Hutchinson, John (1615-1664) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 28
Hutchinson, John (1615-1664)

by Charles Harding Firth
Contains subarticle, Lucy Hutchinson (née Apsley) (b. 1620).

HUTCHINSON, JOHN (1615–1664), regicide, son of Sir Thomas Hutchinson, knight, of Owthorpe, Nottinghamshire, and of Margaret, daughter of Sir John Byron of Newstead, was baptised 18 Sept. 1615 (Brown, Worthies of Notts, p. 190; Life of Col. Hutchinson, ed. 1885, i.57). Hutchinson was educated at Nottingham and Lincoln free schools, and at Peterhouse, Cambridge. In 1637 he entered Lincoln's Inn, but devoted himself to music and divinity rather than the study of law. Like his father, Sir Thomas Hutchinson, who represented Nottinghamshire in the Long parliament, he took, the parliamentary side. He first distinguished himself by preventing Lord Newark, the lord-lieutenant of the county, from seizing the county powder-magazine for the king's service. He next accepted a commission as lieutenant-colonel in the regiment raised by Colonel Francis Pierrepont, and became one of the parliamentary committee for Nottinghamshire. On 29 June 1643, at the order of the committee and of Sir John Meldrum, Hutchinson undertook the command of Nottingham Castle; he received from Lord Fairfax in the following November a commission to raise a foot regiment, and was finally appointed by parliament governor of both town and castle (Life, i. 224, 278). The town was unfortified, the garrison weak and: ill-supplied, the committee torn by political and personal feuds. The neighbouring royalist commanders, Hutchinson's cousin (Sir Richard Byron), and the Marquis of Newcastle, attempted to corrupt Hutchinson. Newcastle's agent offered him 10,000l., and promised that he should be made 'the best lord in Nottinghamshire.' Hutchinson indignantly refused to entertain such proposals (ib. i. 224, 234, 250, 369; Vicars, God's Ark, p. 104). The town was often attacked. Sir Charles Lucas entered it in January 1644 and endeavoured to set it on fire, and in April 1645 a party from Newark captured the fort at Trent-bridges. Hutchinson succeeded in making good these losses, and answered each new summons to surrender with a fresh defiance (Life, i. 327, 383, ii. 70, 78). The difficulties were increased by continual disputes between himself and the committee, which were a natural result, in Nottingham as elsewhere, of the divided authority set up by parliament. But there is evidence that Hutchinson was irritable, quick-tempered, and deficient in self-control. The committee of both kingdoms endeavoured to end the quarrel by a compromise, which Hutchinson found great difficulty in persuading his opponents to accept (ib. ii. 361).

On 16 March 1646 Hutchinson was returned to parliament as member for Nottinghamshire, succeeding to the seat held by his father, who had died on 18 Aug. 1643 (Return of Names of Members, &c. i. 492). His religious views led him to attach himself to the independent rather than the presbyterian party. As governor he had protected the separatists to the best of his ability, and now, under his wife's influence, he adopted the main tenet of the baptists (Life, ii. 101). On 22 Dec. 1648 he signed the protest against the votes of the House of Commons accepting the concessions made by the king at Newport, and consented to act as one of the king's judges (Walker, Hist. of Independency, ed. 1660, ii. 48). According to his wife, he was nominated to the latter post very much against his will; but, looking upon himself as called hereunto, durst not refuse it, as holding himself obliged by the covenant of God and the public trust of his country reposed in him.' After serious consideration and prayer he signed the sentence against the king (Life, ii. 152, 155).

