1656, The heirs and executors of Sir Peter Rycaut request aid in obtaining letters of reprisal against the King of Spain

Transcription from ‘Petitions in the State Papers: 1650s’, in Petitions in the State Papers, 1600-1699, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, The sons and executors of Sir Peter Rychant, deceased. SP 46/101 f. 164 (1656)

To the right honourable the councell

The humble peticion of the sonnes and executours of Sir Peter Rychant knight deceased

Sheweth That his highnes the Lord Protector by the advice of your honours hath beene pleased to graunt a warrant directed to the judges of the Admiraltie to yssue out letters of reprizall under the great seale in behalfe of your peticioners against the Kinge of Spaine and his subjects, provided that securitie were first given by your peticioners before the commissioners of the Admiraltie and Navy. But the said commissioners after six weekes sollicitacion dismissed your peticioners with a possitive refusall to intermedle in that buisnesse for feare of being brought within the compasse of the fowerteenth article of peace concluded betweene England and Fraunce. After which your peticioners had againe recourse to your honours for redresse, which your honours were gratiously pleased to endeavour by directing a new order to the judges of the Admiraltie to yssue out the aforesaid letters of reprizall to take such securitie as they should find sufficient, which notwithstanding all this care of your honours is refused by the said judges alsoe to interpose in a buisnesse of this nature. Soe that your peticioners out of these long delayes, scruples and formalities have suffered great prejudice and disadvantage and their spiritts much sadded to see their long expectations and hopes blasted, and the care and goodnesse of your honours soe often frustrate.

Your peticioners therefore haveinge recourse againe to your honours as their ultimate refuge; humbly beseech your honours to find some meanes whereby your peticioners may receave a speedy dispatch, and may enjoy that benefitt which your honours have beene pleased soe gratiously to afford them.

And your peticioners shall pray etc.

Report by Keith Baldwin

In their petition, the sons and executors of Sir Peter Rycaut recounted that the Council and the Lord Protector had twice supported them in their quest to secure ‘letters of reprisal’ against the King of Spain but on each occasion the Admiralty declined to pursue the matter. They now asked, once more, for aid in obtaining a speedy outcome in their favour.

Sir Peter Rycaut

Sir Peter Rycaut, (variants include Peeter, Pierre or Pyerre and Ricaud, Richant, Richard, Richards, Richaut, Rycant, Rychant, Rychaut or Rychuat), was born in 1578 to Andrew Richaut of Brabant and his wife Emerentia, daughter of Garcia Gonzalez of Spain.[1]

He moved to London in 1600 and established a lucrative merchant network, becoming a multiple ship owner and merchant banker, using his contacts as a Huguenot in both the low countries and Spain.[2] He lent money to the King and foreign contacts and was knighted in 1641.[3] In 1633 he had purchased The Friars at Aylesford in Kent and then, in 1640, the demesne of Kings Barns Manor at Upper Beeding in Sussex. It was at the former in 1642 that Commonwealth soldiers led by Colonel Sandys discovered a stash of arms and he was arrested.[4]  Having purchased his release in 1643 he lent money again to the royalist cause, was adjudged guilty but escaped to Rouen before being arrested leaving his estates to be sequestered.[5]

He was allowed to return to England in 1647 and his estates were released in 1648 after he had given up one-sixth of their value.[6]

However, in 1650 Sir Peter was found to be funding Charles II and his property was again impounded. He died in 1653 and the estates were sold soon after.[7] It is reputed that he lost £100,000 and his children squandered what remained.[8]

There is a painting of Sir Peter Rycaut at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire in the manner of Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641).[9]

Marriage and children

In 1620 at Whitechapel, Peter, as he then was, married Mary (or Marie) van der Colge (or Vercolad, Vercolge or Piolge), who died in or after 1660.[10]

They had ten sons and three daughters between 1611 and 1634.[11] Records of the following children have been found:

Pierre, baptised 30 May 1611, French Huguenot Church, Threadneedle Street, London.[12]

Marie, baptised 9 August 1612, French Huguenot Church.[13]

Andrew, baptised 2 February 1617, French Huguenot Church.[14]

Ann, baptised 24 July 1632, St Christopher Le Stock London.[15]

Sara, baptised 2 December 1634, St Christopher Le Stock.[16]

Paul, baptised 23 December 1629 St Christopher Le Stock.[17]

It is known, from Sir Peter’s will (see below) that three other sons were named James, Thomas and Samuel.

