“Dear Robin”: The correspondence between Oliver Cromwell and Robert Hammond

by Dr Miranda Malins

Synopsis by Serrie Meakins

Robert Hammond was the last senior military officer to resist the army coup in 1648. Dr Malins asserts that the subsequent correspondence between Oliver Cromwell and Robert Hammond opens a new window into Cromwell’s thoughts at this crucial time. Dr Malins examines Hammond’s actions as the King’s gaoler on the Isle of Wight, as well as considering Cromwell’s intentions in the 5 letters he wrote to Hammond during this period. This is an unusual and useful insight into Cromwell’s thoughts and motivations at this crucial period and useful for a broader understanding of what motivated Cromwell.

In the autumn of 1648, the senior leaders of the New Model Army became convinced that the trial and execution of Charles Stuart, that ‘man of blood’, was the only answer for a nation crippled by ‘a long, bloody and consuming war’.1 Having decided this, each man sat down in the latter part of November to write to colonel Robert Hammond, governor of the Isle of Wight and the king’s gaoler, to enlist his help. As a fellow officer who had been instrumental in the earlier politicisation of the army, the writers felt sure Hammond would prove loyal. They were, instead, to be bitterly disappointed. Failing to persuade Hammond of their cause, the army leaders had to forcibly remove him to enable their advance upon the king. The resulting purge of parliament and regicide are well known. The part played by Robert Hammond, the last senior officer to resist this military coup, is not.

The letter that Oliver Cromwell wrote to his close friend Robert Hammond on 25 November 1648 is widely held to be one of the most startling and revelatory of his career. Written shortly before the regicide, it outlines Cromwell’s justifications of military intervention, and hints, for the first time, at his conversion to the prospect of trying the king. This letter has been analysed in great detail by historians. Remarkably however, the man for whose eyes alone it was composed has been almost universally overlooked. Studying this letter from the perspective of Hammond, and in the context of his relationship with Cromwell, brings new insights into Cromwell’s thoughts and his involvement in the events of November 1648– January 1649. It also contributes to the recently identified ‘new perspective’ in Cromwellian studies provided through examining Cromwell’s colleagues.2 Hammond’s role in these events was utterly unique: throughout the twelve months he oversaw the king’s incarceration at Carisbrooke castle on the Isle of Wight, Hammond stood at the epicentre of negotiations between the king, parliament and the New Model Army. Respectful of the king, fiercely loyal to parliament but also closely bound to the army from his formative military career, Hammond suffered greatly at their divergence. His is a truly ‘walk on’ part in history through which we can observe many of the complexities underlying the English revolution.


Robert Hammond aroused strong feelings in his contemporaries. The Earl of Clarendon praised him for appearing to be an insurmountable obstacle to those who would have sought to kill the king quietly, observing that Hammond had ‘yet too much conscience to expose himself to that infamy’.3 Anthony Wood, drawing on the evidence of Thomas Herbert, an attendant of the King’s at Carisbrooke castle, maintained that ‘Hammond had all along managed his trust with sufficient circumspection and asperity; so as it continued him in the applause of most men in power’.4 To the royalist John Ashburnham, however, Hammond was a ‘detestable villain’ who had ill- treated and ultimately betrayed the King.5 Ashburnham’s descendant and editor vilified Hammond’s ‘chameleon-like passiveness and versatility’.6 Modern historians have taken up this mantle, albeit more mildly, with Ian Gentles speaking of Hammond’s ‘nervous wardenship’7 and Austin Woolrych labelling him ‘the King’s reluctant gaoler’.8 Hammond’s conflicting loyalties and evident unhappiness in his charge made him vulnerable to such accusations. Yet an analysis of his career and his correspondence reveals a man who was far more of an actor in these extraordinary events than has hitherto been realised.

Robert Hammond’s family was steeped in traditions of royal favour. His grandfather had been court physician to both James I and Prince Henry, and his cousin Sir William Temple later became a prominent diplomat and author under the Restoration. Robert’s uncle, Henry, was the renowned Laudian theologian and chaplain to Charles I who, in an odd twist of fate, later ministered to the King during his imprisonment on the Isle of Wight. With such a heritage, Hammond’s decision to join the parliamentarian army is a surprising one. In this he may have found encouragement from the other rebel in his family, his uncle, the parliamentarian officer and future regicide, Thomas Hammond. Certainly Hammond’s decision to join the army at the onset of the Irish rebellion in 1642 points to strong parliamentary convictions. His later correspondence and association with the men described as ‘royal independents’ suggest he held moderate parliamentary views, perhaps considering the king a destabilising force within the constitution.9

