Sir John Perrot – illegitimate son of Henry VIII?

johnperrot.jpgI’ve been reading Margaret Irwin’s book about Sir Walter Raleigh entitled The Great Lucifer. It was first published in 1960. One of the first things that made me sit up and take notice was the reference to Sir John Perrot as Elizabeth I’s illegitimate half-brother (p17) which of course has nothing to do with Raleigh but is too good a diversion to miss.


The Perrot family, it turns out, are Welsh and based in Pembrokeshire. Perrot’s mother Mary Berkeley married into the family. She had been a lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon although the evidence is sketchy. There are two slightly different versions of events. In one Mary married Thomas Perrot and it was only when the king came visiting that he noticed Mary. This version is mentioned by Phillipa Jones. In another version, mentioned by the Royal Library of Wales, Perrot was knighted when he married Mary – make of it what you will. In any event John, when he grew up, ultimately got into a squabble with a couple of the Yeomen of the Guard and Henry gave him a promise of preferment but died before he could honour it.


Perrot was educated in St David’s and from there entered the household of the marquis of Winchester. He was a companion to Edward VI who seems to have paid a fair few of Perrot’s debts. Perrot, himself a stout protestant, initially suffered little when Edward’s catholic sister Mary came to the throne but then he was accused of sheltering Protestants in his home in Wales. Mary Tudor sent him to the Fleet prison for harbouring heretics. When he was let out, in itself odd given his strong protestant sympathies, he decided to travel and spent the rest of Mary’s reign in foreign climates.


When Elizabeth ascended the throne he carried a corner of the canopy of state at her coronation. He very swiftly became very important in South Wales and from there he was shipped to Ireland to try to establish the kind of order that Elizabeth might approve of. He was the first president of Munster for two years from 1571 to 1573; he suppressed the rebellion of the nephew of the earl of Desmond – James Fitzmaurice. He did this by hanging approximately eight hundred rebels.  He also made himself very unpopular with Elizabeth’s other representatives and gained a reputation for being rash, combative and rude.


The whole experience, and the suppression of the rebellion was brutal, doesn’t seem to have suited him because he returned home to Wales and busied himself with trying to extend his estates. Elizabeth gave him Carew Castle as a reward for his work in Ireland. In 1574 he became a member of the Council of the Marches of Wales and the following year was charged with stopping piracy in Pembrokeshire. He must have done a good job, although there is a suggestion that far from stamping out piracy he was involved in the whole affair. When Glamorgan and Monmouthshire required similar services to rid themselves of their pirated, as he had done in Ireland, he claimed ill-health and turned the job down. Possibly he was too busy financing piracy in New Foundland’s waters. There were also the law suits and counter accusations of piracy that seem to have been flung back and forth by those in power in Wales. Perrot does not come across as a man who won friends and influenced people.  He certainly seems to have been rather litigious.


In 1579 he was handed five ships and told to stop any Spanish shipping from landing off the west coast of Ireland. Not a lot happened and he managed to ground his ship which caused mirth at Court. It can’t have put him too badly out of face with the queen because she made him lord deputy of Ireland in 1584. He held the post for four years. He didn’t get on particularly well with other members of court, the Irish or even his own neighbours. It was, in short, not a very happy tenure of office but when he came home he was made a member of the Privy Council.


Unfortunately he’d made enemies in Ireland. Principally Adam Loftus, Bishop of Dublin. He also had enemies at home including Sir Christopher Hatton. Perrot had seduced Sir Christopher’s daughter and claimed that the only skills Hatton had was the ability to dance.

The Perrot family had also been marrying the wrong people. In 1583, Thomas, John’s son, married Dorothy Devereux who was the daughter of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex. More importantly she was the step-daughter of Elizabeth’s favourite Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester and the sister of Robert Devereux also to be marked as the queen’s favourite. Politically then it should have been a good match but unfortunately Elizabeth was not terribly amused by the nuptials because a) no one had asked for her opinion on the matter; b) it looked to her as though Perrot was getting a bit above himself and c) it meant that Perrot had conspired with Leicester’s wife Lettice Knollys who also happened to be Elizabeth’s cousin and a woman that the queen absolutely hated.


In March 1591 he was charged with treason. He was accused of having consorted with the Spanish and offered to betray his country in return for being given Wales. Unsurprisingly, he was carted off to the Tower and tried for treason. The letters which purported to show his guilt were found to be forgeries and the forger was duly strung up. Perrot was, unexpectedly to me at any rate, found guilty of treason but died before he could be executed. Historians are of the opinion that he wasn’t guilty of treason but had said some unfortunate things about the queen in the hearing of people who wanted to discredit him. Certainly Perrot was just as surprised. He is said to have exclaimed, “God’s death! Will the Queen suffer her brother to be offered up a sacrifice to the envy of his frisking adversary.” The reference originally came from Naunton’s biography of his grandfather-in-law but the facts don’t necessarily match to what he wrote.  In any event, Sir John Perrot died in the Tower, perhaps at the point when Elizabeth was considering pardoning him. As a consequence there are dark rumours of poison, as mentioned in the Dictionary of National Biography. Whatever the truth Elizabeth returned the attainted estates to Sir John’s son.


