Parkyns, William (DNB00)

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PARKYNS or PERKINS, Sir WILLIAM (1649?–1696), conspirator, the son of William Parkyns, a London merchant, was born in London about 1649. He was admitted of the Inner Temple in 1671, and was called to the bar in 1675. He was knighted at Whitehall on 10 June 1681. He acquired a good practice, and, inheriting considerable wealth from his father, became prominent in the city as a devoted adherent of the court party, an abhorrer at the time of the Exclusion Bill, and, after the revolution, as an inveterate Jacobite; though, in order to retain his lucrative office as one of the six clerks in the court of chancery, he had taken the oath of allegiance to William III. After the death of Queen Mary in 1695 he associated himself with Sir George Barclay [q. v.], Robert Charnock [q. v.] , Captain George Porter, ‘Scum’ Goodman, and others, in their design to kidnap or to assassinate William. Their scheme was communicated to James II early in 1695, but no sanction to proceed in the matter was forthcoming from him, and the plot was necessarily suspended upon William's departure for Flanders in May. It was resumed upon Barclay's landing in England in January 1696 with a commission from James, not only to provoke a Jacobite rising, but to ‘do such other acts of hostility against the Prince of Orange as might be for the royal service.’ Barclay persuaded Parkyns that these words were meant to cover an attack upon the king's person. Parkyns was too gouty to take a very active share in any desperate deed, but he provided horses, saddles, and weapons for accomplices to the number of forty, and was promised a high post in the Jacobite army. Upon the discovery of the plot by Thomas Prendergast [q. v.], active search was made for Parkyns. Nothing was found in his house in Covent Garden, but at his country seat in Warwickshire were revealed arms and accouterments sufficient to equip a troop of cavalry. On 10 March he himself was arrested in the Temple and committed to Newgate. His trial took place on 24 March. The new act for regulating the procedure in cases of high treason came into force on 25 March, and he pleaded hard that he ought to be tried under its provisions. But the counsel for the crown stood on their extreme right, and his request was denied. He defended himself with ability, but the testimony of Captain George Porter [q. v.], who had turned king's evidence, was most explicit, and he was promptly found guilty and condemned to death. Great endeavours were used to induce Parkyns to confess all he knew, and a deputation of nine members of parliament visited him in Newgate for this purpose. He confessed his complicity in the plot, but he would not name the five persons whom he was to send to assist in the assassination; he stated that he had seen James's commission, but refused to give the names of those whom he had nominated to commissions in his regiment. He gave some additional particulars to the bishop of Ely, to whom he also confessed the irregularities of his life, and upon whom his generosity made an impression; but it was held that there was no ground for a petition, and Parkyns was executed on Tower Hill, along with Sir John Friend, on 13 April 1696. At the place of execution three nonjuring clergymen, Jeremy Collier, Cook, and Snatt, appeared on the platform with the criminals; and just previous to the completion of the sentence Collier publicly absolved Parkyns, performing the ceremony with the imposition of hands. Every one was astonished by the boldness of the act, while orthodox persons objected not only to absolution having been granted at all under such circumstances, but to the use of the ceremony of imposition of hands, which was not practised by the church of England. The two archbishops and ten bishops published ‘A Declaration concerning the Irregular and Scandalous Proceedings.’ Cook and Snatt were committed to Newgate; Collier absconded, and published a defence of his conduct. In this he stated that Parkyns had sent for him repeatedly in Newgate, and desired that the absolution of the church might be pronounced the day before his execution. On that day Collier was refused admission to the prison; he had therefore gone to the place of execution and given the absolution there. He denied that Sir William had confessed to him that he was privy to the intended assassination. Parkyns's head was exposed upon Temple Bar. By his wife Susanna, daughter and coheir of Thomas Blackwell of Bushy, Hertfordshire, whom he married at St. Mildred's, Bread Street, on 26 June 1673, Parkyns left a daughter, who is said to have confirmed him in his resolve to compromise none of his associates. His nephew, Captain Matthew Smith [q. v.], was a notorious Jacobite intriguer. Parkyns was the last Englishman who was tried for high treason under the old system of procedure.

[Chester's London Marriage Licenses, 1021; Le Neve's Pedigrees of Knights, p. 351; Commons' Journals, 1 and 2 April 1696; Macaulay's History, chap. xxi.; Lathbury's Hist. of the Nonjurors, p. 168; Burnet's Own Time, iv. 290–307, 336; State Trials, vol. xiii.; State Tracts, iii. 692–3; Evelyn's Diary, 19 April 1696; Calamy's Life, i. 382, 383; Ralph's History, ii. 640; Lettres Historiques, 1696, ix. 550–563; Vernon's Correspondence, ed. G. P. R. James, 1841, p. 2; Macpherson's Original Letters; A Letter to the Three Absolvers … being Reflections on the Papers delivered by Sir John Friend and Sir William Parkyns to the Sheriffs of London, 1696; A Defence of the Absolution given to Sir William Perkins; Wheatley and Cunningham's London, iii. 359; see also articles Porter, George; Charnock, Robert; and Barclay, Sir George.]

T. S.