William Petty

Locked out of libraries, I have dusted off a hefty tome from my own shelves. Richard Stone’s Some British Empiricists in the Social Sciences 1650 – 1900 is not as dull as it may sound.

Eleven men of numbers, and one female statistician better known for giving her name recently to Covid hospitals, are considered. First up is William PETTY. He must have visited earth before because he hit the ground running. ‘The story of his boyhood and early manhood reads like a picaresque novel.”

In Oxford at the age of 26, he took the degree of doctor of physic, was made a fellow of Brasenose College and deputy to the Professor of Anatomy, succeeding to the professorship at the beginning of 1650.

You can find a more detailed account of Anne Green’s resurrection at Ancient Origins.

A strange event occurred at the end of 1650. A certain Anne Green was hanged at Oxford for the murder of her illegitimate child. She seemed to take a long time in dying but was eventually certified dead. The body was put in a coffin and taken to the dissecting room. At this point Petty and his colleague Dr. Thomas Willis appeared on the scene and, recognising signs of life, attempted successfully to revive the supposed corpse. She lived, it is said, to marry and become the mother of other children. This episode added considerably to Petty’s reputation.

Richard Stone

Anne surely deserves a place on the FamilySearch Tree but I couldn’t find her there. One would expect William to be represented but it is a surprise that there are no sources attached to his record. Richard Stone says his father was Antony Petty, a cloth maker and dyer, and his mother Francesca (surname unknown).

This source on FamilySearch is well-timed for William’s birth on 26 May 1623 but the village of Hambledon is over twenty miles from his Romsey birthplace. There is a  Hampshire source dated 8 June 1618 for the marriage of Anthony Petty and “Denby” but no records that I could find for a Francesca Denby.

William was in his mid-forties when he married ‘a very beautiful and ingenious lady, brown, with glorious eyes’ (John Aubrey). She was ‘an extraordinary wit as well as a beauty’ (John Evelyn). They had three surviving children. Two sons died without issue and William’s “strain continued” through daughter Anne, via sundry earls and marquesses to ‘Supermac’ – Harold Macmillan, British Prime Minister when I was a lad.

As an epidemiologist, I wonder what William would think about the misinformation about SARS-CoV-2 being dumped on us all.

UK Column spreading the the truth.

Goebbels would be so proud of the media today.

Dr Pam Popper

Path 93 · Arndale

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