Cromwell before the Coffin of Charles I, Paul Delaroche, 1849. Via Wikiart.

Michael Walsh & Don Jordan | The King’s Revenge: Charles II and the Greatest Manhunt in British History | Pegasus Books | August 2016 | 26 minutes (6,559 words)


The excerpt below is adapted from The King’s Revenge, by Michael Walsh and Don Jordan. The story takes place in the wake of the English Civil War, fought between the Parliamentarians (“Roundheads”), who favored limitations on the king’s power and had the support of radical Protestant religious minorities (such as Puritans), and the Royalists (“Cavaliers”), who were loyal to the throne and were mostly members of the Church of England.  In 1649, the victorious Roundheads tried and executed the king, Charles I. After the coronation of his son Charles II in 1661, known as the Great Restoration, Charles launched a global manhunt for the 59 judges who signed his father’s death warrant, as well as the court officials who tried the case, collectively known as the “regicides.”

Many of the regicides fled to other countries, and below we found out what happened to those who fled to America, as well as to those were pursued by an American in Europe. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

* * *

If what he had done against the King were to be done again, he would do it again.

The spring of 1661 was significant not only for the crowning of the king. Hitherto Charles had paid little attention to the capture of regicides abroad, but that was about to change. As carpenters sweated over the erection of those magnificent coronation arches with their dual themes of royal triumph and revenge, Charles unleashed his bloodhounds in America and Europe. Two royalists set out from Boston to lead a hunt across New England for Whalley and Goffe, and the most ruthless operator in the king’s service was drafted in to spearhead a search across Europe for Ludlow and the other nineteen regicides who had escaped in 1660.

The American manhunt was launched on May 6 by John Endecott, governor of Massachusetts. Endecott had received an arrest order from the king which, dispensing with flowery courtesies, had been brutally curt:

Trusty and well-beloved,

We greet you well. We being given to understand that Colonel Whalley and Colonel Goffe, who stand here convicted for the execrable murder of our Royal Father, of glorious memory, are lately arrived at New England, where they hope to shroud themselves securely from the justice of our laws; our will and pleasure is, and we do hereby expressly require and command you forthwith upon the receipt of these our letters, to cause both the said persons to be apprehended, and with the first opportunity sent over hither under a strict care, to receive according to their demerits. We are confident of your readiness and diligence to perform your duty; and so bid you farewell.

The abrupt tone reflected Charles’s fury at the welcoming reception accorded the regicides in America. Their unchallenged presence was not only an insult but a danger that threatened to undermine still further Britain’s fragile hold on the colony. The two men were openly enjoying their freedom, sometimes challenged by the odd royalist, but admired and welcomed by the majority Puritans. In London the Council of Foreign Plantations was told that the two were holding public meetings, praying and preaching that the two were holding public meetings, praying and preaching and justifying the killing of the king. Whalley was quoted as saying that “if what he had done against the King were to be done again, he would do it again.”

All changed after May 1661. Having received the menacing royal command, John Endecott had to be seen to respond decisively. He commissioned two ardent royalists to conduct a manhunt right across the territory. The two men—a young Boston merchant called Thomas Kirk and Thomas Kelland, an English sea captain—were furnished with the governor’s authority to impress all the men and horse they needed and with letters requesting help to the governors of other English colonies. There was also one for Peter Stuyvesant, the governor of the neighboring Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, a bolt-hole for people fleeing the English colonies. The search party set off on May 25, launching a hue and cry that would fade then sound again for years.

The hunters had the outward support of the most senior colonial officials like Endecott. But it was reluctant backing, and they could scarcely have known when they set out the depth of the opposition they would encounter.

* * *

Hide the outcasts, betray not him that wandereth.

