Downes, John (fl.1666) (DNB00)

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DOWNES, JOHN (fl. 1666), regicide, had purchased, 25 March 1635, the comfortable place of auditor of the duchy of Cornwall (Hardy, Syllabus of Rymer's Fœdera, ii. 888). He was a member of the Long parliament, being elected for Arundel, Sussex, on 20 Dec. 1641, in succession to Henry Garton, deceased (Lists of Members of Parliament, Official Return, pt. i. p. 494). He joined the parliamentary army and was made a colonel of militia. Of a timid, wavering nature, he was, as he himself asserts, ‘insnared, through weakness and fear,’ into becoming one of the king's judges, and signing the death-warrant. Another episode of his parliamentary life was a wrangle with John Fry, member for Shaftesbury, whom he accused of blasphemy to the House of Commons. In his published answer to the charge (The Accuser Sham'd, 27 Feb. 1648–9) Fry hinted pretty plainly that Downes was regarded as a mere tool of Cromwell. Downes did not fail to grow rich during the Commonwealth. At the sales of bishops' lands in August 1649 he purchased Broyle Farm, Sussex, for 1,309l. 6s. (Nichols, Collectanea, i. 286), having six years previously, in April 1643, robbed the bishop (Henry King) of his corn and household stuff at Petworth, demolished his house in Chichester, and appropriated the leases of Broyle and Streatham (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1660–1, p. 290). In July 1649, when the act passed for the sale of the duchy of Cornwall lands, he sold his auditorship to the government for 3,000l. (ib. 1649–1650, p. 233). He must have been possessed of considerable business talent, as on his election to the council of state, 25 Nov. 1651, he was forthwith placed on the committee of the army, where he had at first the sole conduct of matters, and also served on the committee for Ireland (Commons' Journals, vii. 42, 58). On 1 Jan. 1651–2 the parliament voted him 300l. in recognition of ‘his pains and service for the public in the committee of the army for the last year’ (ib. vii. 62). He was again appointed to the council of state, 14 May 1659 (ib. vii. 654), and was one of the five commissioners for the revenue elected on the following 20 June (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1658–9, pp. 349, 382). At the Restoration, Downes hastened to publish ‘A True and Humble Representation touching the Death of the late King, so far as he may be concerned therein,’ which cannot be said to err on the side of truth. Describing himself as ‘a weak, imprudent man,’ he adds, ‘I have wore myself out, lost my office, robbed my relations, and now am ruined.’ He was excepted out of the general act of pardon and oblivion, and was arrested at his house at Hampstead, 18 June 1660 (Commons' Journals, viii. 61, 65, 68). When brought to his trial on the following 16 Oct., he gave a very interesting account of his interference on behalf of the king, and of his treatment in consequence by Cromwell, while he excused his signing the death-warrant because ‘he was threatened with his very life; he was induced to do it’ (Accompt of the Trial of Twenty-nine Regicides, pp. 257–63). He was condemned, but was afterwards reprieved and kept a close prisoner in Newgate (Commons' Journals, viii. 139, 319, 349). In April 1663 he addressed a piteous petition to Sir John Robinson, the lord mayor, entreating ‘to be thrust into some hole where he may more silently be starved; alms and benevolence failing him’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1663–4, p. 98). In November 1666 his name occurs among the list of thirty-eight prisoners confined in the Tower (ib. 1666–7, p. 235).

[Authorities cited in the text; The Mystery of the Good Old Cause, ed. Hotten, p. 34.]

G. G.