Hugh Peters

Hugh Peters [or Peter] (June, 1598 - October 16, 1660), English preacher, was the son of Thomas Dyckwoode, alias Peters, descended from a family which had left the Netherlands to escape religious persecution, and of Martha, daughter of John Treffry and Emlyn Tresithny of Place, Fowey, Cornwall. He was baptized on the 29th of June 1598 in Fowey, and was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Having experienced conversion, he preached in Essex; returning to London he took Anglican orders and was appointed lecturer at St Sepulchre's. He entertained, however, unorthodox opinions, and eventually left England for Holland. He visited Gustavus Adolphus in Germany about 1632, and afterwards became the minister of the English church at Rotterdam.

Here his unorthodox leanings again attracted attention, and Peters made a further move to New England. He was connected with John Winthrop through his wife, and had already formed several friendships with the American colonists. He arrived at Boston in October 1635 and was given charge of the church at Salem. He took a leading part in the affairs of the colony, and interested himself in the founding of the new colony in Connecticut.

In 1641 he returned to England as agent of the colony, but soon became involved in the political troubles which now began. He became chaplain to the forces of the adventurers in Ireland, and served in 1642 in Lord Forbes's expedition, of which he wrote an account. On his return he took a violent part in the campaign against Laud, and defended the doctrines of the Independents in a preface to a tract by Richard Mather entitled "Church Government and Church Covenant discussed ..." (1643).

He gained great reputation as a preacher by his discourses and exhortations at public executions, and as army chaplain. In the latter capacity he accompanied Lord Warwick's naval expedition to Lyme in 1644 and Fairfax's campaigns of 1645 and 1646, when his eloquence is said to have had a marvellous effect in inspiring the soldiers and winning over the people. At the conclusion of the First English Civil War, Peters, though greatly disliked by the Presbyterians and the Scots, had attained great influence as leader of the Independents. In his pamphlet "Last Report of the English Wars" (1646) he urged religious toleration, an alliance with foreign Protestants, and an active propagation of the gospel.

Considered a conciliator by his friends, he was also an accomplished polemicist who made many enemies among those he opposed. Peter was present at various military campaigns: the expedition to Lyme (May 1644), Bridgwater (July 1645), Bristol (August, although he left before the main attack), Winchester Castle (October), and Dartmouth (January 1646). He was at Fowey when the remnant of Essex's army under Major-General Philip Skippon surrendered in September 1644 and back in his native Cornwall in 1646 when parliament subdued it. He saw Oxford capitulate in June 1646 and Worcester in July. He repeatedly hurried to Westminster to deliver reports of the army's doings—often to announce victories and request more aid. Warwick sent him from Lyme in June 1644, and he conveyed money back to the army. When Bridgwater was taken and Prince Charles's papers captured, Peter carried the news. He brought word of the surrender of Winchester Castle on 7 October 1645. A week later he returned to report the storming of Basing House (where he reportedly tarried long enough to harangue the aged marquess of Winchester, whom he tried to argue out of his royalism). The following January he brought news of victory at Dartmouth, and in March he announced Sir Ralph Hopton's surrender in Cornwall. His reports were often published. At the close of the war, in The Last Report of the English Wars (1646), he warned: ‘"This is the misery of England whilst others are beaten into slavery, they are apt to be complemented into it’."

In the dispute between the New Model Army and the Long Parliament he naturally took the side of the former, and after the seizure of the king by the Army in June 1647 had interviews with Charles I at Newmarket and Windsor, in which he favourably impressed the latter, and gave advice upon the best course to pursue. He performed useful services in the Second Civil War, procured guns for the besiegers at the siege of Pembroke, raised troops in the Midlands, and arranged the surrender of the Duke of Hamilton at Uttoxeter. When the Army entered London in 1648 he was one of the few preachers who supported the move and spoke out in support of Pride's Purge. Though at the Restoration he denied any complicity in the king's death, it is certain that in his sermons he justified and supported the trial and sentence.

In August 1649 he accompanied Cromwell on his Irish Campaign, and was present at the fall of Wexford, while later he assisted the campaign by superintending from England the despatch to Cromwell of supplies and reinforcements, and was himself destined by Cromwell for a regiment of foot. In 1650 he was appointed chaplin to the Council of State. Through his office he exerted influence on various committees concerned with religious, legal and social reforms. The same year, during the Third Civil War he was in South Wales, endeavouring to bring over the people to the cause, and subsequently was present at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, where afterwards he preached to the victorious Parliamentary soldiers.

At the conclusion of the war Peters was appointed one of the preachers at Whitehall and became a person of influence. Parliament had already voted him an annuity of £200, and Laud's library or a portion of it had been handed over to him in 1644. He was one of the committee of twenty-one appointed to suggest legal reforms, and he published his ideas on this subject, which included a register of wills and land titles and the destruction afterwards of the ancient records, in his tract, "Good Work for a Good Magistrate" (in 1651), answered by R Vaughan and Prynne. He strongly disapproved of the First Anglo-Dutch War, and his interference brought upon him some sharp reprimands.

In July 1658 he was sent to Dunkirk to provide apparently for the spiritual wants of the garrison. He preached the funeral sermon on Cromwell, and after the latter's death took little part in political events, though strongly disapproving of the removal of Richard. He met Monck at St Albans on the latter's march to London, but met with no favour from the new powers, being expelled from his lodgings at Whitehall in January 1660. On May 11 his arrest was ordered. On May 17 the Library of Archbishop of Canterbury was taken from him. On June 18, he was excepted from the Act of Indemnity and apprehended on September 2 at Southwark. He sent in a defence of himself to the Lords, denying any share in the king's death. He was, however, tried on October 13, and found guilty of high treason.

His execution took place at Charing Cross on the 16th of October, when he behaved with great fortitude, and was undismayed by the mangling of the body of John Cook, his fellow sufferer, upon which he was forced to look. Before his death he wrote "A Dying Father's Last Legacy" to his only child, Elizabeth, in which he gave a narrative of his career. His death was viewed with greater rejoicings than perhaps attended that of any of the regicides, which is the more surprising as Peters possessed many amiable qualities, and several acts of kindness performed by him on behalf of individual Royalists are recorded.

But he had incurred great unpopularity by his unrestrained speech and extreme activity in the cause. He was a man, however, of a rough, coarse nature, without tact or refinement, of strong animal spirits, undeterred by difficulties which beset men of higher mental capacity, whose energies often outran his discretion, intent upon the realities of life and the practical side of religion. His conception of religious controversy, that all differences could be avoided if ministers could only pray together and live together, is highly characteristic, and shows the largeness of his personal sympathies and at the same time the limits of his intellectual imagination.

Peters married
#Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Cooke of Pebmarsh in Essex and widow of Edmund Read, and
#Deliverance Sheffield, by whom he had one daughter, Elizabeth.


* [ Biography of Hugh Peter] British Civil Wars website
*Hugh Trevor-Roper "The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century" Pub Liberty Fund Inc (2001 edition) ISBN 0-86597-278-8 [ 6 The Fast Sermons of the Long Parliament]
*Adelaide Rideout. "The Treffry Family". Chichester: Phillimore, 1984. ISBN 0-85033-545-0.


# [ House of Commons Journal Volume 8 17 May 1660 Archbishop of Canterbury's Library] "the Library of the late Archbishop of Canterbury, and now, or lately, in the Hands of Mr. Hugh Peters, be forthwith secured".

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