1679, Mary Collier, a widow and daughter of Sir Thomas Lunsford, pleads for a place for her son Richard at Sutton’s Hospital

Transcription from ‘Petitions in the State Papers: 1670s’, in Petitions in the State Papers, 1600-1699, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, Mary Collier, widow and mother of Richard Collier, a poor scholar aged about 9 years. SP 29/411 f. 123 (1679).

To the Kings most excellent majestie

The humble peticion of Mary Collier widow and mother of Richard Collier a poore scholar of about 9 yeares of age


That your petitioner being the daughter of Sir Thomas Lunsford knight (who was lieutenant of the Tower of London in the raigne of your majesties royal father of blessed memory) to whom he was very faithfull and serviceable in the beginning of the late troubles, and your petitioner marrying a cittizen of London who having all he had burnt and consumed by the late dismall fire there and dying in few yeares after left your petitioner with a great charge of 5 small children in a distressed condicion for want of maintenance.

Your petitioner therefore most humbly prayes that your majestie will be graciously pleased to grant that her said son (who is studious of learning) may be admitted to be a poore schollar in Suttons Hospitall in the first place that shall happen to be vacant and in your majesties proper gift after the placing of such as have already obtained your majesties grant for the like places there.

And your petitioner shall ever pray etc

The peticion of Mary Collier

[Paratext:] [Disp?] January 31th 78/9

For a second, related petition addressed to Sir Joseph Williamson, click here: Mary Collier, widow. SP 29/411 f. 124 (1679).

Report by Frank Edwards

In her first petition to the King, Mary Collier explained she was the daughter of Sir Thomas Lunsford, Lieutenant of the Tower of London in the reign of the King’s father, Charles I, ‘to whom he was very faithful and serviceable in the beginning of the late troubles’. She was also a distressed widow, her husband losing all in the Fire of London and dying a few years later, leaving her with five small children.

She asked the King to grant her son Richard, ‘a poor scholar of about nine years’ who is ‘studious in learning’, the first place in Sutton’s Hospital that became available to him to gift, after those he had already agreed to assist had been admitted.

In her second petition, addressed to Sir Joseph Williamson, and submitted at the same time, Mary recalled that some 12 months earlier he had helped her and her ‘three fatherless children’ with a payment of £5. She asked for his assistance in procuring a place for her son Richard, ‘aged about ten years’, at Sutton’s Hospital or Christ’s Hospital.

Thomas Lunsford

Mary established her claim on the King’s charity by stating that she was the daughter of Sir Thomas Lunsford. The Lunsfords were a long-established family but, by the early seventeenth century, their fortunes were in decline. In 1632 the family were fined £1,750 for poaching a neighbour’s deer and killing one of his hounds. In 1633 Mary’s father-to-be, Thomas, by then about 23 years old, was charged with attempted murder of the neighbour and was imprisoned in Newgate. In 1634, he escaped to France; in 1637 he was fined £8,000 in his absence and outlawed.[1]

Thomas Lunsford’s fortunes then changed, almost certainly as a result of promised support for Charles I. In 1639 he was pardoned and the fine was remitted. Returning to England, he joined the King’s forces with the rank of Colonel and in August 1640 fought at the battle of Newburn. His bravery there, while unable to save the English from defeat at the hands of the Scottish Covenanter army, ensured a hold on Charles’ affections. On 22 December 1641, the King appointed Lunsford Lieutenant of the Tower of London. Such a position, serving as Deputy to the Constable of the Tower but in effect executive head and responsible for managing the whole site, was prestigious and potentially lucrative.[2]

Charles had misjudged the popular mood, however, and the appointment prompted outrage from his opponents. The Common Council of London petitioned the House of Commons against the appointment, depicting Lunsford as an indebted, quarrelsome desperado. On 24 December the Commons voted him unfit to be Lieutenant.[3] On 26 December Charles, bowing to the inevitable, appointed a new Lieutenant in his stead.