His military career was one of startling ascendancy. Having enlisted as a 21 year-old ensign, Hammond left the army in the summer of 1647 a colonel with an impressive military record and a reputation for bravery: ‘Thou hast naturally a valiant spirit’, Cromwell wrote in 1648.10 Hammond served as captain-lieutenant of the Earl of Essex’s bodyguard and was a banner-bearer at his funeral in 1646. Yet, as the war progressed, it was his growing relationship with Cromwell that became the most important of his career. The creation of the New Model Army propelled Hammond into Cromwell’s circle. Now commanding an infantry regiment, he fought closely alongside radical officers including Pride and Rainsborough, as Cromwell reported to parliament after the siege of Bristol: ‘Colonel Hammond did storm the Fort on that part which was inward; by which means Colonel Rainborowe and Colonel Hammond’s men entered the fort, and immediately put to the sword almost all in it, and as this was the place of most difficulty, so of most loss to us on that side, and of very great honour to the undertakers’.11 Cromwell may also have been involved in Hammond’s marriage to Mary, the sixth daughter of the parliamentarian John Hampden: reviewing their affinity, the Earl of Clarendon wrote that Hammond was ‘of nearest trust with Cromwell, having by his advice been married to a daughter of John Hampden, whose memory he always adored’.12 This marriage strengthened Hammond’s parliamentarian credentials and brought him into kinship with Cromwell.

These years at war formed in Hammond a deep respect for the army and his colleagues – a strong affection of his own for those ‘russet-coated captains’.13 From their later correspondence it is clear that Hammond and Cromwell developed an intimate friendship: writing to Lord Wharton in 1650, Cromwell recalled a figure ‘whom truly I love in the Lord with most entire affection’.14 Hammond’s military career also enlarged his political experience: having been an emissary to parliament, Hammond was nominated to the committee that negotiated with the parliamentary commissioners at Saffron Walden.15 His was not a voice clamouring for increased political power; instead Hammond’s focus remained on meeting the material grievances of the soldiery. William Clarke, secretary to the army’s general council, records Hammond as saying: ‘I find my officers and soldiers very willing’, but ‘unless they have satisfaction as to indemnity and arrears, I must needs say – when we are satisfied in them as we are in the point of conduct be so settled upon the conditions before mentioned – to engage themselves and the army that is to serve with them upon that service’.16 This political engagement culminated in Hammond’s presence alongside Henry Ireton, Rainsborough and Colonel Rich to present the officers’ Heads of Proposals to the king. His leading role in the army’s entrance onto the political landscape was plain for all to see when Hammond led the army’s march into London on 6 August 1647 and gave the third signature, after Fairfax and Cromwell, on its letter to the Lord Mayor.

Yet within a month Hammond had retired from the army. His motivation for this may perhaps be gleaned from his support for the Heads of Proposals which offered the most favourable terms ever presented to the king, envisaging a settlement returning to the constitution achieved with the reforms of the Long Parliament in 1640–1. This manifesto casts Hammond as a moderate constitutionalist parliamentarian, desiring a settlement accommodating the king, both Houses and the process of reform; his views much aligned with those of both constitutional royalists and royal independents. While prepared to champion his men’s calls for fair treatment, Hammond was undoubtedly uneasy at the army’s increasing radicalisation and desire for a more permanent role in the body politic. In search of respite, Hammond was appointed to the honourable yet insignificant post of governor of the Isle of Wight. Unbeknown to him, however, his new role would shortly acquire international strategic and political importance with the arrival of the king.


The king’s escape from Hampton Court and flight to the Isle of Wight on the night of 11 November 1647 has provided food for conspiracy theorists ever since. The reasons why Charles and three companions – John Ashburnham, John Berkley and William Legge – made for the Isle of Wight are not certain, but it is likely that they detected the potential of some royalist, or at least personal sympathy from the new governor. It is feasible that Ashburnham had mooted the idea to Charles because a few weeks earlier he had met and conversed with Hammond at Kingston upon Thames en route to his new post. Ashburnham recalled Hammond saying ‘he was going down to his Government, because he found the Army was resolved to break all promises with the King, and that he would have nothing to do with such perfidious actions’.17 On this basis, Ashburnham had ‘conceived good hopes of him’.18 Wood suggests another reason why the king may have hoped for a sympathetic welcome, maintaining that Hammond was introduced to Charles over the summer as a ‘penitent convert’ by his Uncle Henry, the king’s favourite chaplain.19 Although the veracity of this account is at best uncertain, it is highly plausible that Hammond seemed sympathetic to the king, and was charmed by him, like so many other parliamentarians after the war’s conclusion.

