Wentworth, Peter (1530?-1596) (DNB00)


WENTWORTH, PETER (1530?–1596), parliamentary leader, born about 1530, was descended from the Wentworths of Nettlestead, Suffolk [see under Wentworth, Thomas, first Baron Nettlestead]. His father, Sir Nicholas Wentworth (d. 1557), held the office of chief porter of Calais. He is variously styled chief porter, master porter, or knight porter. He was knighted by Henry VIII at the siege of Boulogne, 1544, and died in 1557. He married the sister of Sir Thomas Josselyn, K.B., and lived at Lillingstone Lovell, then a detached bit of Oxfordshire surrounded by Buckinghamshire. Lady Wentworth survived to live with her younger son, Paul Wentworth [q. v.], at Burnham Abbey, and was buried in Burnham church.

Sir Nicholas's eldest son, Peter Wentworth, succeeded to Lillingstone Lovell, Buckinghamshire, which Sir Nicholas had held only for eleven years (by exchange with the king for lands in Northamptonshire). His first wife was Letitia, daughter of Sir Ralph Lane of Horton, by Maud Parr, first cousin of Queen Katherine Parr. But long before his father's death Peter had married his second wife, Elizabeth, sister of Sir Francis Walsingham [q. v.], and aunt by marriage to Sir Philip Sidney [q. v.] and to Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex [q. v.]

In 1571 Wentworth was returned to parliament for Barnstaple. He continued to sit in the House of Commons for twenty-two years, through six parliaments, representing successively Barnstaple, Tregony, and Northampton. He was certainly over forty when first elected to the house in 1571. On 20 April, on the first reading of a ‘bill for fugitives or such as were fled beyond the sea without licence,’ he attacked Sir Humphrey Gilbert [q. v.] for a speech delivered on 14 April deprecating interference by the house with the prerogative. ‘He noted’ Gilbert's ‘disposition to flatter and fawn upon the prince,’ comparing him to ‘the chameleon which can change himself into all colours saving white; even so … this reporter can change himself into all fashions but honesty.’ He declared that Gilbert's speech was an injury to the house, that it tended to no other end than to ‘inculcate fear into those who should be free,’ and ‘requested care for the credit of the house, and for the maintenance of free speech, to preserve the liberties of the house, and to reprove liars—inveighing greatly out of the scriptures and otherwise against liars.’

Wentworth was a member of a committee on a bill by which several of the Thirty-nine articles were rejected, and on 25 April six members were appointed to attend the archbishop of Canterbury for answer touching matters of religion (D'Ewes; Strype, Annals). ‘The said Mr. Wentworth (a man of hot temper and impatient for the new discipline) was one of them, and undertook to talk to the archbishop in behalf of their book that they had drawn. The archbishop asked “why they did put out of their book … the article of the homilies, and that for the consecration of bishops, and some others?” And when Wentworth had answered, “Because they were so occupied in other matters that they had no time to examine them how they agreed with the word of God,” the archbishop replied, “Surely you mistake the matter. You will refer yourself wholly to us therein,” to which the hot gentleman presently made answer, “Know, by the faith I bear to God, we will pass nothing before we understand what it is. For that were to make you popes; make you popes who list, for we will make you none.”’ (In his Life of Parker Strype misdates this interview 1572, but gives it correctly in his Annals, and is confirmed by Wentworth's own reference to it in his speech on 8 Feb. 1575–6.) Strype further says that the queen declared that she disliked Wentworth as much as she did his book or bill.

Consequently the queen on 1 May following sent a message to the house that she could not allow parliament to take in hand the affairs of the church, but, in spite of the message, parliament proceeded with three ecclesiastical bills. The consequence was a dissolution, and a solemn condemnation by the queen of the arrogance of members who meddled with matters outside their sphere.

During the brief session of 1572 Wentworth was engaged on business in which he and the queen, though they did not agree, did not differ so greatly as about the church. He was a member of the commons' committee on the case of the Queen of Scots, and was present on 12 May at the conference of committees of the two houses.

