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John Perrott - The Pope Converter
John Perrott wasn't just a Pope converter - he was the Pope converter. Born into an Irish Anglican household sometime in the 1630s, he was the illegitimate son of Sir John Perrott, the Viceroy of Ireland in Tudor times. Not very much is known about his life up until 1655, and so it is from that year onwards that this entry follows the adventures of John Perrott, an Irish eccentric and claimant to the English throne.
This was the year John Perrott became a Quaker in Waterford city. This was the beginning of the long road that eventually led him to be known as 'that mad Quaker preacher'. Eventually he became a preacher, and as a preacher he wanted to preach. So he went to Limerick. A last bastion of Cromwellism, he was promptly arrested and forced to sit through an Anglican sermon. Then, when it was over, he asked if he could debate the points. That really got them cross, but for some reason he was released a few days later.
Onwards to Rome
In 1658, after a few years of preaching1, he set sail for Italy. He saw the sectarian problems around him in Ireland and reasoned that the only way to end them was to convert the Pope. He left with another Quaker preacher called John Love, and the pair travelled towards Italy over land. It is recorded that on the 12 August, 1657 they entered a synagogue in Lyon and attempted to convert the congregation. They were arrested by Vatican officials in France and were questioned, but were released soon after.
After this incident, they decided it would be smarter to avoid Italy and the Pope for a while. They set themselves the slightly more achievable target of converting Mohammad IV, the Sultan of Jerusalem. Needless to say that went down well. After a while they were discouraged and headed once more for Italy. On arrival in Venice, Perrott was promptly arrested, stripped, beaten and put in quarantine, but to his surprise he was eventually released.
On his first day in Rome, Perrott was arrested by the City Marshall, who had him stripped and put in prison. The Inquisition offered him good food, women of negotiable affection and alcohol, and would then have him beaten. His travelling partner, Love, was sentenced to death. Some sources say he was hung and others that he was tortured. Amazingly, Perrott was released!
Father John Prey
On his second day of freedom he managed to arrange a meeting with an Irish priest, John Prey, the Pope's Chaplin. Perrott hoped Prey would at least be able to get him an audience with Pope Alexander VII, but John Prey was no friend. Perrott was quickly arrested, and spent three years in a jail in solitary confinement before being released and placed in a lunatic asylum known as the Bedlam2.
Even though Perrott never got anywhere near the Pope during his stay in Italy, the Pope did get word of him. To this day you can read in Alexander VII's diary about how one of his attendants told him of a mad Quaker trying to convert him.
While returning home he was arrested3 when, in France, he accused the Catholic priests of worshiping Idols. He was released soon enough. Though he failed to convert the Pope, Perrott returned to England as a hero. He was regarded as a great man, a martyr for a cause.
The Hat Controversy
When he came back to England, Perrott quickly sparked a religious debate between himself and George Fox, another leading Quaker, on whether a hat should be worn while praying or not. Perrott believed, and could quote religious passages relating to it, that a hat should be worn while praying. Fox believed the opposite, and this lead to a split in the Quaker community in England. Perrott toured around the country for a while until he returned to London and was arrested.
He was eventually, inexplicably, released once more and decided to move to Barbados, where he could work as a civil servant and own a tobacco plantation. When he arrived in Barbados, Perrott began to live quite unlike a Quaker. He smoked, drank, wore a sword, swore and dressed in fine clothes. He loved it so much he sent for his wife and children to come with him. Perrott died in Barbados in 1665, but by then had become broke and was buried in a mass grave in a Catholic graveyard.
Why was Perrott Always Released?
This is a question that many people want to know the answer to, and it has several possible answers:
That last one may have caught you off guard, but Perrott's father had been Sir John Perrott, the Viceroy of Ireland. Sir John's mother was one Mary Berkeley, a serving girl, who was already pregnant when she married a poor sheep farmer from northern Wales, also called John Perrott. The farmer, who was the Pope converter's grandfather, was promptly knighted by the King. It is probable that Sir John Perrott was the bastard son of King Henry VIII, and it was because of this royal blood that the preacher John Perrott survived his ordeals.
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