Edmund Felton’s petitions for justice, 1621-53

This post by Jason Peacey has also been posted on the UK Parliament ‘Petition of the Month’ blog and draws on petitions transcribed in our newly published volume of petitions to the House of Lords.

In 1653, an embittered petitioner called Edmund Felton printed ‘An Out-cry for Justice’, reflecting upon the failure to get his complaints addressed, and upon a long struggle against a powerful opponent. His enemy, Sir Henry Spiller, was accused of foul deeds, including bribery, corruption, and conspiracy, as well as imprisonment and attempted murder, and Edmund wondered whether ‘anyone can tell where he may have justice against oppressors’. He bemoaned the danger posed to the ‘commonwealth’ by ‘want of justice’, and exclaimed that men were ‘made poor by oppression, and then despised because poor’.

It is difficult to know what to make of such claims, but it is vital not to dismiss them, just as they were not written off at the time. Edmund Felton’s tale of woe demands attention because it is loaded with lessons about how to study petitioners, their experiences, and their behaviour.

Edmund was the son of an impoverished Exchequer official, Thomas Felton, who raised money for the crown by identifying lands of ‘recusant’ Catholics that could be milked by the government. Thomas was zealous, and fell out spectacularly with Spiller, whose more lenient approach raised suspicions that he connived with recusants for pecuniary gain, thereby defrauding the state. Thomas lost the argument, and wound up indebted and imprisoned, ending his days in ‘great misery’.

Edmund then took up the fight, but with no more success. By 1626 he was in King’s Bench prison, for which he blamed both Spiller and the gaoler, whose extortionate fees kept him in debt and in detention. Edmund thus began to rail not just against Spiller’s ‘frauds and deceits to the crown’, but also against his ‘malicious practice’, which had undermined Thomas ‘till he died, not without… a strong presumption of an untimely death’.

Spiller’s ‘sinister practices’ were allegedly sustained for decades. He engaged in bribery, and detained ‘writings and evidences’ to prevent hearings, and even tried to ‘take away the life’ of one witness, ‘for a rape… committed on one of his men’s children’. Edmund was repeatedly arrested, and rumours were spread to ‘disgrace and discourage’ him, not least that he was ‘a mad man, crazed in his brains’. In prison he was beaten, ‘violently and barbarously’, and he claimed that three attempts were made on his life, involving a conspiracy between Spiller and the guards, ‘with whom he is very great’. Eventually, Edmund was moved to a common gaol and a ‘dark dungeon’.

Behaving in ‘a most wicked manner’ reflected Spiller’s determination to effect Edmund’s ‘ruin and undoing’, and it had a disastrous effect upon his family. Mrs Felton suffered a miscarriage and was ‘ready to depart this life’; impoverishment caused the death of another child.

Edmund Felton’s story – of ‘wicked plots’ and ‘oppression’ – sounds fantastical, although Spiller was notorious as a ‘knave’, and some claims had apparently been substantiated by witnesses, becoming matters of public record. As such, what makes Edmund fascinating is less the veracity of his claims than the response they elicited.

A petition to the House of Commons in 1621 was unsuccessful, and when Edmund turned to the Lords in 1624 his case was rejected, on the grounds that MPs were better placed to judge his case. This placed him in procedural bind, and while subsequent petitions were ostensibly humble they also hinted at frustration. A plea in 1626 conceded that MPs had failed to take action in 1621 due to their ‘extraordinary employments for the weal publique’, and because the king had dissolved Parliament, but it also reminded peers that ‘abuses’ required a ‘reformation’, and that witnesses had given evidence under oath. Edmund also made veiled criticisms of an unnamed Lord Treasurer.

‘The humble peticion of Edmond Felton gentleman’ (1640): One of the many he sent in these years. Photo courtesy of the Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/1/43.

When the Long Parliament assembled in November 1640, Edmund bombarded MPs with further petitions and ‘articles’ of accusation, but while Spiller was arrested and his case referred to a committee, real progress proved difficult. Subsequent months saw further petitions, as Edmund pleaded to be released from prison to pursue the matter. But it was all to no avail. The matter was dropped, and Spiller was released. He went on to fight for the king in the civil war (for which he was punished by Parliament), and died in April 1649.

Edmund Felton’s case is illuminating in terms of the grievances that drove him to Westminster, and the challenges he faced as a petitioner, but also in terms of how he responded to his experience as a frustrated supplicant. In 1639, Edmund apparently ‘scattered’ his accusations against Spiller around the streets, and was charged with having ‘scandalised him’. In 1642, another ‘humble petition’ was printed as a pamphlet, suggesting a determination to place matters before court of public opinion.

Eventually, Edmund supplemented lurid accusations about Spiller with complaints about Parliament, in terms of how difficult it had been to get official hearings, and about how little had been done about his repeated imprisonment. It was this lack of official assistance that justified going public, and that eventually provoked his ‘Out-cry for Justice’.

