Petitioning in Early Modern England: An Annotated Bibliography

Brodie Waddell

Scholars have been writing about the history of petitioning for many decades, so it would be impossible to create a comprehensive list of all the publications that touch on the topic. Nonetheless, we thought that it might be useful to provide an annotated bibliography of publications focused on petitioning in England from c.1550 to c.1750. Unfortunately, this list excludes much valuable research on medieval, modern and non-English contexts. However, we hope it will provide a useful starting point for people looking to know more about petitioning in this period. It cannot claim to be comprehensive, so please let us know about publications we have missed.


Books, Chapters and Articles

Appleby, David J. ‘Unnecessary persons? Maimed soldiers and war widows in Essex, 1642-62’, Essex Archaeology and History, 32 (2001), pp. 209-21. Analyses petitions for military pensions sent to the quarter sessions of this county.

Beale, Stewart. ‘War widows and revenge in Restoration England’, The Seventeenth Century, 33:2 (2018), pp. 195-217. Examines petitions submitted by royalist widows to the House of Lords during the first few months of the Restoration.

Beale, Stewart. ‘”Unpittyed by any”? Royalist widows and the Crown, 1660-70’, Historical Research (online 2019). Analyses 114 petitions for relief from war widows submitted to the Charles II in this decade, including a collective petition from 163 widows and orphans in 1664.

Bowie, Karin; and Thomas Munck (eds), ‘Early modern political petitioning and public engagement in Scotland, Britain and Scandinavia, c.1550-1795’, special issue of Parliaments, Estates and Representation, 38:3 (2018). Includes a substantive introduction by the editors as well as pieces by Jason Peacey on printed petitions to Parliament (1650s-90s) and Ted Vallance on petitionary loyal address in Cromwellian England.

Burnett, Amy. ‘Group Petitioning and the Performance of Neighbourliness in the West Midlands, 1589-1700’, Cultural and Social History, 20:5 (2023), pp. 317-335. Uses nearly 200 petitions from the Power of Petitioning project’s volumes of transcriptions to analyse how supporting a petition could be a signal of ‘neighbourliness’ and an attempt to build up ‘social capital’.

Button, Andrea. ‘Royalist women petitioners in south-west England, 1655-62’, The Seventeenth Century, 15:1 (2000), pp. 53-66. Studies the appeals of Arundel Penruddock and others to a range of different authorities.

Chadwick, Mary, Daniel Patterson, and Jessica Malay. ‘Autobiographical Acts in Seventeenth-Century English Petitioning’ Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 22, no. 1 (2022): 84-106. Examines petitions to quarter sessions as life narratives – ‘sites of autobiographical telling’ – that used self disclosure strategically as part of their requests for relief.

Coast, David. ‘Speaking for the People in Early Modern England’, Past and Present, vol. 44 (2019), pp. 51-88. Surveys positive attitudes to ‘the voice of the people’ in printed and manuscript complaint literature, including self-declared ‘petitions’ and ‘supplications’, c.1520s to 1630s.

Cockayne, Emily. ‘Petitions, neighbours, and civic planning in England, 1670-1730’, in Kristo Vesilkansa (ed.), Mixing the Private and the Public in the City: Quo Vadis Architectura? 7 (2018), pp. 10-29. Examines how petitioning by residents of Bridge Street to the Chester City Assembly, including individual petitions for permission to expand structures and group petitions against problematic buildings and businesses.

Dabhoiwala, Famarez. ‘Writing Petitions in Early Modern England’, in Michael J. Braddick and Joanna Innes (eds), Suffering and Happiness in England 1550-1850: Narratives and Representations: A collection to honour Paul Slack (2017). Examines private petitions addressed to King Charles II through the Master of Requests, drawing on the papers of a scrivener involved in the process.

Daybell, James. ‘Scripting a Female Voice: Women’s Epistolary Rhetoric in Sixteenth-Century Letters of Petition’, Women’s Writing, 13:1 (2006), pp. 3-22. Focuses on requests for favour sent to monarchs and government officials from 1540 to 1603.

Falvey, Heather. ‘‘Scandalus to all us’: presenting an anti-alehouse petition from late Elizabethan Rickmansworth (Hertfordshire)’, Rural History, 31 (2020), pp. 1-15. Reconstructs the context, subscription, presentment and reception of a petition to county magistrates in 1588.

