Henry Marten, 1602-80

Republican MP with a reputation for immorality. Although he was one of the most uncompromising of the regicides, his life was spared at the Restoration.

Portrait of Henry MartenBorn at Oxford, Henry Marten was the eldest son of Sir Henry Marten, a lawyer and magistrate who owned lands in Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Marten was educated at University College, Oxford, and the Inner Temple. He married twice during the 1630s. His first wife was Elizabeth Lovelace, with whom he had three daughters. After Elizabeth's death, he married a widow, Margaret Staunton, and had a son and four daughters.

Marten's second marriage was unhappy and he gained an enduring reputation as a womaniser and drunkard: King Charles I is said to have ordered him to leave a race meeting at Hyde Park because he found his presence there offensive.

Radical Parliamentarian

Marten was elected to the Short and Long Parliaments as MP for Berkshire, where he came to be known both for his radical views and for his ready wit. He was appointed to the Committee of Safety in July 1642. When the First Civil War broke out, Marten subscribed £1,200 to the parliamentarian cause and raised a regiment of horse but did not go to the wars. He was associated with the militant "War Party" in Parliament and clashed with John Pym over Pym's support for the Earl of Essex as commander of Parliament's armies. Pym endured Marten's mockery until August 1643 when Marten overreached himself by declaring that the destruction of one family — the royal family — was preferable to the destruction of many families. Pym seized the opportunity to denounce Marten, who was expelled from Parliament and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was released from imprisonment after two weeks, but was not allowed to resume his seat in Parliament for three years. Marten took command of a troop in the Berkshire Trained Bands and was appointed governor of Aylesbury in May 1644. During the winter of 1645-6, he was with Colonel Dalbier at the siege of Donnington Castle in Berkshire.

In July 1646, Marten was re-elected MP for Berkshire. He became a close political ally of Thomas Chaloner, and joined him in questioning the entitlement of the Scots to involvement in the peace negotiations with the King. Marten was instrumental in passing the Vote of No Addresses in January 1648, which attempted to break off negotiations with the King and to push through a settlement on Parliament's terms. Marten supported the Levellers' constitutional proposals. He was a friend of John Wildman and was the only MP to retain the trust and respect of John Lilburne.

During the Second Civil War (1648), Marten in association with the radical Colonel William Eyres raised an unauthorised regiment of irregulars in Berkshire, where he was a member of the county committee. Described as a regiment of Levellers, Marten's troops proclaimed that they fought "for the people's freedom against all tyrants whatsoever". Marten marched his regiment around the Midlands independently of the Army command and the regiment was active in raising support for the Levellers during the spring of 1649. It was eventually incorporated into the New Model Army.

Rise & Fall of the Republic

After the defeat of the Royalists in the Second Civil War, Marten played a leading role in organising the King's trial. He helped draft the charges against him and sat as a member of the High Court of Justice. Whereas most of the regicides regarded Charles' punishment as justified because of his personal crimes against the nation, Marten was one of the few who wanted to overthrow the institution of monarchy itself. Marten and Cromwell famously flicked ink at one another during the signing of the King's death warrant.

Marten was a central figure in the establishment of the Commonwealth. He was a member of the committees that supervised the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords, he supported Ireton's proposal that the Oath of Engagement should include a clause indicating approval of the regicide, and he was appointed to the first Council of State. Denounced by some as an atheist, Marten described himself as a radical sceptic in religion. He opposed state control of the church, and argued for religious toleration — going so far as to oppose the invasion of Ireland on the grounds that the English could not seek religious freedom for themselves then try to impose a religious settlement on the Irish. He was always at the forefront of attempts to introduce legislation for radical political and social reform but was invariably thwarted by moderates in the House of Commons.

Marten received grants of lands in recognition of his services to Parliament's cause. However, these proved difficult to manage and contributed to the financial difficulties that plagued him during the 1650s.

In April 1653, Marten argued bitterly with Oliver Cromwell over the dissolution of the Rump Parliament, which brought the republican Commonwealth to an end. Cromwell singled out Marten for criticism during the speech he made at the dissolution, accusing him of being a drunkard and whoremaster — probably in reference to Marten's adulterous relationship with Mary Ward, who lived openly with him as his common-law wife, and with whom he had three daughters. Marten's financial problems kept him from gaining any great influence during the Protectorate. He briefly returned to Parliament when the Rump Parliament was recalled in 1659, but with little of his former influence.

At the Restoration, Marten made no attempt to escape and bravely defended his principles when he was brought to trial as a regicide in October 1660. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, probably because he had protected Royalists during the 1650s. After short spells of imprisonment at Berwick and Windsor, he spent the rest of his life a prisoner under lenient conditions at Chepstow Castle, where he died in September 1680, having choked while eating his supper.


Sarah Barber, Henry Marten, Oxford DNB, 2004

C.H. Firth, Henry Marten, DNB, 1893

J.H. Hexter, The Reign of King Pym (Harvard 1941)

Blair Worden, The Rump Parliament (Cambridge 1974)


Genealogical study of Henry Marten by Amanda Taylor