Gresham College was founded under the terms of Sir Thomas Gresham’s will to provide free public lectures in the City of London. Thomas Gresham was a wealthy Mercer who had founded the Royal Exchange in the City, modelled on Antwerp’s Bourse.
Some of the provisions in Thomas Gresham’s will only came into force after the death of his widow Alice in 1596. They included the setting up of a college to provide free lectures in the City of London. He left its establishment and management jointly to the City of London Corporation and the Mercers’ Company. It is the City's oldest institute of higher education.
The lectures at Gresham College were to be given by seven professors who would receive an annual stipend and be provided with rooms at the College which was located in Thomas Gresham’s large mansion in Bishopsgate. Four of the seven professorships: Divinity, Astronomy, Geometry and Music, were appointed by the City of London Corporation and the other three: Law, Physic and Rhetoric, by the Mercers' Company. In 1985 a Chair in Commerce funded by the Mercers’ School Memorial Trust became the eighth subject. The inaugural lectures took place in October 1597.
Over four hundred years later the City of London Corporation and the Mercers’ Company continue to make these appointments and the professors continue to give free public lectures, augmented by visiting professors lecturing on other topics. Lectures are usually given at the College’s premises at Barnard’s Inn or at the Museum of London. Full details of the lecture programme can be found on the College’s website.