1680, William Challoner hopes that the Lord Mayor of London may correct his petition so that it can be presented to the king

Transcription from ‘Petitions in the State Papers: 1680s’, in Petitions in the State Papers, 1600-1699, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, William Challoner, freeman of the City of London and Bristol. SP 29/414 f. 75 (1680).

To the right honourable the Lord Mayor of the Citty of London

The humble peticion of William Challoner freeman of the Citty of London and Bristoll and of the Drapers Company and kinsman to Sir Thomas Challoner tutor to Prince Henry who was a famous and pious prince

Humbly sheweth

That your peticioner having a peticion to bee delivered to the Kings most excellent majestie humbly desires that it may be presented by your honours hands when you have veiwed it and corrected it that it may bee accepted by his majestie wherein containes fower things, if either of them bee hearkened unto may overthrow all anti= Christian and Popish plotts, and restore truth and peace unto the nation, by turning the heart of the King to his subjects and the subjects to the King as Saint John is said its prophecied he should doe 1 Luke. To the end that these things may be effectually it must bee done in a loving and tender way which Christs kingdome is much advanced by, in the same way that will convert and bring home the Jews to Christ.

Your petitioner therefore humbly prays the premisses only considered, hee may have authority and command from your honour to choose twelve godly men, ministers and others to discourse before your honour in Drapers Hall with twelve Jewes that you may heare what will bee propounded on our saviours behalfe for the bringing in of them and all others that doe not confesse Christ, and compose all differences amongst dissenting Christians, and bring them all to bee of one mind

Praying for your honours felicitie here and happines hereafter

Report by Sarah Harris

In his petition, William Challoner described himself as a freeman of the cities of London and Bristol and the Drapers’ Company and kinsman to Sir Thomas Challoner, tutor to Prince Henry. He explained that he had a petition for the King which he wished the Lord Mayor to deliver in person, after he had ‘viewed and corrected it’.

He referred then to the need to overthrow ‘anti-Christian and Popish plots’ and to restore truth and peace to the nation by ‘turning the heart of the King to his subjects and the subjects to the King’. To this end, he advocated action to ‘convert and bring home the Jews to Christ’. He asked the Mayor to authorise him to choose ‘twelve godly men, ministers and others’, together with twelve Jews ‘to discourse before your honour’. By this means the Mayor might hear how to convert the Jews and all others ‘who do not confess Christ’, and to resolve all differences between dissenting Christians, so they are ‘of one mind’. Challoner asked that this discourse take place in the Drapers’ Hall.

In his petition to the King, which Challoner referred to and which was presented at the same time, he again described himself as a freeman of London and Bristol and kinsman of Sir Thomas Challoner. He explained that he wished to explain to the King a revelation he had received from God. He asked to be taken into the King’s service until actions had been performed in imitation of Elijah in the Old Testament and John the Baptist in the New. He professed support for the King and his father. He observed that just as the King had been restored to power so would Jesus Christ come to reign.[1]

William Challoner

The references to religious division and conflict in Challoner’s petitions reflect the age in which he was writing, as do his biblical allusions and millenarianism. The Popish Plot, in particular, was an alleged Catholic conspiracy to assassinate Charles II. In time, the plot was shown to be fictitious but at the time of the petitions, England and Scotland were ‘gripped by anti-Catholic hysteria’.[2]

But who was William Challoner? Taking the content of his petitions at face value, one possibility is that he was William Challoner, son of William Challoner, a merchant of Bristol. On 15 May 1629 he was apprenticed to Edward Harvey for eight years. He was made a freeman of the Drapers’ Company on completion of his apprenticeship. From 1638 to 1649 he traded as a silkman at the Bull’s Head in Cheapside.[3] A likely age to enter an apprenticeship in the 17th century was between 14 and 17 years.[4] If our petitioner is this Challoner, he would have been 65 to 68 years old in 1680.

Challoner in his petitions described himself as a ‘kinsman’ (that is a blood relative) of Sir Thomas Challoner, tutor to Prince Henry. He may have been referring to Sir Thomas Chaloner (rather than Challoner) who was an English courtier and Governor of the Courtly College for the household of Prince Henry, eldest son of James I. He was responsible for introducing aluminium manufacturing into England and was MP for St Mawes in 1586 and Lostwithiel in 1604. His third son, Thomas Chaloner, was among the signatories to the death warrant of Charles I.[5]

However, there is no firm evidence to show that the William Challoner of the petitions was the Challoner apprenticed in 1629 or that he was a relative of Sir Thomas Chaloner.

It may be, as an alternative, given some of the wording in the petitions, that Challoner was not the freeman he claimed but rather a religious charlatan.  If this is the case there is another possibility for his identity – that he was the William Chaloner who led a colourful life as a serial confidence trickster and sham plotter.[6]

However, there is no firm evidence to confirm this possibility, either.

Whoever Challoner was, there is no record in the archives of the Drapers’ Company of any debate of the sort he proposed in his submission to the Lord Mayor nor any other record of action taken in response to the petitions.

