Posts Tagged ‘English Civil War’

Apocryphally an ancestor of the family, Sir John Disbrowe was an important figure in the overthrow and execution of Charles I, becoming very close with Cromwell’s family and exercising power as a leader of the short-lived Commonwealth.

An attorney, a farmer and a soldier, John (son of James) married into Cromwell’s family, marrying Oliver Cromwell’s sister (Jane Cromwell) in 1636. As a result of his close relationship with the Cromwells, John was made the quartermaster of a cavalry troupe and later a captain in Cromwell’s revolutionary and elite Ironsides.

He rose through the ranks throughout the English Civil War, acquitting himself well as part of the New Model Army and fighting with distinction at Naseby, Langport and the Siege of Oxford. Despite his accomplishments and his reputation as a pious and courageous man, the Royalists parodied him as a braggart and a bully, the ‘Giant Disbrowe’, carry a cannon in his hand.

Throughout the ensuing chaos, Disbrowe – despite being portrayed as a loudmouth and a bully – was an important intermediary between the grousing veterans of the New Model Army, and the increasingly imperious Cromwell. His unique position allowed him to negotiate, while still proving his loyalty in putting down Royalist uprisings.

Despite being instrumental in the Civil War, and close to Cromwell, Disbrowe was assigned to govern Yarmouth during the execution of the King, and thus escaped the very worst of the reprisals after the end of the Commonwealth.

Remaining loyal to Cromwell throughout the trials and tribulations of the Commonwealth he was granted many different duties and remained a right-hand-man to Cromwell. This culminated in his position as the first of the Major Generals to be appointed, his practice in opposing religious extremists and ruthlessly suppressing royalists with a combination of military and civic power providing the model.

Disbrowe was outspoken against the offering of the crown to Cromwell, and may have been the deciding factor in Cromwell not becoming Oliver the First.

With Oliver dead, and having supported Cromwell’s hopeless son, Disbrowe lost his political capital by 1660 and was even more widely satirised and derided. As Charles II was restored to the throne, Disbrowe was disallowed from holding any office of governance. He fled England for the Netherlands, forced to return when he was accused of being part of republican plotting against Charles II – something that may well have been true. While under suspicion he was held in The Tower for a year, before being released.

He died in 1680 having spent a great deal of his life in the cause of republicanism, parliamentarians, the modernisation of the English army and unflinching loyalty to his men and to Cromwell. By 1680 virtually all of that had been undone, though the Civil War left an important legacy of a weaker Monarch and a stronger Parliament.

A complicated figure, whose narrow Puritanism I do not share, but no – since you ask – I won’t be celebrating the Jubilee. I’m very much on John’s side when it comes to that institution.

It’s a trick, get an axe.

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