The Penruddock Petitions: The Aftermath of a Royalist Revolt, 1655-1660

Sarah-Jayne Ainsworth

[This blogpost examines the petitions written by Wiltshire woman Arundell Penruddock and her family between 1655 and 1660. These are housed at the Wiltshire and Swindon Heritage Centre and demonstrate a concerted effort firstly to try and save her husband, John, from execution following a failed uprising against the Commonwealth, and then to secure property and money for her family. It is written by Dr Sarah-Jayne Ainsworth, who recently completed her PhD at the University of Exeter.]

At the outbreak of the Civil Wars in 1642, John Penruddock and his brothers fought on the Royalist side; his siblings were killed but John rose to the rank of colonel before resigning his commission at Easter 1645.[1] The family’s loyalty to Charles I cost them dearly; parliamentary record the fines levied against John and his father for delinquency and the sequestration of their land.[2] When John senior died, his son found himself heir to a confiscated estate and was forced to spend a great deal of time and money trying to regain it.

Penruddock’s refusal to accept the new regime led him to engage with the Sealed Knot. Commissioned by Charles Stuart from exile in Paris, a series of assaults at Newcastle, York and Winchester were planned. A lack of support meant that the planned northern attacks did not take place, but, on 8 March 1655, Penruddock and his 400-strong force rode into Winchester. However, Oliver Cromwell’s spies had discovered the conspiracy and the garrison there had been reinforced. Thwarted, Penruddock headed instead to Salisbury, arriving on the 12th. Here, his men occupied the market square, commandeered horses, released prisoners willing to join them and publicly proclaimed their support for Charles Stuart. They then marched through Blandford, Sherborne and Yeovil, hoping to swell their numbers with the Royalists of Dorset and Somerset. Few responded. On the 14th March, at South Molton, Devon, Penruddock and his company were confronted by Colonel Unton Croke’s troop of horse from Exeter.[3] There was a half-hearted street fight: the insurgents fled, but Penruddock and others were captured.[4] They were taken to Exeter, incarcerated in the castle and then put on trial for treason. Penruddock’s Uprising had failed.

Map of the Rising from BCW Project

Penruddock’s attempts to have the charges dropped on the grounds that his actions were not treasonous because treason could only be against a King are documented in the published account of his trial.[5] Initially, both John and Arundell petition Cromwell for clemency. Penruddock begs mercy not just for his sake, but ‘for the sake of soe many Innocents his wife children and Relations who are too numerous to be made miserable by his death’ and acknowledges that ‘in your Highnesses Breath depends his Life or death’.[6] Arundell’s first petition echoes the sentiment. She accepts that her husband ‘hath justly deserved … your Highnesses most seveer displeasure’, but minimises his actions as ‘rashness and folly’.[7] Whilst, as Andrea Button notes, Royalist women petitioners sought repentance on behalf of their husbands, Arundell instead begs Cromwell to pardon John so that ‘he may live to repent and redeeme his ingratitude as well as fault’.[8] God has ‘out of his wonted mercy to you Highness [hath] frustrated their evil designes’ but she hopes that Cromwell will show his mercy and allow John to live.

Cromwell did not do so and Penruddock, along with his compatriots, was executed. However, a copy of a petition sent on behalf of the men indicates that John, along with some of the others, was beheaded, rather than hanged: a less ignoble death.[9]

‘Those markd wth Deaths head were beheaded’: WSHC, 332/265/10. All manuscript images reproduced with the kind permission of the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

It is difficult to clearly order the petitions which Arundell and her family wrote as many lack a date. Their order in the archive does not necessarily indicate their chronology, but those written before John’s death are obvious. Having not achieved a commutation of John’s death via her petition to Cromwell, Arundell wrote to Richard Cromwell asking him to intercede with his father on her behalf.[10] She describes herself as the ‘wife of the unfortunate John Penruddock’ and describes her ‘grief and sorrow’ at the ‘excessive and severe’ ‘prosecution against him’. Although she accepts John’s guilt – she has ‘humbly confessed’ his ‘high offence’ – she argues that his sentence is excessive – a ‘calamity’. Her request is that John be moved from Exeter to London, where he might account for his actions and ‘give good satisfaction’ to Cromwell in person.