Flannigan, Laura. ‘Litigants in the English “Court of Poor Men’s Causes,” or Court of Requests, 1515–25’, Law and History Review, 38:2 (2020), pp. 303-337. Examines about 1,500 petitioners to this early Tudor conciliar court, showing the importance and ambiguity of the label ‘poor’.

Fletcher, Anthony. The Outbreak of the English Civil War (1981). Chapter 2 and 6 focus on the role of petitions in the political events of 1640 to 1642, including the ‘Root and Branch’ petitions.

Foster, Elizabeth Read. ‘Petitions and the Petition of Right’, Journal of British Studies, 14:1 (1974), pp. 21-45. Sets the famous parliamentary petition of 1628 into its wider petitionary context.

Gowing, Laura. Ingenious Trade: Women and Work in Seventeenth-Century London (2022). Chapter 6 focuses on women’s petitions to the Court of Aldermen for freedom to trade in the later Stuart period, and other chapters include analysis of petitions to justices of the peace about abuse and disorder during apprenticeships.

Hailwood, Mark. Alehouses and Good Fellowship in Early Modern England (2014). Includes extensive use of pro and anti-alehouse petitions throughout, with special attention to their justifications in Chapter 1.

Hart, James S. Justice Upon Petition: The House of Lords and the Reformation of Justice (1991). Discusses the judicial role of the House of Lords using the many petitions and appeals submitted there instigating litigation or seeking parliamentary intervention.

Healey, Jonathan. The First Century of Welfare: Poverty and Poor Relief in Lancashire, 1620-1730 (2014). Analyses the thousands of petitions for poor relief that survive for this county.

Higgins, Patricia. ‘The Reactions of Women, with Special Reference to Women Petitioners’, in Brian Manning (ed.), Politics, Religion and the English Civil War (1973), pp. 179-222. Examines female petitioning from 1642 to 1653, focusing mostly on the peace petitions of 1643 and the Leveller petitions of 1646-53.

Hindle, Steve. On the Parish: The Micro-Politics of Poor Relief in Rural England c.1550-1750 (2004). Discusses many petitions about poor relief, including systematic examination of the hundreds sent to the Cumberland quarter sessions from 1686 to 1749 in Chapter 6.

Hirst, Derek. ‘Making Contact: Petitions and the English Republic’, Journal of British Studies, 45:1 (2006), pp. 26-50. Examines petitions to the central authorities in the 1650s about ‘bread-and-butter’ issues.

Hoppit, Julian. ‘Petitions, Economic Legislation and Interest Groups in Britain, 1660–1800’, Parliamentary History, 37:S1, pp. 52-71. Systematically analyses a sample of over 500 petitions to parliament about economic issues in terms of topics and types of petitioners as well as examining case studies on the woollen trade in 1708-9 and river navigation in 1725.

Houston, R.A. Peasant Petitions: Social Relations and Economic Life on Landed Estates, 1600-1850 (2014). Discusses petitions from tenants to landlords, including almost 1,000 from Cumberland from c.1600 to c.1850 in Chapter 14.

Hoyle, R.W. ‘The Master of Requests and the Small Change of Jacobean Patronage’, English Historical Review, 126: 520 (2011), pp. 544-581. Focuses on the thousands of petitions to the crown recorded in two registers of the Masters of Requests under James I.

Hudson, Geoffrey. ‘Arguing disability: ex-servicemen’s own stories in early modern England, 1590-1790’, in R. Bivins and J. Pickstone (eds), Medicine, Madness and Social History: Essays in Honour of Roy Porter (2007), pp. 104-17. Examines petitions for support sent by disabled veterans to county quarter sessions and royal hospitals.

Kesselring, Krista. Mercy and Authority in the Tudor State (2003). Includes analysis of petitions to the crown for pardon, focusing on their rhetoric, their social significance, and the role of patronage and intermediaries in the process, in Chapter 4.

Knights, Mark. ‘London’s “monster” petition of 1680’, Historical Journal, 36:1 (1993), pp. 39-67. A close study of the mass petition to Charles II signed by nearly 16,000 citizens, using a prosopographical approach.

