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John Thurloe
John Thurloe from NPG detail.jpg
Secretary of State to the Protectorate's Council of State
Personal details
Born 1616 (1616)
Died 1668 (1669)
Lincoln's Inn
Profession Politician

John Thurloe[1] (June 1616 – 21 February 1668) was a secretary to the council of state in Protectorate England and spymaster for Oliver Cromwell.


Thurloe was born in Essex in 1616 and was baptised on 12 June. His father was Thomas Thurloe, rector of Abbess Roding. He was trained as a lawyer in Lincoln's Inn. He was first in the service of Oliver St John, and, in January 1645, became a secretary to the parliamentary commissioners at the Treaty of Uxbridge. In 1647 Thurloe was admitted to Lincoln's Inn as a member. He remained on the sidelines during the English Civil War but after the accession of Oliver Cromwell, became part of his government. In 1652 he was named a secretary for state.[2]

In 1653 he became head of intelligence and developed a widespread network of spies in England and on the continent. These included the Dutch diplomat and historian Lieuwe van Aitzema, the mathematician John Wallis, who established a code-breaking department, and diplomat and mathematician Samuel Morland, who served as Thurloe's assistant. Thurloe's service broke the Sealed Knot, a secret society of Royalists and uncovered various other plots against the Protectorate. In 1654 he was elected to Parliament as the member for Ely.[2] He supported the idea that Cromwell should adopt a royal title.

In 1655 Thurloe became Postmaster General, a post he held until he was accused of treason and arrested in May 1660.[3] His spies were able to intercept mail, and he exposed Edward Sexby's 1657 plot to assassinate Cromwell and captured would-be assassin Miles Sindercombe and his group. (Ironically, Thurloe's own department was also infiltrated: in 1659 Morland became a Royalist agent and alleged that Thurloe, Richard Cromwell and Sir Richard Willis - a Sealed Knot member turned Cromwell agent - were plotting to kill the future King Charles II.)

In 1657 Thurloe became a member of Cromwell's second council, as well as governor of the London Charterhouse school, and in 1658 he became chancellor of the University of Glasgow. After the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658, he supported his son Richard Cromwell as Lord Protector and, in 1659, represented Cambridge University in the Third Protectorate Parliament. Later that year various parties accused him of arbitrary decisions as head of intelligence, and he was deprived of his offices. Reinstated as a secretary of state on 27 February 1660, he resisted the return of Charles II.

After the Restoration, Thurloe was arrested for high treason on 15 May 1660 but was not tried. He was released on 29 June on the condition that he would assist the new government upon request. He retired from public life but served as a behind-the-scenes authority on foreign affairs and wrote informative papers for Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, but he did not become part of any new government.

John Thurloe died on 21 February 1668 in his chambers in Lincoln's Inn and was buried in the chapel. His correspondence is kept in the Bodleian Library, Oxford and in the British Museum. Thomas Birch published part of it in 1742.[2]

Thurloe Square, Thurloe Street and Thurloe Place in South Kensington are all named after him. They were built in the 1820s on land he once owned.[4]

Fictional portrayals


  1. ^ In his diary, Samuel Pepys spells Thurloe's name as Thurlow.
  2. ^ a b c Chisholm 1911.
  3. ^ "John Thurloe, Secretary of State, 1616-68". 23 April 2007. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  4. ^ Weinreb, Ben and Hibbert, Christopher (1992). The London Encyclopaedia (reprint ed.). Macmillan. p. 888. CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)


Further reading

  • Peacey, Jason T.; "Order and disorder in Europe: Parliamentary agents and royalist thugs 1649–1650"; The Historical Journal (1997), 40: 953-976 Cambridge University Press (Published online 1 December 1997)

External links

1893 text

John Thurloe, born 1616; Secretary of State to Cromwell; M.P. for Ely, 1656, and for the University of Cambridge in Richard Cromwell’s Parliament of December, 1658. He was never employed after the Restoration, although the King solicited his services. He died February 21st, 1668. Pepys spells the name Thurlow, which was a common spelling at the time.

This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

5 Annotations

Derek  •  Link

John Thurloe is probably best known as Cromwell's spymaster in charge of intelligence services. For more information see:


He also appears as a character in Iain Pears fascinating and ingenious novel 'An Instance of the Fingerpost' (1998), which is set in 1663 and is rich in period detail. (See Amazon for more detail: )

language hat  •  Link

Thanks for the Pears info, Derek!
I was given a copy of the book years ago and had almost forgotten about it, but now that I know it's set in the 1660s I'll have to actually read it.

Stuart Clarkson  •  Link

Leonard Lidcott, if the same man, had recently been made Captain in a regiment of foot under Roger Sawrey, Colonel and Captain:

House of Commons Journal Volume 7
30 July 1659
Sponsor: History of Parliament Trust
Publication: Journal of the House of Commons: volume 7
Year published: 1802
Description: Supporting documents:

Sir Arthur Hesilrig reports from the Commissioners for nominating Commission-Officers, A List of Persons for Commission-Officers for a Regiment of Foot; viz.
Leonard Lidcott, Captain;

Taken from British History Online

Bill  •  Link

John Thurloe, secretary of state to Oliver Cromwell and his son Richard, was as amiable a man in his private, as he was great in his public character. His knowledge and his judgment, his industry and dispatch, were equally extraordinary; and he was as dextrous in discovering secrets, as he was faithful in keeping them. His "State Papers," in 7 vols. folio, are an excellent history of Europe during this period, and are at once a proof of his abilities as a statesman, and his excellence as a writer.— He was advanced to the office of secretary of state, the 10th of Feb. 1653-4. Ob. 21 Feb. 1667-8, Æt.51.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1779.

Bill  •  Link

THURLOE, JOHN (1616-1668), secretary of state; studied law at Lincoln's Inn and entered the service of Oliver St. John (1598?-1673); filled several posts, and was made secretary to the council of state, 1652; took important part in raising Cromwell to the Protectorate; M.P., Ely, 1654 and 1656, Cambridge University, 1659; given charge of intelligence and postal departments, and made member of the council; acted with great vigilance and success; spokesman of the government in parliament; one of those with whom Cromwell was wont to 'lay aside his greatness,' but had little influence on his policy; desired Cromwell to accept the crown; was opposed to the military faction; governor of the Charterhouse, 1657; chancellor of Glasgow University, 1658; supported government of Richard Cromwell; accused of arbitrary government by the republican and royal opposition; relieved of his functions on restoration of Long parliament, 1659, but reappointed secretary of state on readmission of secluded members, 1660; accused of high treason at the Restoration, but liberated. His vast correspondence is the chief authority for the history of the Protectorate; seven volumes were published in 1742.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.