|“Cromwell lifting the Coffin-lid and looking at the body of Charles I”, by Hippolyte Delaroche|
On Friday, 30th of January, we remember His Majesty Charles I, who was executed 365 years ago today, on a bitter winter morning in 1649, changing forever the course of England's history and that of the English-speaking peoples. Fifty-nine signatures penned His Majesty's death warrant, and one of its signers and major role players in the execution of the King was William Goffe.
In 1660, when the monarchy was finally restored under Charles II, Goffe fled England for the colonies, taking part in some of the major Indian conflicts there. By this time, nowhere in the Anglosphere were Roundhead sympathies more hideously lukewarm than in New England, especially Massachusetts.
Anti-royalism seemed to flow in the blood of Goffe, who was the son of Stephen Goffe, a prominent Roundhead politician from Sussex, and his zeal for religious separatism was so devout that he was known by those in his circle as “Praying William”. But his rise to prominence among the Parliamentarian milieu that instigated the Civil War came with his meeting of Frances Whalley, a relative of Oliver Cromwell, whose hand he took in marriage in 1642. It was in that same year that he was thrown in prison for his part in attempting to give total control of the militia to the parliament by petition. For this, Cromwell made him a captain in his New Model Army, seeing action at Dunbar and Worcester, and he was also one of the chief aides in Cromwell's dissolution of Rump Parliament.
But it was not only Goffe's high profile among Parliamentarians (whose political fervour was quite mild in comparison to his own) that made him so despicable, for history has proved that that he was actually the first of Cromwell's officers to openly to call for an end to all negotiations with the King, and for the King to be brought to account. He stressed that it was “God's purpose” he be brought to trial, and insisted that it must be done immediately. These demands he so fanatically repeated that he was appointed to the High Court of Justice and took great pleasure in signing the King's death warrant. Goffe's career only grew more successful once the Protectorate was established when he was appointed Major-General for Sussex and Berkshire.
Upon Cromwell's death, and the subsequent falling from power of his son and successor, Richard, Goffe had no choice but to flee the country, and, naturally, found refuge in Massachusetts. He took with him his father-in-law, Richard Whalley, and there met up with another leading Roundhead figure and refugee associated with the regicide, one John Dixwell, a commissioner who sat in judgment on the King. The three settled in Massachusetts, feeling fairly safe for a few years among an overwhelming population of sympathisers. Back home, it was believed that the three were dead, and there were even reports in English newspapers that they'd died in Switzerland among other notable regicides who had fled upon the return of Charles II. But it was not long until the King sent agents to the colonies to procure their arrest.
Goffe, despite being in hiding, still managed to play a major role in King Philip's War, defending the town of Hadley from a major Indian attack in 1676. Until the outbreak of the war, he travelled extensively throughout the region with Whalley and Dixwell, finding asylum in the homes of sympathisers, some of which were distinguished men of New England. It is also believed that they, for a small amount of time, hid in the West Rock hills, or what was then known as “Providence Hill” until the advent of the Indian war.
The Crown's agents never found Goffe, nor Whalley or Dixwell, even after a Royal order was sent by New Haven Colony Governor William Leete to Boston. What the Crown didn't know, however, was that Leete deliberately delayed the King's messengers, giving the regicides enough time to escape. Despite being suspected of helping the three find refuge, Leete, for reasons lost to history, was never charged with obstructing justice.
Unfortunately, today, there are three streets in Connecticut which bear their namesake, which, sadly are a sort of commemoration, a despicable legacy of that region's Roundhead past. But little, if anything at all, is remembered of William Goffe in Britain, nor of the two contemptible regicides he ran with.
May it remain ever so.