Charles I became heir apparent to the English, Irish and Scottish thrones on the death of his elder brother in 1612, until that point he had been a “Spare”.
It seems only right that we have an interest in the men and women who have shaped the course of English history. What is a little more perplexing is the fascination many of us have with our reigning kings and queens. From Athelstan, the first King of England, who reigned from AD927 to 939, up to Charles III, we revel in their strengths and achievements and in their flaws and indiscretions. Who knows what the history books will say about the new King Charles, one just hopes his story will not be as ‘bloody’ as that of his namesake, Charles I.
In the briefest possible terms, because I know you already know, Charles I was the king of Great Britain and Ireland from 1625 to 1649. It is said that he ruled with a heavy hand, his frequent quarrels with Parliament ultimately provoked a civil war that led to him stepping out from the balcony of the Banqueting House, Whitehall, onto the executioner’s scaffold and his death.
Charles was tried, convicted, and executed for high treason – guilty of being ‘Tyrant, Traitor, Murderer and a Public Enemy’; the monarchy was abolished, and the Commonwealth of England was established as a republic. But the political crisis that followed the death of Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, in 1658 resulted in the restoration of the monarchy and Charles I’s son being invited to take back his father’s throne.
Following the restoration of King Charles II in 1660, the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion was passed. It was meant as a grand gesture of reconciliation to reunite the country and, under its terms, a free pardon was granted to everyone who had supported the Commonwealth and Protectorate. However, and unsurprisingly, there were exceptions – the pardon did not apply to those who had directly participated in the trial and execution of King Charles I.
Interestingly, it is in this rather vengeful chapter of the story that current interest seems to lie. The author Robert Harris in his latest book Act of Oblivion, in which he gives ‘an imaginative recreation of a true story’ about the manhunt for men whose names appeared on Charles I’s death warrant, certainly thinks so.
And, as it happens, one of the 59 regicides lived in Patcham Place; the Grade II listed mansion that stands on the west side of London Road opposite the village of Patcham. His name was Anthony Stapley (1590-1655).
Anthony Stapley was born in the small village of Framfield in Sussex, he attended Christ’s College, Cambridge, and Gray’s Inn. His family had held land in East Sussex since the late 15th century and, around 1620, they brought Patcham Place from Richard Shelley, (ancestor of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley). Despite his strong Roundhead leanings, Stapley married Ann, the sister of Lord Goring, a staunch Royalist solider; they had three sons and one daughter. Between 1625 and 1628, Stapley was elected MP for New Shoreham and Lewes and, over the next few years, emerged as one of the leading Puritans in Sussex. He was elected to both the Short and Long Parliaments as MP for Sussex.
At the outbreak of the First Civil War, Stapley was commissioned a colonel in the Parliamentarian army and was present in December 1642 at the siege of Chichester, a key event which secured southern England for Parliament; he was prominent on the county committee for Sussex and was governor of Chichester from 1643 to 1645. He remained a staunch supporter of the Independents in Parliament and was appointed one of the commissioners to sit in judgement of the King in 1649.
Stapley attended all sessions of the King’s trial and was present in Westminster Hall on 27 January when the death sentence was pronounced; and on 29 January, sitting in the great hall at Patcham Place, he added his name and seal to the death warrant of Charles I. His belief being that it was not Charles Stuart alone they were about to kill, but monarchy itself.
It cannot have been easy to navigate the messy aftermath of such a monumental event, but Stapley seems to have done well. He went on to have a full and distinguished career supporting Cromwell and his Commonwealth. He was a member of the council of state in 1649–1653, vice-admiral of Sussex in 1650 and a member of the interim council and supreme assembly in 1653.
He died early in January 1655, and was buried in All Saints Church, Patcham. And, in this, you could say he was lucky: as one of the regicides notified as ‘dead’ at the Restoration, he escaped the terrible and agonising fate of many of the remaining signatories. They were hunted down and tried by a ‘special court’, sentenced to life imprisonment, or condemned to death - publicly hanged, drawn and quartered. Only one man received a pardon.
But, such were the times, those who died before the Restoration did not actually get away scot-free, a form of retribution, or King Charles II’s vengeance, was taken. By order of the Convention Parliament, all these men were posthumously attainted for high treason and their property was confiscated. And this would have included Anthony Stapley’s land had it not been for the actions of his son, Sir John Stapley (1628–1701).
John Stapley expressed regret for his father’s role in the regicide, abandoned his family’s political views and was recruited into a Royalist conspiracy against Cromwell’s Protectorate. Through his actions to try and restore the monarchy he gained the favour of Charles II and was knighted at the Restoration and created a Baronet, Stapley of Patcham. Patcham Place stayed in the Stapley family until 1700, when debt forced them to sell.
Sir Anthony Stapley: resident of Patcham, Sussex MP and Independent, friend of Oliver Cromwell, one of King Charles I’s judges and a signatory of the death warrant – a man who really did play a part in shaping our history.
Posted in History on Apr 01, 2023