Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parry, William (d.1585)

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945443Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 43 — Parry, William (d.1585)1895Albert Frederick Pollard

PARRY, WILLIAM (d. 1585), conspirator, was the son of Harry ap David, a gentleman of good family of Northop, Flintshire, and his wife Margaret, daughter of Pyrs or Peter Conway, archdeacon of St. Asaph and rector of Northop (Dwnn, Heraldic Visitations, ii. 326; Le Neve, Fasti, i. 84). Harry ap David is stated by his son to have been of the guard to Henry VIII, to have been appointed to attend on the Princess Mary, and to have died about 1566, aged 108, leaving fourteen children by his first wife and sixteen by his second, Parry's mother.

Parry, or William ap Harry, as he was originally called, was early apprenticed to one Fisher of Chester, who ‘had some small knowledge in law.’ At Chester Parry attended a grammar school, but is said to have made frequent attempts to escape from his master. At last he succeeded, and came to London to seek his fortune. A marriage with a Mrs. Powell, widow, and daughter of Sir William Thomas, brought him some means, and he became attached to the household of William Herbert, first earl of Pembroke [q. v.], whom he served until the earl's death in 1570. Parry then entered the queen's service, receiving some small appointment at court, and soon afterwards made a second fortunate marriage with Catherine, widow of Richard Heywood, an officer in the king's bench. By this marriage, in addition to his own lands in Northop, worth 20l. a year, he became possessed of various manors in Lincolnshire and Woolwich, Kent, which his wife made over to him in spite of the entail devolving them upon Heywood's sons; this led to litigation in 1571 (Proceedings of Privy Council, 1571–5, p. 16; Hasted, Kent, ed. 1886, i. 151 n.)

Parry, however, soon squandered his own and his wife's money, and, probably with a view to avoiding his creditors, sought service as a spy abroad. His chief endeavour was to insinuate himself into the secrets of the English catholic exiles, and to report on their plans to Burghley; with this object he visited Rome, Siena, and other places. In 1577 he was again in England, and frequently appealed to Burghley for a salary, stating that he maintained two nephews at Oxford, a brother, and other relatives. In 1579 he fled precipitately without leave, probably again to avoid his creditors. He wrote to Burghley from Paris excusing his conduct, and Burghley still reposed confidence in him; for when his wife's nephew, Anthony Bacon [q. v.], was going abroad, Burghley strongly recommended Parry to him. The Earl of Essex endeavoured to make capital out of the confidence which Burghley thus appeared to place in Parry, and complained to the queen; but Burghley stated his willingness to be responsible if Bacon's loyalty suffered from his intercourse with Parry (Birch, Memoirs, i. 12, 13). About the same time Parry secretly joined the Roman catholic church.

In 1580 Parry again returned to England, and in November, after renewed proceedings by his creditors, he made a personal assault on Hugh Hare, one of the chief of them, in the Temple; the offence was quite unlike a felony, and the indictment was drawn up in the common form for a burglary. Parry was convicted and sentenced to death, in spite of his protest that he could ‘prove that the Recorder spake with the jury, and the foreman did drink’ (Jardine, Criminal Trials, i. 246–76). He received a pardon from the queen, but was subject to further annoyance from Hugh Hare, against whom he petitioned the council on 17 Dec. 1581, stating that he had deserved better of his prince and country than to be thus tormented by a cunning and shameless usurer (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1581–90, p. 33). He found sureties for his debts, one of whom was Sir John Conway [q. v.], a connection of his mother's.

In July 1582 he asked leave to travel for three years, and left the country ‘with doubtful mind as to his return;’ he began to ‘mistrust his advancement in England.’ He still pretended to reveal the secrets of the catholics to Burghley, but in reality was seeking to serve their cause. He began by strenuously urging a policy of conciliation towards them in England, and recommending pardon for some of the more distinguished catholic refugees, like John and Thomas Roper, Sir Thomas Copley [q. v.], and Charles Neville, sixth earl of Westmorland [q. v.], who, through the Conways, seems to have been distantly connected with Parry. But by degrees he became persuaded of the necessity for more violent courses; he fell into the hands of Charles Paget [q. v.] and Thomas Morgan (1543–1606?) [q. v.], and the reading of Cardinal Allen's works seems to have suggested to him the lawfulness of assassinating Elizabeth. He sought approval of his scheme in various quarters, but it seems to have been generally discountenanced. At Milan he ‘justified himself in religion before the inquisitor;’ thence he proceeded to Venice, and back to Lyons and Paris. In Paris he had an interview with Thomas Morgan and Paget, who, according to the later account by Robert Parsons, sent Parry to England without Parsons's knowledge, where he revealed their plans (Letters, &c., of Cardinal Allen, p. 392).

Parry landed at Rye in January 1584, and proceeded at once to court, where he disclosed the existence of a plot to murder the queen and organise an invasion from Scotland to liberate Mary and place her on the throne. On the strength of this revelation he demanded the mastership of St. Catherine's Hospital, near the Tower, but was refused. Meanwhile he received a reply from Cardinal Como to a letter he had addressed to the pope from Milan. He considered it a complete approval of his plan to murder Elizabeth, and it was generally accepted as such when published in England. The letter, however, contains no reference to any definite scheme, and merely expresses general approval of Parry's intentions; its significance entirely depends upon what Parry had informed the pope his intentions were, and that is not known.