The next day Lunsford led a group of army officers in an attack on London apprentices demonstrating against him. In January 1642, Peter Scott, a constable of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields petitioned Parliament. He explained he was on duty during ‘the riot caused by Colonel Lunsford’s assault on the citizens at Westminster’. He claimed he had appeased the apprentices by promising to release some of their number detained as prisoners in the Mermaid tavern. They nevertheless broke into the tavern and he was now facing prosecution from the Mermaid’s keeper for the resulting mayhem. The Commons referred the matter to the Committee enquiring into the riot. In June 1642, Scott submitted a second petition, claiming he was still ‘vexatiously troubled’ as a result of these events. The Commons resolved to protect him from any further actions.[4]

To compensate Lunsford for his lost lieutenancy Charles knighted him and added an annual pension of £500. Lunsford continued to serve the King in the civil war. Captured at Edgehill in 1642 he was held at Warwick Castle, released in May 1644 and captured again in December 1645 at Hereford. Charged with treason the one-time Lieutenant of the Tower of London now found himself imprisoned there. Aggrieved citizens continued to pursue Lunsford. In 1644 Jacques de Lang petitioned Parliament seeking redress for ‘certain sums of money’ owed him by Lunsford.[5]In 1648 Lunsford, with his twin brother Herbert, lodged a bond of £8,000 to John Fagge of Rye ‘in performance of unspecified covenants’ undertaken by him and Herbert.[6] In 1649 land and property in Lunsford’s possession in Sussex were taken to settle a debt of £1,000 owed to John Craven from 1639. Some of this equity was further assigned to trustees acting for John Fagge, ‘in consideration of £600’.[7]

By now Lunsford, released from the Tower in October 1647, had abandoned the Stuart cause. Described as having no personal estate and much indebted, he left for Virginia where he remained until his death. Seen as ‘typical of the hard men on whom Charles I increasingly relied’ he was, for one contemporary, no more than ‘a young outlaw who neither fears God nor man […] a swaggering ruffian’. This characterisation may reflect Parliamentary antagonism towards Lunsford the Royalist. It was as a soldier that Lunsford offered most to his King and, here, another contemporary recalled, he was ‘a brave gentleman and discreet’.[8]

Mary Lunsford, Thomas Collier, Richard Collier and the Dean of St Pauls

On 1 June 1640, after returning to England from France and before joining the English forces at Newburn, Lunsford, at Binfield in Berkshire, married Katherine Neville, daughter of Henry Neville.[9] When Lunsford was sent to the Tower in 1645, Katherine went with him. The couple had three daughters. Of the available records, that most consistent with other information shows Mary as the third child, born in the Tower in 1647.[10] Katherine died in 1649.[11] Mary and her sisters went to America with their father but on his death, they returned to St Andrews in Holborn. In 1654, to avoid their becoming a charge on the parish, their maternal grandfather was ordered to make weekly maintenance payments on their behalf.[12]

On 30 November 1667, at Waltham St Lawrence in Berkshire (some four miles from Binfield where her parents had married), Mary, recorded as Mary Lendfford, married Thomas Collyer.[13]

In January 1679 Edward Stillingfleet, theologian, scholar and, from 1678, Dean of St Pauls, wrote to the King to certify ‘the truth’ of Mary’s petition about ‘her son, now nine years old’. He confirmed she was ‘the daughter of the late Sir Thomas Lunsford, and widow of Thomas Collier […] who left her about two years ago with three children’. Collier, he explained, was ‘a member of the City of London and of the Brewers’ Company’.[14]  Nothing is known of Collier’s time as a member of the City of London. A Thomas Collier, master brewer, is recorded as taking on his own apprentices in 1653, 1655, 1656 and 1657 and being granted the Freedom of the City of London in 1648.[15]  If this is the Thomas who married Mary in 1667 it suggests he was somewhat older than her.

