Morris, John (1617?-1649) (DNB00)

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MORRIS, JOHN (1617?–1649), soldier, was eldest son of Matthias Morris of Esthagh, in Elmsall, near Pontefract, Yorkshire (Dugdale, Visit. of Yorkshire, Surtees Soc., p. 267). He was brought up in the house of Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford. When Strafford became lord deputy of Ireland, he was at sixteen made ensign to Strafford's own company of foot, and soon afterwards lieutenant of his guard. The earl detected in him much military capacity, and foretold that he would 'outdo many of our old commanders.' After Strafford's death, Morris became captain in Sir Henry Tichborne's regiment. During the Irish rebellion he was appointed sergeant-major in the regiment commanded by Sir Francis Willoughby, and major by commission from the Earl of Ormonde (2 June 1642). In Ireland he performed some import ant services, especially after the storming of Ross Castle, when, although badly wounded, he rallied some English troops that were flying before General Preston, and 'charging the enemy, in the very head of them, obtained a victory ' (Hunter, South Yorkshire, ii. 98). On returning to England he served for a while in Lord Byron's regiment, but after the surrender of Liverpool in 1644, he threw up his commission in a moment of caprice, and joined the parliamentary army (Lloyd, Memoires, ed. 1668, p. 563). His pleasant manners made him a general favourite, while his genius for strategy and skill in handling troops quickly gained for him a colonelcy. But when the new model was introduced, the puritan officers looked askance on his easy-going ways, while he in turn laughed at their affected behaviour. He was not entrusted with command, though many flattering promises of future employment and reward were held out to him. Dissembling his anger under a smiling exterior, Morris betook himself to his estate of Esthagh, there to concoct a scheme by which he might effectually serve the king and avenge himself on his former comrades.

While serving against the king at the siege of Sandal in 1645 he had become acquainted with Colonel Overton, who had since been made governor of Pontefract. Having 'some assurance of his good affections to his Ma'tie,' Morris entered into a conspiracy with him for a surprise of the castle. Overton promised that he would open a 'sally port' whenever the king considered it convenient. But in November 1647 Overton was transferred to the governorship of Hull, and Morris had little or no acquaintance with Cotterell, who succeeded him at Pontefract. To gain his ends he succeeded in establishing some intimacy with two of the garrison who had formerly served the king, and an unsuccessful attempt to seize the castle by means of a scaling ladder was made on 18 May 1648. It failed, owing to the drunkenness of Morris's confederate, corporal Floyd, who had undertaken to place a friendly sentinel on duty and neglected to do so. The-attacking party escaped unhurt, and no suspicions were attached to Morris. Cotterell at once ordered those of his garrison who were sleeping in the town to take up residence in the castle, and issued warrants for beds for a hundred men. Disguised as countrymen, Morris and William Paulden [see Paulden, Thomas], each with four men carrying beds and with three others bringing money as though to compound for theirs, gained admission to the castle on 3 June, and offering quarter to the guard, secured them in the dungeon. The only blood shed was that of Cotterell, who, lying on his bed at the time, resisted Paulden's seizure of him, and was wounded. Horse and foot, which had been waiting in the locality, quickly joined the successful party, and a force of three hundred was raised with which to garrison the castle. Colonel Bonivent, who had been governor of Sandal Castle in 1644-5, was at first credited with the exploit, and it was some time before the truth was known (Packets of Letters from Scotland, &c., 6 June 1648, p. 6; Declaration of Sir Thomas Glenham, &c. E. 446 [3 and 29]). As a matter of policy Morris allowed Sir John Digby, who soon afterwards arrived from Nottingham, to assume the nominal command.

Morris answered Cromwell's summons to surrender (9 Nov.) with cheery defiance, but desertions were frequent. He made two determined sallies in February 1649 but was compelled on 3 March to treat with the parliamentarians. General Lambert, who was in command, insisted upon having six persons, whom he refused to name, excepted from mercy. Of these Morris was one. On 17 March the treaty was concluded. The excepted officers having liberty to make their escape if they could, Morris boldly charged through the enemy's army, and with Cornet Michael Blackborne got clear away into Lancashire. Lambert had given assurance for his safety could he escape five miles from the castle. Nevertheless he was betrayed at Oreton in Furness Fells, Lancashire, about ten days afterwards, and committed prisoner to Lancaster Castle. On 16 Aug. he was brought to trial at York assizes, and indicted on the statute of 25 Edw. Ill 'for levying war against the late King Charles.' The judges (Puleston and Thorpe) ordered him 'to be put in irons. He defended himself with admirable skill, and when condemned to death as a traitor, declared that he 'should die for a good cause, and with a good conscience.' Vain efforts were made to save him, even by officers of the parliamentary army. On the night of 20 Aug. Morris and his fellow-prisoner Blackborne contrived to escape from prison in York Castle, but in getting over the wall Blackborne broke his leg, and Morris refused to leave him. They were retaken, and executed on 23 Aug. By his desire Morris was buried at Wentworth, Yorkshire, near the grave of Lord Strafford.

Morris married Margery (1627-1665), eldest daughter of Dr. Robert Dawson, bishop of Clonfert and Kilmacduag, by whom he had issue Robert (b. 1645) of Esthagh, Castilian (1648-1702), and Mary. His widow remarried Jonas, fourth son of Abel Bulkley, of Bulkley, Lancashire.

His second son, Castilian, so named by reason of his having been born during the siege of Pontefract Castle, was appointed town clerk of Leeds in 1684 at the instance of Lord Chief-justice Jeffreys, and left descendants (Thoresby, Ducatus Leodiensis, ed. Whitaker). Some extracts from his diary are printed in the 'Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Journal' (x. 159).

Morris's exploits were celebrated by Thomas Vaughan in five brief Latin elegiac poems printed at the end of Henry Vaughan's 'Thalia Rediviva' (1678).

[Appendix to Nathan Drake's Journal of the first and second Sieges of Pontefract Castle, 1644-5, in Miscellanies of Surtees Soc., xxxvii. 85-1 15 (with authorities cited there); Holmes's Collections towards the History of Pontefract II. (The Sieges of Pontefract Castle), pp. 291-9; Cobbett's State Trials.iv. 1250; William Smith's Old Yorkshire, vol. i.; Clarendon's Rebellion (Macray); Whitelocke's Memorials; Yorkshire Archaeolog. and Topograph. Journal, x. 529; Henry Vaughan's Works (Grosart), ii. 365.]

G. G.