Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Perkins, Christopher

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PERKINS or PARKINS, Sir CHRISTOPHER (1547?–1622), diplomatist, master of requests and dean of Carlisle, is said by Colonel Chester to have been closely related to the ancestors of Sir Thomas Parkyns [q. v.] of Bunny, Nottinghamshire, though the precise relationship has not been ascertained, and his name does not appear in the visitations of Nottinghamshire in 1569 and 1611 (Chester, Westminster Abbey Register, p. 120). He was born apparently in 1547, and is probably distinct from the Christopher Perkins who was elected scholar at Winchester in 1555, aged 12, and subsequently became rector of Eaton, Berkshire (Kirby, p. 133). He was educated at Oxford, and graduated B.A. on 7 April 1565; but on 21 Oct. next year he entered the Society of Jesus at Rome, aged 19. According to Dodd, he was an eminent professor among the jesuits for many years; but gradually he became estranged from them, and while at Venice, perhaps about 1585, he wrote a book on the society which, in spite of a generally favourable view, seems to have been subsequently thought by the English government likely to damage the society's cause (cf. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1594-7, pp. 125-6). The book does not appear to have been published. About the same time Burghley's grandson, William Cecil (afterwards second Earl of Exeter), visited Rome; an indiscreet expression of protestant opinions here exposed him to risks from which he was saved by Perkins's interposition. Perkins is said to have returned with young Cecil, who recommended him to his grandfather's favour; but in 1587 he was resident at Prague, being described in the government's list of recusants abroad as a Jesuit (Strype, Annals, in. ii. 599). There he became acquainted with Edward Kelley [q. v.], the impostor; in June 1589 Kelley, either to curry favour with the English government or to discount any revelations Perkins might make about him, accused him of being an emissary of the pope, and of complicity in a sevenfold plot to murder the queen. Soon afterwards Perkins arrived in England, and seems to have been imprisoned on suspicion. On 12 March 1590 he wrote to Walsingham, expressing a hope that Kelley 'will deal sincerely with him, which he doubts if he follow the counsel of his friends and ghostly fathers, the Jesuits;' he appealed to a commendation from the king of Poland as proof of his innocence (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1589-90, 12 March). This seems to have been established, for on 9 May he was granted 300l. for his expenses on a mission to Poland and Prussia (Murdin, p. 793).

From this time Perkins was frequently employed as a diplomatic agent to Denmark, Poland, the emperor, and the Hanseatic League; his missions dealt principally with mercantile affairs, in which he gained considerable experience. In 1591 he was ambassador to Denmark, having his first audience with the king on 4 July, and on 22 Dec. received an annuity of one hundred marks for his services. He proceeded to Poland in January 1592, and was in Denmark again in the summer. In June and July 1593 he was negotiating with the emperor at Prague; in 1595 he visited Elbing, Lübeck, and other Hanse towns, and spent some time in Poland. He says he was acceptable to the Poles generally, and the king tried to induce him to enter his service; but the clergy were bitterly hostile, and the pope offered 2,000l. for his life. In 1598 he was again sent to Denmark, returning on 8 Dec.; in 1600 he was employed in negotiating with the Danish emissaries at Emden. His letters from abroad, preserved among the Cotton MSS., give a valuable account of the places he visited, especially Poland and the Hanse towns. During the intervals of his missions he acted as principal adviser to the government in its mercantile relations with the Baltic countries; on 3 Jan. 1593 he was on a commission to decide without appeal all disputes between the English and subjects of the French king in reference to piracies and depredations committed at sea, and on 3 July was on another to inquire into and punish all abettors of pirates.

His frequent appeals for preferment, on the ground of his services and inadequacy of his salary, were answered by his appointment as dean of Carlisle in 1595. On 20 Feb. 1596-7 he was admitted member of Gray's Inn, being erroneously described as 'clerk of the petition to the queen and dean of Canterbury' (Foster, Register, p. 91). On 16 Sept. 1597 he was elected M.P. for Ripon, and again on 21 Oct. 1601; he frequently took part in the mercantile business of the house (cf. D'Ewes, Journals, pp. 650, 654, 657). On the accession of James I his annuity was increased to 100l.; in 1603 he was on a commission for suppressing books printed without authority; on 23 July he was knighted by the king at Whitehall, and on 20 March 1604-5 was admitted commoner of the college of advocates. From 1604 to1611 he was M.P. for Morpeth; he also acted as deputy to Sir Daniel Donne [q. v.], master of requests, whom he succeeded in 1617. In 1620 he subscribed 371. 10s. to the Virginia Company, and paid 50l. He died late in August 1622, and was buried on 1 Sept. on the north side of the long aisle in Westminster Abbey (Chester, Westminster Abbey Register, p. 119).

In 1612 a 'Lady Parkins,' perhaps a first wife of Perkins, forfeited her estate for conveying her daughter to a nunnery across the sea (Cal. State Papers, 1611-18, p. 107). Perkins married, on 5 Nov. 1617, at St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, London, Anne, daughter of Anthony Beaumont of Glenfield, Leicestershire, and relict of James Brett of Hoby in the same county. She was sister of the Countess of Buckingham, whose son, George Villiers, became duke of Buckingham, and mother, by her first husband, of Anne, second wife of Lionel Cranfield, first earl of Middlesex [q. v.] Perkins's marriage is said to have been dictated by a desire to push his fortunes, but he stipulated to pay none of his wife's previous debts. Buckingham, hearing of this condition, put every obstacle in his way, and Perkins in revenge is said to have left most of his property to a servant; but his will, dated 30 Aug. 1620, in which mention is made of his sister's children, does not bear out this statement (Chester, Westminster Abbey Register, p. 120). Perkins's widow survived him, and had an income of about 700l. of our money.

[Cotton. MSS. Jul. E. ii. 63-4, F. vi. 52, Nero B. ii. 204-5, 207-9, 211-12, 214-17, 218, 220-3, 240-1, 260, iv. 38, 195, ix. 161, 165 et seq, 170, 175 b, 178, xi. 300 (the index is very incomplete and inaccurate); Cal. State Papers,. Dom. 1581-1622, passim; Rymer's Fœdera, orig. edit, passim; Murdin's State Papers, pp. 793, 801; Chamberlain's Letters (Camden Soc.), passim; Official Returns of M.P.'s, i. 436, 441; Wood's Fasti, i. 166-7; Foster's Alumni, 1500-1714; Chester's London Marriage Licenses and Westminster Abbey Register; D'Ewes's Journals, passim; Goodman's Court of James I, ed. Brewer, i. 329, 335; Nichols's Progresses of James I, i. 207; Metcalfe's Book of Knights; Archæologia, xxxviii. 108; Le Neve's Fasti, iii. 246; Spedding's Bacon, xii. 214; Brown's Genesis of the United States; Dodd's Church Hist. ii. 417-18; Strype's Annals, in. ii. 599, iv. 1-3, 220 ; Whitgift, ii. 504; Lives of Twelve Bad Men, ed. Seccombe, pp. 49-50.]

A. F. P.