This fine and previously unrecorded portrait by Isaac Oliver depicts Thomas Fones (also spelt Fownes), a wealthy Devon merchant and Mayor of Plymouth, and had remained in the possession of his descendants until only last year.

Thomas Fones was born in Bridgewater in Somerset to parents Richard Fones of Bristol and Joane (neé Tindall) from the Isle of Axholme. It seems likely that he was related to Humphrey Fownes, Mayor of Plymouth in 1588 and 1596, and also John Fones of Bromsgrove in Worcestershire who earlier in 1540 acquired Dodford Priory from Andrew Dudley following the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Due its natural harbour and ease of access to the Atlantic Ocean, Plymouth became a highly prosperous town in the late 16th century where vast fortunes were made and lost. One of the most familiar names associated with this booming period of economic growth in Plymouth is Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595), merchant, slave trader and architect of...

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This fine and previously unrecorded portrait by Isaac Oliver depicts Thomas Fones (also spelt Fownes), a wealthy Devon merchant and Mayor of Plymouth, and had remained in the possession of his descendants until only last year.

Thomas Fones was born in Bridgewater in Somerset to parents Richard Fones of Bristol and Joane (neé Tindall) from the Isle of Axholme. It seems likely that he was related to Humphrey Fownes, Mayor of Plymouth in 1588 and 1596, and also John Fones of Bromsgrove in Worcestershire who earlier in 1540 acquired Dodford Priory from Andrew Dudley following the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Due its natural harbour and ease of access to the Atlantic Ocean, Plymouth became a highly prosperous town in the late 16th century where vast fortunes were made and lost. One of the most familiar names associated with this booming period of economic growth in Plymouth is Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595), merchant, slave trader and architect of the Elizabethan navy. It would have been within these social circles that Fones operated, forging alliances and making deals. He is here depicted as a wealthy gentleman, wearing his hair in a daring ‘lovelock’ over his left shoulder.[1]

In 1610 and again in 1619 Fones was elected Mayor of Plymouth and the year before would have witnessed the arrest of Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) who was later executed for his role in the unlawful attack of a Spanish outpost in Guiana. During his term as Mayor, Fones oversaw the erection of a new clock at the Guild Hall and also saw the departure of a fleet of ships to Algiers[2], probably with the aim of rescuing English captives. The following year, on September 6th 1620, Fones would also have witnessed the departure of the Pilgrim Fathers aboard the Mayflower, in search of a better life in the New World.

By the 1620s Fones had amassed a considerable fortune and as a charitable gift to Plymouth paid for the construction of a hospital and almshouse on Great Hill (now North Hill), which remained standing until 1810 when it was demolished to widen the road. As well as houses and outbuildings around the harbour in the centre of Plymouth, Fones also owned a manor in Lipson, farms in nearby Whitley, a manor in Honiknowle, a house in Tavistock, property in Ilsington and Highweek near Newton Abbot and parcels of land near the Lady Well in Pilton, Barnstable. When Fones died on 24 April 1638 his land and property was divided amongst his 4th and 6th eldest sons, John Fownes (1614-1646) and Thomas Fownes (1619- after 1638), the others having predeceased him. He was buried at St Andrew’s Church in Plymouth.

[1] The ‘lovelock’ was a striking look favoured by one of the most fashionable and bold young men at the Elizabethan court, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624), who wore his hair in a long section over his shoulder.

[2] R.W.S. Baron, Mayors and Mayoralties: or, The Annals of the Borough [Plymouth] (Plymouth, 1846), p.35

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500 Years of British Art