PETRE, Hon. Edward Robert (1794-1848), of Stapleton Park, nr. Ferrybridge, Yorks. and 17 Charles Street, Berkeley Square, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 28 Sept. 1794, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Robert Edward Petre, 9th Bar. Petre (d. 1801), and 2nd w. Juliana Barbara, da. of Henry Howard of Glossop, Derbys. m. 21 July 1829, Hon. Laura Maria Stafford Jerningham, da. of George William, 8th Bar. Stafford, s.p. d. 8 June 1848.
Sheriff, Yorks. 1830-1; mayor, York 1830-1.
Petre came from an old and prominent English Catholic family, based at Writtle Park, near Chelmsford, Essex, whose peerage dated from 1603. His father’s first wife was a niece of the 9th duke of Norfolk and his half-brother Robert, the 10th baron, married a sister of the 12th duke of Norfolk. His nephew William succeeded as the 11th baron in 1809. On his father’s death in 1801 his mother was appointed as his guardian, and the will instructed Robert to settle on Edward the unspecified ‘estates’ which had been settled on him at the time of his marriage.1 He was described by Sydney Smith as ‘a sensible, good looking, pleasing man’, although to some he was unkindly known as ‘Petre the Cretur’.2 He was a leading figure on the Turf, and the stable he kept with Rodes Milnes, the uncle of Richard Monckton Milnes†, won the St. Leger five times between 1822 and 1830. It was reported in 1827 that he was ‘out of his wits with his Doncaster success’, having won £15,000, and that he intended to celebrate with a ‘grand ball’ at Stapleton Park.3 At the time of his marriage a bet was said to have been made ‘that Petre’s belly is bigger than his wife’s this time next year’.4 His racing connections may help to explain why he was the first Catholic sheriff to be appointed after emancipation, as George IV apparently declared that he was ‘a d-d good fellow ... he had had some concerns with him in racing and he did not mind him’.5
Imbued with his family’s Whiggish principles, he became a member of Brooks’s Club at an unusually early age, 6 Apr. 1814. His first known appearance on a public platform was at the Yorkshire county meeting in January 1823, when he admitted that he was a ‘recent convert’ to parliamentary reform, but said he had been alarmed to ‘see the arm of power extended’ in order to ‘oppress’ the people. He was ‘convinced that nothing short of a constitutional reform can restore that sympathy which ... ought to exist between the electors and their constituents, and be an effectual safeguard against a renewal of these destructive measures which have been so long pursued’.6 He was the first president of the Auxiliary Catholic Defence Society, founded at York in 1828, which petitioned for emancipation.7 He became an alderman of York in 1829, and offered for the borough at the general election the following year. His nomination speech dwelt mainly on the issue of religious freedom, and he argued that his Catholicism was a purely private matter, but he also declared that he had been ‘brought up in the detestation of slavery’, was ‘a friend to a more fair representation of the people in Parliament’ and would support ‘every measure [to] promote economy and reduction of taxation’, particularly the abolition of ‘unmerited sinecures’. He withdrew after five days of polling, as the ‘No Popery’ cry raised against him was too strong.8 While mayor of York he attended the meeting in January 1831 when a reform association was founded.9 At the general election that spring he declined to stand again for the borough, as both sitting Members were supporters of the Grey ministry’s reform bill,10 but a vacancy arose at Ilchester where he was returned unopposed on Lord Cleveland’s interest.
