John Okey, 1606-62

Colonel of dragoons in the New Model Army, he resisted the Restoration to the last and was finally executed as a regicide.

Portrait of John OkeyA radical Baptist, John Okey ran a business as a ships' chandler in London before enlisting in the army of the Earl of Essex at the start of the civil wars. He served as a quartermaster, then became captain of a troop of horse. By 1643, he was a major in Sir Arthur Hesilrige's regiment. Okey was commissioned a colonel of dragoons on the formation of the New Model Army in 1645.

Okey's dragoons played a decisive role in the defeat of the Royalists at the battle of Naseby in 1645, disrupting Prince Rupert's initial cavalry charge and supporting Cromwell's devastating attack on the Royalist centre. Okey was briefly taken prisoner by Prince Rupert's troops at the siege of Bristol in 1645, but was released when the city surrendered.

Okey's regiment remained loyal to the Grandees during the political upheavals that erupted in the New Model during 1647, and presented a loyal address to General Fairfax in December 1647. During the Second Civil War, Okey cooperated with Colonel Horton against the Royalist uprising in South Wales. After the victory at St Fagan's, Okey went with Cromwell to the siege of Pembroke. He was one of the Army officers appointed to the High Court of Justice for the trial of King Charles in January 1649 and was one of the 59 signatories of the King's death warrant. He was also one of the officers responsible for security at the execution itself. In May 1649, Okey's regiment was part of the force that went with Fairfax and Cromwell to suppress of the Levellers at Burford. Okey went to Scotland in 1650, serving under Cromwell and Monck.

Colonel John Okey
Colonel Okey in action

In 1652, Okey was active in petitioning Parliament for religious, constitutional and legal reforms. However, he was critical of the forcible dissolution of the Rump Parliament in April 1653, and began to suspect Cromwell's motives. As a dedicated republican, Okey opposed Cromwell's adoption of the office of Lord Protector in December 1653. His army duties took him back to Scotland during the summer of 1654, where he served under Monck in the suppression of Glencairn's Uprising. He was elected MP for a Scottish constituency in the First Protectorate Parliament, but refused to sign the "Recognition" of the Instrument of Government required by Cromwell. Consequently, he was one of the MPs prevented from taking their seats.

With other discontented officers, Okey conspired with the Leveller John Wildman to prepare a protestation known as the Petition of the Three Colonels in October 1654, which criticised Cromwell and the Protectorate, and called for a free parliament. The petition was seized before it could be circulated for signing by other senior officers, and Okey was arrested along with his fellow conspirators. A court-martial acquitted him of charges of treason, but he was obliged to resign from the army.

Okey retired to Bedfordshire, where he had invested heavily in lands formerly belonging to the Crown. He became active as a justice of the peace in Bedfordshire and Middlesex, and was probably involved in the establishment of the Baptist church in Bedford. However, he continued to be suspected of subversive activity, and was arrested briefly in April 1657 when the government learned of the plot by the Fifth Monarchist Thomas Venner for an armed uprising against the Protectorate.

After Cromwell's death, Okey was elected MP for Bedfordshire in the Third Protectorate Parliament (1659). After the fall of the Protectorate and the reinstatement of the Rump Parliament, he was reappointed to command of a regiment. He supported Parliament against the Army leadership, but lost the support of his new regiment and was dismissed from his post when Lambert dissolved Parliament in October 1659.

At the insistence of General Monck, the Rump Parliament was recalled in December 1659, and Okey once again regained his command. He was one of seven parliamentary commissioners appointed to run the army, but Monck did not trust him and ordered his dismissal from the army in February 1660. Realising that Monck intended to restore the King, Okey sought a reconciliation with Lambert and joined his last desperate attempt to rally military opposition to the Restoration in April 1660. Okey was present when Lambert was arrested at Daventry, but managed to make his own escape.

Condemned as a regicide, Okey fled to Germany with John Barkstead, but In 1661, he went to the Netherlands and was betrayed by the English ambassador Sir George Downing, who had formerly been a chaplain in Okey's own regiment. After a brief trial, Okey was hanged, drawn and quartered with John Barkstead and Miles Corbet on 19 April 1662. He died professing his belief in the righteousness of the Good Old Cause.


Christopher Durston, John Okey , Oxford DNB, 2004