Parry still hesitated, and resolved to try the effect of a protest in parliament against the persecution of catholics before proceeding to extreme measures. With this object he was elected, on 11 Nov. 1584, member for Queenborough, Kent. Meanwhile another perusal of Cardinal Allen's book seems to have strengthened his original determination, and he had various conferences with Edmund Neville (1560?–1618) [q. v.], whom he terms his ‘cousin;’ according to their confessions they both plotted treason, but each disclaimed any intention of carrying it out.

Parliament met on 23 Nov., and one of its first acts was to pass a bill ‘against jesuits, seminary priests, and other such-like disobedient persons.’ It met with unanimous approval, but on the third reading, on 17 Dec., Parry rose in his place and denounced it as ‘a measure savouring of treasons, full of blood, danger, and despair to English subjects, and pregnant with fines and forfeitures which would go to enrich not the queen, but private individuals.’ The house was astounded, and Parry was committed to the sergeant-at-arms, placed on his knees at the bar, and required to explain his words. He was carried off in custody and examined by the council. The next day he was released by an order from the queen (D'Ewes, Journal, pp. 340–1).

Six weeks afterwards Neville informed against his fellow-conspirator, stating that he had plotted to murder the queen while she was driving in the park. Parry was arrested on a charge of high treason, and placed in the Tower, whence he wrote a full confession to the queen and sent letters to Burghley and Leicester. On 11 Feb. 1584–5 he was expelled from parliament, and on 18 Feb. his trial began. Probably in the hope of pardon he pleaded guilty, but he subsequently declared his innocence, said that his confession was a tissue of falsehoods, and that Como had never given any countenance to the murder. He was condemned to death, and executed on 2 March in Westminster Palace Yard. On the scaffold he again declared his innocence, and appealed to the queen for a more lenient treatment of her catholic subjects. Special prayers and thanksgivings were ordered to be used in churches for the preservation of the queen after the discovery of Parry's plot (cf. An Order of Praier and Thanksgiving … with a short extract of William Parries Voluntarie Confession written with his owne hand, 1584, 4to).

An account of Parry's execution is among the manuscripts of Lord Calthorpe, vol. xxxi. fol. 190, and on the back of fol. 191 is a poetical epitaph on him (Hist. MSS. Comm. 2nd Rep. App. p. 41). After his death a work, published, probably, at the instance of the government, and entitled ‘A true and plaine Declaration of the Horrible Treasons practised by William Parry,’ charged him with various atrocious crimes quite inconsistent with Burghley's confidence in him. It made depreciatory remarks on his birth and parentage, but little reliance can be placed upon them.

There is some doubt as to Parry's guilt, and it is improbable that he would ever have summoned up sufficient resolution to carry his scheme into effect even if he had been genuine in his intention. ‘Subtle, quick, and of good parts,’ he was extremely weak and vacillating, and his confession and letters convey the suspicion that he was not quite sane. Parry's nephew, according to Strype, had been with him in Rome, and the younger man subsequently served the Duke of Guise and Alexander of Parma; he was executed late in Elizabeth's reign for highway robbery.

[There are numerous letters from Parry to Burghley in Lansdowne MSS., where is also an account of the proceedings relative to his trial for assault on Hugh Hare; cf. also Harl. MSS. 787 No. 49, 895 No. 3, which gives his speech on the scaffold; Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser.; Murdin's Burghley Papers, p. 440; Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. App. p. 213, 6th Rep. App. p. 306 a; Hatfield MSS. vv. 25, 58, 59; Stubbes's Intended Treason of Doctor Parrie [1585]; A true and plaine Declaration of the Horrible Treasons practised by William Parry, &c., 1585, also reprinted with Sir W. Monson's Megalopsychy, 1681, fol.; D'Ewes's Journals, passim; Collection of State Tryals, 1719, i. 103–10; Cobbett's State Trials, i. 1097–1111; Jardine's Criminal Trials, i. 246–76; Journals of the House of Commons; Official Returns of Members of Parliament; Strype's Annals, passim; Camden's Elizabeth, ed. Hearne, ii. 426–30; Holinshed, iii. 1382–96; Somers's Tracts, i. 264; Foulis's Hist. of Romish Treasons, p. 342, &c.; Bartoli's Istoria della Compagnia di Giesù—l' Inghilterra, 1667, pp. 286–91; Hazlitt's Handbook and Collections, passim; Spedding's Bacon, viii. 37, x. 37, 55; Aikin's Memoirs of Elizabeth, ii. 143–6; Letters, &c., of Cardinal Allen, pp. 392–3; Dodd's Church History, ii. 152–3, and Tierney's Dodd, iii. 20, App. No. xiii.; Foley's Records of the English Jesuits, i. 327, 384, iv. 169; Pike's Annals of Crime; Lingard, Froude, Ranke, and Hallam's Histories; Gardiner, x. 144; Williams's Eminent Welshmen; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. vi. 468, vii. 76; cf. art. Elizabeth.]

A. F. P.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.215
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line
388 i 28 Parry, William (d. 1585): omit Jesuits like
ii 12 for 1630? read 1618
13 f.e. for on Tower Hill read in Westminster Palace Yard