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John Okey
Colonel John Okey
Member of Parliament
for Bedfordshire
In office
January 1659 – May 1659
Personal details
Born24 August 1606 (baptised)
City of London, England
Died19 April 1662(1662-04-19) (aged 55)
Tower Hill, Middlesex, England
Resting placeTower of London
Spouse(s)(1) Susanna Pearson (1630–1656)
(2) Mary Blackwell (1658-his death)
Alma materExeter College, Oxford
OccupationPolitical and religious radical, regicide and Parliamentarian soldier
Military service
Years of service1642 to 1646
Battles/warsFirst English Civil War
Braddock Down; Beacon Hill; Modbury 1643; Sourton Down; Stratton; Lansdown; Roundway Down; Bristol

Colonel John Okey (24 August 1606 – 19 April 1662) was a political and religious radical who served in the Parliamentarian army during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. A regicide who approved the Execution of Charles I in 1649, he escaped to the Dutch Republic after the 1660 Stuart Restoration, but was brought back to England and executed on 19 April 1662.

Personal details

John Okey was baptised at St Giles-in-the-Fields in London on 24 August 1606, sixth child of William Okey and his wife, Margaret Whetherly. Okey came from a prominent family which had property in London as well as a coat of arms.

On 21 January 1630, John Okey married Susanna Pearson. Okey became a proprietor of a ships' chandler's business by 1640. Okey's first wife, Susanna, died and he later remarried to Mary Blackwell in 1658.[1]

Before the start of the Civil War, Okey worked as a stoker at a brewery. When the Civil War began, he enlisted in the Parliamentary army of the Earl of Essex as a quartermaster, and became one of the "humble" men who advanced to positions of higher rank and position. Okey quickly advanced in rank becoming a captain of horse, and later became a Major in a regiment commanded by Arthur Hesilrige. When the New Model Army was formed in 1645, John Okey was appointed colonel of a regiment of Dragoons, a form of mounted infantry troopers capable of quickly advancing, attacking, and then withdrawing from an engagement. Okey's regiment gained lasting fame for their actions at the Battle of Naseby, where his dragoons opened the fighting by firing into the right wing of the Royalist horse from a concealed position in Sulby Hedges, and later delivered probably the first mounted charge by English dragoons. Later the same year, Okey's regiment saved John Butler's cavalry regiment when they were extremely close to being defeated by Prince Rupert's cavalry. Okey also fought at Boroughbridge and at Bath in Somerset. Okey was captured by the Royalists at the siege of Bristol, but was released after the city surrendered.

An upsurge of political activism began after the victory in the first civil war. Okey's regiment was not noticeably radical. Increased political activism did, however, give rise to agitation in June 1647. In December 1647, a loyal address was presented to the commander of the New Model Army, Thomas Fairfax, by many of the troops. Okey's regiment later served in the second civil war in South Wales in 1648. The same year, Okey also brought his regiment to fight in the battle of St Fagans as well as at the siege of Pembroke Castle.[1]

Involvement in the trial and execution of Charles I

In 1648, Okey was appointed a commissioner to the High Court of Justice after the king was declared as having "traitorously and maliciously levyed war against the present parliament and the people therein represented" and set to stand trial. Okey was one of 135 men who were selected and appointed by "An Act of the Commons Assembled in Parliament".[2] Okey, along with about 80 others (all of whom were at risk of being labelled as regicides), was actively involved in the case and was present for most of the court's sittings. Moreover, Okey was one of 59 who signed the king's death warrant, and was also charged with upholding the validity of the actions surrounding the execution of Charles I.[1]

Religious radicalism

John Okey was considered a religious radical, and practised as both a Baptist and a Congregationalist. This outlook affected his military career, and he wrote following his own involvement in the battle of Naseby that the parliamentarians:

"...should magnifie the name of our God that did remember a poore handfull of dispised men, whom they had thought to have swallowed up before them."

In February 1652, after Okey's return to England following a military excursion in Scotland, Okey filed a petition to parliament regarding a number of religious reforms as a means of spreading the Gospel and reforming what he considered to be a flawed parochial ministry. There is also some evidence to suggest that Okey was involved in the creation of John Bunyan's Baptist church in Bedford in 1653.

Following his prosecution as a regicide, Okey was quoted as stating that his actions and strong commitment to Congregationalism was "for righteousness and for justice and for the advancement of a godly magistracy and a godly ministry".[1]

Petition of the three colonels

In 1654, Okey signed the petition of the three colonels, drafted by the Leveller and republican John Wildman, along with colonels Thomas Saunders, and Matthew Alured which criticised Oliver Cromwell and the Protectorate. It was unsuccessful and although only Alured was imprisoned, all three were cashiered from the New Model Army.[3][4][5] Okey retired to Bedfordshire, where he had invested heavily in land, and was elected MP for Bedfordshire in the Third Protectorate Parliament of 1659.

