Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pierrepont, William
PIERREPONT, WILLIAM (1607?–1678), politician, born about 1607, was the second son of Robert Pierrepont, first earl of Kingston [q. v.] Henry Pierrepont, first marquis of Dorchester [q. v.], was his elder brother. Pierrepont married Elizabeth, daughter and coheiress of Sir Thomas Harris, bart., of Tong Castle, Shropshire (Life of the Duke of Newcastle, ed. Firth, p. 217). In 1638 he was sheriff of Shropshire, and found great difficulty in collecting ship money (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1637–8 pp. 266, 423, 1638–9 p. 54). In November 1640 he was returned to the Long parliament as member for Great Wenlock. Pierrepont at once became a person of influence in the counsels of the leaders of the popular party. Mrs. Hutchinson describes him as ‘one of the wisest counsellors and most excellent speakers in the house.’ Of his oratory the only specimens surviving are a speech at the impeachment of Sir Robert Berkeley, 6 July 1641, and a few fragmentary remarks in the notebooks of different members (Rushworth, iv. 318; Verney, Notes of the Long Parliament, p. 181; Diary of Sir John Northcote, p. 44; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1641–3, p. 277). His value in counsel is shown by his appointment as one of the committee established during the adjournment of the commons after the attempted arrest of the five members (5 Jan. 1642), and as one of the committee of safety established on 4 July 1642.
During the early part of the war Pierrepont was one of the heads of the peace party (Sanford, Studies and Illustrations of the Great Rebellion, pp. 535, 571). He was one of the commissioners selected to treat with Charles in November 1642, and in January 1643. Whitelocke, who was his associate in the negotiations at Oxford in March 1643, describes him as acting his part ‘with deep foresight and prudence’ (Memorials, i. 201, ed. 1853). After the failure of the renewed attempts to open negotiations in the summer of 1643, Pierrepont seems to have had thoughts of retirement. On 8 Nov. 1643 he asked the House of Commons for leave to go beyond seas, ‘but they were so desirous of his assistance, being a gentleman of great wisdom and integrity, that they gave him a friendly denial’ (ib. i. 225; Commons' Journals, iii. 304). The reason which he gave for his request was a conscientious objection to taking the covenant (Memoirs of the Verney Family, ii. 179). In February 1644 Pierrepont was appointed one of the committee of both kingdoms, and thenceforward threw himself with vigour into the conduct of the war. At the Uxbridge treaty in February 1645 Clarendon marked an alteration in his temper and in that of his fellow commissioner, John Crewe. Both were ‘men of great fortunes, and had always been of the greatest moderation in their counsels, and most solicitous upon all opportunities for peace,’ but they appeared now ‘to have contracted more bitterness and sourness than formerly.’ They were more reserved towards the king's commissioners, and in all conferences insisted peremptorily that the king must yield to the demands of the parliament (Rebellion, ed. Macray, viii. 248). At this time and for the next three years Pierrepont was regarded as one of the leaders of the independent party. He and St. John, wrote Robert Baillie, were ‘more staid’ than Cromwell and Vane, but not ‘great heads.’ His favour with the parliament was shown by their grant of 7,467l. to him on 22 March 1647, being the amount of the fine inflicted on his brother Henry, marquis of Dorchester, for adhering to the king (Cal. Committee for Compounding, p. 1473).
Pierrepont's policy during 1647 and 1648 is not easy to follow. His name and that of his brother Francis appear in the list of the fifty-seven members of parliament who engaged themselves to stand by Fairfax and the army (4 Aug. 1647; Rushworth, vii. 755). In September he supported the proposal that further negotiations should be opened with the king, in spite of his refusal of the terms parliament had offered to him (Wildman, Putney Projects, 1647, p. 43). In the following April he was again reported to be concerting a treaty with the king, and voted against the bulk of his party on the question of maintaining the government by king, lords, and commons (Hamilton Papers, Camden Soc. pp. 174, 191). Appointed one of the fifteen commissioners to negotiate with Charles at Newport in September 1647, he seemed to Cromwell too eager to patch up an accommodation with the king. In a letter to Hammond Cromwell refers to Pierrepont as ‘my wise friend, who thinks that the enthroning the king with presbytery brings spiritual slavery, but with a moderate episcopacy works a good peace’ (Clarke Papers, ii. 50). On 1 Dec. 1648 he received the thanks of the house for his services during the treaty. Pride's Purge and the trial of the king produced a rupture between Pierrepont and the independents. He expressed to Bulstrode Whitelocke ‘much dissatisfaction at those members who sat in the house, and at the proceedings of the general and army’ (Whitelocke, Memorials, ii. 477, 509, ed. 1853). For the next few years he held aloof from politics, and did not sit in the council of state. Personally, however, he remained on good terms with Cromwell, and entertained him at his house during his march from Scotland to Worcester (Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson, ii. 185). He was returned to Cromwell's second parliament as member for Nottinghamshire, but did not sit. The Protector's government was very anxious to have his support, and he did not scruple to ask favours from them on behalf of his brothers, when the Marquis of Dorchester was in danger of being taxed as a delinquent, and when Francis was appointed sheriff of the county. ‘If it were my case,’ he wrote in the latter instance to Oliver St. John, ‘my Lord Protector might do what he pleased with me; my conscience would not permit me to execute that place. My brother and I do very much honour my Lord Protector, and are most desirous to do him service, but in this we cannot’ (Thurloe Papers, iv. 237, 469). A