There is a second, unfinished, letter to Richard Cromwell which demonstrates how Arundell took care to craft her petitions.[11] The fact that she ‘humbly beseecheth’ Richard to be ‘put [you] in mind of every word that I have spoken’ softens her instruction that he ‘do likewise’ is tempered by the insertion of ‘my lord’ illustrates the tropes of ‘humility and entreaty’ and ‘supposal and assurance’ identified by Lynne Magnusson in regard to petition writing. It also suggests that this letter is part of an ongoing dialogue: whether that was the case or not, Arundell’s evocation of it serves to make her appeal all the more personal.[12]

‘Let this I beseech you put you in minde of every word I have Spoken’: WSHC, 332/265/17.

Another pre-execution petition, on behalf of Arundell and Anne Duke whose husband had been condemned alongside John is addressed to Sergeant Glynne, one of the judges who had tried them.[13] Button suggests that the presence of co-signed petitions indicates a community of injured women, with Arundell at their head and the presence in the archive of several joint petitions suggests an awareness of the potential offered by joining forces.[14] As before, Arundell and Anne assign their addressee the power to save their relatives. Although Glynne had been one of those responsible for outcome of the trial, agency is ascribed not to him, but to the sentence itself; it is ‘by the Late sentence of Condemnation Passed upon them’ that they have ‘lost the one A Husband, the other a Brother’, rather than through the actions of Glynne himself. As with the appeals to Richard Cromwell, Glynne is credited with having the ability to influence Oliver Cromwell and it is to this that the women appeal, focusing on the impact that it will have on their ‘thirteen children between them’. Their request for ‘charity mixt with mercy’ for their ‘innocents’ who ‘will plead for pitty towards theyre miserable fathers’ also serves to remove the women from the petition. The youth of the children is emphasised by the idea that they can’t yet speak: ‘theyr first Language will be mercy, mercy wch for ever hereafter will be seconded with Thanksgiving’ should Glynne succeed.

‘The Humble Petition of Arundell Penruddocke … And of Anne Duke’: WSHC: 332/265/19.

Arundell’s pleas fell on deaf ears and John was executed at Exeter on 16 May 1655. Following his death, Arundell petitioned Oliver Cromwell for the return of property in order to support her family. Now, she goes from being the ‘wife of the unfortunate John Penruddock’ to being his ‘unfortunate relict’ or ‘distressed widow’. Where before her petition was humble, now she ‘humbly prostrates her self at you Highnesses feet’ offering to lie there until his clemency raises her ‘by a remission and forgivenesse of the forfeiture’ of her estate.[15] Her offered prostration physically represents her acceptance of the social distance between herself and Cromwell, enacting her humility, but she still urges him – albeit ‘graciously’ – to act on her behalf. To do so, she requests that he ‘shut your eyes to [her] late husbands offence and open your ear to the sad complaint of the widow and fatherless’. Her actual request – that Cromwell remit the forfeiture of Penruddock property – forms only a small part of the petition which is, first and foremost, Arundell’s acknowledgement of her situation.

In a second letter to Richard Cromwell, in which she thanks him for his unspecified support, Arundell recognises the undesirability of overly emotional appeals and acknowledges the discomfort that her approach might cause him, as ‘the Calamitys of A widow drowned in tears I know are wearisome and troublesome visitants’.[16] She has not ‘waited on you my self’ to be ‘the messenger of that gratitude wch now I send’ as she cannot ‘put on any other dress but grief’. Rather than presenting herself in person, she does so in text giving her grief a metaphorical form. This again demonstrates Arunell’s familiarity with the language of petitions and what Magnusson describes as tropes of trouble-making and trouble-taking.[17]

Arundell’s ‘poor children’ are the focus of her attempts to regain property. With her husband’s death, they are transformed from ‘seaven small children’ to ‘7 small children (untimely made) orphans’.[18] She uses the plight of her children in an attempt to secure ‘a Remission and forgivenesses of the forfeiture of that estate which must in Part’ maintain her family for which concession Cromwell ‘may for every acquire the Thanks of your Petitioner and her 7 children who shall perpetually pray for and acknowledge your Highnesses clemency’. She refers to the children at three points in the petition as she seeks to make them increasingly visible as they go from ‘orphans’ to ‘fatherless’ to finally ‘7 children’.

