William Petre, 4th Baron Petre

William Petre, 4th Baron Petre (1626 – 5 January 1684), was an English peer, a victim of the Popish Plot.

Petre was the eldest son of Robert Petre, third Baron Petre (1599–1638), and Mary (1603–1685), daughter of Anthony-Maria Browne, second Viscount Montagu, who had been arrested in connection with the Gunpowder Plot in 1605.

Petre was openly a Roman Catholic. A storm broke in 1678, when Titus Oates alleged, with the support of Lord Shaftesbury, that Petre was involved in a Popish Plot to murder Charles II, was part of a conspiracy to reimpose the Catholic faith on England, and that he had been appointed by the Jesuits as lieutenant-general of a Catholic army of invasion. Petre was arrested and charged with high treason, together with four other Roman Catholic peers, Lord Arundel of Wardour, the Earl of Powis, Lord Stafford, and Lord Bellasyse. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London and entered a plea of not guilty, but no trial was brought.

In November, 1679, Charles II gave the royal assent to a bill which removed Petre from the House of Lords. However, the paucity of evidence to substantiate the charge of high treason, and the weakening of the Whigs in 1681–82, lessened the chances of Petre being convicted, and he continued to be held without trial.

In August, 1683, Petre predicted that he would be "cleared by about next spring", but then his health broke down. In December, Lady Petre petitioned Charles II unsuccessfully to release her husband on medical grounds. Expecting death, Petre wrote a final declaration to defend the Roman Catholics against the 'Popish Plot' charges. He died on 5 January 1683/84.


William, the eldest son of Robert, 3rd lord Petre (1599-1638), and the nephew of William Petre, the translator of “Ribadeneira”. He suffered both as a Catholic and as a suspected Royalist under the Commonwealth – he was accused (probably falsely) of fighting for the King at Edgehill. Subject to fines and sequestration (confiscation) of his estates, he was twice imprisoned in the Tower of London. That William had to devote his life to saving his inheritance, a task in which he nearly failed, was the result of three circumstances: wardship, the large families of the 2nd and 3rd lords, and the penalties of recusancy during the Civil Wars and Interregnum.

He was only eleven years old when his father died, and this made him a ward of the King. He spent his childhood in the care of 2nd Earl of Northampton. From the moments of his succession to the title, a number of adverse circumstances developed which rapidly placed the family’s finances under strain. In 1640, the family’s income was over £8,000 per annum (over £900,000 today). According to the criteria established by Finch, no family could have been better placed than the Petres. Clay has studied the subject in detail, and the situation in 1642 may be summarised thus:

1642 2002 Two Wardship rents £2,418 £269,000 Annuity to 3rd lord’s widow £1,000 £111,250 Annuities to 4th lord’s uncles £1,400 £155,750 Lord Petre’s own maintenance £400 £44,500 Maintenance of his brothers and sisters £260 £28,925 Interest on £3,000, part of Mary Stourton’s portion outstanding at 8% £240 £26,700

This left £1,382 per annum (approximately £153,000) to pay the costs of taxation, estate administration and repairs, tithes, quit rents, and bailiff’s fees. Clay considered that this situation arose not out of bad estate management, but out of ‘the unavoidable bad luck of wardship, and the procreation of large families by the 2nd and 3rd lords’. However, time and the end of wardship and the death of dependents would have lifted this burden.

Then, at this time of strain, came the Civil War. When Charles and his Parliament came to blows, William, the young Lord Petre, joined his sovereign, and is reported as fighting for him in Warwickshire. As Charles I’s reign disintegrated into civil war followed by a Cromwellian commonwealth and anti-Catholic hysteria after the restoration of Charles II, William suffered greatly, he was suspected of being a royalist. The estates were seized by the Commonwealth, in 1644 Sir Henry Vane, junior, had moved in the House of Commons the passing of an ordinance for raising £3,000 out of Lord Petre’s estate for the recruiting of Colonel Harvey’s regiment of horse.