Jewish communities in England

Jews had been living in England since Roman and Anglo-Saxon times.  When William the Conqueror arrived in 1066, he encouraged Jewish merchants and artisans to move from Northern France to England. Over time they faced increasing persecution. In 1290, Edward I banished them altogether. They had to reach the nearest port by 1 November (All Saints Day), taking all their portable property with them. At this time, Edward sought to seize their property for himself.[7]


Marranos were Spanish and Portuguese Jews living in the Iberian Peninsula, who converted or were forced to convert to Christianity in the Middle Ages, yet continued to practise Judaism in secret. This was known as Crypto-Judaism, whereas the term converso was used for the wider population of Jewish converts to Catholicism, whether or not they still secretly practised Jewish rites.[8]

Settlement in London

In the 1630s, merchants of converso origin began settling in London, attracted by its growing importance in the international economy and protected by the treaty of 1630 with Spain, exempting subjects (including Portuguese to 1640) from laws against recusants. This was the foundation of the modern Jewish community in Britain. Some came from Catholic lands – France, Canaries, Portugal – where Crypto-Judaism was actively persecuted. One such migrant was Antonio Fernandez Carjaval, who fled Rouen in 1632 and acted as a grain contractor for Parliament in the Civil War.

Other merchants came from Protestant areas – Amsterdam and Hamburg – where Jewish settlement was tolerated and former conversos did not have to live as nominal Christians. Their motives for migrating were likely commercial, since they were able to practice their faith openly in Amsterdam and Hamburg. Once in London, they had to live as Roman Catholics and sometimes attend mass at the chapels of French, Portuguese and Venetian ambassadors, though their true faith was an open secret.

Still, they faced hostility. For example, James Howell, a Royalist spy and pamphleteer, wrote in 1654 to a friend in Amsterdam: ‘Touching Judaism, some corners of our city smell as rank of it as yours doth there’. However, Government and religious authorities left the converso community alone, no doubt due to the civil war.[9]

Religious conversion

Millenarianism is a belief advanced by some religious denominations that a Golden Age or Paradise will occur on earth prior to final judgement and future eternal state of the ‘World to Come’. This is a belief that the earthly kingdom of God was at hand. This millenarianism was linked to increased toleration of the Jews in 1640s and 1650s leading up to their official readmission to England. The doctrines of the Roman Catholic church were eliminated, especially those that emphasised the role of the Jews in the death of Jesus.

The Puritans had a negative view of toleration, seeing it as associated with the philosophy of free will and thought. Despite this hostility, a certain flexibility of religious attitude did emerge after the Civil War.

Radical Puritans and Dissenters called for freedom of conscience. The Rump Parliament repealed the recusancy laws in 1650 and freedom of conscience was partly the cause of the New Model Army. Puritans valued conscience over ritual and ceremony.

The toleration of Jews was linked to the hope of converting them to Christianity. In the 1640s some Christians saw the readmission of Jews as hastening the kingdom of Christ. Many millenarians emphasised the chosen role of England in God’s plan. If the Jews were specially favoured by God, the English must listen to their appeals for help.

The readmission of Jews to England finally occurred in 1656, partly due to a wider measure of religious toleration. It was also the result of competition with the Dutch for trade and the desire to attract wealthy merchants of Amsterdam to London so the important trade interest with Spain and her colonies could be transferred to England.

The rabbi Menasseh ben Israel had visited London from Amsterdam in 1655 and a conference was held at Whitehall. Clergymen and merchants were opposed to readmission but were overruled. In 1656, six members of the new Jewish community asked Cromwell for permission to gather to worship and to acquire a burial ground. By December 1656, they had rented a house for use as a synagogue and services began in January 1657. By the end of the decade, 35 Jewish families were established.[10]


[1] ‘Charles II: July 1680’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1679-80, ed. F H Blackburne Daniell (London, 1915), pp. 533-586. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/1679-80/pp533-586.

[2] ‘Popish Plot’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popish_Plot.

[3] P. Boyd, Roll of the Drapers’ Company of London: Collected from the Company’s Records and Other Sources (1934).

[4] P. Wallis, C. Webb and C. Minns, ‘Leaving Home and Entering Service: The Age of Apprenticeship in Early Modern London’, London School of Economics: Working Papers No. 125/09 (2009), p. 1, https://www.lse.ac.uk/Economic-History/Assets/Documents/WorkingPapers/Economic-History/2009/WP125.pdf.

[5] ‘Thomas Chaloner (courtier)’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Chaloner_(courtier).

[6] ‘William Chaloner’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Chaloner;

‘Chaloner, William (d. 1699), coiner and sham plotter’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography(2004), https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-66841?rskey=2WBk3U&result=1.

[7] T. Holmes, ‘Readmission of Jews to Britain in 1656’, BBC: Religions (2011), https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism/history/350.shtml.

[8] ‘Marrano’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marrano.

[9] T. M. Endelman, The Jews of Britain, 1656 to 2000 (2002).

[10] ‘Resettlement of the Jews in England’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resettlement_of_the_Jews_in_England.

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’.