This text was copied from Wikipedia on 18 June 2024 at 3:11AM.

John Thurloe
Postmaster General of England
In office
Preceded byJohn Manley
Succeeded byHenry Bishop
Personal details
BornJune 1616
England, Kingdom of England
Died21 February 1668(1668-02-21) (aged 51)
London, England, Kingdom of England
Children4 sons and 2 daughters

John Thurloe[1] (June 1616 – 21 February 1668) was an English politician who served as secretary to the council of state in Protectorate England and spymaster for Oliver Cromwell and held the position of Postmaster General between 1655 and 1660. He was from Great Milton in Oxfordshire and of Lincoln's Inn,[2]


Thurloe was born in Essex in 1616 and was baptised on 12 June. His father was Rev. Thomas Thurloe, Rector of Abbess Roding.


He trained as a lawyer in Lincoln's Inn. He was first in the service of Oliver St John, solicitor–general to King Charles I and Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas.[2] In January 1645, he 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 March 1651, Thurloe accompanied Oliver St John as his secretary on his embassy to the United Provinces to propose a union between the Commonwealth and the Dutch.[3] In 1652, he was named a secretary for state.[4]

In 1653, he became head of intelligence and developed a widespread network of spies in England and on the continent. These included Henry Manning, the Dutch diplomat and historian Lieuwe van Aitzema, the mathematician John Wallis, who established a code-breaking department, as well as 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.) About forty years after his death, a false ceiling was found in his rooms at Lincolns Inn; the space was full of letters seized during his occupation of the office of Postmaster-General. These letters are also now at the Bodleian.[6]

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, but he did not become part of any new government.

Marriages and children

He married twice:

  • Firstly to a lady of the Peyton family, by whom he had two sons who died as infants;[7]
  • Secondly he married Anne Lytcott,[8] 3rd daughter of Sir John Lytcott (died c. 1645),[9] of East Molesey in Surrey, a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber who in 1633 had purchased the manor of East Molesey[10] from Ralph Freeman. He was buried in St Mary's Church, East Molesey, where survives his monument and several to members of the Clerk family, the children of his daughter Ursula, who became his heirs.[11] Anne Lytcott's mother was Mary Overbury, daughter of Nicholas Overbury of Bourton on the Hill in Gloucestershire and sister of the famous Sir Thomas Overbury.[7] By Anne Lytcott he had four sons and two daughters, including:[7]
    • John Thurloe, eldest son, admitted at Lincoln's–Inn in 1665, died at Amesbury in Wiltshire, where he was buried.
    • Oliver Thurloe, 2nd son, who married but died childless.
    • Thomas Thurloe, 3rd son, born in March 1650 or 1651, in about January 1676 or 1677 appointed Governor of James Island in the River Gambia, where he died.
    • Nicholas Thurloe, 4th son, "educated to the sea",[7] living in 1678.
    • Mary Thurloe, eldest daughter, married to Thomas Ligoe of Burcott in Buckinghamshire, by whom she had issue:
      • Thomas Ligoe, married to a sister of John Hamilton;
      • Eleanor Ligoe, married to the said John Hamilton.
    • Anne Thurloe, 2nd daughter, married to Francis Brace of Bedford, by whom she had issue:
      • John Thurloe Brace, a Member of Parliament for Bedford; ***Francis Brace;
      • John Thurloe Brace, who married a lady of the name of Harris, by whom he had one son, Harris Thurloe Brace, and a daughter, Anna Maria, married to Godfrey Copley of Yorkshire.

Death and burial

John Thurloe died on 21 February 1668 in his chambers in Lincoln's Inn and was buried in the chapel. His monument is inscribed as follows:[7]

"Here lyeth the body of John Thurleo, Esq; Secretary of State to the Protector Oliver Cromwell, and a member of this honourable Society. He died Feb. 21, 1667. Here lyeth the body of Francis Brace, Esq; a member of this society. He was son of Francis Brace, esq; of the town of Bedford, by Anne, one of the daughters and co–heirs of the late John Thurleo. He died on the 6th day of April 1721, in the 34th year of his age."