They had a good idea of their quarry’s whereabouts when they left Boston. On receipt of Endecott’s commission, they secured warrants from the governor of Connecticut and made directly for New Haven. Their target was the house of the millennialist pastor John Davenport, founder of the New Haven colony. Since their arrival on the Prudent Mary the previous summer, Davenport had become perhaps the fugitives’ greatest ally. A man with a mesmerizing personality, Davenport had been followed by five hundred Puritans when he left London in the 1630s to establish his ministry in the New World. He built there a fiercely independent bastion of Calvinist zealotry. In New Haven, Mosaic law held sway—only church members judged the predestined to be saved by God could vote, own land or hold office. Quakers and other outsiders were turned away by the colony’s borders (even at the beginning of the nineteenth century Jews and Catholics were barred from setting foot New Haven green). There was no argument when Whalley and Goffe came knocking in the early months of 1661. They were greeted as “Godly” people and allowed in.

Whalley was put up in Davenport’s house while a neighbor, Thomas Jones, offered his home to Goffe. Jones had more reason than most to sympathize with the two men, for he was the son of regicide John Jones. Young Thomas had been a fellow passenger with the two fugitives on the Prudent Mary the previous summer. Three months after they disembarked on the Boston quayside, the older Jones had been hanged, drawn and quartered in the Strand. Of course, anyone aiding Whalley and Goffe in New England faced the same. A proclamation outlawing the regicides warned that none “should presume to harbour or conceal any [of] the person aforesaid under pain of misprision of high treason.”

The death warrant of Charles I with the signatures of the 59 judges. Via Wikimedia.

Kirk and Kelland pushed south through New England’s rugged highlands and reached Guildford, the capital of New Haven colony, in three days. This put them a mere eighteen miles from the town of New Haven and their target. There was time enough that day to reach their men, but they needed warrants from William Leete, the colony’s governor. It was here that their problems began, for Leete smoothly sabotaged their mission.

An account of what transpired was later sent to Endecott by the two royalists. They arrived in Guildford on a Saturday and Leete received them courteously enough. Then things began to go wrong. To their great discomfort, the governor insisted on reading the king’s proclamation aloud while the locals clustered around, so ruining the royalists’ hopes of surprising the fugitives. Leete then asserted that the two colonels had left New Haven nine weeks before. This was untrue, as Kirk suspected after questioning locals. Several claimed the regicides were still in New Haven and named the Reverend Davenport as their protector. Probing further, Kirk heard that Leete was well aware of this.

The royalists went back to the governor, demanding warrants to search and arrest and fresh horses to get them to Davenport’s home. Much delay and evasion ensued. The horses were provided but Leete apologetically refused any search and arrest warrant. Before he could issue the document, he would have to consult the New Haven magistrates. This, unfortunately, couldn’t be done quickly because the next day was Sunday, and nothing was allowed to move in New Haven on the Sabbath. On Monday, the magistrates did convene, but they came to no decision. After agonizing for much of the day, they announced that the freemen of the colony would have to be summoned. That would take another four days, the increasingly angry royalists learned.

Needless to say, the birds had long flown. On the day that Kirk and Kelland led the search party into Guildford, a Native American rode through the night to warn Davenport, Jones and their guests. The two colonels were quietly shifted to a secure, if uncomfortable, hiding place not far away, though well hidden from inquisitive eyes. This was a cave halfway up a rocky escarpment a few miles beyond New Haven. It is said that on the Sunday the Reverend Davenport’s sermon drew from the book of Isaiah and his favorite proverb: “Hide the outcasts, betray not him that wandereth. Let mine outcasts dwell with thee.”

The royalists heard about the night ride of the Native American and demanded to interview him or that Leete question him. The governor refused, insisting there were no grounds to do so. They then asked him to authorize raids on the homes of Davenport and Jones. In the absence of a decision by the freemen, this was also refused.

Searches were at last conducted and Davenport was reported to have been “very ill used” when they got to his house. The searches were of course fruitless. However, all kinds of stories have been handed down through generations suggesting prolonged searching during which the royalists came very near to their prey. One story has a search party coming through the front door while Whalley and Goffe ran out of the back. Another has them almost cornered and hiding under a bridge as their pursuers thundered over it. Yet another has them deciding to surrender in order to save Davenport from arrest but being dissuaded by their friends. According to one tale, Governor Leete hid them in his own cellar, which invites one to wonder whether they were there, listening even as their whereabouts were being discussed upstairs by their host and the two frustrated royalists.

