ECW Q&A: Did any of the regicides escape the vengeance of Charles II?


Over on Twitter we asked if there were any questions people would like answered about history, politics, and society during the English Civil Wars. Cassandra Clark asked whether anyone who signed Charles I’s death warrant in 1649 escaped the vengeance of his son after the Restoration in 1660?

Thanks for the great question, Cassandra!

On Monday 15 October 1660, Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary that “this morning Mr Carew [the regicide] was hanged and quartered at Charing Cross; but his quarters, by a great favour, are not to be hanged up.” Five days later he wrote, “I saw the limbs of some of our new traitors set upon Aldersgate, which was a sad sight to see; and a bloody week this and the last have been, there being ten hanged, drawn, and quartered”.

This was the fate that awaited regicides – the men who killed their king in 1649.

The head of Cromwell’s corpse on a pike after his posthumous execution.

Following the Restoration of King Charles II, the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion granted a free pardon to those who had supported the English Commonwealth and Protectorate, but exceptions were made for 104 named individuals who had directly participated in the trial and execution of Charles I. Twenty-four had already died and Cromwell, John Bradshaw (who was president of the court) and Henry Ireton (Cromwell’s son-in-law) were posthumously executed – their remains were exhumed, hanged, and beheaded, their bodies cast into a pit below the gallows and their heads placed on spikes at the end of Westminster Hall. Several others were hanged, drawn and quartered, while 19 were imprisoned for life.

Twenty-one of them fled England for Netherlands, Germany, or Switzerland. While most of them died natural deaths amongst sympathetic Protestant communities, the King’s vengeance followed all the regicides and made life on the run a difficult one. Gregory Clement went into hiding but was captured and executed and after fleeing to Brussels, Thomas Scot returned to England to meet a similar fate. One of the commissioners who sat in judgement but did not sign the death warrant, Sir John Lisle, escaped to Switzerland but was killed by the Irish Royalist James Fitz Edmond Cotter in August 1664, while Dr Isaac Dorislaus, who had been Assistant to the Solicitor-General, had already been murdered in the Netherlands by Royalist refugees in 1649.

Meanwhile, as English Ambassador to the Netherlands Sir George Downing was instrumental in organising the spy-rings that hunted down many of his former comrades. Downing (after whom Downing Street in London is named) had been scoutmaster-general of Cromwell’s forces in Scotland and served the English republic as an ambassador, but when the Protectorate fell he quickly switched allegiance to Charles II saying he now “saw the error” in his ways. He engineered the arrest in Holland of regicides John Barkstead, Miles Corbet and John Okey, his former commander. Samuel Pepys, who characterised his conduct as odious although useful to the king, called him a “perfidious rogue” and said “all the world took notice of him for a most ungrateful villain for his pains”.

Three regicides – John Dixwell, William Goffe, and Edward Whalley – fled and settled amongst the Puritan communities in New England, on the east coast of what is now the United States of America. Though they would never see their families or country again, it did not mean they were beyond the reach of the English Crown.

Dixwell died in 1689 under an assumed name but Goffe and Whalley lead remarkable lives as fugitives, as detailed in the excellent The Great Escape of Edward Whalley and William Goffe: Smuggled Through Connecticut by Christopher Pagliuco.

Goffe was Whalley’s father-in-law and the two were of the Puritan “middling sort” who had risen to remarkable prominence during the English Civil War. Both army officers and extremely radical in their religion – to the point of zealotry – they escaped to America aboard the ship Prudent Mary, landed in Boston, and settled in Cambridge, later moving on to New Haven in Connecticut, where Dixwell also lived, and where they sought refuge with the Rev. John Davenport.

This was an ideal place for them to hide. The colonies of New England were populated by Puritans who had fled what they saw as religious persecution under Charles I, so there was little loyalty to the crown of his son within these communities of radicals and non-conformists. Despite a reward being offered for their arrest, no-one gave the pair up and when the royal order for their arrest reached Boston, the Governor of New Haven himself delayed the King’s messengers, allowing Goffe and Whalley to disappear.

They spent much of the summer in Judges’ Cave at West Rock, remaining invisible to the King’s agents under assumed names and sustained by the local community. Eventually abandoning the cave when it was uncovered by hostile Native Americans, they travelled a hundred miles to Hadley in Massachusetts, moving only at night, where they remained undiscovered for fifteen years, receiving money from their wives in England and presents from a handful of supporters who knew where they were.

Every attempt by the English government to find and arrest Whalley and Goffe failed. Whalley was alive but in poor health in 1674, though he probably did not live long afterwards, 

One of the most fascinating parts of the story comes while Goffe was sheltering in the home of Rev. John Russell at Hadley, Massachusetts. In 1675, the brutal King Philip’s War between English settlers and various groups of Native Americans raged throughout the New England colonies, mostly because of the continuing encroachment of settlers on native lands. Villages like Hadley were on the very fringe of settlement and were easy targets for attack.

According to legend, just such an attack in September 1675 took place while the inhabitants were worshipping. Men rushed out to meet the attack but, completely disorganised, afraid, and mostly unarmed, the annihilation of the town seemed certain.

Suddenly, in the midst of the chaos appeared a stranger elderly man carrying an old sword. With a bearing that was distinctly military, he coolly placed himself in command, rallied the settlers, and quickly organised a defence of the village. The attack was repulsed but as soon the fighting ended, the mysterious stranger disappeared. This became known as the miracle of ‘The Angel of Hadley’.


This stranger was first identified as the fugitive Goffe by Thomas Hutchinson, then Lt. Governor of Massachusetts, in his 1764 History of Massachusetts, but there is a lot of debate about whether this incident ever happened and, even if it did, whether Goffe was even alive at the time to take part. This blog post sums up the difficult and probably apocryphal nature of the story.

To answer Cassandra’s original question – yes, a number of the regicides and those who assisted in Charles I’s execution escaped their fate and evaded his son’s agents.

And whether ‘The Angel of Hadley’ was real or not, it is intriguing to think that a captain who fought on the battlefields of England and helped kill his own King somehow ended his days in the wilds of the new American frontier…


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