Peter Sterry

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Peter Sterry

Peter Sterry (1613–1672) was an English independent theologian, associated with the Cambridge Platonists prominent during the English Civil War era. He was chaplain to Parliamentarian general Robert Greville, 2nd Baron Brooke and then Oliver Cromwell, a member of the Westminster Assembly,[1] and a leading radical Puritan preacher attached to the English Council of State. He was made fun of in Hudibras.[2]


He went to St. Olave's Grammar School, Southwark.[3] He was a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, from 1636, where he had studied since 1629;[4] but gave up the fellowship quite soon.[5]

He preached to Parliament on important occasions: in 1649 after the surrender of Drogheda and Waterford,[6] in 1651 after the battle of Worcester. His sermons, widely allusive,[7] were considered opaque: David Masson quotes a contemporary opinion:

After the Restoration, he retired to a community in East Sheen.[9] He took part in preaching, for example at Hackney[10] and conventicles.[11]

He is commemorated by a stained glass window in the chapel of Emmanuel College,[12] which has an archive of unpublished writings.


Described as a 'Platonizing Puritan',[13] as well as a Behmenist,[14] he was a follower of leading Cambridge Platonist Benjamin Whichcote.[15][16] As a mystic, he spoke of 'hidden music'.[17] A millenarian, he expected in the early 1650s the Second Coming shortly, with 1656 a decisive year.[18]

He with William Erbery 'had difficulty in distinguishing themselves from Ranters';[19] but he wrote against Ranter 'errors'.[20] He was a sympathiser with early Quakerism.[21][22]


The Oxford academic Nathaniel Sterry was his younger brother.[11]


  • The Spirit Convincing of Sinne, fast sermon for Parliament, 26 November 1645
  • England's Deliverance from the Northern Presbytery, Compared with its Deliverance from the Roman Papacy (1652) sermon on the Battle of Worcester
  • Way of God with his people in these nations, sermon for Parliament 5 November 1656
  • Free Grace Exalted (1670)
  • A Discourse of the Freedom of the Will (1675)
  • The Rise, Race, and Royalty of the Kingdom of God in the Soul (1683)
  • The Appearance of God to Man in the Gospel (1710)


  • F. J. Powicke, "Peter Sterry: A Puritan Mystic." Primitive Methodist Quarterly Review 47 (1905): 617–25.
  • Vivian de Sola Pinto (1968) Peter Sterry, Platonist and Puritan, 1613–1672;: A biographical and critical study with passages selected from his writings
  • V. de Sola Pinto, Peter Sterry and His Unpublished Writings, The Review of English Studies, Vol. 6, No. 24 (Oct. 1930), pp. 385–407
  • Nabil I. Matar (1994), Peter Sterry: Select Writings
  • Matar, "Peter Sterry and the Comenian Circle: Education and Eschatology in Restoration Nonconformity," The Journal of the United Reformed Church History Society, 5 (1994): 183–192.
  • Matar, "Aristotelian Tragedy in the Theology of Peter Sterry," Literature and Theology, 6 (1992): 310–20.
  • Matar, "'Oyle of Joy': The Early Prose of Peter Sterry," Philological Quarterly, 71 (1992): 31–46.
  • Matar, "John Donne, Peter Sterry and the ars moriendi," Exploration in Renaissance Culture, 17 (1991): 55–71.
  • Matar, "Peter Sterry and the Puritan Defense of Ovid in Restoration England," Studies in Philology, 88 (1991): 110–121.
  • Matar, "Peter Sterry and the 'Paradise Within': A Study of the Emmanuel College Letters," Restoration, 13 (1989): 76–85.
  • Matar, "Peter Sterry and Jacob Boehme," Notes and Queries, 231 (1986): 33–36.
  • Matar, "Peter Sterry and the First English Poem on the Druids," National Library of Wales Journal, 24 (1985): 222–243.
  • Matar, "Peter Sterry and the Ranters," Notes and Queries, 227 (1982): 504–506.
  • Matar, "Peter Sterry and the 'lovely Society' at West Sheen," Notes and Queries, 227 (1982): 45–46,
  • Matar, "Peter Sterry, the Millennium and Oliver Cromwell," The Journal of the United Reformed Church History Society, 2 (1982): 334–343.
  • Matar, "A Note on George Herbert and Peter Sterry," George Herbert Journal, 5 (1982): 71–75.
  • Matar, "Peter Sterry and Morgan Llwyd," The Journal of the United Reformed Church History Society, 2 (1981): 275–279.
  • Matar, "The Peter Sterry MSS at Emmanuel College, Cambridge," Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 8 (1981): 42–56. With P. J.Croft.


  1. [1], [2], as Sterrey.
  2. [3]; Canto I of Book III.
  3. St Olave's London – Founded 1571
  4. "Sterry, Peter (STRY629P)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Christopher Hill, Milton and the English Revolution, p. 42.
  6. Hill, A Nation of Change and Novelty (1990), p. 188
  7. Reverend Peter Sterry, a chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, regularly used pagan mythology, especially Ovid, in his sermons and was known to carry Aquinas, Boehme, Shakespeare and Ovid with him when he traveled.[4]
  8. The Life of John Milton, online
  9. The Cambridge Platonists (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy/Winter 2004 Edition)
  10. Hackney – Protestant Nonconformity | British History Online
  11. 11.0 11.1 CDNB
  12. [5].
  13. M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp, p. 60.
  14. [6]; Hill, Milton, p. 330.
  15. Richard Popkin, Pimlico History of Western Philosophy, p. 366.
  16. DNB page on Cambridge Platonists
  17. Make Music for the Lord to hear
  18. Peter Sterry, John Tillinghast and John Rogers concurred in Archer's opinion that 1656 or 1666 were likely dates for the commencement of the Reign of the Saints. PDF, p.2; Hill, Milton, p. 283, p. 301.
  19. Hill, Milton, p. 315.
  20. Hill, Nation of Change and Novelty, p. 214.
  21. Mentioned (with Giles Randall, Francis Rous, William Dell, John Saltmarsh) in connection with inner light: online extract from biography of George Fox.
  22. Jon Parkin (1999), Science, Politics and Religion in Restoration England, p.77.