Hugh Peter [or Peters] (29 June 1598 – 16 October 1660) was an English Independent preacher who supported the Parliamentary cause during the English Civil War and was a chaplain in the New Model Army. Shortly after the Restoration he was executed as a regicide because his preaching were seen giving succour to those directly involved the trial and execution of Charles I.
Having experienced conversion, he preached in Essex; returning to London he took Anglican orders and was appointed lecturer at St Sepulchre's. He entertained, however, Puritan opinions, and eventually left England for Holland. He visited Gustavus Adolphus in Germany about 1632, and afterwards became the minister of the English church at Rotterdam.
Here his Puritan leanings again attracted attention, and Peters made a further move to New England. He was connected with John Winthrop through his wife, and had already formed several friendships with the American colonists.[a] He arrived at Boston in October 1635 and was given charge of the church at Salem. He played a significant role during the 1637 trial of Anne Hutchinson during the Antinomian Controversy, being one of the ministers wanting her banished from the colony. He took a leading part in the affairs of the colony, and interested himself in the founding of the new colony in Connecticut. He was also active in the establishment of Harvard College.
Civil War period
In 1641 he returned to England as agent of the colony, but soon became involved in the political troubles which now began. He became chaplain to the forces of the adventurers in Ireland, and served in 1642 in Lord Forbes's expedition, of which he wrote an account. On his return he took a violent part in the campaign against Laud, and defended the doctrines of the Independents in a preface to a tract by Richard Mather entitled "Church Government and Church Covenant discussed ..." (1643).
In September 1643 the Parliamentary Committee of Safety employed Peters on a mission to Holland, there to borrow money on behalf of Parliament, and to explain the justice of its cause to the Dutch.
He was more valuable to the Parliamentary cause as a preacher than as a diplomatist, and his sermons were very effective in winning recruits to the parliamentary army. He also became famous as an exhorter at the executions of state criminals, attended Richard Challoner on the scaffold, and improved the opportunity when Sir John Hotham was beheaded. But it was as an army chaplain that Peters exerted the widest influence. In May 1644 he accompanied the Earl of Warwick in his naval expedition for the relief of Lyme, preached a thanksgiving sermon in the church there after its accomplishment, and was commissioned by Warwick to represent the state of the west and the needs of the forces there to the attention of Parliament. This was the prelude to greater services of the same nature rendered to Sir Thomas Fairfax and the New Model Army. As chaplain, Peters took a prominent part in the campaigns of that army during 1645 and 1646. Whenever a town was to be assaulted, it was his business to preach a preparatory sermon to the storming parties; and at Bridgwater, Bristol, and Dartmouth his eloquence was credited with a share in inspiring the soldiers. After a victory he was equally effective in persuading the populace of the justice of the parliamentary arms, and converting neutrals into supporters. During the siege of Bristol he made converts of five thousand clubmen; and when Fairfax's army entered Cornwall, his despatches specially mentioned the usefulness of Peters in persuading his countrymen to submission.
In addition to his duties as a chaplain, Peters exercised the functions of a confidential agent of the general and of a war correspondent. Fairfax habitually employed him to represent to Parliament the condition of his army, the motives which determined his movements, and the details of his successes. His relations of battles and sieges were eagerly read, and formed a semi-official supplement to the general's own reports. Oliver Cromwell followed the example of Fairfax, and on his behalf Peters delivered to the House of Commons narratives of the capture of Winchester and the sack of Basing House. It was a fitting tribute to his position and his services that he was selected to preach, on 2 April 1646, the thanksgiving sermon for the recovery of the west before the two houses of parliament.
At the conclusion of the First English Civil War, Peters, though greatly disliked by the Presbyterians and the Scots, had attained great influence as leader of the Independents. In his pamphlet "Last Report of the English Wars" (1646), he urged religious toleration, an alliance with foreign Protestants, and an active propagation of the gospel.
In the dispute between the New Model Army and the Long Parliament he naturally took the side of the former, and after the seizure of the King by the Army in June 1647 had interviews with Charles I at Newmarket and Windsor, in which he favourably impressed the latter, and gave advice upon the best course to pursue. He performed useful services in the Second Civil War, procured guns for the besiegers at the siege of Pembroke, raised troops in the Midlands, and arranged the surrender of the Duke of Hamilton at Uttoxeter. When the Army entered London in 1648 he was one of the few preachers who supported the move and spoke out in support of Pride's Purge. Though at the Restoration he denied any complicity in the king's death, it is certain that in his sermons he justified and supported the trial and sentence.