Ultimately, Edmund came to doubt the parliamentary process. In 1628, he had charged Spiller ‘to his face’ in the Commons, only to discover that, as an MP, his enemy was protected by parliamentary privilege. In 1640, Spiller was allegedly ‘befriended’ by ‘fellow justices and courtiers’, making it impossible for Edmund to ‘get his charge reported’ in the House.

Edmund thus felt ‘necessitated’ to pursue more aggressive strategies and more extreme language. He ‘thrice printed books… and presented them to every member’, before deciding to ‘write and publish his oppressions to the world’, and to complain how he ‘humbly prayed for justice, but found it not’. He quoted a well-known couplet: ‘who hath great friends, lives free and hath no faults / but without friends the most innocent halts’. However, he also quoted an Army document from 1647, about how ‘the people of this nation are subject to grievous oppressions, through the obstruction of justice’.

That Edmund Felton ended up sounding like a civil war radical is important, because of the route by which he reached this point. The dispute may always have been politically and religiously charged: he referred to Spiller as a ‘great malignant’, while boasting of his service to Parliament during the civil wars. However, it was largely framed as a story of someone who turned to Parliament with grievances about corruption, whose complaints provoked abusive ‘practices’, and who felt let down by the parliamentary process.

Felton’s case is instructive because this all proved to be eye-opening and dispiriting. Whatever the truth of his claims, Edmund’s experience animated him, as he learned to navigate official processes, pursued dramatic ways of making himself heard, and made sense of his experience through political reflection.

Edmund Felton was poor and obscure, and was last heard of pleading for employment with Cromwell, as someone lacking ‘wherewithal to wage law to obtain justice… having spent himself to the last’. But this is no reason to dismiss him. He may not have achieved the notoriety of his brother, John, the Duke of Buckingham’s assassin, largely because he pursued his grievances with a pen, rather than with a dagger. Nevertheless, as a petitioner who became a familiar face around Westminster, he highlights an important and largely overlooked phenomenon in early modern England: the disillusioned petitioner.

* * *

[You can also read about Edmund Felton’s petitions about his ‘war engines’ in our report by U3A member Pauline Brown]

‘For signing a Petition … [he] was put into the Stocks’ – Petitioning from within the Debtors’ Prison

Alex Wakelam

[This blogpost examines the petitions submitted by prisoners for debt in early modern England, especially their complaints against prison officials. It uses the case from Ludgate Prison in 1710 to show how the limits of such petitioning and the harsh consequences that could result for those who failed to gather enough support. The post is written by Dr Alex Wakelam (@A_Wakelam), author of Credit and Debt in Eighteenth-Century England: An Economic History of Debtors’ Prisons (Routledge, 2020).]

Every year throughout the early modern period, thousands of English men and women were imprisoned for failing to pay their debts. Most were confined without trial and had little formal recourse to legal aid. They were, however, surprisingly well placed to submit petitions to alleviate or remedy the worst aspects of their experience.

Unlike the felons they were confined alongside, most debtors were drawn from the middling sorts rather than the working poor. Even though they were cash-poor this population of shopkeepers, craftsmen, professionals (regularly including lawyers), and minor gentry were literate, familiar with civic administration, and expected a degree of public sympathy which allowed them to maximise the potential of petitioning.

Courts of Quarter Sessions and civic councils were thus deluged with appeals originating in the debtors’ prisons under their purview. Much of this volume did not, however, require much effort or time to resolve. Thousands of petitions were submitted between 1649 and 1830 to apply for one of the amnesties occasionally passed by Parliament known as the Insolvency Acts. This process was formulaic as courts were only required to collect and catalogue applications; by the 1720s printed petitions were widely available which only required an applicant to fill in their name and address.

Appeals for financial aid might be similarly formulaic. Petitions for financial aid in late seventeenth-century London were almost always seeking a ‘Charitable gift of five pounds for their relief’ implying that this was a routine award which courts merely signed off on.[1] In these instances petitioning was simply a tool of bureaucracy, a method by which debtors claimed aid they were entitled to but for which they had to grovel.

LMA, CLA/032/01/021
“The Humble Petition of the poore prisoners in the Poultry Compter”, 1698. Image courtesy of the London Metropolitan Archives, CLA/032/01/021.Copyright of LMA and not for reproduction.

Debtors did raise more specific complaints which touched on all aspects of prison life such as broken pipes, bad ale, leaking windows, their proximity to felons, or, as at the Poultry Compter in 1698, that new toilets (‘the Jakes or House of Office’) be constructed.[2] While these necessitated an active response from the court, they were still probably simple to dispense, merely requiring a release of funds to the prison officers. This did not stop debtors couching such minor grievances in dramatic terms. The debtors of Newgate were far from unusual when in their petition to the Lord Mayor in 1742 for a new pot capable of holding twelve gallons of broth they declared that ‘most of us are So Miserable poor … wee are in A Manner Burried Alive’.[3]

This language of desperation and dependence was expected and required by those in power. However, it leaves the question of how ‘Miserable poor’ the debtors in Newgate actually were. Few petitions left an extensive paper trail and thus exist within something of a vacuum. Debtors were known to exaggerate their woes and such petitions only offer their version of events. Additionally, the complex array of events and negotiations which led to the document which was finally submitted to a court is usually lost. What was left out? How did debtors agree about what to complain? How did their imprisoned status impede their ability to petition? It is even frequently unclear how effective such petitioning was with the exception of those applying for Insolvency Acts which, when checked against prison records, reveal that 85-90% were successful.

