Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 16 June 2024

Peter [Peters], Hughfree

(bap. 1598, d. 1660)

Peter [Peters], Hughfree

(bap. 1598, d. 1660)
  • Carla Gardina Pestana

Hugh Peter (bap. 1598, d. 1660)

by unknown engraver, c. 1655

Peter [Peters], Hugh (bap. 1598, d. 1660), Independent minister, was born in Fowey, Cornwall, and baptized there on 11 June 1598, the third child and second son of Thomas Dickwoode or Peter (1571–1625), merchant, and his first wife, Martha Treffry (bap. 1572, d. 1598), daughter of John Treffry of Place and Emblem Tresithney; Thomas Peter (1597–1654/5) was his brother. His father's family, probably originally named Dykeveldt, emigrated from Antwerp about 1543 and at the end of the sixteenth century adopted the name Peter, subsequently often rendered Peters. He matriculated sizar at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1613, graduating BA early in 1618. Two years later he was in London, where he heard a sermon that initiated his conversion. Shortly thereafter he took a post teaching school in Laindon, Essex. He was ordained deacon in London on 23 December 1621, but returned to Cambridge, where he proceeded MA in 1622. Ordained priest on 18 June 1623, he became curate at Rayleigh, Essex, through the patronage of the earl of Warwick; he remained at Rayleigh until 1626. About 1625 he married Elizabeth (née Cooke), widow of Edmund Reade of Wickford, Essex; she was a generation older than himself, with adult children.

London and the Netherlands

In 1626 Peter returned to London, possibly to organize opposition to royal policies, particularly the forced loan, on behalf of Warwick. He was also active in the effort to buy up lay impropriations. He preached regularly at St Sepulchre, Holborn. In November, preaching at a private day in the neighbouring parish of Christ Church, he prayed for the queen to forsake her 'idolatry and superstition' (CSP dom., 1625–49, 175). He was imprisoned, but Warwick posted bail. In August 1627 Peter composed a statement to prove his orthodoxy for the bishop of London, but later that year his licence to preach was suspended. For the next year and a half he moved back and forth between the Low Countries and England. He served briefly as the minister at Amelant, an island off Friesland. He preached at Rayleigh, where the rector and wardens claimed to be ignorant of his suspension. When he prayed for the salvation of the queen at St Sepulchre his audacity landed him in prison for six months without bail. After his release he became proctor at Friesland University under its rector, William Ames. In 1628 Peter subscribed £50 to the precursor to the Massachusetts Bay Company; he attended company meetings as late as May 1629.

After that Peter stayed on the continent, taking a position as chaplain to one of the four English regiments in the army of Frederick Henry, stadholder of the United Provinces, possibly that of Sir Edward Harwood. He published an account of the army's successes, Digitus Dei [1631]. He eventually became pastor of the church at Rotterdam, and in 1633 set out to reform it along congregationalist lines. He introduced a church covenant and made subscription to it a condition of continued membership. The covenant unchurched a sizeable portion—one opponent alleged two-thirds—of the members. The congregation then proceeded to 'call' Peter as its minister, a ceremony that implied a renunciation of his Anglican ordination, a fact that was duly brought to the attention of the authorities in England. Later that year Ames joined Peter at Rotterdam but died soon after, in November 1633. Ames left his papers to Peter, who saw two works into print. In October 1633 Charles I put the English churches in Holland under the direct supervision of Archbishop William Laud. Henceforth, Peter found his activities increasingly scrutinized and many of his colleagues departing for New England. William Brereton visited Rotterdam in May 1634, describing Peter as 'a right zealous and worthy man'. He further opined that the church, 'formerly intended for a playhouse [was] now converted to a better use to a church' (Travels in Holland, 1844, 6). In 1635 the Merchant Adventurers relocated their court to Rotterdam and commandeered the English church. By agreement with local officials, who had heretofore supported Peter, the church was to conform to the Church of England discipline.