In August 1649 he accompanied Cromwell on his Irish Campaign, and was present at the fall of Wexford, while later he assisted the campaign by superintending from England the despatch to Cromwell of supplies and reinforcements, and was himself destined by Cromwell for a regiment of foot. In 1650 he was appointed chaplain to the Council of State. Through his office he exerted influence on various committees concerned with religious, legal and social reforms. The same year, during the Third Civil War he was in South Wales, endeavouring to bring over the people to the cause, and subsequently was present at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, where afterwards he preached to the victorious Parliamentary soldiers.
Under the Commonwealth
At the conclusion of the war, Peters was appointed one of the preachers at Whitehall and became a person of influence. Parliament had already voted him an annuity of £200; Archbishop Laud's library (or a portion of it) had been handed over to him in 1644. He was one of the committee of twenty-one appointed to suggest legal reforms, and he published his ideas on this subject, which included a register of wills and land titles and the destruction afterwards of the ancient records, in his tract, "Good Work for a Good Magistrate" (in 1651), answered by R Vaughan and Prynne. He strongly disapproved of the First Anglo-Dutch War, and his interference brought upon him some sharp reprimands.
In July 1658 he was sent to Dunkirk to provide, apparently, for the spiritual wants of the garrison. He preached the funeral sermon on Cromwell, and after Cromwell's death took little part in political events, although he strongly disapproved of the removal of Richard Cromwell. He met Monck at St Albans on the latter's march to London, but met with no favour from the new powers, being expelled from his lodgings at Whitehall in January 1660. On May 11 his arrest was ordered. On May 17 the Library of the Archbishop of Canterbury was taken from him.[b] On June 18, he was excepted from the Act of Indemnity and he was apprehended on September 2 in Southwark. He sent a defense of himself to the House of Lords, in which he denied any share in the death of Charles I. He was, however, tried on October 13, and found guilty of high treason.
His execution took place at Charing Cross on the 16th of October, when he behaved with great fortitude, and was undismayed by the mangling of the body of John Cook, his fellow sufferer, upon which he was forced to look. Before his death he wrote "A Dying Father's Last Legacy" to his only child, Elizabeth, in which he gave a narrative of his career. 
Hugh Peters was the author of the following pamphlets:
- "The Advice of that Worthy Commander Sir Edward Harwood upon occasion of the French King's Preparations … Also a relation of his life and death" (the relation is by Peters), 4to, 1642; reprinted in the Harleian Miscellany, ed. Park, iv. 268.
- "A True Relation of the passages of God's Providence in a voyage for Ireland … wherein every day's work is set down faithfully by H. P., an eye-witness thereof", 4to, 1642.
- "Preface to Richard Mather's Church Government and Church Covenant discussed", 4to, 1643.
- "Mr. Peter's Report from the Armies, 26 July 1645, with a list of the chiefest officers taken at Bridgewater", &c., 4to, 1645.
- "Mr. Peter's report from Bristol", 4to, 1645.
- "The Full and Last Relation of all things concerning Basing House, with divers other Passages represented to Mr. Speaker and divers Members in the House. By Mr. Peters who came from Lieut.-Gen. Cromwell", 4to, 1645.
- "Master Peter's Message from Sir Thomas Fairfax with the narration of the taking of Dartmouth", 4to, 1646.
- "Master Peter's Message from Sir Thomas Fairfax … with the whole state of the west and all the particulars about the disbanding of the Prince and Sir Ralph Hopton's Army", 4to, 1646.
- "God's Doings and Man's Duty", opened in a sermon preached 2 April 1646, 4to.
- "Mr. Peter's Last Report of the English Wars, occasioned by the importunity of a Friend pressing an Answer to seven Queries", 1646, 4to.
- "Several Propositions presented to the House of Commons by Mr. Peters concerning the Presbyterian Ministers of this Kingdom, with the discovery of two great Plots against the Parliament of England", 1646, 4to.
- "A Word for the Army and Two Words for the Kingdom", 1647, 4to; reprinted in the Harleian Miscellany, ed. Park, v. 607.
- "Good Work for a good Magistrate, or a short cut to great quiet, by honest, homely, plain English hints given from Scripture, reason, and experience for the regulating of most cases in this Commonwealth", by H. P., 12mo, 1651.
- A preface to The Little Horn's Doom and Downfall, by Mary Cary, 12mo, 1651.
- "Æternitati sacrum Terrenum quod habuit sub hoc pulvere deposuit Henricus Ireton", Latin verses on Henry Ireton's death, fol. .
- Dedication to "Operum Gulielmi Amesii volumen primum", Amsterdam, 12mo, 1658.