Parliament, after three and a half years' interval, met again on 8 Feb. 1575–6. In order to prevent a puritan majority, many almost extinct boroughs under crown influence, especially in Devonshire and Cornwall, had been revived. Curiously enough, for one of these, Tregony, Wentworth was returned, possibly through the influence of his brother-in-law, Walsingham. But he may have had some property in Cornwall. His brother Paul sat for Liskeard, and Barnstaple, for which Peter had previously sat, lies in the same direction. On the day of the opening of the new parliament (8 Feb.) Wentworth made his memorable speech on behalf of the liberties of the house (Parl. Hist. i. 784; there is also a copy among the manuscripts of Evelyn Philip Shirley—Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. p. 363—it runs to eight and a half pages). Wentworth said of this speech that it was written two or three years before it was delivered. He had, it seemed, revolved this speech, fear often moving him ‘to have it put out,’ lest it should ‘carry him to the place’ whither he was in fact going, namely, to the Tower (D'Ewes). The speech was of a much needed but of a too violent nature, and the house, ‘out of a reverent regard for her majesty's honour, stopped Mr. Wentworth before he had fully finished.’ One of the points of which Wentworth particularly complained was that on 22 May 1572 the queen had informed the house that henceforth no bills concerning religion should be prepared or received unless the same should first be approved by the clergy. Wentworth attributed that ‘doleful message’ to the machinations of the bishops (Strype, Annals). For this speech Wentworth was sequestered by the house, in which the puritans no longer possessed a majority. After debate Wentworth was committed to the serjeant's ward in order that he might be examined by a committee consisting of all the members of the privy council who were members of the house, and others. Wentworth was examined by this committee in the Star-chamber the same afternoon (Cobbett, Parl. History from Harleian MSS.) Next day, 9 Feb. 1575–6, on the suggestion of the committee, it was ordered that Wentworth be committed close prisoner to the Tower, ‘there to remain until such time as this house should have further consideration of him’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, p. 516; the ‘proceedings’ are added after the order; the Harleian MSS. contain other papers by Wentworth on the subject). On 12 March a royal message was brought to the house recommending Wentworth's discharge. The prisoner was then brought to the bar, and, having acknowledged his fault, was received again into the house (D'Ewes).

For the next seven years parliament rarely met, but there was no dissolution till 9 April 1583. On 25 Jan. 1580–1 Wentworth was appointed one of a committee ‘to consult of bills convenient to be framed’ to restrain evil-affected subjects, and to provide that which may be requested for the maintenance of the forces (ib.) Wentworth was not returned to the new parliament of 1584, and did not sit again for Tregony. He re-entered the House of Commons on 26 Dec. 1586 for Northampton, in the neighbourhood of which his father had possessed many manors, and where he probably himself held landed estate.

On 1 March 1586–7, in connection with the proceedings on Cope's ‘bill and book’ [see under Cope, Sir Anthony], Wentworth delivered to the speaker certain articles containing questions relating to the liberties of the house. The speaker asked him not to proceed until the queen's pleasure was known touching the bill and book, ‘but Mr. Wentworth would not be so satisfied but required his articles might be read.’ The speaker replied that he would peruse them. He showed them to Sir Thomas Heneage [q. v.], and in the course of the afternoon Wentworth was sent to the Tower, where, on the next day, he was joined by Cope and three other members.

Two days later Sir John Higham moved to petition the queen for the enlargement of the prisoners. This was opposed by the vice-chamberlain on the ground that the gentlemen had been committed for matter not ‘within the compass of the privilege of the house’—namely, interference with the ecclesiastical prerogative. On 13 March, on a motion by Thomas Cromwell, a committee was appointed to confer with the privy councillors in the house (D'Ewes); but it is not known when Wentworth was released (Strype, Whitgift, i. 488–9).

