Henry Marten (regicide)

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Henry Marten[1] (1602 – 9 September 1680) was an English lawyer and politician who sat in the House of Commons in two periods between 1640 and 1653. He was an ardent republican and a regicide of King Charles I of England.


Marten was the elder son of the successful lawyer and diplomat Sir Henry Marten;[2] his other known siblings were a brother, George Giles Martin, and three sisters, Elizabeth, Jane, and Mary. Henry "Harry" Marten was born at his father's house on 3 Merton Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England (UK).[3] and educated in the same city. Marten matriculated on 31 October 1617 as a gentleman commoner from University College, graduating BA in 1620. Like many young men of his social background he also entered the Inns of Court. He may have been the Henry Marten admitted to Gray's Inn in August 1618 and was certainly admitted to the Inner Temple in November 1619. In the 1620s he toured Europe and enjoyed much high living there, but also during his time in France he was exposed to the thinking of the French stoical philosophers.[4]

As a public figure, Marten first came to prominence in 1639 when he refused to contribute to a general loan.[2] In April 1640, he was elected Member of Parliament for Berkshire in the Short Parliament. He was re-elected MP for Berkshire for the Long Parliament in November 1640.[5] He lived at Beckett Hall in Shrivenham (now in Oxfordshire) and soon afterwards, his official residence became Longworth House in nearby Longworth. He preferred to live in London.[citation needed] In the House of Commons, he joined the popular party, spoke in favour of the proposed bill of attainder against Strafford, and in 1642 was a member of the committee of safety. Some of his language about the king was so frank that Charles demanded his arrest and his trial for high treason.[6]

When the English Civil War broke out Marten did not take the field, although he was appointed governor of Reading, Berkshire, but in Parliament he was very active. On one occasion his zeal in the parliamentary cause led him to open a letter from the Earl of Northumberland to his countess, an impertinence for which, says Clarendon, he was cudgelled by the Earl.[2]

In 1643 he was expelled from the Houses of Parliament and briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London for expressing the view that the royal family should be extirpated and monarchy brought to an end.[2][7]

In 1644, however, he was made governor of Aylesbury, and about this time took direct part in the war.[2][8] Allowed to return to Parliament in January 1646, Marten again advocated extreme republican views. He spoke of his desire to prepare the king for heaven; he attacked the Presbyterians, and, supporting the New Model Army against the Long Parliament, he signed the agreement of August 1647. He was closely associated with John Lilburne and the Levellers, and was one of those who suspected the sincerity of Oliver Cromwell, whose murder he is said personally to have contemplated.[2]

However, he acted with Cromwell in bringing Charles I to trial; he was one of the most prominent of the 31 of 59 Commissioners to sign the death warrant in 1649. He was then energetic in establishing the Commonwealth and in destroying the remaining vestiges of the monarchical system.[2] He was chosen a member of the Council of State in 1649, and as compensation for his losses and reward for his services during the war, lands valued at £1000 a year were settled upon him. In parliament he spoke often and with effect, but he took no part in public life during the Protectorate, passing part of this time in prison, where he was placed on account of his debts.[2]

Having sat among the restored members of the Long Parliament in 1659, Marten surrendered himself to the authorities as a regicide in June 1660, and with some others he was excepted from the Indemnity and Oblivion Act, but with a saving clause. He behaved courageously at his trial, which took place in October 1660, but he was found guilty of taking part in the king's death. Through the action, or rather the inaction of the House of Lords, he was spared the death penalty, but he remained a captive.[2]

Marten's Tower, his apartments within Chepstow Castle

Having escaped the death penalty for his involvement in the regicide Marten was sent into internal exile, first in the far north of England and then (1665) to Windsor Castle, where he remained until Charles II ordered him to be moved further away from himself. In 1668 Marten was sent to Chepstow, in Wales. Marten's imprisonment there lasted some twelve years but does not appear to have been unduly arduous, at least at first; he had a suite of rooms in what was then known as Bigod's Tower (now known as Marten's Tower) and seems to have been able to travel outside at times. His legitimate wife Margaret lived apart from him, remaining at the family home in Berkshire, but he was attended there by Mary Ward, his common-law wife.[4] Marten died at Chepstow Castle on 9 September 1680,[2] having choked while eating his supper, and was buried beneath the floor at an entryway of Priory and Parish Church of St Mary, Chepstow, Monmouthshire, Wales, UK.

