Monday, 14 January 2013


I am currently reading THE KING'S REVENGE by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh. This book follows the fate  of the 59 regicides (the men who signed the death warrant of Charles I), following the restoration of the monarchy.

The death warrant of Charles I

Back in 2009 I wrote about my own family connection with the regicide, Sir Michael Livesey.  Whether I am indirectly descended from Sir Michael or not, the fate of the regicides has always been of interest to me and as the anniversary of the execution of Charles I rolls around (Jan 31), this book was top of my list for Christmas.

The Commissioners of the King's trial

News of the King's execution (January 31 1649) reached the exiled royal family on February 4. On being told of his father's death, the young prince (now king), Charles burst into tears and fled from the room. He vowed vengeance on the men who had sent his father to his death. 

After his unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne by force (1650-1), Charles II retired to exile on the continent The following years (the Interregnum) was marked by failed plots to assassinate Cromwell (one of which was the subject of my own novel THE KING'S MAN) or to raise the country and restore the monarchy by force of arms. In 1658 Cromwell died, to be succeeded by his son Richard. "Tumbledown Dick", as he was nicknamed, was not the man his father had been and secret negotiations began to restore the monarchy.

Some of the men now treating with the King were the same men who had set their hands to his father's death warrant, but Charles was always a pragmatist and restoration at whatever cost was the endgame.

Before Charles II set foot back in England the round up of the regicides begain. The first five men were arrested in Ireland and imprisoned. The capture included the prosecuting lawyer, John Cook (see Geoffrey Robertson's excellent biography of Cook, THE TYRANNICIDE BRIEF). Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw (the judge at Charles' trial), all of whom must have topped the Most Wanted list were already dead. The first arrest on English soil was Cromwell's old comrade and the chief architect of the King's trial,  Sir Thomas Harrison.

In order to secure his restoration, Charles II issued the Declaration of Breda in which he promised clemency to those of his father's enemies who swore their fealty within forty days.  There was, of course, an exception. There would be no clemency for those excepted by Parliament. On 9 May 1660 Parliament began to debate  the "Bill of General Pardon, Indemnity and Oblivion". Despite assurances of the King's mercy, many of the regicides saw the writing on the wall and fled England. 

A  "death list" of seven regicides was agreed to: Harrison, Jones, Barkstead, Lisle, Scot, Holland and Saye. Three days after announcing the seven another fice were added - not judges but officials of the court (including Cook) and the king's executioners. However only Harrison, Cook and Jones were in custody, the others had slipped away. By the end of May a full blown manhunt was on for those regicides still in England. 

By October, the death list comprised thirty two men (23 judges and 9 officials). The trials began in October 1660. All thirty two were to be excepted from pardon. A further nineteen living regicides, who had surrendered by the 40 day deadline, were granted exception. At the end of their trials, ten were sentenced to immediate death and were  executed in the  barbaric manner of the time - hanging drawing and quartering. 

As an example to Hugh Peters who waited his turn, John Cook's end was particularly grisly. He was hanged until just conscious, cut down and his genitals cut off and dangled before his eyes. A screw (like a corkscrew) was inserted and twisted to slowly extract his intestines and these were held to the torch while Cook still lived. Normally the victim's suffering would end with the cutting out of his heart but the executioner prolonged Cook's agony until the man expired. The body was then beheaded and cleaved into 4 pieces (lengthways and horizontally) so that the four quarters could be impaled on the city gatehouse.

If the diarist John Evelyn is to be believed, the King himself was present at the executions. Evelyn wrote "I saw not their execution, but met their quarters, mangled and cut and reeking as they were brought from the gallows in baskets on the hurdle."

Those who had predeceased the restoration were not spared. The bodies of Cromwell, Ireton, Bradshaw were disinterred and hung on the gibbets at Tyburn before being beheaded. 

And all of this before the king's coronation in May 1661. 

Having dealt with the remaining English regicides, Charles unleashed a man hunt for the nineteen regicides who had evaded capture on English soil. Agents were dispatched to America and Europe, organised by a former parliamentarian, Sir George Downing (after whom Downing Street is named). His clerk, Samuel Pepys recorded the extent of Downing's intelligence network. One of Downing's agent was the beautiful female playwright, Aprha Behn (see Anita Davison's article Aphra Behn) who was sent to "turn" her former lover, William Scot into a spy for the King. 

For those surviving regicides now living on the continent or in hiding in America, they lived their lives in constant fear of assassination or kidnap. Only Edmund Ludlow lived to see Charles II's death, dying of natural causes in Switzerland in 1691. My own reputed ancestor, Sir Michael Livesey died in the Netherlands in 1665, allegedly at the hands of Downing's agents.

It is a fascinating book and, for someone like me, with the reading attention span of a gnat (these days), an easy, if disturbing, read. 


Anonymous said...

Alison, it sounds facinating. I tweeted.

Jeanne Treat said...

Interesting post.

Leah Weller (leahluvsmedieval) said...

Loved the post! I've added The King's Revenge to my list.

Alison Stuart said...

Fascinating...and gruesome. The description of John Cook's execution (which came from the Robertson book) turned my stomach but that is how things were then...and that was the fate that awaited those who dared to put a King on trial!

Anonymous said...

Michael Walsh was selling copies at a reenactment event I attended last August. He came and talked to me and my fellow-musicians in the Living History camp, but I'm afraid I didn't buy one. If it's as good as you say, I'll have to see if I can get hold of a copy.

Kate (Derby, UK)

Alison Stuart said...

Hi Kate, I have their other book, White Cargo (which I think I referenced in another post I did recently). I find their writing very approachable, unlike other historians who can be very heavy going. They also take a slightly different slant on history which I like.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting - the historical mystery THE ORPHANMASTER by Jean Zimmerman starts with a scene of one of the killers being hunted down in Switzerland. I hadn't heard of this before. That is another good 17th century novel, BTW - I am in a "glom" right now.


Alison Stuart said...

Thanks for that recommendation, Sarah. I hadn't heard of that book. Quite a number of the regicides ended up in Switzerland. I'm not sure if I read it in the Jordan book or elsewhere but there were reports of the fugitives taking their walks wearing breastplates and armoured hats for fear of the assassins bullet.

Alison Stuart said...

As a postscript to this post, I have just come across this excellent documentary on the trials of the regicides. It goes for 1.17 mins said...

This is a fascinating book! There are curious connections with the regicides in Ireland - especially the town of Youghal where Adrian Scrope's daughter is buried. She was Elizabeth Scrope and married Jonathan Blagrave ( related to another regicide - Daniel Blagrave). The family of some regicides lived in or near Youghal.
Hardress Waller lived a few miles outside the town, Robert Phaire had an estate in Rostellan, East Cork. Owen Roe's brother is buried in Youghal. A few miles away is the town of Carrigtwohill where Sir James Cotter lived - he went to Switzerland and killed John Lisle on behalf of King Charles II.
He later tried to kill Edmund Ludlow who escaped. Cotter's own son was tried and hanged in 1720 on a very dubious charge. Thomas Scot, Thomas Mauleverer, Valentine Greatrakes and Thomas Harrison all have connections with Youghal! There was a major incident during the war of the two kings in Youghal which impacts on the town right into living memory.