- "A Dying Father's Last Legacy to an only Child, or Mr. Hugh Peter's advice to his daughter, written by his own hand during his late imprisonment", 12mo, 1660.
- "The Case of Mr. Hugh Peters impartially communicated to the view and censure of the whole world, written by his own hand", 4to, 1660.
- "A Sermon by Hugh Peters preached before his death, as it was taken by a faithful hand, and now published for public information", London, printed by John Best, 4to, 1660.
A number of speeches, confessions, sermons, &c., attributed to Peters, are merely political squibs and satirical attacks. A list of these is given in Bibliotheca Cornubiensis. There are also attributed to Peters:
- "The Nonesuch Charles his character", 8vo, 1651. This was probably written by Sir Balthazar Gerbier [q. v.], who after the Restoration asserted that Peters was its author.
- "The Way to the Peace and Settlement of these Nations. … By Peter Cornelius van Zurick-Zee", 4to, 1659; reprinted in the Somers Tracts, ed. Scott, vi. 487.
- "A Way propounded to make the poor in these and other nations happy. By Peter Cornelius van Zurick-Zee", 4to, 1659. A note in the copy of the latter in Thomason's Collection in the British Museum, says: "I believe this pamphlet was made by Mr. Hugh Peters, who hath a man named Cornelius Glover".
In the opinion of the anonymous author of Peter's biography article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica 11th ed (1911) his death was viewed with greater rejoicings than perhaps attended that of any of the regicides, as he had incurred great unpopularity by his unrestrained speech and extreme activity in the cause. He is said to have been a man of a rough, coarse nature, without tact or refinement, of strong animal spirits, undeterred by difficulties which beset men of higher mental capacity, whose energies often outran his discretion, intent upon the realities of life and the practical side of religion. In the opinion of the anonymous author of the 1911 biography artile, his conception of religious controversy, that all differences could be avoided if ministers could only pray together and live together, is highly characteristic, and shows the largeness of his personal sympathies and at the same time the limits of his intellectual imagination.
In his Dictionary of National Biography article (1896) on Peters, the historian C. H. Firth was of the opinion that his popular hatred was hardly deserved. Peters had earned it by what he said rather than by what he did. His public-spirited exertions for the general good and his kindnesses to individual royalists were forgotten, and only his denunciations of the king and his attacks on the clergy were remembered. Burnet characterises him as "an enthusiastical buffoon preacher, though a very vicious man, who had been of great use to Cromwell, and had been very outrageous in pressing the king's death with the cruelty and rudeness of an inquisitor", His jocularity had given as much offence as his violence, and pamphlets were compiled which related his sayings and attributed to him a number of time-honoured witticisms and practical jokes. His reputation was further assailed in songs and satires charging him with embezzlement, drunkenness, adultery, and other crimes; but these accusations were among the ordinary controversial weapons of the period, and deserve no credit. They rest on no evidence, and were solemnly denied by Peters. In one case the publisher of these libels was obliged to insert a public apology in the newspapers. An examination of the career and the writings of Peters shows him to have been an honest, upright, and genial man, whose defects of taste and judgement explain much of the odium which he incurred, but in the opinion of Firth do not justify it.
In person Peters is described as tall and thin, according to the tradition recorded by one of his successors at Salem, but his portraits represent a full-faced, and apparently rather corpulent man. A picture of him, described by Cole, as showing "rather a well-looking open-countenanced man", was formerly in the master's lodge at Queens' College, Cambridge. One which belonged to the Rev. Dr. Treffry was exhibited in the National Portrait Collection of 1868; the best engraved portrait is that prefixed to "A Dying Father's Last Legacy", 12mo, 1660. A list of others is given in the catalogue of the portraits in the Sutherland Collection in the Bodleian Library, and many satirical prints and caricatures are described in the British Museum Catalogue of Prints and Drawings.
Peters was the son of Thomas Dyckwoode, alias Peters, descended from a family which had left the Netherlands to escape religious persecution, and of Martha, daughter of John Treffry and Emlyn Tresithny of Place, Fowey, Cornwall.
In about 1642, while Peters was preaching in Essex, he married Elizabeth, widow of Edmund Read of Wickford, and daughter of Thomas Cooke of Pebmarsh in the same county.
Peters married secondly Deliverance Sheffield; she was still alive in 1677 in New England, and was supported by charity. By his second marriage Peters had one daughter, Elizabeth, to whom his "Last Legacy" is addressed. She is said to have married and left descendants in America, but the accuracy of the pedigree is disputed.
