Perrot, Sir John (1528–92), lord deputy of Ireland, was son of Mary Perrot (neé Berkeley) and Thomas Perrot of Harroldston, Pembrokeshire, Wales. His paternity was the subject of much scandalmongering in his own lifetime, but the rumour (spread by the inveterate gossip Robert Naunton) that he was the illegitimate son of Henry VIII has been discounted by recent scholarship.
Educated at the cathedral school of St David's, he began at age 18 a career as a courtier through the influence of his stepfather, Sir Thomas Jones, who secured him a place in the household of the lord treasurer, William Paulet, 1st marquis of Winchester. Allying himself with the Dudley faction, Perrot enjoyed some advancement on Northumberland's coming to power. He attended on an embassy to the court of Henry II of France, negotiating a proposal of marriage between Edward VI and the French king's daughter, Elizabeth. He was chosen as sheriff of Pembrokeshire in 1552. At this time also Perrot greatly improved his precarious finances through marriage to Ann, daughter of the wealthy Kentish gentleman Sir Thomas Cheney. Cheney's influence may have protected Perrot in the early years of Mary I as he was returned MP for Sandwich, Kent (1553, 1555). But his open protection of religious dissidents, his conduct in parliament, and his continued association with the Dudleys led to two brief periods of confinement in the Fleet. Though he was partially redeemed by gallant service at the capture of Saint-Quentin (August 1557), Perrot's high-handed conduct toward a neighbouring gentleman in Pembrokeshire had once again landed him in trouble at the close of Mary's reign; and it was the remarkable turn in fortune that he enjoyed on the accession of Elizabeth I that fanned the rumour that he was her father's natural son. Perrot was one of the four canopy-bearers at Elizabeth's coronation; he was the recipient of many generous royal grants of land, including a lucrative commission for the recovery of concealed lands, and he was appointed to a series of important local administrative offices which made him a highly influential figure in Pembrokeshire and south Wales.
Despite his association with both Sir Henry Sidney (qv) and the earl of Sussex (qv), Perrot showed no interest in Ireland in the 1560s. He was only the third possible candidate considered for the post of president of Munster, and he himself accepted the post only reluctantly and with several conditions in November 1570. Once sworn in by Sidney (March 1571), however, he acted with remarkable speed and energy, continuing and extending the war of terror waged by the previous military governor in the province, Humphrey Gilbert (qv), against the rebellion led by James fitz Maurice Fitzgerald (qv). Though officially resident at Cork, Perrot concentrated his efforts in Tipperary. Operating from a base in Kilmallock, he launched several attacks on the rebels in Limerick, Clare, and north Cork, as well as in Tipperary. But despite the intensity of his efforts, and the killing of what he claimed to be in excess of 800 rebels, he failed either to capture fitz Maurice or to suppress the rebellion. The failure of a siege of Castlemaine (June–July 1571), through lack of supplies and military support, deepened Perrot's frustration, driving him to contemplate a proposal of engaging with fitz Maurice in hand-to-hand combat (a challenge which fitz Maurice declined). More seriously, Perrot began to canvass the idea of allowing the 15th earl of Desmond's (qv) brother, Sir John fitz Edmund Fitzgerald (qv) to assume joint government of the lordship with Perrot. The idea withered. But after a further year's campaigning during which Perrot boasted of several successes, including the capture of Castlemaine in August 1572, the rebellion remained alive. Thus Perrot in February 1573 supported fitz Maurice's offer to submit on a full pardon, claiming that the rebel would prove to be ‘a second St Paul’. Perrot's change of heart may have been influenced by the knowledge that the privy council had decided in January on the restoration of Desmond himself. Fitz Maurice's submission failed to stop the return of Desmond, and though Perrot was deeply involved in the Irish council's attempt to detain Desmond in Dublin, pending his submission to further conditions for his good behaviour, the failure to prevent Desmond's rehabilitation, coupled with a set of allegations against him concerning his treatment of the tenants of the earl of Ormond (qv) and his dubious conduct in the seizure of a French merchant vessel, confirmed Perrot in his decision to leave Ireland. Abandoning his post without permission in July 1573, he successfully defended himself at court against the charges (and the consequences of his desertion), and announced his intention of retiring from Irish and public service in general.
