Daniel Axtell, 1622-60
Tough soldier, baptist and hardline regicide who was hanged, drawn and quartered at the Restoration
Born at Great Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire, Daniel Axtell was apprenticed to a London grocer around 1638 and became a zealous member of William Kiffin's Baptist congregation. He joined Parliament's army during the First Civil War and by 1648, was a major in Colonel Hewson's regiment, serving with distinction on the campaign against the Royalist uprising in Kent during the Second Civil War.
Axtell was lieutenant-colonel of Hewson's regiment during Pride's Purge, and in January 1649 he commanded the guards at Westminster Hall during the King's trial. He was later accused of threatening to shoot Lady Ann Fairfax when she interrupted the proceedings, of bullying and beating the soldiers to make them cry for "justice" and "execution", and of behaving discourteously towards the King.
Axtell served on Cromwell's invasion of Ireland in August 1649 and was appointed governor of Kilkenny in 1650. He stayed in Ireland when Henry Ireton took over from Cromwell as Lord-Deputy. Axtell became notorious for his cruelty against the Irish. In October 1650, he defeated a large Irish force at Meelick Island on the River Shannon, but Ireton suspended him from command and sent him back to England for killing prisoners who had surrendered after promise of quarter. On the return voyage in March 1651, Axtell was captured by a Royalist privateer and taken as a prisoner to the Isles of Scilly. Irish troops in the garrison wanted to hang him in reprisal but were persuaded to spare his life because of their own precarious situation. Axtell was released from imprisonment when Blake captured Scilly a month later.
After the death of Ireton in November 1651, Axtell returned to the governorship of Kilkenny. He was one of the representatives sent from Ireland to the First Protectorate Parliament in 1654.
In 1655, Henry Cromwell was appointed lord-deputy of Ireland. Axtell opposed Henry's conciliatory attitude towards the Irish population. They also clashed over Henry's attempts to suppress the Baptists and other radical sects. Axtell resigned his governorship in protest at Henry's policies in November 1656.
After the fall of the Protectorate in May 1659, Axtell returned briefly to Ireland as a colonel under the command of Edmund Ludlow but was sent back to England to support John Lambert against Booth's Uprising in August 1659. Axtell was among the veterans of the Good Old Cause who responded to Lambert's last desperate attempt to rally military opposition to the Restoration in April 1660. He escaped from the fight at Daventry during which Lambert was captured by Colonel Ingoldsby, but was himself arrested shortly afterwards. Arraigned for treason for his actions during the King's trial, Axtell's plea that he had only followed orders was unsuccessful. On 19 October 1660, he was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn and his head set up on Westminster Hall. He died bravely, declaring that he died for the Good Old Cause and praying for the conversion of King Charles II to a godly way of life.
C.H. Firth, The Regimental History of Cromwell's Army vol.ii (Oxford 1940)
Alan Thomson, Daniel Axtell, Oxford DNB, 2004
C.V. Wedgwood, The Trial of Charles I (London 1964)
The Trial of Colonel Axtell www.axtellfamily.org