Friday, October 16, 2015

The Problem of How to Kill Cromwell

by Alison Stuart

My latest release, The King's Man, is set in the year 1654 – bang in the middle of the Interregnum. Charles I has been dead five years and his son is drifting around in exile on the Continent.

Oliver Cromwell
For the loyal supporters of the King, it is quite possibly the blackest time of all. What is left of their estates has been confiscated or subjected to crippling fines, Cromwell is at the height of his power, and there is no likelihood of a restoration of the monarchy by peaceful means any time soon. It is no surprise that at this time little nests of royalists began to foment plots to overthrow Cromwell and restore the King.

John Thurloe
None were successful as John Thurloe, Cromwell’s Secretary of State, had a highly efficient and organised spy ring within the royalist circles, and no one sneezed without Thurloe knowing about it.

Charles II himself appeared to be ambivalent to much of the plotting. He did not believe that the assassination of Cromwell would necessarily result in his return to the throne, and in that he was probably correct. At that time Cromwell had able and loyal Lieutenants who would have stepped into his place.

Richard Willys
The most significant grouping of Royalists was formed toward the end of 1653 comprising Lords Bellasis and Loughborough, Sir William Compton, Colonels Russell and Villiers and Sir Richard Willys. This group would later form the basis of The Sealed Knot and be the only group to have the King’s official commission to operate. But the fate of The Sealed Knot is a post for another day.

In February of 1654, a small group of disaffected royalists were meeting regularly in the Ship Tavern in the Old Bailey, hatching a plot to seize Whitehall, St. James and the Tower and the guards about the city. A Captain Dutton was dispatched to garner support from known Royalists in the country, and it was decided Colonel Whiteley should go to France to get the support of the King in exile. An argument about payment of his expenses ensued with none of his co-conspirators willing to pay a farthing! Inevitably the plot was betrayed to Thurloe (by a Roger Cotes) and the conspirators were arrested at the Ship Inn. None of those concerned were ever brought to trial.

However it was during the course of examining these conspirators that the existence of The Sealed Knot came to light, and Thurloe’s interest was piqued.

In May of 1654 another plot headed by John Gerard was hatched. The plan was to seize Cromwell as he travelled between Whitehall and Hampton Court. Fortunately for Cromwell, Thurloe once again foiled the plot (it is believed in this case Thurloe’s agents may have been Thomas Henshaw and John Wildman). On the day planned for the execution of the plot (13 May), Cromwell took the water route. The annoyed conspirators set the 21 May for a surprise attack on the Whitehall chapel, but by then they had been betrayed and were in the Tower.

The plot was notable for its audacity. The conspirators planned to seize all horses in and around London, assassinate Cromwell and seize the guards at the Mews, St. James and Whitehall. Cromwell’s second in Command, John Lambert and Thurloe himself were possibly also on the assassination list.

Implicated in "Gerard's Plot" (as it came to be known) was an absurd character, a French emissary sent by Cardinal Mazarin to aid the French Ambassador, Bordeaux, in diplomatic negotiations with the English. De Baas was a Gascon whose brother Charles adopted his mother's name D'Artagnan and was the prototype of Dumas' hero (yes really!). De Baas was brash and overconfident and, with little understanding of the English, decided that Cromwell's regime was of no importance and could easily be overthrown. His arrogance was manifest in his refusal to uncover his head in the presence of the Lord Protector and his assertion that the soldiers who supported the regime were "feeble and dissipated". His grounds for this assertion? The sentinels on duty wore "nightcaps under their hats".

On the discovery of the plot the arrogant Frenchman was given three days to leave the country.

Gerard and a school teacher named Vowells were executed on 10 July; three other conspirators were sent to Barbados. Oddly, Wildman and Henshaw escaped.

There was a further scare toward the end of 1654, and The Sealed Knot was behind the failed uprisings in 1655, but it was these two idiotic plots (‘The Ship Inn’ Plot and ‘Gerard’s Plot’) that form the basis of The King’s Man. As an author I could not have made up a more inept and useless bunch of plotters and I had great fun writing the real life characters such as Thurloe, Willys, Gerard, Wildman and Henshaw, DeBaas, Bordeaux (and his English mistress) and the rest into the story.

Principal Sources: Antonia Fraser Cromwell Our Chief of Men, Philip Aubrey Mr. Secretary Thurloe and S.R. Gardiner History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate Vol 3.


About The King's Man

The second in a tantalising trilogy from award-winning author Alison Stuart, about warriors, the wounds they carry, and the women that help them heal.

London 1654: Kit Lovell is one of the King’s men, a disillusioned Royalist who passes his time cheating at cards, living off his wealthy and attractive mistress, and plotting the death of Oliver Cromwell.
Penniless and friendless, Thamsine Granville has lost everything. Terrified, in pain, and alone, she hurls a piece of brick at the coach of Oliver Cromwell and earns herself an immediate death sentence. Only the quick thinking of a stranger saves her.
Far from the bored, benevolent rescuer that he seems, Kit plunges Thamsine into his world of espionage and betrayal – a world that has no room for falling in love.
Torn between Thamsine and loyalty to his master and King, Kit’s carefully constructed web of lies begins to unravel. He must make one last desperate gamble – the cost of which might be his life.

Buy The King's Man: AmazoniBooks, and where all good eBooks are sold (see Escape Publishing for the full list)

To celebrate the launch of The King's Man, Alison is giving away a Kindle ereader to a lucky reader. Click HERE to enter the Rafflecopter contest.

Award winning Australian author, Alison Stuart learned her passion from history from her father. She has been writing stories since her teenage years, but it was not until 2007 that her first full length novel was published. Alison has now published 6 full length historical romances and a collection of her short stories. Her disposition for writing about soldier heroes may come from her varied career as a lawyer in the military and fire services. These days when she is not writing she is travelling and routinely drags her long suffering husband around battlefields and castles.

Connect with Alison at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.


  1. Aha. So that's there the rep-enactment people got they name from. Clever. Thanks for this . Loved the book BTW.

  2. Thanks for posting - I really enjoyed reading about all these characters. My two favourite periods of history are the Anglo-Saxon era and the 17thc. I write about the former, but Iove to read about the latter. For my finals I had to narrow down to two periods, and these were the two I chose. Still love 'em!

  3. Thanks for inviting me to post, today :-) I seriously could not have invented such a cast of ill conceived plotters! I particularly love the Baron deBaas! And yes, Sara, the re-enactment group The Sealed Knot did take their name from this group. Sadly for my character Kit... he never did discover who comprised their number.

  4. This is what is so great about history,it's always better than what we can come up with ourselves! lol

    1. Truth very often is stranger than fiction, Anne!


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