similar scruple led him to refuse the seat offered to him in Cromwell's House of Lords (Godwin, History of the Commonwealth, iv. 469). Nevertheless he is mentioned by Whitelocke as one of the little council of intimate friends with whom the Protector advised on the question of kingship and on other great affairs of state (Memorials, iv. 289). For Cromwell's son Henry he professed great attachment and admiration, and, through his friends Thurloe and St. John, exercised a great influence over the policy of Richard Cromwell's government (Burton, Parliamentary Diary, iv. 274). There can be little doubt that Pierrepont is the mysterious friend referred to in Colonel Hutchinson's ‘Life:’ ‘as considerable and as wise a person as any was in England, who did not openly appear among Richard's adherents or counsellors, but privately advised him, and had a very honourable design of bringing the nation into freedom under this young man who was so flexible to good counsels.’ When the colonel objected that the fixing of the government in a single person would necessarily lead in the end to the restoration of the Stuarts, Pierrepont ‘gave many strong reasons why that family could not be restored without the ruin of the people's liberty and of all their champions, and thought that these carried so much force with them that it would never be attempted, even by any royalist that retained any love to his country, and that the establishing this single person would satisfy that faction, and compose all the differences, bringing in all of all parties that were men of interest and love to their country’ (Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson, ii. 213). The royalist agents reported to Hyde that Thurloe governed Richard Cromwell, and St. John and Pierrepont governed Thurloe. They wished that Pierrepont were dead, and thought of trying to gain him over to the king's cause; but those who knew him best dared not approach him on the subject (Clarendon State Papers, iii. 421, 423, 425, 428, 441). After the fall of Richard Cromwell Pierrepont again retired; but on 23 Feb. 1660, after the return of the secluded members to their places in the house, he was elected to the new council of state at the head of the list (Commons' Journals, vii. 849). The suspicions of the royalists redoubled. Some reported that he was working for the restoration of Richard Cromwell (Clarendon State Papers, iii. 693). He was said to be violent against the king, and to be one of the little junto of presbyterian leaders who wished to impose on Charles II the terms which had been demanded of his father in the Newport treaty. Pierrepont himself was to hold the office of lord privy seal in the future government. When this cabal was frustrated by Monck's promptitude, Pierrepont, Thurloe, and St. John were alleged to be trying to corrupt Monck, and to persuade him to accept the sovereignty himself. ‘There are not in nature three such beasts,’ wrote Broderick to Hyde (ib. iii. 701, 703, 705, 729, 749).
In the Convention parliament Pierrepont represented Nottinghamshire. He advocated an excise, moved the rejection of the Militia Bill, spoke several times on financial subjects, and defended the right of the commons to adjourn themselves (Old Parliamentary History, xxii. 405, xxiii. 14, 18, 21, 67). According to Burnet, Pierrepont was the chief instrument in persuading the House of Commons to offer to compensate Charles II for the abolition of the court of wards by a revenue from the excise. ‘Pierrepont,’ he writes, ‘valued himself to me upon this service he did his country at a time when things were so little considered on either hand that the court did not seem to apprehend the value of what they parted with, nor the country of what they purchased’ (Own Time, i. 28, ed. 1833). He also exerted his influence to save the lives of Colonel Hutchinson and Major Lister, and moved the resolution by which the commons agreed to petition the king that Vane and Lambert, though excepted from the act of indemnity, should not be tried for their lives (Old Parliamentary History, xxii. 445; Ludlow Memoirs, ed. 1894, ii. 286; Life of Colonel Hutchinson, ii. 254).
Pierrepont was defeated at the election for Nottinghamshire in 1661, and retired from political life. In December, 1667, however, he was appointed by the commons one of the nine commissioners for the inspection of accounts, known as the Brook House committee (Burnet, i. 491; Marvell, Works, ed. Grosart, ii. 230). He died in the summer of 1678 (Savile Correspondence, pp. 67, 68). Collins, who dates his death 1679, states his age as 71 (Peerage, ed. Brydges, v. 628).
In the traditional history of the family Pierrepont is known by the title of ‘Wise William,’ and his career justifies the epithet. He had five sons and five daughters. Robert, the eldest son, married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Evelyn—a lady whose great acquirements are mentioned by her friend, John Evelyn—and died in 1666. Robert's three sons, Robert, William, and Evelyn (afterwards first Duke of Kingston) [q. v.], were respectively third, fourth, and fifth earls of Kingston. Gervase, William Pierrepont's third son, born in 1649, was created Lord Pierrepont of Ardglass in Ireland on 21 March 1703, and Lord Pierrepont of Hanslope in Buckinghamshire on 19 Oct. 1714. He died without issue on 22 May 1715, and these titles became extinct.
Of the daughters, Frances, the eldest, married Henry Cavendish, earl of Ogle, and afterwards duke of Newcastle. The second, Grace, married Gilbert, third earl of Clare. The third, Gertrude, became the second wife of George Savile, marquis of Halifax (Collins, Peerage, ed. Brydges, under ‘Manvers,’ vol. v.; Life of the Duke of Newcastle, ed. 1886, pp. 217, 218).
The ‘Harleian Miscellany’ contains a ‘Treatise concerning Registers to be made of Estates, Lands, Bills,’ &c., attributed to Pierrepont (iii. 320, ed. Park).[Authorities referred to in the article. A short life of Pierrepont is given by Mark Noble in his list of Cromwell's Lords; Memoirs of the Protectoral House of Cromwell, ed. 1787, i. 383; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage.]