Wednesday, 7 January 2009

A Regicide and a Family Legend





On January 8, 1649, 53 men met to discuss the trial of the King of England, Charles I. England had endured seven years of civil war between the King and Parliament and the King had been effectively a prisoner of Parliament for three years. All attempts to negotiate a settlement between the King and the Parliament had failed and on January 6 the Rump Parliament had passed the necessary legislation to establish a special High Court to try the King.

One of the Commissioners present at that meeting on January 8 was Sir Michael Livesey, a Kentish baronet, staunch puritan and member of the Rump Parliament . His signature appears fifth on the Death Warrant of Charles I which would imply he was eagerly waiting, pen in hand, at the front of the queue! The men who signed the death warrant (pictured below) became collectively known as the regicides (which literally means killer of a king).


Like most families we have some wonderful family legends and my great-grandmother, Lilian Livesey, staunchly believed to her dying day that she was a direct descendant of Sir Michael. Not only did this red-headed firebrand maintain his republican beliefs but also, I believe, on occasion refused to take the Loyal toast! As the wife of the Sheriff of Worcester, this must have been viewed as rather a peculiar attitude by her contemporaries. Poor Lilian, she would be sorely disappointed to learn that the family’s more recent genealogical researches have been unable to trace a direct connection between her and the regicide (he died without a male heir). However this is the stuff of good family legends and as a child the story probably contributed to my passion for the English Civil War. A regicide…in the family!
Legends aside, as a historian, it is always interesting to know more about the personalities who brought about the death of a King (my own personal hero of this tale is Sir Thomas Fairfax and his redoubtable wife, Anne, but more on them in a later blog) so I thought I would look today at the “family” regicide, Sir Michael Livesey.
In discussing the characters of the men who met on that day in January CV Wedgwood in her book, The Trial of Charles I, makes the comment that the royalists were quite justified in describing some of the commissioners as “rogues and knaves” and in the list that follows she describes Sir Michael as “ambitious, irresponsible and reputed a coward” . Oh dear, I wonder if Lilian knew his reputation?

From what little I can glean about the history of Sir Michael, he sided with Parliament on the outbreak of the war. Typical of many local landowners he raised and commanded his own local force and resented any form of military command structure. In 1644 he removed his forces from the command of Sir William Waller in 1644 (leading to the claims of mutiny and cowardice) and subsequently refused to join the New Model Army. While it appears he maintained his own force in Kent, he turned back to politics, being appointed the Recruiter MP for Queensborough in Kent. During the second civil war (1648) he remained in Kent, harshly suppressing any attempt at royalist uprisings.

Following the execution of the King, he remained a member of the Rump Parliament and as Sheriff of Kent (Ah ha! Being a Sheriff DID run in the family!) busied himself with local duties during the Protectorate (to which he was opposed as contrary to his concept of a republic). At the Restoration he was denounced as a regicide and fled to the Continent where his ultimate fate is unknown, but it is likely he died between 1660 and 1665, probably at the hands of Royalists. The baronetcy was extinguished and all his lands were given to James, Duke of York.

In retrospect, as glamorous as it would be to claim a regicide on the family tree, I am quite glad to shake Sir Michael out of the foliage!

*For more information on Sir Michael see http://www.british-civil-wars.co.uk/biog/livesey.htm
*For a fictionalised movie account of the politics leading up to the execution of Charles I, TO KILL A KING (2003) starring Dougray Scott as my hero Sir Thomas Fairfax.
*reproduction of the death warrant of Charles I is subject to Parliamentary copyright


1 comment:

Anita Davison said...

Fascinating post Alison. No wonder you have such a link with the 17th century with a background like that. I'm envious.