Admiral Sir William Penn, MP

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William Penn

Birthplace: St. Thomas Parish, Bristol, Gloucestershire, England, (Present UK)
Death: Died in Wanstead, Essex, England, (Present UK)
Place of Burial: Bristol, City of Bristol, UK
Immediate Family:

Son of Capt. Giles Penn and Joan Penn (Gilbert)
Husband of Margaret Penn (Jasper)
Father of William Penn, Founder of Pennsylvania; Richard Penn and Margaret Penn
Brother of George Giles Penn; Rachel Bradshaw (Penn); Eleanor Penn and Ann Markham

Occupation: Good relationship with the Stuart Kings - conqured Jamaic, Admiral RN, m. 6/6/1643
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Admiral Sir William Penn, MP

Sir William Penn (23 April 1621 – 16 September 1670) was an English admiral, and the father of William Penn, founder of the Province of Pennsylvania. Penn was born in St. Thomas Parish, Bristol to Giles Penn and Joan Gilbert [1]. On 6 June 1643 he married Margaret Jasper, a daughter of a wealthy Dutch merchant. They had three children: Margaret, Richard and William.

He served his apprenticeship at sea with his father. In the first Civil War he fought on the side of the parliament, and was in command of a ship in the squadron maintained against the king in the Irish seas. The service was arduous and called for both energy and good seamanship. In 1648 he was arrested and sent to London, but was soon released, and sent back as rear admiral in the Assurance. The exact cause of the arrest is unknown, but it may be presumed to have been that he was suspected of being in correspondence with the king's supporters. It is highly probable that he was, for until the Restoration he was regularly in communication with the Royalists, while serving the parliament, or Cromwell, so long as their service was profitable, and making no scruple of applying for grants of the confiscated lands of the king's Irish friends.[2]

After 1650 he was employed in the Ocean, and in the Mediterranean in pursuit of the Royalists under Prince Rupert. He was so active on this service that when he returned home on the 18th of March 1651 he could boast that he had not put foot on shore for more than a year.[2]

In the First Anglo-Dutch War, he served in the navy of the Commonwealth of England, commanding squadrons at the battles of the Kentish Knock (1652), Portland, the Gabbard and Scheveningen (1653).

In 1654 he offered to carry the fleet over to the king, but in October of the same year he had no scruple in accepting the naval command in the expedition to the West Indies sent out by Cromwell.[2] In 1655 he commanded the fleet that launched a bungled attack on La Hispaniola. He was not responsible for the shameful repulse at San Domingo, which was due to a panic among the troops.[2] Afterwards the less desirable island of Jamaica was seized for the Commonwealth regime. On their return he and his military colleague Venables were sent to the Tower. He made humble submission, and when released retired to the estate he had received from confiscated land in Ireland.[2]

He continued in communication with the Royalists, and in 1660 had a rather obscure share in the Restoration:[2] he was sent in the Naseby (later the Royal Charles) to fetch king Charles II over to England.

In the Second Anglo-Dutch War he was captain of the fleet at the Battle of Lowestoft in 1665 under James Stuart, Duke of York.

The key source for the adult life of Penn is the Diary of his next door neighbour Samuel Pepys. In 1660 Penn was appointed a Commissioner of the Navy Board where he worked with Pepys, Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board. The character of “mean fellow” given him by Pepys is borne out by much that is otherwise known of him. But it is no less certain that he was an excellent seaman and a good fighter.[2]

Like Pepys and the Earl of Sandwich (Pepys' patron at the Navy Board) Penn was a "moderate" Roundhead who had succeeded in maintaining his position at the Restoration. Unsurprisingly, Penn appears several times in Pepys diary. A typical entry (5 April 1666):

"To the office, where the falsenesse and impertinencies of Sir W. Pen would make a man mad to think of."

But he is referenced perhaps most vividly in an entry for 1665 when we read,

"At night home and up to the leads [roof], were contrary to expectation driven down again with a stinke by Sir W. Pen's shying of a shitten pot in their house of office"

A native of the West Country Sir William Penn is buried in the church of St. Mary Redcliffe in Bristol. His helm and half-armour are hung on the wall, together with the tattered banners of the Dutch ships that he captured in battle. His portrait by Lely is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich.

