7 March 2014

The Humble Petition of Peter Renaud

                               Angelo Domenico Malevolti's work on fencing, Feb. 1763

In the 1790s, Pitt’s former fencing master, Peter Renaud, was falling on hard times. The art of swordplay was dying out. Renaud, by that time nearly 80 years of age, was struggling to support his large family after 45 years of teaching fencing. He had nine children, one son was blind, and he required a position to supplement his dwindling income. Renaud had taught William Pitt fencing when Pitt was attending Pembroke Hall. It's difficult to determine how many lessons Pitt had with Renaud, but it would most likely have been sometime between 1774 and 1779 when Pitt was spending a good deal of time at Cambridge. Presumably Renaud imagined that petitioning his former pupil, now the leader of Britain, would have an impact on his financial situation. 

In his own words, below is - as Renaud himself styled it - "The Humble Petition of Peter Renaud":

“Shewing that your Petitioner has for 45 Years past resided in Cambridge as a Teacher in the Art of Fencing and had the honour of teaching you in that Art when you was at Pembroke College, which Employment he flatters himself he has followed with Credit & Reputation but having had a numerous family of Nine Children he could not lay up any thing for the Support of his Old Age. What adds to his Sufferings [he] has a Son that is blind. My Employment of late years has quite fallen away, Fencing not being taught at this time at Cambridge which has quite reduced me and obliges me however reluctant to take the liberty of making this Application - to your Compassion and Feeling - relying entirely on your Humanity and Goodness to help me to a Place of small Emolument that would enable me to end my Days in Happiness. Had I the honour of speaking to you, you would be satisfied I am no Imposter. Could give you references to several respectable Persons respecting my Character. Am 79 Years of Age and capable of managing any thing where Hardship is not required. Should I be so happy as to be successful in this Application, I hope my Gratitude to you and the Almighty would never cease. And as in Duty bound should ever Pray etc. etc.” 
[f. 7]

I do hope the old man was successful in his petition. Pitt was known for finding places for former tutors and servants, so I'd like to think that Renaud was able to enjoy a comfortable old age.


PRO 30/8/221, Petitions, 2nd series (1791-1796), Part 1, f. 7.

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