William Boteler (Butler)

A zealous Major-General, notorious for his severity against radicals and Royalists.

Born at Barnwell in Northamptonshire, William Boteler served in a local cavalry regiment throughout the First Civil War. He led the supression of a Royalist uprising in his county during the summer of 1648 and in May 1649, Boteler assisted Colonel Reynolds in his pursuit of William Thompson, the Leveller mutineer who was killed near Wellingborough.

Active as a justice of the peace, Boteler was appointed Major-General for Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Rutland during the Rule of the Major-Generals. He was zealous and uncompromising in his hostility to his religious and political enemies, emerging as a severe persecutor of Catholics and Quakers in his region. During the parliamentary debates over the fate of James Nayler in 1656, Boteler cited biblical authority to advocate that Nayler should be stoned to death for committing blasphemy. Boteler was also aggressive in his persecution of Royalists: he was accused of insolence towards his social superiors and was reprimanded by the Council of State for unlawfully imprisoning the Earl of Northampton for failing to pay his taxes.

Boteler purged the town corporation of Bedford of ungodly aldermen and succeeded in getting himself and four allies elected in their place. After opposing the offer of the Crown to Oliver Cromwell in 1657, Boteler supported the new constitution adopted under the Humble Petition and Advice in 1658 and was appointed colonel of Cromwell's regiment of horse after William Packer was dismissed for his opposition to the controversial Upper House.

Boteler did not sit in the Third Protectorate Parliament called by Richard Cromwell in 1659, where he was attacked by MPs over accusatons that he had illegally seized property in Northamptonshire during his tenure as Major-General. Boteler claimed that he had only followed Oliver Cromwell's orders, but Parliament dismissed him from his position as justice of the peace. This provoked a confrontation with army officers who demanded indemnity for actions carried out under Oliver's Protectorship and Boteler's impeachment was prevented by the abrupt dissolution of Parliament in April 1659. During the brief restoration of the Rump Parliament, Boteler lost command of his regiment and was reduced to the status of garrison commander at Rockingham in Northamptonshire.

After the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, Boteler set up a legal practice at Walton-on-Thames in Surrey, where he lived with his wife and five children. In 1665, he was arrested on suspicion of plotting against the King and imprisoned for ten months. He was arrested again in 1670 after attending an unlawful prayer meeting. The date and place of his death are not known.


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

Ivan Roots, William Boteler, Oxford DNB, 2004