Engraving from “Nalson’s Record of the Trial of Charles I,” 1684. Via Wikimedia.

After weeks of frustration, Kirk and Kelland switched their attention to the south, disappearing across the border into New Amsterdam, presumably after another tip-off. There they secured the co-operation of the Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant, but to no avail. They returned some weeks later bitter and vengeful. Their report to Massachusetts’ Governor Endecott called the New Haven authorities “obstinate and pertinacious in their contempt of his Majesty.”

To buy off the two royalists, the Massachusetts authorities presented each with a juicy land grant. At the same time Edward Rawson, secretary of the colony’s council, warned Governor Leete that his own future and that of New England was imperiled:

I am required to signify to you…that the non-attendance with diligence to execute the King’s warrant, for the apprehending of Colonels Goffe and Whalley, will much hazard the present state of these colonies, and your own particularly, if not some of your persons…there remains no way to expiate the offence, and preserve yourselves from the danger and hazard, but by apprehending the said persons, who, as we are informed, are yet remaining in the colony, and not above a fortnight since were seen there: all which will be against you.

In the event, Leete survived unscathed, and so did John Davenport. Having preached so bravely from Isaiah, he sent Secretary of State Sir William Morrice a groveling denial that he or his colony had ever aided the two fugitives. The colonists had “wanted neither will nor industry to have served His Majesty in apprehending them, but were prevented and hindered by God’s overruling providence… The two Colonels, who only stayed two days in the Colony, went away before they could be apprehended, no man knowing how or whither.”

Judging from the archive there was a feeling in London that the two men were no longer on the other side of the Atlantic. There were reports of them being seen with Ludlow in the Netherlands. Apparently they were amused to see other reports that they’d been killed.

Whalley and Goffe stayed in the cave during the summer of 1661. When the hullabaloo died down, they were quietly moved to Milford, another Puritan settlement eight miles away. This time their hiding place was a cellar they would spend the next two years “in utter seclusion without so much as going into the orchard.” Not until 1664 was there another threat to them.

* * *

Andrew Marvell likened him to a Judas; his former clerk, Samuel Pepys, labeled Downing a ‘perfidious rogue,’ and, in his native New England, ‘an arrant George Downing’ became an epithet for anyone betraying a trust.

On the other side of the Atlantic, things would not prove so easy for the regicides in 1661. As Kelland and his partner were being thrown off the scent in New England, a man of far more menacing and astute caliber was being appointed to lead the European hunt. This was a former Roundhead, Sir George Downing, who had been posted as envoy extraordinary to the Netherlands in 1661. Over the next year this burly, quick-witted man would serve the ends of his royal master Charles II so well that he would be granted a baronetcy, huge monetary reward and the plot of land next to Whitehall Palace that forever commemorates him—Downing Street. He would also gain a reputation as an odious, treacherous turncoat: Andrew Marvell likened him to a Judas; his former clerk, Samuel Pepys, labeled Downing a “perfidious rogue,” and, in his native New England, “an arrant George Downing” became an epithet for anyone betraying a trust.

Anonymous illustration comparing the execution of Charles I with that of the regicides. Via Wikimedia.

Until a year earlier, Downing could have been counted as a convinced republican. He was born to a God-fearing family of Puritans in Dublin who settled in New England in the 1630s. Like the Puritans of New Haven, the Downings had opted for the New World to escape the Anglican straitjacket which Charles I wanted to impose. Their son George, it seems, flourished there. He became one of the first students to gain a degree at Harvard, the recently established college in Boston, and after that began to make his mark as a preacher. Then came news of the Civil War in England. Like many other young Puritans, Downing was drawn to it, taking ship to England and joining a parliamentary regiment of dragoons as chaplain. Downing’s commanding officer was the dour, radical Puritan Colonel John Okey; he became the chaplain’s mentor, enthusiastically pushing his career. That career was meteoric, but not as a preacher. Downing gave up his chaplaincy during the first Civil War and became an expert in intelligence gathering for the parliamentary armies. So good at this was he that at the age of twenty-six he was appointed “scoutmaster general”—the chief field intelligence officer—of Oliver Cromwell’s all-conquering army in Scotland. It was the equivalent to being a major-general. Come peacetime, Downing breathlessly maintained his success, accumulating sinecures from Cromwell’s government, marrying a beautiful moneyed aristocrat from the Howard family and being elected to Parliament. The clever young parvenu from Massachusetts personified the confident, new, and supposedly godly world of republican England. Yet it could be argued that deep down he believed in monarchy—Downing, always a sycophant to the right people, led the clamor in Parliament for Cromwell to take the crown.

