Thomas Sutton


  • Richest of the Rich position: 108
  • Birth/Death: 1532-1611
  • Origin of wealth: Merchant
  • Wealth: £160,000
  • Net National Income: £27m
  • Net National Income Percent: 0.59%
  • In Today’s Money: £6.548 billion

Thomas Sutton, the son of a Lincolnshire court official, went to Eton and later became a student at Lincoln’s Inn in London. After an early career as secretary to a succession of aristocrats, he settled on a military career. He served in the North and helped suppress a rebellion there in 1569. He served as an artillery officer at the siege of Edinburgh in 1573, his last military engagement. But it was while serving in Durham that he noted the abundance of coal in the area.

He leased coal-rich land from the Church and the Crown, and by 1580, the coal had made him one of the richest men in England. Sutton then settled in London, married a wealthy widow and proceeded to build up his estates. He had five homes and in 1607, spent £10,800 buying a Cambridgeshire manor. But he was also generous to charities and spent £13,000 establishing a hospital and school at Charterhouse just before he died in 1611. There was much talk after his death of ‘rich Sutton’s bequest of £200,000′.

This may be a slight exaggeration. While he was the richest commoner in England, his personal possessions were valued at over £60,410 and his land produced £5,000 of annual income. In all he was worth about £160,000, representing 0.59% of net national income. In today’s terms that is £6.5bn.

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