The estates in Essex and London were initially sequestered for delinquency and recusancy; Petre was cleared of the charge of delinquency in February 1647; he received ⅓ of his estates back, the Commonwealth put different stewards in charge to see that the rents were ‘rightly’ divided, ⅓ going to Petre and ⅔ to the Parliament. The estate was leased at the time to Chaloner Chute for £1,300, and there were many difficulties in apportioning the obligatory payments. The Buttsbury minister was entitled to have an additional £40; of which it was finally decided that Chute should pay ⅔ and Lord Petre ⅓. Rector Willis also was to receive £20 in lieu of tithe on Ingatestone Park. Lord Petre, however, managed to get a larger share than his ⅓, and in 1647 the local Court reports that he holds courts at Ingatestone privately and makes many thousand pounds.

As the war progressed, he lost ⅔ of his Devonshire lands. Petre resorted to many tactics to use to the full the lands that he retained, to cover his capital losses, which were heavy, and to postpone or to ease his payments to his dependents without avoiding his moral responsibility to abide by his father’s wishes.

Other members of the family fought for Charles I and met with misfortune in consequence. Members of an Antiquarian Society, on an excursion, discovered the tombstone of one of them in May 1904; it was under a pile of brushwood in the stack-yard of the Abbey Farm, Holywell. It had originally stood in the Abbey of Basingwerk, and noted the death of a son of the 2nd Lord Petre, who had died abroad in 1647 and had been brought to the abbey for burial.

Peter Whetcombe does not appear to have given complete satisfaction as steward, for in 1650 Lord Petre had Peter Whetcombe and others summoned for cutting and carrying away timber from his estate. To which they pleaded in defence Parliament’s order for raising £3,000 by sale of his wood (perhaps the ordinance for funding Colonel Harvey’s regiment of horse was never fulfilled). Whetcombe further pleaded that he had only cut and sold decayed timber and undergrowth. Arthur Barnardiston was appointed, and shortly after Mr. Richard Greaves, of Lincoln’s Inn held the office, and was directed to keep court on Lord Petre’s estate. Nevertheless, by 1651, Petre’s liabilities, with sequestration, were twenty times his income, and although the liabilities were not all due immediately, the 4th lord was under pressure that was not manageable.

In 1652, it was necessary for him to sell part of his inheritance. The alternative to the sale of his estates was to renounce his Catholic faith. He chose this alternative, and in May 1652, he took the Oath of Abjuration before the lord Mayor of London. By this act of apostasy, Petre recovered his estates, but it is clear from his last letter, written in the Tower to Charles II shortly before his death, that he died a Catholic. No composition fine was imposed, and the seizure of his estates was lifted on 29th June 1652. This act opened the road to recovery, and Petre, at times with the assistance of trustees, successfully recovered the family’s finances. By December 1658, the principal of the debt was down to £12,150, while annual interest on the debt was £2,708.

In 1655, Lord Petre reports himself ill and lame, and begs that he may be examined about his affairs at his own lodgings, which was granted. He was one of the Royalist ‘cavaliers’ imprisoned at Oxford in 1655, but until well advanced in life did nothing to attract public notices. In 1658, he was in custody, and seeking passes for himself and his servant to France, or beyond the seas. In 1659 President Whitelock wrote to Colonel Fagge and other Militia Commissioners of the county of Sussex: ‘Concerning Lord Petre, Council have received such satisfaction from various well-tried friends that you may liberate him if he will pass his honour to Colonel Fagge to live peaceably, and not abet anything to the prejudice of Parliament’.

He was unfortunate in his choice of his first wife, Elizabeth Savage, ( – 1655) daughter of the 2nd Earl Rivers. She was a notorious spendthrift who was less than scrupulous about paying her debts. In his diary, Samuel Pepys, who was acting as solicitor for William Joyce, a chandler, who was attempting to extract a debt he was owed by Lady Petre, makes no secret of his opinion of her it makes for a lively, if not very engaging, picture. He writes.

quote|3rd April 1664 Lords day. Being weary last night lay long – and called up by W. Joyce; so I rose and his business was to ask advice of me – he being summoned to the House of Lords tomorrow for endeavouring to arrest my Lady Peters for a debt. I did give him advice and will assist him. He stayed all the morning but would not dine with me. So to my office and did business. At noon home to dinner, and being set with my wife in the kitchen my father comes and sat down there and dined with us. After dinner gives me an account of what he had done in his business of his house and goods, which is almost finished, and he the next week expects to be going down to Brampton again, which I am glad of because I fear the children of my Lord that are there for fear of any discontent. He being gone I to my office, and there very busy setting papers in order till late at night, only in the afternoon my wife sent for me home, to see her new laced gowne, that is her gown that is new laced; and indeed it becomes her very nobly, and is well made. I am much pleased with it. At night to supper, prayers, and to bed.

