John Downes (regicide)

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Colonel John Downes (1609 – c. 1666) was a commissioner who signed the death warrant of Charles I of England. After the English Restoration he was found guilty of regicide and was imprisoned until he died.


John Downes; family had moved southwards from Cheshire to Warwickshire. They were said to be able to trace their Cheshire lineage back to 864 AD, according to John Parsons Earwaker's History of East Cheshire families. It is said that when the King came hunting in Macclesfield Forest, a Downes would hold the King's stirrup, whilst he mounted and Lord Stanley would hold that of Downes. Stanley refused on the basis of rank: instead he pointed his whip at Downes' stirrup.

The Downes held various manors in Cheshire and Lancashire from as early as the 12th century. They were an ancient Forester family, like the Stanleys, Egertons and other Cheshire families whom they married into. They held the manors of Overton, Taxall, Shrigley, Sutton Downes and Wardley.

Roger Downes, a friend of Lord Rochester was killed in a London brawl and his head was sent to the family home Wardley Hall. The Hall is supposed to be haunted by his ghost.

Some of the Downes family were well known for their adherence to the Catholic faith though in later centuries they were Anglican. It was Francis Downes who retrieved the head of his martyred cousin Ambrose Barlow OSB.


John Downes was born at Manby in Lincolnshire. He was appointed an auditor of the Duchy of Cornwall in 1633 and was elected MP for Arundel, Sussex in December 1641.[1]

A lawyer, he studied at the Inner Temple and was called to the bar in 1642. He did not fight in the English Civil War but amassed a fortune dealing in the confiscated Royalist estates. He was a close friend of Cromwell and received substantial land grants in Ireland and England.

John Downes was arrested on 18 June 1660.[2] When soon afterwards he petitioned King Charles II for an appointment, Robert Howcott stated that he was a servant of Mr Almery who was a relation of "Collonell Downes of Hampstead". A warrant had been issued by Sir Edward Nicholas for Downes to be arrested. Robert Howcott discovered and apprehended Downes before bringing him before the King who ordered Howcott to take Downes to General Monke, who passed him on to the "martiall Generall".[3]

On being found guilty of regicide, John Downes was condemned to death in October 1660 but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment because he had tried to intervene on the King's behalf and only signed the death warrant after being intimidated by the other commissioners.[4]

Downes spent the rest of his life a prisoner in the Tower of London.


  1. ^ "David Plant, Biography of John Downes, British Civil Wars and Commonwealth". Retrieved 2013-02-15. 
  2. ^ "Commons’ Journals, viii, 61, 65, 68" as cited in "Dictionary of National Biography" edited by Leslie Stephen.
  3. ^ The National Archives: SP29/9
  4. ^ "David Plant, Biography of John Downes, British Civil Wars and Commonwealth". Retrieved 2013-02-15. 

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