Sir Peter Vanlore: Jeweller, Merchant, Moneylender

In the cool stone walls of St Michael's Church in Tilehurst in Berkshire lies the effigy of a man alongside his wife. His tomb has been intricately carved, signalling something towards his wealth during life and features the couple with effigies of their children. 

A neat moustache rests on his top lip, his hair falls in short curls and he is dressed in finely engraved armour. This is Sir Peter Vanlore. 

There are already some well-known facts about Sir Peter's life. He was born around 1547 in Utrecht in the Netherlands and came to live in England in the 1560s, during the early years of Elizabeth I. By the time he settled in Tilehurst in 1604 he was already a wealthy merchant and jeweller and was able to purchase the manor of the village. His manor house is thought to have been on the site of the present Calcot Park just off the modern A4, although no part of it survives today. Vanlore had strong links with three monarchs: Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I. He died in 1627 at his Tilehurst manor, and is buried in St Michael’s Church with his wife Jacoba.

During Elizabeth's reign, we see Vanlore  known for his mercantile dealings - in both wool and jewellery. In October 1596 he is mentioned in correspondence in the Cecil Papers, for being involved in selling a pair of diamonds to the queen. The costs included the cost of the stone and its shipping, as well as 'cutting the patterns of crystal to shew the Queen; for setting the patterns of crystal in gold to show the Queen; and for setting the two diamonds in gold'. The  charges were £1,791 (around £307,420 today). A bidding war evidently broke out however, and higher bids were received at the town of Frankfurt as well as the French Ambassador and Sir Anthony Ashley 'but they were content to accept of this £2,100 so that the Queen would accept it for her use'. That works out as the equivalent of £360,459 today.(1)

In September 1604, Vanlore is supplying more jewels to the court, this time for James I's queen Anne of Denmark to give as a gift to the wife of the Constable of Calais. The papers specify that the gift was 'a necklace of pearl', billed at £1,400 (around £193,000 today).(2) 

But it wasn't just trading in diamonds that Vanlore amassed his huge wealth. In 1604 he was given a licence to export, duty-free, 15,000 broadcloths, showing that he weighed in on the cloth trade too, perhaps where his mercantile career had originally started.(3) 

With such huge wealth it's not surprising that Vanlore was a prolific landowner. He owned lands in Speen, Tunbridge, Beenham, Moorlinch, Compton, Malmesbury and Westonzoyland (in Somerset) among others. He was mentioned as having 'the right to keep deer, rabbits and pheasants' in Tidmarsh in 1618. In 1610 he had been paid £91 (today around £12,200) for renting out his house in Paris to 'an ambassador there', Sir Thomas Edmondes. (4)

While Elizabeth I relied on Vanlore for supplying twinkling diamonds, the two Stuart monarchs James I and Charles I seem to have also called on the business-like jewel merchant to lend them money from time to time. There are some mind-blowing figures. In 1604 a part-payment of £7631 (around £1m today) is recorded, another of £1,000 (around £137,800 today) and in 1626 he is one of a group of three men who lent the Crown a staggering £30,000 (around £4.1m today).(5) Vanlore was a shrewd, powerful and respected businessman and his temper flickers down to us from the sources, likely in a frustrated attempt to call in his debts. In 1603 parliament papers from the early reign of James I gruffly record the 'exorbitant demands of Peter Vanlore'.(6) Considering the amounts of the Crown's transactions with him, it's not surprising that he became eager to call in what was due to him. 

Peter Vanlore died at his Tilehurst manor in 1627, in old age for his time, at around eighty years old. As mourners filed into St Michael's for his funeral those who knew him would have looked back on his life. He and Jacoba had eleven children. He had seen the glittering courts of three monarchs and spanned both the Tudor and Stuart ages. He negotiated and bargained with them, often dealing in massive sums that the average villager could only dream of. He accumulated lands in Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Somerset and Gloucestershire and became wealthy in his own right. The only surprise is how little he is known. 

You might also like: The Tudors in the Village of Tilehurst, Berkshire, Wilder's Folly - an Eighteenth Century Love Nest and The Secret History of Reading's Market Place

With thanks to St Michael's, Tilehurst for letting me come and take photos of the Vanlore tomb and effigy. You can support the church and find out more about them here

Did you know that Tilehurst has links to the Wars of the Roses conflict in the fifteenth century? I examine the stories of Isabella More and other women with links to Reading in my book Forgotten Women of the Wars of the Roses, published by Pen and Sword.  Order your copy here. 

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Notes and sources

Modern equivalent currency amounts are calculated from the National Archives Currency Converter. 

 1'Cecil Papers: July-December 1596', in Calendar of the Cecil Papers in Hatfield House: Volume 13, Addenda, ed. E Salisbury (London, 1915), pp. 577-591. British History Online [accessed 19 December 2021].

2. James I: Volume 9, August-October, 1604', in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1603-1610, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1857), pp. 140-163. British History Online [accessed 19 December 2021].

3. 'James I: Volume 7, April, 1604', in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1603-1610, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1857), pp. 90-103. British History Online [accessed 19 December 2021].

4.Parishes: Tidmarsh', in A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 3, ed. P H Ditchfield and William Page (London, 1923), pp. 433-437. British History Online [accessed 19 December 2021]. and James I: Volume 52, January, February 1610', in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1603-1610, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1857), pp. 579-590. British History Online [accessed 3 June 2022].

5. 'James I: Volume 9, August-October, 1604', in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1603-1610, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1857), pp. 140-163. British History Online and House of Lords Journal Volume 3: 19 May 1626', in Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 3, 1620-1628 (London, 1767-1830), pp. 631-645. British History Online [accessed 19 December 2021].

6. 'James I: Volume 5, December, 1603', in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1603-1610, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1857), pp. 56-63. British History Online [accessed 19 December 2021].