His correspondence is kept in the Bodleian Library, Oxford and in the British Museum. Thomas Birch published part of it in 1742.[4]


He owned several manors including Whittlesey St Mary's and Whittlesey St Andrew's and an estate at Astwood in Buckinghamshire worth £400 per annum. He held the rectory of Whittlesey St Mary's, in the Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire. He purchased the Wisbech Castle estate, sold off some of the land, cleared the remains of the bishop's palace and built and furnished a mansion (demolished c. 1816 by Joseph Medworth) just before the Restoration of the Monarchy, after which it was restored to the Bishop of Ely.[7][12] Thurloe Square, Thurloe Street and Thurloe Place in South Kensington, London, are all named after him. They were built in the 1820s on land he once owned.[13]


Blue plaque to John Thurloe in Chancery Lane near Lincoln's Inn in London
Blue plaque to John Thurloe in Chancery Lane near Lincoln's Inn in London erected by the Cromwell Association

Apart from building his mansion in Wisbech, in 1658 he gave £50 to purchase books for the Public library[14] and contributed eighty-one volumes and £50 for making a road 'from the corn market to the little sluice' and £150, the interest to be applied towards putting out poor children apprentice.[15] A portrait of Thurloe was presented to Wisbech & Fenland Museum by D.Gurney in 1847.[16] A photograph of this is held on the National Portrait Gallery website.[17] There is a Thurloe Close in Wisbech.[18] Two of his portraits now in the local museum are in the online BBC collection.[19]

Fictional portrayals

  • He is a recurring character in the Thomas Chaloner series of mystery novels by Susanna Gregory, which show him in a favourable light.[20]
  • He is a recurring character in the Edmund Godfrey series of mystery novels by Mark Francis, which show him as an eminence grise behind Restoration politics.
  • He is one of the key characters in Robert Wilton's historical novel Traitor's Field, published on 1 May 2013 (UK) by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books.[21]
  • He is a recurring character in the BBC television series By the Sword Divided, portrayed by actor David Collings
  • He, Samuel Morland, and John Wallis are featured in the historical novel An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears.
  • He is a character in the play Cromwell, by Victor Hugo.
  • He is a recurring character in "The Seeker" historical crime series by S. G. MacLean.


  1. ^ In his diary, Samuel Pepys spells Thurloe's name as Thurlow
  2. ^ a b The life of John Thurloe Esq., Secretary of State, published in: A Collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, Volume 1, 1638–1653, ed. Thomas Birch (London, 1742), pp. xi–xx. [1]
  3. ^ Godwin, William (1827). History of the Commonwealth of England: Vol. 3. London: Henry Colburn. p. 376.
  4. ^ a b c Chisholm 1911.
  5. ^ "John Thurloe, Secretary of State, 1616–68". 23 April 2007. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
  6. ^ Papworth, Dorothy (1990). "John Thurloe". Wisbech Society Report. 51: 14–16.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Birch, 1742
  8. ^ "Biography of John Thurloe".
  9. ^
  10. ^ Victoria County History, Vol.3, p.454
  11. ^ Baker, Rowland G. M., The Book of Molesey, 1986
  12. ^ George Anniss (1977). A History of Wisbech Castle. EARO. p. 16.
  13. ^ Weinreb, Ben; Hibbert, Christopher (1992). The London Encyclopaedia (reprint ed.). Macmillan. p. 888.
  14. ^ "The Charities of Wisbech". Lynn News & County Press. 19 July 1890. p. 3.
  15. ^ LF Salamanca, ed. (2002). A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely:volume 4, city of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds. Victoria County History. pp. 268–269.
  16. ^ "Wisbech Museum". Norfolk News. 9 October 1847. p. 3.
  17. ^ "John Thurloe". Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  18. ^ "1 Thurloe Close". Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  19. ^ "Wisbech". Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  20. ^ "Publication Order of Thomas Chaloner Books". Book Series in Order. 2020. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  21. ^ "Q&A: Robert Wilton (author of Traitor's Field)". English Civil 17 December 2020.


Further reading

  • Aubrey, Philip; Mr Secretary Thurloe, Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 1989
  • 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)
  • Ellis, John; To walk in the dark; Military Intelligence during the English Civil War. The History Press. 2011.

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.

9 Annotations

First Reading

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

Second Reading

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.

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

John Thurloe was the only son of Thomas Thurloe (d.1633), rector of Abbess Roding in Essex, and his wife, Sarah (d. 1637), widow of a Mr. Ewer, with whom she had 3 sons, including the regicide Isaac Ewer.

After the death of his father in 1633, John Thurloe secured the administration of the family estate for his mother.