In 1656, Downing was appointed special emissary to the Netherlands, where one of England’s principal concerns was the threat from the royalist exiles. Large numbers of them were clustered there, mostly around the great ports of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, existing in various states of desperation and hope, dreaming and plotting Cromwell’s downfall. The Netherlands was “the nursery of Cavalierism,” declared Secretary of State John Thurloe, who directed Downing to set up a spy network there. The former chaplain was a huge success in the dark arts of espionage and his network eventually spread beyond Europe and into England. A study intelligence in this period paints a picture of Downing’s blithe ruthlessness: “He was engaged in entrapment, hiring spies, harassing exiles as well as the bribery and chicanery to which he appears to have been well suited.” The study judges that most of Downing’s “talents as a spymaster” emerged in this earlier period, but that “one or two refinements were to be added after 1660 such as more scope for assassination attempts, kidnappings and even suggestions of grave robbery.”

The royalists were terrified of Downing—“that fearful gentleman,” one called him—and he himself claimed that he was a target for royalist assassins. A Major Whitford, one of the royalists suspected of killing the regicide Isaac Dorislaus, was seen with others lurking around Downing’s house. The emissary called on the Dutch to provide him with protection.

All in all, this feared spy chief and dyed-in-the-wool Cromwellian would seem to have much to fear from a return of the Stuarts. Yet, at the restoration, far from being thrown into prison or worse, George Downing was knighted by Charles II in the very month that the king returned. What was behind this astonishing turn of fortune? One story, possibly apocryphal, might explain it. During his frustrating years in exile in France, Charles had several times slipped over the border into Dutch territory, either on a secret visit to his sister, the wife of William of Orange, or to rendezvous with exiled supporters. The story goes that, very shortly before the restoration, Charles made one of these visits and an “old reverend like man in a long grey beard and ordinary grey clothes” succeeded in forcing his way into his presence. The old man then pulled off his beard to reveal himself as the feared George Downing, come to warn the king that the Dutch planned to arrest him and hand him over to the English. Charles promptly terminated his visit. Downing had saved his life.

Whatever the truth, we do know that on the eve of the restoration Downing set out to worm his way into royal favor. He used an intermediary, Thomas Howard, a brother of the Earl of Suffolk and a close intimate of Charles and his sister, the Princess of Orange. Howard had been one of Downing’s informants since 1658, after making the mistake of entrusting potentially damaging private papers to the keeping of a mistress and then falling out with her. Downing somehow acquired the papers and blackmailed the young aristocrat—or, as he put it, “gained” him. “I think I can hardly pitch for one better instrument than Tom Howard, he being the master of the horse to the Princess Royal,” Downing boasted in a report to London. From then on, Howard was his creature, passing on every tidbit about the Stuarts.

Dutch pamphlet criticizing the beheading of Charles I, 1649. Via Wikimedia.

Two years on, in April 1660, when General Monck’s army was in London and astute men were changing allegiances, Downing summoned Tom Howard and instructed him to tell the still exiled king that he now desired “to promote His Majesty’s service.” To prove his new allegiance Downing showed Howard intelligence material that he wanted communicated to the king. This included a letter in cipher from Secretary Thurloe reporting feeling in the army and among the general populace. Downing begged for a royal pardon and promised that if he got it, he would “work secretly on the army in which he has considerable influence.” As for his own past as a Roundhead, Downing told Howard to relay his repentance that he had been misled as a youth in New England, where he had “sucked in principles that since his reason had made him see were erroneous.”

