George Heriot, goldsmith and jeweller to King James VI and founder of Heriot's School, died on the 12th of February, 1624.
George Heriot was known as Jinglin' Geordie and today, amongst other things, he's commemorated by a pub on Edinburgh's famous Fleshmarket Close that bears that moniker. How's that for fame? Geordie made his fortune as a goldsmith and jeweller, and moneylender it has to be said, though he was no ordinary loan shark. His clients were Royalty; specifically, James VI & I and his extravagant wife, Anne of Denmark.
In his novel, 'The Wisest Fool', Nigel Tranter has Jinglin' Geordie and his friend, James VI of Scotland, travelling south to London, in order for Jamie Saxt to take up the throne of England from where Elizabeth I, recently deceased, had left off. On the way down as they halted at each town or city, James conferred knighthoods on the stalwart men of Olde England. Seemingly benevolent and very Royal, you might think. But, would you believe it, James was broke and in need of sillar, so each knighthood was granted in exchange for hard cash or a promissory note, at least. Geordie was James' banker and a partner in the scam. One up to the canny Scotsmen, before they ever got near London.
Heriot's dealings with James VI & I and his Queen helped him amass a considerable fortune, and on his death, he left quite a lot of that wealth to good causes in his native Edinburgh. Both his first wife and his second, Alison Primrose, daughter of James Primrose, Clerk to the Scottish Privy Council, predeceased Heriot. So, when Heriot died, he had no legitimate heirs. In such manner was George Heriot able to become founder of Heriot's School, originally George Heriot's Hospital. As the school's website states: “For 350 years, George Heriot’s School has served as one of Scotland’s most distinguished schools.”
The foundation of the present magnificent structure, which was designed by the celebrated architect, Inigo Jones, was laid on the 1st of July, 1628, on land immediately outside the city walls, to the south of Edinburgh Castle and close to Greyfriars Kirk. By the time it finally opened as a school, in April 1659, it had been used as a barracks by Cromwell's troops. Today, it is an independent, co-educational day school, catering for fee-paying pupils as well as orphans and, fittingly true to the vision of its benefactor, the school encourages a desire for excellence and a love of learning. In the fullness of time, Heriot's school got involved in a community college, which merged with the The Watt Institution and School of Arts to become Heriot-Watt College, in 1885. Nearly one hundred years later, in 1966, that became Heriot-Watt University.
In his will, which is dated the 20th of January, 1623, Heriot left a part of his fortune to two natural daughters. He also bequeathed legacies to his relations, servants, &c. The remainder, which amounted to the princely sum of £23,625 10s 3 1/2d Sterling, was left to: “the provost, bailiffs, ministers, and ordinary council, for the time being, of the said town of Edinburgh, for and towards the founding and erecting of an hospital within the said town of Edinburgh, in perpetuity; and for and towards purchasing of certain lands in perpetuity to belong unto the said hospital, to be employed for the maintenance, relief, bringing up, and education of so many poor fatherless boys, freeman’s sons of the town of Edinburgh, as the means which I give, and the yearly value of the lands purchased by the provost, bailiffs, ministers, and council of the said town shall amount, or come to.”
George Heriot was born in June, 1563, and he followed his father into the family business. In 1586, he married Christian Marjoribanks, and with her dowry of 1075 Merks, a gift sum of 1000 Merks from his father, “to be ane begyning and pak to him,” and an additional 500 Merks to purchase the implements of his trade and to fit out his shop, Heriot was able to set up his own business in a 'buith' near St. Giles Cathedral. Two years later, on the 28th of May, 1588, and with his reputation established, Heriot became a member of the Incorporation of Goldsmiths.
Earlier, in August, 1581, the goldsmiths of Edinburgh had received a charter of incorporation from the Magistrates. That charter and its privileges were then confirmed by a charter of James VI, in 1586. Those rights amounted to a monopoly, which lasted for many a year. Consequently, the moneylenders were men of influence, able to charge a high rate of interest and gain a certain hold over the resources of the nobility. They weren't short of a few Bob, that's for sure, considering the usual rate of interest at that period was ten per cent.
Heriot's introduction to the Royals came in 1597, when James VI appointed Heriot goldsmith to his Queen. Soon after, in 1601, Heriot also became goldsmith to the King with all the emoluments attached to that lucrative office, but not before he'd spent some years as moneylender to the very same man. James was actually borrowing money from Jinglin' Geordie, to give to Queen Anne so that she could spend it with Heriot. He was onto a winner, like you wouldn't believe; awesome! The relationship began in Scotland and continued when they flitted to London in 1603. In the six years up to that landmark year, it has been estimated that Anne of Denmark spent £50,000 on jewellery, most all of it with Geordie Heriot.
Heriot's name first appears in the treasurer’s books, in September, 1599, when the following was recorded: “Payit at his majesties special command, with advyiss of the lords of secret counsal, to George Heriot, younger, goldsmith, for a copburd propynit to Monsieur Vetonu, Frenche ambassadour, contening the peces following, viz.: twa basingis, twa laweris effeiring thairto, twa flaconis, twa chandilleris, sex couppis with coveris, twa couppis without coveris, ane lawer for water, ane saltfalt with ane cover; all chissellit wark, and dowbill owirgilt, weyand twa stane 14 pund and 5 unces at aucht mark the unce, £4160. Item, for graving of 28 almessis upon the said copburd £14.”
Down south, Heriot was able to take full advantage of the London-based market for his jewellery and the opportunities it presented for his money lending activities. Mony's the man who took money off Jinglin' Geordie in those days. And, for his services to the King, Shaughlin' Jamie Saxt awarded his mate Heriot a share of all the country's import duties on sugar. Many of the accounts of jewels furnished by Heriot to Queen Anne in London are referenced in Constable's memoir of Heriot. For the ten years between 1605 and 1615, those amount to many thousands of pounds Sterling.
George Heriot died in London, on the 12th of February, 1624, and he was buried at St. Martin-in-the-Fields on the 20th of the same month.