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…


Two remarkable 17th Century women for International Women’s Day



As it’s International Women’s Day today let’s take a look at two very different but equally remarkable 17th Century women – Brilliana, Lady Harley and Nzinga Mbandi, the Queen of Ndongo and Matamba – who should be remembered for their strength and fortitude in the face of great hardship and prejudice.

Brilliana, Lady Harley

Brilliana, Lady Harley was a 17th Century heroine in the English Civil War who defended her home at Brampton Bryan from Royalist forces.

Born in 1598, Brilliana Conway became the fourth wife of Sir Robert Harley in 1623. Her father, Sir Edward Conway, was Secretary of State of England and her husband was his aide.

A deeply religious woman, she was a devote Puritan and when the English Civil War broke out in 1642, she and her family sided with the cause of Parliament.

Unable to return home, Sir Robert ordered his wife to leave for her own safety, but she refused. It was her duty, she said, to uphold her husband’s rights in the county.

A detachment of Royalist troops from nearby Gloucester besieged her home, Brampton Bryan Castle in northwest Herefordshire, but she refused to surrender and defended the castle for months.

From her letters we know many details of what went on in her daily life during the siege – sheep and cattle were plundered and fortifications were dug in her gardens. When the Royalists stole the bells from the town’s church tower during what should have been a truce, Brilliana was quick to order a repulse: ‘We sent some of his Majesty’s good subjects to old Nick for their sacrilege,’ she wrote.

Reluctant to treat her harshly due to her gender, the Royalists tried in vain to get her to yield. Even when a personal letter from King Charles arrived, she was not to be moved. Although relief finally arrived and the siege was lifted – she not only organised her tenants to level the Royalists earthworks but also dispatched 40 troops to raid a local Royalist camp – Royalist forces continued to threaten her safety.

Sadly, Lady Harley died of a cold on 29 October 1643, probably as a result of hardships endured during the siege.

Early in 1644 Brampton Bryan finally surrendered. Brilliana’s younger children, baby Tom and his little sisters Dorothy and Margaret, 11 and 13, were taken into custody but were well treated by the Governor of Ludlow Castle.

Brilliana was a courageous woman who steadfastly refused to conform to her society’s view of women as weak and passive. Her name lives on thanks to her position as a celebrated English letter-writer. As an educated woman versed in several languages, she wrote prodigiously, intelligently, and passionately to her husband and son, keeping Robert informed of local political affairs when he was absent from home.

Nzinga Mbandi, the Queen of Ndongo and Matamba

While the English Civil War was raging in Britain, 4,300 miles away in what would become the African nation of Angola, a woman was also steadfastly protecting her home – but on a remarkable scale.

The story Nzinga Mbandi, Queen of Ndongo and Matamba, is simply incredible. A key figure in African resistance to colonialism, she defined much of the 17th Century history of Angola and is now recognised internationally as a key figure in the period – outstandingly talented in warfare, espionage, trade, alliance-building, and religious matters she held off Portuguese colonialism and defended her country steadfastly until her death in 1663 at the age of 82.

With their slave trade threatened by England and France, the Portuguese shifted down to The Congo and south west Africa. Establishing a fort in 1618 at Ambaca, now in northern Angola, Nzinga’s brother sent her to try to negotiate a Portuguese withdrawal and the return of some of his subjects who had been taken captive.

A famous story says that when meeting with the Portuguese governor, João Correia de Sousa, he did not offer a chair to sit on during the negotiations, instead placing a floor mat for her to sit. Not willing to accept this, Nzinga ordered one of her servants to get down on the ground and sat on the servant’s back during negotiations. By doing this, she asserted her status was equal to the governor, proving her worth as a brave and confident individual.

Nzinga refused to allow Ndongo to become a vassal of Portugal and De Sousa agreed to her terms. She did convert to Christianity, possibly to strengthen the treaty.

But the Portuguese never honoured the treaty. Nzinga’s brother apparently committed suicide shortly afterwards and she assumed control – first as regent of his young son, Kaza, and then in her own right when the child died (she is alleged to have had him killed, but this may have been propaganda distributed by her enemies).

Forging an alliance with the Dutch in 1641, Nzinga defeated the Portuguese in 1644 at Ngoleme. Unable to follow up on the victory, her forces were defeated two years later at Kavanga but she rallied and, with Dutch reinforcements, routed a Portuguese army in 1647 before laying siege to the Portuguese capital of Masangano. Using troops from Brazil, the Portuguese then recaptured Luanda and forced Nzinga back to Matamba in 1648, from where she resisted the Portuguese well into her sixties and personally leading troops into battle.