Though Sir William Penn was not a high-minded man, he is a figure of considerable importance in British naval history. As admiral and general for the parliament he helped in 1653 to draw up the first code of tactics provided for the navy. It was the base of the “Duke of York's Sailing and Fighting Instructions,” which continued for long to supply the orthodox tactical creed of the navy

Family and Education bap. 23 Apr. 1621, 2nd s. of Giles Penn. merchant, of Bristol by Joan Gilbert of Som. m. 6 Jan. 1644, Margaret, da. of Hans Jasper of Rotterdam, Holland, wid. of Nicasious van der Schuren of Kilconry, co. Clare, 2s. 1da. Kntd. 9 June 1660.1

Offices Held

Capt. (parliamentary navy) 1642-4, rear-adm. [I] 1644-8, v.-adm. [I] 1648-50; c.-in-c. southern fleet 1650-2; v.-adm. 1652; gen. of the fleet 1653-4; c.-in-c. W. Indies fleet 1654-5; gov. of Kinsale [I] Aug. 1660-9; capt. of ft. [I] by Nov. 1660-9; great capt.-cdr. to the Duke of York. 1665.2

Freeman, Portsmouth 1646, 1653, 1662, Bristol Mar. 1660; j.p. Essex., Mdx. and Surr. 1654-5, Essex, Hants, Kent and Mdx. July 1660-d.; member of council and v.-adm. Munster [I] Aug. 1660-d; commr. for oyer and terminer, Norfolk circuit 1661.3

Commr. for Admiralty 1653-5, Mar.-July 1660, navy July 1660-9; elder bro. Trinity House Nov. 1660-d., master 1667-8; comptroller of victualling 1667-9.

Biography Penn’s grandfather was forced to sell his small estate in Wiltshire, and his father became a merchant, serving as consul in Morocco before the Civil War. Penn himself was apprenticed in 1638 to (Sir) William Batten, under whom he served in the parliamentary navy. When Batten went over to the Royalists in 1648, Penn came under suspicion; but he was quickly reinstated in the Irish fleet. Clarendon asserts that he offered his services to Charles II in 1655, when in command of the West Indies fleet, but it is doubtful whether his royalism took him beyond drinking the King’s health in private. He was knighted by Henry Cromwell in 1658 in Ireland, where he held an estate in right of his wife. In 1659 he crossed over to England, and offered his services to the Rump, which were refused, though George Monck undertook to support his application. Penn was unsuccessful in his approaches to Bristol and Rye for the honour of representing them in the Convention. Monck, however, not only secured his election for Weymouth, but gave him the opportunity of performing conspicuous service in the Restoration by entrusting to him the getting to sea of the fleet which under Edward Montagu I was to bring Charles II over from Holland. Of the three professional seamen of flag rank who transferred their services from the Commonwealth to the monarchy at the Restoration, according to Clarendon, ‘Penn, with much the worst understanding, had a great mind to appear better bred and to speak like a gentleman’; nevertheless, in the presence of real gentlemen, even one so ill-educated as Sir George Carteret, he found himself longing for ‘a grain or two’ of the self-confidence of the tailor’s son, Samuel Pepys. Penn was named to two committees in the Convention, those to consider the public debt and the rules for disbandment.4

With the aid of a letter of recommendation from the Duke of York Penn was re-elected in his absence at the general election of 1661, being proposed by his erstwhile colleague, Henry Waltham. Although with Batten he was the only professional seaman in the Cavalier Parliament, he was inactive, even allowing for his absences on duty, his visits to his Irish estates and his frequent crippling attacks of gout. His four committees comprised that to provide carriage for the navy and ordnance in 1662, and in 1664 one to give further powers to the navy board, another on the Wey navigation, and a third on the conventicles bill. Listed as a court dependant, he voted for the repeal of the Triennial Act only out of respect for the King’s wishes. He never acted as a government spokesman, though possessing some of the qualifications. ‘He had got many good words, which he used at a venture. He was a formal man, and spoke very leisurely but much, and left the matter more intricate and perplexed than he found [it].’ Penn served as chief of staff to the Duke of York in the 1665 campaign, putting his commander under obligations that he was never able to repay in Penn’s lifetime. It was his good fortune that, being laid up with the gout, he could not be held liable, with Henry Brouncker, for the failure to follow up the victory off Lowestoft; but he was principally responsible for the irregular distribution of prize goods. He was not employed in 1666 till Monck’s obstinacy and over-confidence had shattered the English fleet.5

