George Joyce, b.1618

Political agitator in the New Model Army, famous for arresting King Charles at Holmby House in 1647.

Portrait of Cornet George JoyceAccording to some accounts, George Joyce was a tailor in London before joining the Parliamentarian army. He served in Cromwell's regiment of Ironsides and in Fairfax's regiment of horse, where he held the rank of cornet (the lowest commissioned rank in the army). In 1647, he was associated with the Agitators who articulated the grievances of the rank-and-file soldiers of the New Model Army in their dispute with the Presbyterian faction in Parliament.

At the end of May 1647, Joyce led a body of 500 horse to Oxford in order to secure the Army's train of artillery after Parliament had ordered its removal to London. Claiming that he had Cromwell's personal authority, Joyce then rode to Holmby House in Northamptonshire, where King Charles was held in semi-captivity under the protection of Parliamentary commissioners.

Joyce arrived at Holmby on 3 June 1647 with the intention of securing the King against an alleged plot by the Presbyterians to remove him to London. Most of the garrison guarding the King came over to Joyce and the Agitators. Colonel Graves, the Presbyterian sympathiser who held command at Holmby, fled to London. Fearing that Graves would return with forces to rescue the King, Joyce insisted upon his removal to more secure quarters. When the King asked to see his commission, Joyce is said to have indicated the 500 troopers that accompanied him. He then escorted the King to Newmarket where the Army had its headquarters. General Fairfax wanted Joyce court-martialled, but no action was taken against him. He seems to have had the tacit approval of Cromwell and Ireton.

When Ireton instigated the purging of Parliament in December 1648, Joyce carried confidential letters to Cromwell, who was conducting the siege of Pontefract in Yorkshire.

Like fellow radicals Wildman and Sexby, Joyce profited from property speculation during the Commonwealth. He fell from favour with Cromwell in 1653 when he was stripped of his commission and briefly imprisoned. Joyce asserted that this was the result of a property dispute with Richard Cromwell rather than political differences. His arrest was ordered after the Restoration when the astrologer William Lilly claimed that Joyce was the masked executioner who had beheaded King Charles, but Joyce escaped with his family to the Netherlands where he was last heard of in August 1670.


G.E. Aylmer, George Joyce, Oxford DNB, 2004

S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War, vol. iii (London 1889)