1893 text

George Downing was one of the Four Tellers of the Receipt of the Exchequer, and in his office Pepys was a clerk. He was the son of Emmanuel Downing of the Inner Temple, afterwards of Salem, Massachusetts, and of Lucy, sister of Governor John Winthrop. He is supposed to have been born in August, 1623. He and his parents went to New England in 1638, and he was the second graduate of Harvard College. He returned to England about 1645, and acted as Colonel Okey’s chaplain before he entered into political life. Anthony a Wood (who incorrectly describes him as the son of Dr. Calybute Downing, vicar of Hackney) calls Downing a sider with all times and changes: skilled in the common cant, and a preacher occasionally. He was sent by Cromwell to Holland in 1657, as resident there. At the Restoration, he espoused the King’s cause, and was knighted and elected M.P. for Morpeth, in 1661. Afterwards, becoming Secretary to the Treasury and Commissioner of the Customs, he was in 1663 created a Baronet of East Hatley, in Cambridgeshire, and was again sent Ambassador to Holland. His grandson of the same name, who died in 1749, was the founder of Downing College, Cambridge. The title became extinct in 1764, upon the decease of Sir John Gerrard Downing, the last heir-male of the family. Sir George Downing’s character will be found in Lord Clarendon’s “Life,” vol. iii. p. 4. Pepys’s opinion seems to be somewhat of a mixed kind. He died in July, 1684.

26 Annotations

Douglas Long   Link to this

This is the George Downing who built - and after whom is named - Downing Street, home to British prime ministers since 1723.

David Gurliacci   Link to this

Downing's idealistic youth:

Downing's ties to the Puritans of the Commonwealth (both Cromwell's in England and the one in Massachusetts) ran deep. For the Puritans, this likely made the sting more acute when he broke with them and became such an ardent supporter of Charles II.

Downing was the nephew of a famed New England Puritan, Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop (whose sister, Lucy, married Downing's father, Emanuel). At Winthrop's suggestion, the Downings moved to the colony in 1638. They settled in Salem.

In 1642, Downing became the second graduate of the new Harvard College. Winthrop wrote about Downing in his posthumously published "History of New England from 1630 to 1649" in this passage (2:240-3) which makes Downing (then a young preacher) look like one of the shock troops in the vanguard of the Puritan crusade:

"The scarcity of good ministers in England, and want of employment for our new graduates [of Harvard College] here, occasioned some of them to look abroad. Three honest young men, good scholars, and very hopeful, viz. a younger son of Mr. Higginson, to England, and so to Holland, and after to the East Indies, a younger son of Mr. Buckley, a Batchelor of Arts to England, and Mr. George Downing, son of Mr. Emanuel Downing of Salem, Batchelor of Arts also, about twenty years of age, went in a ship to the West Indies to instruct the seamen. He went by Newfoundland and so to Christophers and Barbados and Nevis, and being requested to preach in all these places, he gave such content, as he had large offers to stay with them. But he continued in the ship to England, and being a very able scholar, and of a ready wit and fluent utterance, he was soon taken notice of, and called to be a preacher in Sir Thomas Fairfax his army, to Colonel Okye his regiment."

Despite his family connections and early history, Downing moved away from hardline Puritanism and republicanism by 1660. In fact, his enthusiasm for the rising star of Charles II left a distaste in the mouths of many observers, including Pepys, who could see the spectacular rewards Downing snagged from the flip. (Pepys, of course, also changed his colors -- but who likes to be reminded of that?)

The quote from Winthrop's book I found at this website (where Downing's slight connection to Newfoundland history is discussed): http://www.mun.ca/rels/ang/texts/ang1.html

PHE   Link to this

The Streetmap.co.uk link puts Axe yard directly on the present day Downing St. George Downing owned a house in Axe Yard. According to the annotation by Douglas Long, Downing built Downing St. Was this a case of him rebuilding on his own land after the Great Fire?

David Gurliacci   Link to this

Downing and the Salem Witchcraft Trials

Downing apparently was the landlord to John Proctor, the first man accused of witchraft in the Salem witch trials hysteria of 1692.

Anyone who has seen Arthur Miller's play about the witchcraft hysteria, "The Cruciable," may remember Proctor as a significant character (apparently Miller took some liberties with the facts of Proctor's life). Proctor was hanged with five others on August 19, 1692. His wife, Elizabeth, was spared because she was pregnant.