What is more certain is that the couple had at least four children (in her petition to the King Mary referred to being left with five children). Thomas Collier was born at Waltham St Lawrence to Thomas Collier (or Collyer) and Mary Lunsford (or Lendford) on 3 April 1667 (thus preceding the couple’s marriage).[16] Richard Collyer, the ‘poor scholar’ of our petition, was born on 22 March 1668, or more likely 1669 in Waltham St Lawrence and baptised at St Andrew’s, Holborn on 25 March 1669.[17] John Collier was baptised on 15 February 1671 at St Andrew’s and died on 27 July 1673.[18] Lunsford Collyer was baptised on 6 November 1673 at St Andrew’s.[19]

The baptisms at St Andrew’s place the family in that parish. In 1666 a Thomas Collier of Shoe Lane, in the parish of St Andrew, was recorded as liable to pay tax on eight hearths.[20] It is probable that he was Mary’s now deceased husband. The baptisms also explain the support Mary secured from Edward Stillingfleet. As well as being Dean of St Pauls, Stillingfleet was, from 1665 to 1689, Rector of St Andrew’s.[21] He may well have presided at the baptisms of Mary and Thomas’s children. Stillingfleet, although Dean of St Pauls, clearly knew Mary sufficiently well, as one of his parishioners, to write on her behalf.

Sutton’s Hospital

Mary sought Richard’s admission to Sutton’s Hospital. Sutton’s Hospital was established in 1611 following an endowment by one of the wealthiest men in Jacobean England, Thomas Sutton. As well as provision for a hospital Sutton funded a chapel, an alms-house and a school. The school was sited in Smithfield, London, just north of Charterhouse Square. Renamed Charterhouse School, it relocated to Surrey in 1872.[22]

Sir Joseph Williamson

In her second petition Mary sought aid from Sir Joseph Williamson, citing a previous occasion on which he assisted her. Nothing is known of the circumstances under which Mary obtained this help.  More is known of her benefactor.

Williamson was a long-standing and now very senior officer in Charles II’s court. Born in 1633, Williamson pursued an academic career at Oxford. In 1660, at the specific request of the newly restored Charles II, he moved to Whitehall, as an Under-Secretary, first to Secretary of State for the South, Sir Edward Nicholas, then to his successor, Sir Henry Bennett, Lord Arlington. (The central executive of Charles II’s administration were his two Secretaries of State, who, as well as their domestic duties, divided overseas responsibilities between southern and northern Europe. The Secretary of State for the South was the senior of the two.[23]) Williamson advanced rapidly in his new career, expanding his responsibilities. As one of the new, more methodical bureaucrats to emerge after 1660, with an eye for detail, he brought discipline, division of labour and systematic order to the office’s working practices. He was knighted in 1672 and made Secretary of State in his own right in 1674, holding the position until 1679. As well as status, Williamson acquired wealth. In his younger days he lived in some poverty and this may explain his later eagerness to take advantage of the financial opportunities his rising position in the Court presented.[24]  He also acquired his critics.  Samuel Pepys, writing in 1663, recognised Williamson as ‘a pretty knowing man and a scholar’ but observed that he ‘maybe thinks himself to be too much so’.  He is ‘mighty kind still’ he recorded a few years later, ‘but close, not daring to say anything almost that touches upon news or state of affairs’.[25]

Christ’s Hospital

In her second petition to Williamson, Mary sought Richard’s admission to Sutton’s Hospital, as in her petition to the King, or, as an alternative, to Christ’s Hospital.

Christ’s Hospital school, in Newgate Street, London, was founded in 1552 to provide education for fatherless children and other poor men’s children. Within a few years its pupils numbered over 500. Thirty-two children died in the Great Plague of 1665; none died in the Great Fire of 1666, but most of the school’s buildings burned down. The school largely relocated to Hertfordshire, not returning to London until 1705. In 1902 it relocated again to Horsham, West Sussex.[26]

Mary’s claims considered

Mary’s petition to the King was not quite the whole story. It might have implied that the Great Fire and its impact on Thomas Collier was a calamity she shared with him. However, her marriage to Collier and the births of their children post-date the Fire, by which time his fallen circumstances would have been apparent.  In addition, Mary’s statement that she was the daughter of Sir Thomas Lunsford, one-time Lieutenant of the Tower was correct but glossed the fleeting nature of his appointment (just four days in length) and the more unsavoury aspects of his life. It may be that Mary, who spent no more than her first six years with her father, knew little of the details of her family history, including for example that Lunsford was imprisoned in the Tower and she was born there. It may be, alternatively, that she was well aware of her father’s colourful past and was untroubled by it. Her first-born, Thomas, later settled in Virginia, suggesting that Mary had shared with her children details of her father’s life on leaving England.[27] That she named this child and her last, Lunsford, after her father suggests she was affectionate towards his memory.

