John Barkstead, d.1662

Puritan soldier who became notorious for his severity as one of Cromwell's Major-Generals, he was executed as a regicide after the Restoration.

A London goldsmith and congregationalist, John Barkstead joined Parliament's army as a captain of foot in Colonel Venn's regiment at the start of the civil wars. He was governor of Reading from July 1644 until January 1647, when took over as colonel of an infantry regiment in the New Model Army. Barkstead's regiment occupied Whitehall during the political disturbances of January 1648 and was active in suppressing rioters and Royalist insurgents in London during April and May. In June 1648, Barkstead marched a brigade of infantry fifty miles from London in forty-eight hours to join General Fairfax at the siege of Colchester.

In December 1648, Barkstead was one of four officers assigned to secure the captive King Charles at Windsor and to prevent his escape. The following month, he was one of the hard core of Army officers who sat on the High Court of Justice. He attended every session of the King's trial and was a signatory of the death warrant.

During the 1650s, Barkstead worked closely with Cromwell's spymaster John Thurloe in intelligence work and in maintaining London's security. Praised by Cromwell for his efficiency, Barkstead was appointed lieutenant of the Tower of London in August 1652. He was elected MP for Colchester in the First Protectorate Parliament and In 1655 became military governor of Westminster and Middlesex during the Rule of the Major-Generals. As deputy to Philip Skippon, Barkstead was also effectively Major-General for the city of London.

Barkstead was zealous in suppressing immorality and ungodliness in the city and surrounding districts, ordering his soldiers to suppress bear-baiting and wrestling at Moorfields, horse-racing at Lambeth Marshes and to arrest all vagrants and immoral persons. Barkstead was knighted by Cromwell in January 1656. He sat as MP for Middlesex in the Second Protectorate Parliament and was appointed to Cromwell's Upper House.

Barkstead was elected to the Third Protectorate Parliament under Richard Cromwell, but came under attack by republicans for his conduct as lieutenant of the Tower. He was called before the Committee of Grievances in February 1659 to answer accusations that he had mistreated prisoners and amassed a large fortune by charging extortionate fees. When the Rump Parliament was recalled in May 1659, Barkstead was dismissed from the lieutenancy of the Tower and from command of his regiment.

At the Restoration, Barkstead fled to Germany where he was welcomed and given the freedom of the Lutheran city of Hanau. However, when he travelled to the Netherlands to meet his wife, he was arrested by the English ambassador Sir George Downing and returned to England to be brought to trial as a regicide. He was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in April 1662.


Christopher Durston, John Barkstead, Oxford DNB, 2004

Christopher Durston, Cromwell's Major-Generals (Manchester 2001)

C.H. Firth & G. Davies, The Regimental History of Cromwell's Army vol. i (Oxford 1940)