King’s Killers in King’s Lynn

Not many people know that for several years King’s Lynn produced two regicides (killers of a king).

The Civil War: Promotion And Pain

When the siege of King’s Lynn ended on 16 September 1643, a relative of Oliver Cromwell, Colonel Valentine Walton, was left in charge of the defeated town for a number of years and was probably based in Clifton House, Queen Street.

At the age of 24 Walton had married Oliver Cromwell’s 16 year old sister, Margaret. He went on to serve as a captain in his brother-in-law’s regiment. During the Civil War Walton was captured by Royalists at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642. Commenting on Walton’s appointment over King’s Lynn one anonymous pamphleteer wrote: “Thus we see how Providence orders; he that was lately locked up three days and three nights at Oxford in a poor chamber without food [because of being a prisoner after the Battle of Edgehill], is now governor of as great and strong a town as Oxford.”

While in King’s Lynn, 1644 was not a good year for Walton. During the Battle of Marston Moor (2 July) Valentine’s and Margaret’s son (also called Valentine) was killed. Cromwell writes to Walton with the news: “Sir, God hath taken away your eldest son by a cannon-shot. It brake his leg. We were necessitated to have it cut off, whereof he died…He was a gallant young man, exceeding gracious. God give you His comfort.” Around this time Margaret also died.

In 1646 Walton was active in trying to stop the defeated Charles I from escaping to Scotland. In late April 1646 Charles was travelling through the Fens but attracted attention to himself while staying at an inn in Downham Market. Charles had previously roughly cut his hair with a knife but now took the opportunity to get a local barber to trim it. He was also seen suspiciously burning a lot of papers in his room. Word of this got to Walton, but by that time Charles had ridden on to Huntingdon. Walton co-authors a letter to Parliament from Norfolk recording sightings of the fugitive Charles and his chaplain, Michael Hudson.

The Death Warrant: Be Careful What You Sign

Walton was a committed republican. He had been keen for Charles to stand trial in 1649, was one of the 59 commissioners who had attended many of the trial sittings, and he signed the death warrant without hesitation. After the royal beheading Walton became a prominent figure in the Commonwealth, sitting on all five councils of state. He later fell out with Cromwell, and after the latter’s death, when it became clear that there were moves to restore the monarchy with Charles II, Walton fled overseas in 1660.

Execution of King Charles I, 30 January 1649
Execution of King Charles I, 30 January 1649

Running From Revenge: Take Up Gardening

Those who had judged and executed the king were to be excluded from the pardon offered by Charles II. They were to be tried for murdering a king and were known as regicides. If caught, their likely fate was that they would be hung, eviscerated and emasculated while still alive, decapitated, and quartered.

Walton initially went to Hanau in Germany, a walled city near Frankfurt, that had attracted Calvinist émigrés from France and Belgium. Many of these were successful merchants and had been able to gain religious tolerance and privileges from the city leaders. Walton eventually became a burgess of the city.

Despite the relative peace and prosperity Walton remained nervous. He knew that Royalists were sending assassination squads to the American colonies and to the European countries to kill regicides, and some of them had been successful. He had not initially handed himself in to Charles II because he knew he would have been tried and executed for treason along with the others. And he knew that handing himself in now would certainly mean that there was no hope of a pardon. The constant trickle of refugees to the city brought news from England, but also carried a risk that he would be betrayed.

Rather than remain as a respected guest in an independent German city Walton decided to go into obscurity. He became a humble gardener in the Holland. Walton died soon after in 1661. His second wife, Friscis, who had been abandoned with her children by her husband in 1660, died “in poverty and wretchedness” in Oxford in 1662. (Walton’s English estate was confiscated by the Crown.)

Miles Corbett

Miles was the son of Sir Thomas Corbett of Sprowston, Norfolk and the younger brother of Sir John. He entered Lincoln’s Inn and was appointed Recorder of Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn. Miles eventually succeeded his brother John as MP for Yarmouth.

Although he only attended one sitting of Charles I’s trial, and his name was last on the list of signatures, he did sign the king’s death warrant.

After the Restoration, like many of the 59 who survived, Miles fled England. He went to the Netherlands where he thought he would be safe. However, with two other regicides (John Okey and John Barkstead) he was arrested by the English ambassador to the Netherlands, Sir George Downing and returned to England under guard. After a trial, he was found, guilty, and then hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn on 19 April 1662.

© James Rye 2022

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