I’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