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Harrison, Thomas (1606-1660) (DNB00)


HARRISON, THOMAS (1606–1660), regicide, was, according to the most probable accounts, the son of a butcher or grazier at Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire (A Complete Collection of the Lives, Speeches, &c. of those Persons lately executed, by a Person of Quality, 1661, p. 1). It is stated that he was baptised 16 July 1606 (Life of Harrison, appended to the Trial of Charles I and some of the Regicides, 1832, p. 203), but the entry is not to be found in the register of Newcastle-under-Lyme. In an account of Harrison given in Mr. F. A. Inderwick's ‘Sidelights on the Stuarts,’ he is described as of a good Durham family; but all contemporary evidence connects him with Staffordshire, and agrees that his family was of low rank. Harrison seems to have been well educated, and was then placed by his father ‘with an attorney, one Mr. Hulk of Clifford's Inn’ (Complete Collection, p. 1). According to Ludlow Harrison was one of the young men from the Inns of Court who enlisted in Essex's lifeguard in 1642 (Memoirs, ed. 1751, p. 17). In 1644 he was serving in the Earl of Manchester's army as major in Fleetwood's regiment of horse; took part in the battle of Marston Moor; and was sent after the battle to report to the committee of both kingdoms, and, according to Baillie, ‘to trumpet all over the city’ the praises of Cromwell and the independents (Letters, ed. Laing, ii. 209; Manchester's Quarrel with Cromwell, p. 72). With Fleetwood Harrison entered the new model; he was present at Naseby and Langport, and at the captures of Winchester and Basing and the siege of Oxford (Sprigge, Anglia Rediviva, ed. 1854, pp. 36, 140, 151, 264). At the storming of Basing Harrison slew ‘one Robinson, son to the doorkeeper of Blackfriars playhouse, and the marquis's major, with his own hands, as they were getting over the works’ (Mercurius Civicus, 9–16 Oct. 1645; Sprigge, p. 151). A story afterwards circulated among the royalists that Harrison had shot Robinson with a pistol when he had laid down his arms, saying, ‘Cursed is he that doeth the work of the Lord negligently’ (Wright, Historia Histrionica; Cibber, Apology, ed. Lowe, i. xxix). Richard Baxter, with whom Harrison became acquainted during his service in the new model, writes of him: ‘He would not dispute with me at all, but he would in good discourse very fluently pour out himself in the extolling of Free Grace, which was very savoury to those that had right principles, though he had some misunderstandings of Free Grace himself. He was a man of excellent natural parts for affection and oratory, but not well seen in the principles of his religion; of a sanguine complexion, naturally of such a vivacity, hilarity, and alacrity, as another man hath when he hath drunken a cup too much; but naturally also so far from humble thoughts of himself that it was his ruin.’ Baxter was standing by Harrison at Langport when the royalists began to run, and heard him ‘with a loud voice break forth into the praises of God with fluent expressions, as if he had been in rapture’ (Reliquiæ Baxterianæ, 1696, pp. 54, 57).

In 1646 Harrison entered parliament as member for Wendover (Names of Knights, Citizens, and Burgesses, &c., 1648, 4to). His military reputation was then so high that Lord Lisle, when appointed lord-lieutenant of Ireland, asked for Harrison to serve under him (25 Jan. 1647). He returned to England in May, and was thanked by the commons for his services (Commons' Journals, v. 63, 166). In the quarrel between the army and the parliament Harrison sided with the former; signed the letter of the officers to the city of 10 June 1647, and was one of those appointed by Fairfax to treat with the parliamentary commissioners (Rushworth, vi. 555, 603). Fairfax gave him the command of the regiment of horse which had been Colonel Sheffield's. In November Harrison declared his extreme political views by opposing further negotiations with the king. In a meeting of officers on 11 Nov. 1647, he spoke loudly against the legislative power of the House of Lords, and denounced Charles himself as a ‘man of blood,’ who should be called to an account (Clarke Papers).

During the second civil war Harrison served in the northern army under Lambert, and distinguished himself by his daring on 18 July 1648, when Langdale surprised Lambert's quarters at Appleby. With a few troopers he checked the enemy's advance, ‘and being more forward and bold than his men did second him; having hold himself of one of the enemy's horse colours he received three wounds’ (Rushworth, vii. 1201). A month later his regiment played a prominent part in the battle of Preston, but it is doubtful whether Harrison himself was present. In November he was actively negotiating with Lilburne a reconciliation between the army leaders and the levellers, and took part in drawing up the agreement of the people (Lilburne, The Legal, Fundamental Liberties of the People of England asserted, 1649, pp. 35–8).

Harrison was very zealous in bringing the king to trial. Under special instructions from Cromwell and Ireton, he escorted the king from Hurst Castle to London. Charles, who had been told that Harrison had offered to assassinate him, was attracted by his soldierly bearing, and told Herbert ‘that having some judgment in faces, if he had observed him so well before, he should not have that ill opinion of him’ (Herbert, Memoirs, ed. 1702, p. 140). Harrison assured the king that the report was not true; what he had really said was ‘that the law was equally obliging to great and small, and that justice had no respect of persons’ (ib. p. 142; Trials of the Regicides, p. 44). He was present at nearly every meeting of the high court of justice, and signed the death-warrant. To the last he always justified his action, and was convinced that it met with divine approbation (Trials of the Regicides, p. 50).

