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Sir William Petty (1623–1687) by Isaac Fuller, c. 1649–50 © National Portrait Gallery, London

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Petty, Sir William (1623–1687), natural philosopher and administrator in Ireland, was born at Romsey, Hampshire, on 26 May 1623, the third child of Anthony Petty (1587–1654), clothier, and his wife, Francesca (d. 1663). In later life Petty was keen to stress the obscurity of his origins in order to exaggerate his spectacular success....