As Downing awaited the king’s reply, his good friend John Milton was publishing two anti-monarchist tracts which three months later would be ritually burned by the common executioner, and would see the poet jailed and in danger of joining the regicides on the scaffold. A kinder future was in store for George Downing. In the second week of June the reply came back from the king that he was forgiven. Howard conveyed that Charles would forget past “deviations” and would accept “the overtures he [Downing] makes of returning to his duty.” Three weeks afterwards, the new monarch knighted Downing and paid him £1000.

On his reappointment to The Hague, the man who had wished Oliver Cromwell king now oozed loyalty to Charles. He vowed to the king’s chief minister, Lord Clarendon, that on pursuing the regicides he would do “as much as if my life lay at stake.” Indeed, “if my father were in the way I would not avoid him for my loyalty.”

* * *

Tell them of a King and they cut your throat in earnest.

Downing’s first task was to locate the regicides’ bolt-holes, “that I may know where they are and what they do”—far from easy in a country flooded with English fugitives. “It is not to be credited what numbers of disaffected persons come daily out of England into this new country,” he reported in his first dispatch, describing the new arrivals from across the Channel as “well funded and confident… [they] do hire the best houses and have great bills of exchange come over from England for them.”

In prising out the regicides from among these exiles, Sir George knew he could expect little co-operation from the Dutch. During his previous incarnation in the Netherlands he had been the agent of a fellow republic and, to an extent, approved of. As the agent of a king, particularly one engage in the execution of republicans, he was now in hostile country. Decades of bloody war with the Spanish monarchy for control of the Low Countries had left the Dutch more wholeheartedly republican than any people in Europe except perhaps the Swiss. A guide to the Netherlands published in England in 1662 warned: “The country is a democracy…Tell them of a King and they cut your throat in earnest. The very name carries servitude in it and they hate it more than a Jew doth images, a woman old age and a nonconformist a surplice.”

At this early stage we do not know who Downing used as agents to discover the regicides, but presumably many old informants were still present in Holland and Germany and there were potentially many more among new refugees. By no means were all of these as well funded as Downing suggested. Some exiles were in dire financial straits and a few guilders bought their loyalty. Others were suborned and blackmailed into spying while still in England, then sent abroad to mix in exile circles.

Scenes representing the Restoration , 1660. Via Wikimedia.

Downing would ultimately accumulate a rich mix of informants. Along with the unpredictable adventurer Joseph Bampfield, who had once rescued Charles’s younger brother James from the Roundheads dressed as a girl before switching sides to spy for the same Roundheads, and then switching sides again, they included an Irish cutthroat called James Cotter who gloried in his reputation as an assassin. And there was also the bewitching Mata Hari figure of Aphra Behn.

A memorable picture of the efficiency of Downing’s agents was later made by his former clerk, Samuel Pepys. Downing had boasted to Pepys of his intelligence coups in the mid-1660s, during the second Anglo-Dutch war. Pepys’ diary for December 27, 1668 records:

Met with Sir G. Downing, and walked with him an hour talking of business, and how the late war was managed, there being nobody to take care of it; and he telling, when he was in Holland . . . that he had so good spies, that he hath had the keys taken out of de Witte’s pocket when he was abed, and his closet opened and papers brought to him and left in his hands for an hour, and carried back and laid in the place again, and the keys put into his pocket again. He says he hath always had their most private debates, that have been but between two or three of the chief of them, brought to him in an hour after, and an hour after that hath sent word thereof to the king.


Reviewing the difficulties involved in kidnapping the regicides, Downing casually suggested murdering them. In a dispatch to the Earl of Clarendon in the autumn of 1661, he wrote: “What if the king should authorize some trusty persons to kill them . . . let me have the king’s serious thoughts about this business.” If Charles did give the idea some thought, nothing was put down on paper, and the secretary of state moved quickly to disassociate himself and the king from the idea. Charles would never countenance murder, he insisted.

The breakthrough Downing needed came in September when he found the weak link in the chain of friends protecting the exiles in Germany. An English merchant living in the city of Delft was revealed as the front man for some of the exiles. His name was Abraham Kicke and he acted as the regicides’ post box. Much of their correspondence with wives back in England appears to have gone through him, as did the odd bundle of money sent to keep them going. Little is known about Kicke except that he had the regicides’ trust. John Barkstead—one of the king’s judges who had become a fugitive by 1661—called him “my real friend.” That would prove a fatal misjudgment.