On the outbreak of the second Desmond rebellion in July 1579, Perrot briefly returned to Ireland, taking command of a small squadron of ships patrolling the south-west coast against a feared Spanish invasion. Seeing no action, he withdrew his ships at the end of the year. But this brief experience revived Perrot's interest in Irish policy, and from 1581 he began addressing the privy council with memoranda for the better government of Ireland. On the basis of these proposals, and following the withdrawal of Sidney's name, Perrot was offered and accepted appointment as viceroy in January 1584. The reform proposals that formed the core of his official instructions were not strikingly original. Like his predecessor, Sidney, Perrot proposed a wide range of legal and administrative reforms which were to be enacted by an Irish parliament. He undertook to supervise the establishment of a plantation in the lands of the defeated rebels in Munster; like Sidney also he promised to advance the reformation through the establishment and a more rigorous enforcement of the existing laws. In particular, he borrowed heavily from Sidney in planning a revival of the policy of ‘composition’ (the commutation of all informal exactions and tributes into a fixed annual rent), which the latter had introduced unsuccessfully in the 1570s. But Perrot also went well beyond Sidney by a commitment to expel the Scots from their settlements in north-east Ulster.
Arriving in Dublin in June 1584, Perrot began his term of office energetically with a tour of Connacht and Munster, during which he installed his provincial presidents – Sir Richard Bingham (qv) and Sir John Norris (qv) – and reopened negotiations on composition. In August he moved northwards to inaugurate an ambitious settlement in Ulster. Initially, Perrot had planned to follow the expulsion of the Scots with the settlement of Irish on the north-east coast and in the isles ‘to do there as Scottishmen do in Ireland’. A cordon sanitaire would thus be supplied which would provide the stability necessary for the success of the series of composition settlements which he proposed. Perrot's campaign against the Scots failed as much as those of his predecessors; and after withdrawing before the advancing troops of Sorley Boy MacDonnell (qv) was back before the end of the year, suing for more permanent terms. Over the following year, however, Perrot prepared the ground for a daring volte-face in accepting Sorley Boy's submission and offering him and his family full denization as a subject of the Irish crown. This was an audacious and constitutionally dubious move. But the settlement with Sorley Boy had the effect of dividing the MacDonnells/ MacDonalds among themselves, and of providing Perrot with the protective barrier he required to secure the settlement of Ulster which he had undertaken in the previous year. The centrepiece in this initiative was the agreement that Perrot had negotiated in August 1585 between the two great powers among the O'Neills (and in Ulster), the present chief, Turlough Luineach (qv), and the rising power among the O'Neills, Hugh (qv), whom Perrot had created earl of Tyrone in the previous April. The treaty at Dungannon not only held out the prospect of peace among the O'Neills at least till after the death of Turlough Luineach (which was expected imminently), it also enabled Perrot to commence negotiations with O'Donnell and the lesser ruling dynasties of Ulster on the basis of a general composition. Even more promising was the progress that Perrot's agents Nicholas White (qv) and Luke Dillon (qv) had been making in the introduction of a composition scheme in Connacht. By October 1585 a tenurial survey of the province had been completed, and agreements to yield an annual tax to the crown in lieu of all Gaelic exactions had been secured by indenture. Settlements in Ulster and Connacht thus represented the major successes of Perrot's viceroyalty; but even these were to be undermined by marked failures in three other areas of policy which combined to ruin his administration.
The first of such failures was not entirely of his own making. Perrot's plan to summon a parliament, as a means of securing the support of the English-Irish community for his reforms, had sound precedents. But convening as it did (April 1585) in the aftermath of Sidney's perceived attempt to rule unconstitutionally and of Grey's highly repressive measures, and among rumours of Perrot's own intentions to pursue a rigorous enforcement of the act of uniformity, the parliament proved to be suspicious, hostile, and intractable. The failure of the bill to suspend Poynings’ law effectively crippled Perrot's legislative programme, and though some essential measures, such as the attainder of Desmond and other rebels, were passed, others, notably a proposal to introduce a form of composition in the Pale, were dashed.
