Robert Howcott and the Regicides


King Charles I was beheaded on 30 January 1648/9 on a scaffold erected outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London. Three days earlier, he had been condemned to death for “High Treason, and other Crimes and Misdemeanors” following a trial at Westminster Hall before a High Court of Justice set up by the House of Commons especially for the purpose. One week after the execution, the House of Commons passed a bill abolishing the Monarchy. A republic entitled the “Commonwealth of England” was proclaimed in May 1649 and remained in existence until December 1653. From then until his death in 1658, Oliver Cromwell ruled as Lord Protector. After a period of political instability, Charles - the eldest surviving son of the executed King - was invited back to rule England as Charles II.


Before returning to England in May 1660, Charles II had issued the Declaration of Breda, which set out the terms on which he proposed to rule. These included a free and general pardon of those who had rebelled against him and his father. However, an exemption was made of unidentified people who were to be chosen by Parliament. After some debate, the Indemnity and Oblivion Act became law on 29 August and pardoned previous treason against the crown, but excluded the men involved in the trial and execution of Charles I. 31 of the 59 Commissioners who had signed the King’s death warrant were still alive at that stage. Efforts had already started to apprehend these people, who are generally known as the “regicides”.


Amongst those arrested were John Downes on 18 June 1660 [1] and Vincent Potter [2], both of whom had signed the death warrant. A petition by Robert Howcott, seeking the reward of an office under the Crown, describes his role in apprehending them.


The Petition


To the kings most Excellent Majestie

The humble Petition of Robert Howcott


Humbly Sheweth unto your majestie That your Petitioners Grandfather was servant to his late majestie your Father of Blessed memory nere 20 yeres And your petitioners Father alsoe, whoe lost by the Parliamentary Forces at the last siege of Leicester whilst he was in his majesties service under the Lord of Loughborough above the value of £800 in Cattle and household goods and was long imprisoned, And your petitioner his sonne being Allsoe his servant at ye last siege of Pontifrat Castle under Collonell morrice, until it was yielded up, upon condition for the soldiers to march without any molestation, But when your petitioner with diverse others were gott forth about a mile, they were striped by ye perliament forces as naked as they were borne, And your petitioner ere since hath beene your majesties faithfull subject as my providing Armes in Sir George Boothes busines & powder and Bullets which I have still by me will evidence & I can make appeare if your Majestie require, Discovering alsoe and apprehending Collonell Downes of Hampstead one of ye Judges of our Late Soveraigne your Gracious Father and brought him before your majestie by vertue of warrant from Sir Edward Nicholas, and your majestie ordered your petitioner to cary him before the Lord Generall Monke, whoe gave your petitioner a warrant to carry him to the martiall Generall, Sithense which your petitioner discovered and apprehended Collonell Vincent Potter another of those Judges and had him before the Lord Mayor who sent him to ye Serjant at armes, But your petitioner being servant to one Mr Almery whoe was of nere kin to Collonell Downes that very night turned him out of his house and service wherein he gained more £110 per Annum, soe that your petitioner for noe other Reason But for serving your Majestie is undone without your Gracious Benevolence – All which your petitioner was bound in conseyense & Duety to performe


May it therefore please your majestie to grant unto your petitioner, out of your abundant goodness not any Desert of his, The office of a surveighor, waighter or Solicitor in your majesties Custome house in London either by land or water which your gracious Majestie shall please, and which may first become void And emptie, = whoe shall ever pray etc. [3]


The document is not dated but it appears to have been submitted to the King about July 1660.


Arresting Downes and Potter were not the only efforts Robert made to help track down the King’s enemies. On 1 August 1660, Robert Howcott appeared before the House of Lords to report "That one Talley told him, that one Tench brought Irons to the Scaffold at the Murder of the King, and dipped his Handkerchief in the Blood of the King." As a result it was ordered that Talley and Tench be summoned to appear before the House of Lords to be examined. [4] On 13 October 1660, at the trial of another regicide, Hugh Peters (1598-1660), Richard Nunelly testified that Peters was present at the execution and had ordered Tench, a joiner of Houndsditch, to drive staples into the block so that Charles’ head could be held in place if he should refuse to submit to the executioner. [5]



People and Events mentioned in the Petition

(in order of appearance, with spelling modernised)


Your Majesty


King Charles II succeeded his father in 1648/9 but came to power at the Restoration in 1660.

Your Majesty’s Father


King Charles I, who reigned from 1625 until his execution on 30 January 1648/9.

The Petitioner’s Grandfather

Robert Howcott (about 1575-1635)

Robert Howcott, son of Robert & Jane (Frost) Howcott, was probably born at Gilmorton, Leicestershire. He married Katherine Sacheverell at Bruntingthorpe in 1600. The couple later moved to Kelmarsh, Northamptonshire, where Robert was buried. Between 1625 and 1631, Robert was contractor for purveyance from Worcestershire, with responsibility for delivering livestock into the Poultry at Court. [6]

Last siege of Leicester


Leicester was stormed by the Royalist Army at the end of May 1645 and extensively looted. Parliamentary forces recovered the town from Lord Loughborough’s army on 18 June, after the Battle of Naseby. The worst damage was done when the town first changed hands. However, regardless of the stage at which the losses really took place, it was in the Petitioner’s interest to say that his father had suffered at the hands of Parliamentary forces.