4th April 1664 Up, and walked to my Lord Sandwich’s: and there spoke with him about W. Joyce, who told me he would do what was fit in so tender a point. I can yet discern a coldness in him to admit me to any discourse with him. Thence to Westminster, to the Painted Chamber, and there met the two Joyces. Will in a very melancholy taking. After a little discourse, I to the Lords’ house before they sat; and stood within it a good while, while the Duke of York came to me and spoke to me a good while about the new ship’ at Woolwich. Afterwards I spoke with my Lord Berkeley and my Lord Peterborough about it. And so staid without a good while, and saw my Lady Peters, an impudent jade, soliciting all the Lords on her behalf. And at last W. Joyce was called in; and by the consequences and what my Lord Peterborough told me, I find that he did speak all he said to his disadvantage, and so was committed to the Black Rod; which is very hard – he doing what he did by the advice of my Lord Peters’ own steward. But the sergeant of the Black Rod did direct one of his messengers to take him in custody, and so he was peaceably conducted to the Swan with Two Necks in Tuttle Street, to as handsome dining-room, and there was most civilly used my uncle Fenner and his brother Anthony and some other friends being with him. But who would have thought that that fellow, that I should have sworn could have spoke before all the world, should in this be so daunted as not to know what he said, and now to cry like a child. I protest it is very strange to observe. I left them providing for his stay there to-night and getting a petition against tomorrow, and so away to Westminster Hall, and meeting Mr. Coventry, he took me to his chamber, with Sir William Hickeman, a member of their House, and a very civill gentleman. Here we dined very plentifully, and thence to White Hall to the Duke’s, where we all met, and after some discourse of the condition of the Fleete, in order to a Dutch warr, for that, I perceive, the Duke hath a mind it should come to, we away to the office, where we sat, and I took care to rise betimes, and so by water to Halfway House, talking all the way good discourse with Mr. Wayth, and there found my wife, who was gone with her mayd Besse to have a walk. But, Lord! how my jealous mind did make me suspect that she might have some appointment to meet somebody. But I found the poor souls coming away thence, so I took them back, and eat and drank, and then home, and after at the office a while, I home to supper and to bed.It was a sad sight me thought today to see my Lord Peters coming out of the House fall out with his lady (from whom he is parted) about this business, saying that she disgraced him. But she hath been a handsome woman, and as it seems, not only a lewd woman, but very high spirited.

5th April 1664 Up very betimes, and walked to my cozen Anthony Joyce’s, and thence with him to his brother Will, in Tuttle Street, where I find him pretty cheery over [what] he was yesterday (like a coxcomb), his wife being come to him, and having had his boy with him last night. Here I staid an hour or two and wrote over a fresh petition, that which was drawn by their solicitor not pleasing me, and thence to the Painted chamber, and by and by away by coach to my Lord Peterborough’s, and there delivered the petition into his hand, which he promised most readily to deliver to the House today. Thence back, and there spoke to several Lords, and so did his solicitor (one that W. Joyce hath promised £5 to if he be released). Lord Peterborough presented a petition to the House from W. Joyce: and a great dispute, we hear, there was in the House for and against it. At last it was carried that he should be bayled till the House meets again after Easter, he giving bond for his appearance. This was not so good as we hoped, but as good as we could well expect. Anon comes the King and passed the Bill for repealing the Triennial Act, and another about Writs of Errour. I crowded in and heard the King’s speech to them; but he speaks the worst that ever I heard man in my life worse than if he read it all, and he had it in writing in his hand. Thence, after the House was up, and I inquired what the order of the House was, I to W. Joyce,’ with his brother, and told them all. Here was Kate come, and is a comely fat woman. I would not stay dinner, thinking to go home to dinner, and did go by water as far as the bridge, but thinking that they would take it kindly my being there, to be bayled for him if there was need, I returned, but finding them gone out to look after it, only Will and his wife and sister left and some friends that came to visit him, I to Westminster Hall, and by and by agreement to Mrs. Lane’s lodging, whither I sent for a lobster, and with Mr. Swayne and his wife eat it, and argued before them mightily for Hawly, but all would not do, although I made her angry by calling her old, and making her know what herself is. Her body was out of temper for any dalliance, and so after staying there 3 or 4 hours, but yet taking care to have my oath safe of not staying a quarter of an hour together with her, I went to W. Joyce, where I find the order come, and bayle (his father and brother) given; and he paying his fees, which come to above £2, besides £5 he is to give one man, and his charges of eating and drinking here, and 10s a-day as many days as he stands under bayle: which, I hope, will teach him hereafter to hold his tongue better than he used to do. Thence with Anth. Joyce’s wife alone home talking of Will’s folly, and having set her down, home myself, where I find my wife dressed as if she had been abroad, but I think she was not, but she answering me some way that I did not like I pulled her by the nose, indeed to offend her, though afterwards to appease her I denied it, but only it was done in haste. The poor wretch took it mighty ill, and I believe besides wringing her nose she did feel pain, and so cried a great while, but by and by I made her friends, and so after supper to my office a while, and then home to bed. This day great numbers of merchants came to a Grand Committee of the House to bring in their claims against the Dutch. I pray God guide the issue to our good!