However, irrespective of what Mary knew or didn’t know, or chose to include or exclude, the reference to someone such as Thomas Lunsford would have carried weight in 1679. As well as citing her father’s Lieutenancy of the Tower, Mary referenced his ‘faithful’ service to King’s father in the civil war. In Restoration London what mattered about Thomas Lunsford was not that he may have been a ‘swaggering ruffian’, chased for debts and unkept obligations but that he was a Royalist who had fought bravely in the Royalist cause. This was a past and an ancestry calculated to engender sympathy for Mary’s need.

Mary’s petition to the King was designed to evoke a positive response in other ways. While describing her own distressed condition Mary asked nothing for herself but only assistance for her studious son, able to benefit from an education that would otherwise be denied him. She also invited the King to help her son only after all those, to whom favours were already agreed, had been dealt with. Her petition was for legitimate charity, not favouritism.

Mary also approached Joseph Williamson, one of the King’s most senior ministers. In suggesting a place at Christ’s Hospital school, she identified an institution that offered aid to children in exactly Richard’s position. In case there was any doubt about the strength of her claims she secured the support of the Dean of St Pauls.

These petitions are straightforward: a claim for assistance with the education of a child. But what the above suggests is that they were also smart petitions. They made the most of Mary’s ancestry and of her current circumstances; they invoked the support of those who had status and influence. They showed an awareness of which buttons to press and how best to secure the desired aid. Was this Mary knowing her way around the London Court? Possibly, but what seems more likely is that the petitions reflect the expertise of someone she engaged to prepare them on her behalf.[28]

A successful outcome

Mary’s petitions bore instant fruit. On 31 January 1679 the King notified the Governors of Charterhouse (that is Sutton’s Hospital school) that they should admit Richard Collier, when a vacancy arose, but (taking Mary at her word) not before the admission of any other children on whose behalf he had already written.[29]  There is no evidence that intervention by Williamson was required to prompt this decision.

When Richard entered the school and for how long he remained is not known. What can be said is that he did not stand out – for either good or bad reasons. There is a record from 1680 of scholars who were elected to university, apprenticed or expelled, or who died. Richard’s name does not appear.[30]


[1] ‘Lunsford, Sir Thomas (b. c. 1610, d. in or before 1656), royalist army officer’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/17197. Unless otherwise stated information on and judgments of Lunsford and his family are from this source.

[2] ‘Lieutenant of the Tower of London’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lieutenant_of_the_Tower_of_London.

[3] ‘House of Commons Journal Volume 2: 24 December 1641’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 2, 1640-1643 (1802), pp. 355-357, British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol2/pp355-357.

[4] ‘Parliamentary Archives House of Lords: Journal Office: Main Papers: 3 January 1642 – 31 January 1642’ The National Archives, reference: HL/PO/JO/10/1/114, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/4dac0126-76b7-4ae4-b10c-ea0958fba88d; ‘House of Commons Journal Volume 2: 15 January 1642’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 2, 1640-1643 (1802), pp. 380-383, British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol2/pp380-383; ‘House of Commons Journal Volume 2: 03 June 1642’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 2, 1640-1643 (1802), pp. 601-604, British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol2/pp601-604.

[5] ‘Parliamentary Archives House of Lords: Journal Office: Main Papers: 23 August 1644 – 21 September 1644’, The National Archives, reference: HL/PO/JO/10/1/114, HL/PO/JO/10/1/173, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/29188589-d100-4461-b7fc-308425d70c19.

[6] ‘Bond in £8000 from (a) Sir Thomas Lunsford …’ The Wiston Archives, West Sussex Record Office, reference Wiston Mss 1324,

[7] ‘Assignment by William [1st] Baron Craven …’, The Wiston Archives, West Sussex Record Office, reference Wiston Mss 1325,

[8] ‘Lunsford, Sir Thomas’: https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/17197.

[9] ‘Thomas Lunsford/Katherin Nevill’, Ancestry, https://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=9852&h=21367929&tid=&pid=&queryId=2061aeb9a099a2d9af09b0fa2e25978d&usePUB=true&_phsrc=Bdu1&_phstart=successSource.

