William Purefoy, c.1580-1659

Leading Warwickshire Parliamentarian and regicide, he retained high office throughout the Commonwealth and Protectorate.

Born into an ancient Warwickshire family, William Purefoy was educated at Cambridge and Gray's Inn. He travelled in Europe, and spent time in Geneva where he became a devout Calvinist. On his return to England, Purefoy became associated with the Puritan opposition to the policies of King Charles I. His refusal to pay the forced loan in 1627 was probably a factor in his election as MP for Coventry in the Parliament of 1628. He became friendly with Lord Brooke, who sponsored his election as MP for Warwick in the Long Parliament (1640). Purefoy was an enthusiastic supporter of the Grand Remonstrance, and in December 1641 was the first to propose that it should be printed and circulated outside Parliament.

Although he was over sixty years old when the English Civil War broke out in 1642, Purefoy worked zealously for the Parliamentarian cause. He led Puritan iconoclasts in tearing down Warwick's market cross and destroying monuments in the Beauchamp chapel; he also raised troops in Warwickshire and held a command in Lord Brooke's Midland Association army, while his wife Joan Purefoy held off a Royalist attack on the family seat at Caldecot. After Brooke's death in 1643, Purefoy commanded a cavalry regiment in Warwickshire. He saw active service in the Earl of Essex's campaign to relieve the siege of Gloucester in 1643 and captured Compton Wynyates, seat of the earls of Northampton, in June 1644, but Purefoy was primarily involved in the administration of Warwickshire, keeping tight control over the county's affairs, both locally and at Westminster.

Despite his support for a Presbyterian church settlement and his opposition to Pride's Purge, Purefoy retained his seat in Parliament in December 1648 and was appointed to the High Court of Justice that tried and condemned King Charles early in 1649. He signed the King's death warrant and apparently regarded the regicide as less reprehensible than the Army's assault on the privilege of Parliament during the purge. He also opposed the abolition of the House of Lords after the King's execution.

Purefoy was a member of the Council of State throughout the Commonwealth (1649-53) and sat upon numerous important committees, particularly those concerned with religion. He was a conservative with regard to Church reform and became a leading advocate of those who favoured a Presbyterian settlement in England. Purefoy opposed Cromwell's dissolution of the Rump Parliament in 1653, but became reconciled to the Protectorate régime, participating in the Protectorate parliaments of 1654 and 1656 as MP for Coventry, and continuing to dominate local politics in Warwickshire. However, he opposed the offer of the Crown to Cromwell and was associated with the republican faction, or Commonwealthsmen.

Purefoy's final service for the Parliamentarian cause was to maintain the security of Coventry during Booth's Uprising shortly before his death in August 1659.


Ann Hughes, William Purefoy, Oxford DNB, 2004

Blair Worden, The Rump Parliament (Cambridge 1974)