18th April 1664 Up and by coach to Westminster and there solicited W. Joyce’s business again, and did speake to the Duke of York about it, who did understand it very well. I afterwards did without the House fall in company with my Lady Peters, and endeavoured to mollify her; but she told me she would not, to redeem her from hell, do anything to release him, but would be revenged while she lived, if she lived the age of Methuselah. I made many friends, and so did others. At last it was ordered by the Lords that it should be referred to the Committee of Privileges to consider. So I, after discoursing with the Joyces, away by coach to the ‘Change; and there, among other things, do hear that a Jew hath put in a policy of four per cent. to any man, to insure him against a Dutch warr for four months; I could find in my heart to take him at this offer, but however will advise first, and to that end took coach to St. James’s, but Mr. Coventry was gone forth, and I thence to Westminster Hall, where Mrs. Lane was gone forth, and so I missed of my intent to be with her this afternoon, and therefore meeting Mr. Blagrave, went home with him, and there he and his kinswoman sang, but I was not pleased with it, they singing methought very ill, or else I am grown worse to please than heretofore. Thence to the Hall again, and after meeting with several persons, and talking there, I to Mrs. Hunt’s (where I knew my wife and my aunt Wight were about business), and they being gone to walk in the parke I went after them with Mrs. Hunt, who staid at home for me, and finding them did by coach, which I had agreed to wait for me, go with them all and Mrs. Hunt and a kinswoman of theirs, Mrs. Steward, to Hide Parke, where I have not been since last year; where I saw the King with his periwigg, but not altered at all; and my Lady Castlemayne in a coach by herself, in yellow satin and a pinner on; and many brave persons. And myself being in a hackney and full of people, was ashamed to be seen by the world, many of them knowing me. Thence in the evening home, setting my aunt at home, and thence we sent for a joynt of meat to supper, and thence to the office at 11 o’clock at night, and so home to bed.

20th April 1664 Up and by coach to Westminster, and there solicited W. Joyce’s business all the morning, and meeting in the Hall with Mr. Coventry, he told me how the Committee for Trade have received now all the complaints of the merchants against the Dutch, and were resolved to report very highly the wrongs they have done us (when, God knows! it is only our owne negligence and laziness that hath done us the wrong) and this to be made to the House to-morrow. I went also out of the Hall with Mrs. Lane to the Swan at Mrs. Herbert’s in the Palace Yard to try a couple of bands, and did (though I had a mind to be playing the fool with her) purposely stay but a little while, and kept the door open, and called the master and mistress of the house one after another to drink and talk with me, and showed them both my old and new bands. So that as I did nothing so they are able to bear witness that I had no opportunity there to do anything. Thence by coach with Sir W. Pen home, calling at the Temple for Lawes’s Psalms, which I did not so much (by being against my oath) buy as only lay down money till others be bound better for me, and by that time I hope to get money of the Treasurer of the Navy by bills, which, according to my oath, shall make me able to do it. At home dined, and all the afternoon at a Committee of the Chest, and at night comes my aunt and uncle Wight and Nan Ferrers and supped merrily with me, my uncle coming in an hour after them almost foxed. Great pleasure by discourse with them, and so, they gone, late to bed.