So what was Perrot who seems a slightly larger than life character doing in a book about Raleigh? It turns out that Perrot’s son Thomas was once imprisoned to prevent him fighting a duel with Raleigh. As for Sir Walter, he was also sent to the Fleet to consider the error of his ways – something he apparently failed to do as Irwin goes on to list other brawls. And that appears to be the sum total of Perrot’s link with Raleigh.


Sir John Perrot was an interesting aside. He certainly seems to have had Henry VIII’s dodgy temper and apparently he resembled the king physically as well- in which case I’m not sure if the portrait is a very good likeness. Sir John seems to have believed the rumours especially if he really did say what he’s supposed to have said after his trial.


Jones, Philippa. (2011) The Other Tudors: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards. London: New Holland Publishers

Irwin, Margaret. (1960) The Great Lucifer: a portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh. London:Penguin




25 thoughts on “Sir John Perrot – illegitimate son of Henry VIII?

    • Neither had I until I started reading Irwin although I did have the book about Henry’s mistresses and possible other children which I’d dipped into but not read fully. I’ve also visited Carew Castle but in the days before digital cameras and besides which I remember very little about it – possibly a second visit beckons methinks. I just love the footnotes of history.

  1. Thank You for such an interesting article. I totally enjoyed it, as Sir John Perrot is of great interest to me; he is my 13th Great Grandfather.

    • And mine too. Am writing a historical novel about him – not possible to verify all the stories about him, but he remains a constant footnote to the lives of other Elizabeth and like Raleigh.

      • Thanks for asking about the progress of the book! Am on the last chapter, but need to go back and edit…. I’m planning to get it into book form, and to distribute it to anyone interested. Then I’ll see.

      • On the last chapter! Then needs an edit. I plan to get it printed for family and friends (I don’t think it’s a work of great literary merit) but I hope tells the story of a neglected but important figure, especially in Ireland.

      • My book on John Perrot is finished! It’s on Waterstones website, “I Love as I Find” by Margaret Eleanor Hill

    • My dna shows that King Henry xiii WAS MY 12TH Grandfather, through Sir John Perrot, my name is Darnell Eaker Osburn

      • Dear Darnell E. Osburn: Let me Predict that your Haplogroup has to be group I or I-1 out of Viking Heritage as other Tudors are linked. Especially the sons of John Perrot Jr 1590-91 son Robert and I share the same DNA signature throug marker 15 then split as a cousin line of Le Teuton Sutton 950 AD who married sister of my line out of Baldwin II strong arm duke of Flanders. If you google the Sutton line you will find Le Teuton Sutoon near the top and you should match him in all but two or three other locations on Y. You will ofcourse agree with other cousins at those locations, if not then cousins revert back to Sutton, le Teuton when they disagree with each other. Kindly let me know if I am correct. I am : if you care to look further than you have.
        DCR 1948

      • This is fascinating. I am also a direct descendant of John Perrot – 12th GGSon. I didnt realise that DNA could provide this depth of information.

      • I am fascinated to know how your DNA proves this? This is a revelation. I have thought about a DNA test for a long time – perhaps this is more motivation. I am also the 12th GGSon of John Perrot. I live in Australia.

        Regards, Baron W

      • I am working with a few other people as we believe that we are likely descendants from Sir John, but not 100%. Where can I go to check DNA as you have done?

  2. Pingback: Dorothy Devereux – scandal, intrigue and a woman who knew her own mind. | The History Jar

  3. My book about Perrot seems difficult to get via Waterstones. Can be had from me if you ask for my email address.

    • I enjoyed reading your Perrott book but have one comment. On pages 85 and 128 you refer to his daughter Elizabeth from his affair with Elizabeth Hatton, and her marriage to Hugh Butler of Johnston. I believe Hugh was not of the Ormonde family but descended from a cadet of the Butlers of Dunraven Glamorganshire who had acquired Johnston from the Tankards through marriage, Hugh Butler was Sheriff of Pembrokeshire,1599 and died 1604 leaving Elizabeth to then marry in 1605 John Butler of Coedcenlais, a distant cousin and neighbor. Both these branches of Butlers were active in Pembrokeshire affairs and no doubt friends of the Perrotts. In the Civil War the following generation were ardent Royalists.

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