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Captain Giles Penn (c1573 – c1656) and Jeanne (Joan)Gilbert

Captain Giles Penn and Jeanne Gilbert (of Yorkshire) were grandparents of the Quaker, William Penn of Pennsylvania.

Giles and Jeanne lived in the town of Minety which lies between Swindon and Malmesbury in Wiltshire (originally in Gloucestershire), England. The name Minety derives from ‘mint stream’ and the small town was established on an island in a marsh surrounded by the royal woodland of Braydon Forest.

Giles’s father, William Penn of Minety (b. c1548 – d .c1591), was a law clerk at Malmesbury, Wiltshire and chief clerk to Sir Christopher George, barrister and counsellor at law, and thus an important local figure. It is believed that William

Church of St Leonard, Minety

Penn of Minety was buried in front of the altar at the Church of Saint Leonard, Minety. A plaque commemorating William Penn of Minety’s life was also erected in the church; though this no longer exists. He married Margaret Rastall in c1570  – Margaret  was the daughter of John Rastall, alderman of Gloucester, and Ann George who was Sir Christopher George’s sister. Giles and Margaret had six children: George, Giles, William, Maria, Sara and Susanna.

St Mary Redcliffe Church, Bristol – detail from James Millard’s map, c1710

In 1600 Giles Penn and Jeanne Gilbert were married at St Mary Redcliffe Church, Bristol. Jeanne was later buried in the same church.  The Penn family were to develop a long association with this High Anglican church which was, and still is, financed by the merchants of the city.

By 1618, Giles and his younger brother, William (b. c1580 – d. 1676(?)) (1), were merchants based in the important English port of Bristol. Giles was a Burgess or Freeman of the city. The brothers are thought to have become bankrupt and it may have been then that Giles took up ‘merchant adventuring’, including trade with Morocco, in order to free himself from the debts and losses. He started a series of risky seagoing trips, and was involved in the, literally, cut-throat business of trading off the Barbary coast of North Africa with Moorish Merchants.

One of the daughters of Giles and Jeanne Penn (though I do not know which one!) married a man named Markham. They had a child, William Markham who, as first cousin of the Quaker William Penn,  became, for many years, Deputy Governor of Pennsylvania and later Governor of Delaware).

1601, son, George Giles was born.

1621, son, William (the future Admiral Sir William Penn and father of the Quaker, William Penn), was born. From the age of 12 William learned the art of seamanship from his father, Giles.

In 1627 Giles was appointed, by Charles I, as Consul to the Barbary region (Sallee) (2). He was authorised to ‘execute that office by himself and his deputies in Morocco and Fez during the king’s pleasure with such allowances as consults in other parts of Turkey have from the merchants, or otherwise as Penn and the merchants shall agree.’ This had significant financial rewards for Giles Penn and enabled him to make business contacts that allowed him to engage in a steady accumulation of wealth and influential court and business networks. Giles was directly involved in consultations and planning arrangements to send an armed English fleet to Sallee. In fact he lobbied hard to lead this English attack (thus being in the front of the queue for any plunder and glory) but this was denied by the English state. (Lucie Street, in her book on Admiral William Penn, An Uncommon Sailor, states that Giles led the English fleet’s attack on Salle – but I’ve seen no direct evidence of this.)

During 1631 Giles obtained Tetuan hawks from Morocco for Charles I and he was given Letters of Protection from the king. Later he was charged with obtaining Barbary horses for the royal household as well as further numbers of hawks.

Giles’s merchantile trade included business in Leghorn, Italy, Cadiz (Spain), Sanqúcar de Barrameda (Spain), Seville (Spain) and with the Marinid sultanate (Morocco), all this trading made Giles a very experienced ship’s master.

Giles’ eldest son was George; who acted as his father’s agent in Catholic Spain.

Giles died around 1656, probably in North Africa.

Giles had a further brother, George (b.1571 – d.1632) who migrated to Massachusetts, North America. Thus the Penn family had established Royal Stuart connections as well as trading links with Africa, Spain and North America.


(1) “This William Penn is said to have been the William Penn who died testate circa
April 1676 at Kinsale, Ireland. He must have owned or lived on land nearby to
(or part of the same land) which had been granted to his cousin, Sir William
Penn by Cromwell. His Will remains in an index of Will of Ireland, however,
the Will itself was destroyed in the Irish Revolution in 1922 (I believe). He
is sometimes termed Ensign, by 1667 he was Clerk of the Cheque at Kinsale.” Source: click here.
(2) Mohamed Laamir, Associate Professor, Institute of African Studies, Université Mohamed V Souissi, Rabat, Morocco writes:
Diplomatic, political and trade links between England and Morocco had been developed  since the 1550s since which time Moroccan involvement in inter-European alliances and conflicts in coordination with England increased. The 17th century saw: “an increasing interest in Barbary  as a commercial partner and also a potential threat to European maritime activities. With the development of the British imperial projects, Morocco became a recommended commercial, diplomatic, tourist and exotic destination for many British citizens. In addition to its attraction as a market for English cloth, Morocco was a potential provider of gold and sugar and mostly a handy supplier of provisions to Gibraltar.
In fact, it was the development and the security of British commercial interests in West Barbary that brought about the appointment of the first English Resident Consul to Barbary (Sallee), Giles Penn, in December 30th, 1627. “