When peace was restored Monck’s friends spread charges against Penn of cowardice, falsity and ‘bringing roguish fanatic captains into the fleet’, and on 3 Dec. 1667 he was summoned to attend the parliamentary committee of miscarriages. He defended Harman from the imputation of sole responsibility for slackening sail in pursuit of the Dutch fleet in 1665. On 16 Apr. 1668, he delivered from his place in the House ‘a well-argued and convincing defence’ on the prize issue, though doubtless, according to his custom, ‘with so much leisure and gravity as was tiresome’. Unfortunately he could hardly exculpate himself without inculpating Montagu (now Lord Sandwich); and the hostility of Sandwich’s friends, added to the distaste felt by the Cavaliers for a survivor of the Interregnum, resulted in an unanimous vote for his impeachment. It must have been widely understood that this was merely a formality to prevent Penn from commanding the fleet again; for he had powerful friends on both sides of the House who laboured to save him, notably (Sir) William Coventry, his patron since 1660, who had learned from Penn all he knew of seamanship, and Henry Coventry, the secretary of state. (Sir) John Nicholas considered, however, that Penn ‘hath ill luck to be one of our Members, for he is likely by it to fare far worse than his companions, who are as guilty as himself’. A committee under Sir Robert Howard was appointed to draw up articles of impeachment, which were duly delivered to the Lords on 24 Apr. Meanwhile he was suspended from sitting for the duration of the session. A few days later he gave Pepys in confidence the benefit of his political experience. The King, he thought, should dissolve Parliament as soon as the supply bill was passed, for it would never vote him any more; he had ‘great opportunity of making himself popular by stopping this Act against conventicles’; and he should replace Ormonde, whose administration of Ireland was corrupt and oppressive, by Orrery ( Roger Boyle). Such opinions at this juncture are perhaps predictable in an Irish Cromwellian landowner still under sentence of the House, who was also the anxious father of a notable and headstrong dissenter. They follow fairly closely the policy ascribed to Buckingham; nevertheless Penn continued to be reckoned a member of the court party. His health, however, further deteriorated, and in 1669 he resigned from all his offices. He had already laid by considerable wealth for a man of his modest origins; he was reported to have given £4,000 to his daughter on her marriage with Anthony Lowther and his Irish estates grew in value from £300 p.a. in 1654 to £1,500 p.a. at his death, when in addition he was owed £12,000 by the crown. It is hard to see how this wealth can have been acquired except by a very broad interpretation of official perquisites. For the rest, Penn’s character has suffered from the persistent denigration of Pepys, who ill requited his neighbour’s constant kindness and respect. The charge of ‘falsity’, so frequently repeated, probably arises from Penn’s lack of confidence; that of ‘cowardice’ seems to be baseless. Penn had the highest ambitions for his son, and was long ‘put off the hooks’ by his earlier religious vagaries. But these were as nothing to the young man’s open defiance of the Conventicles Act and of conventional manners in the autumn of 1670, when the doctors had already told Lady Penn that her husband would not ‘live beyond the fall of leaf or winter’. Indulgent to the last, Penn paid his son’s fine and died a few days later on 16 Sept. 1670. He was buried at St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. His son, though very active politically under James II, was as a Quaker debarred from Parliament, but after the traditional three generations his great-grandson Richard conformed and entered the House as Member for Appleby in 1784.6