An alternative theory persisted in subsequent years – that the whole affair had been stage-managed by Cromwell. The evidence seemed cogent: the swift and unexpected nature of Hammond’s appointment which was strongly supported by the army leaders, a mere two months before Charles’ arrival; the king’s receipt of a letter from Cromwell warning him of the menacing attitude held by some Levellers towards him on the eve of his flight; the joy with which Cromwell learnt of Charles’ arrival on the Isle of Wight and the conviction with which he reassured parliament that Hammond was capable and trustworthy of being Charles’ gaoler.20 Such coincidences prompted Sir John Oglander to assert that ‘Hammond was made Commander of the Isle of Wight purposefully to be King Charles’ keeper’ and Andrew Marvell to immortalise the idea in rhyme:

And Hampton shows what part He had of wiser art.
Where, twining subtile fears with hope,
He wove a net of such a scope,
That Charles himself might chase
To Caresbrook’s narrow case,
That thence the royal actor borne
The tragic scaffold might adorn!21

Although Cromwell’s involvement in Charles’ flight may be plausible, the idea that he controlled the entire affair is less so: the plot involved too many uncertainties. Furthermore, Cromwell later poured scorn on Hammond’s decision to retire to the post, writing in his letter of 25 November 1648 to Hammond: ‘Dear Robin, our fleshly reasonings ensnare us … Was there not a little of this when Robert Hammond, through dissatisfaction too, desired retirement from the Army, and thought of quiet in the Isle of Wight?’22 Hammond was certainly perturbed by the king’s arrival. On learning of it from the king’s companions, he apparently turned very pale and began to tremble.23 ‘O gentlemen’, he is reported to have said, ‘you have undone me in bringing the King into this island … for what between my duty to the King, and gratitude to him upon this fresh obligation of confidence, and the discharge of my trust to the army, I shall be confounded’.24

Hammond’s unease continued throughout the twelve months that the king was interned under his care at Carisbrooke castle, as shown in his surviving correspondence. He exchanged regular letters with parliament as well as the army, through official channels and individual colleagues. Approximately forty letters addressed to Hammond and nineteen written by him survive and they provide a detailed picture of his custodianship. The ambiguous status of being at once his monarch’s subject, protector and gaoler was ‘a weighty business’25 which Hammond found ‘a burden insupportable’.26 He considered himself ‘engaged’ to his employers in ‘honour and honesty’ to ensure the king’s security and comfort.27 This was a challenging task necessitating more men, money and munitions than he had at his disposal.28 Furthermore, Hammond’s position was extremely dangerous. This is testified to in the many letters Hammond received claiming to reveal plots and conspiracies. Indeed, so convinced was the Derby House committee of its ‘sense of danger of the place’, it communicated these threats in cipher.29 On the anniversary of the king’s accession, on 27 March, an effigy of Hammond was dragged through the streets of London, drawn, quartered and burnt.30 The governor was now firmly in the spotlight, and had become the target of direct, physical hatred. That Hammond believed himself to be in danger is demonstrated by his decision on 2 June to compose instructions to his subordinate officers in the event that he was killed.31

Charles himself attempted to escape several times, only failing on 20 March because he became stuck while climbing through his window.32 This marked a low point in the relationship between Hammond and the king; returning from Newport to the news of the foiled escape ‘full of fury’, Hammond ‘locked up the gates, and doubled the guards, and went not to bed that night. In the morning, he commanded all his Majesty’s servants from him’.33 Generally, however, relations between the king and his gaoler were cordial. Soon after his arrival, Charles wrote on 23 November, ‘I am daily more and more satisfied with this governor’.34 Hammond sought to be helpful to his sovereign, often representing his wishes to parliament and the army, even as far as resisting their original orders for Charles’ companions’ banishment, accepting their parole instead until the king’s failed escape in March. He also took steps to enhance the king’s comfort and constructed a bowling green for his entertainment. Letters from informants on the Isle paint a picture of the two men’s frequent companionship, dining, walking and playing bowls together. It was commonplace for these spies to comment ‘all quiet and fair between his Majesty and the Governor’.35 Nevertheless, Hammond did suffer disillusionment with the king: he was privy to Charles’ negotiations with the Earl of Denbigh and was shocked to witness his politique methods.36 When challenged by the king over the discrepancy between his initial undertakings of loyalty and the king’s state of continued incarceration, Hammond did not shy away from reminding the king of his status and the consequences of ‘His Majesty acting by other counsels than those that stand for the good of the Kingdom’. ‘He was certain’, he added, that ‘his Majesty had found more from him than he could have expected before he came’.37


