PEYTON, Sir Robert (c.1633-89), of East Barnet, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. c.1633, 4th s. of Henry Peyton (d.1656), examiner in Chancery 1632-54, of Chancery Lane, London. educ. L. Inn 1655. m. Jane (d. 17 Mar. 1684), da. of Lionel Robinson of Cowton Grange Yorks. and coh. to her bro. Richard, 1s. Kntd. 12 July 1670.1
Examiner in Chancery 1654-June 1660.2
Commr. for militia, Mdx. Mar. 1660, assessment, Mdx. Aug. 1660-80, 1689, Westminster 1673-80, Yorks. (N. Riding) 1679-80; maj. of militia ft. Mdx. by 1666-?76, member, Hon. Artillery Co. 1671; j.p. Mdx. 1672-6, dep. lt. ?1672-6, 1689-d., commr. for recusants 1675.3
Capt. indep. co. Nov. 1688; col. (later 20 Ft.) 1689-d.
Peyton’s father, who came from a cadet branch of a declining Cambridgeshire family, appears to have been inactive during the Civil Wars and Interregnum, apart from serving on the Middlesex assessment commission in 1649. Peyton himself lost his lucrative Chancery post at the Restoration, but was proposed for the order of the Royal Oak with an estimated income of £1,000 p.a. In July 1666 information was laid that he had ‘reviled the King, Lord Arlington, and all the lords and courtiers’, saying the fleet had been divided purposely to destroy the Duke of Albemarle (George Monck), ‘whom they all hate’, and that he ‘threatened to kill a gentleman who said he would report him unless he would confess that he was drunk’. In 1676 he was removed from the Middlesex commission of the peace for helping to promote the motion in the common hall of London for the calling of a new Parliament. In November Henry Coventry sent the lord chancellor examinations ‘relating to seditious words alleged to have been spoken by Sir Robert Peyton’. Government informers watched closely the activities of ‘Peyton and his gang’, one of whom was Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, who were said to be republicans and atheists. In January 1677, he apparently attempted to reconcile Buckingham with the Duke of York by inviting them both to dinner, but nothing came of it. Next month, he tried to visit Buckingham in the Tower but ‘was not suffered to speak with him’. In January 1678 a clerk in Chancery laid a complaint that Peyton had first challenged him to a duel, and then dealt him blows about the head with a heavy cane for praising the Cavaliers, adding ‘the deponent goes in fear of his life or some bodily harm to be done him by the said Sir Robert, he being, as the deponent is informed by several persons, a very desperate and unruly man, who often gets drunk and beats those he meets with, though not provoked’.4
Peyton was returned unopposed for Middlesex in February 1679, and presented with instructions to work for measures to ease Protestant dissenters by a group of freeholders, to which he replied ‘he would do what service he could therein and in anything else, and called for a cup of sack and drank the King’s health to them’. Classed as ‘honest’ by Shaftesbury, he was a very active Member of the first Exclusion Parliament. He was appointed to 41 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges, made four recorded speeches, and twice acted as teller. In March he took the chair of the committee on the bill for Danby’s attainder, which he carried to the Lords. He was appointed to the committees to examine the disbandment accounts, to extend habeas corpus, to regulate parliamentary elections, to prevent drunkenness and swearing, and to secure the kingdom against the danger of Popery. He described Danby as defending himself ‘like a cunning gamester and dodger’, and accused Lauderdale of hindering the printing of Coleman’s letters in Scotland. He took the chair of the committee to draw up an address asking for the calling out of the militia in Middlesex, London, Westminster and Southwark during the trials of the Popish lords to prevent Papists from fomenting disorders. He was appointed to the committee to bring in the exclusion bill, moved the second reading on 21 May, and acted as teller. On 23 May he said that (Sir) Stephen Fox had receipts from the persons to whom secret service pensions had been paid, and he was one of the three Members sent by the House to collect Fox’s papers.5
On their way to the Middlesex election in the autumn Lord Grey of Warke and Peyton appear to have deliberately courted a clash with a regular unit of musketeers at Smithfield. At the poll he finished second to Sir William Roberts, but after the ‘Meal-Tub Plot’ in November it was revealed that he had sought a reconciliation with the Duke of York through Mrs Cellier, the Popish midwife, and the astrologer Gadbury, who told the Privy Council that Peyton had wanted the governorship of Portsmouth or the lieutenancy of the Tower as the price of coming over to the Court.
Peyton explained his relationship with Mrs Cellier by saying ‘she was a good bawd and, maybe, could procure’, and he had apparently consulted Gadbury to have his fortune told. Lord Peterborough, a more reliable witness, confirmed the secret negotiations with the Duke. Peyton was in financial difficulties at this time; his estate was heavily mortgaged, and by September the balance of his account with Sir Robert Clayton had fallen from £1,126 in the previous year to £1 12s.6d. The Opposition now heaped abuse on Peyton, suspecting that his violent remarks against the Duke had been those of an agent provocateur, and that he had all along spied on his associates. The Green Ribbon Club, to which he had introduced the informer Dangerfield, now expelled him, and paid £100 to have him burnt in effigy, along with the Pope, on Queen Elizabeth’s birthday. In later depositions, Gadbury and Mrs Cellier testified that Peyton had told them ‘he would have been at the head of 20,000 to oppose the Duke’s title’ had the King died during his illness at Windsor in September, but this was thought to have been a mere boast ‘to set a value on his interest and service’ in coming to terms with the Duke. On 9 Jan. 1680 Peyton was sent to the Tower on a charge of high treason. He was granted bail on 10 Feb., and discharged on 24 May. When Parliament met in October, Dangerfield accused Peyton at the bar of the House of complicity in the ‘Meal-Tub Plot’, and Roberts took the chair of a committee to investigate his conduct. In his own defence, Peyton denied any knowledge of the Plot, and declared he had told the Duke of York ‘that I was for the bill of exclusion not for any pique against him, but for the good of the nation. ... In waiting on the Duke I aimed at no more than a personal reconciliation’. He added that the Duke had offered to have him restored to the Middlesex commission of the peace, but he had refused unless those turned out with him were restored too. The House, however, agreed with (Sir) Thomas Lee I that Peyton had made a ‘thorough bargain with the Duke’, and voted without a division to expel him. He had taken no other part in the proceedings of the second Exclusion Parliament. He is said to have remarked: ‘Hang the King, if he cannot protect me from the Parliament’. The Duke of York later wrote that Peyton could not be saved from the anger of the House as ‘the ever having been his [the Duke’s] friend was in their acceptation like the irremissible sin against the Holy Ghost’. In February 1681, a speech was published purporting to be that of the Speaker, William Williams, on expelling Peyton:
I cannot call you fallen angel, for you have been a devil from the beginning, and to bring your diabolical purpose to pass, you have consulted the Devil, Gadbury, and hugged the witch Cellier, and have been a true hypocrite, and played a prize with religion for advantage. But why should I say religion, when you never had any, but were ever a profuse rolling hero, having nothing now left you but the shape of a man, whereby you are become nauseous to this House, and therefore they now spew you out.