Harrison did not accompany Cromwell to Ireland, though in the prayer-meeting which took place previous to Cromwell's departure, he ‘expounded some places of scripture excellently well and pertinent to the occasion’ (Whitelocke, Memorials, ed. 1853, iii. 66). He was nominated to the council of state when that body was constituted in January 1649, but was not actually elected to it till 10 Feb. 1651 (Commons' Journals, vi. 532). In June 1650 Harrison was one of those entrusted by the council of state to persuade Fairfax to accept the command of the expedition to Scotland (Whitelocke, iii. 207). A letter which he addressed to Cromwell, on his undertaking that post, shows close intimacy with the future Protector (Ellis, Original Letters, ii. iii. 353). During Cromwell's absence Harrison was appointed to the chief military command in England (Commons' Journals, 21 June 1650). On 22 Oct. 1650 he reviewed the newly raised militia forces in Hyde Park (Mercurius Politicus). In the following March rumours of plots in the north led the council of state to send him to the border. He had under him some 2,500 newly raised horse of doubtful quality (Carlyle, Cromwell, Appendix, 20*; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1651, pp. 92, 102, 149). When Charles II marched into England Harrison received orders from Cromwell ‘to attend the motions of the enemy, and endeavour the keeping of them together, as also to impede his advance’ (Cary, ii. 294). On 13 Aug. 1651 Harrison joined Lambert and the cavalry detached from Cromwell's army at Preston, and made an unsuccessful attempt to stop the royalists on 16 Aug. at Knutsford. After the battle of Worcester, in which he took part, Harrison was charged with the pursuit of the flying royalists, and followed up the victory so energetically and skilfully that very few escaped (Harrison's letters relating to this campaign are printed in State Letters addressed to Oliver Cromwell, 1743, p. 71; Old Parliamentary History, vols. xix., xx.; Cary, Memorials of the Civil War, ii. 295, 300, 373). Like Cromwell, Harrison utilised the victory to recommend the parliament to improve ‘this mercy in establishing the ways of righteousness and justice, yet more relieving the oppressed, and opening a wider door to the publishing the everlasting gospel’ (Cary, ii. 375). His own zeal for justice had been shown in 1650 by procuring the expulsion of Edward Howard, lord Howard of Escrick [q. v.] from parliament for taking bribes (Ludlow, ed. 1751, p. 129). He took part in December 1651 in the conference concerning the settlement of the kingdom arranged by Cromwell, and was one of the promoters of the army petition of 12 Aug. 1652 (Whitelocke, iii. 372). Contemporary evidence represents Harrison as pressing urgently for the dissolution of the Long parliament. Cromwell complained that he was too eager. ‘Harrison,’ he said, ‘is an honest man, and aims at good things, yet from the impatience of his spirit will not wait the Lord's leisure, but hurries me on to that which he and all honest men will have cause to repent’ (Ludlow, Memoirs, ed. 1751, p. 171). Harrison himself some years later explained to Ludlow that he had assisted in the expulsion of the parliament, ‘because he was fully persuaded that they had not a heart to do any more good for the Lord and his people’ (ib. p. 215). He was in his place in the house on 20 April 1653, and spoke against the passing of the act for calling a new representative assembly. He states that he was not previously acquainted with Cromwell's determination to resort to force, but he did not hesitate at Cromwell's bidding to lay hands on the speaker, though he later denied using force to fetch him from the chair (Several Proceedings in Parliament, 14–21, April 1653; Collection of Lives, Speeches, &c. p. 9; Ludlow, p. 173).

Authority was now vested for a time in the hands of a small council of thirteen persons nominated by the officers, and Harrison was president of it during the third week of its existence. Some wished the supreme power to continue in the hands of a council, but Harrison urged that it should be intrusted to an assembly, to consist, like the Jewish ‘sanhedrim,’ of some seventy selected persons (Ludlow, p. 176). This policy was in fact adopted in the summoning of the Barebones parliament, of which Harrison was a co-opted member. Over the majority of that body he exercised great influence, and with its extinction his own political career ended. Roger Williams describes him as head of the party of fifty-six who were for the abolition of priests and tithes, and ‘the second in the nation of late,’ adding, ‘he is a very gallant, most deserving, heavenly man, but most high-flown for the kingdom of the Saints, and the Fifth Monarchy now risen, and their sun never to set again,’ &c. (Knowles, Life of Williams, 1834, p. 261).

