PETYT, John (by 1464-1532), of London.
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Family and Education
b. by 1464, s. of Nicholas Petyt of Dent-le-Dale, Yorks. m. (1) by 1485; (2) 1521, Lucy (d. 28 Nov. 1558), da. of John Wattes of London, at least 1s. 2da.2
Warden, Grocers’ Co. 1519-20; auditor, London 1523-5, 1529-31.3
John Petyt came from the town of Dent-le-Dale, Yorkshire. Both he and his father were there styled yeomen, but a connexion between them and the gentle family of Kent is shown by the bequest of 40s. made in 1485 by Valentine Petyt, esquire, of the Isle of Thanet, to ‘John Petyt the younger, of London, grocer, and to his wife’. In the pedigree drawn up on the heralds’ visitation of Kent in 1574 John Petyt, ‘alderman of London’ (which Petyt never was), appears as Valentine Petyt’s son: he may have been a nephew.4
Petyt dwelt in London for some 50 years, but not until late in life did he rise to any prominence. During the first decade of the 16th century—but apparently not thereafter—he exported cloth in considerable quantity: for the rest his career is sparsely documented until 1520, when he began to be employed in city government. In that year he was among those named by the court of aldermen to consider a petition of Billingsgate porters for the foundation of a fraternity of St. Christopher, in 1521 he was one of those charged with drawing up new rates for the admission of freemen by redemption, in 1522 he shared in the assessment of aldermen for the loan of £20,000 to the King, and in 1523 he and others were asked ‘to devise what things be most necessary and behoveful for the common weal of this City to be moved at this next Parliament’. In 1529 he was himself elected to Parliament by the commonalty of London.5
From this point all the evidence for his career comes from a single source, the account of ‘an ancient Protestant called Mr. John Petyt’ sent by the archdeacon of Nottingham to John Foxe in 1579. The archdeacon, John Louthe, was not writing from his own knowledge, for he was still a child at the time of the events he recounted, and although his story ended ‘teste ipsius uxore Lucia Petyt’, Petyt’s widow had died 21 years before Louthe sent his manuscript, written in his own hand, to Foxe. Louthe may well have acquired his information from Lucy Petyt, who after her third marriage lived at Worksop, Nottinghamshire, but the account as it stands contains too many inconsistencies to be a transcription of a firsthand narrative. Foxe for his part used only a fraction of the material sent to him by Louthe, perhaps because he had good cause to doubt the accuracy of another of Louthe’s narratives, an embellished version of the examination of Anne Askew originally printed by Foxe himself.6
Louthe’s account begins:
This John Petyt was one of the first that with Mr. Frith, Bilney and Tyndale caught a sweetness in God’s word. He was 20 years burgess for the city of London, and free of the grocers, eloquent and well spoken, exactly seen in histories, song and the Latin tongue. King Henry VIII would ask in the Parliament time, in his weighty affairs, if Petyt were of his side; for once when the King required to have all those sums of money to be given him by Act of Parliament which afore he had borrowed of certain persons, John Petyt stood against the bill, saying, ‘I can not in my conscience agree and consent that this bill should pass, for I know not my neighbours’ estate. They perhaps borrowed it to lend the King. But I know mine estate, and therefore I freely and frankly give the King that I lent him’.
Petyt was elected for the first and only time in 1529, to the Parliament summoned in the 21st year of Henry VIII’s reign. He was thus a Member of the Parliament which during its first session released to the King all sums of money previously raised by loan (21 Hen. VIII, c.24) and could have made this speech in the debate upon the bill: whether his remarks had the effect upon Henry VIII which Louthe ascribed to them is a matter for conjecture.7
‘This burgess’, the account continued, was sore suspected of the lord chancellor and the prelacy of this realm, that he was a fautor of the religion that they called new, and also a bearer with them in printing of their books. Therefore Mr. [Thomas] More cometh upon a certain time to his house at Lion’s Quay, then called Petyt’s Quay, and knocking at the door, Mrs. Petyt came toward the door and seeing that it was the lord chancellor she whipped in haste to her husband, being in his closet at his prayers, saying, ‘Come, come, husband, my lord chancellor is at the door, and would speak with you’. At the same word the lord chancellor was in the closet at her back. To whom Mr. Petyt spoke with great courtesy, thanking him that it would please his lordship to visit him in his own poor house; but, because he would not drink, he attended upon him to the door, and, ready to take his leave, asked him if his lordship would command him any service. ‘No’, quoth the chancellor, ‘you say you have none of these new books?’ ‘Your lordship saw’, said he, ‘my books and my closet’. ‘Yet’, quoth the chancellor, ‘you must go with Mr. Lieutenant. ‘Take him to you’, quoth the chancellor to the lieutenant. Then he was laid in a dungeon upon a pad of straw, in close prison.