New England

Peter and his wife returned to England in June 1635. The following month he sailed for New England, along with his stepdaughter Elizabeth, her new husband John Winthrop (1606–1676), and Sir Henry Vane. The three men were employed as agents by a group of investors interested in the Connecticut River valley, and for the first year of his sojourn in New England Peter worked on its behalf. He soon became involved in the affairs of the Bay Colony, helping to organize a January meeting to deal with differences between magistrates John Winthrop (1588–1649) and Thomas Dudley. He became a freeman in Massachusetts in March 1636. In July he travelled to Saybrook, on the Connecticut River, but that visit apparently ended his work for the patentees. Peter also worked to improve the region's economy, advocating the development of the fishery and shipbuilding, and persuaded a group to join with him in financing the construction of a ship. He suggested increased co-operation between congregations and a programme to readdress seasonal under-employment of women and children. He served on the colony's committee to develop a law code and as an overseer for Harvard College.

Peter became minister at Salem on 21 December 1636. The previous minister, Roger Williams, had been banished for his controversial views on separatism and other matters. Peter immediately wrote a new church covenant and, as in Rotterdam, required all church members to subscribe. During the same winter the so-called ‘Antinomian controversy’, centring on the religious teachings of Anne Hutchinson, generated considerable contention. At least from the moment he became Salem's minister, Peter took a leading role in the effort to root out the Hutchinsonians. He participated in clerical conferences, met with the general court, and attended both the civil and ecclesiastical trials of Hutchinson. He publicly confronted her and her supporters, including the young governor, Sir Henry Vane. At her church trial he lectured Hutchinson that she knew neither her catechism nor her place. His own congregation was divided at this time. A few of Williams's supporters remained in Salem, and they were joined by a number of Hutchinson's defenders. Peter laboured, in private conferences and eventually in a church trial, to eliminate opposition. His wife, who during his absence from Europe had returned to Rotterdam and been reportedly ill-treated by the church, had joined Peter in Salem in 1637. Williams's supporters questioned her admission to the church on the grounds that she lacked a proper dismissal from the Rotterdam church.

During his sojourn in New England Peter began to experience chronic health problems. His correspondence and that of others mention his debility, which occasionally became acute enough to affect his work. John Endecott, his friend at Salem, wrote that he 'hath bene very ill. But I hope the worst is past, though hee be as sick in his thoughts as ever' (Winthrop Papers, 4.30). Peter reported in September 1640 'that deep melancholy is getting fast upon mee agayne' (ibid., 4.285). Despite his infirmity, however, he was a popular minister, credited with bringing a measure of harmony to the town. On one occasion his romantic entanglements gave rise to controversy. His first wife having died within the previous two months, Peter was in April 1638 accused of misleading Ruth Ames, daughter of his former colleague, about his intentions. Her uncle John Phillips—minister at Dedham, Massachusetts—claimed that Peter had caused her to dismiss a marriage prospect in London. About the same time Peter was negotiating marriage with a widow, Deliverance Sheffield. Letters between Peter and various New England friends about these negotiations indicated that they were strained and that he felt himself committed to the marriage regardless of his own inclinations. How the Ames imbroglio was resolved is not known, but by mid-1639 Peter was married to Sheffield. She was dismissed from Boston and admitted to Salem church in January 1640. The couple's only child, a daughter, was born in October 1640.

Civil war England

In 1641 Peter returned to England as one of three agents of the Massachusetts government. Their assignment was:

to negotiate for us, as occasion should be offered, both in furthering the work of reformation of the churches there which was now like to be attempted, and to satisfy our countrymen of the true cause our engagements there have not been satisfied this year.

Journal of John Winthrop, 346

Salem church was dismayed by the prospect of Peter's going, but relented under pressure from the general court. His wife and child remained behind in New England, where his absence was widely lamented.

Peter's work for the colony included raising £500, sent in 'Useful commodities for the country' (Journal of John Winthrop, 402). He also raised money to send poor children to New England. These funds became the subject of controversy, and it seems clear that some was misspent. Peter compiled and composed the introduction for a defence of the New England church way, Church-Government and Church-Covenant Discussed (1643), which appeared just as the Westminster assembly convened. Overlooking the Massachusetts agents, leaders in parliament wrote to New England to ask that John Cotton, Thomas Hooker, and John Davenport attend, but, partly on the advice of Peter, they declined. Peter was featured in a satirical pamphlet, purporting to be written by William Laud, in which the archbishop pleaded that he 'not be transported beyond the seas into New England with Master Peters' (Copy of the Petition, 1643). The satire appeared shortly after Laud heard apparently unfounded rumours of 'a plot laid by Peters, Wel[d], and others' that he be sent to New England (The Works of … William Laud, ed. J. Bliss and W. Scott, 7 vols., 1847–60, 3.251).

