Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Towneley, Francis

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TOWNELEY, FRANCIS (1709–1746), Jacobite, born in 1709, was the fifth son of Charles Towneley of Towneley Hall, Lancashire, by his wife Ursula, daughter of Richard Fermor of Tusmore, Oxfordshire. His uncle, Richard Towneley of Towneley, joined the rebel army under Thomas Forster (1675?–1738) at Preston in 1715, and was taken prisoner at the surrender of that town. Richard was tried, but the jury found him not guilty, a piece of good fortune he owed to the horror and disgust felt by the jury at the barbarous manner of the execution at Tyburn on the previous day of Colonel Henry Oxburgh [q. v.], and the exposure of his head on Temple Bar.

Owing to some misfortunes of his family, Francis went over to France in 1728, and being, like all his kinsmen, an ardent Roman catholic and Jacobite, he found powerful friends there, who quickly obtained for him a commission in the service of the French king. At the siege of Phillipsburg in 1733, under the Duke of Berwick, he distinguished himself by his daring, and in subsequent campaigns showed himself an accomplished soldier. A few years before the breaking out of the rebellion in 1745 he came to England, and lived upon a small income in Wales. Shortly before the rebellion broke out the French king, imagining Towneley might be of service in promoting the invasion of England which he meditated, sent him a colonel's commission to enable him to raise forces, and to assist his ally the Pretender in his expedition to Scotland. Towneley came to Manchester, and for some months was a welcome guest among the Jacobites of the town and district. His popularity among the adherents of the exiled royal family was great, but his fashion of hard swearing called forth an impromptu rebuke from one of the townsmen, John Byrom [q. v.]

Towneley joined Prince Charles and his highland army a few days before they reached Manchester, and he entered the town with the prince. A colonel's commission was at once given him, and all who joined the prince's standard in England were to serve under him as the Manchester regiment. A few gentlemen of the town volunteered, and were made officers, but most of the rest, about three hundred in all, received money on enlistment. With this small body of ill-armed men Towneley accompanied the prince to Derby, and in the retreat from that place as far as Carlisle. Here he was made commandant under Hamilton, the governor of the town, and was ordered to remain there to defend it with his regiment, now only 114 in all, and with about twice the number of Scottish troops, while the prince and his army continued their retreat into Scotland. It has never been satisfactorily explained why these brave men were left in a perfectly untenable place. Much against the wish of Towneley, who preferred to take his chance of cutting his way out, Hamilton surrendered to the Duke of Cumberland on 30 Dec., on the only terms the duke would grant them, ‘that they should not be put to the sword, but be reserved for the king's pleasure.’ On his trial, which took place in London on 13 July 1746, Towneley's plea that he had a right as a French officer to the cartel was disallowed; he was found guilty, condemned to death, and executed on Kennington Common on 30 July, his head being placed on a pike on Temple Bar. This was afterwards secretly removed, and has since been in possession of the Towneley family, and is now preserved in the chapel at Towneley Hall. Towneley's body was buried on 31 July either in the church or churchyard of St. Pancras, London (Reg.) Towneley preserved his dignity of demeanour even under the ordeal of a public execution for treason. There seems no reason from any statement of his or evidence at the trials for the accusation so freely made by the Jacobites against the Duke of Cumberland to sully his honour, that he had promised Towneley and the others their lives. ‘Towneley's Ghost’ and the other Jacobite ballads make much of this charge.

[Towneley's Trial, 1746; Manchester Mag. 1745–6; Grosart's English Jacobite Ballads, 1877; paper by writer in Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society's Transactions, vol. iii. (1885); Foster's Lancashire Pedigrees.]

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