Famous Pluralists

Even if the term 'Pluralist' is a new one - that isn't to say others haven't cottoned on to the idea in the past. We regularly update this page with a selection of Famous Pluralists from History. Check back each week to see who we're writing about!

William Shakespeare

Playwright, Property Magnate

‘To Invest or not to Invest, that is the question'

‘Alas my Profit Margins, I knew them, Horatio'

(Quotes from a now lost first draft of Hamlet: IFA of Denmark by William Shakespeare)

The Bard is most famous for his writing, with a string of blockbusters and bonkbusters between 1593 and his death in 1616. Few people, however, take the time to note that he was a successful businessman. His acting company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, built the Globe theatre. This proved so profitable that they were also able to buy Blackfriars Indoor theatre 15 years later. The success of these theatres brought Shakespeare an unusual problem - since tickets were all bought using small change, most of his profits existed in a form which was hard to use. He resolved this problem by investing heavily in property in the town of Stratford on Avon, and in other unusual financial products (including buying a share in the tithes paid to the parish church). He died a wealthy man, cryptically leaving his wife his ‘second best bed', and his children a valuable property and investment portfolio.

Margery Kempe

Businesswoman, Holy Woman, AuthorFamous Pluralists - Famous Pluralists

The ‘Book of Margery Kempe' produced in the 15th Century is not only the first example of a woman's autobiography in English History, it also records the activities of a true medieval Pluralist. Margery, irritated that her husband wouldn't give her any money, decided to rectify her situation by setting up two small businesses - a brewery and a mill. Unfortunately a lack of angel investment/ a friendly VCT meant that, when the businesses ran into trouble (Margery hadn't been daunted by the fact she didn't actually know how to brew beer when she set up the first business), she was forced to give up her entrepreneurial dreams. She then began a life of pilgrimage and travel, visiting many of the holy places in Europe and the Near East. She also became an accomplished legal advocate in her own defence, boasting in the book of her successful defences against charges of being part of the Lollard Heresy. She is honoured in the Anglican Communion (the equivalent of Sainthood for the Church of England) for her good deeds. The Pluralists Club can organise a masterclass on achieving Sainthood on request from the members.

Constantine VII

Byzantine Emperor, Historian, Geographer

Constantine VII had rather rough luck at the start of his career. Taking power as a child, one of his regents, Romanos Lekapenos, seized power and had himself crowned co-emperor, meaning that until the age of 40 he had no real power. He distracted himself from this unfortunate state of affairs by becoming an academic. He produced dozens of works, most of which have subsequently been lost. The most famous of those that survive are the De Administrando Imperio (On the management of the Empire) and the De Ceremoniis (On Ceremonies). The former serves as some of the earliest evidence for the existence of Medieval Croatia, several Armenian Principalities, and contains the first mention in Literature of Kievan Rus’ (the collection of principalities and statelets which would eventually become Russia). It also advises on the appropriate bribes - ranging from purple cloaks to pots of pepper - necessary to prevent these peoples from attacking the empire. On Ceremonies describes exhaustively the different ceremonies and rituals used by the emperors to keep the court in line and well behaved. Constantine turned out to be no slouch in the politics department, either. When Romanos was deposed by his sons, Constantine cooly invited them to dinner and, as they sat down to eat, had them seized and bundled off to separate prisons on the Aegean islands. His one great error was entrusting command of an expedition to capture Crete to the Eunuch Constantine Gongyles (lit. ‘Turnip’) - who earned his name by leading his army to a crushing defeat. If any members of the Club employ any Eunuchs we do not suggest awarding them command of any major military expeditions.

 

Estee Lauder

Businesswoman, Inventor

Born Josephine, but nicknamed Estee, this Pluralist started out working in her father’s hardware store in New York, while nurturing dreams of becoming an actress. Her big break, however, came when she went to work for her uncle, the chemist Dr John Schotz. While at the business she built up a working knowledge of the skills necessary to produce makeup. While getting her hair cut one day, a hairdresser remarked on her perfect skin. Estee returned a day later with four pots of her uncle’s 6-in-1 moisturising cream, and the owner was so impressed that she began to stock the product. Estee went on to invent her first fragrance, ‘Youth-Dew’ which doubled as a bath oil. She sold 50,000 bottles in her first year, but by 1984 the fragrance was selling 150m bottle a year. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004.

 

 

George Washington

Politician, General, Farmer,

Most people remember Washington as the first President of the United States, or even as the commander who accidentally started the Seven Years War at Jumonville Glen. Few people remember that Washington started out as a Virginian landowner who experienced several business failures. His initial attempts to produce tobacco at his estate of Mount Vernon failed when his final product wasn’t to the tastes of the fashionable London market. He branched out into work as a surveyor, which earned him enough money to increase his landholdings along the Shenandoah River by roughly 2000 acres, and built a Mill at Mount Vernon - this made him rich at long last as he was able to make profit by milling the grain of the surrounding farmers. He put some of this money into making loans to his neighbours, but a low rate of repayment quickly discouraged him from this pursuit! The Pluralists Club does not sanction rebellion against the reigning Monarch.

