Family resident in Essex since 1539, with houses in Ingatestone and vicinity. Its members figured prominently in post-Reformation Catholic history; their wealth financed religious institutions; and their homes served as centers of Catholic life. They intermarried with many influential Catholic families; the title of Baron Petre of Writtle was granted in 1603.
Sir William, lawyer and civil servant; b. Tor Newton, Devonshire, 1505?; d. Ingatestone, Essex, Jan. 13, 1572. He was a pliable tool in carrying out the widely fluctuating policies of four sovereigns, and he also successfully established his own family fortunes. Sir William's sympathies probably remained Catholic, but were not put to the test; his son John, first Lord Petre, conformed at least externally.
William, third son of William, second Lord Petre; b. Ingatestone, Essex, July 28, 1602; d. Stanford Rivers, Essex, 1677. He started the Petre line of Bellhouse. His father had financed the Jesuits in East Anglia, and he himself translated Pedro de Ribadeneira's Flos Sanctorum in 1669. Two daughters and six granddaughters became nuns and two grandsons were priests.
William, fourth Lord Petre, nephew of William Petre; b. Essex, 1627; d. London, Jan. 5, 1684. He suffered much with great constancy for his religion, both financially under the Commonwealth and by imprisonment at the time of the oates plot (1678). Accused of having received from the Jesuit general a commission as "lieutenant-general in the popish army," he was imprisoned in the Tower, where he died. A letter written by him to the King shortly before his death aroused public sympathy for the persecuted Catholics.
Sir Edward, SJ, confessor of James II; b. London, 1631; d. Watten, France, May 15, 1699. Cousin of the Petres of Ingatestone, Edward, of Cranham, England, entered the Jesuits in 1652. In England at the time of the Oates Plot (1678), Edward succeeded to his brother's title (1679) but was jailed in 1680 and 1683. Afterward, as Jesuit vice provincial, he was chosen by James II to be head of the chapel royal. The King, perhaps seeking to make amends for the Jesuits martyred in 1678 and, like most Catholics, overestimating his power to reverse the course of religious history, sought to have Petre made a cardinal; but Pope Innocent XI refused. When James nominated him privy councilor his enemies accused him of being bewitched by the Jesuits. Father Petre fled to the Continent in 1688.
Benjamin, bishop, vicar apostolic; b. Fithlers, Essex, Aug. 10, 1672; d. there, Dec. 22, 1758. Benjamin was educated and ordained at Douai. Largely because of his family wealth he was consecrated (1721), very unwillingly, coadjutor with right of succession to Bp. Bonaventure Giffard. After succeeding as vicar apostolic of the London district in 1734, he continually sought to resign, and at his insistence Richard challoner was appointed coadjutor, whereupon Petre retired to his family estate.
Bibliography: Essex Recusant (Brentwood, Eng. 1959–) passim. f. g. emmison, Tudor Secretary: Sir William Petre at Court and Home (Cambridge, Mass. 1961). m. d. petre, The 9th Lord Petre … (London 1928). t. cooper et al., The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900, 63 v. (London 1885–1900; repr. with corrections, 21 v., 1908–09, 1921–22, 1938) 15:976–983.