Knights, Mark. Representation and Misrepresentation in later Stuart Britain: Partisanship and Political Culture (2004). Includes a substantial analysis of ‘petitions’ and ‘addresses’ as a potential representation of ‘the public’ in Chapter 3.

Knights, Mark. ‘Participation and representation before democracy: petitions and addresses in pre-modern Britain’ in Ian Shapiro, Susan Stokes, Elizabeth Jean Wood and Alexander Kirschner, eds., Political Representation (2010), pp. 35-58. Surveys the role of public petitions to the crown and parliament on national political and religious issues in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Lake, Peter. ‘Puritans, Popularity and Petitions: Local Politics in National Context, Cheshire, 1641’ in Thomas Cogswell, Richard Cust and Peter Lake (eds), Politics, religion and popularity in early Stuart Britain: essays in honour of Conrad Russell (2002), pp. 259-289. Close study of the political context of petitions about the church from Cheshire to the House of Lords.

Loft, Philip. ‘Involving the public: Parliament, petitioning, and the language of interest, 1688-1720’, Journal of British Studies, 55:1 (2016), pp. 1-23. Analyses over 300 ‘large responsive petitions’ sent to parliament during this period.

Loft, Philip. ‘Petitioning and Petitioners to the Westminster Parliament, 1660-1788’, Parliamentary History, 38:3 (2019). Surveys the chronology and geography of the 12,431 ‘large responsive and initiatory petitions’ submitted to parliament during this time.

Maltby, Judith. Prayer Book and People in Elizabethan and Early Stuart England (1998). Analyses the mass petitions about religious issues in the 1640s in Chapters 3-5.

Matar, Nabil I. ‘Wives, Captive Husbands, and Turks: The First Women Petitioners in Caroline England’, Explorations in Renaissance Culture, 40:1-2 (1997), pp. 125-138. Examines the series of petitions to the King and Parliament in the 1620s-30s from groups of wives of English sailors captured by North African corsairs.

McArthur, Ellen A. ‘Women Petitioners and the Long Parliament’, English Historical Review, 24:96 (1909). Probably the first article-length study of petitioning in the 1640s.

McEntee, Ann Marie. ‘”The [un]civill-sisterhood of oranges and lemons”: Female petitioners and demonstrators, 1642-53’, Prose Studies, 14:3 (1991), pp. 92-111. Closely analyses the text of women’s printed petitions and newspaper responses to them.

Neufield, Matthew. The Civil Wars After 1660: Public Remembering in Late Stuart England (2013). Includes analysis of over 500 petitions for relief from veterans to the quarter sessions of eight counties in Chapter 2.

O’Brien, Karen. ‘Sexual Impropriety, Petitioning and the Dynamics of Ill Will in Daily Urban Life’, Urban History, 43:2 (2016), pp. 178-199. Investigates verbal hostility in Nantwich using petitions and suits to the Chester Consistory court in the 1660s.

Oldenburg, Scott. ‘The Petition on the Early English Stage’, Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, 57:2 (2017), pp. 325-347. Analyses petitioning in Elizabethan drama, focusing on several plays of the 1590s.

Paterson, Ellen. ‘The Politics of Starch: Guilds, Monopolies, and Petitioning in Late Elizabethan and Early Stuart London’, London Journal, 48:1 (2022). Close analysis of the petitioning and counter-petitioning campaigns of the Grocers’ Company and Starchmakers’ Company about the starch monopoly from the 1590s to 1610s.

Paterson, Ellen. ‘Corruption, Conspiracy and Collusion: Anti-Monopoly Petitioning in the Parliament of 1621’, Parliamentary History, 42:3 (2023). Focuses on the many petitions received by the Committee for Grievances in this Jacobean parliament, showing the overlap between political and economic concerns.

Patterson, Annabel. Reading Between the Lines (1993). Considers the prominance of petitioning in literature and more widely in Elizabethan and early Stuart England in Chapter 3 (‘A Petitioning Society’).

Peacey, Jason. Print and Public Politics in the English Revolution (2013). Examines petitioning and lobbying in the mid-seventeenth century in Chapters 8-10.