Arrest and execution

As part of the political compromise that allowed for the restoration of the monarchy at the end of the interregnum, Parliament passed the Act of Free and General Pardon, Indemnity, and Oblivion. Under this act most people were granted a general pardon for any crimes that they had committed during the civil war and during the interregnum. However two score of people were exempted from this pardon. The exceptions of certain crimes such as murder (without a licence granted by King or Parliament), piracy, buggery, rape and witchcraft, and people named in the act such as those involved in the regicide of Charles I.

Some of those who had reason to believe that they would not be included in the general pardon, fled abroad in an attempt to escape royalist retribution. Okey, with John Barkstead, went to Germany. In fleeing abroad, he forfeited the right to a trial for his alleged crimes and was declared an outlaw.

In 1662, however, while in the Netherlands, Okey was arrested along with Barkstead and Miles Corbet by Sir George Downing, the English ambassador to the Dutch court. The three prisoners were immediately sent to England, and, as they had been previously outlawed, their trial turned entirely on the question of identity.[6]

Okey and his companions were executed at Tower Hill on 19 April 1662; although condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered, they were left hanging for more than 20 minutes and thus were almost certainly dead before being quartered. Permission had been granted for Okey to be buried by his family in Stepney next to his first wife, but a large crowd had gathered to pay their respects and he was interred within the Tower of London.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d Christopher Durston, ‘Okey, John (bap. 1606, d. 1662)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 22 Oct 2008
  2. ^ Howard Nenner, ‘Regicides (act. 1649)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 22 Oct 2008
  3. ^ Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900) Nathaniel Rich
  4. ^ Austin Woolrych. Britain in Revolution: 1625–1660, Oxford University Press, 2004 ISBN 0-19-927268-9, ISBN 978-0-19-927268-6. p 609
  5. ^ Barbara Taft The Humble Petition of Several Colonels of the Army: Causes, Character, and Results of Military Opposition to Cromwell's Protectorate The Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Winter, 1978), pp. 15–41
  6. ^ Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900), Volume 3 (Baker-Beadon), pp. 217, "John Barkstead", Article's author C. H. F.
  7. ^ Barkstead, Okey & Corbet 1662, pp. 70–71.


11 Annotations

First Reading

Alan Bedford  •  Link

John Okey was a chandler and drayman who joined the New Model Army, rising to the rank of Colonel. He was one of the 59 signers of the Death Warrant of Charles I.

Ironically, he opposed the elevation of Cromwell to the position of Lord Protector. A short bio at:…

Pauline  •  Link

from L&M Companion
Republican and regicide. A parliamentary colonel, he opposed the Protectorate both of Oliver and of Richard Cromwell. After taking part in Lambert's attempted rising in the spring of 1660, he fled to Germany. In 1662 he was arrested at Delft and executed at Tyburn.

vicenzo  •  Link

here is his commission papers
Army Commissions. note date :
The House being informed, That divers Officers of the Army were at the Door, to receive their Commissions;
They were called in: And, being come up to the Clerk's Table, in usual manner; Mr. Speaker acquainted them with the great Trust reposed in them by the Parliament; and that the Parliament and Commonwealth expected Faithfulness from them, accordingly: And thereupon Mr. Speaker delivered,
To Colonel Okey, his Commission to be Colonel of a Regiment of Horse

From: British History Online
Source: House of Commons Journal Volume 7: 20 January 1660. Journal of the House of Commons: volume 7, (1802).…

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

John Okey was born of mean parents, who brought him up in the occupation of a drayman, He afterwards got to be a stoaker in a brewhouse at Islington, near London; and then a poor chandler near Lion key in Thames street in the said city. But, changing his apron in those desperate times for a buff-coat, he rose by degrees to be a Colonel of dragoons; a Judge in the pretended High Court of Justice to try his Sovereign; and he contented to, and signed the warrant for his murder; as it was proved at his trial, but was denied by himself at the place of execution; when, amongst other particulars to alleviate his crimes, he declared, "I was none of the Council within or without; neither did I know any thing of the trial of the King, or who were the Judges, till I saw my name inserted in a paper, and I did sit there but once or twice."
He was much infected with the enthusiasm of those times; and loved to speak much, and acquired such an ecclesiastic cant, suitable to that generation, that the rulers at Oxford complimented him with the degree of Master of Arts. But his antimonarchical zeal carried him to such lengths, that, when he discovered Oliver's inclination to seize, and to place himself on the throne, he deserted his interest, and sided with the anabaptists and fifth-monarchy men; which brought him into disgrace with the usurper, deprived him of his regiment, and excluded him from all further favours under the Protectorship.
At the approach of the restoration, he fled into Holland, and was taken at Delft, as he skulked under the name of Frederic Williamson, by the diligence of Sir George Downing formerly an independent preacher, and chaplain to this very man Okey, but now employed by King Charles II. as his Resident in Holland who sent him with Berkstead and Corbet, seized at the same time, to England, where they were executed on the 19th of April, 1662, after they were permitted to speak and pray as much as they desired.
---The Universal Magazine, Volume 9, 1751