Resuming the role he had held in the United Provinces as chaplain, Peter served from May to September 1642 with the naval forces under Lord Forbes sent to reduce Ireland. He wrote an up-beat account of that unsuccessful campaign, A True Relation of the Passages of God's Providence (1642). In it he suggested that Ireland be reduced through the use of physical force as well as the civilizing force of a godly protestant ministry. Upon Peter's return to England, he took the lead in a petition against peace overtures and accommodation on religious issues. He emerged as an advocate of co-operation among the godly and embraced toleration in pursuit of shared goals. A zealous advocate of the Independent cause, he became a target of the more conservative presbyterians. He occasionally traded insults with them. He attended Laud's trial. Enraged over Laud's claim to have converted many, Peter accosted him, and Laud believed that only the intervention of the earl of Essex prevented Peter from laying hands on him. Later Peter preached against Laud at Lambeth, singling out his claim for ridicule. By this time his wife had joined him in England. She was suffering from some sort of mental problem, and her 'distraction' had led to her excommunication from the Salem church, which Peter judged to be uncharitable.

Peter emerged as a major promoter of parliament's cause, combining his inspiring preaching, his gift for practical organization, and his vision of a reformed England. Important parliamentarian military leaders—especially Sir Thomas Fairfax and Cromwell—relied upon him for counsel and to promote their activities. S. R. Gardiner wrote of him:

It is easy to imagine how he could chat and jest with the soldiers, and yet could seize an opportunity to slip in a word on higher matters. His influence must have been such as Cromwell loved—an influence which in every word and action made for concord.

Gardiner, Great Civil War, 2.326

Considered a conciliator by his friends, he was also an accomplished polemicist who made many enemies among those he opposed. Peter was present at various military campaigns: the expedition to Lyme (May 1644), Bridgwater (July 1645), Bristol (August, although he left before the main attack), Winchester Castle (October), and Dartmouth (January 1646). He was at Fowey when the remnant of Essex's army under Major-General Philip Skippon surrendered in September 1644 and back in his native Cornwall in 1646 when parliament subdued it. He saw Oxford capitulate in June 1646 and Worcester in July. He repeatedly hurried to Westminster to deliver reports of the army's doings—often to announce victories and request more aid. Warwick sent him from Lyme in June 1644, and he conveyed money back to the army. When Bridgwater was taken and Prince Charles's papers captured, Peter carried the news. He brought word of the surrender of Winchester Castle on 7 October 1645. A week later he returned to report the storming of Basing House (where he reportedly tarried long enough to harangue the aged marquess of Winchester, whom he tried to argue out of his royalism). The following January he brought news of victory at Dartmouth, and in March he announced Sir Ralph Hopton's surrender in Cornwall. His reports were often published. At the close of the war, in The Last Report of the English Wars (1646), he warned: 'This is the misery of England whilst others are beaten into slavery, they are apt to be complemented into it' (p. 9).

Peter also rallied support through his preaching. Exhortations delivered in his capacity as a chaplain were described as extremely effective at pivotal moments. He was frequently dispatched to win support in crucial areas. In July 1643 he raised support for parliament in Kent and Sussex. Somerset clubmen heard him preach in August 1645, and Peter claimed to have won many recruits for Fairfax's forces at the siege of Bristol. He temporarily left the army to travel around the home counties to garner support for parliament's war effort later that month. In September his preaching in the market of Torrington reportedly 'convinced many of their Errors in adhering to the King's Party' (Whitelocke, 194). He preached of the royalist intention to invade Cornwall with Irish papists, thereby turning the people against the king. In addition to these recurrent efforts, Peter received special assignments. In September 1643 he went to the Netherlands to raise money for protestants in Ireland and for parliament. The efforts yielded £30,000. There he also collected information on royalists' efforts to organize support. He was appointed in March 1645 to seek out delinquents' estates. In 1646 Peter negotiated terms with leading royalists in his native Cornwall, dissuading them from coming into the war against parliament. That November he readied regiments to send to Ireland. He occasionally ministered to men condemned by the state. He acted as chaplain at the execution of Richard Challoner in July 1643 and through the condemned man's confession gathered evidence against his accomplices. In January 1644 Peter attended Sir John Hotham, receiving his thanks on the scaffold.

