Sir John Banks


  • Richest of the Rich position: 188
  • Birth/Death: 1627-1699
  • Origin of wealth: Merchant
  • Wealth: £180,000
  • Net National Income: £50m
  • Net National Income Percent: 0.33%
  • In Today’s Money: £3.661 billion

The son of a prosperous Maidstone businessman, Banks made his mark in public life at the age of 25 in 1652, when he joined a syndicate to victual the navy. It was to be the start of a profitable career in finance and politics, which took Banks into naval contracts for canvas and saltpetre, trade with the Levant, the East Indies and New England in cloth, lead, pepper and diamonds. He built up large estates in Kent from where he made a further turn on the sale of grain, hops, cattle, timber and fruit, not to mention the rents from his tenant farmers.


Banks would have been at home in the modern City. He was quick to recognise the value of liquidity and had the means to advance large sums rapidly to a stretched government – at considerable profit. Shortly after Charles II was restored to the throne, Banks took over the repayment of a royal debt of £2,700 and made a 63% profit in six months, with a baronetcy thrown in as well. Banks had political skills too, serving in two parliaments during Cromwell’s Protectorate and eight under the Stuarts, with no difficulty. He steered a moderate line and cultivated influential friends with some success. He was a director and later governor of the powerful East India Company. Banks’ eldest daughter married the Lord Chancellor’s son. It worked. By 1678, despite the sneering of aristocrats, he was worth £100,000.


At his death in 1679, it had risen to £180,000, equivalent to 0.33% of the £50m net national income at the time. In today’s terms that would be £3.6bn.

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