Hutchinson was chosen a member of the first two councils of state of the Commonwealth, but took no very active part in public affairs, and with the expulsion of the Long parliament in 1653 retired altogether into private life. His neighbours thought of electing him to the parliament of 1656, but Major-general Whalley's influence induced them to change their minds (Thurloe, iv. 299). According to Mrs. Hutchinson [see below], Cromwell attempted to persuade her husband to accept office, 'and, finding him too constant to be wrought upon to serve his tyranny,' would have arrested him had not death prevented the fulfilment of his purpose. The certificate presented in Hutchinson's favour after the Restoration represents him as secretly serving the royalist cause during the Protectorate, but of this there is no independent evidence. The real object of his political action seems to have been the restoration of the Long parliament. He took his seat again in that assembly when the army recalled it to power (May 1659), and when Lambert expelled it (October 1659) prepared to restore its authority by arms, he secretly raised men, and concerted with Hacker and others to assist Monck and Hesilrige against Lambert and his party (Life, ii. 229, 234; Baker, Chronicle, ed. Phillips, p.691). In his place in parliament he opposed the intended oath abjuring the Stuarts, voted for the re-admission of the secluded members, and followed the lead of Monck and Cooper (Life, ii. 236), in the belief that they were in favour of a commonwealth. He retained sufficient popularity to be returned to the Convention parliament as one of the members for Nottingham, but was expelled from it (9 June 1660) as a regicide. On the same day he was made incapable of bearing any office or place of public trust in the kingdom, but it was agreed that he should not be excepted from the Act of Indemnity either for life or estate (Commons' Journals, viii. 60). In his petitions he confessed himself 'involved in so horrid a crime as merits no indulgence,' but pleaded his early, real, and constant repentance, arising from 'a thorough conviction' of his 'former misled judgment and conscience,' not from a regard for his own safety (Life, ii. 392-8; Athenæum, 3 March 1860; Hist.MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. p.120). Thanks to this submission, to the influence of his kinsmen, Lord Byron and Sir Allen Apsley, to the fact that he was not considered dangerous, and that he had to a certain extent forwarded the Restoration, Hutchinson escaped the fate of other regicides. Yet, as his wife owns, 'he was not very well satisfied in himself for accepting the deliverance. … While he saw others suffer, he suffered with them in his mind, and, had not his wife persuaded him, had offered himself a voluntary sacrifice' (Life, ii. 262). In October 1663 Hutchinson was arrested on suspicion of being concerned in what was known as the Yorkshire plot. The evidence against him was far from conclusive, but the government appears to have been eager to seize the opportunity of imprisoning him (ib. pp. 292, 314; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1663-4, pp.314, 329, 391, 392). Imprisonment restored Hutchinson's peace of mind. He regarded it as freeing him from his former obligations to the government, and refused to purchase his release by fresh engagements. During his confinement in the Tower he was treated with great severity by the governor, Sir John Robinson, and threatened in return to publish an account of his malpractices and extortions (ib. pp.539, 561). He even succeeded in getting printed a narrative of his own arrest and usage in the Tower, which is stated on the title-page to be 'written by himself on the 6th of April 1664, having then received intimation that he was to be sent away to another prison, and therefore he thought fit to print this for the satisfying his relations and friends of his innocence' (Harl. Misc., ed. Park, iii. 33). A warrant for Hutchinson's transportation to the Isle of Man was actually prepared in April 1664, but he was finally transferred to Sandown Castle in Kent (3 May 1664). The castle was ruinous and unhealthy, and he died of a fever four months after his removal to it (11 Sept. 1664). His wife obtained permission to bury his body at Owthorpe.

Hutchinson's defence of Nottingham was a service of great value to the parliament, but his subsequent career in parliament and the council of state shows no sign of political ability. His fame rests on his wife's commemoration of his character, not on his own achievements.


Lucy Hutchinson (b. 1620), author, daughter of Sir Allen Apsley, lieutenant of the Tower of London, by his third wife, Lucy St. John, was born in the Tower on 29 Jan. 1620, and married, on 3 July 1638, John Hutchinson. 'My father and mother,' she writes of her youth in an extant autobiographical fragment, fancying me beautiful and more than ordinarily apprehensive, spared no cost to improve me in my education. When I was about seven years of age, I remember, I had at one time eight tutors in several qualities language, music, dancing, writing, and needlework but my genius was quite averse from all but my book.' She was taught French by her nurse, and Latin by her father's chaplain (Life of Colonel Hutchinson, i.3, 24). Her writings show that she also acquired a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, and possessed a large amount of classical and theological reading. During her early married life, ‘out of youthful curiosity to understand things which she heard so much discourse of at secondhand,’ she translated the six books of Lucretius into verse. ‘I turned it into English,’ she says, ‘in a room where my children practised the several qualities they were taught with their tutors, and I numbered the syllables of my translation by the threads of the canvas I wrought in, and set them down with a pen and ink that stood by me.’ This translation, which she presented in 1675 to Arthur Annesley, earl of Anglesea, is now in the British Museum (Add. MS. 19333[1]) Though religiously brought up, she was not, as a young woman, convinced of the vanity of conversation which was not scandalously wicked. ‘I thought it no sin,’ she continues, ‘to learn or hear witty songs and amorous sonnets or poems’ (Life of Colonel Hutchinson, i. 26). As she grew older she grew more rigid, came to regard the study of ‘pagan poets and philosophers’ as ‘one great means of debauching the learned world,’ and became ashamed of her translation of Lucretius, which she entreated Anglesea to conceal. During the siege of Nottingham the controversial memoranda of an anabaptist cannoneer, which accidentally fell into her hands, excited her scruples about the baptism of infants, and as the local presbyterian clergy failed to satisfy her that it was lawful, she declined to have her next child baptised (1647).

