In October 1660 the returning King Charles II exacted a bloody revenge on those he held responsible for the beheading of his father. Though the restoration of the monarchy is often seen as a return to a more joyous and carefree Britain, the killing of a king could not, and would not go unpunished.
On 17 October, 4 prominent regicides were hung drawn and quartered in front of large crowds. Thomas Scott, Gregory Clements, Colonel Adrian Scrope and Colonel John Jones were the names of the men who died that day, in one of the most excruciating and humiliating ways possible.
The penalty for high treason
Hanging drawing and quartering involved being hanged until nearly dead, before being let down, castrated, disemboweled, beheaded and then chopped into pieces. Before they died, these men would see their bowels burned before their eyes.
Such a punishment was reserved for those guilty of the crime of high treason: plotting or carrying out murder against a king. For the Royalists, such a heinous crime fully merited this punishment.
Anyone who had signed the death warrant of Charles I would have known that if the monarchy ever returned, their lives would be in great danger. Not only were they guilty of treason, but any new king would want to make an example of them too.
Scott was the first to die
Like the other three, Thomas Scott had been allowed a visit from his family, in what must have been an excruciating ordeal for all involved. He had been a parliamentary radical for a long time. He had always favoured a tough stance against Charles during the Civil War and was vociferous in his support for his execution.
He would also oppose Oliver Cromwell’s power as Lord Protector just as vehemently as it edged ever closer to something resembling monarchical power.
When Charles II took the throne Scott fled to Flanders, but he subsequently surrendered in Brussels. Scott’s involvement in the regicide was well documented, and he had made his involvement known: he was doomed as soon as the vengeful Charles settled into power.
Scott was put on trial: it was a farce, with the jury instructed to find the regicides guilty, but it did allow Scott a chance to attempt to justify his actions both to his peers and for the history books.
Like many of the other regicides, and indeed Charles himself, he faced the executioner with remarkable courage. Once on the scaffold, Scott launched into a speech about liberty and the righteousness of his cause, declaring
I say again; to the Praise of the Free Grace of God; I bless His name He hath engaged me in a Cause, not to be Repented of, I say, Not to be Repented of.
Gregory Clements was one of the less well-known regicides: his signature, 54th on the document, seems to have been written over an erased signature below, perhaps suggesting he was not one of the leading regicides.
An MP for Fowey in Cornwall, he was dismissed from Parliament in 1652 following a scandal with a maidservant. Clements may not have been a powerful figure, but he still signed the warrant and so his life was in danger following the Restoration.
Instead of fleeing, Clements went into hiding: he was spotted and his identity revealed. Initially pleading innocent, he eventually admitted his guilt and was indicted on charges of high treason and subsequently executed.
Colonel Adrian Scrope was a wealthy Buckinghamshire landowner and later a Parliamentarian soldier. He acted as head of security during Charles’ trial, was present every day and eventually signed his death warrant too. He had, however, played little role in the Protectorate and had voiced no opposition to the return of the Charles II.
Originally, Scrope complied with the command for the regicides to surrender, and the Commons ruled he could be fined and discharged. However, the Lords decided to exclude him from the indemnity act and he was found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death.
The old soldier was so accepting of his death that he fell asleep while waiting to be taken to the block after the deaths of Scott and Clements. His death was noted as being particularly courageous and one contemporary noted that Scrope “had the honour to die a noble martyr.” His body was returned to his family for burial as a favour rather than being put on display like the others executed at Charing Cross that day.
And lastly Jones
Finally, that left Jones, another old soldier and a man who spoke Welsh as his native language. A fanatical republican in a country which stayed fervently royalist, he was known at one point as “the most hated man in Wales.”
Unlike Scrope, Jones had no prospect of escaping the King’s justice. He had been both a judge and a signatory at Charles I’s trial, which he had attended almost every day. Jones, who was 63 by 1660, made no attempt to plead innocence and remained defiantly proud of the crime of regicide.
The executioner who had seen to the deaths of the other three was now so sick of his grisly task that the castration and disemboweling of the aged Welshman had to be carried out by a young apprentice. Jones met his death so courageously that some contemporaries believed miracles to have happened in his name, such as the flowering of a tree in winter on his estates.
Traitors or martyrs?
This was not the end of Charles II’s revenge, which had added another two regicides to its body count by 19 October. However, 17 October would live on in the memory for its simple brutality, the courage of the doomed men, and the way four were killed in such a short space of time: all at Charing Cross.
Their deaths can be seen in many ways. Some might argue that as killers of a king they had to be punished, especially with Charles II’s position on the throne far from secure. Those of a more idealistic nature however, might see them as martyrs for a cause of liberty and republicanism.