Killing No Murder
Lord Protector Cromwell usually chose to go to Hampton Court on Fridays, bent upon spending his weekend in more salubrious surroundings than the noise and pollution of Whitehall. The road to the palace passed through a ‘narrow, dirty … passage where coaches use to go but softly’ and it was there that his assassins, led by the ex-soldier and Leveller Miles Sindercombe, planned their ambush in the autumn of 1656. Armed with guns loaded with twelve bullets apiece and other lead slugs, they intended was to fire these ‘strange engines’ at the Protector’s coach as he passed, hoping to kill the occupant and free England from the ‘tyrant’. Unaware of the fate contrived for him, Cromwell suddenly decided to give up his weekends in Hampton Court, claiming a multitude of business prevented him from taking in the cleaner air of the countryside. So the opportunity passed and Cromwell was not fated to die at the assassin’s hand.
To untangle the plot to murder Cromwell we must begin with Edward Sexby. C.H. Firth noted in 1901 that there was ‘no more remarkable career in the annals of the New Model army’ and it was the renegade Sexby, author of one of the most famous pamphlets of the day on political murder, who became the driving force behind the scheme to kill Cromwell. A gentleman’s son and a London apprentice in his youth, Sexby may originally have had family connections with Cromwell and in 1643 he joined Cromwell’s regiment as a trooper. He soon came under the influence of the emergent Leveller ideas and made a name for himself as an agitator among the troops, becoming a conspicuous link between the Leveller leaders in London and the army. Sexby proved to be a man of action in other ways. He was involved in the seizure of Charles I at Holdenby House in 1647. He was also prominent at the army debates in Putney Church at the end of October that same year, where as a representative of the ordinary soldier (and not for the last time), he was verbally to cross swords with Cromwell. His political views on Charles I were equally blunt:
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