All of these efforts were rewarded. The house voted Peter an occasional monetary payment for his services. In March 1644, after he returned from the Netherlands, he received £100 and some of Laud's books. In 1646 £200 a year from the earl of Worcester's estate was settled on him. Other gifts were reported in the press, and Peter was derided for enriching himself through the suffering of others. He denied these charges in 1660, stating 'By the War, I never enriched my self, I have often offer'd my personal Estate for £200 and for Lands, I never had any but that part of a Noble mans, which I never laid up peny of' (Case of Mr. Hugh Peters, 5). Parliament also rewarded him with opportunities to preach before it. He delivered his best-known sermon, God's Doings and Mans Duty (1646), at a thanksgiving for the conquest of the west.

That autumn, the war over, Peter considered returning to New England—a move he often discussed. He sent his wife ahead in September but never followed her. He participated in the campaign against presbyterians in London, including drawing up a petition that received 20,000 signatures. Together with 'his London friends', he was frequently blamed for the radicalization of the army in this period (Gentles, 141). That winter Peter again experienced debilitating illness, but by late spring 1647 he was much improved. He then championed the Independents and the army, whereas earlier he had worked for co-operation among Charles's foes. John Lilburne characterized Peter as 'the grand Journey or Hackney-man of the Army' (Clarke Papers, 2.259). With Cromwell he fled London for the army in June 1647. Some accounts state that on that journey he worked on Cromwell to support the demand to bring the king to justice. When the king fell into the army's hands Peter had several conversations with him in Newmarket (June 1647), and Charles was reported to have said 'that he had often heard talk of him, but did not believe he had that solidity in him he found by his discourse' (A Conference betwixt the Kings most Excellent Majesty, and Mr. Peters, 1647). The king, however, declined to hear Peter preach. That October Peter defended the army's refusal to disband and put forward his own proposals for reform in A Word for the Army and Two Words to the Kingdom (1647). Later that month he attended the Putney debates, speaking only briefly.

In the short but sharp second war, Peter resumed his former duties. He was with Cromwell at the siege of Pembroke Castle. After the castle finally surrendered, Cromwell and Peter went to Preston. Subsequently Peter joined in the pursuit of the duke of Hamilton. His news report exaggerated his own role in the duke's surrender, and in New England the tale was further embellished so that it was rumoured that Peter alone had captured him.

Peter's role in the king's death

Peter was extremely active in the months between the war's end and the king's execution. He preached to fortify the army before it marched on London for Pride's Purge. In the aftermath of the purge, Peter carried a list of the forty-one imprisoned members to Fairfax, then brought back word that two were to be freed. He gave one long speech at the Whitehall debates, in which he argued for involving the people in discussions of liberty of conscience and favourably cited the Dutch example of toleration. Ian Gentles describes Peter, in the weeks before the king's trial, dashing frenetically between various parties, working with Ireton and Cromwell to confound those opposed to regicide. He was one of only two ministers (John Goodwin being the other) publicly to support the army after its invasion of London. On the day before the execution he preached a 'grisly' sermon on Isaiah 14: 19–20 (Gentles, 309). As in other periods of intense activity, Peter fell ill. He missed the king's execution, sick in his lodgings. His absence led to rumours that he was the masked executioner. His prominent place in these events—both real and rumoured—contributed much to his fate at the Restoration. Lilburne accused him of recognizing no law but the sword, but Gardiner declared the charge clearly untrue (Gardiner, Commonwealth and Protectorate, 1.50). When, in the aftermath of the regicide, the duke of Hamilton was to be executed for his support of the king (March 1649), he publicly embraced Peter and bid him farewell.