Thurloe studied law under the patronage of Oliver St.John through whose influence he was employed as a secretary to the Parliamentary commissioners at the Uxbridge Treaty negotiations in January 1645.
He was admitted to Lincoln's Inn in 1646.
Under St.John's patronage, Thurloe's legal and administrative career steadily developed.
Like his patron, Thurloe avoided involvement in the events surrounding King Charles' trial and execution in 1649.

In March 1651, Thurloe went as secretary to St.John and Sir Walter Strickland on their diplomatic mission to the United Provinces of the Netherlands. Although the mission was unsuccessful, Thurloe's competence made a good impression.
He was appointed secretary to the Council of State in March 1652, then clerk to the Committee for Foreign Affairs in December.

In July 1653, Thurloe took over from Thomas Scot as director of the Commonwealth's spying and intelligence network.
When Oliver Cromwell was elevated to the office of Lord Protector in December 1653, Thurloe was involved in perfecting the final version of the Instrument of Government and was co-opted as a member of the Council of State.
Thurloe was efficient and thorough in carrying out his duties. He was able to keep Cromwell fully informed of the plans of foreign governments through his system of "intelligencers" and agents, and through detailed correspondence with ambassadors abroad. Thurloe's agents infiltrated Charles II's court-in-exile and he employed the mathematician and cryptographer John Wallis to break Royalist ciphers.
Always apparently one step ahead of his enemies, Thurloe established a formidable reputation as a spymaster, particularly after he secured the services of the Royalist Sir Richard Willys as an informant.

In May 1655, Thurloe was appointed Postmaster-General, with authority to intercept the correspondence of suspected conspirators against the Protectorate.
The following October, the government ordered the suppression of all newsbooks except the government-controlled Mercurius Politicus and The Public Intelligencer, giving Thurloe control over the dissemination of news.

Thurloe sat as MP for Ely in the Second Protectorate Parliament and was called upon to act as a government spokesman on various issues, though he was not an effective parliamentarian.
He was among those who urged Cromwell to accept the Crown in 1657.
Thurloe admired Cromwell as a ruler and was a personal friend, but he had no direct influence over the Protector's policies.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


After Oliver's death in 1659, Thurloe supported Richard Cromwell as his successor.
Royalists were convinced that Thurloe was the true power behind the Protectorate, and army officers were jealous of his influence over Richard.
During the Third Protectorate Parliament, Thurloe was the government's recognised spokesman and the leader of the Cromwellian "court" party against the republicans and army leaders. He successfully repudiated personal attacks accusing him of abuses of power but he was unable to dissuade Richard from dissolving Parliament in April 1659 under pressure from army officers.
The Rump Parliament was recalled in May and Richard was forced to resign, bringing the Cromwellian Protectorate to an end.
With the return of the Commonwealth, Thurloe was dismissed by the new Council of State. He refused to divulge his codes and ciphers when Thomas Scot resumed direction of the intelligence service.

Thurloe was restored to his offices by Gen. Monck in February 1660.
He tried to persuade Monck to reinstate the Protectorate and resisted the Restoration for as long as he could.
Despite Monck's recommendation, he was not elected to the Convention Parliament in April 1660.

After Charles II's return, Thurloe was accused of treason and arrested in May 1660.
He was released in June on condition that his knowledge be made available to the new government when required. He subsequently wrote several memoranda on state and foreign affairs for the information of Sir Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon.
Thereafter, Thurloe lived quietly, dividing his time between Great Milton, Oxon., and his legal chambers at Lincoln's Inn, where he died in February 1668.

Thurloe was twice married: first, to a lady of the Peyton family, with whom he had 2 sons who died in infancy; secondly, to Anne Lytcott of East Moulsey, Surrey, with whom he had 4 sons and 2 daughters.

Thurloe's papers are of major importance to historians of the Protectorate. They were found hidden behind a false ceiling in his former chambers at Lincoln's Inn during the reign of William III and were eventually presented to the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

C.H. Firth, John Thurloe, DNB 1898
Timothy Venning, John Thurloe, Oxford DNB, 2007

Thurloe State Papers British History Online…
Codes and Cyphers of Thurloe's Agents…


San Diego Sarah  •  Link

For information about John Thurloe's release from prison after the Restoration, which could have been in response to his blackmail about a "little black book" on some of the "loyal" royalists, see…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Secretary of State John Thurloe was one of the critical and influential "monarchical Cromwellians" who, in 1659, Hyde believed could be influenced into supporting the restoration of Charles II.
For an understanding of how amazing it is that Thurloe found favor after the Restoration, see…

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