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John Rushworth

John Rushworth (c. 1612 – 12 May 1690) was an English lawyer, historian and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1657 and 1685. He compiled a series of works covering the English Civil Wars throughout the 17th century called Historical Collections and also known as the Rushworth Papers.

Early life

Rushworth was born at Acklington Park in Warkworth, Northumberland, the son of Lawrence Rushworth and his wife Margaret Cuthbert, daughter of the vicar of Carnaby in Yorkshire. His father was an extensive landowner and Justice of the Peace at Heath, Yorkshire although he was in prison for debt in 1629. Rushworth was a solicitor at Berwick on Tweed from 1638 and entered Lincoln's Inn in 1640. He also began work as clerk assistant at the House of Commons in 1640: assisting Henry Elsynge, Clerk of the House of Commons, he was the first recorded individual to hold the office.[1]

Civil Wars

Rushworth followed the lead of John Pym, who, in a speech in the House of Commons on 17 April 1640, attacked the King and his government for problems within the country. After the outbreak of the Civil War, Rushworth as an "embedded journalist" followed the battles of Edge Hill (1642), Newbury (1643 and 1644), Marston Moor (1644) and Naseby (1645). In 1645 he became secretary to Thomas Fairfax, commander-in-chief of the New Model Army.[1] When Charles I was captured, Rushworth began to record details of events leading up to, during and following the trial and execution of the King. He reported the Battle of Preston (1648) and the Battle of Worcester (1651).

Legal authority

Following the execution of Charles I in 1649, Rushworth became personal secretary to Oliver Cromwell. He began drafting plans for the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords, and the establishment of an English Republic under the leadership of Cromwell. When Cromwell became Lord Protector in 1653, Rushworth was promoted to Registrar of the Court of Admiralty. In 1657 he was elected Member of Parliament for Berwick in the Second Protectorate Parliament.[1] As a member of the Cromwellian government he enjoyed the friendships of John Milton (who served Cromwell as the official State Censor); John Owen; John Bunyan and many other well known people of that period.

Death of Cromwell and Restoration

When Oliver Cromwell died on 3 September 1658, his son Richard Cromwell became Lord Protector. Rushworth was re-elected MP for Berwick in the Third Protectorate Parliament.[1] He completed his written histories of the period and dedicated them to Richard Cromwell. As Richard Cromwell was unable to continue the office established by his father as Lord Protector, by 1660 real power had shifted to the Council of State and Rushworth became Secretary of the council. He was re-elected MP for Bewick in the Convention Parliament in 1660.[1] Negotiations were then undertaken with the son of Charles I to return to England as its king, subject to the rule of Parliament. When Charles II took to the throne and restored the monarchy, Rushworth was reassigned to the office of Treasury Solicitor. On 7 June 1660 he presented to the Privy Council certain volumes of its records, which he claimed to have preserved from plunder "during the late unhappy times", and received the king's thanks for their restoration.[2]

Reports were spread, however, of Rushworth's complicity in the late king's death, and he was called before the lords to give an account of the deliberations of the regicides, but professed to know nothing except by hearsay.[3] Rushworth was not re-elected to the parliament of 1661, but continued to act as agent for the town of Berwick, although complaints were made that the king could look for little obedience so long as such men were agents for corporations.[4]

Later years

In September 1667, when Sir Orlando Bridgeman was made lord-keeper, he appointed Rushworth his secretary.[5] The colony of Massachusetts also employed him as its agent at a salary of twelve guineas a year and his expenses, but it was scoffingly said in 1674 that all he had done for the colony was 'not worth a rush'.[6]

Rushworth was elected MP for Berwick again in March 1679 for the First Exclusion Parliament and in October 1679 for the Second Exclusion Parliament. He was returned again in March 1681, Rushworth and seems to have supported the Whig leaders.[1] Though he had held lucrative posts and had inherited an estate from his cousin, Sir Richard Tempest, Rushworth's affairs were greatly embarrassed.[7] He spent the last six years of his life in the King's Bench Prison in Southwark, "where, being reduced to his second childship, for his memory was quite decayed by taking too much brandy to keep up his spirits, he quietly gave up the ghost in his lodging in a certain alley there, called Rules Court, on 12 May 1690".[8] He was buried in St. George's Church, Southwark. Wood states that Rushworth died at the age of eighty-three, but in a letter written in 1675 Rushworth describes himself as sixty-three at that date.[9]