An acute judge of human weakness, George Downing took the measure of Kicke after a single meeting, divining that money and threats would overcome whatever loyalty the merchant felt for the regicides, and quickly proved it. Kicke was given a choice by Downing: a reward of £200 per head for every regicide he helped to snare or the ruin of his business if he didn’t co-operate. From that point on, the merchant was in the control of George Downing.


Timing was everything. Downing needed to get the warrant issued and verified as late in the day as possible to lessen the chances of his targets being warned, but early enough so the three fugitive regicides—John Okey, John Barkstead, and Miles Corbet—could be seized before their supper party broke up and Corbet went home. He also wanted the trio in irons and safely en route to England before Holland woke up to what was afoot. A vessel called the Blackamoor had been provided, probably laid on by the Royal Africa Company. The Blackamoor lay moored and waiting in Rotterdam.

There is no record of the talk that evening but there must have been much to catch up on. It was at least eighteen months since Corbet had seen his two fellow fugitives and in that time the world had turned upside down. Perhaps the three men mulled over the betrayal of General Monck, or Okey’s attempts to stop him. Perhaps they read together some of the last speeches of their friends, the fellow regicides who had been executed and whom they regarded as martyrs. No doubt they speculated on the vulnerability of the Stuart regime and the chances now for the success of the Good Old Cause. Presumably there was also talk of hearth and home and some excitement at the arrival next day of two of their wives. Perhaps, too, they talked of Okey’s old comrade Sir George Downing, and praised God that he and not some vengeful royalist was the ambassador here.

Accompanied by three English officers serving as mercenaries in Holland, along with some sailors, presumably from the Blackamoor, Downing was hidden in a house nearby. He had set the wheels in motion early that afternoon, arriving at Johan de Witt’s home with a request for a warrant and informing the Dutch leader that was representing him with an opportunity to do the King of England a “most acceptable kindness.” There was, as Downing expected, long delays. Not till early evening was the warrant ready and then it had to be rushed to Delft.

As the minutes went by, Kicke became worried. He told Downing later that Miles Corbet (“the hunchback,” he called him) was showing signs of leaving, which might mean only two regicides in the net—and £200 less for himself. One imagines the old man getting up from the fireside table and beginning to make his farewells when there was a knock at the door. In his report to Clarendon, Downing gloated over what happened next:

Knocking at the door one of the house came to see who it was and the door being open, the under Scout and the whole company rushed immediately into the house, and into the room where they were sitting by a fireside with a pipe of tobacco and a cup of beer. Immediately they started up to have got out a back door but it was too late, the room was in a moment full. They made many excuses, the one to have got liberty to fetch his coat and another to go to the privy but all in vain.

No doubt the king was thrilled as Clarendon passed him Downing’s dispatch.

* * *

Every body here admireth the constancy and resolution of those men who were lately executed in England for having judged the late King.

Londoners turned out in their thousands to watch the condemned trio dragged on separate sledges from the Tower of London to Tyburn and the scaffold. Extra troops had been drafted in to control the crowds, with Mercurious Publicus reporting the mood as being so hostile to the condemned men that the guards barely prevented the people “anticipating the executioners.”

A very different crowd—perhaps equally big, certainly too big for Charles’s comfort—turned up at Okey’s funeral. Previously none of the executed regicides had been allowed a Christian burial. After the ritual butchery their heads had been boiled and stuck on spikes in Westminster Hall or London Bridge, their quarters carted away. Okey’s internment was to be different. Charles agreed that his body should be treated with respect and interred in the family vault in the East End parish of Stepney. No such concession was offered the families of his two comrades. On the appointed day, the remains were taken to Christ’s Church, Stepney. There had been no publicity but the Puritan grapevine sufficed. People began to stream towards Stepney. The news quickly filtered through to Charles that hordes of “fanatics” were on their way to pay tribute to this murderer of his father. The king—outraged, horrified or both—ordered it stopped. The Sheriff of London was dispatched to Stepney to end the ceremony. By the time he and his constables arrived, however, as many as twenty thousand people were assembled round the church. They were dispersed “with much harshness and many bitter words,” but appear to have gone home peacefully. To prevent another demonstration of solidarity with the “Godly martyrs,” Okey was buried where no crowds could gather—in an unmarked plot, somewhere in the grounds of the Tower of London.

