Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners

Tens of thousands of people submitted requests and complaints to the king and other high-ranking royal officials in seventeenth-century England. Each of these ‘petitions’ tells a story and investigating them further can reveal much about life during this tumultuous century.

This project gathers together short investigations of scores of these petitions. The reports collected here were researched and written by members of the University of the Third Age (U3A) between September 2019 and March 2020. They were created as part of a U3A Shared Learning Project which gave the participants a chance to explore the lives and communities of people from all levels of English society.

They all begin with a ‘petition’ – a term which in this period simply meant an official written request or complaint – from the State Papers held at The National Archives in London. They were part of a wider culture of petitioning that included innumerable personal pleas for aid, locally organised initiatives and national campaigns. A sample of almost 400 of these hand-written petitions have now been transcribed and published on British History Online.

Each U3A researcher chose several petitions and tried to find out as much as they could about the petitioners, recipients and the particular cases. For a few petitions, this was relatively straightforward because the individuals involved were well known and there was plenty of information already available online. However, in many other cases the researchers had to look further, drawing on a range of published sources, genealogy websites, and sometimes physical archives. We are particularly grateful to the London Metropolitan Archives and the City of Westminster Archives, who provided introductory sessions to the group. The U3A researchers were supported and advised by the U3A project leader, Peter Cox, and the academic project leader, Brodie Waddell of Birkbeck, University of London.

All of the reports have received a basic check for inaccuracies and misinterpretations, but readers should of course be aware they were not written by professional academics and have not undergone rigorous peer-review. They should therefore be used as starting points for further investigation rather than as definitive interpretations of often complex cases.

We hope that a wide variety of people will enjoy the benefits of this U3A Shared Learning Project. At the heart of it are the participants themselves, some of whom were already experienced researchers and others who were just starting out. For them, this was an opportunity to get a better sense of life in the seventeenth century and to learn new techniques for pursuing historical research. However, we have decided to publish all the reports online and make them freely available in the hope that they will prove useful to scholars, students, other researchers, and anyone with an interest in politics, trade, culture, crime and much else in seventeenth-century England.

The Petitions and the Reports

Project Participants


  • Sarah Birt
  • Peter Cox
  • Frank Edwards
  • David Moffatt
  • Brodie Waddell

Barnet U3A

  • Nicola Baker
  • Pauline Brown
  • Frank Edwards
  • Sarah Harris
  • David Moffatt
  • Sue Willoughby

Bromley U3A

  • Sally O’Donnell
  • Keith Baldwin
  • Wendy Lewis
  • Sarah Linger
  • Terry Newman
  • Janet Osbourne
  • Larry Sequeiera
  • Sarah Sherwin

Harrow U3A

  • Sheila Lowe
  • Jonathan Burchill
  • Jeanette Delhomme
  • Howard Greenwood
  • Graham Stapleton
  • Aelwyn Taylor
  • Kathy Westhead

North London U3A

  • Judith Ufland
  • Stephen Cook
  • Angela Cox
  • Julia Fidler
  • Jane Harrington
  • Lisa Vine
  • Judy Warner
  • Roshan Magub

South London U3A

  • Penelope Bidgood
  • Alex Dunlop
  • Virgina Gingell
  • Gillian Godwin
  • Celia Jones
  • Muriel Sprott
  • Jane Storey

Southeast London U3A

  • Barbara Prynn
  • Graham Camfield
  • Sheila Douglas
  • Maureen Hinton
  • Peter Kirby
  • Miranda Simond
  • Mary Wiggins