Peck, Imogen. ‘The great unknown: the negotiation and narration of death by English war widows, 1647–1660’, Northern History, 53:2 (2016), pp. 220-35. Draws primarily on the first-time petitions of 72 women from Lancashire and Cheshire who appealed to the county quarter sessions for relief between 1647 and 1660.

Peck, Imogen. Recollection in the Republics: Memories of the British Civil Wars in England, 1649-1659 (2021). Analyses petitions of 134 maimed soldiers and 132 war widows who petitioned either their local quarter sessions or the national authorities for financial assistance during the Interregnum, alongside two royalist memoirs, in Chapter 5.

Pells, Ismini. ‘Soliciting sympathy: the search for psychological trauma in petitions from seventeenth-century maimed soldiers’, in Erin Peters and Cynthia Richards, eds., Early Modern Trauma: Europe and the Atlantic World (2021), pp. 129-50. Examines petitions for relief from civil war veterans submitted to English quarter sessions to show how they used the language of mental distress, especially the disabling impact of psychological conditions caused by combat.

Rhodes, Emily. ‘“As Man and Wyfe Ought to Doe”: Reconsidering Marital Separation in Early Modern England’, Cultural and Social History (online November 2022). Examines 127 petitions to the Lancashire quarter sessions from women informally separated from their husbands from 1660 to 1700, mostly requesting financial support from their parish or absent husband.

Smith, Hilda L. ‘”Free and Willing to Remit”: Women’s Petitions to the Court of Aldermen, 1670-1750’, in Kim Kippen and Lori Woods (eds), Worth and Repute: Valuing Gender in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (2011), pp. 279-309. Examines 180 London women’s petitions, focusing on requests for the Freedom of the City, for favour in the Court of Orphans or for admission to a charitable institution.

Stoyle, Mark. ‘“Memories of the maimed”: the testimony of Charles I’s former soldiers, 1660-1730’, History, 88:290 (2003), pp. 204-26. Focuses on 179 petitions for relief submitted to the Devon quarter sessions to assess how royalist veterans viewed the conflict in retrospect.

Suzuki, Mihoko. Subordinate Subjects: Gender, the Political Nation, and Literary Form in England, 1588-1688 (2003). Draws on printed petitions of apprentices and women to Parliament in the 1640s and 1650s in Chapter 4.

Tankard, Danae. ‘The Regulation of Cottage Building in Seventeenth-Century Sussex’, Agricultural History Review, 59:1 (2011), pp. 18-35. One of the only pieces of research (apart from Walker 2003) to include substantive discussion of petitions to quarter sessions for licences to build cottages.

Thorne, Alison. ‘Women’s Petitionary Letters and Early Seventeenth-Century Treason Trials’, Women’s Writing, 13:1 (2006), pp. 23-43. Focuses on the supplicatory letters composed by women whose male relatives were implicated in the Essex debacle (1601) or the Main Plot (1603).

Thorne, Alison. ‘Narratives of female suffering in petitionary literature of the Civil War period and its aftermath’, Literature Compass, 10:2 (2013), pp. 134-145. Examines the symbiotic relationship between these narratives and the polemical agendas promulgated by various religious sects, especially in the female petitioners of the 1640s, the Levellers, and the first generation Quakers.

Thorne, Alison. ‘The politics of female supplication in the Book of Esther’, in Victoria Brownlee and Laura Gallagher (eds), Biblical women in early modern literary culture, 1550–1700 (2015), pp. 95-110. Close reading of early modern commentaries on Queen Esther’s petitioning and its role in women’s printed petitions from the 1640s-50s.

Tomlin, Rebecca. ‘Alms Petitions and Compassion in Sixteenth-Century London’, in Kristine Steenbergh and Katherine Ibbett (eds), Compassion in Early Modern Literature and Culture: Feeling and Practice (2021), 237–54. Examines a selection of c.300 licences to collect charity (based on petitions) as recorded in the memoranda book of the churchwardens of St Botolph’s Aldgate, c.1580-1600.

Vallance, Edward. ‘A Democratic Culture? Women, Citizenship and Subscriptional Texts in Early Modern England’, in C. Cuttica and M. Peltonen (eds), Democracy and Anti-democracy in Early Modern England, 1603-1689 (2019), ch. 12. Discusses the inclusion and exclusion of women from different types of subscriptional texts, including petitions.