Hammond’s relations with the king caused tension in his friendships with Cromwell and the other army leaders, who sought throughout this period to remind him of the fealty he owed to them above all others. Writing on 21 November 1647, Ireton advised ‘dear Robin’ not ‘to trust so wholly to the affections of islanders, but take in soldiers’, indicating that the army leadership considered the governor to be under their instruction. Ireton was sympathetic to his friend’s heavy responsibility however, recommending him to God’s ‘direction and good pleasure … in the great charge and burden he hath brought upon thee, even in that place, where thou hadst, I believe, promised thyself nothing but ease and quiet.’38 Towards the end of December, most likely on the 25th or 26th, Cromwell wrote the first of a ‘vital sequence’ of five surviving letters to Hammond from this period.39 He wished Hammond ‘much comfort on thy great business, and the blessing of the Almighty upon thee’ and urged vigilance: ‘I wish great care to be taken. Truly I would have the castle well manned; you know how much lieth upon it.’40 Cromwell assumed a position almost of Hammond’s direct commander, recommending he dismiss Charles’ companions, while tempering his instructions with the soothing offer that, ‘if you would have any thing more done let your friends know your mind they are ready to assist and secure you.’ While this appears affectionate, when seen in the context of Cromwell’s later letters to Hammond, it becomes a natural precursor to the vehement language of coercion through loyalty that was to follow. John Morrill and Philip Baker see a ‘chilling menace’ in Cromwell’s next letter, informing Hammond of the Commons’ Vote of No Addresses to the King on 3 January 1648 and exhorting him to ‘search [any ‘juggling’ by the king] out and let us know’. They interpret his expression that the king’s flight and subsequent events were ‘a mighty providence’ as indicating Cromwell’s conversion to the necessity of a trial. In this case Cromwell’s desire that ‘we shall (I hope) instantly go upon the business in relation to [the king], tending to prevent danger’ acquires a more threatening meaning.41 Cromwell expressed a heavy confidence in his friend commenting, ‘Some of us think the King well with you … where can the King be better?’ His next letter, on 6 April 1648, tightened the ties of obligation, assuring Hammond that Parliament had increased his salary thanks to his friends’ efforts: ‘[your business in the House] was done with smoothness; your friends were not wanting to you’.42

Writing to Hammond in February, Fairfax struck a rather different note. In describing his own responsibilities, Fairfax echoed Hammond’s anxious weariness: ‘how great a burden the Parliament hath laid upon me’, he wrote.
43 Unlike those of his colleagues, Fairfax’s letter does not refer to God’s workings – he simply wished Hammond ‘all success in your great trust and charge’ – and contains a reverence for parliament and acknowledgement of Hammond’s responsibility to the House: ‘It will be necessary, that you hasten this business, seeing the Parliament expects a speedy and effectual observance of their command herein’. Despite Ireton and Cromwell’s overtures, Hammond seems to have shared Fairfax’s view of Parliament’s supremacy. This is demonstrated in the instructions he prepared in June for his subordinates in the event of his death. Here Hammond described the governorship as ‘my duty, according to the trust reposed in me by the Parliament’ and urged his colleagues to continue in this ‘until the Parliament shall please otherwise to determine the matter’. At no point did Hammond mention his responsibility to the army.44 In contrast, Ireton’s next letter on 9 July attempted to de-legitimise Parliament, describing a ‘rabble multitude and cavalierish party about London … which most of the members of Parliament (if not the whole) have gone under’.45 The threat these men posed had driven away ‘those faithful members of the Commons House, by whom under God the interest of Parliament and Kingdom has been hitherto carried or upheld’. With Parliament thus not Parliament at all, the implication was that Hammond should forget his proffered loyalty to that institution. It was to the banished ‘faithful members’ that he owed his position, and so to them and the army, which Ireton declared ‘is sensible of’ this situation, that he should look for authority. This letter provides the beginnings of the intellectual justification for Pride’s Purge.

Over the next few months, Hammond had an insider’s view of the negotiations at Newport and their effect upon the army. He was present each day of the negotiations and received a stream of correspondence from his army colleagues throughout. When he heard again from Ireton on 15 November 1648, it was to enlist his support for the Remonstrance and the letter was co-signed by Major Harrison, Colonels Desborough and Grosvenor.46 Desperate to convince Hammond to abandon his scruples against military intervention, the writers adopted the coercive language of mutual interest: ‘Our relation is so nigh upon the best account, that nothing can concern you or us, but we believe they are of a mutual concernment’. Having explained their interference with the Treaty of Newport, Hammond’s colleagues proffered ‘our most earnest request, that, as you tender the interest of this nation, of God’s people, or of any moral men, or as you tender the ending of England’s troubles, or desire, that justice and righteousness may take place, you would see to the securing of that person [the king] from escape’. Cromwell was also concerned about Hammond’s reaction to the army’s plans. On 6 November he urged him to ‘be honest still’ reassuring him that ‘thy friends, dear Robin, are in heart and in profession what they were, have not dissembled their principles at all’.47 Fairfax also wrote to Hammond with a summons, assuring him meanwhile of his awareness of ‘your great dissatisfaction, trouble, and burden, both in relation to your present employment, and some other things’.48 Hammond’s absence from his post was presented as temporary but his forcible removal a week later suggests otherwise.