Interregnum activities

For some years after the regicide Peter remained active in public affairs. He advocated naval expansion before the new committee for the navy. He was temporarily given charge of the confiscated royal property at St James's Palace, a responsibility that led him to be blamed later for its dispersal. He quelled a mutiny in the navy at Sandwich in one powerful sermon, preached on 24 April 1649. A parody of the sermon was published as A Most Pithy Exhortation Delivered in Eloquent Oration to the Watry Generation (1649). The effort seems to have exhausted him once more, and he became ill. Upon his recovery he gained an interview with Lilburne, now in the Tower, accusing him of fomenting mutiny. Their conversation provided the basis for a number of Lilburne's pamphlets, attacking Peter and his circle. As those who had once supported parliament began fighting among themselves, Peter became an object of attack by his erstwhile allies. As with earlier royalist parody, much of these were sexual in nature. His wife having returned to England in ill health again that spring, the opposition press ridiculed her mental instability as well as his own.

Despite these attacks, Peter continued to receive major responsibilities. He managed the transport of a large contingent of men and troops intended to follow Cromwell's forces into Ireland. He again posted reports of the war. Cromwell commissioned him colonel, possibly to facilitate his provisioning efforts. Illness cut short his stint in Ireland, however, and he returned to Milford Haven, where parliament dispatched a physician to attend him. Dr William Yonge later testified against Peter and published an opprobrious biography, England's Shame, or, The Unmasking of a Politick Atheist (1663). Peter claimed that Yonge's animosity arose when he received no advancement through Peter's connections. After his recovery Peter became governor of Milford Haven, from whence he continued to supply the Irish expedition and worked to persuade the Welsh to subscribe to the engagement. Having long thought the Welsh border counties ripe for the gospel, as is evident in Mr. Peters Last Report (1646), he worked closely with the commissioners for the propagation of the gospel in Wales.

Peter returned to London from Wales in September 1650, just after the battle of Dunbar. Before the end of the year he was appointed chaplain to the council of state, with lodgings in Whitehall and a salary of £200 a year. His wide-ranging plans for social reform received a hearing, as he was closest of the would-be reformers to the seat of power. He sat on Mathew Hale's legal reform committee in 1651. Bulstrode Whitelocke said of this effort that 'none was more forward or lyable to mistakes then Mr Hugh Peters' (Diary, 1990, 274). He continued to advance his reform agenda, as he had in the 1640s, by publishing pamphlets, including Good Work for a Good Magistrate (1651). He hurried up to Worcester after Cromwell's victory and preached to the soldiers. Colonist William Coddington visited Peter in 1651, and reported: 'I was mery with him and called him, the Arch BB: [Archbishop] of Canterberye, in regard of his adtendance by ministers and gentelmen and it passed very well' (Winthrop Papers, 6.173). Roger Williams noted that Peter had lodgings that had formerly belonged to Laud, along with his portion of Laud's books. Peter used his connections to find positions for his acquaintances, especially young New England men who came seeking their fortunes in the new republic. Although named an overseer of the Corporation for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England, he did not support efforts to convert Native Americans. Long an advocate of the Dutch model, which along with New England served as his major source of reform ideas, Peter abhorred the Anglo-Dutch War. When he tried to persuade Sir George Ayscue not to participate, Ayscue turned him in. Peter fell into disfavour briefly, although Cromwell intervened on his behalf.

Peter appears then to have sided with the army, which had become openly critical of the republican government. When the Barebone's Parliament convened Peter was restored to his former influence. He worked to bring the war to an end, intervening to smooth the peace negotiations. In the autumn of 1653 he was among those appointed to prepare Whitelocke's embassy to Sweden. He not only prayed over the departing retinue, but also sent along gifts of a cheese and an English mastiff to Queen Kristina. Whitelocke thought the gesture inappropriate but when the queen learned of it, she scolded Whitelocke for withholding her goods.

Although Peter had good relations with Cromwell personally, he apparently felt misgivings about the turn away from a republic to protectorate. Yet he served the protector faithfully, continuing as chaplain to the council of state. Under Cromwell, Peter served as one of thirty-eight ‘triers’ responsible to oversee the English ministry. Still, the later 1650s saw Peter less often in the centre of public affairs, perhaps owing to his ill health. He may have fallen again into disfavour. His correspondence with the Netherlands was suspected as the source of a leak of confidential information. Cromwell apparently reprimanded him for meddling in naval affairs in 1656, and his duties may have been limited to council chaplain after that. In 1658 he was called out of this semi-retirement to smooth over tensions between French and English forces at Dunkirk, which he performed with his previous energy and ability. Shortly thereafter, at Cromwell's funeral, Peter preached on the text Joshua 1: 2, 'Moses my servant is dead'. He served as a chaplain at army meetings plotting to bring down Richard Cromwell and reinstitute the republic, but later claimed not to have understood the intention. He published an open letter to the officers of the army, attempting to save the protectorate, but to no avail. Unsurprisingly, he was not active in public affairs after its fall. He was reviled in the press as an associate of Cromwell.