Peters was the subject of a 1981 television play A Last Visitor for Mr. Hugh Peter (sic). It showed him the night before his execution, where he is visited by various figures from his past and the future. He was played by Peter Vaughan. Charles Kay played Charles I.
- Elizabeth, Peter's first wife connected him with the Winthrop family, for Elizabeth's first husband, Edmund Read, was father of a daughter Elizabeth whowas the wife of John Winthrop the younger (Firth 1896, p. 69).
- "the Library of the late Archbishop of Canterbury, and now, or lately, in the Hands of Mr. Hugh Peters, be forthwith secured".(House of Commons 1802, pp. 27–33)
- Chisholm 1911, p. 229.
- "Peters, Hugh". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- Firth 1896, p. 70.
- Battis 1962, pp. 189–208.
- Firth 1896, p. 71 cite Cal. Clarendon Papers, i. 244.
- Firth 1896, p. 71 cites Edwards, Gangræna, iii. 77.
- Firth 1896, p. 71 cites Rushworth, v. 328, 804.
- Firth 1896, p. 71 cites Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1644, pp. 266, 271.
- Firth 1896, p. 71 cites Sprigge, Anglia Rediviva, pp. 77, 102, 180; Vicars, Burning Bush, 1646, p. 198.
- Firth 1896, p. 71 cites Sprigge, p. 229; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1645–1647, p. 128; Master Peter's Message from Sir Thomas Fairfax, 4to, 1645.
- Firth 1896, p. 71 cites Sprigge, Anglia Rediviva, pp. 141–4, 150–3.
- Firth 1896, p. 71 cites "God's Doings and Man's Duty", 4to, 1646.
- Chisholm 1911, pp. 229–300.
- Chisholm 1911, p. 300.
- Firth 1896, pp. 76–77.
- Firth 1896, p. 77.
- cites Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1661–2, p. 79.
- Firth 1896, p. 76 Burnet, Own Time, ed. 1833, i. 290.
- Firth 1896, p. 76 cites The Tales and Jests of Mr. Hugh Peters, published by one that formerly hath been conversant with the author in his lifetime, 4to, 1660; Hugh Peters his Figaries, 4to, 1660.
- Firth 1896, p. 76 cites Don Juan Lamberto, 4to, 1661, pt. ii. chap. viii.; Yonge, England's Shame, 8vo, 1663, pp. 14, 19, 27, 53.
- Firth 1896, p. 76 cites Several Proceedings in Parliament, 2–9 Sept. 1652.
- Firth 1896, p. 76.
- Firth 1896, p. 76 cites Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll. 1st ser. vi. 252.
- Firth 1896, p. 76 cites Diary of Thomas Burton, i. 244.
- Firth 1896, p. 76 notes it was exhibit number 724.
- Firth 1896, p. 76 Satires, vol. i. 1870.
- Firth 1896, p. 69 cites A Dying Father's Legacy, 1660, p. 99; Bibl. Cornub. iii. 1310
- Firth 1896, p. 77 cites Hutchinson Papers, Prince Soc. ii. 252.
- Firth 1896, p. 77 cites Caulfield, Reprint of the Tales and Jests of Hugh Peters, 1807, p. xiv; Hist. of the Rev. Hugh Peters, by Samuel Peters, New York, 1807, 8vo.
- Taylor 1981.
- Battis, Emery (1962). Saints and Sectaries: Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian Controversy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 189–208.
- House of Commons (17 May 1660) [16 May 1660]. "Archbishop of Canterbury's Library". House of Commons Journal 8. British History Online. pp. 27–33.
- Taylor, Don (1981). Alan, Seymour, ed. "Playhouse [BBC2, 1974-83]: A last visitor of Mr. Hugh Peter". BBC.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Peters, Hugh". Encyclopædia Britannica 21 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 299–300
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Firth, C. H. (1896). "Peters, Hugh". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 45. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 69–77.
- Pestana, Carla Gardina (2004). "Peter , Hugh (bap. 1598, d. 1660)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/22024. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
- Plant, David (9 August 2005). "Biography of Hugh Peter". British Civil Wars website. Retrieved July 2013.
- Rideout, Adelaide (1984). The Treffry Family. Chichester: Phillimore. ISBN 0-85033-545-0.
- Stearns, Raymond Phineas (1954). The Strenuous Puritan: Hugh Peters, 1598-1660. Urbana: University of Illinois.
- Trevor-Roper, Hugh (2001). "6 The Fast Sermons of the Long Parliament". The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century. Pub Liberty Fund Inc. ISBN 0-86597-278-8.