While Rushworth was remembered as a person, his writings found favour in America where they served as a source of inspiration for Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson bought a copy of Rushworth's Historical Collections for use in his own library and he often quoted from them. Rushworth was a contemporary of John Lilburne whose writings had a profound impact on the history of the English Civil Wars of the 17th century. Although his senior, he also shared much in common with Oliver Cromwell (born 1599), because they were evangelical Christians who believed that the Church of England should undergo a total reformation, contrary to the wishes of King Charles I. His views of Charles I as a king who had declared war on his own people, were later echoed in words by Thomas Jefferson and others when writing about the reign of George III in the Declaration of Independence.


Rushworth married Hannah Widdrington, daughter of Lewis Widdrington, and sister of Sir Thomas Widdrington, who later became the Speaker of the House of Commons. On his death Rushworth left four daughters:

  1. Hannah, married, February 1664, Sir Francis Fane of Fulbeck, Lincolnshire[10]
  2. Rebecca, married, August 1667, Robert Blaney of Kinsham, Herefordshire[11]
  3. Margaret[12]
  4. Katherine, whose letter to the Duke of Newcastle on her father's death is printed in the Report on the Duke of Portland's Manuscripts[13]


In 1890, King's Bench Prison in Rule's Court was demolished. Rushworth School was then built on the site and the court was renamed Rushworth Street. A portrait of Rushworth, by R. White, is prefixed to the third part of his Historical Collections.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Hampson 1983.
  2. ^ Firth 1897, p. 421 cites: Kennet, Register, p. 176 ; Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. p. 231.
  3. ^ Firth 1897, p. 421 cites: Autobiography of Alice Thornton, Surtees Society, 1875, p. 347; Lords Journals, xi. 104.
  4. ^ Firth 1897, p. 421 cites: Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1667, pp. 188, 290.
  5. ^ Firth 1897, p. 421 cites: Ludlow, Memoirs, ed. 1894, ii. 495.
  6. ^ Firth 1897, p. 421 cites: Hutchinson Papers, Prince Society, ii. 174, 183, 206.
  7. ^ Firth 1897, p. 421 cites: Tempest's will, dated 14 Nov. 1657, is printed by the Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Record Ser. ix. 105.
  8. ^ Firth, vol 49, p. 421. quotes: Wood
  9. ^ Firth 1897, p. 421 cites: Report on the Duke of Portland's Manuscripts, ii. 151.
  10. ^ Firth 1897, p. 421 cites: Harleian Society Publications, vol. 24, p. 77.
  11. ^ Firth 1897, p. 421 cites: Harleian Society Publications, vol. 23, p. 138.
  12. ^ Firth 1897, p. 421 cites: Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. vol. 11, p. 263.
  13. ^ Firth 1897, p. 421 cites: Report on the Duke of Portland's Manuscripts, vol. 2, p. 164.
  14. ^ Firth 1897, p. 421.



Further reading

8 Annotations

First Reading

Wim van der Meij  •  Link

He was a clerk assistant to the House of Commons and author of the "Historical Collections"; ob. 1690.

