Regicides on the Run

We Americans look to the Founding Fathers when we think about the American experiment in democracy. But to whom did the Founders turn for guidance? More than a few found inspiration in the England of the previous century, when the conflict between Parliament and King Charles I erupted into civil war. The victorious parliamentary leaders—mostly Puritans—abolished the monarchy, executed Charles for treason in 1649, and established England’s first and only republic, led by Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector.

Cromwell’s death in 1658, however, left a power vacuum that, two years later, was filled by Charles’s eldest son and the restoration of the monarchy. Fortunately for him, and for Great Britain, Charles II was a shrewder, more tolerant and certainly less obdurate man than his father, who died for his belief in the divine right of kings. Charles II’s return from exile in 1660 was eased by a general policy of toleration and lenience. Only a handful of the surviving parliamentarians who had signed his father’s death warrant a dozen years earlier were ineligible for amnesty.

“Charles I’s Killers in America” tells the story of two regicides who sought refuge in the American colonies, Edward Whalley and his son-in-law William Goffe. Whalley and Goffe were figures of some importance in the civil war, and in Cromwell’s commonwealth, but they are more prominent in American annals than English ones. In the summer of 1660 they fled to the Puritan stronghold of Massachusetts Bay. In the colonies, they led an uncertain existence until Whalley died in 1674-75 and Goffe about 1679. No one is entirely certain where or when either died, or where they are buried.

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