Percival (Perceval), Sir Phillip (1605–47), landowner and government official, was the second son of Richard Percival of Tickenham, Somerset, and his second wife, Alice Sherman of Ottery St Mary, Devon. His father was the clerk of the court of wards in Ireland and trained Phillip in the mechanics of that institution. Following Richard's death, Phillip and his older brother, Walter, obtained a reversion to his post on 27 July 1622. Walter died in 1624, allowing Phillip to succeed to the considerable family estates in Bruton, Somerset. Despite this, he concentrated his activities in Ireland, amassing a multiplicity of government offices: having inherited the position of clerk of the court of wards, he became subsequently clerk of the upper house of the Irish parliament and keeper of the records in Bermingham tower on 23 June 1625, clerk of the crown on 30 January 1627, joint clerk of the commission for defective titles in 1636 and general feodary of Ireland and escheator of Munster; he also served as customer for the port of Dublin from 1629 to 1631. He enjoyed the confidence of Thomas Wentworth (qv), governor of Ireland from 1633 to 1640, who knighted him on 2 June 1636, made him a privy councillor in 1638, and granted him a monopoly of the sale of ale and brandy in Ireland the same year. In 1637 Percival helped survey lands marked down for plantation in Tipperary and Cork, and did so again in Connacht in late 1638. Wentworth used Percival's name to cover his own purchase of land in Sligo in 1637 and later in Wicklow.
Percival is most noteworthy for his assiduity in acquiring Irish land. The methods by which he did so strained the bounds of legality but he always stoutly denied charges of corruption. As crown feodary and escheator of Munster he had access to large cash balances, which he used as mortgage loans to Irish landowners struggling to cope with the new socio-political order. He also used his influence to defend these landowners from attempts by English officials and their own families to wrest their lands from them. However, he ruthlessly enforced the terms of his loans and all were eventually forced to disgorge some, if not all, of their land. The former owners were usually allowed to remain on as tenants, their rents corresponding to the interest on their loans. His clients were mainly based in north Cork, the most important of them being the Barrys of Liscarroll, the MacCarthys and O'Callaghans of Duhallow and lords Roche and Kilmallock in Fermoy barony. On the surface, he enjoyed excellent personal relations with his tenants/mortgagees, particularly the Barrys with whom he had a voluminous correspondence, but this was not a relationship of equals and suppressed resentments undoubtedly festered.
In his capacity as a government official, he played a prominent role in discovering technical defects in Irish landowners’ titles and always ensured that he benefited from such discoveries. A classic example was a case of August 1625, in which Percival deprived Sir Thomas Hewitt of his holdings, when he unearthed the fact that the Irish lord from whom Hewitt had leased it had failed properly to sue forth his livery when he had come of age nearly fifty years previously. The land was declared forfeit to the king, who gratefully leased the said holdings to Percival. He also bought up lands in Tipperary and his home county of Somerset, but mortgages and the detection of flaws in land titles remained his preferred and more economical method of acquisition.
By 1641 he possessed massive tracts of land in Ireland, holding nearly 100,000 acres in Cork alone, and later estimated his annual income to be just under £5,000. His patrimony was consolidated in three large blocks: a large tract in north Cork largely acquired from his debtors, an estate in Tipperary mainly purchased and a lease from the earl of Cork at Youghal; he also had land in Wicklow. Most of his land continued to be occupied by its former Irish owners who used it to graze vast flocks of cattle and sheep in the traditional Irish fashion. Although these arrangements did not conform to the ideals of English colonial theory, they suited Percival who spent most of his time in Dublin attending to government business and did not have the time personally to manage his estates. That said, he devoted considerable time and resources to developing an English style manor in the barony of Orrery in north Cork, where he settled English tenants and established his country residence.
However, in amassing these holdings, he had made many enemies, and by late 1640 his closeness to Wentworth, who had been arrested by the English parliament for treason, endangered his position. Two of his mortgagees petitioned against him in the English parliament in 1640 and his involvement in shady land deals on behalf of Wentworth in Sligo was investigated. But his ruin was brought about in a very different way. In October 1641 the Irish catholics rebelled against the government. Unlike most of his protestant contemporaries, Percival had taken precautions against such a development. While he remained in Dublin, he armed and provisioned his English tenants to garrison his four castles in north Munster against the rebels. However, in summer 1642, the Munster army of the Catholic Confederation of Ireland conquered his lands despite stubborn resistance.
