The term ‘regicide’ was the name given to those who signed the death warrant of Charles I. Prominent on the document is the signature of Oliver Cromwell, the most famous regicide, but there are in total 59 names of regicides on the death warrant. After the Restoration in 1660, little mercy was shown to any man still alive who had signed the late king’s death warrant.
In August 1660, the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion was passed. Anyone who had supported the Commonwealth was pardoned. However, anyone who had signed the death warrant of Charles I was not included in this pardon.
Who were the regicides? Those who signed the death warrant of Charles I were men deeply opposed to the abuse of power that they believed Charles was responsible for in the lead up to the outbreak of civil war in 1642. They believed that he was responsible for treason against his own people and tyranny.
One of the men who signed the death warrant was Colonel John Hutchinson. Hutchison’s wife, Lucy, later wrote that her husband had been deeply angered by the demeanour of Charles during his trial; that the king had shown little sympathy for the men who had died in the war that the Court found him responsible for and that he refused to even recognise the Court as being legitimate. Many of those who were later called ‘regicides’ were Puritans and it was their belief that also led to some signing the death warrant. Lucy Hutchison wrote that her husband believed that the blood of those who had died during the civil war would be on their hands if they did not punish Charles accordingly and that they would stand before God if they did not take the right course of action.
Lucy also stated in the memoirs she wrote about her husband (‘Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchison’) that the rumour that some had been pressured into signing the death warrant by Oliver Cromwell and the army was not true and that those who had signed the warrant had done so “neither persuaded nor compelled”. She wrote that her husband had been “very much confirmed in his judgement” and that after prayer “it was his duty to act as he did”.
Ironically, Hutchison later expressed regret with regards to what he had done and Parliament withdrew his name from the list of regicides before the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion was signed. Therefore, he saved not only his life but also his estates. Once a regicide had been found guilty – and with their signature on the death warrant their guilt was assumed – their estates were also confiscated by the government.
There is little doubt that Charles II came back intent on punishing those who had condemned his father to death. Oliver Cromwell, seen as the chief regicide, had died in 1658. However, Charles II supported by the Convention Parliament, ordered that his body should be removed from Westminster Abbey – where he had been buried – and that his skeleton should be hanged in chains and put on public show at Tyburn. While this may seem odd to someone now, to the Royalists of the time, it was a deeply symbolic act as Cromwell was no longer buried on Church land and to a Puritan this would have been unthinkable. The same was done to the corpses of Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw – the judge who had pronounced the death sentence on Charles I.
Charles reserved the harshest of punishments for the surviving regicides. Those who had commanded Parliamentarian forces during the war and were still alive post-1660 but had nothing to do with the execution, were safe. Charles II knew that his father had paid a very high price for upsetting Parliament and he was not willing to repeat what his father had done. However, there were many – including those who had fought for Parliament – who had been wary about putting the king on trial let alone executing him. Therefore, the hunting down of living regicides caused little public dissent, while executions remained a public spectacle.
Nineteen were immediately rounded up. Ten of these were: Thomas Harrison, John Jones, Adrian Scope, John Carew, Thomas Scott, Gregory Clement (all of these had signed the death warrant), Hugh Peter (a preacher who had voiced his support for the regicides), John Cook (a lawyer who had directed the case for the prosecution against Charles); Frances Hacker and Daniel Axtell had commanded the guards at the trial and execution. In October 1660, all ten were hung, drawn and quartered at either Charing Cross or Tyburn. Nineteen others were imprisoned for life.
Twenty regicides fled abroad but even here they were not safe. One, John Lisle, was murdered by a Royalist in Switzerland while another three were extradited from the Netherlands, put on trial and executed in April 1662. It is thought that the last surviving regicide was Edmund Ludlow who died in Switzerland in 1692