Sir Peter’s last child, Paul, became a diplomat and expert on the Ottoman Empire. He died in 1700.[18]

The will

In his will Sir Peter appointed his sons Peter, James, Samuel and Phillip as executors.

Sir Peter’s will reads:

‘In the name of God Amen, the twenty second day of February, in said year of our lord God, one thousand six hundred and fifty two, I Sir Peter Richant, weak of body but strong minded, of perfect and disposing memory, thanks be unto almighty God, first my soul I do commit unto the hands of my maker and redeemer and my body I do commit unto the ground to be decently and in Christian manner buried at the parish church in Aylesford, in the county of Kent. First as touching my personal estate I do hereby will and require my executors that they pay therewith all such just debts as shall appear due unto them upon any obligation, contract or any other assurance whatsoever and as touching my dear and well-beloved wife Dame Mary Richant, I do bequeath and give unto her the sum of five hundred pounds as a testimony of my constant affection to her over and above the value of that part of my lands and tenements which she claims for her dower and as to my sons un-preferred in my lifetime that is to say to my son Andrew Rychant, the sum of five hundred pounds, unto my son James Rychant, the sum of two thousand pounds, unto my son Thomas Rychant, the sum of two thousand pounds unto my son Paul Rychant, the sum of two thousand pounds and to every of my said sons and to all my other sons and daughters and to each of them, as also to my said wife, ten pounds apiece for the buying of mourning. Item I give and bequeath unto my cousin Sarah Sanders the sum of five pounds. Item I give and bequeath unto Edward Frontham the sum of three pounds. Item I give and bequeath unto the poor of the parish of Aylesford the sum of five pounds and I do nominate ordain and appoint my sons Peter Richant, James Richant, Samuel Richant and Phillip Richant executors of this my last will and testament. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand the year and day above written, Peter Richant’.

The will was proved at Westminster on 21 April 1653.[19]

The petition

The petitioners claimed the King of Spain owed money to the estate of their deceased father. The debt originated from ‘a large loan’ Sir Peter made in 1621 to the Spanish ambassador in London. Arrangements for repayment of the loan failed and ‘subsequent attempts to recover the debt with interest were to preoccupy the Rycaut family for more than forty years’.[20]

In November 1653, Sir Peter’s four named executors petitioned the Council of State for Foreign Affairs, seeking to recover the debt by taking possession of ‘certain wools belonging to the king of Spain’ in the hands of the then Spanish ambassador.[21] The petitioners’ plea was rejected. In December 1653 the wools were declared the property of Spain and ‘freed from any attachment laid on them’ by the family.[22]

Despite their history of Royalism, however, the family had the support of Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector. In January 1653/4, Oliver Cromwell ‘desires that a speedy course may be taken to satisfy the petitioners, in default whereof letters of reprisal will be granted them’.[23]

The Rychant family pursued their case with a renewed petition in March 1654. Attached to the record of this is a reiteration that the wools previously sought by the family were the property of Spain.[24] In July 1654, in response to further representations from Cromwell, the Spanish ambassador questioned the validity of the family’s claim and their behaviour in pressing the matter. He undertook nevertheless to write to the King of Spain, seeking ‘an expedient course […] whereby they may receive all just satisfaction’.[25]

One way of recovering a claimed foreign debt was to appropriate property under a ‘letter of reprisal’. A letter of reprisal (sometimes a letter of marque and reprisal) was issued by Government and authorised a private person (a privateer or corsair) to attack the vessels of a nation with whom the country was at war. The privateer could apply to have any prize so obtained transferred to their ownership.[26] It appears Cromwell proposed this as a way forward, as in January 1655, the ambassador, in a letter to him, argued that it would be ‘against all reason and right […] to grant unto the said Richauts the said letters of reprisal’.[27]