The physical environment of the prison was often a source of complaint in debtors’ petition. The Marshalsea Prison, c.1800, Wikimedia Commons.

When petitions revealed illegal or immoral activity by prison officials, courts could not respond so passively. Grumbling about Keepers was not uncommon. Prison administrators lacked salaries or government funds and ran the gaols for profit which they raised from prisoners themselves through a variety of fees and charging rent on private cells. Keepers frequently stretched without breaching their legal authority to maximise profitability, particularly by minimising their upkeep costs. In a typical 1733 petition against the Keeper of the Westminster Gatehouse prison Francis Geary the debtors claimed he ‘neglect[ed] to furnish the goal as it ought to be and extort[ed] for the lodgings more than is allowable by act of Parliament’.[4] In such instances courts usually simply rapped Keepers upon the knuckles and reminded them of their obligations.

However, when they committed acts of excessive cruelty or illegality such as beating debtors into emptying their pockets or, possibly worse, embezzling civic funds the courts could not sit idly by. Inquiries launched to investigate the complaints and causes of petitions rarely led to systemic change, but they provide unique detail on the organisation, accuracy, and consequences of petitioning from within prisons.

The Case of the Ludgate Prisoners, 1710

On Wednesday the 10th May 1710 three debtors in Ludgate Prison who had been ‘put in the Stocks last Saturday and continued therein till the Sitting of this Committee’ were released by order of the Court of Aldermen of London on condition that they formally apologised to prison administrators. Peter Wingate, William Block, and Thomas Wright had been held by the neck for five days – normal punishments lasting hours – ostensibly for the crime of causing disruption within the gaol and giving ‘opprobrious Language’ to the Keeper and the Steward of Ludgate. However, the prisoners informed the committee their true crime was daring to organise a petition revealing corruption and cruelty within one of the city’s most important debtors’ prisons.[5]

The petition which led the Court of Aldermen to order the ‘Committee for Examining into the Petition of the Prisoners in Ludgate’ does not appear to survive. It was probably similar to one submitted twelve years earlier against the same Keeper, Mr John Stacey, which beseeched then Lord Mayor Sir Francis Child to ‘Honour us with a Visit … or else appoint a Committee … to examine into the cause of our Complaint’, the prisoners ‘being Confined and not having Liberty to Speak for our Selves our Case will be misrepresented by the said … Keeper’.[6] However, the minutes of the committee’s two meetings at Ludgate on the afternoon of the 10th May and on the evening of the 17th do suggest that the petitioners in 1710 were less afraid to ‘Speak for our Selves’ and listed specific grievances in their initial submission.

LMA, COL/CC/MIN/01/115
“Minutes of the Committee for Examining into the Petition of the Prisoners in Ludgate”, Proceedings of Various Court of Aldermen and Court of Common Council Committees, 1710. Image courtesy of the London Metropolitan Archives, COL/CC/MIN/01/115. Copyright of LMA and not for reproduction.

The inquiry began with Peter Wingate, one of the three petition ringleaders, summarising their complaints with witness statements to support his claims. Many of these were typical criticisms of Keepers particularly that Stacey charged excessive fees (Anne Smith testifying the Keeper had £9 2s 6d from her husband during his ten month imprisonment), that he embezzled the annual bequests from ‘the Lady Rich’s Charity’, and generally treated prisoners roughly and without due respect such as by forcing them to sleep ‘upon the Ground’. More uniquely they claimed he obstructed their ability to work, Thomas Hays complaining that ‘Staicey would not permit him to follow his Trade of a Basketmaker within the Prison till he gave him a Present of 5s Value’, and that the Keeper falsely released debtors but ‘afterwards they were brought back to the Prison again’ in an apparent scheme to extract additional discharge fees. The petition also targeted the activity of the Steward John Hall, claiming that he had embezzled ‘Five Guineas … given by a Gentleman … to be equally distributed amongst the Prisoners’. This was unusual as Hall was not an employee of Ludgate, Stewards being debtors elected from within their number to administer charitable gifts and settle disputes. They were usually older and drawn from the Master’s Side which housed the most prominent debtors who paid a weekly rent for a private room.