Here's how Downing (who left Massachusetts in the 1640s and may well have never met Proctor) came to have a tenuous connection with the man:

Downing's father, Emanuel, had bought property in Salem when he and his family (including George) moved there in 1638. Emanuel moved to Scotland in 1656. But before he left he leased his farm outside of Salem to Proctor, who also took over a tavern Downing had operated in what is now Peabody, Mass., just outside of Salem.

Emanuel died in Edinburgh on Sept. 25, 1660. The tavern and other property apparently passed down to George Downing, although Emanuel had other children, some of whom remained in Massachusetts. But eight years after the hysteria, in 1700, it was Charles Downing, the son of Sir George, who sold the farm to Thorndike Proctor, son of the executed John Proctor.

It remained in the Proctor family in 1851, and the Downing/Proctor house still stands at 348 Lowell St., Peabody, Mass.

Most of these details come from a web page devoted to Emanuel Downing, part of a website operated by an organization of Downing family descendents. The society was founded in 1988 at the site of the former Downing home in Salem (NOT the tavern building).

So what's the importance to Samuel Pepys of a link to someone with a link to someone who was a victim of the Salem witchcraft trials? Well, er -- it's an interesting story, isn't it?

Here's a link to the Emanuel Downing web page:
http://www.downingfamily.org/Emanuel%20Downing.htm

Here's a link to their George Downing web page:
http://www.downingfamily.org/Sir%20George.htm

And here's a link to a web page giving a good summary account of the trial and tribulations of John Proctor:
http://www.school.discovery.com/schooladventure...

David Bell   Link to this

A quick check shows that Downing Street is on the edge of the site of Whitehall Palace, which was destroyed by fire in 1698. It would need a bit of careful checking to see just how Axe Yard was related to the Palace complex, though it seems tolerably obvious that it was just outside the boundary.

Pepys was certainly living close to the centre of power in England.

language hat   Link to this

Axe Yard was actually on the site of the later Fludyer St., just south of Downing St.; see the annotations to:
http://www.pepysdiary.com/encyclopedia/102/

language hat   Link to this

A description of Downing
from Arthur Bryant's Pepys bio:

Pepys' second employer was not an amiable man. A rough, pushing, young careerist, George Downing had been bred in Massachusetts and had taken to the r

David Gurliacci   Link to this

John Evelyn's low opinion of Downing

From his diary (12 July 1666):

"Sir Geo: Downing (one that had been a greate [a blank space here of about seven spaces] against his Majestie but now insinuated into favour, & from a pedagoge & fanatic preach(e)r, not worth a groate, becoming excessive rich) . . . "

-- "The Diary of John Evelyn," edited by E.S. de Beer (Oxford), p. 492. (I suppose the blank was in the diary itself. Perhaps Evelyn was searching for the right word. I found no explanation for it anywhere in the book.)

David Gurliacci   Link to this

Downing During the Interregnum

Downing moved on from his post as preacher in Fairfax's army and by 1650, as a "scout-master-general," was in charge of spying for Cromwell's forces in Scotland. By 1653 he ws also commissary general to the army there, according to the online 1911 of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (link is below).

Downing's 1654 marriage to Frances, daughter of Sir William Howard of Naworth, and sister of the first earl of Carlisle, helped further his career. He was a member of parliament in 1654, 1656 and 1659 and was among the first to urge Cromwell to be crowned king (in January 1657).

In 1656, when the case of a Quaker accused of blasphemy was brought before parliament, Downing was one of those insisting loudly that the man's tongue be bored through with a hot iron. Although others, including Cromwell, tried to get a lighter sentence for the Quaker, the harsh punshment was carried out. "You ought to do something with that tongue that has bored through God," Downing said (quoted in Claire Tomalin's "Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self," 2002, p. 56). "You ought to bore his tongue through."

Somewhere along the line, somehow, Downing became a friend of the premier poet of the age, John Milton (Tomalin, p. 70). Another friend was Arthur Haslerig, a parliamentary leader in 1659 with whom Downing had become familiar when both served in the army in the 1640s (Tomalin, p. 93).

Downing was sent on diplomatic missions -- one to the Duke of Savoy and another, in 1655, to France. By 1657 Downing was making a salary of 665 pounds, which included 300 pounds as a "teller" supervising the Exchequer. (Actual management of the office was given to people hired by the tellers.)