Geoffrey Chaucer:

Poet, diplomat, minor government official regulating the London wool trade, spy;

Chaucer kept himself busy during the 14th Century. He had an unsettled start to his career, following Edward III round on his French campaigns, before trying to study Law in the Inner Temple. Unable to settle for this he then popped up in Milan, send as a ‘special envoy’ of the English crown to negotiate with the head of a mercenary band. Shortly afterwards he was back in London, where Edward III granted him the gift of ‘a gallon of wine daily for the rest of his life’, probably as a reward for some of his early poetry. He then settled in London as a customs official, chiefly ensuring that the duty on wool exports (the government’s main source of revenue in the period) was collected. He took this time to begin work on the famous Canterbury tales. He then held a host of minor government posts, and received a then lucrative royal pension of £20 a year - although some of his later writings suggest that the King was often tardy in paying this! The Pluralists Club strongly suggests writing to your local MP to point out the opportunities for the elimination of the national deficit inherent in paying civil servants using wine!

Carmen Miranda:

Singer, Dancer, Actress

Known the world over for her famous ‘fruit hats’, the Portuguese-Brazilian Carmen Miranda managed to expand her talents from singing to dance and acting during the mid 20th Century. Starting out on Brazilian radio, she caught the eye of a broadway producer, Lee Shubert, shortly before the outbreak of WW2 and by 1940 was voted the 3rd most popular personality in America, being invited to perform in the White House. By 1945 she was the highest paid woman in the USA. She was considered so culturally important that on her death the Brazilian government declared a period of national mourning, and over 500,000 people escorted her coffin to her funeral.

Oprah Winfrey

Broadcaster, Entrepreneur

Oprah Winfrey was born into such poverty that she had to wear dresses made out of old potato sacks. This didn’t stop her, however, she learned to read by the age of 3, and got her first job straight out of college, as a newsreader on a local radio station. This was the beginning of an illustrious career in the media, in 1993 her interview with Michael Jackson became the 4th most watched event in American television history. She took the opportunity to set up her own production company. The advance for her first book, though never officially revealed, is known to have set the record for largest advance fee in American publishing history. According to Forbes’ she was the world’s only black Billionaire between 2004 and 2006.

Thomas Cochrane

Sailor, Freedom Fighter, Businessman, Crook, Inventor

Businessman, Sailor, Freedom fighter, Thomas Cochrane has served as the inspiration for several fictional heroes, including C.S. Forester’s ‘Hornblower’ and Patrick O’Brian’s series of novels about Captain Jack Aubrey. This mad Scot first became famous when he attacked a Spanish ship of the line three times the size of his own ship, and by outstanding skill was able to capture it intact. Cochrane then became an MP until 1814, when his apparent involvement in a fraud scandal at the London Stock Exchange saw him expelled from the House. Never one to be kept down by a setback he set sail for South America, where he was instrumental in supporting the independence of Chile and Brazil from the Spanish and Portuguese Empires. He then went to Greece and assisted in their independence bid from the Ottomans. The profits of all this activity were invested in Cochrane's career as an inventor - he patented a tunneling shield with Isambard Kingdom Brunel's father which would later be crucial to the construction of the Thames Tunnel. The Pluralists Club would like to make clear that it does not approve of supporting plural careers with the profits of raids on Spanish and French shipping.

Geoffrey Chaucer:

Poet, diplomat, minor government official regulating the London wool trade, spy;

Chaucer kept himself busy during the 14th Century. He had an unsettled start to his career, following Edward III round on his French campaigns, before trying to study Law in the Inner Temple. Unable to settle for this he then popped up in Milan, sent as a ‘special envoy' of the English crown to negotiate with the head of a mercenary band. Shortly afterwards he was back in London, where Edward III granted him the gift of ‘a gallon of wine daily for the rest of his life', probably as a reward for some of his early poetry. He then settled in London as a customs official, chiefly ensuring that the duty on wool exports (the government's main source of revenue in the period) was collected. He took this time to begin work on the famous Canterbury tales. He then held a host of minor government posts, and received a then lucrative royal pension of £20 a year - although some of his later writings suggest that the King was often tardy in paying this! The Pluralists Club strongly suggests writing to your local MP to point out the opportunities for the elimination of the national deficit inherent in paying civil servants using wine.

Florence Nightingale

Nurse, Statistician, CampaignerFamous Pluralists - Famous Pluralists

Florence Nightingale is best known as the Lady of the Lamp - the woman who during the Crimean war professionalised British Nursing. However this was only one of her achievements. She was also a noted statistician - popularising the Pie Chart and inventing a variation of it called the ‘Nightingale Rose Diagram'. This led to her being elected as the first female member of the the Royal Statistical Society. The fame and good image which her efforts won her enabled her to become a prominent political campaigner. In her later life she advocated for improved conditions in India - managing to reduce the ordinary mortality rate in the Army of India from 69 to 18 per thousand each year. She also successfully advocated for improving the conditions of Prostitutes in London, while ensuring that many workhouses had resident nurses

Martha Stewart.