The coronation of Charles II. Via Wikimedia.

The unexpected beneficiaries of this spectacle were the other regicides awaiting their own deaths. The Bills authorizing more executions had reached their final reading but were dropped and up to twenty regicides were saved. Instead of Tyburn they were kept in the Tower or dispersed to strongholds in the furthest reaches of the realm. Why were no more of them executed? Charles’s own dwindling blood lust was undoubtedly part of it. As early as the first batch of deaths he had written to Clarendon that he was “weary” of the hangings. The new butchery can only have increased his distaste. Another factor was the propaganda bonus the “fanatics” secured from the executions. The victims’ heroic performances on the scaffold were retold in pamphlets and books like Prayers and Speeches of the Regicides which were constantly reprinted and turned men who were supposed to be damned for martyring their king into martyrs themselves.

Admiration for the executed men spread beyond London, indeed beyond England. “Every body here admireth the constancy and resolution of those men who were lately executed in England for having judged the late King,” wrote a Paris-based correspondent. Naturally the authorities came down hard on the printers and booksellers. Four men involved in the trade were put on trial for publishing and selling seditious literature. Three were fined, pilloried and imprisoned. The crime of the fourth, a John Twyn, made the king overcome any distaste for spilling more blood. Having published a book entitled A Treatise on the Execution of Justice, calling for an end to the royal family, Twyn was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

Another display of punishment had been ordered a few months earlier, to mark the anniversary of the day when the death sentence was passed on the king. Three of his judges were roped to sledges, each with a halter around his neck, and dragged through the streets from the Tower to Tyburn—then back again. None of the three—Sir Henry Mildmay, Viscount Monson and Robert Wollop—had signed the death warrant or been present when sentence was pronounced, so they didn’t qualify as regicides. Indeed all three insisted that they agreed to act as judges in order to help the king. That cut no ice. The trio had all been ardent republicans and they were all sentenced to life and, on top of that, the humiliating trip to Tyburn. According to Pepys it was to be an annual excursion.

* * *

The white-haired stranger who in September 1675 appeared brandishing a sword, rallied the settlers, beat off an Algonquin attack and prevented a massacre, before disappearing as miraculously as he had come.

While the captive regicides might now be spared death, that did not hold for the dozen or more fugitives abroad. In 1664, the search for Edward Whalley and William Goffe was revived on the other side of the Atlantic. Following previous frustrations and failures, the hunt had been largely abandoned since 1661. The fugitives continued to live in their cellar in Milford. Thomas Temple’s promise to “hazard his life” in pursuit of them had helped him become governor of Nova Scotia but it left the fugitives untroubled. The old cave on Providence Hill lay abandoned to the bears and snakes.

That all changed in the summer of 1664. The king gave the order for an expeditionary force to be sent to New England. Its prime target was the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam on Long Island, which Charles wished to take over in order to create an unbroken wedge of British rule on the north-east seaboard. The force was led by four commissioners and commanded by Colonel Richard Nicholas. They had further orders to “apprehend all persons who stand attained of high treason, and to discover those who have entertained them since the restoration.” It was unnecessary to identify the traitors by name.

Four men-o’-war arrived, carrying four hundred troops and enough firearms and ammunition to equip several hundred more. Whalley and Goffe retired once more to their cave but remained there only for a week or two. One night, a panther screamed outside the entrance. More worryingly, a group of Native Americans chanced upon their hiding place and discovered their bedding, though they did not spot either of the men. Word spread around Milford about their presence. Their benefactors decided to move them to one of the most remote settlements in Massachusetts, an outpost called Hadley, some eighty miles to north-west on the boundary of Indian territory and ninety miles from the coast.