At the Restoration she exerted all her influence with her royalist relatives to save the life of her husband, even venturing to write to the Speaker in his name to solicit his liberty on parole (ib. ii. 251, 309; cf. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1663-4, p. 441). She ‘thought she had never deserved so well’ of her husband ‘as in the endeavours and labours she exercised to bring him off,’ but ‘found she never displeased him more in her life, and had much ado to persuade him to be content with his deliverance’ (Life, ii. 262). When he was arrested in 1663, she complained to his friends in the privy council of his unjust imprisonment, but he would not allow her to make application for his release (ib. ii. 307, 313). While he was imprisoned at Sandown Castle she lodged at Deal, and came every day to see him, having in vain solicited leave to share his prison. He died in September 1664, during her absence at Owthorpe. ‘Let her,’ ran his last message, ‘as she is above other woman, show herself in this occasion a good Christian, and above the pitch of ordinary women’ (ib. ii. 346).

Between 1664 and 1671 Mrs. Hutchinson wrote the biography of her husband, which was first published in 1806. Intended simply for the preservation of his memory and the instruction of his children, it possesses a peculiar value among seventeenth-century memoirs. As a picture of the life of a puritan family and the character of a puritan gentleman it is unique ‘The figure of Colonel Hutchinson,’ says J.R.Green, ‘stands out from his wife's canvas with the grace and tenderness of a portrait by Van Dyck’ (Short History, ed. 1889, pp. 462-4). She overrates, it is true, his political importance, and is prejudiced and partial in her notices of his adversaries, either in local or national politics. Her remarks on the general history of the times are of little value, and in some parts simply a paraphrase of May's ‘History of the Long Parliament.’ On the other hand, her account of the civil war in Nottinghamshire is full and accurate. The British Museum possesses a narrative of the civil war in Nottinghamshire written by her some time before she composed the memoir of her husband, and forming the basis of a large part of that work (Add. MS. 25901). She was also the author of a treatise' On the Principles of the Christian Religion,' addressed to her daughter, Mrs. Orgill, which was published by the Rev. Julius Hutchinson in 1817. The manuscript of that book, and that of the life of her husband, have both been lost; but other writings of hers on moral and religious subjects, together with a translation of part of the ‘Æneid,’ are in the possession of the Rev. F. E. Hutchinson, vicar of Tisbury, Wiltshire.

The date of Mrs. Hutchinson's death is not known, but the dedicatory letter prefixed to her translation of Lucretius is dated 1675.

[The Life of Colonel Hutchinson, by his wife, first published in 1806 by the Rev. Julius Hutchinson, a descendant of the colonel's half-brother, Charles Hutchinson, has been many times reprinted. The edition of 1885 contains a collection of Hutchinson's letters, and extracts from Mrs. Hutchinson's earlier narrative of the civil war in Nottinghamshire. Letters discovered later are printed in Notes and Queries, 7th ser. iii. 25, viii. 422. The originals of several letters are among the Tanner MSS. in the Bodleian Library. See also Cal. State Papers, Dom., and Bailey's Annals of Nottinghamshire.

The only authority for the life of Mrs. Hutchinson is the fragment of autobiography prefixed to the life of her husband, and incidental statements contained in his life. A criticism of the historical value of the ‘Life of Colonel Hutchinson’ is prefixed to Guizot's edition of that work, reprinted in his ‘Portraits des hommes politiques des differents partis,’ 1851, and translated by A. R. Scoble, under the title of ‘Monk's Contemporaries: Biographical Studies on the English Revolution,’ 1851.]

C. H. F.

  1. the prefatory letter to Anglesea and some specimens of the translation are printed in the Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology, iv. (1858), i2i-39’.