Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Petyt, William
PETYT, WILLIAM (1641?–1707), archivist and antiquary, was born about 1641, in the township of Hazlewood and Storiths, in the parish of Skipton in Craven, Yorkshire (Whitaker, Hist. of Craven, ed. Morant, p. 436). His brother Sylvester was principal of Barnard's Inn in 1715, and died in 1719; and two portraits of him are mentioned by Bromley, one in Barnard's Inn and the other in the National Portrait Gallery (cf. Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ii. 132). William studied common law in the Middle Temple, and was called to the bar on 12 Feb. 1670 ‘for his service done in asserting and defending the rights and privileges of this society.’ He was autumn reader in 1694 and treasurer in 1701. For many years he was keeper of the records in the Tower of London. In this capacity he became acquainted with most of the historians of his time, and he was always eager to render them assistance in their researches and to place his manuscript collections at their disposal. As his epitaph states: ‘Municipalia patriæ jura, historiam, antiquitates, monumenta, actaque parliamentaria optimè callebat; antiquæ constitutionis legum ac libertatum Angliæ strenuissimus assertor erat.’ A list of the records in the Tower, drawn up by him, is printed in the ‘Catalogus Manuscriptorum Angliæ’ (ii. 183). Petyt also made a collection of parliamentary tracts, in above eighty volumes, relating to the interregnum. These were of great service to the compilers of the ‘Parliamentary or Constitutional History of England,’ 2nd edit., 24 vols., London, 1762–3, 8vo. He resided at Chelsea, where he built a vestry, and also a school, with apartments for the teacher (Faulkner, Hist. of Chelsea, i. 167, 255, ii. 92, 111). He died at Chelsea on 3 Oct. 1707 (Boyer, Annals of Queen Anne, vi. 382), and was buried in the west part of the Temple Church, where a monument was erected to his memory, with a long Latin inscription which illustrates his biography. His portrait has been engraved by R. White.
His published works are: 1. ‘Miscellanea Parliamentaria; containing Presidents; (1) Of Freedom from Arrests; (2) Of Censures. … With an Appendix, containing several Instances wherein the Kings of England have consulted and advised with their Parliaments: (1) In Marriages; (2) Peace and War; (3) Leagues; and other Weighty Affairs of the Kingdom,’ London, 1680, 8vo. Dedicated to William Williams, speaker of the House of Commons. 2. ‘The Antient Right of the Commons of England Asserted; or a Discourse, proving by Records, and the best Historians, that the Commons of England were ever an Essential Part of Parliament.’ Dedicated to Arthur, earl of Essex, London, 1680, 8vo. Replies to this work were published by William Atwood in ‘Jus Anglorum ab antiquo,’ 1681; by Dr. Robert Brady in ‘A Full and Clear Answer’ (anon.), 1681, and in ‘An Introduction to the Old English History,’ 1684; and by W. E. in ‘Florilegus; or a Commentary upon some Modern Books,’ 1705 (cf. Locke, Works, 1812, iii. 273). 3. ‘Britannia Languens, or a Discourse of Trade; shewing the Grounds and Reasons of the Increase and Decay of Land-Rents, National Wealth and Strength. With Application to the late and present State and Condition of England, France, and the United Provinces’ (anon.), London, 1680 and 1689, 8vo. The preface is signed ‘Philanglus.’ McCulloch remarks: ‘This work bears in various respects a strong resemblance to that of Roger Coke, but is shorter, and written in a less affected manner. … The reasonings and statements by which the author endeavours to show how the results, which he deplores, had been brought about, and how they might best be obviated, exhibit a curious mixture of truth and error, intelligence and prejudice’ (Literature of Political Economy, p. 41). 4. ‘Jus Parliamentarium; or the Auncient Power, Jurisdiction, Rights, and Liberties of the Most High Court of Parliament, Revived and Asserted,’ 2 pts. London, 1739, fol., a posthumous publication, dedicated by the editor to Charles Seymour, duke of Somerset.
Petyt's manuscripts were left in trust to friends, with an injunction that the collection should be preserved in its integrity, and deposited in a library, for the building of which he bequeathed 150l. Ultimately, however, the manuscripts found their way to the library of the Inner Temple, where they still remain (Nos. 512–38). They consist of twenty-six volumes in folio (distinguished by the letters of the alphabet up to BB), and relate to the government of England from the time of the Britons, the authority of parliament (including Petyt's printed tracts in his controversy with Dr. Brady), Scotland, Ireland, regal writs, &c. These volumes are frequently referred to by Daines Barrington in the third edition of his ‘Observations on the Statutes,’ and are cited by Strype and others. They contain many transcripts of documents from records in the Tower, as well as from printed books. Volume F consists of ‘A Supplement to Dr. Brady's Introduction to the old English History, by the Author of “Jani Anglorum Facies nova”’ [William Atwood]. Volume U: ‘Speculum Scotiæ, or a short View of the Antient and Modern Government of Scotland, together with a brief Account of that of England, by Way of Parallel,’ with an appendix of documents. Volume W: ‘Historica collectanea de regno Scotiæ ex chartis antiquissimis, codicibus manuscriptis, chronicis typis exaratis, rotulis schedisque pervetustis, in archivis Turris Lond. aliisque monumentis membranaceis alibi conservatis; cum appendice in qua varia instrumenta conjiciuntur, notis illustrata.’ AA, Royal charters, writs relating to ecclesiastical matters, election of bishops, &c., in the time of the Norman kings. BB, Collections relating to the reigns of John and Henry III. Of the contents of nearly all these volumes there are full lists in an old manuscript catalogue preserved with Petyt's books. Still, no proper calendar of them has hitherto been compiled, and their character is little known; while of the materials for the history of the Roman recusants in the latter part of the sixteenth century, which are alike abundant and interesting, largely dealing with the conflict between the secular clergy and the jesuits, no public use appears ever to have been made. A portion of the contents of two of the ecclesiastical volumes was calendared as a specimen of the collection by Mr. Henry Thomas Riley, in the second report of the ‘Historical Manuscripts Commission’ (Appendix, p. 151); and additional notes, with some corrections, are included in the eleventh report (1888, pt. vii. 227).[Masters of the Bench, p. 54; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ii. 130; Granger's Biogr. Hist. of England, 5th edit. v. 274; Bridgeman's Legal Bibliography; Lowndes's Bibl. Brit. (Bohn), p. 1846; Watt's Bibl. Brit.]