“Off with his head!” – what did Charles II do with the men who killed his father?


The Regicides is the collective name for the men who signed Charles I’s death warrant in 1649. A mixture of MPs, lawyers and cronies, the 59 signatories did what no people had dared do before – they killed a king by prosecuting him in a court of law.

After his Restoration, the vengeance of Charles II upon these individuals knew no bounds. Although those who had supported the Commonwealth and Protectorate were pardoned, anyone who had directly participated in the trial and execution of his father were doomed.

Famously, the bodies of Oliver Cromwell and several other Regicides who died before 1660 were dug up, ceremoniously hung, drawn and quartered before having their skulls left on pikes as a dire warning to potential rebels. Of the others, even the lawyer who prosecuted Charles, John Cook, suffered this terrible fate.

In the light of modern debates over the pursuit of wanted men and issues of sovereignty, the BBCgives a fascinating look at the underhand methods Charles’ spymaster Sir George Downing used to capture three of the regicides who had gone into hiding in the Netherlands. It’s a great insight into not only the lengths the restored monarchy would go in its pursuit of justice, but also of how England’s reputation had changed during the Commonwealth, and the way European politics worked at the time.

My particular favourite story of the Regicides is actually that of William Goffe, who not only escaped the clutches of Charles and Downing, but supposedly forged a legend in his right in America. When his father-in-law and fellow-regicide Edward Whalley, fled to New England, he and Goffe hid in the frontier town of Hadley, Massachusetts.

With the help of sympathetic colonists, the pair evaded capture by Royalist agents and it is claimed Goffe then entered colonial folklore as the “Angel of Hadley”, reportedly emerging from the forest to lead the settlers in repelling an attack by hostile Indians in 1675.


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