In 1657 Downing also was appointed to the diplomatic post at The Hague. According to a web page of the Downing Family Historical Society of America (http://www.downingfamily.org/Sir%20George.htm ), Downing "spent more time spying on English loyalists living in Holland, along with Dutch politicians and military men, than attending to his diplomatic chores. He sent his coded reports in diplomatic pouches to Cromwell's spymaster John Thurloe."

He may also have performed another service which proved vital to his career -- telling Charles II that there was a plot to assassinate him.

"The King's life was popularly supposed to be in danger from assassination at the hands of the English government. . . . A story of Charles visiting Mary at the Hague in disguise, and being warned that he was in danger of his life by the Protectoral envoy there, Sir George Downing, is probably apocryphal." (Antonia Fraser, "Royal Charles: Charles II and the Restoration," 1980, p. 154)

Here's the web address of the George Downing entry in the "1911 Encyclopedia" website:

http://65.1911encyclopedia.org/D/DO/DOWNING_SIR...

D. QuidnuncGurliaci   Link to this

Consensus Opinion on Downing: Serviceable Villain

"By 1660 he may have had enough of near-anarchy in England; he was also clear in his mind that he cared more for power and money than for any principle, and saw that he could sell his abilities to whoever was in a position to bid for them," Claire Tomalin writes in "Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self," (p. 94). She also writes of "Downing's combination of bigotry and cruelty" (p. 57).

"Downing was undoubtedly a man of great political and diplomatic ability," according to the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, "but his talents were rarely employed for the advantage of his country and his character was marked by all the mean vices, treachery, avarice, servility and ingratitude. 'A George Downing' became a proverbial expression in New England to denote a false man who betrayed his trust." (The same thing happened to Benedict Arnold in the American Revolution and Norway's Vidkun Quisling in World War II, only their names are still bywords for "traitor.")
http://65.1911encyclopedia.org/D/DO/DOWNING_SIR...

"[A]n unscrupulous man," biographer John Hearsey calls Downing in "Young Mr. Pepys" (1973), "a loud and loyal servant of the Commonwealth."

"Known to exiled royalists as 'the fearful gentleman,' he was particularly loathed for having persuaded the Dutch to drive Charles out of Holland," Tomalin writes (p.93). "They hoped either to assassinate or to hang him."

D. QuidnuncGurliaci   Link to this

Pepys's Attitudes Toward Downing

"What is certain is that Pepys's new boss was an ogre who commanded his clerk's hatred and admiration in equal measure, for George Downing showed Pepys how hard, how vain and how ruthless a successful man of affairs could be," writes Stephen Cootes in his "Samuel Pepys: A Life" (2000; p. 26). "Downing . . . had his eye constantly on the main chance. . . . Downing was, none the less, a man of vision, and in his company Pepys became familiar with the profoundly influential idea that Britain should destroy the naval power of the Dutch and so break their monopoly on the carrying trade."

Pepys's mentions of Downing in the diary are "almost always with some expression of dislike," Henry B. Wheatley says in "Samuel Pepys and the World He Lived In" (1880). Pepys thought Downing was niggardly, sometimes to ridiculous lengths, Wheatley wrote.

"Pepys, who characterized his [Downing's] conduct as odious though useful to the king, calls him a 'perfidious rogue'" the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica notes, "and remarks that 'all the world took notice of him for a most ungrateful villain for his pains.'" (Diary: 12, 17 March 1662)

"Downing saw that Pepys was talented," Claire Tomalin writes in "Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self" (2002; p. 56), "but Pepys, though always respectful of Downing's intellectual powers, never liked him."

Years later, after the memory of working for Downing had worn a bit (and perhaps after Pepys gained a wider perspective), he praised Downing's good qualities, essentially describing him as an able public servant who would perform well in an appointment he had just been given: "[H]e is active and a man of business, and values himself upon having of things go well under his hand." (Diary: 27 May 1667)

David Plant   Link to this

More on Downing Street
Downing Street was apparently built on the site of John Hampden's former London home. The John Hampden Society (http://www.johnhampden.org) regards it as "a disgrace that, for over 300 years, the official residence of the Head of Government of the United Kingdom should be named after a man so despicable as George Downing - a turncoat and hypocrite". The Society has been running a campaign to have it renamed "Hampden Street". Details here:
http://www.johnhampden.org/name.htm

Ishbel Beatty   Link to this

DOWNING STREET

from Sir George's will, 24 August 1683:

"my houses in or neare King Street ... lately called Hampden House, which I hold by a long Lease from the Crowne, and Peacock Court there neare adjoyning which I hold by lease from the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster, all which are now demolished and rebuilt or rebuilding, and called Downinge Street."