Henry Hastings, Lord Loughborough


Took part in the first siege of Leicester at the end of May 1645 and was made its governor. He surrendered the town to the parliamentary forces on 18 June 1645, after the Battle of Naseby.

Last siege of Pontefract Castle


Pontefract Castle was besieged three times during the Civil War. The last of these ended on 24 March 1648/9. It was the final stronghold that the Royalists held in England.

Colonel John Morris


In 1648, Royalists led by Colonel John Morris captured Pontefract Castle. He had changed sides during the War and was executed at York.

Sir George Booth



Led an unsuccessful Royalist uprising in Cheshire in the summer of 1659, after which he was imprisoned until February 1660.

Colonel John Downes


John Downes was condemned to death - a sentence commuted to imprisonment following his plea that Oliver Cromwell had bullied him into signing Charles I’s death warrant. It appears that Downes spent the remainder of his life imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he was still listed as a prisoner in 1666.

Sir Edward Nicholas


Royalist statesman who returned from exile in 1660. He then served as Secretary of State for the Southern Department until 1662.

Lord General George Monck


A major player in negotiations leading to the Restoration of the monarchy, Monck welcomed Charles II when he landed at Dover on 25 May 1660.

Colonel Vincent Potter



Vincent Potter had signed the death warrant of Charles I and was condemned to death but died before the sentence could be carried out

Mr Almery


May have been George Almery, gentleman of Inner Temple, London. His will, which was made in 1667 and proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, mentioned his cousin Richard Downes.

Custom House in London


The office where the customs duties were administered.



Pontefract Castle, 1648


The Petitioner’s Father


It is not certain which son of Robert Howcott (c.1575-1635) was father of the Petitioner. The grandfather had married Katherine Sacheverell at Bruntingthorpe, Leicestershire in 1600, where they had these children christened:







Buried 1621/22 at St James, Clerkenwell, Middlesex.



No record found later than her baptism.



No record found later than his baptism.



The only child whose own children have been identified.



In 1638/9, he was a yeoman living in the parish of St Andrew, Holborn, London. [7] He was probably the “John Howcolt” aged 22 [or maybe 21] years who on 28 February 1631/2 was granted a licence to pass beyond the seas to Utrecht to serve as a soldier. [8]



No record found later than his baptism.



Buried 1616.



No record found later than his baptism.


The only one of these offspring whose own children have been identified is Robert Howcott (alias Holcott), who married Jane Greenhill at Upton, a short distance west of Northampton, in 1631. The couple lived at Stoughton Grange, Leicestershire and had the following family christened at Stoughton parish church:




Alive in 1655













Buried 1634 at Stoughton












Buried 1641 at Stoughton












Stoughton parish register records him in 1645 but is not clear whether this is a christening or burial




Buried 1648 at Stoughton










The children described as “Alive in 1655” were mentioned in their father’s will, which was written on 4 January 1655 and proved at the Court of Civil Commission on 26 February 1658.


If the Petitioner were the son of Robert Howcott of Stoughton, he would have been only about 13 years old at the time of the last siege of Pontefract Castle.


The Outcome


When he returned from exile, Charles II received many requests for favours from those who claimed to have supported him. It is not known whether Robert was among those whose petitions were successful.


Later references


It is feasible, but not certain, that some or all of the following Leicestershire references may be to the Petitioner:

  • Mr Robt. Holcott assessed to pay tax for 8 hearths at Shearsby at Lady Day 1666. [9]
  • Mr Robert Howcote liable to pay for two hearths at Saddington at Michaelmas 1670. [10]
  • Robert Hollcott, gent. buried at Saddington on 21 March 1684/5.


Historical background


The BCW Project website provides a vast amount of information and insight into the people, battles and other memorable aspects of the British Civil Wars, Commonwealth & Protectorate 1638-1660.




[1]    “Commons’ Journals, viii, 61, 65, 68” as cited in “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography” edited by Leslie Stephen.

[2]    “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography” – entry for Vincent Potter.

[3]    The National Archives (TNA): SP29/9.

[4]    'House of Lords Journal Volume 11: 1 August 1660', Journal of the House of Lords: volume 11: 1660-1666, pp. 113-114. URL: Date accessed: 24 October 2016.

[5]    “A Complete Collection of State Trials and Proceedings for High Treason etc.” by Thomas Bayly Howell and Thomas Jones Howell, 1816, volume V.

[6]    Historical Manuscripts Commission, Various collections I (Worcs.)

[7]    TNA: C24/637 (part 2) (case 17).

[8]    TNA: E157/16 – folio 62.

[9]    TNA: E179/241/9.

[10]  TNA: E179/240/279.