• Richest of the Rich position: 18
  • Birth/Death: died 1610
  • Origin of wealth: Merchant
  • Wealth: £500,000
  • Net National Income: £26m
  • Net National Income Percent: 1.92%
  • In Today’s Money: £21.311 billion

Sir John Spencer was a London merchant who amassed so much money that he outshone the aristocracy with its inherited wealth. Spencer, the son of a country squire from Waldingfield in Suffolk, moved to London and started out in the cloth trade, joining the Clothmakers’ Company. By 1570, his trade with Spain, potentially an aggressor against England, was so enormous that the State papers record the matter. But he was also the largest London trader with Turkey and Venice and was later accused of monopolising the trade with Tripoli.

He was so rich that pirates in Dunkirk came all the way to Canonbury in London to kidnap him for ransom, but they failed. He was friendly with Elizabeth I, who visited him at Canonbury, possibly because he provided foreign intelligence for her spy master, Walshingham, or lent her money, or both. His daughter married Lord Compton, later the Earl of Northampton, having been smuggled out of her father’s house in a laundry basket by her fiance’.

A miser, Sir John ‘Rich’ Spencer died leaving between £500,000 and £800,000 in 1610, none of it for charitable purposes. At the time, net national income was £26m and his wealth was 1.92% of that figure. In modern times he would have been worth £21.3bn.

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