Terry F  •  Link

JOHN RUSHWORTH (c. 1612 - 1690)
'Historical John' as Carlyle called him, was born at Acklington Park, Warkworth. His great claim to fame lies in the 8 volumes of Historical Collections (1659-70), compiled from shorthand notes taken down at actual meetings of the Star Chamber, Exchequer Chamber and Parliament, covering the period down to 1648. Rushworth had been appointed assistant clerk to the Long Parliament in 1640, and was there when King Charles came to arrest the five members; he made notes of the king's speech, which Charles ordered to be published. Rushworth similarly recorded the trial of Strafford.
Rushworth was often employed as messenger between king and parliament and was appointed secretary to Sir Thomas Fairfax (1645-48). He wrote an eye-witness account of the Battle of Naseby, and was later secretary to Cromwell for a short time. He sat several times as parliamentary representative for Berwick and was also a freeman of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
The Historical Collections are regarded as the most valuable source available for the study of the Civil War, but Rushworth's influence was also present during the constitutional arguments that raged between the American colonists and the British government in the period leading up to the American War of Independence. 'What we did,' said Thomas Jefferson, 'was with the help of Rushworth, whom we rummaged over for revolutionary precedents of those days.'
According to the Harleian MS. 7524 (says Isaac D'Israeli in his Curiosities of Literature), when Rushworth presented the king with several of the Privy Council's books, which he had preserved from ruin, he received for his only reward the thanks of his majesty.
John Aubrey records seeing Rushworth in 1689: 'He hath quite lost his memory with drinking Brandy... His landlady wiped his nose like a child. He was about 83, onwards to 84. He had forgot his children before he died.…

Peter Jones  •  Link

Presently Collecting a set of Rushworth's Historical Collections. The Following is a description of Books in my Collection plus some notes from the Internet. Looking for the Fourth and Last Part in two vols., 1701.
Rushworth Collection

The first great collection of English state papers is that of John Rushworth, who was appointed clerk-assistant to the House of Commons in April, 1640, and secretary to the council of war in 1645. Whatever may have been their political bias, his labours, if only because of their priority to all others in the same field in England, would deserve the lasting gratitude of all students of English history. But his Collections of Private Passages of State, Weighty Matters in Law, and Remarkable Proceedings in Five Parliaments, of which the first volume, extending from 1618 to 1629, was published in the year before the restoration, were no mere tentative beginning. The author's design was both comprehensive and deeply thought out. Being desirous of furnishing a faithful account of the contention between the advocates of prerogative and those of liberty which "gave the Alarm to a Civil War," and for which he was in possession of an unusual abundance of materials, he resolved to devote his attention mainly, though not exclusively, to the domestic struggle, and, since, with regard to this, he found forgery and fiction rampant in the unbridled pamphlet literature of the age, to make the documents on which his narrative was based the substantial part of his work. Thus, in this and the following seven volumes of this edition (Part One, 1 Vol; 1659, reprint 1682, Part Two in 2 Vols 1680, Part Three in 2 Vols 1692, Part Four in 2 Vols 1701, Tryall of Strafford 1680), he set the first example of pragmatic history to be found in our literature, and reviewed, under the searchlight of first-hand evidence, a period whose records ran the risk of being permanently distorted by a partisanship that cleft the very depths of the national life.

His "Historical Collections" were highly extolled by Coke, Rapin, Oldmixon, and other favourers of Puritanism: while Tory writers have condemned them as extremely partial; and John Nalson, LL. D. by the command of king Charles II. published a history to bring them into discredit. The writers of the "Parliamentary History" have also framed a long list of his mistakes, which, however, they attribute rather to the negligence and ignorance of transcribers, than to wilful misrepresentations. No doubt, Rushworth's partialities and personal attachments sometimes entered into his work. Besides, the first part underwent various alterations under the revisal of Whitelock at the request of Oliver Cromwell.

RUSHWORTH, John Historical Collections,Of Private Passages of State, Weighty Matters in Law, Remarkable Proceedings in Five Parliaments, Beginning The Sixteenth Year of King James, Anno 1618, And ending the Fifth Year of King Charls, Anno 1629, Digested in Order of Time, And now Published by John Rushworth of Lincolns-Inn, Esq. London, Printed by J.A. for Robert Boulter at the Turks-head in Cornhill, 1682. 3 plates; A Frontispiece of King James I, A portrait of King Charles I and a folding engraved map of England, that features 16 historical event panels and a large birds eye view of the battle of Naseby. Preface, Index, 691pp., Appendix, 57pp. Complete. Originally published in 1659, this is the unstated Second Edition, and the last book published during Rushworth's lifetime. It contains a newly engraved fold out map. Index with some worming. In original full calf, cracked, dried, holding by the cords.

