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Colonel Daniel Axtell (1622 – 19 October 1660) was captain of the Parliamentary Guard at the trial of King Charles I at Westminster Hall in 1649. Shortly after the Restoration he was hanged, drawn and quartered as a regicide. Apart from his participation in the regicide, he is best remembered for his participation in Pride's Purge of the Long Parliament.
Axtell was a Baptist from Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire, who was apprenticed as a grocer. He joined the New Model Army, serving in John Pickering's regiment of Foote, and rose to the rank of colonel.
Axtell played a big part in the English Civil War after being recruited by Parliament in 1643. He fought as an infantryman and was present at the sieges of Lindon (May 1644) and York (June 1644), along with the battle of Marston Moor and many other sieges and battles. Axtell was a keen puritan and in 1646 he and some other puritan soldiers started preaching in churches in Oxford. At that time it was illegal to preach unless one was a qualified clergyman, so he had to force the clergymen to give way.
Axtell was a figure of some prominence in the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. He played a Promethean part in the storming of Drogheda and the massacre that ensued. After the towns walls and the internal earthworks had been successfully stormed by English Parliamentarians, Arthur Aston, the Royalist governor of Drogada, and others retreated to a citadel on Windmill Mount, which was heavily fortified and could not easily be taken by assault.
Colonel Axtell, with some twelve of his men, went up to the top of the mount, and demanded of the governor the surrender of it, who was very stubborn, speaking very big words, but at length was persuaded to go into the windmill at the top of the mount, and as many more of the chiefest of them as it could contain, where they were disarmed, and afterwards all slain.— Letter in Perfect Diurnal, 1–8 October 1649.
It was on direct orders from Oliver Cromwell that the quarter that had been given to the defenders on Mill Mount by Axtell was overturned, and the unarmed prisoners were killed.
Granny Castle beside the River Nore is an imposing ruin. "In the civil wars" writes Grosse "it was strongly garrisoned for the King and commanded by Captain Butler, Colonel Axtell, the famous regicide who was governor of Kilkenny, dispatched a party to reduce it, but they returned without accomplishing their orders; upon which Axtell himself marched out with two cannon and summoned the castle to surrender on pain of military execution. Without any hope of relief it is no wonder the garrison submitted".
On 25 October 1650 Axtell led the Parliamentarian army to victory at the battle of Meelick Island (a Crannog on the Shannon, on which the Connaught Irish army was camped) after launching a sudden attack on the Irish army under cover of darkness. After fierce hand-to-hand fighting the Parliamentarians were victorious, killing several hundred of the Irish soldiers and capturing their weapons and equipment. After the conflict, however, it was alleged that many of the Irish had been killed after the promise of quarter. Axtell was court-martialled for this by Henry Ireton and sent back to England. It is possible that Axtell was a scapegoat; Cromwell had committed similar atrocities a year earlier at Drogheda and at Wexford, in the sense that no quarter had been offered. It is possible that the leaders of the Parliamentarian forces in Ireland (if not the Parliamentarian leadership in Britain) felt that the 'shock' tactics initially adopted in Ireland were counter-productive. For example, Ireton's request for lenient surrender terms to be made known by Parliament were refused. Axtell's actions may have run counter to a less ruthless strategy putatively adopted by Ireton in the field.
After the fall of the Protectorate in May 1659, Axtell returned briefly to Ireland as a colonel under the command of Edmund Ludlow but was sent back to England to support John Lambert against Booth's Uprising in August 1659. Axtell was among the veterans of the Good Old Cause who attempted to oppose the Restoration in April 1660. He escaped from the fight at Daventry during which Lambert was captured by Colonel Richard Ingoldsby, but was himself arrested shortly afterwards.
He was arraigned for treason for his actions during the King's trial. His defence at his trial as a regicide, that he was only obeying orders at the trial of the King, was refuted by several witnesses who testified that Axtell had behaved discourteously towards the King, encouraging his men to jeer at or shout down the King when he tried to speak in his own defence. The court held: "[Axtell] justified all that he did was as a soldier, by the command of his superior officer, whom he must obey or die. It was... no excuse, for his superior was a traitor..., and where the command is traitorous, there the obedience to that command is also traitorous."
On 19 October 1660 Axtell was executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn and his head set up on Westminster Hall. His commanding officer Colonel Francis Hacker had also been condemned as a Regicide and had been executed. Axtell went to his execution unrepentant, declaring "If I had a thousand lives, I could lay them all down for the [Good Old] Cause".
- The family name is now spelt Axtell, but in some 17th-century records he is called Daniel Axtel and this spelling is used in some modern sources derived from those sources, for example House of Lords Record Office: The Death Warrant of King Charles I
- He served alongside John Hewson and John Jubbes (Foard 1994, p. )
- Lingard 1854, p. 316.
- Grose & Ledwich 1797, p. 79.
- GARY D. SOLIS. OBEDIENCE OF ORDERS AND THE LAW OF WAR: JUDICIAL APPLICATION IN AMERICAN FORUMS
- Thomson 2008, Axtell, Daniel cites State trials, 5.1289
- When asked what he meant by the Cause, Axtell replied "I mean that Cause which we were encouraged to, and engaged in under the parliament, which was for common right and freedom, and against the Surplice and Common-Prayer Book: and I tell you, that Surplice and Common-Prayer Book shall not stand long in England, for it is - not of God" (Howell & Cobbett 1816)
- (Baggs, Bolton & Croot 1985, pp. 143–151) footnote 79: Cal. S.P. Dom. 1680-1, 307; 1682, 237; 1685, 5; D.N.B.
- Baggs, A P; Bolton, Diane K; Croot, Patricia E C (1985). "Stoke Newington: Growth". In Baker, T F T; Elrington, C R. A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 8: Islington and Stoke Newington parishes. pp. 143-151.
- Foard, G. (1994). Colonel John Pickering's Regiment of Foot: 1644-1645. Walsall: Pryor Publications.
- Grose, Francis; Ledwich, Edward (continuator) (1797) . The antiquities of Ireland 2. London: S. Hooper. p. 79.
- Howell, Thomas Jones; Cobbett, William (1816). A complete collection of state trials and proceedings for high treason and other crimes and misdemeanors from the earliest period to the year 1783 5. Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green. p.1259)
- Lingard, John (1854). The history of England, from the first invasion by the Romans to the accession of William and Mary in 1688. 7–8 (6 ed.). C. Dolman. pp. 316.
- Thomson, Alan (January 2008) . "Axtell, Daniel (bap. 1622, d. 1660)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/928. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
|Wikisource has the text of the 1885–1900 Dictionary of National Biography's article about Axtel, Daniel.|