A brief Relation of the late Dangerous Plot for the Destruction of his Highness's person

Pages 483-488

Diary of Thomas Burton Esq: Volume 2, April 1657 - February 1658. Originally published by H Colburn, London, 1828.

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No. 1. (Vol. i. pp. 356, 368.)

A Brief Relation of the late Dangerous Plot for the Destruction of his Highness's person.

The common enemy having failed in all their former plots and conspiracies, for the ruin of his Highness (fn. 1) and the Government, resolved, (it seems) at last, to bring about their intended mischief, by a vigorous and bloody attempt upon his person. For this end and purpose, they sought out, and gained to themselves instruments in all points fitted for the execution of their inhuman cruelty. The principal man employed, was a notable desperate fellow, named Sindercomb, one who, heretofore, had been a quarter-master under Sir John Reynolds, (fn. 2) in the army, and was about two years ago cashiered by General Monk, among others in Scotland. As assistant to him in this wickedness, he associated to himself one Cecil; and many others were engaged in the business, whom, we hope, time will discover. In the mean time only these two persons are in custody.

For the carrying on their work, they held correspondence with some in Flanders, received directions thence from time to time, and for their encouragement, Don Alonzo, the late ambassador of Spain, in England, returned them over sums of money, with which they were enabled to proceed. The most likely way, (as they conceived) to accomplish the devilish purpose, was to contrive some means how to dispatch his Highness, as he should be going to Hampton Court; (fn. 3) and that they might do it with security to themselves, by having an opportunity to escape, after the fact committed, they took a house at Hammersmith, which house hath belonging to it a little banquetting-room, which stands upon the road, at the said town, in a narrow dirty place of passage, where coaches used to go but softly, and that room they meant to make use of, by planting an engine in it, which, being discharged, would have, upon occasion, torn away coach and person in it that should pass by, and they had such an engine preparing. And because it was necessary for them to have information of the times when his Highness should go abroad to take the air, and the places whither, Sindercomb cast about in his mind, which way to draw in some one person near his Highness, to be a partaker in the design, and acquaint them in what part of the coach his Highness should sit, going to Hampton Court, that so they might be sure not to miss him; and when the execrable deed should have been executed, they intended to have made an escape.

For this purpose they bought up divers of the fleetest horses about London, which they kept in that house at Hammersmith; and for conveuiency of escaping, the house they had hired stood down at some distance from that road, and had an outlet to another road. The person whom they made sure (as they thought) to be their informer, touching the out-goings of his Highness, was one of the life guard, who had formerly been an acquaintance of Sindercomb in the army, and they gave him ten pounds in money at first to engage him, adding thereto a promise of fifteen hundred pounds. This was one way that they resolved on, by making use of the place at Hammersmith.

But they were not negligent in seeking other opportunities besides, and therefore (as occasion offered many times) they were wont to thrust themselves in among those that rode abroad with his Highness. Once they thought to have done their work as his Highness was taking the air in Hyde-park; and, to make way for their escape, they had, in one place, filed off the hinges of the gates, and rode about with the train attending his Highness, with intent then to have given him a fatal charge, if he had chanced to have galloped out, at any distance from the company.

After several attendances of this nature, and pryings up and down, (having recourse also many times to Whitehall) and finding no occasion as yet to favour their purpose; thereupon they resolved to give their beyond sea correspondent a proof of their resolution, by firing of Whitehall. To this end they cut a hole in one of the doors of the chapel, and so unbolting it, they, on the eighth of this month, went in and placed the materials for firing, which were discovered about nine o'clock that night; for in one of the seats was found upon the floor, a basket filled with a strange composition of combustible stuff, and two lighted matches, aptly placed, which matches had been rubbed over with gunpowder, on purpose to keep them surely burning, and by the length of them, it was conceived they would have given fire to the basket about one o'clock in the morning. The basket being removed, and trial made of some part of the ingredients, it appeared to be most active flaming stuff.*

The next day the two persons being apprehended, they were found to have screwed pistols, which, upon trial, appear notable instruments to do execution at a distance more than ordinary; and they had also a strange sort of long bullets, in the nature of slugs, contrived on purpose to rend and tear.

These things are made manifest, not only by many particulars of discovery, but by the confession also of one of the parties, viz. Cecil, who hath cast himself upon the good grace and mercy of his Highness.

What other parties of men have been consenting in this treasonable conspiracy, and what other concurring design was to have been put in execution, in case they had fired the house, we hope that God will, in his good time, bring to light. In the mean space, it is to be observed from hence, how restless the enemies are on the other side of the water, to disturb the peace of the nation; and that, for the compassing of their ends, they count it the more expeditious way to ruin the good people, if they could first destroy his Highness's person, whom God preserve. (fn. 4)

A Narrative touching Colonel Edward Sexby, who lately died a Prisoner in the Tower: dated

"Tower of London, Jan. 20, 1657–8."

The 12th of October, 1657, being well come to himself, and having sent for the Lieutenant, he was so ingenuous as to confess in part, saying unto him:

"Sir John, I sent to you, to tell you, that I am guilty of the whole business of Sindercomb, as to the design of killing the Lord Protector, &c. and to that purpose, I furnished Sindercomb with money, and also with arms, and tied him to an engagement, that he should not reveal the design." And further, he said: "The letters they have of mine, they could not prove them to be mine but by my own confession, which I now confess and acknowledge that they are mine, and that I was with Charles Stuart, (fn. 5) and acquainted him that I was an enemy to the Lord Protector; and I also declare, that I received a large sum of money from the Spaniard, to carry on my said design, and to make what confusion I could in England, by endeavouring the killing of the Lord Protector, and by what other ways I had in design. And to the end, the better to effect it, I came into England in a disguised habit, and was the principal in putting on others in the said design."