His death and the fate of his family

When George Monck approached London, Peter went to join him. Although he preached before Monck, the general did nothing to promote or protect Peter, and he was turned out of his chambers at Whitehall. Then or shortly thereafter he retired to Southwark, where an obscure family sheltered him. Although technically not a regicide, Peter was exempt from royal pardon and was listed by parliament for revenge to be exacted for his prominent if largely unofficial role. His arrest was ordered on 7 June 1660, and he was caught on 31 August, reportedly betrayed by his servant. His daughter, by then aged twenty, visited him daily in prison. A committee also visited him to investigate what had become of the contents of St James's Palace. In a petition to the House of Lords Peter argued that due to the illness that kept him away from the execution he had had no hand in the king's death. While in prison, he wrote perhaps his best work, A Dying Fathers Last Legacy to an Onely Child (1660). It includes an autobiographical statement and denies the charge of sedition. 'Sedition is the heating of mans minds against the present Authority, in that I never was, yet sorry, Authority should have had any thoughts of me, or know so inconsiderable a creature as myself' (p. 111). At his trial on October 12 he responded angrily to Yonge's testimony. He averred that he had been guided by his concern for 'sound Religion … Learning and Laws … and that the poor might be cared for' (Stephen, 1.155). He was duly sentenced to a traitor's death. On 16 October he was made to watch the execution of his friend, John Cooke, before meeting his own death with dignity. His head was placed on London Bridge. The news weeklies averred 'there never was a person suffered death so unpitied and (which is more) whose Execution was the delight of the people' than he (Stearns, The Strenuous Puritan, 418). He was reviled in the press, and the tradition of depicting him as a buffoon was given a boost by the publication of Tales and Jests of Hugh Peters (1660).

Peter's wife, who lived apart from him in England for some years before his death, was in 1677 living on the charity of George Cokayne's Independent church in London. Their daughter remained in England and in 1665 married Robert Barker; eventually they lived in Deptford and had eight children. Peter's estate in England was confiscated, but not that in New England. Later, the royal official Edmund Randolph, while damning the Massachusetts government for its association with Peter, tried to acquire Peter's estate, arguing that he had forfeited it by his treason. Elizabeth eventually won a suit for a Marblehead farm she claimed as the inheritance from her father.

Views of Hugh Peter

Opinion about Hugh Peter was sharply divided from his own day at least through to the mid-nineteenth century. His contemporaries among royalists and religious conservatives roundly hated him. Thomas Edwards dubbed him 'Vicar Generall and Metropolitane of the Independents both in New and Old England' (Second Part of Gangraena, 1646, 61). His most recent modern biographer, Raymond Phineas Stearns, asserted that, except for C. H. Firth's Dictionary of National Biography entry on Peter, all accounts followed either the hagiographic tradition of Peter's own A Dying Fathers Last Legacy or the unfounded attacks of William Yonge's Englands Shame (1663). This overstates the case somewhat, although there has been a tendency to champion or revile Peter depending on one's political leanings. In nineteenth-century New England, defending Hugh Peter became a point of honour. The editor of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register fulminated:

Mr. Peters perished by the hand of the mercenary murderer, but his memory should be safe in the hands of a faithful historian of New England … The cause of Peters was the cause of New England and he perished for doing more than many others had courage to do.