21st April 1664 Up pretty betimes and to my office, and thither came by and by Mr. Vernaty and staid two hours with me, but Mr. Gauden did not come, and so he went away to meet again anon. Then comes Mr. Creed, and, after some discourse, he and I and my wife by coach to Westminster(leaving her at Unthanke’s her tailors) Hall and there at the Lords’ House heard that it is ordered that upon submission upon the knee, both to the House and my Lady Peters, W. Joyce shall be released. I forthwith made him submit and ask pardon upon his knees; which he did before several Lords. But my Lady would not hear it, but swore she would post the Lords, that the world might know what pitiful Lords the King hath – and that Revenge was sweeter to her than milk – and that she would never be satisfied unless he stood in a pillory and demand pardon there. But I perceive the Lords are ashamed of her, so I went away calling with my wife at a place or two, to inquire after a couple of maids recommended to us, but we found both of them bad. So set my wife at my uncle Wight’s and I home, and presently to the ‘Change, where I did some business, and thence to my uncle’s and there dined very well, and so to the office, we sat all the afternoon, but no sooner sat but news comes my Lady Sandwich was come to see us, so I went out, and running up (her friend however before me) I perceive by my dear Lady blushing that in my dining-room she was doing something upon the pott, which I also was ashamed of, and so fell to some discourse, but without pleasure through very pity to my Lady. She tells me, and I find true since, that the House this day have voted that the King be desired to demand right for the wrong done us by the Dutch, and that they will stand by him with their lives fortunes: which is a very high vote, and more than I expected. What the issue will be, God knows! My Lady, my wife not being at home, did not stay, but, poor, good woman, went away, I being mightily taken with her dear visitt, and so to the office, where all the afternoon till late, and so to my office, and then to supper and to bed, thinking to rise betimes tomorrow.26th April 1664 Up, and to my Lord Sandwich’s, and coming a little too early, I went and saw W. Joyce, and by and by comes in Anthony – they both owning a great deal of kindness received of me in their late business. And indeed, I did what I could, and yet less I could not well do. It hath cost the poor man above 40 pounds; beside he is likely to lose his debt. Thence to my Lord Peterborough’s and by and by he comes down, and with him (Creed with us) I rode in his coach to St. James, talking about W. Joyce’s business. My Lord merry; and my Lady Peters, he says, is a drunken jade, he herself having seen her drunk in the Lobby of their House. I went up with him to the Duke, where methought the Duke did not shew him any so great fondness as he was wont; and methought my Lord was not pleased that I should see the Duke made no more of him, not that I know any thing of any unkindnesse, but I think verily he is not as he was with him in his esteem. By and by the Duke went out and we with him through the Parke, and there I left him going into White Hall, and Creed and I walked round the Parke, a pleasant walk, observing the birds, which is very pleasant; and so walked to the New Exchange, and there had a most delicate dish of curds and creame, and discourse with the good woman of the house, a discreet well-bred woman, and a place with great delight I shall make it now and then to go thither. Thence up, and after a turn or two in the ‘Change, home to the Old Exchange by coach, where great newes and true, I saw by written letters, of strange fires seen at Amsterdam in the ayre, and not only there, but in other places thereabout. The talke of a Dutch warr is not so hot, but yet I fear it will come to it at last. So home and to the office, where we sat late. My wife gone this afternoon to the buriall of my she-cozen Scott, a good woman; and it is a sad consideration how the Pepys’s decay, and nobody almost that I know in a present way of encreasing them. At night late at my office, and so home to my wife to supper and to bed.4th February 1666 Lord’s day; and my wife and I the first time together at church since the plague, and now only because of Mr. Mills his coming home to preach his first sermon; expecting a great excuse for his leaving the parish before any body went, and now staying till all are come home; but he made but a very poor and short excuse, and a bad sermon. It was a frost, and had snowed last night, which covered the graves in the churchyard, so as I was the less afeard for going through. Here I had the content to see my noble Mrs. Lethulier, and so home to dinner, and all the afternoon at my Journall till supper, it being a long while behindhand. At supper my wife tells me that W. Joyce has been with her this evening, the first time since the plague, and tells her my aunt James is lately dead of the stone, and what she had hath given to his and his brother’s wife and my cozen Sarah. So after supper to work again, and late to bed.

