PETTUS, Sir John (c.1613-85), of Chediston, Suff. and Westminster.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



21 Mar. 1670

Family and Education

b. c.1613, 2nd s. of Sir Augustine Pettus (d.1613) of Rackheath, Norf. being o.s. by 2nd w. Abigail, da. of Sir Arthur Heveningham of Ketteringham, Norf. educ. Pembroke, Camb. 1632; L. Inn 1635. m. c.1636 (with £4,000), Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Sir Richard Gurney of Cheapside, London and Pointer’s Grove, Totteridge, Herts., ld. mayor 1641-2, 1s. d.v.p. 1da. Kntd. 25 Nov. 1641.1

Offices Held

Servant to Charles I by 1639-?45; member, Society of Mineral and Battery Works 1654, asst. 1655-8, dep. gov. 1658-61; member, Society of Mines Royal 1661, asst. 1633-4, 1674-5, dep. gov. 1664-74, 1675-d.; gent. of privy chamber 1670-85.2

Col. of horse (royalist) 1643-4.

J.p. Suff. July 1660-d., capt. of militia ft. by 1665, col. 1672-?85; freeman, Dunwich 1670, bailiff 1671-2, 1675-6, coroner 1677-8; dep. lt. Suff. 1671-85, dep. v.-adm. 1672-?74, commr. for recusants 1675.3

FRS 1663.


Pettus’s grandfather John Pettus (d.1614) was a wealthy Norwich merchant who acquired the manor of Rackheath in 1590 and represented the city in 1601 and 1604-10. Although a younger son, Pettus inherited the manors of Chediston and Wenhaston, worth £550 per annum, and he married well; but even before the Civil War most of his estate was mortgaged, and his wife’s expectations were never realized, owing to her father’s misfortunes as leader of the City Royalists. Pettus became a servant to Charles I, and took part in the farcical royalist attempt on Lowestoft in March 1643, but was exchanged after nearly a year in prison. It is unlikely that he resumed command of his regiment, such as it was, since he ‘continued inoffensive till the taking of Bristol’ by the New Model Army in September 1645. Presumably it was this episode that entitled Pettus many years later to describe himself as having served under Prince Rupert. His life was saved by Colonel Charles Fleetwood, who had married his cousin, and he was allowed to compound at one-tenth for £867, which obliged him to sell Wenhaston and other property.

After the horrid murder [of Charles I] I furnished his present Majesty with above £1,000. In 1650 I was clapped up ... for correspondence with him, and for three weeks together examined by as his the Council of State. ... At last I was freed upon good bail of £4,000, which continued on me and my friends till his Majesty’s happy return.

Thus compelled to political inactivity, with debts approaching £6,000 and his marriage threatened by his wife’s conversion to Roman Catholicism, Pettus began to interest himself in metallurgy and mining. As a leading member of the Society of Mineral and Battery Works, he took up residence in Westminster, and petitioned the Protector to exempt him from the decimation tax, declaring that he ‘is and ever will be most faithful to the Government under which he lives’. It was only after the fall of the Protectorate that he allowed himself to be involved by the ironmaster Francis Finch in an attempt to win over Fleetwood to the monarchy. In 1657 his wife entered a nunnery abroad, after removing cartloads of household stuff from Chediston, presumably to serve as her dowry. Convent life did not suit her, and she returned to England in 1662. A reconciliation was arranged by her brother-in-law Thomas Richardson, but it did not survive the death of her only son a few months later. Lady Pettus again left home, this time with her mother-in-law’s jewels to the value of £800. For her support her husband allowed her to receive the rent of £100 per annum from her father’s house in Cheapside.4

Pettus was returned for Dunwich, some eight miles from Chediston, at a by-election in March 1670. An active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was named to 109 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges in five sessions. In the same year he published an account of the Mines Royal under the title of Fodinae Regales and dedicated it to Prince Rupert and Lord Ashley (Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper). He was teller for granting privilege to Christopher Jay. Meanwhile his wife, who was demanding the doubling of her alimony,

attended the Houses of Commons door for near a month together with a most scandalous petition, which she showed to several Members of Parliament as they passed by, not with intent to have it read in the House, but to defame and lessen my esteem there as a Member; but at last, upon my importunity to some of my fellow Members she could not refuse to deliver it into the hands of one of that House, who (notwithstanding my pressing to have it read) did not put it forward.

The paper was referred to the committee of privileges, which did not report. In the debate on taxing coal, tin and lead mines on 23 Jan. 1671 he claimed that existing revenue from their products was nearly £10,000 per annum. His name appeared on the opposition list of the court party.5

The long recess that followed afforded Lady Pettus an opportunity of appealing to a less partial tribunal than the House of Commons, and the spiritual courts ordered her husband to allow her £4 a week, reduced to £3 on appeal. Pettus’s relationship to the leading Independent, Fleetwood, may have been even less acceptable to the ecclesiastical authorities than his wife’s Roman Catholicism. He described himself as

a true Protestant and professor of the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England, being the best reformed church in Europe in its foundations, though it may be not at this time in its practices.