He spoke briefly to confirm the good conduct of the Yorkshire yeomanry, which had been ‘highly instrumental in the preservation of good order’, 27 June 1831. He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and generally for its details in committee, but he was in the minority for the amendment to preserve the rights of freemen, 30 Aug. He defended the provision granting six Members to Yorkshire, which would ‘give the different interests ... adequate representation’, 10 Aug. He divided for the bill’s third reading, 19 Sept., its passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He hoped that the grant to the Kildare Place Society would be considered ‘in the true spirit of Christian charity’, 15 July. He condemned the behaviour of a Catholic priest in county Clare towards the Irish yeomanry as ‘unworthy of any minister of God’, 26 Aug. He protested at the language used by Gordon, Member for Dundalk, in relation to the Maynooth grant and the Catholic religion, 26 Sept., observing that ‘we are not sent here to attack each other in consequence of some minor differences in points of faith, but to do justice to all men and ... promote the interests of all classes in the community’. He warned that rejecting the grant would ‘alienate the minds of the people of Ireland’. He voted to punish only those guilty of bribery at the Dublin election and against the censure motion on the Irish administration, 23 Aug. He became a member of the Maldon Independent Club, the principal organization of the Essex Whigs, 21 Nov. 1831.11
He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, its details in committee and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He opposed Hunt’s motion for inquiry into the Peterloo massacre, 15 Mar., arguing that it would ‘not be wise, or necessary ... to rake up grievances of such long standing’. He voted for Ebrington’s motion for an address asking the king to appoint only ministers committed to carrying an unimpaired reform measure, 10 May. He divided for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and against the Conservative amendment to increase Scotland’s representation, 1 June. He voted with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. On the Irish tithes bill, 16 Apr., he expressed confidence in ministers, who were ‘the friends of liberality, and of civil and religious liberty’, and emphasized that he considered the English and Irish churches to be part of the law of the land. Regardless of his personal faith, he felt ‘bound ... by the solemn engagement I have made to support the Protestant establishment’, and would always endorse measures which he thought ‘conducive to the welfare of the Protestant church’. He hoped the bill would ‘soften down religious animosities and place the Protestant clergy upon a safer footing’. He refuted O’Connell’s claim that prior to 1829 the English Catholics would have settled for less than full emancipation, 18 June. He complained about the offensive language used in a Glasgow petition against the Maynooth grant, 10 July, maintaining that ‘we, who are Roman Catholics, are not parties to any such illiberal feelings towards Protestants’. He queried Gordon’s use of the label ‘Arian’ to describe Irish Protestant clergymen who favoured non-denominational education, 23 July. He supported the Norfolk assizes bill, 23 May, arguing that Norwich was the obvious venue on the ground of population. He voted for the ministerial amendment to Buxton’s anti-slavery slavery motion, 24 May, and to make coroner’s inquests public, 20 June 1832.
Ilchester was disfranchised by the Reform Act, but Petre renewed his connection with York, where he was comfortably returned at the general election of 1832. He sat until his retirement in 1834 as ‘a reformer, in general a supporter of the [Whig] administration’, who advocated ‘free trade ... the immediate abolition of slavery, the substitution of a property for the house and window tax, and the abolition of all monopolies’.12 He stood unsuccessfully as a Liberal at Bridport in 1847. To a friend in the racing fraternity he was ‘as kind-hearted, hospitable a man, as ever lived’.13 He died in June 1848 and left all his property to his wife, apart from a few small bequests mainly to Catholic charities.14
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Terry Jenkins
- 1. PROB 11/1360/485.
- 2. Smith Letters, i. 392; Lord W. P. Lennox, Biog. Reminiscences, ii. 145.
- 3. Reid, Monckton Milnes, i. 37; Lonsdale mss, Shelley to Lowther, 20 Sept. 1827.
- 4. Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC 17/49.
- 5. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 330.
- 6. Leeds Mercury, 25 Jan. 1823.
- 7. A.J. Peacock, ‘York in the Age of Reform’ (Univ. of York Ph.D. thesis, 1973), 146.
- 8. York Herald, 31 July 1830.
- 9. Leeds Mercury, 8 Jan. 1831.
- 10. Yorks. Gazette, 30 Apr. 1831.
- 11. Colchester Gazette, 26 Nov. 1831.
- 12. Dod’s Parl. Companion (1833), 150.
- 13. Lennox, ii. 145.
- 14. PROB 11/2078/576; IR26/1815/474.