Surprised at the Steward’s inclusion, the committee summoned him to explain himself, Stacey following shortly after. The defendants promptly dismissed the petition entirely as a misunderstanding. Hall asserted that while he had indeed been given the five guineas it had been ‘charged to the Account of the House’ as had ‘5s sent by the Lord Mayor at Christmas, And also the £5 mentioned in the Petition [supposedly] to be embezeled’. This he and another witness Mr Sisson testified was common practice: ‘The Steward of the House maintains the Poor who have no Friends at his own Charge … the Steward places [donations] to the Account of the House in Order to Reimburse himself and he had no other way of doing it’. According to Hall, the petitioners were simply ignorant of the process of charity distribution within the prison. Furthermore, their repeated ‘demanding of the Steward a Distribution of the Money’ had led Hall to place ‘Block and others … in the Stocks for 6 hours’ as punishment for demanding selfishly they be given money at the expense of the wider community.

Stacey’s defence similarly rested on prisoner ignorance: ‘As to the Annual Revenue from the White Horse the Petitioners mistake the Fact, For the Lady Rich’s Charity being paid at that House, They take it as they like Sum of The Lady’s Charity issuing from the White Horse by which means that Charity is twice reckoned’. It is certainly probable that Hall and Stacey were lying and trying to dismiss the inquiry as quickly as possible by laughing off the accusations. However, the committee themselves pointed out the ignorance of the petitioners. Regarding their complaint of ‘Distribution of 9 Stone of Beef a Week only, amongst the Prisoners, whereas the allowance is 12 Stone’, the minutes at the end of the first day noted, as the Aldermen well knew, ‘in this their Complaint, the Prisoners are mistaken, for the Allowance of Beef from The Lord Mayor is but 9 Stone per Week’.

Even if the petitioners were mistaken and their case shaky, it is clear both Hall and Stacey suppressed their activity. On the 9th, shortly after the appointment of the committee, a lawyer known as Mr Beasley arrived at Ludgate and discharged Andrew Yateman. A creditor’s lawyer discharging a prisoner after debts had been paid was a common occurrence at the gaol though in these circumstances the petitioners cried foul; Yateman had been a key witness for their case and it appeared his discharge had been enabled by Stacey ‘that he might not be An Evidence’. Attempts to restrict the petition had begun several days earlier when Hall learned the three ringleaders had sent a letter to the Lord Mayor ‘about their Beef which the Steward believed was to Complain against him’ and placed them in the stocks in the middle of the prison yard. While they had previously been pilloried for demanding money improperly this had been only for a few hours and ‘Mr Stacey discharged [them] without any Submission’.

That the three were kept for five days without the Keeper releasing them suggests he supported this attempt to intimidate prisoners into remaining quiet, extending punishment to others who supported the petition. A John Moore claimed to the committee: ‘That for Singing a Petition to the Court of Aldermen complaining of Abuses, and for Carrying the same to the Women also to Sign, [he] was put into the Stocks and sate there 5 Hours’ alongside the ringleaders. This public punishment was a clear warning to others who might entertain thoughts of complaining about their treatment, emphasising the potential obstacles and risks of petitioning within prison.

The consequences of the inquiry for Hall and Stacey were minimal. The committee’s orders (other than that the ringleaders be let go) were limited to ‘That Mr Staicey the … Keeper or John Hall the Steward, or whoever else receives Money upon account of the Prison do enter into a Book to be provided for that purpose the particular Time when and the Name of the Person from whom Received and also for whose Benefit paid’. This process would allow future Stewards to defend themselves against accusations of embezzlement as well as preventing further petitions troubling the Aldermen on this matter. Stacey had also suggested that he be appointed to ‘the Table’ (the prisoners’ administrative council headed by the Steward) and that he be given ‘a Casting Voice in determining of Controversies and punishing Offenders’, a suggestion which clearly did not amuse the committee who noted simply: ‘Rejected’. However, in all other respects the key claims of the petition were dismissed, went unremedied, or were not even properly engaged with by the committee.

The essence of this failure lay not with the inaccuracy of the petition or even Hall and Stacey’s suppression of signatures and witnesses. Instead, it was the failure of Wingate, Block, and Wright to build a consensus within the prison which doomed the petition from its inception. Debtors’ prisons were highly stratified environments; while the majority were drawn from the middling sorts, the difference between those who could pay the 2s 6d per week Master’s Side rent and those on the free Common Side could be as vast as between a labourer and a baronet in the outside world.

If the petition was to succeed it required voices of status or at least the consent of the prison elite as had been done in 1698 when even the Steward signed. Not only did the 1710 petition originate from the Common Side, it singled out a prominent Master’s Side debtor for prosecution. John Moore did at least try and broaden their position by ‘Carrying the same to the Women also to sign’ though the addition of female prisoners whose social status was nebulous at best was unlikely to compensate for the opposition of the upper social strata of debtors.

Unsurprisingly, the Master’s Side closed ranks around Hall and lined up to speak against the petitioners. John Hoseman testified that ‘Wright is a very Contentious Man and breeds Disorders in the Prison, and swore several Oaths when he showed his Dislike to the Division of Beef’, James Bowyer concurring that ‘Wright is a very abusive Man’. Meanwhile George Whittingham testified to Stacey’s generosity: ‘[he] hath been in Prison 9 Weeks and lay in [a] Bed … but has Paid Mr Stacey as yet nothing for Chamber Rent nor has any thing been demanded of him’. Mr Sission claimed Stacey released prisoners ‘actually before he hath received the Money’ for their discharge, extending them credit on their fees. These debtors completely undermined the case of the petitioners and, with their high social standing, no further evidence to the triviality of this appeal was necessary for the Aldermen.