‘That having Lost her Husband by your Highnesses Justice’: WSHC, 332/265/26.

There are also petitions on behalf of the children and of Penruddock’s young niece, Sarah which, along with one from Arundell, seek to regain a farm at Hethelton which John ‘did two years since set apart + make over … for payment of his many debts + maintenance of his six younger children’.[19] Her request is clear and her self-designation as grieving widow and helpless woman appear only parenthetically. Her appeal is echoed in petitions from the ‘distressed orphans and younger children of John Penruddock convict’ and from Sarah Penruddock. As they are undated, it is impossible to know whether these attempts were made in series or concurrently. First to appear in the archive is ‘my cosin Sarah Penruddocke second petition’.[20] That it is part of a series of submission on her niece’s behalf is also indicated by an order from the Council at Whitehall in response to the ‘several humble petitions of Sarah Penruddock of the age of seaven years and of Arundell Penruddock’ which is dated Friday 16 November 1655.[21] A later petition on behalf of ‘Jane Penruddock, Elizabeth, Thomas, Joane. Mary and Anne Penruddock’ similarly requests the bestowal of ‘that small stock upon the farme of Hetheleton’ to the value of ‘four hundred pounds’ upon them. The eldest son, George, who was fourteen at the time and therefore of majority, is missing from the list. Instead, he is described as ‘an infant brother laden wth debts’.

There is evidence that the concerted effort of Arundell and the children proved fruitful. In November 1655, an investigation into the validity of their claims was instigated and in February 1656 an order was signed which awarded Arundell £200.[22] Another petition from the children acknowledges receipt of the £200 and requests that Cromwell give the farm to them or their representative to sell after the expiration of the lease, so that debts might be discharged, and they might benefit from the residue. In July 1657 their petition was referred to William Brereton for investigation.[23]

‘By the Commissioners of the Treasury July 3d 1657’: WSHC, 332/265/49.

This did not, however, mean an end to Arundell’s attempts to regain property for her children. On 25 June 1657 she wrote to Colonel Sydenham entreating him to ‘look on and consider the distress of my poor orphans who are all ready so miserable that they have only this comfort that they are so younge that they know not theyr calamity’.[24] Apologising for inconveniencing him, Arundell states: ‘I understand by my cosen Bowman that there is a second petition in behalf of my children presented to his Highness which is likewise referred to your lordship and other to report’.[25] She signs herself ‘your unfortunate kinswoman and humble servant Arundell Penruddock’ and, beneath this, expresses ‘my humble service to my noble cousin your lady/my cousin Bowman will acquaint you wth all the particulars’. Arundell is drawing on whatever connections she has to further her cause.

Following Oliver Cromwell’s death, the family directed their address to his son, Richard, although there is no petition to him from Arundell in the archive. One petition on behalf of the six younger children is presumably an early draft of the document. It is heavily edited and demonstrates the care which was taken over the way in which their case is presented to a new addressee.[26] It is their first petition to the new Lord Protector and as such rehearses the history of their case and the fine-tuning of the text suggests a desire to ensure the tone and tenor are right. The minor alterations – ‘theyr great wants wch are very great’ – alter the emphasis of the sentence and reveal careful crafting. Similarly, the change made in the next sentence – from ‘when your Highness shall have granted their request the charges of sollicitation will Amount to your Highnesses expected charity’ to ‘by reason that the charges of their sollicitation of that will amount to more than your Highnesses expected Charity’ – serves to subtly flatter Richard in order to achieve their desired outcome.

‘The Humble Petition of Jane, Elizabeth, Thomas, Joane, Mary, and Anne Penruddocke, Infants’: WSHC, 332/265/53.

