Reference NumberP/MIS/143
TitleLetter (1648) with translation (1940s), from Sir Balthasar Gerbier
DescriptionScope and Content
Sir Balthasar Gerbier (1591-1667) was an architect, and painter to King Charles I. He owned property in Bethnal Green, and opened an academy there in 1649 (see 'The Green', by A. J. Robinson and D. H. B. Chesshyre, page 4).
Extent2 items
AdminHistorySir Balthasar Gerbier was born in the Netherlands in 1592 of French Huguenot parents who had settled there. Gerbier's connections with Bethnal Green include his house, from where he opened an academy and his attendance at St. Dunstan's Church, Stepney. Bethnal Green was home to his father-in-law William Kip.

In the mid-17th century, 'Bedenell Greene' (1) is a village located outside the eastern wall of the City of London. In July 1649, Gerbier opened, and became principal of this 'learned academy' (2), exact location unknown. A (surviving) prospectus published in 1648 promises a fulsome curriculum of linguistics, as well as 'architecture, mathematics.......dancing, fencing, riding the great horse...together with the new skill of fighting on horseback' (3). Students cannot 'repaire to any kind of victualling houses or taverns' (4). They would pay 'a shilling a day for the poore' if they contravened rules against swearing (5). Gerbier's academy did not survive, despite his attempt to emulate similar European institutions in tutoring in the arts of nobility and warfare.

One headline described Gerbier as a 'dodger' (6). As the 17th century equivalent of a networker, he operated in various fields - as art connoisseur; designer of siege machinery; linguist; diplomat; architect; traveller and royal trouble-shooter. He advocated the enslavement of Africans as a way of increasing profits for investors in the plantations in the Americas.

His flexible loyalties sometimes attracted public hostility. St. Dunstan's was once the scene of vandalism directed at the Gerbier family pew. In 1642 his home in Bethnal Green was attacked by a mob who accused him of sheltering papist priests. In 1649, Parliamentary forces raided his home and removed papers relating to his foreign negotiations to Whitehall. He attended some lectures at St. Mary's, Whitechapel, delivered by an aggressive local preacher Rev. Richard Mayo. A dispute ensued between the two, over theological differences. When he died in 1663, Gerbier was supervising the building of a house in Berkshire. Modern historians have begun to re-evaluate his life and career (7).

Sources of information:
1/2/3/4/5 '........being a Brief History of Bethnal Green': Henry Allgood, p.3 in The Tower Hamlets Independent and East End Local Advertiser, Saturday, 12th April 1902
6. 'Some Account of Sir Balthasar Gerbier- 17th century dodger': Henry Allgood, p.3 in The Tower Hamlets Independent and East End Local Advertiser, Saturday, 29th March 1902
References 1-6: British Newspaper Archive
7. 'A Collector of Secrets': Sir Balthasar Gerbier (1592-1663) in Cultural Diplomacy and The Arts 2015 (V&A Symposium Report)
'Sir Balthasar Gerbier' (1592-1663): David Nash Ford in Royal Berkshire History.
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