The limits and failures of prisoners’ petitions

While middling sort debtors were in a strong position to launch petitions, the failure of 1710 reveals that within debtors’ prisons their power was not inherent but conditional upon the ability to overcome a series of hurdles. When challenging city officials or men of status within the gaol, these were more complex than being able to grovel sufficiently.

Most importantly, petitioning was dependent upon the consent of the powerful. This applied to even trivial requests, prisoners being forced to flatter those to whom they appealed and phrase petitions for pots and pans in a language of poverty and desperation. Unsurprisingly, their captive status impeded their ability to criticise prison officers. Stacey’s attempted suppression suggests Keepers viewed petitioning as a threat to their authority, fearing court oversight of their administration. Even if a Keeper was unable to halt the appeal, if a petition lacked the support of the prisoner elite – a group with whom the Alderman were likely to have much in common – then organisers risked being viewed as troublemakers and face further punishment. By contrast, a petition from members of the upper echelons of the prison may have been difficult for Keepers to defend against.

Furthermore, as was true in petitioning outside gaols, appellants had to be accurate. It was much safer to ask for smaller bequests, to ask for that which others had already received, or to couch complaints in generalities of suffering and allow the inquiry to identify specific issues. Appeals to rights or crimes in exact terms risked the collapse of a case when officials were able to disprove them, even if evidently behaving improperly in other fashions. From a historical perspective, the 1710 inquiry reminds us to be cautious about petitions as sources on the nature of prison life. Detailed complaints and requests might imply prisoners were aware of their rights and privileges, but that which was confidently claimed in the prison alehouse may not always have reflected reality. This does not mean surviving petitions are not informative of life within early modern debtors’ prisons. The 1710 case was probably somewhat unusual; other petitioners were better organised and usually lacked the poor reputation within the gaol which the three ringleaders seem to have commanded. However, the voices of imprisoned debtors could be as untrustworthy as the Keepers who tried to laugh off any complaint or criticism.

We cannot always take the voices of the oppressed at their word as, even if they had a better grasp over procedure than Wingate, Block, and Wright, petitioners had varied and often hidden motivations. Regardless though of the accuracy of complaints, the reactions of Hall and Stacey to the petition suggest how potent such documents could be in granting power to the oppressed. To some extent, as they hung in the stocks for five days, the ringleaders themselves became victims of the power of petitioning when the traditional elite attempted to stymie its impact.


[1] “Petitions of Prisoners, Offices of Newgate and the Compters, and Other Persons relating to Prison Life, Repair of Prisons, Collections, Ill Health, Abuse by Officers, for Discharge, &c”, 1675-1700, Prisons and Compter – General, London Metropolitan Archives (hereafter LMA), CLA/032/01/021.

[2] “The Humble Petition of the poore prisoners in the Poultry Compter”, 1698, LMA, CLA/032/01/021, xxii.

[3] “Petition of Poor Debtors in Newgate Ward”, 1742-3, Debtors Petitions, LMA, CLA/040/08/009, i.

[4] “The Prisoners for Debt in the Gatehouse. WJ/SP/1733/01 (1733)”, in Petitions to the Westminster Quarter Sessions 1620-1799, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/petitions/westminster/1733#h2-0001.

[5] “Minutes of the Committee for Examining into the Petition of the Prisoners in Ludgate”, Proceedings of Various Court of Aldermen and Court of Common Council Committees, 1710, Corporation of London – Minutes and Papers, LMA, COL/CC/MIN/01/115, pp.31-33, 35-36.

[6] “The Humble Petition of the Stewards and Assistants of the Prison of Ludgate on Behalfe of themselves and the Rest of Their Fellow Prisoners”, 1698, CLA/032/01/021, lxxvii.

The petition of Elizabeth Skory: A young woman seeks redress against a powerful man in 1621

This post by Sharon Howard has also been posted on the UK Parliament ‘Petition of the Month’ blog and uses transcriptions from our newly published volume of petitions to the House of Lords.

The 1621 Parliament was summoned reluctantly by the king and achieved little in the way of legislation before being dissolved in early 1622. But it is remembered for other developments that would have long-lasting consequences: the revivals of impeachment, of the Lords’ role as a court of appeal, and of petitioning.

There are just 13 surviving petitions addressed to the House of Lords in the parliamentary archives up to 1620 compared to more than 60 in 1621. Here I look at one of those 1621 petitioners, Elizabeth Skory, who was also among the first women to petition the Lords in the early modern period.

The petition of Elizabeth Skory, 1621
‘The Petitcion of Elizabeth Skorey touch Sir John Bennett, 18 May 1621’. Image courtesy of the Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/1/18.

