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Sir John Boys (1607 – 8 October 1664) is best known as the Royalist captain who was the Governor of Donnington Castle in Berkshire[1] during the English Civil War.

Boys was born in at Bonnington, near to Goodnestone, in Kent, the eldest son and heir of Edward Boys of Bonnington, by Jane, a daughter of Edward Sanders (of Northborne). He was baptized at Chillenden, on 5 April 1607.

Defence of Donnington Castle

Donnington Castle is located north of the town of Newbury. It was garrisoned in 1643 for King Charles I and commanded the road from Oxford to Southampton, and the road from London to Bath. It was from 1643 under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel John Boys who spent £1,000 on earthworks to strengthen the defences.

A division of the Royalist Regiment of the Earl Rivers consisting of 200 foot, 25 horse and 4 guns under the command of John Boys, 'a professional soldier from Kent', were put into Donnington Castle and held the castle from 1643 until 1 April 1646.

On 31 July 1644 Donnington Castle was attacked by a division of the New Model Army of 3000 horses and dragoons, under the command of Lieutenant-General John Middleton, without any artillery support who attempted to compel a surrender from Boys, but the Parliamentary army was repulsed with the loss of at least 300 men.

About a month later, on 29 September, Colonel Jeremy Horton began a 12 day blockade laying siege to Donnington, having raised a battery at the foot of the hill, near Newbury he was able to shatter the southern towers of the castles medieval defenses and reduce a part of the wall to rubble. It has been estimated that at least 1000 missiles were projected against the fortress during this engagement. Even though Colonel Horton had been reinforced, with additional men, Governor John Boys refused to concede and even invited Horton to surrender his forces.

A parliamentarian army soon after returned on 4 October led by the Earl of Manchester. An attempt to storm the castle failed, but the bombardment continued for several days without avail, frustrated, the whole army dispersed, as Charles I, at the head of the Royal army, moved towards Donnington. For his great services in defense of the castle Governor John Boys was knighted on 21 October 1644.[2] The king also promoted him to Colonel of the regiment which he had before commanded as Lieutenant-Colonel to Earl Rivers.

On 27 October, the second battle of Newbury was fought, and Colonel Sir John Boys secured the King's artillery under the walls of Donnington castle. Even that great Parliamentarian soldier Sir William Waller with his army surrounded the castle and again Boys refused to surrender.

After the battle of Newbury, when the King had gone to Oxford, Essex besieged Donnington Castle but abandoned the attempt before Charles returned in the first week of November 1644 to relieve Donnington and retrieve his 'treasure and guns' leaving some of the heavier pieces for use by the garrison.

Some time after 14 November 1645, Oliver Cromwell himself turned his attention to the problem of the Royalist stronghold of Donnington castle. The following spring a furious bombardment with cannon and mortars was ordered, and by 30 March a truce was concluded so that Charles had no option other than to instruct Boys to obtain the best possible conditions for the surrender of his garrison. Finally, it was on 1 April 1646 that the surrender of Donnington Castle was accomplished. Boys garrison was permitted to march to the Royalist garrison at Wallingford, with their colours flying and drums beating. Surprisingly,Boys himself went to London rather than continue further military resistance while others of the Regiment served in Wallingford Castle.

Another of his Captains continued to serve and was captured in Carnarvon Castle later in 1646.

John Boys had risen from Captain in 1641 in Ireland to Lieutenant Colonel when he came to serve the King in Earl Rivers Regiment in 1642.He was Colonel in all but name,as John,Earl Rivers never took command of the Regiment in the field.

He was one of the most loyal Officers to Charles 1 during both the 1st and 2nd Civil War.

Later History

During the August 1648, he made a futile attempt to raise the Siege of Walmer Castle in Deal, one of the Cinque Ports, and customary home of the Lord Warden. Sir Algernon Sydney replaced him as Warden in 1648.

In 1659, Boys was held as a prisoner in Dover Castle for 'petitioning for a free Parliament',[3] but was released on 23 February 1660. He was then, reputedly, granted the office of Receiver of Customs at Dover from Charles II.[4]

A few years later on 8 October 1664, Sir John Boys died at his house at Bonnington and was buried in the parish church of Goodnestone-next-Wingham (near Canterbury) in Kent.

He was married twice, and by his first wife, Lucy, he had five daughters.

His second marriage was to the Lady Elizabeth Finch, widow of Sir Nathaniel Finch, and a daughter of Sir John Fotherby of Barham (Kent).


  1. ^ Concise Dictionary of National Biography, founded 1882 by George Smith, part 1 - to 1900 page 133
  2. ^ Concise Dictionary of National Biography, founded 1882 by George Smith, part 1 - to 1900 page 133
  3. ^ Concise Dictionary of National Biography, founded 1882 by George Smith, part 1 - to 1900 page 133
  4. ^ Concise Dictionary of National Biography, founded 1882 by George Smith, part 1 - to 1900 page 133
Preceded by
Sir Edward Boys
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
Succeeded by
Sir Algernon Sidney

External links

1893 text

Of Bonnington and Sandwich, Gentleman of the Privy-Chamber to Charles I. He defended Donnington Castle, Berkshire, for the King against Jeremiah Horton, 1644, and received an augmentation to his arms in consequence.

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

1 Annotation

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