ring. There are similar portraits in the town-hall at Salisbury, at Reading, Merchant Taylors’, and St. John’s college.

At what time he first projected the foundation of a college is not known. His original intention was to have founded it at Reading, but he relinquished tliatin favour of Oxford, and on May 1, 1555, obtained a licence from Philip and Mary, empowering him, to the praise and honour of God, the Virgin Mary, and St. John Baptist, to found a college, for divinity, philosophy, and the arts; the members to be, a president, thirty scholars, graduate or non-graduate, or more or less as might be appointed in the statutes; and the site to be Bernard-college, in the parish of St. Mary Magdalen, without the north-gate of the city of Oxford, and to be called St. John Baptist college in the university of Oxford.

St. Bernard’s college was founded by archbishop Chichele for scholars of the Cistertian order who might wish to study in Oxford, but had no place belonging to their order in which they could associate together, and be relieved from the inconveniencies of separation in halls and inns, where they could not keep up their peculiar customs and statutes. On representing this to the king, Henry VI. he granted letters patent, dated March 20, 1437, giving the archbishop leave to erect a college to the honour of the Virgin Mary and St. Bernard in Northgate-street, in the parish of St. Mary Magdalen, on ground containing about five acres, which he held of the king in capite. According to Wood, quoted by Stevens, it was built much in the same | manner as All Souls college, but the part they inhabited was only the front, and the south-side of the first court, as the hall, &c. was not built till 1502, nor the chapel completed and consecrated until 1530. Their whole premises at the dissolution were estimated at only two acres, and to be worth, if let to farm, only twenty-shillings yearly, but as the change of owners was compulsory, we are not to wonder at this under-valuation. It was granted by Henry VIII. to Christ-church, from whence it came to sir Thomas White, who obtained from Christ-church a grant of the premises, May 25, by paying twenty shillings yearly for it, and they covenanted with him that he should chuse his first president from the canons or students of Christ-church, and that afterwards the fellows of St. John’s should chuse a president from their own number, or from Christ-churcb, to be admitted and established by the dean and chapter, or in their absence by the chancellor or vice-chancellor of Oxford; and they farther wished to covenant that the dean and chapter should be visitors of the new college. With some reluctance, and by the persuasion of his friend. Alexander Belsire, canon of Christ-church, and first president, Sir Thomas was induced to consent to these terms, but the last article respecting the visitor must have been withdrawn, as he appointed sir William Cordall, master of the Rolls, visitor for life; and the right of visitation was afterwards conferred on the bishops of Winchester.

In the same year, May 29, 1555, sir Thomas, by virtue of his licence, established his college, and his first society consisted of Alexander Belsire, B. D. and canon of Christchurch, president; Ralph Wynclon, Edward Chanabre, and Henry D’Awbeney, masters of arts, scholars. For their maintenance he endowed the house with 36l. yearly, due to him from the city of Coventry, and with various manors, estates, and advowsons in Berkshire and Oxfordshire. In 1557 he obtained of Philip and Mary another charter, dated March 5, in which he made considerable additions to the endowment, and specified theology, philosophy, canon and the civil law, and the arts, as the studies to be pursued.

He next gave them a body of statutes, which are supposed to have been drawn up by sir William Cordall, by the founder’s desire, and were taken, as to substance, from, the statutes of New-college. According to these, the society was limited to a president, fifty fellows and scholars, | of whom twelve were to study law, three chaplains, three clerks, and six choristers; but the chaplains, clerks, and choristers were discontinued in 1577, owing to a decrease of the funds for their maintenance. Of the fifty fellows, two were to be chosen from Coventry, two from Bristol, two from Reading, and one from Tunbridge the remaining forty- three from Merchant Taylors’ school, London, out of which number six fellowships are reserved for the kindred of the founder.

About this time he enlarged the bounds of the college by the purchase of about four acres, which were inclosed by a wall, by the benefaction of Edward Sprot, LL.B. sometime fellow, who died Aug. 25, 1612. This is commemorated by an inscription over the president’s garden-­door, “Edvardus Sprot hujus Coll. Socius, hunc murum suis impensis struxit, 1613.” It has already been noticed that the founder left by will 3000l. for the purchase of more lands. On the 17th December 1565, the college was admitted a member of the university, and the society declared partakers of all the privileges enjoyed by other colleges or societies. In 1576, the college purchased the ground before the gate from sir Christopher Brome, knt. lord of Northgate hundred, and enclosed it by a dwarf wall and row of elms, some of which are still standing. 1


Chalmers’s Hist, of Oxford. Coatee’s History of Reading. Wilson’s Hist. of Merchant Taylors’ school.