In April, the Venetian ambassador in London noted that ‘a large sum of ready money has been placed at the disposal of the Catholic ambassador to use in satisfying in part the oldest and most important of the creditor merchants’.[28] Nothing came of this it seems. In August, Cromwell pressed the matter again and in November a warrant was issued for ‘letters of reprisal to the sons and executors of the late Sir Peter Richaut, for 20,987l. 12s. 9d., lent by him … to the late Spanish Ambassador in England, besides interest, and for a ship of fish taken from him and sold by the said King’s order at Cartagena’.[29] The date of the loan is here recorded, presumably erroneously, as 1651.[30]

The non-issue of these letters of reprisal was the prompt for the subject petition of this report. In this the family observed that the Navy and Admiralty were reluctant to act for ‘fear of being brought within the compass of the fourteenth article of peace concluded between England and France’. This may refer to the decision by Cromwell to support France in their conflict with Spain in the Spanish Netherlands, initially by way of a commercial treaty, signed in October 1655, under which France agreed to withdraw support for the exiled Stuarts.[31] Those acting under a letter of reprisal were required to obey the laws of war and pay a bond as surety for good behaviour.[32] On 31 January 1656, the Admiralty Judges noted that under ‘the Treaty’, if they received ‘insufficient security of the commanders of ships’, they were ‘personally to answer for wrongs done’. They could not say what was sufficient security. They were thus reluctant to issue the letters of reprisal as they were ‘so dangerously liable to the damages’.[33]

Whether the petitioners’ desired letters of reprisal were ever issued or whether they recovered the alleged debt in some other way is not known. However, the Bodleian Library holds a collection of records relating to the Rycaut family and the events of this petition.[34]


[1] S. P. Anderson, ‘Rycaut, Sir Peter (1578–1653), merchant and financier’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-38472; M. Powell Siddons, The Heraldry of Foreigners in England 1400-1700 (2010).

[2] A. Hamilton, A. H. de Groot, M. H. Van Den Boogert (eds.), Friends and Rivals in the East: Studies in Anglo-Dutch Relations in the Levant from the Seventeenth to the Early Nineteenth century (2000), pp. 45-48, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=tdTriSqIW3AC&pg=PA45&dq=%22Peter+rycaut%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjRxoTRyv_kAhWSoFwKHauvATwQ6AEILjAB#v=onepage&q=%22Peter%20rycaut%22&f=false.

[3] ‘House of Commons Journal Volume 2: 27 May 1641’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 2, 1640-1643 (1802), pp. 158-160. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol2/pp158-160.

[4] ‘House of Lords Journal Volume 5: 5 September 1642’, in Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 5, 1642-1643 (1767-1830), pp. 338-340. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/lords-jrnl/vol5/pp338-340.

[5] M. G. Brennan ‘The Exile of Two Kentish Royalists in the English Civil War’, Archaeologica Cantiana, Vol. 120 pp. 77-106(2000), pp. 87, fn. 41, Kent Archaeological Society: https://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk/Research/Pub/ArchCant/120-2000/120-04.pdf; ‘Cases brought before the committee: March 1643’, in Mary Anne Everett Green (ed.), Calendar, Committee For the Advance of Money: Part 1, 1642-45 (1888), pp. 130-137. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cttee-advance-money/pt1/pp130-137.

[6] ‘House of Commons Journal Volume 5: 28 August 1648’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 5, 1646-1648 (London, 1802), pp. 686-689. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol5/pp686-689.

[7] ‘Richaut, Rychuat, Sir Peter, 1653’, Ancestry, https://www.ancestry.co.uk/interactive/5111/40611_310691-00038?pid=368287&treeid=&personid=&rc=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=HWi1712&_phstart=successSource and https://www.ancestry.co.uk/interactive/5111/40611_310350-00466?pid=781213&treeid=&personid=&rc=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=HWi1711&_phstart=successSource#?imageId=40611_310350-00467.

[8] A full account of this can be read in: Anderson ‘Rycaut, Sir Peter (1578-1653)’, ODNB https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-38472.

[9] ‘Sir Peter Rycaut (d.c. 1657)’, National Trust Collections, http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/108903.