The famous letter that Cromwell next wrote to Hammond on 25 November 1648 has received extensive analysis. In its lines, some historians have perceived the workings of a mind in turmoil struggling with the prospect of
regicide, while others have concluded that this letter contains Cromwell’s acceptance of the necessity of the king’s trial.49 Although differing in interpretation, all analyses of this letter overlook one of its most fundamental aspects – its recipient. The letter must be seen in the context of a dialogue rather than as a monologue. Cromwell’s immediate reason for writing was to respond to a recent letter received from Hammond which does not survive. Against this background, Cromwell’s motive was surely to answer the objections that Hammond had undoubtedly raised: ‘I find some trouble in your spirit’, Cromwell wrote, ‘occasioned first, not only by the continuance of your sad and heavy burden, as you call it, upon you, but by the dissatisfaction you take at the ways of some good men whom you love with your heart, who through this principle, That it is lawful for a lesser part, if in the right, to force (a numerical majority) etc’. Instead, Hammond should look to his own failings: ‘As to thy dissatisfaction with friends’ acting upon that supposed principle, I wonder not at that. If a man take not his own burden well, he shall hardly others’, especially if involved by so near a relation of love and Christian brotherhood as thou art’.

In Hammond’s dissatisfaction with his role, Cromwell saw an unwillingness to follow God’s manifest will: ‘call not your burden sad or heavy’, he wrote, because ‘if your Father laid it upon you, He intended neither’. Blaming Hammond’s ‘fleshly reasonings’ for his retirement to the Isle of Wight only for God to ‘find him out there’, Cromwell’s intimate sense of providential piety was exemplified by the simple instruction: ‘Dear Robin, beware of men, look up to the Lord’. Identifying the workings of providence that had directed Hammond’s own life, Cromwell urged him: ‘If thou wilt seek, seek to know the mind of God in all that chain of Providence, whereby God brought thee thither, and that person to thee; how God has ordered him, and affairs concerning him’. Beyond the entanglements of earthly reason, could not Hammond see ‘whether there be not some glorious and high meaning in all this, above what thou hast yet attained?’ Moving from providence to political theory, Cromwell posited the ethics of the clash between the civil authority of parliament and a ‘Christian brotherhood’ ascendant in military victory. Setting forth his argument he offers a tantalising glimpse of the content of Hammond’s previous letter: ‘You say: “God hath appointed authorities among the nations, to which active or passive authority is to be yielded. This resides in England in the Parliament”.’ Cromwell disagreed, however, asking: ‘Whether this Army be not a lawful power, called by God to oppose and fight against the King upon some stated grounds; and being in power to such ends, may not oppose one name of authority’. With the Treaty promising ‘the whole fruit of the war like to be frustrated’, the service of God and the godly demanded fidelity to the army and compliance with the Remonstrance, necessarily leading to the trial of the king ‘against whom the Lord hath witnessed’.

Much is made, rightly, of the timing of this letter, penned shortly before Pride’s Purge and the subsequent regicide. What is equally important, however, is the point at which it was received in Hammond’s life. He had received, and was deciding how to answer, Fairfax’s summons and the instructions of his emissary Colonel Ewer to arrest the king and relinquish him to the army. It was at this climactic moment when he had to choose finally and irrevocably to remain loyal to parliament or the army. The argument, maintained by many historians, that this letter conveys Cromwell’s uncertainty over the correct course, and marks the moment of his cautious decision on the purge of parliament and the regicide, therefore seems less tenable.50 Rather, this letter was written by Cromwell to persuade his great friend, and the man central to the success of the army’s coup, to agree with his already formed opinions: that while he did not desire the outright abolition of the monarchy, nonetheless the king needed to stand trial.51 This letter was not written as an indulgent exercise in self-deliberation but rather as a piece of advice to its audience of one. This is clear in its final sentiment: ‘This trouble I have been at, because my soul loves thee, and I would not have thee swerve, nor lose any glorious opportunity the Lord puts into thy hand’.

There is another crucial aspect of this letter of 25 November that has been largely overlooked yet casts it in a fundamentally altered light – its relationship to the strikingly similar letter that Ireton wrote to Hammond only three days earlier.52 Written ostensibly ‘for the love of a friend and brother’, it was a work of extreme coercion, packed with the language of guilt and of loyalty. The word ‘trust’ appears no fewer than twelve times, a term clearly meaningful for Hammond as he often used it himself. Ireton wrote that Hammond should not discharge his trust to ‘those carrying but the name of power, from which thou apprehendest it was committed to thee’ but instead ‘to those persons, by whom, and to those public ends and interests, for which, it was committed to thee’. These were not the formal guardians of a shrunken authority in the Commons, but those who had gathered real public, moral and even spiritual legitimacy in a time of crisis. Ireton struck at the right of Parliament not just in practice, but in theory, questioning ‘whether, so far as thou seemest to have the formality by way of confirmation from the Parliament, it were from any affection or trust of that sort or generation of men, which now, through accident, bear the sway and name?’ Englishmen must look instead ‘to some other higher and more public ends’. This was one and the same as the ‘glorious opportunity’ Cromwell’s God ‘puts into thy hand’53; namely, the chance for Hammond to serve God, the Saints and his friends by repaying their trust and relinquishing the king. Ireton presented Hammond’s choice with underlying menace:

I shall appeal farther to thy conscience, or but ingenuity, to determine, to which of these several persons, and according to which commands and expectations, thou art to exhibit and approve thy faithfulness in the trust … I hope, he will not give thee up to such delusion, as to follow an air of honour, and mere form and shadow of faithfulness, to the rejection or neglect of that, which is the reality and substance of both, as surely thou wouldst, if in the present case thou shouldst neither do the thing expected thyself, nor leave it to any other.