Character and beliefs[edit]

Although a leading Puritan, Marten enjoyed good living. He had a contemporary reputation as a heavy drinker and was widely said to be a man of loose morals.[2] According to John Aubrey he was "a great lover of pretty girls to whom he was so liberal that he spent the greatest part of his estate" upon them.[9] In the opinion of King Charles I he was "an ugly rascal and whore-master".[10] He married twice (to Elizabeth Lovelace and Margaret Staunton, née West) but had an open and lengthy relationship with Mary Ward, a woman not his wife, by whom he had three daughters.[11] Ward ultimately was to remain with him throughout his later imprisonment.[4] His enemies branded him an atheist but his religious views were more complex, and influenced his position regarding the need to allow freedom of worship and conscience.[12] His political views throughout his life were constant: he opposed one-man rule[13] and was in favour of representative government. In 1643, even while the king was losing the First Civil War and Parliament's cause was beginning to triumph, Marten's republican sentiments led to his arrest and brief imprisonment.[14] Thus for his time Marten was unusual in his political stance, being unashamedly in favour not of reforming the monarchy but of replacing it with a republic.[15]


Marten was not a copious author, often beginning works and not carrying them through to completion. Nevertheless, he wrote and published several pamphlets, all on political topics:

  • A Corrector of the Answerer to the Speech out of Doores (1646)
  • An Unhappie Game at Scotch and English (1646)
  • The Independency of England Endeavoured to be Maintained (1648)
  • The Parliaments Proceedings Justified in Declining a Personall Treaty (1648)

In 1662 there appeared Henry Marten's Familiar Letters to his Lady of Delight, containing letters Marten had written to his common-law wife, Mary Ward, which had been seized and published without permission.


  1. ^ His name was spelt Henry Martin in the Proclamation for apprehending the late King's Judges (4 June 1660) and in other Parliamentary records of the time (see for example House of Lords Journal Volume 11 7 February 1662)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Chisholm 1911, p. 784.
  3. ^ "Colonel Henry Marten".
  4. ^ a b c Barber 2008
  5. ^ Willis 1750, p. 229.
  6. ^ Chisholm 1911, p. 785.
  7. ^ Gardiner 1886, p. 238.
  8. ^ "He commanded a troop in the Berkshire-trained bands and was appointed governor of Aylesbury on 22 May 1644. During the winter of 1645–6 he acted as commander-in-chief, under Colonel Dalbier, of the infantry at the siege of Donnington Castle." (Barber 2008)
  9. ^ Stroud 2002, p. 90.
  10. ^ Hibbert 1993, p. 124.
  11. ^ "There is evidence that they were a couple from as early as 1649, when they lavishly entertained visiting dignitaries and kept liveried servants together. They may well have been a couple from Marten's earliest time in London in 1640. If so, this was a relationship that remained constant for forty years. It was, however, adulterous, and Marten was quite open about it. Mary referred to herself, and was referred to by others, as Mary Marten...The couple had three daughters: Peggy, Sarah, and Henrietta" (Barber 2008)
  12. ^ "Marten also had radical views about religion. He was accused of being an atheist, but he did make a statement which implied that he did not question whether God existed but that his viewpoint was of radical scepticism because mankind did not possess the faculties to know what or who God was... Marten's scepticism meant it was incumbent on mankind to allow total toleration of all religious viewpoints. People did not have the knowledge, or the authority that knowledge would have conveyed, to pronounce one opinion on religion more right than another. This was a viewpoint that Marten carried through his political career, arguing for liberty even for Catholics...Marten also opposed the conquest of Ireland on grounds that the English could not seek religious freedom for themselves and then impose a religious settlement on others." (Barber 2008).
  13. ^ "As early as 1641 Marten confessed to his friend Sir Edward Hyde that he did not believe that one man was wise enough to rule a whole nation" (Barber 2008)
  14. ^ "Marten stated in the Commons on 16 August 1643 that 'it were better one family be destroyed than many' (Mercurius Aulicus, 19 August 1643). On being challenged to reveal to whom he referred he added without hesitation that he meant the king and his family. He was immediately imprisoned in the Tower of London and barred from the Commons" (Barber 2008)
  15. ^ "Marten's political views remained unshakeable throughout his lifetime. He was always committed to a republican polity and was infamous in the early 1640s as the only person prepared to admit to such a view." (Barber 2008)



Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • "Henry Martin and John Cook Published". YouTube. 5 January 2013. Archived from the original on 12 December 2021.: Extract from The Trial of the King Killers – this is a section of this documentary just focusing on the roles of Henry Martin and John Cook and their trials as regicides in 1660. This has been cut down to this section to enable students studying the regicides at the time of the Restoration to view it in manageable chunks.
Parliament of England
Vacant Member of Parliament for Berkshire
With: John Fettiplace
Constituency unrepresented
Constituency unrepresented Member of Parliament for Berkshire
With: Sir Francis Pile, 2nd Baronet 1646–1648
Philip Earl of Pembroke 1649–1650
Henry Neville 1650–1653
Succeeded by