Sir John Reynolds, 1625-57

New Model Army officer and former radical who served with distinction on Cromwell's Irish campaign and commanded English forces in Flanders during the Anglo-Spanish War.

The younger son of a Cambridgeshire landowner, Reynolds fought for Parliament on the outbreak of civil war in 1642. He served in the Eastern Association army; by 1645, he was a captain in Oliver Cromwell's regiment in the New Model Army. Reynolds became active in the political unrest that swept through the Army in 1647. His involvement with the Agitators led to the loss of his commission in 1648, but after expressing regret for his radicalism he was allowed to recruit an auxiliary regiment in Kent during the Second Civil War. He participated in the debates held at Whitehall in December 1648 between Leveller leaders, Independent MPs and the Council of Officers, at which he supported the Grandees in their criticism of the Leveller programme.

Early in 1649, Reynolds was promoted to colonel of one of the regiments chosen for service in Ireland. Soldiers of Reynolds' regiment joined the Leveller Mutiny of May 1649 in protest at Parliament's refusal to settle army grievances. Reynolds and the loyal members of the regiment rode with Fairfax and Cromwell to confront the mutineers at Burford. He then led the pursuit of the renegade William Thompson, who was killed at Wellingborough in Northamptonshire after refusing to surrender. Reynolds came to be regarded as a traitor by his former associates among the radicals.

In July 1649, Reynolds' regiment was one of four that went to Ireland to reinforce Colonel Jones at Dublin ahead of Cromwell's main invasion force. Reynolds took part in Jones' spectacular victory over the Marquis of Ormond at the battle of Rathmines on 2 August and he played an active role in Cromwell's subsequent conquest of Ireland, gaining a reputation as a skillful and daring field officer. In November 1649, he led a cavalry detachment to capture the town of Carrick which commanded an important crossing of the River Suir. The capture of Carrick enabled Cromwell to attack Waterford while Reynolds successfully defended the town against a determined Irish counter-attack. Early in 1650, he led an advance column in Cromwell's campaign to capture the Confederate capital Kilkenny.

Reynolds stayed with the army in Ireland after Cromwell's departure and was promoted to commissary-general of horse in 1651. He became a strong supporter of Cromwell's Protectorate. He was granted lands in Ireland, sat in the parliaments of 1654-5 and 1656-7 as an Irish MP, and was knighted by the Lord Protector after assisting in the suppression of Royalist uprisings in England during 1655. His marriage to Sarah Russell in 1655 brought a family connection to the Cromwells.

In March 1657, Cromwell selected Reynolds to lead 6,000 redcoats against the Spanish in Flanders under the terms of the Anglo-French alliance. Reynolds was reluctant to leave Ireland and only accepted the commission when it was confirmed that he would be sole captain-general and commander-in-chief of the English forces. He was appointed governor of Mardyke after its capture by the Anglo-French army in September. The garrison lay within five miles of Dunkirk, which was still in the hands of the Spanish. Informal parleys were occasionally held between officers of the two camps. At one such meeting, Reynolds met and conversed with James, Duke of York, who commanded the British Royalist contingent in the Spanish army. The meeting aroused suspicion among some of his fellow officers at Mardyke and Reynolds felt compelled to return to England to assure the Protector of his loyalty. The ship conveying him home was wrecked on the Goodwin Sands and Reynolds was drowned on 5 December 1657.


G. E. Aylmer, Sir John Reynolds, Oxford DNB, 2004

C.H. Firth, The Last Years of the Protectorate 1656-8, vol ii (London1909)

James Scott Wheeler, Cromwell in Ireland (New York 1999)