There are, in fact, no further petitions from Arundell until after the Restoration. In June 1660, she sets out the actions, capture and execution of her husband, highlighting the same arguments against conviction which had appeared in her husband’s account of his trial: that Croke ‘perfidiously denied’ articles which he had agreed with John; that the jury had been ‘maliciously packed by Sir John Copplestone’ and that ‘Captain James Dewy, before conviction, seized upon her husband’s estate to the value of £1,000’.[27] She then petitioned jointly with Jane Grove and Elizabeth Poulton, requesting that the immunity offered by Charles II under the Act of Indemnity exclude those who had condemned their husbands and that their names be cleared of treason.[28] The women request ‘that all indictments of High Treason against their husbands, whose blood has witnessed their loyalty to their sovereign may be declared null and void’. A second petition from the three women in July 1660 asks ‘that a summons may be granted against Glynne to appear before the Committee on the day appointed for the hearing’. Hugh Grove’s name appears immediately under that of John Penruddock on the men’s petition requesting pardon, but Thomas Poulton was an innkeeper; the fact that the three women petition together for their husbands’ posthumous reputations demonstrates, Button argues, a network of ‘Salisbury rebels’ widows’, but it may also demonstrate an appreciation of the power – and economy – of three women petitioning rather than one.

The records show that these requests were successful: The Act of Pardon, Indemnity and Oblivion did not extend to the ‘murder committed upon the Persons of John Penruddock and Hugh Grove Esqs’ and did not ‘Confirm and make good, and valid in Law, the severall pretended indictments of high Treason, and other the proceedings thereon against John Penruddock, and Hugh Groves Esqs and Thomas Poulton’.[29] On the 26 June 1660, Arundell’s appeal was referred to the Committee of Petitions.[30] Now, as the ‘late wife of John Penruddock, Esquire, deceased’ her tone is condemnatory: Cromwell has ‘traitorously murdered the late King, by force broken the parliament and banished his Majesty to his dominions’ whilst John and his compatriots ‘according to their bounden Duty, and Allegiance, and by virtue of his Majesties Commission, endeavoured by lawfull Arms, the suppression of the Forces of the said Oliver Cromwell, and the restitution of his Majesty to his Right and Kingdomes’.[31] The treason for which John had been executed is now a lawful act, commissioned by Charles II and it is Cromwell’s actions which are treasonous. Only after she has recounted the whole story of John’s ‘crime’, arrest and execution does she become the Arundell of earlier petitions, the death of whose husband has ‘to the unexpressible grief and irreparable losse of the disconsolate Petitioner, and her fatherlesse Children’. Finally, Arundell lays out her requests. She accepts that she ‘hath no remedy at Law by any appeale, against the said commissioners’, but hopes that their actions ‘may be condemned and reversed’ as she makes a plea for recompense.

The final extant attempt by Arundell’s to regain her family’s land and position is a petition to Charles II in November 1660.[32] Addressed to ‘the King’s most excellent Majesty’ it does not seek to condemn Cromwell but to request a licence for the making of glass, something which was ‘grantable by the king as his prerogative’. There is no record of whether the case was successful, but she writes with an assurance that it will be. Where, in petitions to Cromwell, she sought to emphasise the social distance between them, here she seeks to invoke a personal connection between herself and Charles II: ‘[t]hat (being encouraged by your Sacred Majesty) she hath endeavoured to find out something in your Majesty’s power to grant that might make her some satisfaction for her great loss’. That she has been encouraged by the King to find some way in which she might be recompensed perhaps suggests some previous communication, and certainly a sense of assurance that her request will be granted.

Arundell did not have much time to enjoy whatever concessions she did earn. Her will was proved in 1667 and gives us a final insight into the family she had worked so hard to provide for. Her bequests indicate that her daughters were all still alive and that Elizabeth was married. Thomas is her residual legatee.[33] A plaque in Compton Chamberlayne church includes her eldest son, George who had died in 1664. There is no mention in the will of Sarah, but she, in her 1695 will, leaves money to Elizabeth, and to Thomas’ daughter, her godchild.[34]

The archive also contains a copy of what are purported to be the final letters exchanged between John and Arundell which were included in the 1778 The Complete Letter Writer. Arundell’s letter is full of ‘dear embraces’ for her husband and a wish for her own ‘dissolution with you, that so we may go hand in hand to Heaven’. The anonymous advice-giver gushes ‘I do not know that I have ever read any thing so affectionate’.[35] That affection is evident in her petitions as well, but it is matched by a resolution, tenacity and pragmatism in her quest for restitution.