Downing died in 1684 and there is no evidence that he resided in the street. Overseers' accounts show that he lived in the neighbourhood of New Palace Yard.

Quoted from SURVEY OF LONDON, Vol 14, London County Council 1931

Pepys records November 9-10, 1666 an incident in which 'Captain Downing' demonstrated his knowledge of sign language with the deaf. How was it that he knew this language? (And was said to have had a network of deaf spies, employed because they could not speak, even
under torture, and reveal secrets.)

George's Suffolk parents had moved to London during his boyhood, and fearing an outbreak of plague they sent George and his brother to school near Maidstone, Kent (J D Beresford, Godfather of Downing Street, 1925). Here they seem to have lived in a community where congenital deafness was widespread, and resulted in deaf and hearing alike communicating freely with one another in sign. (In the Blood - God, Genes & Destiny, Steve Jones 1996)

Many of these people later migrated to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, and a study of their descendants showed that, although marriage with outsiders had diluted the extent of the congenital inheritance, older members of the community could remember a time when, as the title of the book shows - 'Everyone Here spoke Sign Language' by Nora Ellen Grouce, 1985.

Ishbel Beatty

S. Spoelstra   Link to this

The extent of Downings ruthlessness is apperent in the next extract (from http://www.dinsdoc.com/schoolcraft-1.htm ) especially if one realises that one of these three "regicides" is the same Colonel John Okey (http://www.british-civil-wars.co.uk/biog/regici... )
Downing started out with as a chaplain.

"Okey, Barkstead, and Corbet went to Delft in March 1662, and Downing hastened to take advantage of his opportunity. He secured an order from De Witt for the arrest of these men, and with a few English officers arrested them at the house of Kicke. Yet the municipality of Delft would not permit the prisoners to be removed from its jurisdiction until Downing had obtained an order from De Witt for their extradition; and then, not without danger of rescue from the sympathetic Hollanders, the men were conveyed to the coast and thence to England."
(Where they were executed.)

Phil   Link to this

Husband of Frances: http://www.pepysdiary.com/encyclopedia/1323/

vincent   Link to this

a short list of Downings treachery
"...John Barkstead, d.1662
Barksted was arrested by George Downing, returned to England and hanged, drawn and quartered in 1662
John Okey, 1606-62
He was extradited by George Downing and hanged, drawn and quartered with John Barkstead and Miles Corbet.
Son of a knightly Norfolk family, MP for Yarmouth
Corbet fled to Holland at the Restoration but was extradited by George Downing. He was hanged, drawn and quartered. ..."
http://www.british-civil-wars.co.uk/biog/regici...

vincent   Link to this

Part of the Downings estate [page down]for a peek of how the other half resided
http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/angleseyabbey/v....

dirk   Link to this

Downing's estate - re vincent's annotation

Vincent's link doesn't seem to work. You can try this one:
http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/angleseyabbey/h...

JWB   Link to this

Sam @ St. Paul's
"...when Sam put in for a leaving exhibition at St. Paul's, Downing was chairman of the judges who awarded it to him, and so played a crucial part in helping him to go on to Cambridge" C Tomalin.

vicenzo   Link to this

here is the authority to speak for Cromwell.
'that Mr. Downing have Credentials from the Parliament, unto the States-General, and the Provinces of Holland, as to the Ratification of that Treaty, and the Business of the Sound...."

From: British History Online
Source: House of Commons Journal Volume 7: 30 June 1659. Journal of the House of Commons: volume 7, (1802).
http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?com...
Date: 13/03/2005

Pedro   Link to this

George Downing's observation to his own government in 1664...

"You have infinite advantages upon account of the form of government of this country (United Provinces) which is such a shattered and divided thing; and though the rest of the provinces give Holland their votes, yet nothing is more evident or certain than that Holland must expect to bear the burden. Even Zeeland can do very little, for that is very poor, and the other provinces they neither can nor will."