Many other like passages were spoken by him, in presence of many credible witnesses; and within two days after, in the presence of Mr. Caryl, (fn. 6) minister, and others, he did acknowledge the former confession to be truth. And then he again confessed, that he was the only man that put on Sindercomb to kill the Lord Protector, and that the book called, "Killing No Murder," (fn. 7) he owned; and said, he was still of that judgment; yet said, it was both foolishly and knavishly done in that book, to charge the Lieutenant of the Tower, touching Sindercomb's death. (fn. 8)

The 13th of this instant, January, having said, "Lord have mercy upon me, I am very sick!" about five of the clock, he breathed out his last, and died. (fn. 9)


  • 1. "It appears," says Bishop Warburton, (on Clarendon,) " by Thurloe's Papers, that the royal family did project and encourage Cromwell's assassination." History of the Rebellion, (1826,) vii. 640.
  • 2. See supra, pp. 74, 115, notes.
  • 3. One of the palaces retained "for the public use of the Commonwealth," and excepted from "the sale of crown lands," in the Act "July 16, 1649." See Scobell (1658,) part ii. p. 63; Parl. Hist. (1763,) xix. 137. Ludlow "with others of the Parliament," in 1650, was "with the Lord Fairfax at Hampton Court when the first news of the battle of Dunbar was brought to London." Memoirs, p. 329. See vol. i. p. cxxi. note. "Captain Titus," (under the name of Jennings,) thus writes from "Antwerp, Feb. 3, 56–7," to "Sir Edward Hyde: "As far as I can see into the matter, this powder plot required too much time, too many persons, and was subject to too many accidents, to be carried on with any reasonable hopes that it should succeed." See "Clarendon State Papers," iii. 321.
  • 4. Mercurius Politicus, No. 345, (Jan. 15, to 22, 1656–7;) Public Intelligencer, No. 67.
  • 5. To whom, according to Lord Clarendon, he was introduced by Don Alonzo de Cardinas, (History, iii. 639.) From the following passage in a letter of "Captain Titus. Antwerp, Jan. 27, 1657," to "Sir Edward Hyde," it appears that there was an earlier project for assassinating the Protector. (See vol. i. pp. 354, 355.) "Never was any thing more unhappily prevented than the killing Cromwell, the first day of the Parliament; and I find the relation Sexby made of that business was true, for Major Wood was a spectator. All things were as well prepared as was imaginable, and Major-general Browne [See vol. iv. p. 424, ad fin] resolved, had it taken effect, to engage; since that time, those that were to do it have grown cold, and could never agree of the way; but Major Wood is very confident, that had not Sexby come away, the business had been done long since, and I cannot but be of the same opinion. However, there is yet no disorder in the affair, and Sexby is resolved to prosecute it, and speedily to put things to a trial; and to that purpose he is preparing to go suddenly for England." See "Clarendon State Papers," (1786,) iii. 321.
  • 6. A voluminous commentator On the Book of Job. Hence it became a saying, that "poor Job made a rich Caryl."
  • 7. See supra, p. 312, ad fin. vol. iii. p. 129, note†. "Advertisement, Dec. 31, 1657. 'Killing is Murder,' or an exercitation concerning a book entituled 'Killing no Murder.' By Michael Hawkes of the Inner Temple, Gent." Mercurius Politicus, No. 398, p. 220.
  • 8. Colonel Sexby must here have referred to the conclusion of the following passage:— "Our nation is not yet so barren of virtue, that we want noble examples to follow amongst ourselves. The brave Sindercomb hath showed as great a mind as any old Rome could boast of; and, had he lived there, his name had been registered with Brutus and Cato, and he had had his statues as well as they. "But I will not have so sinister an opinion of ourselves (as little generosity as slavery hath left us) as to think so great a virtue can want its monuments even amongst us. Certainly, in every virtuous mind, there are statues reared to Sindercomb. Whenever we read the elegies of those that have died for their country; when we admire those great examples of magnanimity, that have tired tyrants' cruelties; when we extol their constancy, whom neither bribes nor terrors could make betray their friends; it is then we erect Sindercomb statues, and grave him monuments; where all that can be said of a great and noble mind, we justly make an epitaph for him. And though the tyrant caused him to be smothered, lest the people should hinder an open murder, yet he will never be able either to smother his memory or his own villany. His poison was but a poor and common device to impose only on those that understood not tyrants' practices, and are unacquainted (if any be) with his cruelties and falsehoods. He may therefore, if he please, take away the stake from Sindercomb's grave; and if he have a mind it should be known how he died, let him send thither the pillows and feather-beds with which Barkstead and his hangman smothered him." Killing No Murder, (1735,) pp. 32, 33. See vol. iii. p. 79, note. Lord Clarendon, on the death of Sindercomb, is made by his noble and reverend editors, in 1704, to say, (History, iii. 647,) "that Cromwell found himself under the reproach of having caused him to be poisoned." Yet, among the passages suppressed without acknowledgment in 1704, but now restored from the author's autograph MS., is the following:— "Though it did appear upon examination, that the night before, when he was going to bed, in the presence of his guard, his sister came to him to take her leave of him; and whilst they spake together at the bedside, he rubbed his nose with his hand, of which they then took no notice; and she going away, he put off his clothes and leaped in his bed, with some snuffling in his nose, and said, 'this was the last bed he should ever go into;' and seemed to turn to sleep, and never in the whole night made the least noise or motion, save that he sneezed once. When the physicians and surgeons opened his head, they found he had snuffed up, through his nostrils, some very well prepared poison, that in an instant curdled all his blood in that region, which presently suffocated him." History, (1826,) vii. 290, note.
  • 9. Public Intelligencer, No. 118. See Mercurius Politicus, No. 398, 399.