Both Cromwell and Ireton’s letters appealed to Hammond’s sense of loyalty and sought to convince him of the providential meaning of late events. Although varying in language and tone, both letters make more sense when studied in tandem, with Ireton’s being a direct and threatening version of Cromwell’s more subtle and affectionate approach. Viewed together, they suggest that Cromwell and Ireton were working much more closely together in these crucial days leading up to Pride’s Purge than historians have previously believed. Although a degree of cooperation between the two is accepted, Ireton is seen as the driving force behind the revolution at this stage with a more distant Cromwell remaining in Pontefract. As Cromwell’s missive was written to be a practical aid suggesting a dangerous course of action to one that he loved, it seems highly unlikely that he felt uncertainty in its principles and that he acted independently from Ireton. The similarity of the two letters is beyond the realm of coincidence, especially as they were written from opposite ends of the country. If they were working more closely together, it is also highly unlikely that Cromwell only accepted the argument for the trial of the king – so central to Ireton’s programme as early as September – on writing his letter to Hammond on 25 November. Both epistles conveyed one basic message to the unfortunate Hammond: remain loyal to the army and release the king to them, thereby fulfilling the ‘glorious opportunity’ destined for him by God.

This, ultimately, Hammond was unwilling to do. Instead he wrote to parliament, on 26 November, asking for advice and enclosing Fairfax’s message.54 Two days later, Hammond wrote again, detailing the dilemma he faced because ‘though I held myself obliged to obey the General’s commands in going to him, yet I had a trust upon me from the parliament, no way, as I conceived, relating to the General of army, which I must be faithful unto, to the utmost of my power’.55 Colonel Ewer insisted to Hammond that he was empowered to use force ‘to bring the King over the water’ to which Hammond answered ‘that I knew none who even had authority over me as a soldier but the General (except the Parliament)’ and that ‘I ought not to give obedience to any save to the Parliament alone, who had entrusted me, and only had power to do so’. Although under obedience to Fairfax as a serving officer, Hammond saw this obligation as entirely separate and subordinate to the responsibility he owed to parliament. This Hammond believed so firmly that he told Ewer that ‘if he, or any other, should so proceed to violate my instructions from the Parliament, whilst I continued so in trust, I held myself bound, in conscience, honour, and duty, to oppose them to my utmost’.

But Hammond was not able to resist. Aware of his imminent removal, on 27 November, he drafted instructions ordering his subordinate officers to ‘take the care of the person of the King, and this island, according to the annexed instructions from both Houses of Parliament’ until ‘my return, or that you receive other directions from the Parliament’.56 Meanwhile, Hammond exhorted them to ‘resist, and to your utmost oppose’, ‘if any person whatever, under what pretence soever, shall endeavour the removing of the King out of this island, unless by direct order of Parliament’. These he forwarded to parliament on his removal the following day, along with two letters composed that day from Carisbrooke and Farnham. On receiving these, parliament wrote informing Fairfax that his order to Colonel Ewer ‘is contrary to the Resolution of the Houses, and the instructions given to Colonel Hammond’ and that they ‘desire him to recall the said order’.57 Within a week, parliament was purged and the king, removed from the Isle of Wight shortly after Hammond, was put on trial.

Hammond, meanwhile, was an outcast, destined to play no further part in political events. His final thoughts, written to parliament on 28 November were that: ‘Whatever the event be, I can say, with the testimony of a good conscience, that in this whole weighty business, which hath now more than twelve months, been upon me, I have, as in the presence of God, faithfully and honestly discharged my trust to the best advantages of your services’58 Hammond’s friendship with Cromwell was irreparably damaged much to the sadness of both. Responding to Hammond’s suggestion to visit Cromwell in 1651, Cromwell sent ‘a thankful acknowledgement from your friends here, who retain in some measure their old principles, which are not unknown to you’. Nevertheless, Cromwell maintained that although Hammond had the ability ‘for the present dispensation’, ‘indeed I do not

think you fitted for the work until the Lord give you a heart to beg of him that he will accept you into his service’.59 Despite sharing family news, Hammond’s tone was supplicatory and distant, writing: ‘besides, my Lord, when I had the honour to know you well’. It is evident that Cromwell also suffered by their separation. In each of the three letters he wrote to Lord Wharton in 1650–1 he mentioned Hammond and his bitter sadness that they were no longer friends.60 In these letters Cromwell grouped Hammond with Wharton, and those other former political allies and friends who could not reconcile themselves to the regicide. He accused them of bowing to temptation and of ‘ensnaring yourselves with disputes’. This grieved him, and as the 1650s wore on, he expended increasing efforts attempting a political reconciliation with them. In 1654 he offered Hammond a post on the Irish Council following his selection as High Steward and Burgess in parliament for Reading. In August, Hammond crossed over to Ireland to take up his seat, but he never had the opportunity to complete his political rehabilitation, dying of fever two months later at the age of 33.


