Thomas Harrison (soldier)
|Died||13 October 1660|
|Battles/wars||Battle of Knutsford, Worcester|
Major-General Thomas Harrison (1606 – 13 October 1660) sided with Parliament in the English Civil War. During the Interregnum he was a leader of the Fifth Monarchists. In 1649 he signed the death warrant of Charles I and in 1660, shortly after the Restoration, he was found guilty of regicide and hanged, drawn and quartered.
Life and work
The son of the mayor of Newcastle-under-Lyme, he moved to London where he was admitted to the Inns of Court as an attorney at Clifford's Inn. Whilst a lawyer he met Charles Fleetwood and Edmund Ludlow. He enlisted in Earl of Essex's lifeguard in 1642 and experienced his baptism of fire at the Battle of Powick Bridge
First English Civil War
During the Civil War he declared for Parliament and served in the Earl of Manchester's army. He fought in many of the major battles of the war and joined the New Model Army in 1645. By the end of the conflict he had risen to the rank of major-general and was a noted friend and supporter of Oliver Cromwell.
Second English Civil War
When conflict resumed he was wounded at Appleby in July 1648. He had to return to London but was well enough to command the escort that brought the King to London in January 1649. Harrison sat as a commissioner (judge) at the trial and was the seventeenth of fifty-nine commissioners to sign the death warrant of King Charles I.
In 1650, Harrison was appointed to a military command in Wales where he was apparently extremely severe. He was promoted to the rank of Major-General in 1651 and commanded the army in England during Cromwell's Scottish expedition. He fought at the battle of Knutsford in August and at Worcester in September 1651.
By the early 1650s Harrison was associated with the radical Fifth Monarchists and became one of their key speakers. He still supported Cromwell and aided in the dissolution of the Rump Parliament in April 1653. Harrison was a radical member of the Nominated Assembly (Barebones Parliament) that replaced the Parliament. When the Assembly was dissolved, Harrison and others refused to leave and had to be forced out by soldiers. Harrison was dismissed from the Army in December.
Arrest and Trial
After Cromwell's death Harrison remained quietly in his home, supporting none of the contenders for power. Following the Restoration, Harrison declined to flee and was arrested in May 1660.
He was tried on 11 October 1660. When asked whether he was guilty or not guilty and willing to take the blood of the late King Charles I on his head, Harrison "...not only pleaded not guilty, but justified the sentence passed upon the King (Charles I), and the authority of those who had commissioned him to act as one of his judges. He plainly told them, when witnesses were produced against him, that he came not thither with an intention to deny anything he had done, but rather to bring it to light, owning his name subscribed to the warrant for executing the King, to be written by himself; charging divers of those who sat on the Bench, as his judges, to have been formerly as active for the cause, in which he had engaged, as himself or any other person; affirming that he had not acted by any other motive than the principles of conscience and justice; for proof of which he said it was well known, he had chosen to be separated from his family, and to suffer a long imprisonment rather than to comply with those who had abused the power they had assumed to the oppression of the people. He insisted that having done nothing, in relation to the matter in question, otherwise than by the authority of the Long Parliament, he was not justly accountable to this or any other inferior Court; which being a point of law, he desired to have council assigned upon that head; but the Court over-ruled; and by interrupting him frequently, and not permitting him to go on in this defense, they clearly manifested a resolution of gratifying the resentments of the Court upon any terms. So that a hasty verdict was brought in against him, and the question being asked, if he had anything to say, why judgement should not pass, he only said, that since the Court had refused to hear what was fit for him to speak in his defense, he had no more to say; upon which Bridgeman pronounced the sentence. And that the inhumanity of these men may the better appear, I (Edmond Ludlow) must not omit, that the executioner in an ugly dress, with a halter in his hand, was placed near the Major-General, and continued there during the whole time of his trial, which action I doubt whether it was ever equaled by the most barbarous nations. But having learned to condemn such baseness, after the sentence had been pronounced against him, he (Major-General Harrison) said aloud as he was withdrawn from the Court, that he had no reason to be ashamed of the cause in which he had been engaged."