On 24 Feb., the fifth day after the opening of the session of 1593, Wentworth and Sir Henry Bromley delivered a petition to the lord keeper desiring the lords of the upper house to be suppliants with them of the lower unto her majesty for entailing the succession of the crown. This was deeply resented by the queen; Wentworth and Bromley were called before the council and commanded to forbear parliament and remain at home in their lodgings. Next day, Sunday, 25 Feb., they were called before the lord treasurer, Lord Burghley, Lord Buckhurst, and Heneage, and were told that her majesty was so offended at them that they must be committed. Wentworth was again sent prisoner to the Tower, but how long he remained in durance is again uncertain. On 10 March a motion to request his release was opposed by all the privy councillors in the house, who argued ‘that her majesty had committed them for reasons best known to herself, and that for them to press her majesty in that suit was but to make their case the worse.’ Anthony Bacon, in a letter dated 16 April 1593, says that several members who thought to have returned into the country at the end of the session were stayed by the queen's command for being privy to Wentworth's motion (Birch, i. 96; Hallam, Const. Hist.)

There is no evidence that Wentworth was ever out of prison again before his death. The queen's enmity to him was embittered by his advocacy of the claims of Lord Beauchamp to the succession (cf. Strype, Annals, iv. 332–6; and art. Seymour, Edward, Earl of Hertford). Wentworth was certainly in the Tower on 14 April 1594, and he certainly also died there on 10 Nov. 1596 (see the inquisition taken at Oxford in September 1599, which says ‘at the City of London’). There is no record of his burial in the Tower, but his wife, Elizabeth Wentworth, who, though Walsingham's sister, had shared her husband's imprisonment, died in the Tower, and was buried in the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula on 21 July 1596.

Two years before his death, Peter Wentworth wrote in the Tower his famous book, ‘A Pithie Exhortation to Her Majesty for establishing her Successor to the Crowne; whereunto is added a Discourse containing the Author's Opinion of the true and lawful Successor to her Maiestie. Imprinted 1598,’ 16mo. Two printed copies and a manuscript copy are in the possession of the present writer; two other copies are in the British Museum. A folio copy of the ‘Pithie Exhortation’ is in the Duke of Bedford's library at Woburn (see Index Expurgatorius Anglicanus; Hist. MSS. Comm. 2nd Rep. App. p. 2). These tracts were written in answer to Dolman's treatise advocating the claims of the Infanta Isabella to the succession [see Parsons, Robert, 1546–1610]. They are constitutionally excellent and biblically learned. In the ‘Discourse’ Wentworth says himself of the other tract that the lord treasurer ‘affirmed at the counsell table that he had three severall times perused’ the book and found nothing but what he thought to be true, and stood assured would at last come to pass, as indeed it did by the accession of James I. Several letters from Wentworth to Sir Robert Cecil written during his last imprisonment are at Hatfield with other documents relating to him (Cal. Hatfield MSS. vi. 284, 288, 289, vii. 286, 303, 304, 324).

The heir to the manor of Lillingstone Lovell was Wentworth's eldest son, Nicholas, who married Susanna, daughter and heiress of Roger Wigston, the head of a great puritan family; and from their marriage there sprang Sir Peter Wentworth [q. v.], Lady Vane, and Sybyl, who married Fisher Dilke, second son of Sir Thomas Dilke of Maxstoke Castle.

Of Peter's younger children, Walter was a member of Parliament, Thomas (1568?–1628) is separately noticed, and Paul (who must be carefully distinguished from Paul Wentworth [q. v.]) was of Castle Bythorpe, married Mary Hampden, and is sometimes said to have been author of Wentworth's ‘Orizons.’ Of the daughters, Frances married Walter Strickland [q. v.]

[State Papers, Dom. Elizabeth; Lord Salisbury's MSS. at Hatfield; D'Ewes's Journals; Official Return of Members of Parliament; Acts of the Privy Council, ed. Dasent; Hallam's Constitutional History of England; Froude's Hist. of England; Rutton's Three Branches of the Wentworth Family; authorities cited in the text.]

C. W. D.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.278
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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261 i 7f.e. Wentworth, Peter: for Lillingstone Darell read Lillingstone Lovell