Thomas Harrison (1616 - 1660) MP

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Birthplace: Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, England
Death: Died in London, England
Cause of death: Hung, drawn & quartered
Managed by: Bianca May Evelyn Brennan
Last Updated:

About Thomas Harrison

Major-General Thomas Harrison (1606 – 13 October 1660) sided with Parliament in the English Civil War. During the Interregnum he was a leader of the Fifth Monarchists. In 1649 he signed the death warrant of Charles I and in 1660, shortly after the Restoration, he was found guilty of regicide and hanged, drawn and quartered.

Contents [hide] 1 Life and work 2 Arrest and Trial 3 Execution 4 References


Life and work[edit]The son of the mayor of Newcastle-under-Lyme, he was admitted to the Inns of Court as an attorney at Clifford's Inn.

During the Civil War he declared for Parliament and served in the Earl of Manchester's army. He fought in many of the major battles of the war and joined the New Model Army in 1645. By the end of the conflict he had risen to the rank of major-general and was a noted friend and supporter of Oliver Cromwell.

He was elected to the Long Parliament for Wendover in 1646. When conflict resumed he was wounded at Appleby in July 1648. He had to return to London but was well enough to command the escort that brought the King to London in January 1649. Harrison sat as a commissioner (judge) at the trial and was the seventeenth of fifty-nine commissioners to sign the death warrant of King Charles I.

In 1650, Harrison was appointed to a military command in Wales where he was apparently extremely severe. He was promoted to the rank of Major-General in 1651 and commanded the army in England during Cromwell's Scottish expedition. He fought at the battle of Knutsford in August and at Worcester in September 1651.

By the early 1650s Harrison was associated with the radical Fifth Monarchists and became one of their key speakers. He still supported Cromwell and aided in the dissolution of the Rump Parliament in April 1653. Harrison was a radical member of the Nominated Assembly (Barebones Parliament) that replaced the Parliament. When the Assembly was dissolved, Harrison and others refused to leave and had to be forced out by soldiers. Harrison was dismissed from the Army in December.

Like many, he was outraged by the formation of the Protectorate and the elevation of Cromwell to Lord Protector. Under the Protectorate (1653–60) Harrison was imprisoned four times.

Arrest and Trial[edit] Sign outside the Hung, Drawn and Quartered pub in Tower Hill, LondonAfter Cromwell's death Harrison remained quietly in his home, supporting none of the contenders for power. Following the Restoration, Harrison declined to flee and was arrested in May 1660.

He was tried on October 11, 1660. When asked whether he was guilty or not guilty and willing to take the blood of the late King Charles I on his head, Harrison "...not only pleaded not guilty, but justified the sentence passed upon the King (Charles I), and the authority of those who had commissioned him to act as one of his judges. He plainly told them, when witnesses were produced against him, that he came not thither with an intention to deny anything he had done, but rather to bring it to light, owning his name subscribed to the warrant for executing the King, to be written by himself; charging divers of those who sat on the Bench, as his judges, to have been formerly as active for the cause, in which he had engaged, as himself or any other person; affirming that he had not acted by any other motive than the principles of conscience and justice; for proof of which he said it was well known, he had chosen to be separated from his family, and to suffer a long imprisonment rather than to comply with those who had abused the power they had assumed to the oppression of the people. He insisted that having done nothing, in relation to the matter in question, otherwise than by the authority of the Long Parliament, he was not justly accountable to this or any other inferior Court; which being a point of law, he desired to have council assigned upon that head; but the Court over-ruled; and by interrupting him frequently, and not permitting him to go on in this defense, they clearly manifested a resolution of gratifying the resentments of the Court upon any terms. So that a hasty verdict was brought in against him, and the question being asked, if he had anything to say, why judgement should not pass, he only said, that since the Court had refused to hear what was fit for him to speak in his defense, he had no more to say; upon which Bridgeman pronounced the sentence. And that the inhumanity of these men may the better appear, I (Edmond Ludlow) must not omit, that the executioner in an ugly dress, with a halter in his hand, was placed near the Major-General, and continued there during the whole time of his trial, which action I doubt whether it was ever equaled by the most barbarous nations. But having learned to condemn such baseness, after the sentence had been pronounced against him, he (Major-General Harrison) said aloud as he was withdrawn from the Court, that he had no reason to be ashamed of the cause in which he had been engaged."[1]