Waddell, Brodie. God, Duty and Community in English Economic Life, 1660-1720 (2012). Includes examination of various local and national petitions about economic matters in the later Stuart period, especially in Chapter 2.

Walker, Garthine. Crime, Gender and the Social Order in Early Modern England (2003). Makes much use of petitions to local magistrates in Cheshire, especially in Chapter 6 which looks at petitioning about support for illegitimate children and licences for building cottages.

Walter, John. ‘Confessional Politics in Pre-Civil War Essex: Prayer Books, Profanations and Petitions’, Historical Journal, 44:3 (2001), pp. 677-701. Provides a close study of the process of initiating and drafting a local petition to the king in 1641 in support of the Book of Common Prayer.

Weil, Rachel. ‘Thinking about Allegiance in the English Civil War’, History Workshop Journal, 63 (2006), pp. 183-191. Discusses petitions to the Committee for Compounding with Delinquents to look at how people framed their political loyalties.

Weiser, Brian. ‘Access and Petitioning During the Reign of Charles II’, in Eveline Cruickshanks (ed.), The Stuart Courts (2000), pp. 203-213. Quantitatively analyses nearly 3,000 petitions to the crown in the State Papers of the 1660s, including social status of petitioners, types of requests and outcomes, while also discussing the petitioning process itself.

Weisser, Olivia. Ill Composed: Sickness, Gender, and Belief in Early Modern England (2016), pp. 159-179 (Ch. 5: ‘Illness Narratives by the Poor’). Examines 648 petitions for poor relief that mention ill health from 1623 to 1730 from ten county quarter sessions, highlighting how these narratives were shaped by the conventions of petitioning.

Whiting, Amanda Jane. Women and Petitioning in the Seventeenth-Century English Revolution: Deference, Difference, and Dissent (2015). Focuses primarily on printed petitions from women in the 1640s and 1650s, while also drawing on a selection of manuscript requests addressed to the Crown and the House of Lords.

Woodfine, Philip. ‘Debtors, Prisons, and Petitions in Eighteenth-Century England’, Eighteenth-Century Life (2006) 30:2, pp. 1-31. Analyses the petitions of imprisoned debtors, mainly from Yorkshire in the first half of the eighteenth century.

Worthen, Hannah. ‘The administration of military welfare in Kent, 1642-79’, in David J. Appleby and Andrew Hopper (eds), Battle-Scarred: Mortality, Medical Care and Military Welfare in the British Civil Wars (2018). Focuses on petitions for military pensions sent to the Kent quarter sessions.

Worthen, Hannah. ‘Supplicants and guardians: the petitions of royalist widows during the Civil Wars and Interregnum, 1642-1660’, Women’s History Review, 26:4 (2016), pp. 528-40.  Examines petitions to parliamentary committees from female royalist landowners whose estates were confiscated.

Zaret, David. Origins of Democratic Culture: Printing, Petitions, and the Public Sphere in Early-Modern England (2000). Discusses the emergence of a ‘public sphere’ in the 1640s through the rise of printed petitions.

A selection of books that include extensive discussion of petitioning.

Blog Posts

Burn, Andy. ‘‘Infamus calumniations’, or, a petition goes awry at Rothwell Church, 1603’, Durham History Blog, 2017.

Hopper, Andrew, et al. Civil War Petitions Blog, 2018 onwards.

Howard, Sharon. ‘The London Lives Petitions Project’, Early Modern Notes, 2015 onwards.

Howard, Sharon, et al., various blog posts, The Power Of Petitioning, 2019 onwards.

Loft, Philip. ‘“An unnecessary and arbitrary court”: A Welsh petition to abolish the Council of the Marches, 1689’, Parliament’s Petition of the Month Blog, 2018.

Waddell, Brodie, editor. ‘Addressing Authority: An Online Symposium on Petitions and Supplications in Early Modern Society’, The Many-Headed Monster, 2016. Includes pieces by Sharon Howard, Judith Hudson, Rebecca Tomlin, Brodie Waddell and Hannah Worthen on petitioning in early modern England, in addition to further pieces focused on other places.

Weil, Rachel. ‘When Prisoners Complain’, Early Modern Prisons, 2016.

Bibliography last revised March 2024.