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690 Author: John. P. Ferris Notes 1. DNB; HMC Portland, ii. 84; Pepys Diary, 6 Jan. 1662. 2. G. Penn, Mems. ii. 580; HMC Portland, ii. 64, 66, 70, 83; CSP Dom. 1648-9, p. 286; 1650, p. 237; CSP Ire. 1666-9, p. 764; 1769-70, p. 384. 3. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 353, 355, 357; J. Latimer, Bristol in the 17th Cent. 293. 4. Gen. Mag. xiii. 116; CSP Dom. 1637-8, p. 42; Merchant Taylors apprentice bk. 1635-9, f. 187; Penn, i. 550-6; Pepys Diary, 21 Aug. 1660, 1 May 1662, 21 May 1667; Clarendon, Rebellion, vi. 5; D. Underdown, Royalist Conspiracy, 125; HMC Portland, ii. 98, 100; Latimer, 293; HMC 13th Rep. IV, 235; Clarendon, Life, ii. 354-5. 5. Adm. 2/1745, f. 30; Weymouth minute bk. f. 272; Pepys Diary, 23, 28 Mar. 1664; Burnet Supp. ed. Foxcroft, 218-19; F. R. Harris, Life of Sandwich, ii. 3, 6. 6. Pepys Diary, 28 Apr. 1662, 15 Jan. 1665, 1 July 1666, 15 Feb. 1667, 26 Mar., 3 May 1668; Grey, i. 87, 133-8; CJ, ix. 29, 81, 82, 85, 88; Clarendon, Life, 456; Eg. 2539, f. 204; CSP Dom. 1654, p. 351; Aubrey, Brief Lives, ii. 135; CSP Ire. 1669-70, p. 202.

Admiral Sir William Penn (b.1621 - d.1670)

1621, April 23rd, born in St Thomas Parish, Bristol, the second son of Giles Penn and Jeanne (Joane) Gilbert.

1643, by now a Captain in the British Royal Navy he married Margaret Van der Schure at St Mary Redcliffe Church in Bristol.

She was a young Dutch widow, the daughter of John (or Johann) Jasper an Irish merchant who traded with the Dutch.

1644, October 14, son, William Penn, born.

1644, after joining the King's Navy he was appointed to command of the Fellowship, a ship of 28 guns.

1644, first war between Holland and England.

1645, June, Penn was in command of the fleet which won a significant victory at Lowerstoft.

1645, September, he lead a return to England with many 'prizes'; four men-of-war, three 'East Indiamen' and seven merchant ships. He was acknowledged in his lifetime as a 'national hero'.

1648, he was made Rear Admiral of the Irish Fleet on the Assurance.

1649, he was made a Vice Admiral on the Lion.

1649-50, Ireland was kept 'free' of 'foreign' interventions and Admiral Blake blockaded Prince Rupert's fleet in Kinsale.

1650, March, Penn was aboard the Centurion charged with tracking down Prince Rupert's fleet in the Mediterranean. Blake followed Prince Rupert to Tagus, Portugal and captured or destroyed his fleet. This is the commencement of British 'gunboat diplomacy' which was to be used over the next three centuries.

1650, a major battle was fought at Macroom between Cromwell's forces led by Lord Borghill and those, under the command of Bishop Mac Egan, loyal to King Charles. The Cromwellian forces were victorious, the Bishop was captured and hanged in nearby Carrigadrohid. Six years later Macroom Castle was handed over to Admiral Sir William Penn.

1651, first of the Navigation Acts (strengthened in 1657) passed to break the hold of the Dutch of trade between Europe and the Americas. War, firstly with the Netherlands and then with the Spanish, followed.

1652, Penn was appointed Blake's Vice-Admiral of the Fleet, he was captain of the Triumph. He was in charge of the White Squadron and played an important part in the defeat of the Dutch and was appointed General at Sea by Cromwell, Commissioner of the Navy and awarded a gold chain worth some £100.

1654, The Portuguese Treaty gave British merchants entry into all Portuguese colonies in the East and West.

1654, it is at this time that Admiral Penn offered his services and his fleet to King Charles I, Charles asked him to wait for a more opportune time before changing sides. He was appointed, in October, as Cromwell's Admiral to take Hispaniola. This was part of Cromwell's Western Design (a long term Puritan aim through the Providence Island venture). It is presumed that the Council which appointed him is unaware of these overtures.