Peyton thereupon went to Williams’s chamber, demanding a public disavowal of this printed speech, and upon Williams’s refusal, challenged him to a duel. For this, Peyton was sent to the Tower, but he was discharged on bail in May following as no charges had been brought against him. An opposition pamphlet, published before the 1681 election, warned the freeholders of Middlesex never again to trust the defence of the Protestant religion to ‘an atheist and a notorious debauchee’, and Peyton naturally did not stand.6
Peyton was brought before the Council after the Rye House Plot. Evidence was offered that he had called the fanatics ‘a parcel of cowardly rogues’. It was said he had no interest, but that they should know he could raise 500 horse. He was discharged on 11 July 1683, and no further action was taken against him. In 1685 Lord Grey of Warke and Richard Goodenough gave evidence that Peyton had undertaken to foment a rising in the City as soon as Monmouth landed. He fled to Holland, and was outlawed for high treason. When proceedings began for the disposal of his estate, including East Barnet and his house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, he applied for a pardon, but was required to make a full discovery of what he knew of the Monmouth rebellion. He used the respite to settle all his property on his son Craven, in the belief that this would preserve it from forfeiture. The pardon was refused, and Bevil Skelton, James’s representative with the States General, attempted to kidnap Peyton in Rotterdam, with the assistance of several British officers in the Dutch army, and carry him back to England on the royal yacht. Peyton, however, who had safeguarded himself from extradition by becoming a burgher of Amsterdam, was freed by the Dutch mob, enraged by this assault on one of their citizens. Peyton’s estates were granted by the King to others (though some were so encumbered as to be valueless), leaving only the Yorkshire manor of Hauxwell to his son as ‘a small competency’.7
Peyton took part in William of Orange’s invasion of England and was commissioned colonel of foot. At the general election of 1689 he stood unsuccessfully for Middlesex. Three months later he obtained the reversal of his sentence of outlawry in King’s bench, and recovered possession of his London house. He died on 3 May of a fever two days after drinking bad claret. In his will, dated the day before his death, he left two sums of £1,200 each to two women and £500 to a third to be paid to them personally, not to their husbands. He was ‘interred with great splendour, but his son assisting at the funeral had the ill fortune to be arrested’, though he must have come to terms with his creditors, as he sat for Boroughbridge under Queen Anne.8
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 239; PCC 145 Berkeley; Aubrey, Antiqs. Surr. i. 230.
- 2. T. D. Hardy, Principal Officers of Chancery, 125.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1665-6, p. 577; 1676-7; p. 11; 1689-90, p. 54; Ancient Vellum Bk. ed. Raikes, 98; HMC Finch, ii. 44.
- 4. PC2/59/117; CSP Dom. 1665-6, p. 577; 1675-6, p. 562; 1676-7, pp. 408, 506, 556, 564; 1677-8, pp. 168, 290, 388; Marvell, ed. Margoliouth, ii. 322; Poems on Affairs of State, ii. 124-5; Durham Univ. Jnl. xlix. 16-20.
- 5. Bodl. Carte mss 228, f. 147; Grey, vii. 197, 322.
- 6. CSP Dom. 1679-80, pp. 274, 291, 296, 370-1; July-Sept. 1683, pp. 5, 33, 40, 91, 95, 98; 1684-5, p. 466; Durham Univ. Jnl. xlix. 18; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 557, 571-2; v. 462, 566-7; Hatton Corresp. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxii), 203, 214, 217; Guildhall Lib. mss 6428, Clayton-Morris ledgers; EHR, xl. 246; Clarke, Jas. II, i. 647; Grey, viii. 136-46, 358-9, 393; Luttrell, i. 31, 34, 36, 65, 67, 86.
- 7. Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 436, 851, 999, 1130-1, 1299, 1612, 1790, 1963; Bramston Autobiog. (Cam. Soc. xxxii), 318-19; Ellis Corresp. i. 176-7; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 1, pp. 482-3, 632, 648; Ford, Grey, Secret History, 116, 123; Clarke, ii. 48; Luttrell, i. 360; HMC Downshire, i. 225, 283; CSP Dom. 1686-7, pp. 390-1; VCH Yorks. i. 247.
- 8. Luttrell, i. 523, 530; Entering Bk. 2, pp. 40, 119, 541, 543, 550; PCC 69 Ent; Herts. RO, D/ELs/Z22/9, Jacob to Sir John Wittewronge, May 1689.