(Boxer...The Dutch Seaborne Empire)

GrahamT   Link to this

There is an interesting article here about George Downing and his hunting down of the regicides: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16303861 (I don't know how long this will remain active)
It also states that the picture shown on the main article here is "now thought to be of someone else"

Bill   Link to this

George Downing went into the army, and was scoutmaster general of the English army in Scotland. He was afterwards in great favour with Cromwell, who sent him ambassador to the States, and upon the restoration he turned with the times, and was sent or kept by the King in the same employ, had the merit of betraying, securing and sending over several of the regicides (he had been captain under one of them, Col. Okey) was knighted and in favour at court, and died in 1684. His character runs low with the best historians in England; it was much lower with his countrymen in New-England; and it became a proverbial expression, to say of a false man who betrayed his trust, that he was an arrant George Downing. Oliver Cromwell, when he sent him agent or ambassador to the States, in his letter of credence says, "George Downing is a person of eminent quality, and after a long trial of his fidelity, probity and diligence in several and various negotiations, well approved and valued by us. Him we have thought fitting to send to your Lordships, dignified with the character of our agent," &c. (Milton's letters.) In his latter days he is said to have been very friendly to New-England, and when the colony was upon the worst terms with King Charles the second. An article of news from England in 1671, says, "Sir George Downing is in the Tower, it is said because he returned from Holland, where he was sent ambassador, before his time: As it is reported, he had no small abuse offered him there. They printed the sermons he preached in Oliver's time and drew three pictures of him. 1. Preaching in a tub, over it was wrote, This I was. 2. A treacherous courtier, over it, This I am. 3. Hanging on a gibbet, and over it, This I shall be." Prints of that sort were not so common in England in that day as they have been the last twenty years.

"Downing was sent to make up the quarrel with the Dutch, but coming home in too great haste and fear, is now in the prison where his master lay that he betrayed." MS. letter Lond. March 4, 1671-2. By his master, no doubt Okey is intended. His son was one of the Tellers in the Exchequer in 1680. Sir George died in 1684. He was brother-in-law to governor Bradstreet, and kept up a correspondence with him.

---The History of the Colony of Massachuset's Bay. T. Hutchinson, 1765 (discussing the first graduates of Harvard College in 1642)

Bill   Link to this

ANECDOTE OF THE DOWNING FANIILY.

THE late Sir George Downing, of Gamlingay in Cambridge, bart. had left his estate to the late Sir Jacob Garrard, and his heirs male; and for want of such issue, to the Rev. Mr. Peters, late lecturer of St. Clements Danes, and his heirs male; both of whom having died without issue, the estate was to be applied towards founding a college in Cambridge. The original of the family was Dr. Calybeat Downing, one of the preachers in the rebel army, and a great man with the Rump; and his son, afterwards Sir George Downing, and the first baronet of the family, was made envoy from Cromwell to the States-General, and got a great estate, owing to the following incident. When King Charles the Second was travelling in disguise in Holland, to visit the queen mother, attended only by Lord Falkland, and putting up at an inn, after he had been there some time, the landlord came in to these strangers, and said there was a beggar man at the door, very shabbily dressed, who was very importunate to be admitted to them; on which the king seemed to be surprized, and after speaking to Lord Falkland, bid the landlord admit him. As soon as this beggar-man entered, he pulled off his beard, (which he had put on for a disguise) fell on his knees, and said he was Mr. Downing, the resident from Oliver Cromwell; that he had received advice of this intended visit from his majesty to the queen, and that if he ventured any farther, he would. assassinated; and begged secrecy of the king, for that his life depended upon it, and departed. The king was amazed at this, and said to Lord Falkland, how could this be known; there were but you and the queen knew of it; therefore the queen must have mentioned this to somebody, who gave advice of it to his enemies. However, the king returned back, whereby the design was prevented. Upon this, after the restoration, Mr. George Downing was rewarded, made a baronet, and farmer of the customs, &c. &c. whereby this large estate was raised.

---A Collection of Interesting Anecdotes, Memoirs, Allegories, Essays, and Poetical Fragments. Joseph Addison, 1793

Bill   Link to this

Upon the death of Sir George Downing, 3rd Baronet in 1749, the wealth left by his grandfather, Sir George Downing, who served both Cromwell and Charles II and built 10 Downing Street (a door formerly from Number 10 is in use in the college), was applied by his will. Under this will, as he had no direct issue (he was legally separated from his wife), the family fortune was left to his cousin, Sir Jacob Downing, and if he died without heir, to three cousins in succession. If they all died without issue, the estates were to be used to found a college at Cambridge called Downing.

---Wikipedia, 2013

Bill   Link to this

A family tree of Sir George: http://www.werelate.org/wiki/Person:George_Down...

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