* * *


[1] Durston, Christopher. ‘Penruddock, John (1619–1655), royalist conspirator’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (23 Sep. 2004),; Ruth Butler, ‘Penruddock’s Rebellion – Wiltshire’s Royalist uprising of 1655’, WSHC Blog (2016)

[2] ‘Cases before the Committee: December 1645’, in Calendar, Committee For Compounding: Part 2, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1890), pp. 1040-1069, British History Online,

[3] Larminie, Vivienne. “Croke, Unton (1594/5–1670/71), lawyer and politician”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (23 Sep. 2004),

[4] Anon., An account of the taking John Penruddock, Esq, Mr. Hugh Grove, and others (1654), Wing / 2630:04.

[5] Anon., The triall of the honourable Colonel Iohn Penruddock of Compton in Wiltshire, and his speech (1655), Thomason / 128:E.845[7].

[6] Wiltshire and Swindon Heritage Centre (hereafter WSHC), 332/265/6.

[7] WSHC, 332/265/18.

[8] Andrea Button, ‘Royalist Women Petitioners in South-West England, 1655-62’, The Seventeenth Century, 15:1 (2000), pp. 56-66; WSHC, 332/265/18.

[9] Stewart Beale, ‘War Widows and Revenge in Restoration England’, The Seventeenth Century, 33:3 (2018), pp. 195-217.

[10] WSHC, 332/265/16.

[11] WSHC, 332/265/17.

[12] Lynne Magnusson, ‘A Rhetoric of Requests: Genre and Linguistic Scripts in Elizabethan Women’s Suitors’ Letters’, in James Daybell (ed.), Women and Politics in Early Modern England, 1450-1700 (2004)

[13] Lindley, Keith. “Glynne, Sir John (1603–1666), judge and politician”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004,; WSHC, 332/265/19.

[14] Button, ‘Royalist Women Petitioners’.

[15] WSHC, 332/265/26.

[16] WSHC, 322/265/39.

[17] Magnusson, ‘A Rhetoric of Requests’

[18] WSHC, 332/265/26.

[19] WSHC, 332/265/30.

[20] WSHC, 332/265/28.

[21] WSHC, 332/265/31.

[22] WSHC, 332/265/31, 332/265/44.

[23] Morrill, John. “Brereton, Sir William, first baronet (1604–1661), parliamentarian army officer”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004,

[24] Firth, C. H., and Sean Kelsey. “Sydenham, William, appointed Lord Sydenham under the protectorate (bap. 1615, d. 1661), parliamentarian army officer”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004,; WSHC, 332/265/47.

[25] For ‘cosen Bowman’, see ‘Bowman, Seymour (c.1621-1704), of Harnham, Wilts. and Lincoln’s Inn’, The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983,

[26] WSHC, 332/265/53.

[27] The triall of the honourable Colonel Iohn Penruddock. For the seizure, see Button, ‘Royalist Women Petitioners’.

[28] ‘Charles II, 1660: An Act of Free and Generall Pardon Indempnity and Oblivion’, in Statutes of the Realm: Volume 5, 1628-80, ed. John Raithby (s.l, 1819), pp. 226-234, British History Online; WSHC, 332/265/10.

[29] Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/1/293,

[30] ‘House of Lords Journal Volume 11: 26 June 1660’, in Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 11, 1660-1666 (London, 1767-1830), pp. 75-76, British History Online,

[31] Arundell Penruddock, To the honourable, the knights, citizens, and burgesses of the Commons House, now assembled in Parliament. The humble petition of Arundell Penruddock, widdow, late wife of John Penruddock, esquire, deceased (n.d.),

[32] ‘Charles II – volume 22: November 1660’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1660-1, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1860), pp. 372-400, British History Online,

[33] The National Archives, PROB 11/323/235,

[34] The National Archives, PROB 11/427/188,

[35] Anon., The Complete Letter-writer: Or, Polite English Secretary (1778), p. 159.