Most famously, the 1621 Parliament brought about the downfall of Sir Francis Bacon, the lord chancellor, for corruption. But Parliament also pursued two other men and their associates during the spring of 1621: Sir Gilles Mompesson and Sir John Bennet. It was the latter who was the subject of Elizabeth Skory’s petition.

At the beginning of 1621, Bennet was a high-flying lawyer and MP who had been appointed a judge of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in 1603. But a string of accusations that he had extracted bribes and excessive fees in his judicial office led to his expulsion from the House of Commons in early May.

The Commons referred the case to the Lords for further investigation, and a stream of witnesses gave evidence against Bennet throughout May. By the time Elizabeth Skory presented her petition on 18 May, it must have been clear that Sir John’s fate was sealed and she was likely to receive a positive response.

According to her petition, some months earlier, she had delivered £1100 to Sir John for safe-keeping, “her whole portion of money… bestowed upon her, by her uncle, Sir Edmond Skory knight, for the advancement of her marriage”. However, when she asked for the money to be returned, he told her that he had spent it in the course of “his troubles” and would pay it later if and when he could. This response “being verie unsatisfactorie, and unfruitfull, and cannot, but produce the ruine of her life, and fortunes”, she prayed for the Lords to come to her aid.

On 30 May, the Lords found Sir John “guilty of much Bribery and Corruption”, producing a long list of the charges found against him, and ordered him to repay Elizabeth. But she petitioned again on 2 June to complain that he was refusing to pay up, and to request a further order to ensure payment; a second order was made on the same day. (The second petition might seem hasty but Elizabeth needed to act quickly, as the king had just announced his intention to adjourn Parliament.)

Like many early modern petitioners, Elizabeth emphasised her helplessness and dependence on the recipient of the petition to save her from total ruin. Her second petition described her as “an Orphan”, who would be “voyde of all relieffe for her whole livelihood and estate” if the Lords did not come to her aid. She was not as desperate and alone in the world as this language suggested. She belonged to a Herefordshire gentry family with a history (if not a notably distinguished one) of public office. Her uncle Sir Edmond was a well-connected author who could spare over a thousand pounds for his youngest niece’s marriage portion, and her sister Anne would later marry Sir Chaloner Chute, who became Speaker of the House of Commons in 1659.

Nonetheless, only Parliament had the power to give Elizabeth such rapid satisfaction, without the expense and delays of a law suit. She was not the only woman to use a petition during the parliamentary assault on corrupt royal officials in 1621. In March, several female goldworkers had petitioned the Lords to complain about their treatment at the hands of one of Sir Gilles Mompesson’s deputies (Hester Favour and Elizabeth Cockren et al). They seized the opportunity created by Parliament’s investigations to try to get justice for their wrongs, and at the same time added their voices to the chorus against abuses of power.

Such petitions blurred the distinction between “private” and “public” petitioning and pointed the way towards more overtly political uses of petitioning Parliament in the 1640s and beyond.

Now Online: New Investigations into late Elizabethan and Jacobean Petitioners

During the reign of James I, the king and his councillors received hundreds of petitions every year. As part of ‘The Power of Petitioning’ project, we have transcribed and published almost 400 of these manuscripts from across the seventeenth century on British History Online.

We also completed a six-month Shared Learning Project with a large group of amateur researchers from the London Region of the University of the Third Age. Each of these researchers wrote one or more reports about the petitioners and their requests or complaints.

These short pieces of research are now online and we are very pleased to share them with you …

‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’: The main site for the U3A project, including information about the research methods and important caveats about accuracy and interpretation. Here you will find links to each of the sets of reports as they are published.

‘Petitioners in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, 1600-1625’: The first set of 46 reports by the U3A participants, covering the first 25 years of the seventeenth century. Each report also includes a professional transcription of the original petition and links to further sources of information.

Petitions in Early Modern England: A Very Short Introduction

Brodie Waddell

Until relatively recently, the word ‘petition’ had a much wider meaning than it does today. In the twenty-first century, a petition is a request or demand signed by a substantial number of people and addressed to a government authority. Paper petitions are still common among – for example – local activists trying to show support or opposition to changes in their neighbourhoods. However, with the rise of online platforms and social media, we’ve seen the re-emergence of mass petitioning to the national government, signed by huge numbers of people such as the six million who subscribed to one seeking a second referendum on Brexit.

In the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, some petitions looked much like their modern counterparts, but they could also take many other forms. In this post, I’ll attempt to very briefly set out the different sorts of ‘petitions’ that circulated in early modern England and where we can find them in the archives. I’ll devote most of my attention to the three types of petitions that are the focus for our project, but I also discuss others even more briefly. If you want to know more about any of these types, take a look at our annotated bibliography for further reading or our selection of online resources for many original examples.