1654, Christmas, the grand Sea-Armament (30 - 60 ships, 4,000 soldiers) set sail. It was reinforced by about 5,000, reluctant, recruits from Barbados, and the Leeward Islands taken on at St. Kitts (including Henry Morgan). The English soldiers were 'undesirables' nominated by Regimental Commanders who took the opportunity of sending people they considered to be undesirable. Penn and Venables opened sealed orders at a certain latitude and found instructions to take Hispaniola (Haiti) from the Spanish. Penn and Venables had numerous disagreements, (Penn was equivocal in support for the Cromwellian regime and Venables was an ardent Parliamentarian, this, coupled with their equal and divided commands, lead to mutual hostility). The Civil Commissioners, Windslow and Butler, who accompanied them failed to help matters. The arms, men and supplies which had been promised them did not materialise. In Barbados the English troops immediately become ill from eating unfamiliar food. The settlers of Barbados were unwilling to get involved in the adventure and were certainly reluctant to release their slaves and indentured servants to fight against the Spanish. The Barbadian planters and settlers had been doing a prosperous trade with New England and the Netherlands, in direct conflict with English foreign policy, and were not inclined to see themselves as subject to rule from a remote England. These are early signs of 'New England' independence from rule from England. At this time the population of Barbados was some 30,000 people. It was also a refuge for Royalists who had so recently been defeated. In 1650 Barbados had come out in support of King Charles II, a rebellion which had been put down by the use of two men of war (warships) and 1,000 troops.

1655, April 14th, they disembarked at Point Nizao some 60 miles from the main town, marched through difficult country, and were ambushed. April 17th they were repulsed by the Spanish before being thouroughly defeated and fleeing in disarray on April 25th. The English soldiers started dying at a rate of some 200 a day. Over 1,000 English troops died, either killed in conflict or from disease. The fleet set off for Jamaica. This island, they knew from intelligence, was poorly defended by the Spanish, and was seen as a much less important possession. 38 ships sailed into the harbour which was to become known as Port Royal (Kingston). It was quickly captured and Spanish Town was plundered by English troops. The Spanish escaped and released their slaves and cattle whilst Penn left Jamaica, followed by Venables. Vice Admiral Goodison and Major General Fortesque were left behind with the remnants of a dispirited force. Troops died of starvation and disease in great numbers over the next few years, they refused to grow crops believing they would be sent home if there was no food. The English were attacked by the freed Spanish slaves. (see slave revolts)The Governors, Fortesque, Sedgwick and Brayne died, one after the other. Cromwell encouraged settlers to go to Jamaica from other islands but they fared little better than the troops. In 1658 the Spanish tried to recapture the island from the north and they held out in the mountains until 1660.

1655, August, Penn returned to London. Correspondence, 13 September, 1655, from Cromwell to Admiral Blake read:

  • 'It is too sad a truth, The Expedition to the West Indies has failed! Sea-General Penn and Land-General Venables have themselves come home, one after the other, with the disgraceful news; and are lodged in the Tower, a fortnight ago, for quitting their posts without orders.'

Penn was dismissed and replaced by Montague.

1655, on his return from the West Indies Penn brought with him a slave named, Sampson.

1656, Macroom Castle (see 1650) was handed over to Admiral Penn. He retired to his Irish estates; the castle and manor of Macroom. He took no further part in protectorate political life.

He wrote a code of navel tactics. This became the code adopted by the Duke of York in his 'Sailing and Fighting Instructions' which became the standard text for British naval expansionist tactics for some centuries.

1659, Parliament passed the second Navigation Act decreeing that the colonies could ship their products only to England. The initial list of products included tobacco, sugar, wool, indigo, and other mainstays of the colonies. Molasses was later added to the list. Under the scrutiny of the Privy Council, the Lords of Trade oversaw the American colonies and enforced the Navigation Acts.