15th February 1666 Up, and my wife not come home all night. To the office, where sat all the morning. At noon to Starky’s, a great cooke in Austin Friars, invited by Colonell Atkins, and a good dinner for Colonell Norwood and his friends, among others Sir Edward Spragg and others, but ill attendance. Before dined, called on by my wife in a coach, and so I took leave, and then with her and Knipp and Mercer (Mr. Hunt newly come out of the country being there also come to see us) to Mr. Hales, the paynter’s, having set down Mr. Hunt by the way. Here Mr. Hales’ begun my wife in the posture we saw one of my Lady Peters, like a St. Katharine. [It was the fashion at this time to be painted as St. Catherine, in compliment to the queen.] While he painted, Knipp, and Mercer, and I, sang; and by and by comes Mrs. Pierce, with my name in her bosom for her Valentine, which will cost me money. But strange how like his very first dead colouring is, that it did me good to see it, and pleases me mightily, and I believe will be a noble picture. Thence with them all as far as Fleete Streete, and there set Mercer and Knipp down, and we home. I to the office, whither the Houblons come telling me of a little new trouble from Norwood about their ship, which troubles me, though without reason. So late home to supper and to bed. We hear this night of Sir Jeremy Smith, that he and his fleete have been seen at Malaga; which is good newes.

23rd February 1666 Up betimes, and out of doors by 6 of the clock, and walked (W. Howe with me) to my Lord Sandwich’s, who did lie the last night at his house in Lincoln’s Inne Fields. It being fine walking in the morning, and the streets full of people again. There I staid, and the house full of people come to take leave of my Lord, who this day goes out of towne upon his embassy towards Spayne. And I was glad to find Sir W. Coventry to come, though I know it is only a piece of courtshipp. I had much discourse with my Lord, he telling me how fully he leaves the King his friend and the large discourse he had with him the other day, and how he desired to have the business of the prizes examined before he went, and that he yielded to it, and it is done as far as it concerns himself to the full, and the Lords Commissioners for prizes did reprehend all the informers in what related to his Lordship, which I am glad of in many respects. But we could not make an end of discourse, so I promised to waite upon [him] on Sunday at Cranborne, and took leave and away hence to Mr. Hales’s with Mr. Hill and two of the Houblons, who come thither to speak with me, and saw my wife’s picture, which pleases me well, but Mr. Hill’s picture never a whit so well as it did before it was finished, which troubled me, and I begin to doubt the picture of my Lady Peters my wife takes her posture from, and which is an excellent picture, is not of his making, it is so master-like. I set them down at the ‘Change and I home to the office, and at noon dined at home and to the office again. Anon comes Mrs. Knipp to see my wife, who is gone out, so I fain to entertain her, and took her out by coach to look my wife at Mrs. Pierce’s and Unthanke’s, but find her not. So back again, and then my wife comes home, having been buying of things, and at home I spent all the night talking with this baggage, and teaching her my song of “Beauty retire,” which she sings and makes go most rarely, and a very fine song it seems to be. She also entertained me with repeating many of her own and others’ parts of the play-house, which she do most excellently; and tells me the whole practices of the play-house and players, and is in every respect most excellent company. So I supped, and was merry at home all the evening, and the rather it being my birthday, 33 years, for which God be praised that I am in so good a condition of healthe and estate, and every thing else as I am, beyond expectation, in all. So she to Mrs. Turner’s to lie, and we to bed. Mightily pleased to find myself in condition to have these people come about me and to be able to entertain them, and have the pleasure of their qualities, than which no man can have more in the world.

27th February 1666 Up, and after a harsh word or two my wife and I good friends, and so up and to the office, where all the morning. At noon late to dinner, my wife gone out to Hales’s about her picture, and, after dinner, I after her, and do mightily like her picture, and think it will be as good as my Lady Peters’s. So home mightily pleased, and there late at business and set down my three last days’ journalls, and so to bed, overjoyed to thinke of the pleasure of the last Sunday and yesterday, and my ability to bear the charge of these pleasures, and with profit too, by obliging my Lord, and reconciling Sir George Carteret’s family.

It must have been rather a relief to her husband when his fiery wife died the next year. She was buried in Lord Petre’s family vault in our church, and her name is entered in the register.

