Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Petrie, Henry

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PETRIE, HENRY (1768–1842), antiquary, born in 1768, was the son of a dancing-master who resided at Stockwell, Surrey. He was probably connected with John Petrie, M.P. for Surrey in 1796. The son was intended to follow in his father's profession, but soon showed an aversion to it, and devoted himself to antiquarian research. Through Thomas Frognall Dibdin [q. v.], whom Petrie is said to have instructed in the art of deportment and dancing, he was introduced to George John, second earl Spencer [q. v.], who warmly encouraged his researches. Petrie formed a close friendship with Dibdin, and rendered him valuable aid in the production of his bibliographical works. On the death of Samuel Lysons [q. v.] in 1819, Petrie was appointed keeper of the records in the Tower of London.

After prolonged study of the materials for early English history, Petrie about 1816 conceived the project of publishing a complete ‘corpus historicum’ for the period. A similar scheme had been suggested by John Pinkerton [q. v.] about 1790, and keenly advocated by Gibbon. It came to nothing through Gibbon's death, and Petrie was the first to revive it. During 1818 and 1819 various meetings were held at Earl Spencer's house to further the project; it was agreed that no such scheme could be undertaken by private enterprise, and an appeal was made for government aid. Petrie was selected to draw up a plan. His aim was to make the body of materials to be published absolutely complete, and to include extracts from Greek and Roman writers containing all references to early Britain; copies of all inscriptions on stone or marble; all letters, charters, bulls, proceedings of councils and synods; laws, engravings of coins, medals, and seals; besides general histories, annals, and chronicles of England, and histories of particular monasteries.

The plan was presented to the record commission in 1821, and was sanctioned by the government and parliament. The work commenced in 1823, with Petrie as chief editor, assisted by the Rev. John Sharpe (1769–1859) [q. v.] The Welsh portion was entrusted to John Humffreys Parry (1786–1825) [q. v.] and to Aneurin Owen [q. v.], and was published in 1841. The main portion entrusted to Petrie proceeded steadily until 1832, when it was interrupted by his illness. But in 1835, when the whole text of the first volume had been completed, and a large collection of materials made for further volumes, the work was suspended by an order of the record commissioners, due to a misunderstanding between them and Petrie.

Petrie died unmarried at Stockwell, Surrey, on 17 March 1842, before the undertaking was resumed. One volume was finally completed and published in 1848 by Sir Thomas Duffus Hardy [q. v.], who had been trained by Petrie. It bore the title ‘Monumenta Historica Britannica, or Materials for the History of Great Britain from the Earliest Period to the Norman Conquest.’ Hardy acknowledged valuable aid derived from Petrie's manuscripts in his ‘Descriptive Catalogue of Materials’ published in 1862. Petrie also edited ‘Magni Rotuli Scaccarii Normanniæ,’ 1830, 4to; and his translation of the earlier portion of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ was reprinted from the ‘Monumenta’ in the ‘Church Historians of England,’ 1854, vol. ii. pt. i.

[Prefaces to the Monumenta and Descriptive Catalogue by Sir T. D. Hardy; Edinburgh Rev. xlvi. 472; Dibdin's Bibliographical Decameron, passim, Literary Companion, i. 103, 104, 154, 320, and Literary Reminiscences, pp. 453, 716, 717; Gent. Mag. 1834 i. 375, 1842 ii. 661–2, 1851 ii. 628; Annual Register, 1842, p. 258; Gorton's Biogr. Dict., Suppl.; Manning and Bray's Surrey, ii. 233, 235.]

A. F. P.