Contemporaneously, Perrot was encountering potentially more lethal opposition from within the ranks of his own administration. The viceroy's choleric and violent temper (exacerbated by suffering from the ‘stone’) no doubt contributed to his personal conflicts, but deeper issues were also at play. His quarrel with Sir Nicholas Bagenal (qv) was closely related to the latter's resentment of Perrot's Ulster settlements. His clash with Adam Loftus (qv), the lord chancellor and archbishop of Dublin, arose over a plan to use the revenues of St Patrick's cathedral to fund the establishment of a university, a scheme for which Perrot believed he had the support of Burghley and the privy council, and which Loftus saw as a personal attack. His dispute with Sir Henry Wallop (qv) and Sir Geoffrey Fenton (qv) was rooted in both men's ambitions to acquire attainted lands in Leinster and Munster. The last tensions were reflections of a larger and more dangerous conflict emerging over the plantation scheme in Munster. Though Perrot had initially been an advocate and promoter of the establishment of extensive plantation settlement, he soon found himself in disagreement with the scheme's leading investors over territorial claims, legal jurisdiction, and the thorny problem of composition. Perrot was unlucky that the Munster planters had a direct link to the court and privy council through the English lord chancellor, Sir Christopher Hatton, and that the lord treasurer, Burghley, was sympathetic to their interests. Disputes with the planters thus brought the whole of Perrot's conduct in Ireland under the critical eye of powerful men in Whitehall. From 1587 he found himself the object of malicious rumour and allegations that he was neglecting the security of the crown at a time of rising international tension. Infuriated, Perrot flailed against his councillors: he actually assaulted Bagenal, quarrelled violently with Loftus, Wallop, and Bingham, threw Fenton in prison, and inveighed against Elizabeth in highly unguarded language. As early as May 1587 Perrot had hinted (not entirely sincerely) that he was willing to accept recall. But by the autumn all sides were anxious to terminate his service; and his replacement by Sir William Fitzwilliam (qv) was determined. Fitzwilliam's delay in arriving allowed some calm to descend before Perrot left office (30 June 1588); and after his return to England he retained his status as an expert on Irish affairs, sometimes sitting on the privy council ‘to hear Irish causes’ and regularly corresponding with influential Irish figures. This conduct and his retention of the indentures of the composition in Connacht fuelled the suspicion that he was planning a return to Irish office.
Perrot's continuing interference in Irish policy caused his ruin. Relations between him and Fitzwilliam deteriorated sharply as allegations and counter-allegations were exchanged till in February 1590 Fitzwilliam charged Perrot with treason in taking bribes from known rebels and in engaging in treasonous correspondence with Philip II and the duke of Parma. The charges, mostly based on the dubious evidence of an Irish ex-priest, Denis O'Roughan, were preposterous. But they provided the basis for an investigation which, as it developed, focused on more verifiable evidence concerning Perrot's treasonable language before the Irish council: allegedly, he had, among other outbursts, denounced the queen as ‘a base bastard pissing kitchen woman’. Placed under house arrest in May 1590, formally charged in December and sent to the Tower in March 1591, Perrot was tried for treason before the queen's bench (27 April–26 June 1592), found guilty, and condemned. Astonished, exhausted, and embittered, he died in the Tower on 3 November. Rumours that a pardon was imminent are somewhat supported by the full restoration of his estate to his son, Thomas; the rumour that he had been poisoned to prevent his pardon has not been corroborated.
Yet malice was clearly an influence among Perrot's accusers: his irascible personality had made enemies among powerful men, not only Fitzwilliam, several leading administrators, and the earl of Ormond in Ireland, but also Hatton and probably Burghley in England. But his resistance to the independent development of the Munster plantation and other private speculations all over Ireland nurtured a deeper source of enmity. In this his ruin is symptomatic of a fundamental change in English attitudes towards Ireland, in which private and more exploitative ambitions were replacing earlier reformist and assimilative aspirations.
Perrot was twice married. His first wife Ann, née Cheyney, from Kent, died in childbirth in 1553, leaving one son. The second wife, Jane Pollard, née Prust, was a widow from Devon, and with her Perrot had a son and two daughters. Perrot also had several illegitimate children, probably two daughters and possibly two sons. One son, James Perrott, (1571/2-1637), later knighted in the course of an eventful and significant career in the English parliament and in Ireland, may have been born in Ireland. He wrote a manuscript history of Ireland and in 1626 published The government of Ireland . . . , a useful though not unbiased source of information on his father's carrer.