Hadley in 1664 was a stockade village of some fifty Puritan families. The settlers who built it in 1659 chose a site in the tranquil valley of the Connecticut river. It must have seemed to them that they had found the Promised Land. Their little satellite settlement was on an oxbow bend under the shadow of a richly forested mountain. They would discover that they were surrounded by the most fertile soils in New England. The great nineteenth-century landscape artists Thomas Cole would call it “Arcadia” and immortalize the landscape in The Oxbow, an 1833 painting that became as famous in America as Constable’s Haywain in England. After Niagara Falls, Hadley would develop into the most visited holiday site in America.

By pre-arrangement, the fugitives were received by the town’s Puritan minister, John Russell. The Reverend Russell concealed them in an upstairs room. Since the Russells lived right in the middle of the settlement, this seemed an unnecessary risk; however, their luck held. Many decades later, a historian picked up folk memories of searchers from Boston and Redcoats from England arriving in Hadley around 1664, but there is no record that the Russell house ever came under suspicion.

The Angel of Hadley, Frederic Chapman, 1850. Via Wikimedia.

Colonel Nicholas and his troops succeeded in their primary task of ejecting the Dutch, but they found it impossible to persuade colonists of New England to aid the search for the regicides. Nicholas reported later that when he tried to set up a hearing of complaints in Boston and issued a summons for witnesses, a small mob-cum-delegation appeared and stopped him: “The Government sent a herald and trumpeter and 100 people accompanying them to proclaim that the Commissioners should not act in the government nor any persons give obedience,” he reported, adding “the meeting was dissolved and nothing farther done.”

The commission had secret instructions from Charles to tread gently with the Massachusetts Puritans. The colonial government had been slow to recognize Charles as king and the British strategy—unusually subtle—was to woo the colony gently back to full allegiance, prior to imposing a new charter. This might explain the failure to take tough action against people suspected of harboring Whalley and Goffe.

Much of what we know about the fugitives’ lives at this point comes from the researches nearly a century later of Thomas Harrison, then governor of Massachusetts. He acquired Goffe’s papers –letters and a diary –while compiling a history of the colony published in 1764. The material revealed that the two were sometimes living “in terror.” In letters between Goffe and his wife Frances the two tell each other to be careful of betrayal.

Whalley and Goffe were not completely hamstrung by their hermitic existence in Hadley. These two clever and energetic men may have lived in fear and have been constantly under cover, but through a front man they went very successfully into business. Their partner was the influential Daniel Gookin, a friend of the two since they had sailed to New England together on the Prudent Mary in May 1660. Copies of the Goffe letters show that he and his father-in-law eventually became sufficiently prosperous to send a message home to England asking their families not to send them any further remittances until they asked for more money. The pair went into stock raising and “a little trade with the Indians.” By 1672, they “had a stock in New England money of over one hundred pounds, all debts paid.”

Edward Whalley and William Goffe remained hidden with the Reverend Russell for another ten years, until Whalley’s death around 1674 or ’75. Goffe was to live on to become the center of a hugely dramatic story—the legend of the Angel of Hadley, the white-haired stranger who in September 1675 appeared brandishing a sword, rallied the settlers, beat off an Algonquin attack and prevented a massacre, before disappearing as miraculously as he had come. The superstitious people of Hadley decided their savior must have been a supernatural being. Ninety years after the incident, the president of Harvard, Ezra Stiles, wrote: “The inhabitants could not account for the phenomenon, but by considering that person as an Angel sent of God on that special occasion for their deliverance.”

By the nineteenth century the angel incident was presented as fact and so too was William Goffe’s role as the angel. The story inspired many writers. The first to make use of the tale was Walter Scott, who based his novel Peveril of the Peak upon the legend of the Angel. He was followed by James Fenimore Cooper and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The cave that sheltered Goffe and Whalley is now a tourist attraction and bears a bronze plaque stating, “Opposition to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”

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Excerpted with permission from The King’s Revenge: Charles II and the Greatest Manhunt in the British History, by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh. Reprinted by arrangement with Pegasus Books. All rights reserved.