An examination of Robert Hammond’s life and his correspondence with Cromwell reveals a quite different man from that traditionally described as nervous, passive and suggestible. Instead Hammond emerges as active, able, conscientious and self-consciously honourable. In his role as governor of the Isle of Wight and the king’s guardian and gaoler, Hammond managed to balance all those who held expectations of him: he earned the respect of parliament, kept on good terms with the king, and maintained his friendship with Cromwell until the army’s coup, even leaving some residue of affection beyond that. Throughout his career he also proved his intelligence, realising in 1647 the possible consequences of the army’s rise to power and in November 1648 guessing the consequences of what the army leaders were planning. To the end, Hammond remained desperate to repay the trust laid upon him by parliament, the institution in which, in 1648 as in 1642, he chose to invest his hopes. In this and his other attitudes, Hammond proved himself the heir to his father-in-law, John Hampden.

These political opinions initially bound Hammond and Cromwell together, but ultimately drove them apart. Through their correspondence, Cromwell appears in a new light. Viewed in this context, the letter of 25 November 1648 suggests that Cromwell was convinced of the need for the king’s trial, and shows him to have been working more closely with Ireton and Pride.

Having decided on the necessity of the trial, weeks or perhaps even a few months earlier than some historians have argued, Cromwell and his allies managed the New Model Army’s assumption of power with great success. Hammond had given the last warning against this military power, and his stance was vindicated in Cromwell’s continued struggles to integrate the army into the constitution. For the Lord Protector, Robert Hammond represented how far he and the New Model Army had come, and how much they had had to sacrifice.