Meanwhile, in Dublin Percival quickly proved his indispensability to the beleaguered royal administration by drafting records of indictment against some 3,000 rebels across the country and by undertaking the onerous task of provisioning of the royal army. During 1641–44, he exhausted his funds and his credit by harbouring protestant refugees fleeing the rebels, providing money to the army and personally guaranteeing government loans. In these difficult circumstances he cooperated closely with the royal army's general James Butler (qv), earl of Ormond, with whom he had longstanding financial links. Ormond appointed Percival as commander of a company designated to deliver supplies and munitions to outlying royalist garrisons. Percival had previously established and maintained this company at his own expense. Around the start of 1642, he travelled to London to seek aid from the English parliament. With England drifting towards civil war many in parliament were suspicious of Ormond due to his links with the king, but Percival managed to discredit reports circulating in London that the earl was secretly providing intelligence to the catholic insurgents. In March, parliament formally appointed him commissary-general of the army victuals in Ireland. He returned to Dublin in April with subsidies from parliament and assurances of further aid.
However, by the start of 1643 it was apparent that parliament was incapable of making good its promises due to the civil war in England. Unpaid and hungry, the protestant forces in and about Dublin became increasingly mutinous and ineffective. On several occasions angry soldiers invaded his Dublin residence, demanding food and money. Disillusioned with parliament, he supported Ormond's seizure of control over the Dublin administration in the king's name in spring 1643 and efforts to secure a truce (known as the cessation) with the catholic confederacy of Ireland, which was realised that September. This stance entailed great political and financial risks for Percival as the English parliament condemned the cessation raising the prospect that parliament – if victorious in the English civil war – would refuse to reimburse him for the large debts he had incurred in the war effort against the Irish rebels.
He was nominated as one of the delegates to represent the Irish government in negotiations with envoys of the Catholic Confederacy of Ireland, before the king at Oxford, and left Dublin in February 1644. The king and his supporters were eager to make large concessions to the confederates, believing that their intervention could tip the scales in the English civil war. However, fearful of never recovering his lands, Percival opposed this. His intransigence earned him the hostility and suspicion of the royalists and as a result, instead of returning to Dublin, he eventually travelled to London in August to join the parliamentarians. By then in severe financial straits, he was forced to sell the family estate in Somerset.
In 1645, when he petitioned the English parliament for some financial compensation for his losses in Ireland, objections were raised based on his support for the 1643 cessation. Unrepentant, Percival furnished his critics with a lengthy justification of the cessation in which he stressed the disordered state of the protestant forces in Ireland at that time and rather daringly asserted that the king had provided more aid to the protestant enclave around Dublin than parliament. That year, he began acting on behalf of the commander of the protestant forces in Munster Murrough O'Brien (qv), Lord Inchiquin, often having to defend both Inchiquin and himself from charges of covert royalism. His most vehement critics were his former government colleagues in Dublin, John Temple (qv) and Adam Meredith, who had been purged by Ormond with Percival's assistance as parliamentarian sympathisers after the royalist coup of spring 1643.
During autumn 1646, he was heavily involved in aborted negotiations between Ormond and parliament. By 1647, parliament, although victorious in the English civil war, was badly split between a moderate presbyterian faction and a radical independent one. Percival supported the presbyterians who arranged his election to parliament for the borough of Newport in Cornwall on 19 May. The independents decided to exploit his royalist past and his support for the 1643 truce to embarrass their factional rivals and unsuccessfully proposed his expulsion from parliament in July. Although the presbyterians were the majority in parliament, the independents had the support of the army, and hence in September he was compelled to leave London. In November a motion for his impeachment was made, and he returned to defend himself again. However, he suddenly fell ill and died 10 November 1647. He was buried at the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields where the protestant primate of Ireland, James Ussher (qv), preached his funeral sermon.
On 26 October 1626 he married Catherine, daughter of Arthur Ussher, with whom he had five sons and four daughters; she died 2 January 1681. His eldest son, John, recovered most of his father's estates following the final defeat of the rebellion.