Petitions to local magistrates

Every city and county authority in England – including mayors, borough councils and county magistrates – received handwritten ‘petitions’ from those who lived within their jurisdictions. For county magistrates, this often took the form of ‘the humble petition’ of a man or woman asking for poor relief, a licence to keep an alehouse or build a cottage, release from parish office, or discharge from a lawsuit. Many also came from veterans or war widows requesting a county pension, especially from the 1640s onwards. Nearly as common as these individual appeals were collective petitions from ‘the inhabitants’ or ‘the parishioners’ of a particular village or neighbourhood asking for adjustments to local taxation, prosecution of disorderly neighbours, expulsion of paupers who legally belonged elsewhere, or adjudication between contending parties.

In both cases, the petitions were often left unsigned – especially those from single individuals. However, in some cases the petitioners might also add their signatures, initials or marks, usually amounting to about six to twelve subscribers, though sometimes twenty, thirty or more names.

The petitions sent to civic officials such as the London Court of Aldermen, the Mayor of Norwich, or the Chester City Assembly usually took a very similar form, though they tended to include somewhat different requests because of their differing jurisdictions. Petitions about apprenticeships – such as release from an abusive master – were more common, as were others related to guilds and the ‘freedom to trade’, though poor relief, local taxation, alehouses and imprisonment were also popular topics.

Although it is difficult to be certain about the process of composition, petitions sent to magistrates were very rarely written by the petitioners themselves, but rather by a professional scribe or literate neighbour – such as a clergyman – who was usually familiar with conventions of the genre. Usually, however, the petitioner also had a large role in determining what would be recorded on the page.

‘The humble peticion of Joyce Marson of Holt’, a single mother asking for parish poor relief in 1610: Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology Service, Ref. 110 BA1/1/7/72.

These petitions are held in local record offices. For the county magistrates, they survive before c.1700 for about half of England’s forty counties and they are normally preserved in the quarter sessions rolls or papers. They also survive in smaller numbers for some cities that were ‘counties corporate’, which had their own quarter sessions jurisdiction. In many cases, such petitions have not yet been catalogued at the level of individual documents, so the archive catalogue will simply state, for example, ‘Michaelmas Sessions 1645’, and this file will include any number of unlisted petitions. My current estimate is that well over 30,000 of these documents survive from around the 1570s to the 1690s, with the largest number in Lancashire (20,000), Cheshire (5,000), the West Riding of Yorkshire (2,000), Staffordshire, Somerset and Devon (each with around 1,000 or more). Only a small number survive for the sessions of the peace for London and Middlesex before the 1690s, but they amount to almost 10,000 items in the eighteenth century.

For the civic magistrates, they are also common and sometimes survive from much earlier though in smaller numbers. For example, Norwich has about 520 surviving from c.1530 to c.1810, though only 150 definitely date from the seventeenth century. Among larger collections, the City of London Court of Aldermen papers includes perhaps 500 from the 1660s to 1690s and the Chester City Assembly Files holds about 1,400 petitions for the seventeenth century.

Of course, there are many jurisdictions for which few or none survive, but this is due more to the hazards of record-keeping rather than a lack of early modern petitions being sent. Indeed, even where the original petitions have long since disappeared, one can often find evidence of them in the ‘order books’ or ‘minute books’ of local magistrates.


Petitions to the Crown

The King or Queen – or Lord Protector – were popular targets for petitioners through this period and beyond. As heads of state, their jurisdictions were vast and their visibility unmatched. They would have received many unwritten ‘petitions’ from individual suitors in-person, especially semi-formal appeals from courtiers and other well-connected elites. However, they also received an endless stream of paper petitions from across the country and beyond on an infinite variety of matters. As a result, offices such as the Masters of Requests were created that sorted and filtered these incoming petitions.

‘The humble peticion of Roger Bassett’, asking to be appointed as ‘sworne servaunt’ crossbow-maker to the prince in 1613: The National Archives, SP 14/72/184.

Further systematic research is needed on this form of petitioning, but it seems that most petitioners were individuals seeking preferment – offices, property, charity – or clemency. There were also many petitions sent to the monarch and privy council from institutions such as those sent by borough councils seeking royal charters or other privileges. Finally, some petitioners focused on issues of ‘church and state’, such as the 16,000 Londoners who signed the ‘monster’ petition to Charles II in 1680 calling for parliament to be reconvened to deal with the Popish Plot. Perhaps the most famous today is the petition from the First Continental Congress in America to the George III in 1774 which complained of the standing army and new taxes. As with petitions to local magistrates, these seem to have rarely been written by the petitioners themselves, but instead the writing was entrusted to an expert scribe who followed well-established rules of composition.

Thousands of petitions to the Crown survive, though many more have been lost. Scholars have found evidence of one royal Master of Requests handling 700 to 800 petitions per year under James I and about 1,000 per year under Charles I, with similar levels received by Charles II in the 1660s. Many of the original petitions are held at The National Archives among the State Papers and have been catalogued in the Calendars of State Papers Domestic, but others are scattered across other series and collections. For example, hundreds more from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century are held at Hatfield House Archives among the Cecil Papers.