Major-General Harrison was the first of the Regicides to be executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered on 13 October 1660. Harrison, after being hanged for several minutes and then cut open, was reported to have leaned across and hit his executioner—resulting in the swift removal of his head. His entrails were thrown onto a nearby fire.[nb 1]
Samuel Pepys wrote an eyewitness account of the execution at Charing Cross, in which Major General Harrison was dryly reported to be "looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition". This account is also quoted on a plaque on the wall of the Hung, Drawn and Quartered public house near Pepys Street, where the diarist lived and worked in the Navy Office. In his final moments, as he was being led up the scaffold, the hangman asked for his forgiveness. Upon hearing his request Thomas Harrison replied, "I do forgive thee with all my heart... Alas poor man, thou doith it ignorantly, the Lord grant that this sin may be not laid to thy charge." Thomas Harrison then gave all of the money that remained in his pockets to his executioner and was thereafter executed.
Edmond Ludlow also provided an account of the execution at Charing Cross, "the sentence which had been pronounced in consequence of the verdict was executed upon Major-General Harrison at the place where Charing Cross formerly stood, that the King might have the pleasure of the spectacle, and inure himself to blood. According to Edmund Ludlow, "On the fifteenth (15 October 1660), Mr. John Carew suffered there also, even their enemies confessing that more steadiness of mind, more contempt of death, and more magnanimity could not be expressed. To all who were present with them either in prison or at the place where the sentence was executed, they owned that having engaged in the cause of God and their country, they were not at all ashamed to suffer in the manner their enemies thought fit, openly avowing the inward satisfaction of their minds when they reflected upon the actions for which they had been condemned, not doubting the revival of the same cause; and that a time should come when men would have better thoughts of their persons and proceedings."
- Maurice Ashley (1954), Cromwell's Generals (Cromwell's Generals. ed.), London: Cape, OCLC 798976
- The Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow, Lieutenant-General of the Horse in the Army of the Commonwealth of England, 1625-1672, Edited with Appendices of Letters and Illustrative Documents, by C.H. Firth, M.A., in two Volumes, Oxford, At the Clarendon Press, 1894, Vol. 2, pages 303-304
- Selections from the Trial and Execution of Col. Daniel Axtell in October 1660.
- Nenner, Howard (September 2004), "Regicides (act. 1649)" ((subscription or UK public library membership required)), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.) (Oxford University Press, hosted at oxforddnb.com), doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/70599, retrieved 16 August 2010
- Abbott 2005, pp. 158–159
- Abbott 2005, p. 158
- Gentles, Ian J. (2008) , "Harrison, Thomas (bap. 1616, d. 1660)" ((subscription or UK public library membership required)), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, hosted at oxforddnb.com), doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/12448, retrieved 19 August 2010
- Memoirs of Ludlow, Vol. 2, pages 309, with some light editing in spelling and punctuation
- The Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow, Lieutenant-General of the Horse in the Army of the Commonwealth of England, 1625-1672, Edited with Appendices of Letters and Illustrative Documents, by C.H. Firth, M.A., in two Volumes, Oxford, At the Clarendon Press, 1894, Vol. 2, pages 309
- Harrison's sentence was 'That you be led to the place from whence you came, and from thence be drawn upon a hurdle to the place of execution, and then you shall be hanged by the neck and, being alive, shall be cut down, and your privy members to be cut off, and your entrails be taken out of your body and, you living, the same to be burnt before your eyes, and your head to be cut off, your body to be divided into four quarters, and head and quarters to be disposed of at the pleasure of the King's majesty. And the Lord have mercy on your soul.' His head adorned the sledge that drew fellow regicide John Cooke to his execution, before being displayed in Westminster Hall; his quarters were fastened to the city gates.