Execution[edit]Major-General Harrison was the first of the Regicides to be executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered on 13 October 1660.[2] Harrison, after being hanged for several minutes and then cut open, was reported to have leaned across and hit his executioner—resulting in the swift removal of his head. His entrails were thrown onto a nearby fire.[3][4][nb 1]

Samuel Pepys wrote an eyewitness account of the execution at Charing Cross, in which Major General Harrison was dryly reported to be "looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition". This account is also quoted on a plaque on the wall of the Hung, Drawn and Quartered public house near Pepys Street, where the diarist lived and worked in the Navy Office. In his final moments, as he was being led up the scaffold, the hangman asked for his forgiveness. Upon hearing his request Thomas Harrison replied, "I do forgive thee with all my heart... Alas poor man, thou doith it ignorantly, the Lord grant that this sin may be not laid to thy charge." Thomas Harrison then gave all of the money that remained in his pockets to his executioner and was thereafter executed.

Edmond Ludlow also provided an account of the execution at Charing Cross, "the sentence which had been pronounced in consequence of the verdict was executed upon Major-General Harrison at the place where Charing Cross formerly stood, that the King might have the pleasure of the spectacle, and inure himself to blood. According to Edmund Ludlow, "On the fifteenth (October 15, 1660), Mr. John Carew suffered there also, even their enemies confessing that more steadiness of mind, more contempt of death, and more magnanimity could not be expressed. To all who were present with them either in prison or at the place where the sentence was executed, they owned that having engaged in the cause of God and their country, they were not at all ashamed to suffer in the manner their enemies thought fit, openly avowing the inward satisfaction of their minds when they reflected upon the actions for which they had been condemned, not doubting the revival of the same cause; and that a time should come when men would have better thoughts of their persons and proceedings."[

Thomas C., Maj. Gen. Harrison

b. 1606 Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire

d. 1660 executed, Charing Cross from Newcastle-under Lyme, son of a butcher who became mayor. Regicide. Escorted Charles I to London & guarded him through his trial & execution and signed his death warrant. Hung drawn & quartered after the Restoration

The son of Richard Harrison, a butcher who became mayor of Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire, Harrison was educated at a local grammar school, then became clerk to an attorney at Clifford's Inn, London. On the outbreak of the First Civil War in 1642, he enlisted for Parliament in the Earl of Essex's lifeguard. In 1644, he transferred to the Earl of Manchester's Eastern Association army and became a major in Colonel Fleetwood's regiment of horse. With his passionate religious fervour, Harrison was denounced as an Anabaptist by Manchester's Presbyterian officers, but praised as God-fearing and zealous by Oliver Cromwell.

Harrison fought at Marston Moor in July 1644 and was sent after the battle to report Parliament's victory to the Committee of Both Kingdoms. His praise of Cromwell and the Independent faction greatly annoyed the Scots and Presbyterians on the committee. After the second battle of Newbury (October 1644), Harrison strongly supported Cromwell in his dispute with Manchester. He remained in Fleetwood's regiment when it transferred to the New Model Army in 1645 and fought at the decisive battle of Naseby. At the battle of Langport in July 1645, Harrison was observed by the chaplain Richard Baxter to break into a rapturous psalm of praise when the Royalists began to fall back. He was an enthusiastic participant in the slaughter of the Catholic defenders of Basing House, which Cromwell took by storm in October 1645.

In 1646, Harrison was elected to the Long Parliament as recruiter MP for Wendover. He married his cousin Catherine in the same year. They had three children, none of whom survived infancy. From January to May 1647, Harrison served in Ireland at the request of Viscount Lisle when he took up his appointment as lord-lieutenant. When Harrison returned to England, he became actively involved in the political dispute between the New Model Army and Parliament. He was one of the officers who signed the letter sent to London outlining the Army's grievances on 10 June 1647, and was among those appointed by General Fairfax to negotiate with Parliament's commissioners. When Colonel Sheffield declared his support for the Presbyterians, Harrison was given command of his cavalry regiment. He emerged as one of the most radical of the Army officers, opposing further negotiations with King Charles and denouncing him as the "Man of Blood" when news came of his escape from Hampton Court in November 1647.

