Edward Sexby

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Colonel Edward Sexby or Saxby (1616 – 13 January 1658) was an English Puritan soldier and Leveller in the army of Oliver Cromwell. Later he turned against Cromwell and plotted his assassination.


Edward Sexby was born in Suffolk in 1616 but little else is known about his life before the English Civil War. Reportedly he was a son of a gentleman, had been an apprentice as a grocer in London and may have had family connections to Cromwell. In 1643 he was a trooper in Cromwell's Roundhead cavalry regiment. He adopted Leveller ideals, was involved in the Putney Debates and resisted attempts to come into an agreement with Charles I. He may have been involved in the capture of the king at Holdenby House in 1647.[1]

Later that year he opposed the idea of disbanding the army and left but later reappeared as a captain in 1649. He was appointed as governor of the isle of Portland. In 1650 he was sent to Scotland as a commander of an infantry regiment and also raised a regiment to fight in Ireland. He took part in the siege of Tantallon Castle. In July 1651 he was accused of keeping money that should have gone to his subordinates. This crime led to him being removed from the command of his regiment and it being passed to Thomas Reade. The same year he was sent to Bordeaux to support the Fronde rebellion but achieved little; he returned to England in August 1653.[1]

Sexby opposed Cromwell's dismissal of the Rump Parliament in April 1653 and turned against him. He claimed that Cromwell had betrayed the Commonwealth and had become an apostate and a tyrant. He plotted with John Wildman and Richard Overton to overthrow the Protectorate but had to leave in 1655 when the conspiracy was discovered.[citation needed]

On the continent he began to negotiate with Spain in the hope of raising an invading army to oust Cromwell's government. He even tried to convince exiled English Royalists that he was one of them, with mixed results.[citation needed]

In June 1656 Sexby visited England in disguise to assess the situation. On returning to Flanders, he met another ex-soldier Miles Sindercombe who had also fallen foul of Cromwell's policies. Together they plotted the assassination of Cromwell in the hope that they could step into the following power vacuum and restore the Commonwealth to its former state.[citation needed]

Sindercombe returned to England, gathered a group of men to his cause and made various unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Cromwell. However, Cromwell's chief of intelligence John Thurloe found out about the scheme and the conspirators were captured on 8 January 1657. Sindercombe was imprisoned in the Tower of London where he committed suicide.[citation needed] Sexby secretly visited England a couple of times to create a new conspiracy. He was captured on one such visit on 24 July 1657. Cromwell interrogated Sexby and enticed him to confess authorship of a pamphlet titled Killing No Murder.[citation needed] The pamphlet advocated the political assassination of Cromwell as a legitimate act of tyrannicide. The authorship of the document is usually attributed to Silius Titus but cannot be confirmed because it was published under the pseudonym of William Allen. Upon Sexby's "confession," Cromwell imprisoned him in the Tower of London where he developed a fever, and apparently went insane and then died on 13 January 1658.[citation needed].

Fictional portrayal[edit]

A character based on Sexby was portrayed by John Simm in the 2008 television drama The Devil's Whore, with several significant changes to the facts of his biography.

Sexby appears in the novel Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis.


  1. ^ a b Alan Marshall, ‘Sexby, Edward (c.1616–1658)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  • Alan Marshall - Killing No Murder (History Today February 2003)

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