1 Richard Overton and William Walwyn, A Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens (1646) in The English Levellers, ed. A. Sharp (1998), p. 40.
2 Patrick Little ed. Oliver Cromwell: new perspectives (2009), Introduction.
3 Edward Hyde Earl of Clarendon, History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England begun in the year 1641, ed. W. Dunn Macray (1888), IV, Book XI, p. 226.
4 A. Wood, Athenae Oxonienses, II (1691), p. 762.
5 J. Ashburnham, A Narrative by John Ashburnham of his attendance on King Charles the First from Oxford to the Scottish army: and from Hampton-Court to the Isle of Wight, prefixed by anonymous Vindication, 2 volumes (1830), p. 187.
6 Anonymous, Vindication prefixing Ashburnham’s Narrative, pp. 329-30.
7 I. Gentles, The New Model Army in England, Ireland and Scotland 1645–1653 (1992), p. 234.
8 A. Woolrych, ‘Cromwell as a Soldier’, in J. Morrill ed. Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution (1990), p. 110.
9 See V. Pearl, ‘The ‘Royal Independents’ in the English Civil War’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Fifth Series, Vol 18 (1968) and M.
C. J. Malins, ‘“Catholic Projects”: Oliver Cromwell and the Royal Independents 1648–1653’ (unpublished MPhil. dissertation, University of Cambridge, 2007).
10 The Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, I, ed. W. C. Abbott & C. D. Crane (1937), p. 678.
11 Abbott & Crane, I, p. 376. NB. ‘Rainborowe’ refers to Colonel Rainsborough.
12 Clarendon, History, IV, p. 264.
13 Oliver Cromwell’s words in a letter to the Suffolk Committee (29 August 1643) in Abbott & Crane, I, p. 256.
14 Abbott & Crane, II, pp. 189-90.
15 Journal of the House of Commons (JHC) IV, pp. 276-8 (17 September 1645), 308-10 (15 October 1645).
16 The Clarke Papers: selections from the papers of W. Clarke, Secretary to the Council of the army, 1647-9, and to General Monck and the commanders of the army in Scotland, 1651–61 ed. C. H. Firth, 2 volumes (London 1891–4), vol I, p. 65.
17 Ashburnham, Narrative, p. 108.
18 J. Berkley, Memoirs of Sir John Berkley: containing an account of his negotiation
with Lieutenant General Cromwell, Commissary General Ireton and other officers of the army, for restoring King Charles the First to the exercise of the government of England
(1699), p. 48.
19 Wood, Athenae Oxonienses, II, p. 158, no. 174.
20 H. Cary, ed. Memorials of the great civil war in England from 1646 to 1652, I
(1842), pp. 349-50.
21 J. Oglander quoted in F. Bamford, A Royalist’s Notebook: the commonplace book of Sir John Oglander (1936), p. 127; Abbott & Crane, I, p. 554.
22 Abbott & Crane, I, p. 696.
23 Berkley, Memoirs, p. 57.
24 The Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow 1625-1672 ed. C. H. Firth (1894), I, p. 169; Berkley, p. 57.
25 Journal of the House of Lords, X, pp. 613-7 (30 November 1648).
26 British Library, Add. MS 19399, fo. 46 (letter from Robert Hammond to Speaker Lenthall, 2 December 1647).
27 Calendar of State Papers Domestic, Charles I, 1648–9, pp. 2-3.
28 Letters between Colonel Robert Hammond governor of the Isle and the Committee of Lords and Commons at Derby House, General Fairfax, Lieutenant-General Cromwell, Commissary General Ireton etc. relating to King Charles I while he was confined in Carisbrooke castle in that Island, [ed. T. Birch] (1764), p. 55.
29 Ibid, pp. 26-7, 66.
30 Gentles, The New Model Army, p. 238.
31 Letters between Colonel Robert Hammond, p. 64.
32 Jack D. Jones, The Royal Prisoner (1965), p. 69.
33 Berkley, Memoirs, p. 91.
34 Jones, The Royal Prisoner, p. 45.
35 J. Rushworth, Historical Collections: of private passages of State, weighty matters in Law, remarkable proceedings in five Parliaments, 8 volumes (1721–22), part IV, vol VII, pp. 986, 989, 1007 & 1060.
36 Berkely, Memoirs, pp. 89-90; See also Mark Kishlansky, ‘Mission Impossible: Charles I, Oliver Cromwell and the Regicide’, English Historical Review
, vol 125, issue no. 515 (2010), pp. 844-874 for a reassessment of this event.
37 Calendar of State Papers Domestic, Charles I, 1648–9, pp. 2-3.
38 Letters between Colonel Robert Hammond, p.19; throughout this
correspondence, Hammond’s desperation to be relieved of his responsibility continued unabated: Clarke, I, p. 420. Hammond expressed this desire to all parties, writing, probably to Fairfax, on 19 December: ‘I have often asked that if he (the King) be not thought safe here he may be removed, which is the thing most desirable to me.’
39 John Morrill and Philip Baker, ‘Oliver Cromwell, the Regicide and the sons of Zeruiah’, in J. Peacey, ed., The regicides and the execution of Charles I (2001) and reprinted in D. L. Smith, ed., Cromwell and the Interregnum: the essential readings (2003) p. 27; Abbott & Crane, I, p. 574; The attribution of the letter dated 6 November 1648 is currently in question, however, see below section IV.
40 Clarendon, History, X, p. 146.
41 Letters between Colonel Robert Hammond, p. 23; Morrill and Baker, ‘Oliver Cromwell, the Regicide and the sons of Zeruiah’, pp. 27-8.
42 Abbott & Crane, I, p. 594.
43 Letters between Colonel Robert Hammond, p. 31.
44 Ibid., p. 64.
45 Ibid., p. 78.
46 D. Underdown, Pride’s Purge (1971), p. 120; Letters between Colonel Robert Hammond, p. 87.
47 I will not dwell on the letter of 6 November 1648 usually attributed to
Cromwell as this is currently under review in the project to produce a new critical edition of Cromwell’s letters and speeches for Oxford University Press, with John Morrill as general editor; Abbott & Crane, I,
p. 676; see also Firth, The Clarke Papers, vol II (1894), footnote pp. 49-50 for an explanation of his attribution of this letter.
48 Cary, Memorials, II, pp. 59-60.
49 See Morrill and Baker, ‘Oliver Cromwell, the Regicide and the sons of Zeruiah’, for a thorough examination of this question.
50 See A. Woolrych, Britain in Revolution (2002), pp. 425-6; J. C. Davis, Oliver
Cromwell (2001), pp. 126, 179; Underdown, Pride’s Purge, p. 119.
51 In my reading of this text I agree with that given by Morrill and Baker in
Oliver Cromwell, the Regicide and the sons of Zeruiah’.
52 Letters between Colonel Robert Hammond, p. 95.
53 Abbott & Crane, I, pp. 696-9.
54 Letters between Colonel Robert Hammond, p. 61.
55 Cary, Memorials, II, p. 66.
56 Journal of the House of Lords X, pp. 613-7 (30 November 1648).
57 JHC VI, p. 91 (29 November 1648).
58 JHL X, pp. 613-7 (30 November 1648).
59 Original Letters and Papers of State addressed to Oliver Cromwell… found among
the Political Collections of John Milton
, collected by J. Nickolls (1743), p. 75.
60 Abbott & Crane, II, pp. 189-90, 328-9, 453.

Dr Miranda Malins completed a PhD on the advocates of Cromwellian kingship at the University of Cambridge in 2010 and is now training to be a solicitor.

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