His mother, Mary, Lady Petre, was living at Mill Green House, and was looked after as sharply as her son. The occupier of Folly’s Hall (Forest Hall, Ongar, seven miles away) made complaint that she did not pay a fair rent, and offered to pay more. There is record of the correspondence that ensued between the authorities in town, desirous of extracting as much as possible from the estate, and the local Commissioners, who perhaps had a more neighbourly feeling of compassion for the widow. As Rector Willis was at the time serving as Assistant Commissioner on some of these local courts, we may hope he had used his influence in her favour.

Lord Petre and his mother must have greatly rejoiced at the Restoration, and the resumption of their property. Timber was, as ever, wanted and Mr. Pepys said that Essex oaks make First-rate ships, and in the Domestic State Papers of July 1665, we find the following complaint, and excuse.

quote|‘The Duke of Albemarle to the Navy Commissioners. Captain Taylor has abused the warrant granted to him for the carriage of Lord Petre’s timber; he ought to have carried his own, and when Commodore Pett uses the carts they clash with one another. If such orders be granted the County will complain of it.

19th August 1665. Certificate of John Springfield, high constable, and three others that a report stating that bribes were received by the men employed by Captain Taylor about Engerstone in converting and carrying timber from the grounds belonging to Lord Petre, to acquit the town of Burntwood of the carriage thereof, is false and abominable; and that a poor fellow, calling himself Robin the Devil, made the above false charges and is willing to ask forgiveness on his knees’.

In 1669, William was living at Thorndon and an account of life at this time is found in “The Travels of Cosmo de Medici, the 3rd Grand Duke of Tuscany”. Cosmo III (1642 – 1723), of the Medici family undertook a ‘Grand Tour’ of England, he produced sketches of houses he stayed at, but using Italian artistic licence they bear little resemblance to fact, for example the text mistakenly refers to ‘Thornton Hall’. Count Lorenzo Magalotti wrote an account of these travels, which is now in the Laurentian Library in Florence. An English translation of that account, published in 1821 probably by J. Mawman. He is buried in Florence Cathedral.

After the restoration, Charles tried in vain to secure religious toleration for Catholics in the ‘Declaration of Indulgence, 1672’ but owing to the financing Dutch Wars, Charles recalled parliament in 1673 and was forced to cancel the declaration.

Even after the restoration of the monarchy, William’s troubles were not over, he was destined not to end his days peacefully in one of his Essex homes, but as a prisoner in the Tower. William was living quietly in that retirement forced upon Catholics, ostracized from all influence, but as a devout Roman catholic he involuntarily drew upon himself the attention of the perjurer Titus Oates and fame was thrust upon him at the time of the imaginary “Popish Plot”.

In 1678 Oates swore in his deposition before Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey that he had seen ‘Lord Petre receive a commission as lieutenant-general of the Popish Army destined for the invasion of England from the hands of Joannes Paulus de Oliva, the General of the Jesuits’. The country was in ferment at once, and the wildest excitement prevailed.

To a certain substratum of truth, Titus Oates added many lies, making it exceedingly difficult to separate the guilty from the innocent, and many persons were unjustly condemned and punished. He repeated these statements, before the House of Commons in October 1678, and the house promptly sent for Lord-chief-justice Scroggs, and instructed him to issue warrants for the apprehension of all the persons mentioned in Oates’s information.

William was arrested with four other Roman Catholic lords – Powis, Belasyse, Arundel and Stafford – who were similarly accused of being destined for high office under the Jesuitical regime, Petre was committed to the Tower on 28th October 1678. Some of those who, it was claimed, had been accessory to the plot, were tried and either executed or acquitted, but some were kept in confinement for years without trial. Lord Petre was one of these. The commons exhibited articles against him in April 1679. For a short time, he had as fellow prisoner Mr. Samuel Pepys, who had been accused of being a Papist, and of selling Navy information to the French. John Evelyn writes in his diary.

Yet, in spite of repeated demands for a trial by the prisoners’ friends, and of the clamour of the partisans of Oates on the other hand, no further steps were taken until 23rd June 1680, when Lord Castlemaine, who had subsequently been committed, was tried and acquitted. A few months later Viscount Stafford was tried, condemned and executed; but the patrons of the plot derived no benefit from his death, and nothing was said of the trial of the other ‘popish lords’, though the government took no steps to release them.

Their confinement does not appear to have been very rigorous. Nevertheless, Petre, who was already an old man, suffered greatly in health, and when, in the autumn 1683, he felt that he had not long to live, he drew up a pathetic letter to the king. In this he says:

‘I have been five yeares in prison, and, what is more grievous to me, lain so long under a false and injurious calumny of a horrid plot and design against your majestie’s person and government, and am now by the disposition of God’s providence call’d into another world before I could by a public trial make my innocence appear’.