[10] ‘Thomas Lunsford. Abt 1610 – 1653’, An Owen(s) Odyssey, https://theowensodyssey.com/getperson.php?personID=P7747&tree=tree1 ; ‘Mary Lunsford. 1647 -’, An Owen(s) Odyssey, https://theowensodyssey.com/getperson.php?personID=P7753&tree=tree1.

[11] ‘Katherine Neville.  – 1649’, An Owen(s) Odyssey, https://theowensodyssey.com/getperson.php?personID=P7757&tree=tree1.

[12] ‘Mary Lunsford 1647 -: Court hearing about three Thomas Lunsford children’, An Owen(s) Odyssey, https://theowensodyssey.com/getperson.php?personID=P7753&tree=tree1.

[13] ‘Mary Lendfford/Thomas Collyer, 1667’, Family Search, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NK12-72P.

[14] ‘Addenda: 1674-9’, in F H Blackburne Daniell (ed.),Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1678 With Addenda, 1674-9 (1913), pp. 603-614. British History Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/addenda/1674-9/pp603-614.

[15] Information provided by The Brewers’ Company, https://www.brewershall.co.uk.

[16] ‘Thomas Collier, 1667’, Family Search, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:J7MQ-WSW.

[17] ‘Richard Collyer, 1669’ Ancestry, https://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=9841&h=122549493&tid=&pid=&queryId=8e09d4a99fcdad5e120a765b7e0680c5&usePUB=true&_phsrc=aPe11&_phstart=successSource.

[18] ‘John Collier, 1671’, Ancestry, https://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=9841&h=144740346&tid=&pid=&queryId=d766b671b913ea75b28fabe5d9c9a23a&usePUB=true&_phsrc=aPe16&_phstart=successSource.

[19] ‘Lunsford Collyer, 1673’, Ancestry, https://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=9841&h=57371555&tid=&pid=&queryId=d1da5297a05dd4b738666f8e21b8e302&usePUB=true&_phsrc=aPe17&_phstart=successSource.

[20] ‘Hearth Tax: Middlesex 1666, St Andrew Holborn , Shoe Lane’, in London Hearth Tax: City of London and Middlesex, 1666 (2011), British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/london-hearth-tax/london-mddx/1666/st-andrew-holborn-shoe-lane.

[21] ‘Stillingfleet, Edward (1635-1699), bishop of Worcester and theologian’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ( 2004), https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-26526?rskey=RqF8s9&result=3.

[22] ‘History Archives’ Charterhouse, https://www.charterhouse.org.uk/about-us/history-archives.

[23] G. E. Aylmer, The Crown’s Servants: Government and Civil Service under Charles II, 1660-1685 (2002), p.15.

[24] ‘Williamson, Sir Joseph (1633-1701), government official’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ((2004), https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-29571?rskey=kFBB9X&result=2.

[25] Robert Latham and William Matthews (eds.): The Diary of Samuel Pepys Vol. IV: 6 February 1663 (1971), p. 35; The Diary of Samuel Pepys Vol. VIII: 30 November 1667 (1974), p. 556.

[26] ‘History of the School’, Christ’s Hospital A School Like No Other, https://www.christs-hospital.org.uk/about-christs-hospital/history-of-the-school/.

[27] ‘Whitfield Family Tree: Thomas Collier, 1667-1760’, Ancestry, https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/102132495/person/410081850643/facts.

[28] For an exploration of the role of clerks in preparing petitions in Charles II’s reign: Faramerz Dabhoiwala, ‘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), pp. 127-148.

[29] ‘Charles II: January 1679’, in F H Blackburne Daniell (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1679-80 (1915), pp. 1-63. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/1679-80/pp1-63.

[30] ‘Sutton’s Hospital, Charterhouse: Pensioners’ and Scholars’ Records: Registers: Register of scholars admitted and those subsequently elected to university or apprenticed’, London Metropolitan Archives, reference: ACC/1876/PS/01/006, https://search.lma.gov.uk/LMA_DOC/ACC_1876.PDF.

This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reign of Charles II, 1660-1685’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.