Although More did not see it, there was a New Testament in the forbidden translation under Petyt’s desk, but the ‘little old priest’ who had been ready to testify that Petyt possessed Tyndale’s Testament and had helped in its publication, at the last denied all knowledge of Petyt, who was thereupon released. During his imprisonment, however, he had ‘caught his death’ and he died immediately after his return home. He was replaced in the Commons by William Bowyer.8
The role of the chancellor in this story—personally arresting on suspicion of heresy one of London’s Members—seems designed to discredit More, although a Member’s privilege of freedom from arrest gave no protection against the crown. The improbabilities are compounded by ‘a strange thing or two’ which Louthe added to the main story, of how John Frith, while a prisoner in the Tower visited Petyt at his home, by the connivance of the keeper, and how Petyt himself while in the Tower was allowed to dine with Bilney in the cell above. Bilney was never in the Tower after 1529, when Petyt was certainly still at liberty, but was condemned and burnt for heresy at Norwich in 1531. Frith went to the Tower at some date between 25 July and 21 Oct. 1532, and could therefore have been allowed out to visit Petyt, who died in August 1532, only during a short period if Petyt’s death followed ‘immediately’ upon his release.9
Petyt had made his will on 22 Aug. 1531, 12 months before he died, leaving the lease of his house and quay to his wife and dividing his goods between her and his children. He was not a rich man (his assessment to the subsidy of 1523 was only £200 in goods) ‘albeit’, as the archdeacon’s account has it, ‘he had great riches by his first wife (being his mistress and a widow) and especially by his second wife’. His comparative poverty was ascribed to the fact that the chancellor, ‘of a popish charity’, made him pay the forfeit for the non-appearance of a sick friend for whom he stood surety, and to the generosity of his gifts to the poor, ‘specially to poor preachers, such as then were on this side the sea and beyond the sea’, debts which he entered in his accounts as ‘lent unto Christ’. Petyt’s estate at his death therefore amounted to no more than £160, beside his house in the city and lands in Shoreditch and Walthamstow. His title to some of this property, moreover, was being contested at the time of his death. The lands in Shoreditch were of the inheritance of his second wife and her mother disputed his right to them, while the lease of his house and quay, held of the chamber of London, had expired and was sought by an alderman, Richard Choppyn. In this matter Lucy Petyt, who in her husband’s lifetime had appealed for assistance to Cromwell, secured the minister’s support. Writing to the mayor and aldermen on 9 Oct. 1532, Cromwell asked for the renewal of Petyt’s lease at the old rent in favour of the widow, since Petyt was ‘a true and loving citizen and from time to time exceeding painful in the procurement of your common affairs’. On the widow’s marriage to John Parnell, however, Choppyn evicted her.10
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: Helen Miller
- 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
- 2. Date of birth estimated from first reference. LP Hen. VIII, i; Narr. Ref. (Cam. Soc. lxxvii), 28, 299; PCC 12 Maynwaryng, 36 Milles.
- 3. Wardens of Grocers’ Co. ed. Grantham, 16; City of London RO, Guildhall, jnl. 12, ff. 244v, 293v; 13, ff. 153v, 238.
- 4. C67/57; PCC 36 Milles; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. lxxv), 20-21.
- 5. E122/79/12, 80/2, 4, 5 ex inf. Prof. P. Ramsey; City of London RO, rep. 4, ff. 58, 84v, 145v; jnl. 12, ff. 118v, 188; 13, f. 149v (where in the record of his election to Parliament he is described as grocer, not common pleader as in Beaven, Aldermen of London, i.; 274. The common pleader was the John Petyt who later became a baron of the Exchequer).
- 6. Narr. Ref. 7, 14, 40n, 299.
- 7. Ibid. 25-26.
- 8. Ibid. 26-27.
- 9. Ibid. 27.
- 10. Ibid. 28, 296; E179/251/15; C1/875/8-10, 707/38-40, 866/23; LP Hen. VIII, vii; City of London RO, rep. 8, f. 242.