RUSHWORTH, John Historical Collections. The Second Part. Containing the Principal Matters Which Happened from the Dissolution of the Parliament, 10th March 4. Car. I. 1628/9 Until the Summoning of another Parliament which met at Westminster April 13. 1640. With an Account of the Proceedings of That Parliament; and the Transactions and Affairs from that Time, until the meeting of Another Parliament, November the 3d following. With some Remarkable Passages therin during the first six months. Impartially related and disposed in Annals. Setting forth only Matters of fact in Order of Time, Without Observation or Reflection. By John Rushworth of Lincolns-Inn, Esq. London: Printed by J.D. for John Wright at the Crown at Ludgate-hill, and Richard Chiswell at the Rose and Crown in St. Paul's Church-yard, 1680. First Edition. Two Volumes. With four engraved portrait plates. Vol 1, with three engraved portrait plates including the frontis portrait of Charles I by R. White, portrait of William Laud by R. White and portrait of James Duke of Hamilton, viii, 884pp., Vol 2, with one engraved portrait of Sr Thomas Wentworth Kt. Earle of Strafforde by R. White, pages 885 - 1388, appendix 315pp, followed by an alphabetical table of principal matters, 16pp. Vol 2 was issued without a separate title page but does feature a illustrated Initial at the start of p885.
Complete. In original full calf, boards dried and cracked, holding by the cords.

RUSHWORTH, John Historical Collections. The Third Part; in Two Volumes. Containing the Principal Matters Which Happened from the Meeting of the Parliament, November the 3d. 1640. To the End of the Year 1644. Wherein is a particular Account of the Rise and progress of the Civil War to that period: Impartially related. Setting forth only Matters of fact in Order of Time, Without Observation or Reflection. With Alphabetical Tables. By John Rushworth late of Lincolns-Inn, Esq;. Fitted for the Press in his Life-time. Licensed, Novemb. 11, 1691. London: Printed for Richard Chiswell and Thomas Cockerill, at the Rose and Crown in St. Paul's Church-yard, and at the Three Legs over-against the Stocks-Market. MDCXCII (1692) Vol I, Title page, To the Reader [4], 788p, The Table [12], Vol II: Title page, 988p., The Table [11] Last page of table has list of published books that carries over to reverse. Vol I in fine clean crisp condition. Vol II moderate water soiling especially severe towards end of book. Next to last page of table missing piece out of centre of page. Last page of table and book list has loss of text with crude paper repairs.

RUSHWORTH, John The Tryal of Thomas Earl of Strafford, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Upon Impeachment of High Treason by the Commons then Assembled in Parliament, in the Name of Themselves and All the Commons in England: Begun in Westminster hall the 22th of March 1640 And continued before Judgment was Given until the 10th of May 1641. Shewing the form of Parliamentary proceedings for an impeachment of Treason. To which is added a Short account of Some Other Matters of Fact Transacted in Both Houses of Parliament, Precedent, Concomitant and Subsequent to the said Tryal. With some Special Arguments in Law relating to a Bill of Attainder. Faithfully Collected and Impartially Published , Without Observation or Reflection, by John Rushworth of Lincolnes-Inn, Esq Printed for John Wright at the Crown on Ludgate-Hill, and Richard Chiswell at the Rose and Crown in St. Paul's Church-yard, 1680. First Edition. Frontis portrait of Sr Thomas Wentworth Kt. Earle of Strafforde by R. White. [vii], 786pp including The Table p779 - p786. Small Folio. 30 x 20.5cm. Recent quarter leather with marbled boards. Raised bands, blind ruled, blind stamped decorations to panels, original 17th century label. Contents clean.

Thomas Wentworth (1593-1641), a long time opponent of Parliament, was called back to England from Ireland where he was Charles I's lord deputy and was made the Earl of Strafford. Known in Ireland as 'Black Tom Tyrant,' he successfully and ruthlessly suppressed the Irish. The English and Scots feared the same. It was Wentworth who convinced the King to call Parliament in 1640 (the Short Parliament) in order to acquire money to subdue the Scots. But Parliament rejected the request and so was ended after only three weeks in session. Strafford along with Laud was arrested in November by the Long Parliament. He was accused of high treason. No proof was forthcoming and Strafford defended himself magnificently. So Parliament passed an act of attainder, which did not require proof of guilt, but simply condemned the accused to death. Charles, out of fear for his life, signed the bill. On the day of execution 200,000 watched as Strafford was beheaded on Tower Hill.