Petitions to Parliament

Both the House of Commons and the House of Lords were frequent targets for petitioning throughout this period. In some cases, they took a very similar form to modern petitions: directed to the national government, asking for a change in public policy, signed by hundreds or thousands of people. This style of parliamentary petition became frequent from the opening of the Long Parliament in 1640, including the famed ‘Root and Branch’ petition calling for the abolition of the bishops, reportedly signed by 15,000 subscribers. However, most petitions to parliament concerned less ‘political’ matters and were often sent by individuals or institutions, such as gentlemen, merchants or whole towns seeking special privileges or adjudication in ongoing litigation.

‘The humble petition of the shopkeepers in the New Exchange’, asking for hackney coaches to be banned from obstructing the streets thereabouts in 1648, signed by 46 men and women: Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/1/252.

Unfortunately, virtually none of the original petitions to the House of Commons survive, though there are references to many of them in the Commons Journals and informal parliamentary diaries. Some were printed as stand-alone publications or in newsbooks, allowing us to get a sense of the original text, among them the ‘humble Petition of the Knights, Gentlemen, Ministers, Freeholders, and other Inhabitants of the County of Dorset’ in 1642 asking for the ‘obstructive party’ to be removed from the House of Lords to better pursue the war effort. Around 8,000 manuscript petitions to the House of Lords have survived from the seventeenth century, becoming much more common after the Lords resumed its powers as a court of judicature – and a place to which to appeal on legal matters – in 1621. All of these are held at the Parliamentary Archives and are very well-catalogued.


Other types of petitions

The wide range of petitionary documents that flew around early modern England mean that it would be impossible to provide even a very superficial review of every type, especially as some documents that served overlapping purposes went under different names.

There were, for example, many ‘addresses’ sent to monarchs at this time, sometimes simply congratulating them on victories or marriages but other times including direct requests or even critiques. At the other end of the spectrum, the system of ‘settlement’ created by the Poor Laws led to the emergence of ‘pauper letters’, sent by poor individuals to the overseers of their ‘home’ parishes requesting aid. These were more candid and less formalised that the pauper petitions to county magistrates, though they only seem to survive in substantial numbers from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. Much more formal were the purely procedural ‘petitions’ submitted to some courts by litigants to initiate a lawsuit, which followed a strict legal form. In between these types were the many petitions sent to authorities with other sorts of jurisdiction: to the Vicar General to give a Christian burial to the body of a suicide; to the royal judges on the Assizes circuits from prisoners seeking mercy; to the Navy Board for a particular military office; and so on.

Formal petitions were also sent about matters outside the official jurisdictions of church and state. For example, many absentee landowners – in their role as landlords and ‘lords of the manor’ – received handwritten petitions from their tenants. As with petitions to magistrates, these might be from a single individual or, less often, from a small group. Presumably requests to resident landowners were made in-person orally, but requests to those residing elsewhere had to be written down. In them, tenants asked for rent abatements, charitable aid, permission to use resources on the property such as timber or favour in other local matters. In many cases, the landlords owned much of the property in a particular village and held additional legal powers as the lord of the manor, so there was sometimes a degree of overlap between petitions to a gentleman as a landowner and a petition to that same gentleman as a magistrate.

Unfortunately, there are no official collections of tenants’ petitions and they appear to survive in much smaller numbers than those sent to local magistrates, but that is at least partly because they usually only survive when preserved among estate papers. Most local record offices hold some, though those may not be catalogued in any detail. Petitions to institutional landlords – such as those sent to Sutton’s Hospital Charterhouse which owned various urban and rural properties – are more likely to have survived. The only substantial published research on these sorts of documents is Rab Houston’s Peasant Petitions and he found about 200 petitions from seventeenth-century Cumberland in the papers of the Percy family and its descendants.

However, to limit the discussion to such formal ‘petitions’ would be misleading. Informal ‘petitionary letters’ were extremely common thanks to the importance of patronage networks in this period, sent by artists, writers, traders and almost anyone seeking the support of someone with more power or prestige. Even prayers to God were often called ‘petitions’, and many of the conventions used in ‘secular’ petitioning can be first found in supplications directed to divine rather than earthly authorities. Indeed, many of the thousands of printed ‘petitions’ in the English Short-Title Catalogue are published prayers rather than political requests.

* * *

So, when reading an early modern document explicitly labelled as a ‘humble petition’, we must remember that it was part of a long, expansive tradition of petitioning that stretched back centuries and encompassed a variety of overlapping genres. It was probably produced through a collaborative process involving the named petitioners, their supporters, occasionally a legal advisor, and a hired scribe. Most importantly, no matter how unique it may appear, it was just one of the hundreds of thousands of ‘petitions’ created in this period and must be understood as part of the wider culture of petitioning in early modern England.

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. We are gradually putting together and organising an expansive Zotero bibliography, which we will eventually share online.

In the meantime, 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.

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.

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.

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.

Fletcher, Anthony. The Outbreak of the English Civil War (1981). Chapter 6 focuses on the role of petitions in the politics of this period.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 newpaper 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.