Banks, Sir John, baronet 1627-1699, merchant and financier, was baptized at the parish church of All Saints, Maidstone, Kent, 19 August 1627. He was the eldest in the family of two sons and one daughter of Caleb Banks of Maidstone and his wife Martha Dann of Faversham. His father was a prosperous woollen-draper and former mayor of Maidstone. In 1644 John Banks was admitted to Emmanuel College, Cambridge. By 1652 he had become a member of a syndicate engaged in victualling the navy. In 1654, building upon his fathers connections with the London business world, he married Elizabeth, daughter of John Dethick, a leading London merchant who became lord mayor in 1655 and was knighted by Oliver Cromwell in 1656. Banks then moved ahead rapidly in trade and finance, becoming a shareholder in the East India Company and a member of the Levant Company. Despite his earlier links with the parliamentary cause (he was MP for Maidstone 1654-9) he pursued a moderate royalist line at the Restoration and in 1662 was made a baronet
During the 1660s his trading ventures were overshadowed by involvement in naval finance. He advanced money, in ever-growing sums, especially during the second and third Anglo-Dutch wars; and showed great skill in securing repayment, in discounting operations, and in profiting from the high rates of interest which the government had to pay for ready cash. When the stop of the Exchequer was forced upon the government in 1672 he received favourable treatment in the resulting settlement
He did not resume his role as a major lender until after 1689 but meanwhile he had blossomed into a Kentish landowner and re-entered Parliament. He invested his business gains in building up an estate, purchasing as a country seat the former Carmelite priory of Aylesford. He became a director of the East India Company in 1669 and its governor in 1672-4 and again in 1683. He was also a director of the Royal African Company and its sub-governor in 1674-6. In the course of the 1670s he bought a town house on the grandest side of Lincolns Inn Fields, as well as spending lavishly on extensive rebuilding at Aylesford. His re-election to Parliament came in 1679 in Rochester, for which borough he sat until 1690; thereafter, until 1694, he represented Queenborough and finally Maidstone again in 1695-8
Of Bankss five children, Martha (1658-75) and John (1668-9) died young. His eldest surviving daughter, Elizabeth, was married in May 1678, complete with a portion of £10,000, to Heneage Finch [qv.], who became solicitor-general 1679-86, second son of Heneage Finch (later first Earl of Nottingham, qv.), the lord chancellor. Despite this association with one of the central families of the emergent Tory party Banks soon showed himself willing to extend his financial activities to the post-Revolution Whig governments. Throughout the 1690s he advanced substantial sums through various channels. His money-lending activities also included loans to members of the Finch family and their political connections. In 1693 his second daughter, Mary, was married off to John Savile, of Methley, a member of an important Yorkshire Tory family. The substantial portion of £18,000 doubtless reflected inter alia the disparity of age: Mary Banks was thirty, John Savile twenty-two
Bankss concern with naval matters led to a friendship with Samuel Pepys [qv.]. Like Pepys, he had interests wider than finance and administration. In 1668 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, becoming thereby one of the very few businessmen in that body. He served on the societys council in the 1670s; and in 1677, after consulting various fellows of the society, Banks appointed John Locke [qv.] to act as tutor to his surviving son, Caleb (1659-96) during the latters stay in France in 1677-8
Shrewd, methodical, and determined, Banks combined business acumen with political trimming. Although filling such conventional offices as JP and DL in Kent, he generally preferred profits to power. His few surviving letters show that he brooked no nonsense from the unbusinesslike; his domestic relationships indicate a generous regard for his family; and his record of successful money-making, from Cromwell to William III, suggests that he learned well the lesson that adaptability is one of the crucial conditions of business survival
By 1698 Bankss health was failing and he died 19 October 1699. His meticulously kept accounts reveal a landed income of about £5,000 per annum and total assets at death worth about £180,000, a sum which if translated roughly into modern values would put him into the multimillionaire category. His wife and his son Caleb having both died in 1696 (the baronetcy became extinct), most of his wealth passed to Elizabeth and Heneage Finch who, in 1714, was created first Earl of Aylesford. The only remaining visible signs of Bankss life are a set of almshouses in Maidstone, built in accordance with his will, and a massive baroque tomb in Aylesford church.
D. C. Coleman, Sir John Banks, Baronet and Businessman, 1963
B. D. Henning, The House of Commons 1660-1690, 1983.
Contributor: D. C. Coleman