During the Second Civil War, Harrison went to join Major-General Lambert's army holding the north against the Engagers. On 18 July 1648, Harrison distinguished himself by holding off an attack by Sir Marmaduke Langdale on Lambert's quarters at Appleby. Harrison personally captured the enemy's colours, but was badly wounded during the skirmish. Although his regiment played a major role in the battle of Preston the following month, Harrison himself was probably not present. By November 1648, he had returned to London. He acted as a mediator in Henry Ireton's negotiations with John Lilburne to gain Leveller support for the King's trial. Harrison commanded the military escort that brought Charles to Windsor and then to London in January 1649. Royalists were outraged that this duty should be entrusted to the fanatical Colonel Harrison. The King believed that Harrison intended to assassinate him, but was surprised to find him courteous and correct in his behaviour. Harrison sat as a judge at nearly every session of the trial. He was a signatory of the King's death warrant and was appointed to supervise security at his funeral.

In January 1649, Harrison was nominated to the Council of State. At first, his nomination was rejected by Parliament because of his extremist views. He finally took a seat on the Council in February 1651. Meanwhile, in 1650 he was appointed President of the Commission for the Propagation of the Gospel in Wales — a body empowered to seize church livings and to fund Puritan missionaries in Wales, where the Anglican clergy had been influential in raising support for the King. Harrison was virtually military governor of Wales and gained a reputation for great severity. Promoted to the rank of Major-General in 1651, he commanded the army left to guard England during Cromwell's invasion of Scotland. When Charles II and his Covenanter allies invaded England in August 1651, Harrison marched to head them off from London. He linked up with Cromwell's main force and fought at the decisive battle of Worcester in September 1651.

By the early 1650s, Harrison was associated with the Fifth Monarchy sect. In his zeal to establish the rule of the Saints, he secured the expulsion from Parliament of Lord Howard of Escrick for accepting bribes and of Gregory Clement MP for committing adultery. He grew increasingly hostile towards the Rump Parliament for its lethargy in implementing radical reform and played an active role in Cromwell's dissolution of Parliament in April 1653. Harrison is said to have personally pulled Speaker Lenthall out of the Chair and ejected him from the Chamber. In the discussions that followed the expulsion of Parliament, Harrison proposed a government based upon the Old Testament Sanhedrin of 70 elected "Saints". This model was adopted as the Nominated Assembly ("Barebones Parliament"), which governed England from July to December 1653. Harrison influenced the nomination of several Fifth Monarchists and Welsh Saints to the Assembly, and he sat himself as one of five co-opted members. He headed the radical faction, calling for the abolition of tithes and the excise, and reform of the law. However, Harrison was not an effective politician. He had no patience for committee work or parliamentary debate and his attendance at the Assembly was erratic. Like other Fifth Monarchists, he called for the continuation of the Anglo-Dutch War, believing that it was part of the violent process that had started with the civil wars and the beheading of King Charles, and would lead ultimately to the overthrow of the Antichrist (the Pope) and the reign of Christ on Earth.

In December 1653 — less than six months after the inauguration of the Nominated Assembly — moderates voted to surrender its powers to Cromwell. Harrison fiercely opposed the dissolution of the "Parliament of Saints". He refused to acknowledge the Protectorate that was set up in its place and Cromwell reluctantly withdrew his army commission on 21 December 1653.

With his uncompromising Fifth Monarchist beliefs, Harrison came to be regarded as a dangerous opponent of the Protectorate. He was imprisoned four times between 1653 and 1658 on suspicion of involvement in various plots and insurrections. His attempts to seek election to the First and Second Protectorate Parliaments were blocked by the government. After Oliver Cromwell's death, Harrison lived quietly in Staffordshire, supporting neither Richard Cromwell, the Army Grandees nor the republican Commonwealthsmen in the political turmoil that followed. His inactivity may have been the result of declining health brought about by his war wounds and his periods of imprisonment. He made no response to Lambert's last desperate attempt to rally support for the "Good Old Cause" on the eve of the Restoration.

Harrison was one of the first of the Regicides to be singled out for punishment. He stood by his principles and made no attempt to escape. Parliament ordered him to be arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London in May 1660 — before Charles II had even landed at Dover. At his trial in October 1660, Harrison asserted that he had acted in the name of the Parliament of England and by its authority. He was convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered on 13 October 1660 at Charing Cross. Harrison went bravely to his gruesome death, his religious zeal undiminished to the end:

"...God hath covered my head many times in the day of Battle. By God I have leaped over a wall, by God I have runned through a Troop, and by my God I will go through this death..."

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Major-General Thomas "the Regicide" Harrison's Timeline

1616
June, 1616
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, England
July 2, 1616
Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Staffordshire, England
1645
1645
Age 28
1646
1646
Age 29
1647
1647
Age 30
1648
1648
Age 31
1649
1649
Age 32
1660
October 13, 1660
Age 44
London, England
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