8, 1854, 85–6

Many modern scholars have attempted to come to terms with this charismatic, practical, and naïve man. To Gardiner he was the 'prince of army chaplains', almost capable of 'real, if somewhat incoherent, eloquence' and 'entirely without fear of giving offence to any of his hearers' (Gardiner, Great Civil War, 3.84). Bernard Bailyn characterized him as 'that ambitious, worldly cleric whose fascination with the things of Caesar was to cost him his head' (New England Merchant, 1955, 76), Austin Woolrych called him 'voluble and self-important' (Commonwealth to Protectorate, 1982, 119), and C. V. Wedgwood described him as an 'eloquent, resolute, bustling little man' (King's War, 1958, 111). Unlike many fellow ministers, Peter was no intellectual. He cared little for doctrine or theology. His tendency toward melancholy suits the stereotypical ‘puritan’ temperament, and his theology was no doubt central to his personal psychology. But in his public life religion seems to have mattered most as a guide to social and political action. He expected religious reformation to yield concrete results, and he supported causes from suppression of the Hutchinsonians to civil war and regicide because such position seemed conducive to the change he sought. He spoke especially to the common person, so that his preaching was highly effective in rallying soldiers or turning the mood of a crowd. This same common appeal no doubt earned his reputation for buffoonery. His flair for the dramatic and his willingness to take the lead at controversial moments thrust him into the centre of things in the 1640s. These tendencies, his mastery of the barbed insult slung at his foe, and his close association with the reviled Cromwell ensured his place on the scaffold in 1660.


  • R. P. Stearns, The strenuous puritan: Hugh Peter, 1598–1660 (1954)
  • J. M. Patrick, ‘Hugh Peters, a study in puritanism’, University of Buffalo Studies, 17 (March 1946), 137–207
  • I. Gentles, The New Model Army in England, Ireland, and Scotland, 1645–1653 (1992)
  • The Winthrop papers, ed. W. C. Ford and others, 4–6 (1944–92)
  • R. Brenner, Merchants and revolution: commercial change, political conflict, and London's overseas traders, 1550–1653 (1993)
  • The journal of John Winthrop, 1630–1649, ed. R. S. Dunn, J. Savage, and L. Yeandle (1996)
  • A. Laurence, Parliamentary army chaplains, 1642–1651, Royal Historical Society Studies in History, 59 (1990)
  • Case of Mr. Hugh Peters [1660]
  • S. R. Gardiner, History of the great civil war, 1642–1649, new edn, 4 vols. (1893)
  • S. R. Gardiner, History of the Commonwealth and protectorate, 1649–1656, 4 vols. (1894–1903)
  • B. Whitelocke, Memorials of the English affairs, new edn (1732)
  • H. L. Stephen, ed., State trials: political and social, 2 vols. (1899)
  • The Clarke papers, ed. C. H. Firth [new edn], 2 vols. in 1 (1992)
  • P. M. Zall, ed., ‘A nest of ninnies’ and other English jestbooks of the seventeenth century (1970), 187–8
  • S. E. Morison, ‘Sir Charles Firth and Master Hugh Peter: with a Hugh Peter bibliography’, Harvard Graduates' Magazine, 39 (Dec 1930), 120–40 [partial bibliography]
  • A. Rideout, The Treffry family (1984), 57–8



  • oils, 1650, priv. coll.
  • line engraving, 1655, NPG [see illus.]
  • print, 1655, repro. in Gentles, New model army
  • oils, 1658, Queens' College, Cambridge
  • etching, 1660, NPG
  • pen-and-ink drawing, 1660, NPG
  • attrib. P. Lely, oils, Courtauld Inst.
  • B. Moula, Indian ink drawing, Bodl. Oxf.
  • caricatures, repro. in Stearns, Strenuous puritan
  • engraving, BM
  • line engraving, BM, NPG; repro. in H. Peters, Don Pedro de Quixot (1660)
  • line engraving, NPG; repro. in H. Peters, A dying fathers last legacy (1660)
  • oils
  • print, facsimile, BM, NPG; repro. in W. Yonge, Englands shame ... the life and death of ... Hugh Peters (1663)

Wealth at Death

lost all as a result of traitor's death: Stearns, Strenuous puritan

Page of
British Library, London
Page of
Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston
Page of
G. C. Boase & W. P. Courtney, , 3 vols. (1874–82)
Page of
Courtauld Institute of Art, London
Page of
J. Venn & J. A. Venn, , 2 pts in 10 vols. (1922–54); repr. in 2 vols. (1974–8)
Page of
British Museum, London
Page of
National Portrait Gallery, London
Page of
, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)
Page of
Bodleian Library, Oxford
Page of
private collection