Model, Stockbroker, Entrepreneur, Broadcaster

Martha Stewart’s first job, aged 10, was as a babysitter for the children of several members of the New York Yankees. She also worked as a model, appearing in adverts for Unilever, and later Chanel. Tiring of this she switched after college into a career as a stockbroker, and using the profits purchased a tumbledown house in Connecticut. While fixing it up, she realised that she had a talent for decorating, she also used the extra space to set up a catering business. These attracted the attention of Alan Mirken, CEO the Crown Publishing Group, who commissioned her to write a cookery book. This was the foundation of yet another career, this time as a public personality, which saw her produce a magazine, more books and appear on television. Martha eventually managed to purchase the rights to all of these activities, founding the company ‘Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia’ which at its IPO made Martha the US’ first self made female Billionaire.

C.J. Walker

Entrepreneur, Activist

C.J. made her name by creating a series of beauty products for black women in America in the 19th Century. She was so successful that she became the first female self made millionaire in America, and the richest black woman in the world that century. C.J. Started out as a laundress earning a dollar a day, but learned from her barber brother the secrets of hair care. She built up a business employing over 20,000 people in the following decades. She used the profits to support the black communities of America, particularly in the Deep South. She gave over $100,000 ($1.3m today) to various orphanages, and directed in her will that 2/3rds of the profits of her estate in future should be given to charity. In 1998 the US Postal Service issued a stamp in her honour.

 

Robert Walpole

Politician, Collector, Speculator

Britain’s first Prime Minister also holds the dubious honour of being the last head of the government to spend time imprisoned in the Tower of London. Walpole was a Whig politician who successfully gathered unto himself the two most powerful positions in the government, those of First and Second Lords of the Treasury in the early 18th Century. This gave him control of the levers of Patronage (for which read ‘the ability to use the Treasury to pay bribes’). This granted him the country’s first secure Parliamentary majority, enabling him to cement his power as our longest serving Prime Minister (1721-42). He was a steady hand, doing his best to keep the newly formed United Kingdom out of the destructive European wars taking place during this period. He was also a very canny investor - managing to buy shares in the South Sea Company at their lowest point, and selling them just before the South Sea Bubble burst. The profits of this went into the construction of his home, Houghton Hall, and a magnificent art collection. The Pluralists Club does not recommend using bribery to attain political power.

Benjamin Franklin

Printer, Journalist, Scientist, Ambassador

Our first non European Pluralist, Ben Franklin was one of the most famous men of the 18th Century. He was known for his witticisms, once saying to Congress in the midst of the American Revolution ‘We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately’. Franklin started out working in various printing shops, before setting up his own newspaper in 1728. Not satisfied with this he took up the position of postmaster of Pennsylvania, then in 1753 that of Postmaster General for the 13 Colonies, creating America’s first communications network. On the side he carried on experiments in several fields, including on electricity by flying kites during lightning storms. His eclectic interests granted him a prominence that saw him appointed as the United States’ ambassador to France. On his return he was elected President of the State of Pennsylvania. The Pluralists Club recommends that all members research the health and safety implications of experimenting with electricity before attempting to replicate Franklin’s experiments.

Elizabeth Cavendish:

Socialite, Investor, Designer

Elizabeth (better known as Bess of Hardwick) was an Elizabethan socialite and investor who, despite the poverty of her family and the debts left to her by one of her husbands, was able to become one of the richest women in England. She was well trusted by the Queen, who placed Mary Queen of Scots in the care of her husband. Using the profits of her investments in a wide range of properties, she was able to build substantial improvements at Chatsworth, the house where Mary was held. She is best known, however, for purchasing her old family home, Hardwick Hall, from her debt ridden brother, and rebuilding it as one of the most impressive houses of the Elizabethan age. So luxurious was the house that is inspired the rhyme ‘Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall’ (at a time when glass was extremely expensive). Alongside her care for Mary, her business interests and her building habit, Bess also became one of England’s most accomplished needlewomen, and the fabrics she produced are recognised as a vital historical resource.

William Morris:

Businessman, poet, designer, author, campaigner

This Victorian is best known today for the wallpaper designs he produced. However, William Morris had many strings to his bow. His time at university helped him to develop a fascination with the medieval world, which led him to produce translations of a series of Icelandic Sagas, as well as several bestselling novels on the same theme. After university he developed close relationships with several of the Pre Raphaelite painters, which in turn inspired him to set up, along with several friends, a company to produce his designs. He managed to build up his ownership of this company - taking sole control of it by 1875. He dabbled in politics, spending some time as an anarcho syndicalist, but towards the end of his life rejected this in favour of founding a publishing house to produce illuminated books.

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