Bill  •  Link

Col. Okey was also a citizen of London, and one of those who appeared early in the service of the parliament. He had been first a Captain of foot, then a Captain of horse, and afterwards Major in the regiment of Sir Arthur Haslerig. In the year 1645, at the time when the army was new modelled, he was made Colonel of a regiment of dragoons, which was afterwards converted into a regiment of horse. In these employments he distinguished himself by his courage, conduct, and fidelity; and, during the usurpation of Oliver Cromwel, was dismissed from his command in the army, on account of his affection to the commonwealth. He was chosen by the county of Bedford to represent and serve them in the convention that was called by Richard; and, after the restitution of the great parliament, they restored him to his command in the army. Being ready to suffer for that cause which he had strenuously defended, he said in the presence of many witnesses, that if he had as many lives as he had hairs on his head, he would willingly hazard them all on the same account. The sentence against these three Gentlemen having been executed on the 19th of April 1662, the King bestowed the body of Col. Okey upon his wife, to dispose as she thought fit. Upon which she ordered him to be interred at Stepney, where his first wife lay in a vault that he had purchased for himself and family. But the report of this funeral being spread among the people, several thousands of them assembled themselves in and about Newgate market, where the body lay, resolving to attend it to the grave. And though they behaved themselves with decency and modesty; yet the King, upon notice of this appearance, was so alarmed, that he revoked his grant to the Colonel's wife, dispatched orders to the Sheriff to disperse the company, and commanded the body to be interred in the Tower.
---Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow, Esq., 1751

Bill  •  Link

"changing his apron in those desperate times for a buff-coat"

I've been thinking about that patronizing description of John Okey and I've decided that Our Sam's Diary is turning me into a "commonwealths-man"! I'm sorry it didn't turn out better...

Bill  •  Link

These three men [Berkstead, Cobbet and Okey] behaved with more moderation and submission than any of the other regicides, who had suffered. Okey in particular, at the place of execution, prayed for the King, and expressed his intention, had he lived, of submitting peaceably to the established government. He had risen during the wars from being a chandler in London to a high rank in the army; and in all his conduct appeared to be of a man of humanity and honour. In consideration of his good character and of his dutiful behaviour, his body was given his friends to be buried.
---The history of England. David Hume, 1763.

Bill  •  Link

OKEY, JOHN (d. 1662), regicide; colonel of dragoons at Naseby, 1645; led storming party at Bath, but was captured at Bristol, 1645 ; present at battle of St. Fagan's, 1648; signed Charles I's death-warrant, 1649; created master of arts at Oxford, 1649; took part in and described storming of Dundee, 1651; sat in parliament, 1654: opposed the protectorate and was cashiered for circulating a petition against it; arrested for renewed opposition to Cromwell, 1658; represented Bedfordshire in Richard Cromwell's parliament, which restored him to command; again cashiered for resistance to Lambert, 1659, but regained his regiment the same year; being deprived by Monck, joined Lambert at Daventry, 1660; fled to Germany; arrested at Delft; executed in England.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

There's a book about Col. Okey:

"Colonel John Okey 1606-1662"

John Okey was an Anabaptist, London merchant, Parliamentary soldier, active in Parliamentarian politics, a regicide and an MP for Bedfordshire in 1658.
This book recounts his life against the backdrop of the Civil Wars and its aftermath. It draws on Okey’s letters to give a vivid first hand account of military campaigns.
After he and other colonels published "The Humble Petition of Several Colonels of the Army" in 1654, for which he was disciplined and lost his commission, he retired to his estates in Bedfordshire.
He lived in the Round House at Brogborough during the 1650s and his estates included the honour of Ampthill, the manor of Millbrook, Brogborough Park and Lodge and lands in Leighton Buzzard. During this period he was active in Bedfordshire affairs and as a Justice of the Peace. He may have been involved in the establishment of John Bunyan’s first Baptist church in Bedford.
After the Restoration he fled abroad, but was betrayed, arrested and returned to England where he was tried and executed as a regicide.
Three contemporary accounts of Okey’s speech at his trial are printed side by side, providing an interesting commentary on different methods of reporting – official, friendly and a newspaper account.

Ebook (EPDF) 9781800107236

January 1955

BUY $24.95 / £19.99

147 Pages

23.4 x 15.6 cm

Series: Publications Bedfordshire Hist Rec Soc

Series Vol. Number: 35
Imprint: Bedfordshire Historical Record Society…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

JSTOR has a lengthy article about Col. John Okey -- you need a subscription to see it all.

This is a nice follow-up to the above stories:…

XII. EXILE (pp. 130-139)…

"After the Restoration the estates which the regicides had purchased privately were granted to the Duke of York, who in this way came into possession of Barbers Barn, Col. Okey’s Hackney residence, and of a fourth part of the Lordship of Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire in which Okey had an interest.

"In 1663, the Duke of York by indenture gave up his right in the Barbers Barn property to Okey’s widow, Mary."

Thank you, James -- a nice touch.

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