This letter was printed, and provoked some protestant ‘observations’, which were in turn severely criticised in ‘a pair of spectacles for Mr. Observer; or remarks upon the phanatical observations on my Lord Petre’s letter’ possibly from the prolific pen of Roger L’Estrange. Lord Petre was fortunate in so far that he did not lose his head, but he protested his innocence in vain; it was remembered against him that undoubtedly foreign Papists had frequented Ingatestone Hall. It was useless to expect a Stuart to remember and feel any gratitude for the fact that Lord Petre had suffered and fought on the Royalist side so few years ago. Even the discovery in 1683 of the Rye House Plot (called in the register by Rector Ewer ‘the Phanatic Plot’), to assassinate Charles and James and set the Duke of Monmouth on the throne, failed to create revulsion of feeling in Lord Petre’s favour, and he was doomed to remain in confinement.

Baron Petre died before anything was done. His death occurred on 5th January 1684. He did not die in vain, for at once the English public compassion forced the issue with regard to all the prisoners for the supposed plot. A writ of habeas corpus on 12th February 1684 was issued and the judges of the King’s Bench declared that these men should long ago have been admitted to bail. The death of Petre did much to awaken fair-minded men to the iniquitous disabilities under which Catholics were suffering, and no Catholic suffered death for his religion after his death. Baron Petre was buried among his ancestors at Ingatestone on 10th January 1684 laid in the old family vault, his coffin resting on that of his distinguished ancestor, Sir William Petre. There is no monument or slab placed in the church to his memory, probably because he left no son, and only one daughter, Mary, by his second wife, Bridget (1652 – 1695), daughter of John Pincheon of Writtle, he had an only daughter. Mary, who was born in Covent Garden on 25th March 1679, married on 14th April 1696, George Heneage of Hainton in Lincolnshire, and died on 4th June 1704.

From “Catholic Martyrs of Essex” (B. Foley 1950), “This martyr died in prison, a confessor, if not a martyr for the Faith, and his death aroused such an outcry and so much compassion that it was instrumental in virtually putting an end to open persecution”.

There are four portraits of William; it is strange that he should have felt himself able to afford such extravagance. With the fines and estate sequestrations of the Commonwealth, his financial position was precarious and it is said that much of the original furniture of Ingatestone Hall had to be disposed of at that time.

Clay considered that the success of the 4th lord was the result of the geography of the estates, in that sequestration in Devonshire was considerably delayed, of the lack of a composition fine and of the skill of the 4th lord in handling the crisis. Here personality and good fortune were important. However, this assessment takes too much for granted. Recusancy undoubtedly depended upon the 4th lord’s devotion to the interests of his family; but it also depended upon the personality of his predecessors and successors. An improvident head of a family could do lasting damage, even under the most favourable circumstances. Furthermore, the Petre’s recovery rested upon the innate soundness of their land-holdings. The estates were compact, enclosed, and well managed and profitable; the upkeep of the Ingatestone and Thorndon households made modest demands upon the majority of the estates, which were leased out at realistic rents. These factors were constants, as was the factor of the sound personality of the Petre family. The variables, which worked against the family’s interests, were wardship, the large families of the 2nd and 3rd lords and sequestration. All three were temporary, and it was their coincidence that nearly forced the 4th lord to sell part of his inheritance. Nevertheless, with his estates under his own control, and with the apparatus of borrowing, which had developed during the 17th Century, the 4th lord could cope with the problem. The act of regaining control over his estates, though, carried with it the price of public renunciation of his own and his family’s faith.

His aged mother survived him just a year, and was buried on the 17th January 1685, on the north side of the then new south chancel, and not in the vault with her husband and son. No pictures of the 4th baron’s handsome wife or of his mother are known to exist.


*"Petre, William, fourth Baron Petre (1625/6–1684), nobleman and victim of the Popish Plot" by John Callow in Dictionary of National Biography
*Kidd, Charles, and Williamson, David (editors): "Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage" (1990 edition, New York, St Martin's Press, 1990)
* [http://www.angeltowns.com/town/peerage/ Leigh Rayment's Peerage Page]

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