John Belasyse, 1st Baron Belasyse, 1615-89

Catholic Royalist who fought for King Charles in Yorkshire and became a member of the Sealed Knot conspiracy ring

Portrait of Lord BelasyseBorn at Newburgh in the North Riding of Yorkshire in June 1615, John Belasayse (also spelt "Bellasyse", "Bellasis") was the second son of Thomas Belasyse, first Viscount Fauconberg of Henknowle and his wife Barbara Cholmley, daughter of Sir Henry Cholmley of Whitby. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic and spent several years in Paris. In 1636, he made a clandestine marriage to heiress Jane Boteler (d.1657), for which he was fined £150 by the Court of High Commission.

After serving in the King's lifeguard in the Bishops' Wars (1639-40), Belasyse was elected MP for Thirsk in the Short and Long Parliaments. He emerged as a Royalist supporter and left London to attend King Charles at York in the summer of 1642. After raising a regiment of horse, Belasyse took command of an infantry regiment maintained by his father. He accompanied the King on the opening campaigns of the English Civil War and commanded an infantry brigade at the battle of Edgehill (October 1642). In July 1643, Belasyse's brigade marched with Prince Rupert to the bloody storming and capture of Bristol, during which Belasyse received a wound to the head. He had recovered in time to take part in the battle of Newbury two months later but was among the infantry commanders criticised by Sir John Byron for failing to support his cavalry during the battle.

In January 1644, Belasyse was transferred from the Oxford army and appointed governor of York. His arrival coincided with the Covenanter invasion of northern England. While the Marquis of Newcastle marched north against the Scots, Belasyse was ordered to hold Yorkshire against Lord Fairfax's Parliamentarians. Belasyse's forces were hard-pressed to defend against raids from Fairfax's headquarters at Hull and, in March 1644, the Royalists were driven from Bradford by Colonel Lambert. Belasyse transferred his headquarters to a better strategic position at Selby and attempted to recapture Bradford, but his attack was repulsed. The Yorkshire Parliamentarians were reinforced by troops from the Midlands and Selby fell to an overwhelming attack on 11 April, during which Belasyse was wounded and taken prisoner.

Belasyse was imprisoned in the Tower of London from April 1644 until January 1645 when he was released in an exchange of prisoners. Upon his release, the King created him Baron Belasyse of Worlaby. He served as a volunteer at the battle of Naseby then accompanied the King on his marches from June to October 1645. After the death of the Earl of Lichfield at the battle of Rowton Heath, Belasyse was appointed commander of the King's lifeguard. In October 1645, he was present at the confrontation at Newark between King Charles and Prince Rupert over the Prince's dismissal from the King's service. The governor of Newark, Sir Richard Willys, was among the officers who openly supported Rupert, for which he was dismissed by the King and replaced as governor by Belasyse. Willys challenged Belasyse to a duel but the King intervened and ordered them not to fight. At the end of November 1645, Parliamentarian and Scottish forces laid siege to Newark. Belasyse conducted a vigorous defence until May 1646 when he reluctantly surrendered on the orders of King Charles.

Belasyse spent the next two years abroad. He served with the Prince of Condé's army at the siege of Mardyke, attended the French queen mother Anne of Austria and was granted a personal audience with Pope Innocent X. After the execution of Charles I, Belasyse became actively involved in Charles II's attempts to regain the throne of England. In 1651, he was intended to command forces raised in the north to support Charles' invasion from Scotland, but he was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower in April so was unable to participate in the campaign leading up to the battle of Worcester. Released on bail in September 1651, Belasyse continued to plot against the Commonwealth and Protectorate governments as the only Catholic member of the Sealed Knot conspiracy ring. He was arrested shortly before Booth's Uprising in 1659 and was once again imprisoned in the Tower of London.

After the Restoration in May 1660, Belasyse was appointed lord-lieutenant of the East Riding of Yorkshire and governor of Hull. He also served as governor of Tangier from 1665-6. However, he was obliged to resign his offices when his Catholicism prevented him from taking the oaths required by the Test Acts of 1673. Belasyse spent his fourth and lengthiest period of imprisonment in the Tower from 1678-84 on suspicion of involvement in the Popish Plot. Cleared of all charges in May 1685, he served as a privy councillor and first lord of the Treasury under King James II. He died at Whitton in Middlesex in September 1689.

Belasyse married three times. His first wife, the heiress Jane Boteler, died in 1657. He married Ann Armyne, daughter and co-heir of Sir Robert Crane in July 1659. After Ann's death in 1662, Belasyse married Anne Paulet, daughter of the Marquis of Winchester. His eldest son was killed during a drunken brawl in 1667 and he was succeeded by his grandson, upon whose death in 1692 the Belasyse title became extinct.


Andrew J. Hopper, John Belasyse, 1st Baron Belasyse of Worlaby, Oxford DNB, 2004

Stuart Reid, All the King's Armies (Staplehurst 1998)