He was excommunicated for disregarding the ruling of the court, and Lady Pettus appealed to the Privy Council. On 31 Oct. 1672 the King personally ordered him to pay her £2 a week, to be increased when his circumstances improved, and when he would have protested, one of the Councillors whom he regarded as a friend (presumably Ashley, though Rupert was also present) ‘advised me not to capitulate with his Majesty’. Even this reduced allowance Pettus paid for only six months, alleging that the publicity had disabled him by causing his creditors to fall on him. His name was included in the Paston list, and in February 1674 he was named to the committee on a bill for insolvent debtors. He also made the first of four attempts to obtain a bill to regulate the disposal of the charitable stock of £2,000 accumulated by the Suffolk parish of Kelsale, eight miles from Chediston. He was the first Member named to the committee, which was so well-attended that they were forced to adjourn from the Speaker’s chamber to the House; but it failed to report. When Parliament rose, Lady Pettus renewed her complaint to the Privy Council, and the sentence of excommunication, which had been suspended, was reimposed so that she might take her remedy at law. Pettus protested vigorously at the elevation of his neighbour Edmund Bohun of Westhall, already notorious as an informer against conventicles, to the East Suffolk bench on the recommendation of magistrates from the other side of the county. He urged leniency towards Protestant dissenters, who differed only over ‘circumstances of government and worship, some of which we ourselves hold indifferent’, while Roman Catholics could ‘never be true subjects to this crown’. (Sir) Joseph Williamson was told that these views would confirm the local nonconformists in their belief that Pettus was their champion.6

Nevertheless Pettus remained a member of the court party, and his name appeared on the working lists. He was concerned to review the highways laws, and served on a committee to bring in a bill for more effectual repair and maintenace. He was also named to committees for the better recovery of debts and for poor prisoners, and on 3 June 1675 reported his Kelsale charity bill. In both sessions he was appointed to committees for hindering the growth of Popery, and other matters of political importance with which he was concerned included the appropriation of the customs to the use of the navy, illegal exactions, Papists in Parliament, and habeas corpus. Sir Richard Wiseman queried his reliability, but he was secured for the Court with an excise pension of £300 per annum. This did not escape notice in A Seasonable Argument, the author adding: ‘all his estate under extent’, and his old friend Ashley, now Earl of Shaftesbury and leader of the opposition, classed him as ‘doubly vile’. In 1677 he took the chair for a naturalization bill, which he carried to the Lords, as well as his perennial Kelsale bill. For the third time the Speaker pocketed his fees, and on 8 Feb. 1678 Pettus was ordered to carry it up; but it was coldly received in the Upper House. It was coupled with another charity bill in which he was interested as executor to his father-in-law, who had been one of the trustees of a large fund bequeathed by a London merchant called Henry Smith. Pettus found himself described as ‘a person that suggested needless and impertinent bills to your lordships, and that I did concern myself in matters wherein I ought not to be concerned’. He published a defence of his conduct, but on 26 Mar. the Lords’ committee reported that Smith’s trustees had ‘behaved themselves well in the execution of their trust, and therefore [we] find not cause for the passing this bill’. Pettus was on both lists of the court party in 1678; he took the chair for an estate bill sent down from the Lords, though he was not entitled to attend the committee, and was named to a committee for the relief of poor debtors. On 18 June he acted as teller against a motion for an inquiry into pensions, secret service payments, the corruption of Members, and other embarrassing matters. On 11 July the Kelsale bill was returned to the Commons with amendments. By now it must have been almost as well-established a joke as Sir William Killigrew and his Lindsey level bill; but again Pettus steered it through committee, only to be thwarted by the prorogation. During the recess the scheme was taken to Chancery and there approved, subject to a modification in the names of the trustees. After the Popish Plot he read a letter from Suffolk reporting a conversation between two soldiers in which he apparently saw some sinister significance.7

Blacklisted in the ‘unanimous club’ of court supporters, Pettus did not stand again. By July 1679 he was in a debtors’ prison, writing begging letters to Archbishop Sancroft, who came from Fressingfield, six miles from his home. Chediston was sold to the Fleetwoods, and Pettus was buried in the Temple church on 12 July 1685, the last of the family to sit in Parliament.8

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. lxxxvi), 164-5.
  • 2. Pettus, Fodinae Regales; BL Loan 16; Carlisle, Privy Chamber, 185.
  • 3. Add. 39246, ff. 5, 24; E. Suff. RO, EE6/1144-5.
  • 4. DNB; Blomefield, Norf. x. 447; Copinger, Suff. Manors, ii. 34-35; information from Brig. Peter Young; SP23/197/339; Cal. Comm. Adv. Money, 1378; Bodl. Tanner mss 35, f. 84; CSP Dom. 1650, p. 308; Thurloe, iv. 277; Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 389; Pettus, Narr. Excommunication, 1-3, 12.
  • 5. CJ, ix. 174, 190; Narr. Excommunication, 3-4.
  • 6. Narr. Excommunication, 4, 12-15; PC2/63/301, 316, 345; 64/16, 204; Pettus, Case and Justification, 2-3; CSP Dom. 1673, pp. 481, 531; 1673-5, pp. 551-4; CJ, ix. 352.
  • 7. Narr. Excommunication, 16; Case and Justification, 1-4; Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 433, 1317; CJ, ix. 417, 422, 435, 453, 501, 514; LJ, xiii. 195, 202, 237, 268; Grey, vi. 226.
  • 8. Tanner mss 290, f. 159; PC2/71/79; Temple Church Recs. 26.