[10] Anderson, ‘Rycaut, Sir Peter (1578-1653)’, ODNB.

[11] Anderson, ‘Rycaut, Sir Peter (1578-1653)’, ODNB.

[12] ‘Pyerre Richaut, 1611’, Find My Past, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/transcript?id=R_22086314042.

[13] ‘Marie Richaut, 1612’, Find My Past, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/transcript?id=R_22086311631.

[14] ‘Andrieu Richaut, 1617’, Ancestry, https://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=9841&h=185365365&tid=&pid=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=Pht1&_phstart=successSource.

[15] ‘Ann Richaut, 1632’, Ancestry, https://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?viewrecord=1&r=5538&db=FS1EnglandBirthsandChristenings&indiv=try&h=191765536.

[16] ‘Sara Richaut, 1634’, Ancestry, https://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?viewrecord=1&r=5538&db=FS1EnglandBirthsandChristenings&indiv=try&h=141994951

[17] ‘Paul Richaut, 1629’, Ancestry, https://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?viewrecord=1&r=5538&db=FS1EnglandBirthsandChristenings&indiv=try&h=108319211.  

[18] S. P. Anderson, ‘Rycaut, Sir Paul (1629–1700), diplomat and author’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-24392.

[19] TNA PROB 11/231/109, Will of Sir Peter Richant, 27 April 1653.

[20] Anderson, ‘Rycaut, Sir Peter (1578-1653)’, ODNB.

[21] ‘State Papers, 1653: November (4 of 5)’, in Thomas Birch (ed.), A Collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, Volume 1, 1638-1653 (1742), pp. 600-610. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/thurloe-papers/vol1/pp600-610.

[22] ‘Volume 42: December 1653’, in Mary Anne Everett Green (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1653-4 (1879), pp. 279-328. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/interregnum/1653-4/pp279-328.

[23] S. C. Lomas (ed.), The Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell with Elucidations by Thomas Carlyle (1904), p. 447: https://archive.org/details/lettersspeecheso01crom/page/446/mode/2up?q=rycaut.

[24] ‘State Papers, 1654: March (5 of 5)’, in Thomas Birch (ed.), A Collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, Volume 2, 1654 (1742), pp. 178-190. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/thurloe-papers/vol2/pp178-190.

[25] ‘State Papers, 1654: July (4 of 7)’, in Thomas Birch (ed.), A Collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, Volume 2, 1654 (1742), pp. 451-463. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/thurloe-papers/vol2/pp451-463.

[26] ‘Letter of marque’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_of_marque.

[27] ‘State Papers, 1655: January (3 of 4)’, in Thomas Birch (ed.), A Collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, Volume 3, December 1654 – August 1655 (1742), pp. 99-116. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/thurloe-papers/vol3/pp99-116.

[28] ‘Venice: April 1655’, in Allen B Hinds (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 30, 1655-1656 (1930), pp. 38-52. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/venice/vol30/pp38-52.

[29] ‘Venice: August 1655’, in Allen B Hinds (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 30, 1655-1656 (1930), pp. 88-101. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/venice/vol30/pp88-101.

[30] ‘Volume 101: November 1655’, in Mary Anne Everett Green (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1655-6 (1882), pp. 1-45. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/interregnum/1655-6/pp1-45.

[31] ‘Anglo-Spanish War: Flanders’, BCW Project, http://bcw-project.org/military/anglo-spanish-war/flanders.

[32] ‘Letter of marque’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_of_marque.

[33] ‘Volume 123: January 1656’, in Mary Anne Everett Green (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1655-6 (1882), pp. 88-154. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/interregnum/1655-6/pp88-154.

[34] The Bodleian Library, Catalogi codicum manuscriptorum Bibliotecae Bodleianae, Part 5, Issue 2 (1878), Index, p. 898, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=QMdFAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA898&dq=rycaut+bodleian+part+5+1653&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwitqeb3renlAhW_VRUIHZFBBM4Q6AEIKDAA#v=onepage&q=rycaut%20bodleian%20part%205%201653&f=false.

This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the Interregnum, 1649-1660’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.