In 1657, Nzinga signed a peace treaty with Portugal and attempted to rebuild her nation, resettling former slaves and allowing women to bear children.

Legends of Nzinga extend outside of her brilliant military tactics and political strategy. In Philosophy in the Boudoir, the Marquis de Sade wrote that Nzinga “immolated her lovers,” obtaining a large, all-male harem after she became queen and having each man she slept with killed after their carnal encounter. Though there is no way of knowing if there is truth to these rumors, there is no denying Nzinga was a ruthless ruler, unafraid of sacrificing men who came in her way. – Atlas Obscura

Despite numerous efforts to dethrone her, Nzinga died a peaceful death at the age of eighty on 17 December 1663 in Matamba.

Today, she is remembered in Angola for her political and diplomatic acumen, great wit and intelligence, as well as her brilliant military tactics. In time, Portugal and most of Europe would come to respect her. A major street in Luanda is named after her, and a statue of her was placed in Kinaxixi on an impressive square in 2002, dedicated by President Santos to celebrate the 27th anniversary of independence. Angolan women are often married near the statue, especially on Thursdays and Fridays. – Wikipedia

Miniature mysteries: Chastleton House’s miniatures tell the tragic life of Charles I



Chastleton House is a delight for anyone interested in history, let alone 17th Century history. The Jacobean country house near Moreton-in-Marsh in Oxfordshire was built between 1607 and 1612 for Walter Jones (born 1550), whose family’s success in the wool business allowed him to make his fortune from the law – he rose from being the town clerk of Worcester to an attorney to the Star Chamber, the monarch’s secret court of Privy Councillors. There’s a fascinating in-depth biography of Walter and his rise in society here.

There’s so much to talk about there that we’re going to break it up into several blog posts over the next few weeks – it’s a treasure trove of 17th Century stories and artefacts that are all special in their own right, with the whole building a delightful reliquary of faded glory and romantic decay.

The family was supporters of the Royalist cause and then, later, the Jacobite Rebellion (a descendent jokingly referred to them backing “the wrong horse, twice”) and Arthur Jones fought with Charles II at the Battle of Worcester, fleeing back to the house after the defeat and narrowly evading capture (but more on that another time).

Of particular interest, and something the National Trust guides were unable to help explain beyond a physical description, was a series of 11 miniatures of Charles I on display. Slides of mica (silica) with painted figures have been placed over the miniatures to tell the story of Charles I’s life, focusing heavily on the final stages of his trial and execution – even showing his decapitation.



A nearby display explains the different images:


The National Trust Collection site describes it as an “incredibly personal object … made in France during the 1650s” that “would originally have belonged to a Royalist supporter”. Beyond that, we can find no more information – it is a mystery who bought the miniatures, why, and who was the intended recipient.

It is an utterly unique – and gruesome – piece of history that demonstrates the market for curios and mementoes marking the ‘martyred’ King among Royalist supporters. The rather crude painted figures intrude into each scene, making the King seem calmly ambivalent as to their presence. When juxtaposed against the delicacy of his copied portrait they have a child-like quality about them – the executioner’s face is covered in a loose cross-hatching (his identity remains unknown to this day) and clothes are crudely painted over his doublet such as a cloak and crown, armour, the two shirts he reportedly wore on the day of his death.

Intensely personal they most certainly are, and to have survived not only time but also the shifting priorities of the families who occupied Chastleton makes them all the more special – a unique glimpse into the political allegiances of a bygone age.

The family’s support for the Royalist cause cost them dear – the heavy fines imposed by Parliament for taking part in Charles II’s failed invasion in 1651 meant grand Chastleton would always be a drain on severely limited resources. This makes this collection of miniatures even more poignant, a reminder that the family’s steadfast loyalty to the Stuart cause was to be its ruin (although it is noteworthy that when the ‘Young Pretender’ Bonnie Prince Charlie invaded England in 1745, despite being members of a secret Jacobite supporters group, the family did not join the rebellion on its march into Derbyshire – perhaps remembering the price of the last time they backed “the wrong horse”).

The Earl of Manchester’s Musketeers are top dogs – for the sixth year running!


Northampton is a town crammed with English Civil War history – and this May Bank Holiday weekend the Armie of Parliament returned after 369 years.

Billing Aquadrome is a fantastic holiday park just outside of  the town and over the three day weekend it played host to hundreds of Roundhead re-enactors from the Sealed Knot, who arrived to do battle and train for the re-enactment season ahead.

It was also the venue for the annual musket and pike competitions, where different regiments compete for the honour of being the army’s best troops. Our musketeers were defending their title for the fifth time, having won the competition since 2009 – could they be victorious again? And how will our brand new musketeers fare against teams from other regiments? Find out in our fantastic video…