1660, the year of the restoration of the English monarchy. Under the direction of Charles II Lord Muskerry McCarthy got back Macroom Castle and Admiral Penn received Shanagarry Castle in County Cork in compensation. (In the Williamite Wars of the 1690's Macroom Castle was once again confiscated from the McCarthy's and this time sold by auction to the Hollow Sword Blade Company of London). During this year Charles II summoned Admiral Penn to Whitehall, and addressed him:

  • "My worthy friend, whose heart was ready to aid me in trouble, I rejoice to share with you my joy. Knighthood shall be yours, and I appoint you a Commissioner of the Navy, and Governor of the Fort of Kinsale in Ireland."

He became M.P. for Weymouth.

1670, September 16, he died at Wanstead, Essex a very wealthy man, aged 49.

1670 3 October 1670, buried at St. Mary Redcliffe Church, Bristol,England. (click here to see pictures of Admiral Penn's Armour in St Mary Redcliffe Church, Bristol and Text by his son, William) (click here to see the Will of Admiral Penn)

Sir William Penn (23 April 1621 – 16 September 1670) was an English admiral, and the father of William Penn, founder of the colony of Pennsylvania. Penn was born in St. Thomas Parish, Bristol to Giles Penn and Joan Gilbert [1]. On 6 June 1643 he married Margaret Jasper, a daughter of a famous and wealty Dutch merchant. They had three children: Margaret, Richard and William.

Admiral Sir William Penn and Margaret Jasper, previously widowed and the daughter of a Rotterdam merchant. William Penn, Sr. served in the Commonwealth Navy during the English Civil War and was rewarded by Oliver Cromwell with estates in Ireland. The lands were seized from Irish Catholics, as punishment for an earlier massacre of Protestants. Admiral Penn took part in the restoration of Charles II and was eventually knighted and served in the Royal Navy. At the time of his son’s birth, Captain Penn was twenty-three and an ambitious naval officer in charge of quelling Irish Catholic unrest and blockading Irish ports.

1670. — Sir William Penn of London, Knight; Will dated 20 Jan. 1669 ; To be buried in Parish Church of Redcliffe (i.e. St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol,) " as nere vnto the body of my dear mother deceased as the same conveniently may be" ; to have a monument for self & mother ; wife Dame Margaret Penn ; son William Penn ; younger son Richard Penn £120 per ann. until 21 years of age & then £4000 ; daughter Margaret wife of Anthony Lowther; nephews James & John Bradshaw & William & George Markham; cozen William Penn son of George Penn late of the Forest of Brayden, co. Wilts, Gentlemen, deceased; Proved 6 Oct. 1670 by son William Exor.

MONUMENTAL INSCRIPTION IN ST. MAEY REDCLIFFE— BRISTOL. Sir William Penn, Knight, born at Bristol 1621, of the Penns of Penns Lodge, in the county of Wilts. He was made captain at 21, rear admiral of Ireland at 23, vice admiral of England at 31, and general in the first Dutch wars at 32, whence returning in 1655 he was chosen a parliament- man for Weymouth 1660, was made commissioner of the admiralty and navy, gouvernor of the forts and town of Kingsale, vice-admiral of Munster and a member of that provincial council, and in 1664 was chosen great captain commander under his Royal Highness in that signal and most evidently successful tight against the Dutch fleet. Thus he took leave of the sea, his old element, but continued his other employs till 1669, when through bodily infirmities (contracted through the care and fatigue of public affairs) he witlidrew, prepared his mind for his end, and with a gentle and even gale in much peace arrived and anchored in his last and best port at Wanstead, in the county of Essex, IG September, 1670, being then but 49 years of age and 4 months. To whose name and merit his surviving lady erected this remembrance.

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Admiral Sir William Penn, MP's Timeline

April 23, 1621
Bristol, Gloucestershire, England, (Present UK)
June 6, 1643
Age 22
Bristol, Gloucestershire, England, (Present UK)
October 14, 1644
Age 23
London, Middlesex, England, (Present UK)
Age 24
Bristol, London, England
Age 26
Bristol, London, England
September 16, 1670
Age 49
Wanstead, Essex, England, (Present UK)
Age 48
Bristol, City of Bristol, UK