Harrison had been one of the council of state elected on 3 Nov. 1653, but was left out of that appointed under the instrument of government in December 1653. Refusing to own the new government he was naturally deprived of his commission, 22 Dec. 1653 (Thurloe, i. 641). He says himself: ‘When I found those that were as the apple of mine eye to turn aside, I did loathe them and suffered imprisonment many years. Rather than to turn as many did that did put their hands to this plough, I chose rather to be separated from wife and family than to have compliance with them, though it was said, “sit at my right hand” and such kind of expressions’ (Trials of the Regicides, p. 50). On 3 Feb. 1654 he was ordered to retire to his father's house in Staffordshire, and not to leave till further order (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1653–4, p. 387). In September 1654 the anabaptists projected presenting a petition to parliament, and Harrison, who was suspected of directing their movements, was for a few days in custody. Cromwell then sent for him, entertained him richly, expostulated with him, and finally dismissed him with a simple admonition ‘not to persevere in those evil ways whose end is destruction’ (Thurloe, ii. 606; Cal. Clarendon Papers, ii. 398). It was often groundlessly reported that Harrison had made a secret agreement with the royalists (Thurloe, i. 749, iii. 345). Fresh movements among the anabaptists roused anew the suspicions of the government, and on 15 Feb. 1655 Harrison was arrested and sent prisoner to Carisbrooke Castle (ib. iii. 160; Mercurius Politicus, 15–22 Feb. 1655; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1655, p. 112). Many interesting details relating to his imprisonment are recorded by his fellow-sufferer John Rogers (Rogers, Life and Opinions of a Fifth-Monarchy Man, 1867, pp. 257–61). In March 1656 Harrison was released and allowed to live at Highgate with his family (The Public Intelligencer, 31 March and 7 April 1656; Rogers, p. 277). In April 1657 Venner's conspiracy was discovered, but though the evidence of the conspirators themselves proved that Harrison had refused to take part in it, he was again for a time under arrest (Thurloe, vi. 164, 185). However, in February 1658 a more dangerous plot came to light, in which Harrison was said to be deeply implicated, and he was again sent to the Tower (Burton, Diary, iii. 449, 494; Mercurius Politicus, 4–11 Feb. 1657–8). In the summer of 1659 there were rumours of an intended anabaptist insurrection to be headed by Harrison, but he seems to have taken no part whatever in the political movements of that troublous year (Clarendon State Papers, iii. 479, 484). His inactivity was doubtless due largely to the injury his health had sustained by wounds and imprisonments. At his execution his hands and knees were seen to tremble. ‘It is by reason of much blood I have lost in the wars,’ said Harrison, ‘and many wounds I have received in my body, which caused this shaking and weakness in my nerves. I have had it this twelve years’ (Collection of Lives and Speeches, &c., p. 18). When the Restoration approached, Harrison refused either to give a verbal pledge not to disturb the government, or to save his life by flight.’ ‘If I had been minded to run away,’ said he, ‘I might have had many opportunities. But being so clear in the thing, I durst not turn my back nor step a foot out of the way by reason I had been engaged in the service of so glorious and great a God’ (ib. p. 19). Accordingly, early in May 1660 he was arrested at his own house in Staffordshire by Colonel John Bowyer, and committed to the Tower (Ludlow, ed. 1751, p. 345; Commons' Journals, viii. 22, 39). He was one of the seven persons originally excepted from the Act of Indemnity (June 5), and was brought to trial on 11 Oct. 1660. In his defence Harrison justified the king's execution, and pleaded that he had acted in the name of the parliament of England and by their authority. ‘Maybe I might be a little mistaken, but I did it all according to the best of my understanding, desiring to make the revealed will of God in his holy scriptures a guide to me’ (Trials of the Regicides, p. 50). He was condemned to death, and was executed at Charing Cross on 13 Oct. 1660. On the scaffold itself, as throughout his trial, Harrison exhibited much courage and enthusiasm. ‘Where is your good old cause now?’ said a scoffer in the crowd. Harrison, with a smile, clapped his hand on his breast and said, ‘Here it is, and I am going to seal it with my blood’ (Lives, Speeches, &c., p. 15). Pepys, who witnessed his death, dwells on the cheerfulness with which he suffered, while Nicholas complains of the hardness of his heart (Diary, 13 Oct.; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1660–1, p. 312). Among the Fifth-monarchy men Harrison was regarded as a martyr; and a report spread that he was soon to rise again, judge his judges, and restore the kingdom of the saints. To this prophecy Cowley refers in the ‘Cutter of Coleman Street,’ iii. 12 (see also Pepys, 13 Oct. 1660; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1660–1, p. 569).

[Lives of Harrison are contained in A Complete Collection of the Lives, Speeches, and Prayers of those Persons lately Executed, by a Person of Quality, 1661; Wood's Fasti, 1649, ed. Bliss, pt. ii. p. 130; Noble's Lives of the Regicides, 1798, i. 306–36; Godwin's Commonwealth of England, iv. 379; Trial of Charles I and some of the Regicides, with biographies of Bradshaw, Ireton, Harrison, and others, 1832, Murray's Family Library, vol. xxxi.; Mr. Inderwick's Side Lights on the Stuarts, pp. 284–90. Portraits of Harrison are to be found in Mr. Inderwick's book, p. 284, and in the 1717 edition of Clarendon's Rebellion. Other authorities as above.]

C. H. F.