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

John Rushworth was bred to the law, but neglected that profession, and applied himself with great assiduity to state affairs. He was not only an eye and ear-witness, but a considerable agent in some of the most important transactions during the civil war. His "Historical Collections" are a work of great labour: but he did not only employ his industry to collect facts, but also to conceal and disguise them. His books are very useful to the readers, as well as writers of our history; but they must be read with extreme caution. It is an unhappy circumstance for an historian to write under the influence of such as cannot bear the truth. Rushworth's compilation was carried on under the eye, and submitted to the correction, of Cromwell. Hence it is, that he has omitted whatever could give offence, and inserted whatever he thought would be agreeable to his patron. Ob. 12 May, 1690.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1775.

Bill  •  Link

RUSHWORTH, JOHN (1612?-1690), historian ; M.A. Queen's College, Oxford, 1649; barrister, Lincoln's Inn, 1647; clerk-assistant to House of Commons, 1640; secretary to general and council of war on organisation of new model army; accompanied Fairfax in campaigns of 1645, 1646, and 1648; secretary to Cromwell, 1650; member of committee for reformation of law, 1652; M.P., Berwick, 1657, 1659, 1660, 1679, and 1681; secretary to council of state, 1660; secretary to lord keeper, 1667; spent last six years of life in king's bench prison. He wrote 'Historical Collections' (to year 1648), which was issued between 1659 and 1701 (8 vols.)
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

Bill  •  Link

RUSHWORTH (John), an English gentleman, and author of useful "Historical Collections," was of an ancient family, and born in Northumberland about 1607. He was a student in the university of Oxford; but left it soon, and entered himself of Lincoln's Inn, where he became a barrister. But, his humour leading him more to state-affairs than the common law, he began early to take, in characters or shorthand, speeches and passages at conferences in parliament, and from the king's own mouth what he spake to both houses; and was upon the stage continually an eye and ear witness of the greatest transactions. He also personally attended and observed all occurrences of moment, during eleven years interval of parliament from 1630 to 1640, in the star-chamber, court of honour, and exchequer-chamber, when all the judges of England met there upon extraordinary cases; and at the council-table, when great causes were tried before the king and council. And, when matters were agitated at a great distance, he was there also; and went on purpose out of curiosity to see and observe what was doing at the camp at Berwic, at the sight at Newborn, at the treaty of Rippon, and at the great council at York.
In 1640, he was chosen an assistant to Henry Elsynge, esq, clerk of the house of commons; by which means he became acquainted with the debates in the house, and privy to their proceedings. The house reposed such confidence in him, that they entrusted him with their weightiest affairs; particularly, in conveying messages and addresses to the king while at York: between which place and London, though 150 computed miles, be is said to have ridden frequently in twenty-four hours. In 1643, he took the covenant; and when Sir Thomas Fairfax, who was his near relation, was appointed general of the parliament forces, he was made his secretary; in which office he did great services to his master. In 1649, attending lord Fairfax to Oxford, he was created master of arts, as a member of Queen's college; and at the same time was made one of the delegates, to take into consideration the affairs depending between the citizens of Oxford and the members of that university. Upon lord Fairfax's laying down his commission of general, Rushworth went and resided for some time in Lincoln's Inn, and, being in much esteem with the prevailing powers, was appointed one of the committee, in Jan. 1651-2, to consult about the reformation of the common law. In 1658, he was chosen one of the burgesses for Berwic upon Tweed, to serve in the protector Richard's parliament: and was again chosen for the same place in the healing parliament, which met April 25, 1660.
After the Restoration, he presented to the king several of the privy-council's books, which he had preserved from ruin during the late distractions; but does not appear to have received any other reward than thanks ...
---A New and General Biographical Dictionary. W. Tooke, 1798.

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


  • Nov