Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Peto, William
PETO, WILLIAM (d. 1558), cardinal, whose name is variously written Petow, Peytow, and Peytoo (the last form used by himself), was a man of good family (Harpsfield, Pretended Divorce of Henry VIII, p. 202, Camden Soc.; Holinshed, Chronicle, iii. 1168, ed. 1587). De Thou and others say he was of obscure parentage, simply because his parents are unknown—a fact for which one writer likens him to Melchizedek. Holinshed and some others call his christian name Peter, apparently by a sort of confusion with his surname. He was related to the Throgmortons of Warwickshire, or at least to Michael Throgmorton, a faithful attendant of Cardinal Pole, brother of Sir George Throgmorton of Coughton. As he seems to have been very old when he died, his birth must be referred to the fifteenth century. He was confessor to the Princess Mary, Henry VIII's daughter, in her early years (Cal. State Papers, Venetian, vi. 239). At the time when he first became conspicuous he was provincial of the Grey friars in England. On Easter Sunday (31 March) 1532 he preached before Henry VIII, at their convent at Greenwich, a bold sermon denouncing the divorce on which the king had set his mind, and warning him that princes were easily blinded by self-will and flattery. After the sermon the king called him to an interview, and endeavoured to argue the point with him, but could not move him, and, as Peto desired to attend a general chapter of his order at Toulouse, the king gave him leave to go. Next Sunday the king ordered his own chaplain, Dr. Hugh Curwen [q. v.], to preach in the same place. Curwen contradicted what Peto had said, till he was himself contradicted by Henry Elston, warden of the convent. Peto was then called back to Greenwich and ordered to deprive the warden, which he refused to do, and they were both arrested. It seems that he was committed to ‘a tower in Lambeth over the gate’ (Letters and Papers, Henry VIII, vol. xii. pt. ii. p. 333). In the latter part of the year, however, he was set at liberty and went abroad. He, at least, appears by the registers of the Franciscan convent at Pontoise to have been there for some time on 10 Jan. 1533. Later in that year both he and Elston were at Antwerp together. His real object in wishing to go abroad the year before was to cause a book to be printed in defence of Queen Catherine's cause; and at Antwerp he got surreptitiously printed an answer, or at least the preface to an answer, to the book called ‘The Glass of Truth’ published in England in justification of the king's divorce. It was entitled ‘Philalethæ Hyperborei in Anticatoptrum suum, quod propediem in lucem dabit, ut patet proxima pagella, parasceue; sive adversus improborum quorundam temeritatem Illustrissimam Angliæ Reginam ab Arthuro Walliæ principe priore marito suo cognitam fuisse impudenter et inconsulte adstruentium, Susannis extemporaria.’ It professed to be printed at ‘Lunenburg’ by Sebastian Golsen in July 1533, but doubtless the place and printer's name were both fictitious, for it does not appear that Lüneburg (some two hundred and fifty miles from Antwerp) then possessed a printing press. Whether it was his own composition may be questioned; but he and his colleague Elston, who now lodged with him at Antwerp, were active in getting it conveyed into England, where, of course, it was destroyed whenever discovered by the authorities. A solitary copy is in the Grenville Library in the British Museum.
Stephen Vaughan, a friend of Thomas Cromwell, at Antwerp, made careful inquiry about Peto and the book, and believed that the latter was written by Bishop Fisher. He learned also that Sir Thomas More had sent his books against Tyndale and Frith to Peto at Antwerp. Moreover, a friar came over from England every week to Peto. ‘He cannot,’ said Vaughan, ‘wear the cloaks and cowls sent over to him from England, they are so many.’ It was said Peto tried to enlist even Tyndale's sympathy against the king in the matter of the divorce, and sent him a book on that subject to correct; but Tyndale refused to meddle with it. Vaughan tried hard to get him entrapped and sent to England, but failed. Peto even sent over to England two friars of his own order to search for books which might be useful to him, and they visited Queen Catherine. He seems to have remained in the Low Countries for some years, for in March 1536 we find him at Bergen-op-Zoom; and in June 1537 John Hutton, governor of the merchant adventurers at Antwerp, reports how an English exile, desiring to act as spy upon Cardinal Pole at Liège, procured a letter from Peto to his cousin, Michael Throgmorton, who was with the cardinal there. Peto himself went soon after to the cardinal at Liège, whence he was sent in August by Throgmorton to Hutton with a message touching a proposed conference between Pole and Dr. Wilson, the king's chaplain (ib. Henry VIII, vol. xii. pt. ii. No. 619 must be later than No. 635). In December he was at Brussels, conferring with Hutton about a letter in which he offered his allegiance to the king and service to Cromwell.
Nothing seems to have prevented his return to England except Henry's repudiation of the pope's supremacy. He did not object to the suppression of monasteries, if only they were put to better uses, and he admitted there were grave abuses that required correction. Hutton, writing to Cromwell on 20 Jan. 1538, describes him as one who could not flatter, who grew very hot in argument, and who might easily be got to let out secrets which he would have kept if questioned directly. But he saw that England was no safe place for him, and meant to go to Italy. In April he was seen at Mainz on his way thither, having laid aside his friar's habit for the journey by leave of the general of his order. During the latter part of the year he was staying at Venice and Padua.
In 1539 he was included in the sweeping bill of attainder passed against Cardinal Pole and others (31 Hen. VIII, c. 15, not printed), and for some years little or nothing is known about him, except that he wandered about on the continent, and was for some time at Rome. It was there in 1547, as the Vatican records show, that Paul III appointed him bishop of Salisbury, though he could not give him possession of the bishopric.
On Mary's accession he seems to have returned to England. But, feeling himself too old for the proper discharge of episcopal functions, he resigned the bishopric of Salisbury, and was settled at his old convent at Greenwich when Mary restored it. He was highly esteemed by Paul IV, who, as Cardinal Caraffa, had known him at Rome, and from the commencement of his pontificate had thought of making him a cardinal. On 14 June 1557 Paul proposed him in a consistory, and he was elected in his absence, the pope conferring on him at the same time the legateship in England of which he deprived Cardinal Pole [see Pole, Reginald]. These appointments, however, Peto at once declined as a burden unsuited to his aged shoulders. They were, moreover, made in avowed disregard of the wishes of Queen Mary, who stopped the messenger bearing the hat to him. And though Cardinal Charles Caraffa, whom the pope sent that year to Philip II in Flanders, was commissioned among other things to get Peto to come to Rome (Pallavicino, lib. xiv. c. 5), the attempt was ineffectual. Peto was already worn out with age, and apparently in his dotage—‘vecchio rebambito,’ as the English ambassador represented to the pope; and the proposed distinction only caused him to be followed by a jeering crowd when he went through the streets of London. He died in the following April (1558).[Annales Minorum, xix; Cardella's Memorie Storiche de' Cardinali, iv. 370; Pallavicino's Hist. of the Council of Trent; Letters and Papers Henry VIII, vols. v. sqq.; Cal. State Papers, Spanish, vol. iv. No. 934, Venetian, vols. iv. and vi.]